Before her recent death at the age of 105, Lilian, the wife of St Gabriel’s parishioner Herbert Dixon (‘Dix’) Hodgson, shared some memories of her husband. Among the stories about Dix’s short but eventful life was one about a solo performance by him being broadcast on the opening night of Newcastle’s first BBC radio station. She also said that, as a young girl, she was taken to a neighbour’s house to listen to the historic launch. What she said she didn’t realise was that, among the voices she heard seemingly magically beamed across the Tyne into her neighbour’s living room in Whickham, was that of her future husband.
Herbert Dixon Hodgson was born in October 1908. Records show that in 1911 he was living at 41 Tosson Terrace, Heaton with his father William, mother Margaret and his four year old sister Hilda Annie. Another sister, Nellie Blue (Blue was a family name) came later.
Young Dix became a member of the choir at St Gabriel’s Church. He was soon recognised as having an excellent voice and starred as a soloist at church concerts. This seems to have led, as we have heard from his wife’s account, to him being selected to sing solo to mark a momentous occasion, the opening night of Newcastle’s first radio station.
There are, however, a number of unanswered questions around Dix’s involvement. We wondered whether his performance was live. And when and where did it take place? How old was Dix? And the listening Lilian? What do the historical records tell us about the occasion?
Newcastle’s first radio station was known as 5NO, its call sign. According to the BBC, its opening broadcast was a hundred years ago this year, on Christmas Eve 1922, so Dix would have been 14 years old. Incredibly the British Broadcasting Company had been in existence for only a couple of months. It had been set up by a consortium of wireless manufacturers, including Marconi, General Electric and Metropolitan Vickers, primarily in the hope of a commercial bonanza from the sale of radio equipment, although very few people at that time saw its full potential to ‘inform, educate, entertain’ as its first director, John (later Lord) Reith later put it.
Newcastle was just the 4th BBC station to open behind London, Manchester and Birmingham, set up by Marconi, Metrovick and General Electric respectively, all of which were a matter of months or weeks old. In fact, it was the first to be established by the BBC itself: the other three had been put in place before the national broadcasting company’s formation. The British Broadcasting Company had been set up on 18 October and BBC broadcasting had officially begun on 14 November. John Reith had been appointed General Manager on 14 December and hadn’t even started work that Christmas Eve. In fact he was to visit Newcastle on 29 December en route from Scotland, where he had spent Christmas, to London to take up his appointment.
The station Reith visited was set to become the first radio station to operate from new premises, independent of their parent wirelesss manufacturing company. They were in Eldon Square and had been kitted out by a small group of enthusiasts. However, there were technical problems on the 23rd, the night of the promised ‘before Christmas’ opening and so a decision was made to conduct proceedings as close as possible to the newly constructed transmitter on a tower at the Cooperative Society buildings on West Blandford Street. So, the opening broadcast of Newcastle’s first radio station was from a ‘donkey cart’ in a stable yard. Very Chrismassy! And perhaps not surprising that the BBC chose to ignore this first broadcast in its official records.
The station manager was a man called Tom Payne. Tom was born in South Shields in 1882 and was an accomplished musician. But he was most famous for his feats during a competitive walking career which began in 1906. By 1916, he had broken world records for 12 and 24 hour duration feats and won three London to Brighton and six Manchester to Blackpool races. In the meantime, he had found time in 1910 to open Morpeth’s first cinema, ‘The Avenue’, and then set up a business on Gallowgate as a wireless dealer and a music promoter. It was because he recognised the potential for his business that Tom got involved with 5NO and, at least according to Tom himself, financed the arrival of broadcasting in the city out of his own pocket. (You can hear him tell the tale on the podcast mentioned below this article.)
It isn’t easy to tell whether later references to the opening night referred to 23rd or 24th December. But we know it was scheduled to last just one hour. There were live acts including Tom himself playing violin and a Mr W Griffiths playing cello. Miss May Osbourne sang ‘Annie Laurie’ but she couldn’t be accompanied in the stable yard as intended by pianist, W A Crosse, because the piano Payne had borrowed for the occasion wouldn’t fit on the cart. There may have been recorded music on both occasions, as well as other live acts whose names aren’t recorded. There were no listings in the press ahead of the event. The first we have found date from the first week of 1923 but, as you’ll see if you scroll right at the bottom of the image below, they weren’t exactly comprehensive in Newcastle’s case. The Radio Times didn’t appear until 28 September 1923.
In the event, on that very first night a barking dog in the stable yard reportedly forced proceedings to end early.
It was because of these difficulties that John Reith was asked to break his journey from Scotland a few days later. Reith was unlikely to be of much help to Tom. He admitted that he knew nothing about broadcasting, he didn’t own a radio set and, unlike Lilian, aged 5, hadn’t even listened to a BBC broadcast. His diary entry for the day reads:
‘Newcastle at 12.30. Here I really began my BBC responsibility. Saw transmitting station and studio place and landlords. It was very interesting. Away at 4.28, London at 10.10, bed at 12.00. I am trying to keep in close touch with Christ in all I do and pray he may keep close to me. I have a great work to do.’
So where did Dix’s solo fit in? The truth is we don’t know. It has been suggested that the full St Gabriel’s Choir performed and that the concert took place in Newcastle Cathedral. Both are unlikely.
There certainly was no outside broadcast from Newcastle Cathedral. The first music outside broadcast nationally did not take place until January 1923 and was a high profile performance of ‘The Magic Flute’ from Covent Garden.
If St Gabriel’s choir had performed on the very first night, it would have had to have been in the Co-op stable yard. Ensembles did perform in those early days but, even in a proper studio, a full choir would have posed enormous problems for the equipment and space available in Newcastle at the time. It certainly wouldn’t have fitted onto a donkey cart!
Perhaps the choir had been recorded on a previous occasion and played on a gramophone on the opening night. But recording music was still an expensive and laborious process. In the early 1920s, the quality of the live music broadcast would be far superior to any recordings used. A search through the St Gabriel’s parish magazine from that period yielded nothing.
This suggests that, if Dix did perform on that opening night, it was as a solo, probably unaccompanied, voice. Achieving the right balance between a singer and an accompanist or multiple voices had not been fully mastered at that point even if there hadn’t been the issue with the borrowed piano.
What did Dix sing? Given the time of year, one could imagine him singing carols but the above poster for a St Gabriel’s concert just a few weeks later on 13 February 1923 suggests another possibility. Then, Master Hodgson sang Handel’s‘ Rejoice greatly’ and ‘Angels ever bright and fair’ . There may not have been a dry eye either in the Coop stable yard or that Whickham living room.
Lilian would have been one of a select few listening to that first north-east broadcast. There were apparently only about 100 potential listeners in the Newcastle area at that time and only those within about 15 miles of Newcastle were expected to be able to hear 5NO, although a ship’s radio as far away as Gibraltar reportedly picked up the signal. At home, many of the radio hams who had crystal sets or early valve radios at that time were ex-servicemen who had learnt how to use radio during the war.
However, there had been a huge advertising campaign for sets ahead of that Christmas. They weren’t cheap (from about £4) but the audience was set to expand quickly.
Tom Payne did not last long at 5NO. There are conflicting accounts about his departure sometime in 1923. One account says that he was heard to swear on air and was fired, another that his quirky presentation didn’t fit with the more formal style favoured by Reith. A petition to have him reinstated was unsuccessful.
But Tom’s walking exploits continued to keep him in the public eye. Indeed on 15 November 1926, he delivered a lecture on athletics to members of Heaton Harriers at their headquarters in Armstrong Park Refreshment Rooms.
The headline of a local newspaper report of his death at Walkergate Hospital in 1966 said ‘Champion walker dies’ rather than the ‘Broadcasting pioneer’.
Two years after Newcastle’s first BBC broadcast, aged 16, Dix signed indentures and became an apprentice to the Moor Line, the merchant fleet operated by Walter Runciman and Co. He attended college to gain qualifications, including, to obtain his Master’s Certificate in 1936, at Nellist’s Nautical College.
Between 1931 and 1938, Dix’s name appears on the Newcastle electoral register. He is still living with his father and mother but now at 31 Tosson Terrace, a few doors away from where he grew up. In 1938 and ‘39, a Leonard and Wilhelmina Runciman are registered at his childhood home at number 41. A coincidence? Were they part of the Runciman shipping dynasty and were they known to the Hodgsons? By 1939, the Hodgson family is registered at 305 Chillingham Road.
We don’t know when and where Dix eventually met Lilian Mary Spittle. They lived on opposite sides of the Tyne but we know that Lilian had trained as a fever nurse and the Newcastle Upon Tyne Infectious Diseases Hospital was situated at Walkergate just up the road from Heaton.
Dix and Lilian were married in spring 1939, sixteen and a half years after that first broadcast, and Andrew their first son was born in late 1940. Douglas came along soon after.
By now, Dix was a master mariner, the highest rank in the merchant navy and what is usually referred to as a ship’s captain.
But on 21 May 1942, he was in charge of the SS Zurichmoor as it left Halifax, Nova Scotia in ballast bound for St Thomas in the Virgin Islands.
Three days later while 400 miles east of Philadelphia, it was torpedoed by a German U-boat and sank within 90 seconds. Dix, his crew of 38 and six naval gunners were lost. Many of them were, like Dix, from north-east families.
They are all remembered on the Tower Hill Memorial, London, a war memorial to ‘merchant seamen with no grave but the sea’.
In Tyne & Wear Archives there is a Book of Remembrance commissioned by the directors of Walter Runciman and Company, owners of the Moor Line.
Angels ever bright and fair, take o take them to your care.
Researched and written by Robin Long of Heaton History Group with additional material from Chris Jackson; thank you to Andrew and Douglas Hodgson for their help and for the photograph of Dix and Lilian.
Can You Help?
If you know any more about the people named in this article or about the launch of the BBC in Newcastle or the sinking of SS Zurichmoor especially as they relate to Heaton, we’d love to hear from you.You can contact us either through this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
‘The Birth of Broadcasting 1896-1927’ by Asa Briggs; OUP, 1961
‘British Broadcasting Century with Paul Kerensa’ podcast series
Earlier this year, during building work on their home, some Heaton residents spotted a dusty pile of fragile, browning papers under the floorboards of their boxroom. Luckily for us, they didn’t just bin them because the documents were able to shed considerable light on the economic conditions and social and political networks in Heaton at the time they last saw the light of day.
The find comprised around fifty copies of a leaflet advertising a public meeting and a subsequent ‘subscription night’ to which people could buy shares in ‘Newcastle upon Tyne East End Economic Building Society’. The meetings would take place on Monday 2 and Tuesday 10 February 1891. Considerable detail about how the society would work are given on the leaflet along with the names and addresses of the provisional directors, bankers, solicitor, surveyor and secretary – and the name ‘Joseph Peers FSA’, whose role wasn’t clear, other than that he would fully explain ‘the principles and working of these societies’.
We thought it might be helpful to find out a little about the Heaton people mentioned before investigating a little further the society and others like it – but our first question was:
‘Who was Joseph Peers?’
This took a bit of working out. We had no birthplace, date of birth or address for the man named on the leaflet and, in the 1891 census, many people with that name appear. Some we could dismiss because they were too young and others we thought perhaps unlikely because of their occupation or where they lived. There was a prominent Justice of the Peace in Denbighshire, to whom grateful neighbours had erected a monument, who seemed like a possibility. But eventually, after combing through newspaper articles including the occasional court report, we were able to pin him down to the Joseph Peers who was born in Bury, Lancashire in 1837, the son of a woollen weaver. He apparently started work in a mill aged six, but went on to be an affluent accountant and an influential figure in local politics.
Despite his difficult start in life, Joseph said later that he was alway determined to be a teacher and somehow he educated himself sufficiently to win a bursary to a teacher training college. After qualifying, he opened his own boarding school, at which he himself taught languages and mathematics. According to Peers himself, after some seventeen years, he gave up teaching due to ill health and trained as an accountant, after which he practised mainly around Clitheroe and Burnley in Lancashire.
During the 1880s, he began, with great energy, to tour first of all the north-west of England and then the north-east, Scotland and increasingly further south, encouraging the establishment of a series of local building societies. By 1887, he and his wife had moved to the highly desirable Lancashire town of St Anne’s-on-Sea, where he became president of the Liberal Club, choirmaster and deacon of the Baptist church: a stalwart of the local community.
Joseph Peers died on 18 January 1915. Curiously, the obituary in the local paper which gave so much detail of his early life, didn’t mention his role in building societies for which he was known all over the country. We will try to unpick this a little below.
But first, the locals.
There are 6 ‘provisional directors’ listed on the flyer, all referred to as living in Heaton:
Mr J S Nicholson of 8 North View
Mr J Stokes of 26 Tynemouth Road
Mr A C Whitehead of 40 Clive Terrace
Mr H Weighell of 10 Cardigan Terrace
Mr J Lively of 1 Molyneux Street
Mr C H Smith of Stratford Villas
What sort of men became proposed directors of a new building society in eighteen nineties’ Heaton? Here we were assisted by the fact a census took place only a couple of months after the advertised meetings and that most of the men (and, of course, they were all men) were featured in the press from time to time.
Joseph Nicholson had been living at 8 North View for over ten years. However, his middle initial was not ‘S’ but ‘I’ for Innes. Joseph was born in Corbridge around 1843 and, aged 18, was a student at Gilesgate Training School in Durham. By 1881, he was living in Heaton, married with a young daughter and a servant. His employment status was recorded as ‘managing director of a glass ????’ (likely to be factory or similar), employing ‘38 men, 38 boys and 10 women’. At the time we are interested in, 1891, he and his wife, Anne, had two children but he had changed tack in his career again. Now, aged 48, he was a ‘commercial traveller and clerk to the burial board’. By the next census, he described himself as ‘burial board clerk and journalist’.
There is corroborating evidence for some of this sketchy census information in the form of regular mentions in newspapers, especially in connection with his duties for Heaton and Byker Burial Board. It was Joseph who, in 1890, had announced that the new cemetery was open for burials. He was also mentioned as the ‘honorary secretary (pro tem)’ for a public meeting at Leighton Schools calling for Byker Bridge to be made toll-free. And in 1894, he stood unsuccessfully to be Assistant Overseer of St Andrew’s parish. There are also some articles by him including one about the new Royal Victoria Infirmary and a letter commenting on the proposed width of a new bridge over the Ouseburn ‘near the mill’.
Joseph Innes Nicholson died on 3 September 1903, aged about 60. He is buried, not in the Heaton Cemetery he helped run, but in Jesmond Old Cemetery along with his wife, two of their children who died in infancy and two other people whose identity we don’t know. An obituary in the newspaper refers to Joseph’s friendly nature, his work as clerk to the burial board, as a journalist and in teaching but sheds no light on his directorship in the glass industry or his unusual career path. The East End Economic Building Society isn’t mentioned either.
John Stokes was, in 1891, living at 94 Tynemouth Road (not number 26 as the leaflet stated but he may have moved) in what was, at that time, usually described as Byker rather than Heaton, with his wife, Annie, and four children aged between four and fourteen. He worked as a solicitor’s clerk. Twenty years later, the couple were still at the same address and still had four of their total of eight children at home. John continued to work as a solicitor’s clerk.
He had been born in Northampton in 1850. His father, a wheelwright, had died aged 29 less than three months before John was born. Initially, John and his mother, Sarah, lived with Sarah’s sister and family but three years later, Sarah married Richard Christmas who worked as a butler and footman in grand houses in London and the south. By 1871, John was lodging in Stamford, Lincolnshire where he was employed by a solicitor. Within four years, he had married Annie, who, like John, hailed from Northampton and they had moved to Newcastle. By 1881, they had four children. John died in Gateshead in 1932. Annie outlived him.
Arthur Charles Whitehead was a Brummie, who at the time of the building society launch was 38 years old, living in Clive Street in Byker (although the leaflet places it in Heaton) and the ‘secretary of a glass manufactory’. Maybe this is what brought him into contact with Joseph Nicholson. Ten years before he had been a grocer in Aston near Birmingham and, aged 18, he was a clerk in a brewery.
We also know that Arthur was an active member of the Perseverance Lodge of Good Templars, Byker. The Independent Order of Good Templars was an organisation which advocated temperance and had a structure based on freemasonry. It was founded in the USA in the early 1850s but soon became international and a returning British emigré, Joseph Malins, established the first British lodge in Arthur’s native Birmingham in 1866. The Byker lodge was certainly a place where he could have met some of his fellow directors. Arthur Whitehead died in September 1905, aged c 52.
Henry Weighell was, in 1891, aged 31 and living with his wife, Hannah, three children and a servant at 10 Cardigan Terrace. As a young man, ten years earlier, he was boarding with an uncle of his future wife, a Northallerton grocer, and working as his assistant. But now, the Yorkshireman was described as a ‘commission agent’. We know from newspaper advertisements that he was a rep for ‘McGregor’s Dumfries Home Made Preserves’ and sold ‘Balmoral Crystalline Marmalade (as supplied to Her Majesty)’ and ‘Far-famed gooseberry jam (new season)’. At this time, he was living on Mowbray Street.
Ten years later Henry, Hannah and their five children were at 26 Kingsley Place next door to artist John Wallace, with Henry running his own wholesale confectionery business.
By 1911, however, the family had left Heaton for the west end of Newcastle and Henry had changed sector. He was, by now, a ‘commercial traveller in cattle food.’ By 1915, 55 year old Henry and 61 year old Hannah had relocated again, this time to Belford in Northumberland, perhaps because in and around Newcastle, houses had increasingly replaced the farms of his erstwhile customers. We know this both from advertisements for the cattle food which Henry was selling and the announcement of Hannah’s death in December 1915. Henry was soon placing an advert in the ‘Wanted’ column for a country house with modern conveniences, a garden and a garage a reasonable distance from a station. He was looking for a new home because he was about to remarry. In July 1917, he married 44 year old Isabella Tindall, whose now deceased father had farmed 504 acres near Chatton in Northumberland. Henry continued to trade in agricultural products. He died on 10 March 1939, aged 79.
James Lively was recorded on the leaflet as living at 1 Molyneux Street but, by the time of the census, a couple of months later, he was living at 75 Mowbray Street with his wife Sarah and three young daughters and earning a living as a self employed watchmaker and jeweller. He lived and had shops at various times on Shields Road, Molyneux Street, Mowbray Street and Warwick Street.
James was born in 1859 in North Yorkshire. His father, also called James Lively, was an Irishman from Sligo, who at the time of the 1851 census lived in ‘hawkers’ lodgings’ in Painters Heugh, All Saints parish and described his occupation as a stationer. Two years later, he married local girl, Mary Watson, who seemed to have been just 15 years old at the time. Mary had at least three children over the next six years, the youngest of whom was James, before her husband disappeared from her life.
In 1861, aged 23, Mary was living in Bishopwearmouth near Sunderland with her three young children and no visible means of support. By 1871, however, things seem to have looked up for the family. They were living on Low Friar Street in Newcastle. Mary had a new partner, Patrick Develin, also from Ireland. Both he and Mary were described as clothiers and the oldest of Mary’s children was an upholsterer. James and his other siblings were at school. All were described as Patrick’s children and were recorded on the census with his surname. However, two years later Patrick had died, aged only 48.
A couple of years later, Mary was married for a third time to seaman Stephen Easten. She had two more children with him before he too died, at sea. In 1881, the unfortunate Mary, aged 43 and still described as a clothier, had upped sticks again to South Hetton in County Durham. She now had some financial help as 21 year old James was employed as a watchmaker and his younger brother, Michael, was a draper.
It sounds like a tough start in life for young James but despite the poverty the family must have endured, having three father figures in his life, all only briefly, and the frequent changes of address, he somehow learned a trade, built up his own business (He placed advertisements in the newspapers for an apprentice) and was nominated as a building society company director. Another indication of James’ status was his mention in the press the following year as being one of a group of friends to have made a presentation to James Peel, Newcastle United’s treasurer, who was leaving the city for a job in London. Most of the other friends listed were either directors of the football club or like James Birkett, who we’ll meet again later, a councillor.
By 1901, James, Sarah and their five children had moved away from Heaton to Ashington in Northumberland. James died in 1905, aged c 44.
Charles Henderson Smith was, at the time of the 1891 census, a 51 year old ship surveyor living with his wife, Mary, at 4 Stratford Villas in Heaton. He had been born in Aberdeen but his father, a blacksmith, and mother relocated to Wallsend with their young children in the 1840s. After serving an apprenticeship at Charles Mitchell and Company in Walker, Charles joined Andrew Leslie of Hebburn as a lofts man and then a ship carpenter in which role he spent several periods at sea. He married Mary Ann Mein in 1861 and the couple soon had two children, the younger of whom was somewhat confusingly also called Charles Henderson Smith, also had a wife called Mary and worked in the same profession. They don’t make it easy for us historians!
As Charles senior advanced his career with a number of different companies, the family lived briefly in both Glasgow and Barrow in Furness before coming to Heaton where, in 1883, Charles set up his own business as a ship surveyor and then went into a partnership, a decision which, he gave as a reason for led his being declared bankrupt in 1889, while living on Falmouth Road, Heaton. This doesn’t seem to have prevented him from becoming the director of a building society less than two years later. However, an otherwise extensive obituary in the ‘Whitley Seaside Chronicle’ doesn’t mention either his financial misfortune or his association with the East End Economic Building Society. It does refer him to being a ‘staunch nonconformist’ and specifically a member of Salem United Methodist Church in Newcastle and then the Congregationalist Church in Whitley. Charles and his wife, Mary had moved to Whitley Bay in 1899. It was there that, in 1911, first Mary then, six months later, Charles died. He was 71. Notice the name of his house as given on the notice of his death in the obituary.
Six men from diverse occupation but what they seem to have in common is that they were aspirational. Many had endured tough upbringings but had gone on to forge successful careers for themselves. They were the sort of people who might have had a little money to invest and to whom the idea of owning a house might appeal. You can see why they might be attracted to an organisation which could help them achieve their aim, something open only to a small minority in the late nineteenth century. It is striking though that, just as with Joseph Peel, neither of the two directors’ obituaries we have seen mention involvement with the East End Economic Building Society
Morris Robinson, who must at some point have put a pile of leftover flyers for the building society under the floorboards of his home of 5 Holmside Place was listed as secretary of the society. (Is it just a coincidence that ‘Holmside’ was the name of Charles Henderson Smith’s residence?) On census night, 5 April 1891, he was aged 24, employed as a solicitor’s clerk and living with his stepmother, three siblings and two lodgers. Morris’s father, a Prussian Jew, also known as Morris, had emigrated to Newcastle and set up in business as a slipper and shoe manufacturer. By 1881, he employed 30 people. Sadly, he had been admitted to Newcastle Lunacy Asylum a year before the 1891 census and would die a matter of a few weeks after it took place.
Morris junior was also a keen athlete and member of Heaton Harriers. He went on to marry and have children but in 1908, just like his father, was admitted to the Lunacy Asylum and died the following month, aged 41.
5 Holmside Place remained in the Robinson family for over fifty years until after the Second World War. It seems likely that Morris Robinson senior, a successful businessman, bought it as a new build but we haven’t seen documentary evidence of this and whether he had a building society loan and, if so, which one.
Andrew Robinson, the society’s solicitor, was Morris’s elder brother, four years his senior and the first-born boy of the large family. In 1891, Morris was his clerk. Andrew lived in Tynemouth at this time with his wife and family.
The North Eastern Banking Company was founded in Newcastle in 1872 but with branches throughout Northumberland. Its Byker branch was at 184/186 Shields Road. It became part of Martins and eventually Barclays.
William Hope, listed as the society’s surveyor, was an architect, particularly well known for his design of theatres, including Byker’s Grand Theatre. In Heaton, he later designed Heaton Methodist Church and large houses on Heaton Road, including Coquet Villa and Craigielea.
Leighton School Rooms The initial public meeting was to be held at Leighton Schoolrooms. We have already written extensively about William Brogg Leighton and his church, with its attached schoolrooms, which opened in 1877 at the southern end of Heaton Road. The rooms were used extensively for public meetings.
Moore’s Cocoa Rooms
The subscription meeting was to be held at Moore’s Cocoa Rooms, which were described as the society’s temporary offices. The cocoa rooms were at 46 Shields Road, opposite where Morrisons is now, between about 1886 and 1894 and often used as a venue for meetings. There were many cocoa rooms in and around Newcastle at this time. John Thomas Moore, the manager, was 39 years old in 1891 and lived in Byker. He had managed cocoa rooms for over ten years but went on to work in insurance. For a while, the Byker rooms also bore the name of his business partner, John Wilson.
James Birkett, had, in 1891, been a well respected Liberal councillor in the East End for eight years. He lived at 37 Heaton Park Road.
James was born on 4 February 1831 in Gatehouse of Fleet in Scotland. He came to Newcastle in 1855 as a young man and began work for a firm of anchor and chain-makers of which he eventually became a managing partner.
James soon became involved in public life, where he was known as a radical. For example, in January 1867, he was a member of the committee which planned a demonstration in Newcastle in favour of extending male suffrage and, in particular, in support of Gladstone’s Reform Bill, initially shelved when the Tories came to power.
In 1873 and 1884, he was the mounted marshal at the head of further large protests in favour of greater suffrage and electoral fairness, part of a national campaign which led eventually to the Third Reform Act, which extended the right to vote to about 60% of the male population.
He was also president of the Northern Republican League and a member of the Congregational church.
Locally, Birkett was elected chairman of Byker Liberals in 1874 and he was an active supporter of East End Football Club and other sports in Heaton. He campaigned tirelessly to improve sanitation in the city and for Byker Bridge to be toll-free and he was instrumental in Heaton getting parks and a public library.
He was the first chairman and then vice chairman of the Byker and Heaton Burial Board, in which context he will have known Joseph Nicholson, the clerk, and possibly also Andrew Robinson as can be seen from this plaque, still to be seen at the entrance to the cemetery. Note also the names of champion cyclist George Waller and his brothers.
Like Arthur Whitehead, Birkett was a vociferous and effective temperance campaigner who had a lasting influence on the development of Heaton as a suburb with very few public houses, up until the present day, yet another link between two of the names on the flier. As President of the Byker and Heaton Temperance Council, Birkett chaired a meeting in 1886 ‘to celebrate the success their friends had secured against the granting of certain licences for pubic houses’, and ‘condemned the idea of granting a licence to a public house on the main road to a Board School and on a road which the majority of their workmen traversed to and from their work’.
He had also, as early as 17 December 1889, chaired a meeting just like the one advertised in Heaton for a ‘new and improved Economic Building Society‘ in Newcastle at which Mr J Peers FSA would explain how to ‘Become your own landlord’. The office at which people could enrol was 76 Grey Street.
James Birkett died on 10 February 1898. On 20 July 1899, a clock was unveiled in his memory above the aviary in Heaton Park close to where ‘Mr Birkett’s figure was the most prominent among those who night after night patronised the bowling green in season’.
So they were the people involved in the proposed building society. But what was the context?
As late as 1914, only around ten per cent of houses in Britain were owner-occupied. In 1891, there was very little social housing and no council housing, certainly in Newcastle. As elsewhere, the vast majority of people in Heaton, even the more well-to-do, lived in the private rented sector. Indeed some wealthy people bought houses to rent out, while renting from others the property they themselves lived in.
Renting was the norm and working class people in particular often moved house very frequently. We see this when looking at the census records and electoral registers for Heaton. Sometimes people moved just a few doors down the same street. Many poorer people’s tenancies were weekly, meaning landlords could evict them almost at will. Conversely, tenants could easily trade down if their income was reduced or up if they hit better times or if the size of their family grew or reduced.
However, that doesn’t mean that some people didn’t aspire to or support the idea of home ownership.
Building societies were not new in the 1880s and 90s. In fact, the first seems to have been founded in Arthur Whitehead’s birthplace, Birmingham, almost a century earlier in 1795. Their popularity increased throughout the nineteenth century, resulting in an Act of Parliament in 1874 to safeguard the interests of owners, investors and borrowers. From then, new building societies had to become incorporated companies under the act.
The building societies we are familiar with today in Britain (and more so before most became banks in the late twentieth century) are what is known as ‘permanent societies’, that is their rules allow them to exist indefinitely. But in the nineteenth century, many building societies were what were called ‘terminating’ building societies.
Such a society was open to subscribers only until the required number of investors needed to make it viable had been found (and then a new society could be formed). Depositors would be contracted to make a small regular deposit. They did not receive interest. The society invested the deposits in property. When the society had enough funds, a ballot would be held to determine which saver received an interest free loan, typically for 60% of the value of a property. The saver’s investments would usually be expected to cover the other 40%.
A local society might operate for around 10 years before it held any ballots at all. It would only hold ballots when it could afford to and would suspend them if the economic situation was considered unfavourable. People invested knowing that they wouldn’t own a property in the short term and not even in the expectation of owning one in the medium or long term but with a dream that one day they just might.
Peers’ Building Societies
The first building society that we have come across associated with Joseph Peers was in Darwen, Lancashire, close to where he lived. A newspaper report in 1985 refers to him as the secretary who had submitted the annual accounts. The society is referred to as the Starr Bowkett Darwen Society ie one based on monthly lotteries. The following year the neighbouring Heywood ‘Economic’ Building Society was described as ‘based upon rules drawn up by Mr Joseph Peers‘, suggesting that he had further developed the Starr Bowkett idea.
For the next ten years or so local newspapers, particularly in the north and Scotland, advertised forthcoming talks or opportunities to subscribe on pretty much a weekly basis. Joseph Peers was the advertised speaker at most of them.
There were, however, some brushes with the law. In 1889, the secretary of Peers’ Padiham Building Society was prosecuted on behalf of the Registrar of Friendly Societies because the society had not been incorporated. He tried to apportion some of the blame to Peers.
In February 1990, a question was put at one subscribers’ meeting concerning the amount mentioned for Peers’ salary. It was requested that Peers left the room while the discussion took place; he refused and a compromise was eventually reached.
Later that year, Jesse Morton Roby of Bury took Peers to court to claim £99.95 for work done, ‘promoting and establishing certain building societies known as Peers Economic Building Societies’. It was claimed in court that Roby visited Newcastle, Sunderland, North Shields, South Shields, Chester le Street, Wallsend, Gateshead, Morpeth and Derby and established societies but had not been paid at the agreed rate. He won his case.
And, just after the Heaton meetings were due to have taken place, a long letter in the Morpeth Herald took issue with the claims made by Peers about the likely growth of his societies’ funds and the amount he was paid by each society. The writer referred to the small likelihood of a member being successful in the ballots.
Nevertheless Peers continued to tour the country, promoting his building society model and seemingly finding queues of willing subscribers.
But the year after the Heaton meetings, a much bigger scandal occurred, which caused nervousness around building societies in general. A group of companies, including the Liberator Building Society (a permanent building society), all associated with someone called Jabez Spencer Balfour, collapsed. Balfour was at that time the Liberal Member of Parliament for Burnley. Facing charges of fraud – his companies were using investors’ capital to buy, at inflated prices, properties owned by Balfour – and the anger of thousands of penniless investors, Balfour fled to Argentina. He was eventually brought back to the UK to face trial and was sentenced to 14 years penal servitude. Despite his being disgraced, there are apparently two roads in the West End of Newcastle named in honour of Jabez Balfour: Croydon Road and Tamworth Road (He hailed from Croydon and also served as MP for Tamworth), both built using funds invested in the Liberator Building Society.
There are a number of connections between Balfour and the East End Economic Building Society:
One is Liberalism. Peers himself was president of St Anne’s on Sea Liberal Association and the chair of the public meeting here in Heaton was James Birkett, a much respected Liberal councillor, and some of the directors such as Joseph Nicholson were also supporters. Balfour was a Liberal MP. Liberals might be expected to support ideas which they thought would further the interests of ordinary people, including tenants. But for the less scrupulous and more cynical, like Jabez Balfour, association with trusted public figures and parties who were seen to be on the side of working people, did businesses aimed at those same sort of people no harm at all.
Another is nonconformism. Jabez Balfour was a Congregationalist, like James Birkett and Charles Henderson Smith; Joseph Peers was a Baptist. Nonconformists tended to espouse hard work, temperance, frugality, and upward mobility. Late 19th century nonconformists were mostly Liberals politically.
And lastly Burnley. Balfour was MP for Burnley from 1889 to 1893. Joseph Peers practised accountancy in Burnley and although he had moved to nearby St Annes in around 1887, he still had business interests there as evidenced by the court case involving Padiham Building Society in November 1889. It would be surprising if the two men didn’t know each other.
In any case, the Liberator scandal led to a rapid decrease in consumer confidence. Investment in building societies fell and led to further legislation in 1894 including a ban on Starr-Bowkett and similar societies ‘based on dubious gambling principles’. Joseph Peers’ societies including the East End Economic would have fallen into this category. Although we have found no evidence of any serious wrongdoing by Peers or his societies, it is perhaps understandable that neither he nor the East End directors spoke much in later life about their association with a now outlawed type of financial institution.
We haven’t found evidence that the East End Economic attracted enough subscribers to get off the ground, still less whether any of its subscribers won mortgages in its ballot or which, if any, Heaton properties were financed by it, but the discovery of a pile of undistributed leaflets under the floorboards of its secretary’s former home has allowed some light to be shone on what was until now a hidden aspect of Heaton’s social and economic history.
Can you help?
If you know any more about anyone mentioned in this article or the East End Economic Building Society, or if you come across any reference to the society in property deeds, we’d love to hear from you. You can contact us either through this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or by emailing email@example.com
Researched and written by Chris Jackson of Heaton History Group (HHG). A big thank you to Josie, who shared her family’s find with us and to Marty Douglass of HHG, who acted as go-between. Also to Arthur Andrews of HHG for his help, especially for retrieving the article about Charles Henderson Smith from the ‘Whitley Seaside Chronicle’ archive at Discover North Tyneside, North Tyneside Libraries.
‘British Newspaper Archives’
‘The Building Society Movement’ / by Harold Bellman; Methuen, 1927
‘The Building Society Promise: building societies and home ownership c 1880-1913’ / by Luke Samy; Discussion papers in Economic and Social History no 72; University of Oxford, 2008
‘Housing Landlordism in late nineteenth century Britain’ / by P Kemp; Environment and Planning A, 1982 pp 1437-1447
Stories of women and children hurriedly gathering a few belongings together and leaving the home they know to escape the horror of war, only to find themselves once more in the midst of it, have become only too commonplace in 2022. Heaton History Group member, Mike Summersby, arrived in Newcastle as a three year old in 1941 under just those circumstances.
We are delighted to be able to publish some extracts from the memoirs Mike has recently written. Here, he remembers those early days in Heaton, the family’s new home in Mowbray Street and the underground shelter where the family spent many hours:
‘ The wailing siren warned of the attack. Searchlight beams danced across the night sky, seeking out their prey. The dull drone of the planes heightened the sense of fear. Were they ours or theirs?
People hurried from their homes to the row of reinforced concrete air-raid shelters that sat between the Tyneside flats on either side of Mowbray Street. Hurriedly dressed over nightclothes, some carried books, or food, or other comforts. It could be a long night in the shelter.
It was 1941. Jessie Summersby (Mam) and her two sons – my brother Peter aged twelve and me aged three – had only days earlier arrived in Newcastle. Dad was serving in the army. Mam knew not where, except that it was probably somewhere overseas.
As a wartime street warden, Mam had witnessed close-up the horrors of the London blitz. Near breaking point, she and her boys had left the capital as evacuees. After a brief stay in the Wiltshire village of Little Somerford, she had moved us to Newcastle, her childhood home, where her father and her twin sister lived.
From her London home she had watched aerial dogfights between the RAF and the German Luftwaffe. She could tell from the sound of the engines which planes were ours and which were theirs.
Our new home
Our new home was a single room in a downstairs two-bedroom Tyneside flat at 164 Mowbray Street, Heaton (now, but not then of course, opposite Hotspur Primary School) in which my grandfather, William Newton lived with his ‘housekeeper’, Mrs Montgomery.
Mam, my brother Peter and I were given the front room. I assume all concerned hoped that it would be a temporary measure. But these were uncertain times. No one could know how long the war would last. As it turned out this one room was to be our home for the next four years.
We also had use of the scullery, including a shelf in the larder, and access to a shared outside lavatory (colloquially the ‘netty’) next to the coalhouse in the small, red-brick-walled back yard.
So it was that 164 Mowbray Street became the place of some of my earliest recollections and our family home until the end of World War 2.
Being only three years old when we first arrived in Newcastle, I had no awareness of our previous home in London. Nor could I possibly, at that young age, be aware of the sense of loss and deprivation that my mother must have felt as she came to terms with her new situation.
Now, as I reflect on that time and the years that followed, I can only marvel at how brave and resourceful she was, and how magnificently she coped single-handedly during the next four years bringing up her two boys in such strained circumstances.
Mam did her best with what she had. Out of necessity she quickly settled us in. Typical of the front room of a Tyneside flat, our room was roughly thirteen feet square with two alcoves, one either side of a chimney breast. The sash windows looking out onto the front street were curtained with blackout material.
Furniture was basic and second hand or improvised. Much of the floor space was taken up by a three-quarter size bed initially shared by mam, Peter and me, and a square table and two horsehair-covered chairs (rough on the legs of a young boy wearing short trousers).
Later, Peter slept on a camp bed which was folded away each morning and set up in front of the window each evening. I marvel now that without complaint, and for much of our four years living in that room, he slept so many nights on canvas stretched on a wooden frame. Perhaps it felt like camping out but it could not have been comfortable, particularly for a growing teenager.
The two alcoves were used for storage of all our worldly goods, including the less perishable items of food. Orange boxes served for shelving. Mam hand-sewed hems on pieces of cretonne curtain which she then suspended on string across the front of the boxes to hide the contents. The wood floor was covered with faded patterned linoleum that had seen better days and was cracked in places where the floorboards were uneven, which made it difficult to keep clean. Heating in our room was an open fireplace with an iron grate. Teasing a fire into flame on a chilly night required the careful layering of paper, sticks of firewood and coal. One of Peter’s regular jobs was to buy and fetch coal from the coal yard next to the nearby railway line.
Lighting was by gas from a pipe at the centre of the ceiling. When the gas was turned on, a replaceable mantle fixed to the end of the gas fitting glowed when it was lit with a match or a lighted taper. The flow of gas, and thus the brightness, was regulated by the manipulation of pull-chains attached to the light fitting. The mantles were very fragile and frequently needed replacement. The gas mantle would be lit only when the light was intended to be left on – otherwise a candle or a torch would be used as a short-term temporary light – like when someone needed to use the chamber-pot (kept under the bed) for a nocturnal pee. Whatever the form of lighting, it had to be blocked by curtains or screens so that no light could be seen from outside. Stray lights could assist enemy bombers in locating or confirming target areas. The ‘blackout’ was enforced by patrolling Air Raid Precautions (ARP) wardens who would promptly order ‘Put that light out’ if it wasn’t properly screened.
The netty was a cold, stark, forbidding cupboard of a place housing a wooden platform straddled across its width, with an appropriately shaped opening above the lavatory bowl. Faded whitewash decorated the otherwise bare brick walls. ‘Toilet paper’ was squares cut or torn from newspapers, each square punched in one corner, threaded with string and hung in a swatch on a nail. Mounted precariously above the facility was a rusted metal water cistern from which hung a similarly rusted metal chain. The cubicle was little wider than the wooden entry door with its gaps at top and bottom – presumably for ventilation. Ceiling cobwebs added to the sense of gloom. This was a grim place of necessity in which to spend the least possible time, particularly during the winter months.
We had left London to escape the blitz but Mam soon found that the air raid threat, though less intensive than in the capital, was a fact of life here in Newcastle, too. During our first year living at 164 Mowbray Street we spent many hours in the culvert. After a night spent there, Peter always liked to prolong his stay in order to avoid going to school, or at least to provide him with an excuse for arriving late. Grandad didn’t use the culvert or the street shelters. He preferred to stay in his home, taking refuge in the cupboard underneath the stairs of the flat above.
About a third of a mile long, the Ouseburn Culvert had two entry points. The preferred access for us was down in the Ouseburn Valley off Stratford Grove West. The other – which we never used – was under Byker Bridge.
The Culvert was our place of refuge many times during World War 2. At the wail of the air raid siren we would stop whatever we were doing, grab our gas masks and run out into the streets in the direction of sanctuary. There was no street lighting to guide us if it was a night raid and, anyway, moonlit nights were a mixed blessing. If you could see, you could be seen.
Once inside the Culvert we felt safe. An elliptical structure 6 metres high and 9 metres wide, with a concrete platform floor, it was dry and had the space for distractions and facilities to make the experience tolerable. A canteen, a first aid post and sick bay, bunk beds, an area for worship, a stage for performance, a library, and tolerable – if basic – toilet facilities.
One particularly memorable evening the wail of the air raid siren sounded just a couple of minutes after we had returned to our room from a trip to the fish and chip shop on Stratford Road. Fish and chips were a hugely popular takeaway meal, especially as they were not subject to food rationing. As usual we’d had to stand in a queue to wait our turn at the counter. Then, with happy anticipation of the meal ahead, we carried the hot, newspaper-wrapped bundles the short distance back to our room in Mowbray Street. As soon as Mam had unwrapped the feast, off went the siren. We hurriedly dressed, grabbed gas masks and without a second thought Mam loosely gathered up the fish and chips in their newspaper wrappers and we all ran towards the Culvert. Sadly, on our arrival at our safe haven there was very little left of our now barely warm meal. Most of it lay scattered along the pavements between Mowbray Street and our sanctuary.
Whilst the Culvert offered safety from whatever mayhem might be going on above ground, the overriding but generally unspoken fear was of what would happen if bombs were dropped at either end of the tunnel. Otherwise the occupants were sufficiently protected in their underground location, with its cleverly designed inner blast walls, to offer safety for up to 3,000 residents for as long as it might be needed, until the ‘all clear’ siren was sounded.
Street shelters fell into disfavour after a number of people were killed or maimed as a result of direct bomb hits, in some cases resulting in the concrete and reinforced steel roofs collapsing on the people inside. It turned out that the Ouseburn Culvert was probably our safest option after all.
The culvert was originally constructed to cover a section of the Ouseburn, a tributary of the River Tyne, through a valley which then would be infilled to provide improved access between Heaton and the city centre. (You can read much more about its construction and history here.)
Today, much is rightly made of the Victoria Tunnel, an underground waggon-way built in the 1840s to carry coal between Leazes Main Colliery to the waiting ships on the River Tyne. Longer than the Ouseburn Culvert, it was not as spacious in section but, like the Culvert, it was converted for use as an air raid shelter during World War 2. Tours of the Victoria Tunnel give visitors a graphic interpretation of the sounds of war and the conditions under which people sought shelter from the bombing raids of the Luftwaffe. If similar reconstruction of World War 2 facilities and other interpretation work were to be carried out at a section of the Ouseburn Culvert, it would make a very impressive addition to Newcastle’s heritage offer.
I’ll tell you more about my memories of growing up in Heaton during and after the second world war anon.’
Acknowledgements Thank you to Heaton History Group member, Mike Summersby, for permission to publish this extract from his memoirs. We plan to feature more over the coming months.
‘Miss Cooper’ was the first headmistress of Heaton Secondary School for Girls and, as she stayed in post for 17 years, until her retirement in 1944, she was a big influence on a generation of Heaton girls, including social campaigner and politician Elsie Tu, who followed her from Benwell School for Girls to Heaton and wrote about her in her autobiography.
Heaton History Group’s Arthur Andrews has already researched the first head of Heaton Secondary School for Boys, Frederic Richard Barnes, and Miss Cooper’s successor at the girls’ school, ‘Doc’ Henstock so he recently set about discovering what he could find out about Miss Cooper and her time at Heaton Secondary School for Girls.
Winifred Muriel Cooper was born in Ipswich on 3 November 1882. Her father, Thomas Embling Cooper, was a career soldier and, at the time of the 188 census, was a sergeant major with the 1st Suffolk Rifles.
By 1891, Thomas was lodging in Derby with a young police constable, John Beckett, and John’s wife, Hannah. We know quite a lot about Thomas because, when he died in 1916, ‘The Derby Evening Telegraph’, published an extensive obituary. He had become a stalwart of the local community while working in Derby for the NSPCC, but his military record was also considered noteworthy. He had fought in Crimea and ‘met Florence Nightingale many times’. Later, he went to Malta where he converted to Catholicism and went on to serve in India at the time of the mutiny.
The whole Cooper family soon moved to the east midlands. By 1901, Thomas and his wife, Emma, had 4 children. Eighteen year old, Winifred Muriel, the second born, was already described as a school teacher. By 1911, she had moved away from the family home and, aged 29, was appointed headmistress of Seafield Convent Grammar School in Crosby near Liverpool.
Winifred remained in post until the summer of 1917 when an opportunity arose in Newcastle: the former Benwell School Girls’ Department had become a school in its own right and the the school logbook entry for 3 September reads:
‘Miss W Cooper M.A. Lond commenced duties here as Head Mistress of the Girls’ Department, which has now become a separate school from the Boys’.’
By the time of the 1921 census, Winifred was boarding on Collingwood Terrace in Jesmond, The head of the household was Caroline Davies, who was described as doing social work and home duties. Also living at the property was Lily Blades, a ‘general domestic servant’. Later, Winifred moved to Tynemouth where her mother joined her up until her death in 1936.
Elsie wrote that, as a child of poor parents, she had encountered a lot of snobbery at West Jesmond Primary School but she found none at Benwell Secondary Girls School, which she graduated to in 1924. This must have been in part, at least, due to the example of the school leadership. And yet, Elsie didn’t speak highly of her head teacher, who she described as ‘a fiery and rather incompetent person, or so it seemed to us’. Elsie described a number of ‘tongue lashings’ she received in the head’s office but ‘perhaps the thing that most turned me from Miss Cooper was the advice she gave me when I was leaving school.
“Your fault” she said “is that you are too quiet…. Why don’t you put all your goods in the shop window” ’.
Whatever she thought of the comment, the timid school girl did eventually learn to be more assertive as many people who knew her in Hong Kong have testified.
Elsie’s memories, written around half a century after the events described, might have been influenced by her teenage emotions and may not be entirely reliable. For example, she claimed that Miss Cooper ‘had very little real knowledge but had concentrated all her studies on the history of the city of Florence (possibly she felt gratified to study about her namesake – her name was Florence)’. But we know this not to be true. Miss Cooper’s first names were ‘Winifred Muriel’. Was Elsie getting her mixed up with Florence Nightingale Harrison Bell, who presented a history prize which Elsie won?
Despite her sometimes negative views, nevertheless Elsie wrote how much she still treasured the reference she received from Miss Cooper.
We don’t have a lot more information about Miss Cooper’s time at Benwell but there was some press coverage of her speech at the annual prize giving ceremony in 1926 when she spoke about the dangers of too much pocket money.
‘Pocket money can be an excellent training,’ she said, ‘if a definite amount is given regularly and the girls are required to provide themselves with certain things. But you give them such sums that they gain little experience of the real value of money and you can hardly be surprised if they are somewhat extravagant or foolish when they grow up’.
The Countess of Tankerville, who was presenting the prizes, backed her up: ‘It is necessary for girls to learn how to spend money wisely. Education, among all the other grand subjects, should give us a practical appreciation of the use of money.’
When Benwell school was deemed unfit for purpose, Winifred Cooper was appointed head of the new Heaton Secondary School for Girls and senior girls, including Elsie Hume transferred with her. It must have been a proud moment when, just a few weeks into her new post, she hosted the king and queen.
Again, information about Miss Cooper during her time at Heaton Secondary School is quite scant. We do know, however, that she had a great interest in films and was an advocate for the part they could play in education. A 1939 article in the ‘Evening Chronicle’ refers to her as Honorary Secretary and Treasurer of The Northern Counties Children’s Cinema Council which believed that ‘the influence of picture theatres on the emotional and intellectual development of children, who spend many hours there, is not to be ignored.’ It aimed to encourage the training of film taste and discrimination in children and had set up a conference to get educationalists ‘on board’, with a view to sponsoring a Children’s Film Society.
And we know from surviving copies of the school magazine that Miss Cooper valued cultural input into school life more generally. For example, she arranged for a well known opera singer, Sybil Cropper, to perform at the school and to talk about composition and early music.
There were also a wide range of societies and school trips to widen the girls horizons, perhaps sometimes to Miss Cooper’s regret. The article below was not the only one to appear in the magazine during the 1930s following visits to Germany praising Hitler.
But a few years later, Britain was at war with Germany. Miss Cooper, along with other staff and the majority of the pupils, was evacuated to Kendal. Here she lodged with a retired teacher, Catherine Kitchen. There were two other members of the household, a widow with private means and a young woman who carried out general domestic duties.
Mention is made in the school magazines of two head girls, Mary Graham (1930-31) and Edna Grice (1933-34).It’s interesting to see what some highly rated pupils of Miss Cooper’s era went on to do.
There are several Mary Grahams in the 1939 Register but the most likely candidate is a school science mistress with a BSc, born in 1913 and so an exact contemporary of Elsie Hume. In 1939, she was living with her parents off the West Road. She married Donald G Saunders, Chief Petty Officer, Royal Navy, in 1944 by special licence and she died in 2006, aged 93, near Hastings.
Edna Elizabeth Grice grew up in Byker. Besides becoming head girl, in 1932 she was awarded the Harrison Bell history prize, won by Elsie Hume three years earlier. Edna was presented with it by Dr Ethel Williams, Newcastle’s first female doctor and ‘a sincere friend of the school’.
By 1939, Edna was a school teacher, at that time lodging in Haltwhistle with another teacher, probably having been evacuated there. She may have been a Unitarian, as she appeared in a play, ‘Ladies in Waiting’, performed by the Unity Players at the Durant Hall, Ellison Place, for the Northumberland and Durham War Needs Fund. In 1944, she married William Harding of Cartington Terrace, an accountant and company secretary. For most of their married life, the couple lived at 27 Patterdale Gardens in High Heaton. Edna died in 2004.
Elsie herself gets several mentions in the magazines mainly because of her sporting prowess in netball and lacrosse. She also made humourous poetry contributions.
In summer 1944, before the end of World War 2, Winifred Cooper retired at the age of 61.
There were farewell gatherings where old girls and staff, past and present, offered their good wishes and made presentations ‘to mark their esteem and affection’. The ‘Evening Chronicle’ reported that Miss Cooper would be missed in the educational life of the city and that she had abounding energy and a vital interest in all that is new in the world of education. ‘She leaves behind a tradition of hard work and keen play.’
Winifred Muriel Cooper’s death and funeral in London was reported in the Newcastle press on 17 May 1951. It was said that wreaths had been sent by former members of her staff and the old girls association of the school. It was further stated that charm and human kindliness were part of her character and her outstanding educational work for Newcastle was acknowledged.
Can You Help?
If you know more about Winifred Cooper, Mary Graham or Edna Grice or have photographs to share, we’d love to hear from you. You can contact us either through this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Researched and written by Arthur Andrews of Heaton History Group.
British Newspaper Archive
‘Crusade for Justice: an autobiography’ / Elsie Elliott, 1981
Find My Past
‘Heaton Secondary School for Girls School Magazine’ and other resources relating to Miss Cooper held by Tyne and Wear Archives
‘NEWCASTLE DOCTOR ROCKS CHEMICAL WORLD WITH YELLOW POWDER’ screamed ‘The Journal’ headline. It went on to say that the doctor had ‘done something which was thought to be impossible…. As a result, chemical books will have to be rewritten.’ But who was the ‘doctor’ and why have most of us never heard of him?
Neil Bartlett was born on 15 September 1932 at The Gables, Elswick Road, formerly a branch of the Princess Mary but by then an independent maternity hospital. His childhood home, however, was in in the east end of Newcastle.
Norman, Neil’s father, was born in Walker in 1898 of Scottish parents. In his younger days, he worked as a shipwright. He fought and was apparently gassed in the first world war and suffered from ill health for the rest of his comparatively short life. Norman’s military records don’t survive but what does is a shipping record showing that, in September 1922, describing himself as a ‘shipwright’, he set sail for the USA, giving his final destination as Philadelphia. We don’t know how long he stayed but by 1928, he was back in Newcastle and marrying Ann Willins Voak.
Ann was born in Byker in 1901. Her original surname was Vock. The place of birth of her father, William, is recorded on the 1901 census as ‘Heligoland’ and his status ‘British subject’. Between 1807 and 1890, this small island off the coast of Germany, was British owned. It had been captured from Denmark during the Napoloeonic wars and only ceded to Germany as part of a treaty in which Britain secured strategic territory in East Africa. The fact that, despite William being a British subject settled in Newcastle and married to a local woman, life became uncomfortable around the time of World War 1 is evidenced by the fact that Ann changed her surname to Voak, thought to sound less German.
With work as a shipwright on Tyneside difficult for Norman to find during the recession, the Bartletts acquired and ran a grocery and confectioner’s shop, now demolished, in Brinkburn Street. Apart from a brief period during the second world war when Neil and his brother were evacuated, the Bartletts lived in Byker throughout Neil’s childhood.
After her husband died in 1944, aged only 46, Ann continued to run the shop in order to support the family. According to Neil, she was a very determined woman with an excellent head for business who ensured that the family was never in financial difficulties and she encouraged her children also to work hard and be ambitious.
Neil, a bright boy, passed his eleven plus to secure a place at Heaton Secondary School for Boys (renamed Heaton Grammar after the war), which he later described as ‘the most fortunate event in my life’. He remembered that there was a heavy emphasis on the sciences and that, from the outset, he was drawn to chemistry. One of his formative memories was of an experiment conducted in class when he was 12 years old in which he mixed a solution of colourless aqueous ammonia with blue copper sulphate in water to produce ‘beautiful well-formed crystals’. ‘From that moment I was hooked’ he wrote later, and he longed to know why the transformation took place. His future career direction had already been determined.
Neil also recalled that he and his brother made extra pocket money by selling ice cream. With the encouragement of his mother, he spent his share of the proceeds equipping a makeshift laboratory at home. It is interesting to note that fluorine, which is used in refrigeration, was to become the focus of Neil’s research a decade or more later.
His original plan was to become a biochemist and so he obtained a scholarship to study natural products chemistry at Kings College in Newcastle, then part of the University of Durham. While he was there, his mother bought a newly built house at 1 Winchcombe Place in High Heaton, which Neil called home for six years.
He graduated in 1954 but by this time, he had realised that his strengths lay with inorganic chemistry and it was in this field that he obtained his PhD at the same institution in 1958. By the time he obtained his doctorate, he was married to Christina Cross of Guisborough. Neil then spent a brief period teaching at The Duke’s School in Alnwick before accepting a research position in fluorine chemistry at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver.
Not so inert
Scientists had always believed that the so-called noble or inert elements: helium, neon, argon, krypton, xenon and radon, all gases at room temperature, were unable to react with any other substances. Their inertness had become a basic tenet of chemistry, published in textbooks and taught in classrooms and lecture halls throughout the world.
A few had questioned this scientific orthodoxy. They included German physicist, Walter Kossel, and the American Nobel-prize winning chemist, Linus Pauling, who had both predicted that highly reactive atoms such as those of fluorine might form compounds with xenon, the heaviest of the noble elements.
During his early days at UBC, while experimenting with fluorine and platinum, Bartlett had accidentally produced a deep-red solid, the exact chemical composition of which was, at first, a mystery. Eventually, he and his research student, Derek Lohmann, realise that the fluorine and platinum had reacted with oxygen. What was unusual was that the compound contained oxygen in the form of positively charged ions, although usually oxygen has a net negative charge. Bartlett realised that the platinum and fluorine component was a more powerful oxidising agent even than oxygen and theorised that it might also be able to oxidise xenon and so show that this so called inert gas wasn’t necessarily always so.
By March 1962, Bartlett had designed a simple experiment. He set up a glass apparatus containing the platinum fluorine compound, a red gas, in one container and xenon, a colourless gas, in an adjoining container separated by a seal. This is what happened next in his own words:
‘Because my co-workers at that time (23 March 1962) were still not sufficiently experienced to help me with the glass blowing and the preparation and purification of platinum hexafluoride necessary for the experiment, I was not ready to carry it out until about 7.00pm on that Friday. When I broke the seal between the red platinum hexafluoride gas and the colourless xenon gas, there was an immediate interaction, causing an orange-yellow solid to precipitate. At once I tried to find someone with whom to share the exciting finding but it appeared that everyone had left for dinner!’
The reaction took place at room temperature ‘in the twinkling of an eye’ and was, according to Bartlett, ‘extraordinarily exhilarating’. Neil Bartlett was only 29 years old.
It was then that the really hard work began. Bartlett was sure that he had disproved what was then considered to be a fundamental law of nature but the scientific community was sceptical. Nevertheless, the compound was soon formally identified as xenon hexafluoroplatinate, the world’s first noble gas compound. With one simple experiment, an entirely new field, noble gas chemistry, had been launched.
Now, there are many known compounds, for which applications have been found in medicine, including eye-surgery and cancer treatments; mining; space travel and manufacturing.
Early the following year, Neil Bartlett was in the news again. He and his graduate student were injured following a laboratory explosion. According to Bartlett, as they both took off their glasses to get a better look at what they thought might be the first crystals of xenon difluoride, the compound exploded. Both men spent around four weeks in hospital. Bartlett was left with damaged vision and glass was still being removed from his eye 27 years later.
Despite the momentous discovery he made so early in his career, Bartlett’s career certainly didn’t tail off.
He stayed at the UBC for another four years before becoming professor of chemistry at Princeton University, alongside a position as a scientist at Bell Telephone Laboratories. He later said that, in retrospect, the move to the east coast of America was a mistake. He much preferred the lifestyle and climate of the west and, in 1969, he joined the University of California, Berkeley, where he stayed until his retirement. In the UK, he also served as Brotherton professor at the University of Leeds.
Bartlett is also known in the world of chemistry for his work on the stabilisation of unusually high oxidisation states of elements; his contributions towards understanding thermodynamic, structural and bonding considerations of chemical reactions; he developed novel synthetic approaches; and he discovered and characterised many new fluorine compounds and produced many new metallic graphite compounds.
Beyond the Lab
Neil and Christine had three sons and one daughter and they continued to live in California after Neil’s retirement in 1993. Neil became a naturalised US citizen in 2000. His outside interests included water colour painting, gardening and ‘walking in high country’. He died on 5 August 2008.
Professor Neil Bartlett’s contribution to science was recognised all over the world by honorary degrees and prizes. There are too many to list here but they include:
1962 The Corday-Morgan Medal and Prize awarded by the Chemical Society (now Royal Society of Chemistry) for that year’s most meritorious contribution to experimental chemistry;
1965 A Research Corporation for Scientific Advancement’s plaque and prize for his outstanding contribution to science;
1976 The Welch Award in Chemistry, given to encourage and reward chemical research for the benefit of mankind and one of the largest and most prestigious in chemistry;
1981 Honorary Doctor of Science, Newcastle University;
1989 The American Chemical Society Award for Distinguished Service in the Advancement of Inorganic Chemistry;
1989 Linus Pauling Award Medal of the American Chemical Society ‘A nominee shall have made outstanding contributions to chemistry that have merited national and international recognition’;
2002 The Davy Medal awarded by the Royal Society ‘for an outstandingly important recent discovery in any branch of chemistry;
2006 His laboratory at UBC in Vancouver was dedicated an International Historic Chemical Landmark by the American Chemical Society.
In fact almost the only prize missing from Professor Bartlett’s impressive CV was a Nobel Prize. Many people are astounded by his omission.
In his obituary in ‘Nature’, he was described by fellow chemist, Karl O Christe as ‘one of the foremost chemists of the twentieth century’. His obituary writer continued ‘perhaps because of his modesty and lack of interest in lobbying for honours, he did not receive the Nobel Prize in Chemistry – which, in my opinion, and those of many of his peers, was clearly deserved.’
Christe goes on to say ‘…perhaps his most memorable traits were his humbleness, friendliness, loyalty and concern for others: Neil Bartlett was not only a brilliant scholar but a true gentleman.’
Bartlett was nominated for the Nobel prize every year between 1963 and 1970: he received one nomination in 1963, four in 1964, nine in 1965, six in 1966, six in 1967, three in 1968, ten in 1969 and six in 1970, 45 in total.
István Hargittai in a chapter entitled ‘Who did not win?’ in his book ‘The Road to Stockholm’ wrote ‘Significantly, many chemists today assume that Bartlett has won a Nobel Prize.’
He cites ‘the most spectacular misconception’ on the first page of the first chapter of Primo Levi’s ‘The Periodic Table’ (named by the Royal Institution of Great Britain as ‘the best science book ever’ ). It reads as follows:
‘As late as 1962 a diligent chemist after long and ingenious efforts succeeded in forcing the Alien (xenon) to combine fleetingly with extremely avid and lively fluorine, and the feat seemed so extraordinary that he was given the Nobel Prize’.
But it isn’t just the Nobel Prize. The ‘Oxford Dictionary of National Biography’ which is described as ‘the national record of over 60,000 men and women who shaped the history of the British Isles and of Britons worldwide, from the earliest times to the 21st century’ issued a print update including deaths up to December 2008. Professor Neil Bartlett does not appear. And, more mystifyingly still, he still doesn’t appear in the online index.
There is no commemorative plaque at his High Heaton home and he doesn’t appear on NewcastleGatehead’s Local Heroes trail, where physicist, Professor Peter Higgs, and geneticist, Professor John Burn, are the only scientists with a plaque on the Quayside.
But it’s not too late for Heaton History Group to finally give ex Heaton Grammar pupil and former High Heaton resident, Professor Neil Bartlett, a man with noble qualities, if not a Nobel prize, at least the local recognition he deserves.
Can You Help?
If you know more about Neil Bartlett or have photos or memories to share, we’d love to hear from you. You can contact us either through this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or by emailing email@example.com
Researched and written by Chris Jackson with additional material by Karl Cain, both of Heaton History Group.
Trewhitt Road in Heaton first appears in trade directories in 1907-8 but only as far as number 188. Among the road’s first residents were Miss Maud Forman, ‘librarian in charge, Victoria Public Library, Heaton Park View’ at number 4; J Money, a ‘press reader’ at 45; A Gregory, a ‘missionary’, at 58; J Beaumont, a ‘musician’, at 60; J Shelton, a ‘mariner’, at 73.
It appears that 212, the final residence before the Iris Brickfield allotments, wasn’t yet occupied. It is unusual in that it is a two bedroomed house whereas most of the properties in the area are Tyneside flats. It is the only property beyond Whitefield Terrace on the south side, adjoining what was originally a corner shop. The house is wide rather than deep with a garden along the front. There used to be a bed of mint which was freely used by the neighbours.
We know such a lot about this house because it was the home for many years of Pat and Jim Scott and their daughter, Heaton History Group member Kathryn, who Robin Long, our treasurer, married. Robin took advantage of access to the deeds when the property was being sold in 2004 to find out more about no 212 and its various owners and inhabitants.
Plans dated around 1800 show that the house stands in what was then a field called ‘North Saugh Close’ (‘Saugh’ is a local word for willow which suggests the ground was damp, which wouldn’t surprise anyone who walks on the neighbouring Iris Brickfield Park today.) The farm was owned by the Ridley family but tenanted by Thomas Cairns.
The layout of the fields in Heaton had, not surprisingly, changed quite a bit by 4.00pm on Tuesday 7 November 1865 when the Heaton farms not already developed were put up for auction at the Queen’s Head in Newcastle. It’s not easy to map the sketch maps drawn for the auction against a modern street plan but North Saugh Close still existed and was described as arable land. It was part of ‘Heaton East Farm in the occupation of Mr William Lax.’ We have previously written a little bit about the Lax family.
We don’t know what happened at the auction but the land does not appear to have finally changed hands for several years when the deeds of 212 Trewhitt Road refer to ‘an Indenture dated 12 May 1868 and made between Sir Matthew White Ridley of the first part Matthew White Ridley of the second part and Sir William George Armstrong of the third part and a Deed dated the 11 October 1894 and made between William George Baron Armstrong of the one part and William Armstrong Watson Armstrong of the other part’ . Put more simply, Sir William, later Lord, Armstrong bought the land from Sir Matthew White Ridley and it remained in the family.
It was sold again on 9 March 1908. By this time, Heaton had been growing fast for some twenty years and was a sought-after place to live. The purchaser was William Spence Lambert of Newcastle upon Tyne, a builder. He paid £145 19s 9d for the plot on which the house stands and also bought a number of adjacent plots.
The plot on which 212 stands is described as ‘extending from North to South on the East side thereof 43 feet 9 inches and on the West side thereof 44 feet 9 inches and from East to West on the North side thereof 70 feet and on the South side thereof 69 feet 11 inches and containing 343 1/2 sq. yards of thereabouts delineated in the plan (which is missing)…bounded on or towards the North by Trewhitt Road on or towards the South by the other hereditaments of the purchaser on or towards the East by a back street and on or towards the West by Whitefield Terrace together with the two dwelling houses and other building erected thereon. And together with the liberty of way and passage in any manner howsoever over the said streets (Except and reserved unto the person or persons entitled thereto all mines and seams of coal within and under the said hereditaments…)’
There is a stipulation that ‘the purchaser is to maintain on each site sold a dwelling house to be built of good and substantial materials’.
‘The gardens (where gardens are shewn on the plan) are to be enclosed with a cast iron palisading of uniform height and pattern to be approved by the vendor’s architect.’ These were presumably removed for the war effort in 1942 but have since been replaced.
The last paragraph of the schedule reads:
‘No part of the purchased ground or any building erected or to be erected thereon shall be used as an inn or alehouse or for the sale of wine spirits or malt liquors and no trade business or manufacture shall be carried on thereon or therein from which nuisance of annoyance can arise to the neighbourhood’. The penalty for breach of the covenant is set at £50 per month or part.
The abstract then goes on to record an indenture on 10 March 1908 between William Spence Lambert (the builder and purchaser) and the Northern Counties Permanent Building Society for a mortgage of £936 0s 8d. This includes a page or more on the powers that the building society have in the event of default. Presumably the difference between the cost of the land and the amount of the mortgage was to cover the cost of building the house.
Owners and Occupiers
An advertisement in the ‘Evening Chronicle’ on 17 June 1910 described the house available for let as ‘Double fronted self-contained house… 4 rooms, bathroom. Immediate £22’.
One of the people to reply to the advert may have been W Beckett, a travelling draper. He appeared in a 1910 trade directory along with new neighbours including NH Burgess, a naval architect, next door at number 210; F A Charlton, a telegraphist at 186; W Hopper, a mariner at 160.
But the 1911 census shows the residents of 212 to be Herbert Bond, a 35 year old clerk from Middlesbrough who was working for a wholesale chemist, his wife, Alice, and 12 year old son Charles Edmund.
The deeds for 212 refer to an indenture dated 28 November 1911 between Northern Counties PBS and William Goode Davies and George Francis Bell, solicitors. It mentions that monies still remained owing to the Society… suggesting that Lambert may have become bankrupt. This indenture refers to ‘all the said hereditaments at the price of £3,422 5s 8d’ so these solicitors seem to have bought the whole block. On the same day they obtained a mortgage for £3,400 from the Northern Counties.
The Bonds were still in residence in 1914 and both father and son saw active service in World War One. Herbert enlisted at the age of 40 in December 1915. He served as a storeman and clerk and was promoted to Lance Corporal in 1917. Young Charles, still only 19 at the end of the war, suffered from ‘neurasthenia’ , for which he was awarded an army pension, and is a term which suggests he was affected by what was later known as ‘shell-shock’ and now ‘post-traumatic stress disorder’.
At this point, the Bonds’ neighbours included T P Browne, a bookseller at number 3; J H Weatherall, a groundsman, at no 67; W E Hurford, an assistant librarian at 89 and F W H Reed, a journalist, at 178; and Trewhitt Road was home to what seems like an extraordinary number of police officers – A Pogue at 72; T Nattress at 130; R Lambert at 138 and W Hall at 199; with J Wardell, a sergeant to keep them all in line, at 66.
This is a map of the area, dating from 1913. Note that there are already allotments around the edge of the brick works.
The next document that Robin examined was an abstract of title which referred to the will of William Goode Davies drawn up on 17 July 1918 in which he appointed his two daughters and son-in-law as his executors. Davies died just over a week later.
On 18 March 1920, 212 Trewhitt Road was sold by the executors and George Francis Bell, solicitor, with the permission of the Northern Counties to John Bartholomew of 141 Denmark Street for the sum of £450 with £400 being paid to the Society. John Bartholomew borrowed £344-17s-1d from Northern Counties.
Bartholomew, a fish merchant, continued to live in Monkseaton and rented out his recently purchased property on Trewhitt Road to the existing tenant, Herbert Bond, now described as a manager.
It changed hands again on 16 February 1924, with Charles William Llanwarne of Whitley Bay, an Employment Officer, buying it for £575. His mortgage of £400 was with the Crown Building Society. This was about the same time as the Bonds moved to 15 Tosson Terrace. Herbert became a director and secretary of a wine merchants. Charles went on to be a dentist and to live in Monkseaton.
Charles Llanwarne seems to have been the first owner occupier of 212 as this is the address that appeared for him on the conveyance dated 10 May 1927 when he sold the property to Charles Haw of 32 Corporation Street, a wagon driver, for £480. Haw does not seem to have needed a mortgage.
Haw is listed as the occupier in the directories of both 1933 and 1939. Somewhat unusually no occupation is given for him.
It was Charles Haw from whom Robin’s future parents in law first rented number 212. It seems that he moved out during the war when the house was used as accommodation for firemen.
By the time Haw sold the house on 11 December 1951, he was living at Daddry Shields, Westgate in Weardale and his signature was witnessed by Charles Bertram Emmerson of the same address, a quarry foreman. Did Haw’s wagon driving take him into quarry work? And had he previously been employed on the Iris Brickfield quarry and brickworks? Number 212 Trewhitt Road could scarcely have been closer.
The purchaser was James Fairhurst Scott, who had been renting it with his wife, Pat, since 1944. The conveyance stated that the 1908 covenant between Baron Armstrong and William Spence Lambert still applied: ‘and no trade business or manufacture shall be carried on thereon or therein from which nuisance of annoyance can arise to the neighbourhood.’ Robin is quite sure that the Scotts would not have breached it.
Jim had previously lived at 144 Chillingham Road along with his mother, Elizabeth Scott (nee Fairhurst) and his sister Jane (Jean). Before the war he was working for Ringtons selling tea from a van (drawn by his much loved horse, Polly) with two ‘lads’ under him. (His sister, Jean, was secretary to Doug Smith at Ringtons).
Meanwhile Pat, his bride to be, was living in Cleethorpes, Lincolnshire. Her father, a builder with several employees, had been killed in an accident at work when she was about three years old. Her mother, having two more children at school, ran a seaside boarding house. Pat worked in a local photographer’s shop, colouring black and white photographs. Later she worked at Marks and Spencers in Grimsby.
Butlin’s Holiday camp in Skegness, Lincolnshire opened in 1937 and it was there in 1939 that Pat and Jim met and romance blossomed.
Jim was clearly smitten as it is said that he cycled to Cleethorpes to meet Pat’s family (and prepared the site for their Anderson shelter).
They married at St Old Clee Church, Cleethorpes in January 1942 and came to live in Newcastle. Having had scarlet fever as a youngster, Jim was not allowed to join the forces and was sent to work for Newcastle Corporation Transport. His job involved looking after the wiring on trolley buses and he could be located whenever lights were seen flashing and sparks flying. After a short spell with his own fruit shop, he worked in George Wilkes’ furniture store. He was very successful at selling pianos despite being unable to play one. After Wilkes closed he worked for Callers furniture store on Northumberland Street. If you bought G-plan furniture in the 60s, he could well have sold it to you as he was regularly the top salesman. He was known there as Mr Fairhurst as there was already a Mr Scott.
Many will remember the Callers window displays at Christmas and the serious fire just before Christmas 1969. Whilst the shop was being rebuilt, they continued to trade from Prudhoe Street and Saville Row until the rebuilt shop was opened in 1971. To thank their staff for their hard work during the rebuild, Roy and Ian Caller took the staff for a weekend in Paris. A visit to the Folies Bergère was included. Jim retired in September 1978 and died in April 1979.
Pat was responsible for running the home. She was a competent dressmaker, making dresses for Kathryn as well as outfits for dancing displays. She was an active member of Heaton Armstrong Townswomen’s Guild and part of the drama group. Because she didn’t have a Geordie accent she was often given the part of the lady of the manor!
Robin, of course, visited number 212 many times while he was courting Kathryn and after they were married – here they are on one of their first dates.
He remembers the interior well:
‘The front door is in the centre of the frontage and this led to a lobby with doors to both right and left and the staircase going up the middle. To the right was the front room with a square bay window and a tiled fireplace. This was usually used on high days and holidays but Jim also had a stereo radiogram there and enjoyed listening to his records several of which were ‘Readers Digest’ collections.
The door to the left led into the living room, which has a bay window. It contained a drop leaf dining table and chairs, three piece suite, sideboard and a writing desk – Jim’s 21st birthday present. There was a large cupboard off this room which stretched under the stairs so provided plenty of storage space.
A door led through to the kitchen containing cooker, fridge, sink-unit and twin tub as well as kitchen table and wall cupboards. The back door off the kitchen led into the yard where there was a coal house and toilet.
The main source of heating and hot water was a coal fire in the living room – Shilbottle coal was preferred. Later central heating was installed.
A garage had been built in the back yard by Jim. The door to it was in three sections, two of which were hinged together. This made access easier but a three point turn was still necessary to line up the car, an Austin A35 and later a Morris 1100. In later years the garage was demolished and the yard extended making a pleasant patio area for morning coffee.
Moving upstairs there are bedrooms to right and left at the top of the stairs both containing cupboards over the staircase and good size alcoves for wardrobes. The bedroom to the left led directly to the bathroom. Jim added a partition so that the bathroom could be accessed without disturbing the inhabitants of the bedroom. An inside toilet was added to the bathroom. Kathryn can recall sleeping in the bathroom when friends or family from Cleethorpes visited.
Jim’s war years working on trolley buses were not wasted as he was able to rewire the house. He also replaced the sash windows with casements as well as refitting the kitchen’
Pat continued to live at Trewhitt Road after Jim died, continuing as a member of the TWG and later the Women’s Fellowship at St Gabriel’s Church. She enjoyed looking after her granddaughter, Susan, and encouraged her to develop her mathematical skills by keeping the score whilst watching the snooker. (Susan is now a MEng working in Istanbul for Field Ready.) In 2004 Pat moved into Abbeyfield on Castles Farm Road at which time this happy family home was sold.
Pat died in the RVI on 26 December 2006.
212 Trewitt Road is over 110 years old.
Can You Help?
If you know more about 212 Trewhitt Road or anybody mentioned in the article, we’d love to hear from you. You can contact us either through this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Researched and written by Robin Long, Heaton History Group, with additional material by Arthur Andrews and Chris Jackson.
British Newspaper Archives
Find My Past
Scott family papers
Electoral registers held by Newcastle City Library
In 2014, local residents taking part in WallQuest, a community archaeology project, discovered the long-lost Roman baths that lay outside the Roman fort of Wallsend (Segedunum), at the eastern end of Hadrian’s Wall.
Our June speaker, Nick Hodgson, will explain how his team of volunteers uncovered most of the Roman building. The remains, at a depth of 3 metres below the streets of modern Wallsend, were better preserved than anyone had dared hope.
Come to Nick’s talk to find out about the rediscovery of the baths, the finds made and what they tell us about Roman life at Wallsend.
Nick Hodgson was an archaeologist for Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums for over 30 years. He has has co-directed long-running programmes of excavation at the Roman sites of South Shields and Wallsend and published widely on these and other archaeological matters.
His most recent books are Hadrian’s Wall: Archaeology and History at the limit of Rome’s empire (2017) and The Roman Baths at Wallsend (2020). He is an Honorary Research Fellow in the Department of Archaeology, Durham University, President of the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne, and a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London.
Booking and Venue
The event will take place on Wednesday 22 June at Heaton Baptist Church, Heaton Road, Heaton, Newcastle upon Tyne NE6 5HN at 7.30pm.
We use the Mundella Terrace entrance. There is on street parking nearby and a car park about five minutes walk away off Jesmond Vale Lane in Heaton Park. If you have mobility needs which mean that you you would require access to the very limited parking by the door of the venue, please request this when you book.
The nearest bus stop is that of the number 1 on Second Avenue near the junction with Seventh Avenue. From there it’s a two minute walk to the church. It is about a twelve minute walk from the Coast Road bus stops near the Corner House.
The closest Metro station is Chillingham Road, about twelve minutes walk away.
The doors open at 7.00pm. All welcome. FREE for Heaton History Group members. £2.50 for non-members. Please book your place by contacting email@example.com / 07443 594154
There is ample room for social distancing at Heaton Baptist Church. The building has very high ceilings and good ventilation. There is even a gallery in which anyone who would prefer to be further apart can sit. Tea and coffee is normally available for £1 per cup.
We look forward to seeing old friends and welcoming new members and visitors.
This talk forms part of Heaton History Group’s contribution to Hadrian’s Wall 1900, a year long festival to commemorate the 1900th anniversary of the building of Hadrian’s Wall.
Wednesday 25 May 2022 7.30pm Heaton Baptist Church
Open for all bookings
Cresswell in Northumberland is a tiny village with a big history. In our May talk, you will find out about Cresswell’s Grace Darling, how Joe Baker Cresswell helped to shorten the war, the restoration of a 14th century pele tower, 7,000 year old footprints in the sand and much more.
Our speaker, Barry Mead, originally from Leighton Buzzard and a passionate Luton Town fan, is an archaeologist, local historian and retired museum curator. He moved to the north-east in 1995 to manage Woodhorn Colliery Museum and church. Since ‘retirement’ in 2009, he has spent a lot of time fund raising to restore heritage sites in south-east Northumberland.
Booking and Venue
The event will take place on Wednesday 25 May at Heaton Baptist Church, Heaton Road, Heaton, Newcastle upon Tyne NE6 5HN at 7.30pm.
We use the Mundella Terrace entrance. There is on street parking nearby and a car park about five minutes walk away off Jesmond Vale Lane in Heaton Park. If you have mobility needs which mean that you you would require access to the very limited parking by the door of the venue, please request this when you book.
The nearest bus stop is that of the number 1 on Second Avenue near the junction with Seventh Avenue. From there it’s a two minute walk to the church. It is about a twelve minute walk from the Coast Road bus stops near the Corner House.
The closest Metro station is Chillingham Road, about twelve minutes walk away.
The doors open at 7.00pm. All welcome. FREE for Heaton History Group members. £2.50 for non-members. Please book your place by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org / 07443 594154
There is ample room for social distancing at Heaton Baptist Church. In line with government guidelines, masks are optional. The building has very high ceilings and good ventilation. There is even a gallery in which anyone who would prefer to be further apart can sit. Tea and coffee is normally available for £1 per cup.
We look forward to seeing old friends and welcoming new members and visitors.
When built in 1767/68, Saint Ann’s was designed to be a symbol of Newcastle’s emerging role as the maritime capital of the north east coast. As a daughter church of All Saints, it served what was rapidly becoming Newcastle’s fastest growing parish.
Our March speaker, Mike Greatbatch will illustrate the economic development of All Saints Parish in Newcastle and neighbouring Byker, identifying both the industries and the personalities which brought about this remarkable growth.
Mike has many years experience of researching and teaching the history of the Ouseburn and his local area of Fenham and Wingrove. He is an editor of the North East History Journal and secretary of the Friends of Saint Ann’s Church, a group dedicated to promoting greater understanding and appreciation of this historic church whose parish included the Battlefield and nearby Ouseburn and East Quayside.
In 2016-18 Mike successfully delivered a Lottery funded heritage project in Fenham. He has recently published a history of Saint Ann’s and its parish, and will bring copies in case anyone wishes to purchase a copy.
Booking and Venue
The event will take place on Wednesday 23 March 2022 at Heaton Baptist Church, Heaton Road, Heaton, Newcastle upon Tyne NE6 5HN at 7.30pm.
We will be using the Mundella Terrace entrance. There is on street parking nearby and a car park about five minutes walk away off Jesmond Vale Lane in Heaton Park.
The nearest bus stop is the Number 1 on Second Avenue near the junction with Seventh Avenue. From there it’s a two minute walk to the church. It is about a twelve minute walk from the Coast Road bus stops at the Corner House.
The closest Metro station is Chillingham Road, about twelve minutes walk away.
The doors open at 7.00pm. All welcome. FREE for Heaton History Group members. £2 for non-members. Please book your place by contacting email@example.com / 07443 594154
There is ample room for social distancing at Heaton Baptist Church. In line with government guidelines, masks are optional. The building has very high ceilings and good ventilation. There is even a gallery in which anyone who would prefer to be further apart can sit. Tea and coffee will be available for £1 per cup.
We look forward to seeing old friends and welcoming new members and visitors.
On 28 April 1842, the first report of the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Children’s Employment was presented to parliament. The commission had been established by Anthony Ashley Cooper, the 7th Earl of Shaftesbury, an aristocratic social reformer who became known as the ‘Poor Man’s Earl’ after he campaigned for better working conditions, reform to lunacy laws and a limitation on child labour.
The report was compiled by Richard Henry Horne, a poet, critic and friend of Charles Dickens. It concentrated on the lives of children who worked in mines. Hundreds of young workers (and some older people) were interviewed, including miners from Heaton Colliery. Their words and the rest of the report give an invaluable insight into the lives they led.
This report and a second one into conditions in factories and other workplaces shocked many in Victorian Britain and inspired writers and campaigners for reform such as Dickens himself (for example in ‘A Christmas Carol’), Elizabeth Gaskell (‘Mary Barton’) and Elizabeth Barrett Browning (‘The Cry of the Children’).
The 53 Heaton Colliery interviews had taken place at Bigges Main a year earlier on 1 May 1841. The youngest boys were eight or nine years old. Joshua Stephenson, thought to be about eight years old, said he had been down the pit for two years or more. He was entered in the colliery returns as seven years old and at the pit for two months but the heap-keeper corroborated the boy’s account. Joshua, who was 3 feet 8 3/4 inches tall and ‘far from robust and healthy’ told the interviewer that he got up at 3 o’clock in the morning, went down the pit at four o’clock and got home about five in the afternoon. He ate mainly bread and cheese for ‘bait’ and meat and potatoes for dinner. He had never been to any kind of school.
The oldest interviewee was Thomas Batty ’Aged 93 according to his own account and that of the agents’. He had gone down the pit at the age of six or seven and had worked in or around the mines of Northumberland until aged 85, although above ground, as an overman, from his 50s onwards. He talked about the hard times miners endured in the old days, which must have been from the mid 1750s.
Many of the young miners spoke about their health and well-being. Nine year old Joseph Taylor said he was frightened of the dark when he started and that, when driving a rolley (the horse-drawn conveyance on which coal was transported underground), he fell off perhaps once a day. Once, he said, the rolley went over him ‘but luckily not the wheels’. He lay in between them and was unhurt. Robert Harrison was slightly burnt ‘by a shot being fired too near him’.
Joseph Mackenzie thought ‘the smoke in the furnace in going down and up’ did not agree with him. He was often sick in the morning before leaving home but never stayed off work. 14 year old Joseph Beaney reported similar symptoms and blamed the air in the pit. He reported that he often felt drowsy and short of breath. Others had similar experiences and many spoke of leg, back and shoulder pain. Nevertheless, a number of the boys said that they didn’t want to leave the pit because, in winter, it was warmer down there than above ground. Parents also often wanted their children to work underground because the pay was relatively good (although perhaps only a fifth of the adult wage, which was, of course, a big attraction for employers) and many feared that they wouldn’t be able to feed their families without the extra, young breadwinners.
Many of the boys reported getting up at 3:00am for a 4:00am start. Twelve year old George Beresford rose at half past two every morning because, he said, he ‘lives a good way off at Ouseburn’. He arrived home about 5:30pm, had his dinner and a wash then went straight to bed at 7 or 8 o’clock. ‘Never has any time for play’.
Some occasionally worked double shifts and 15 year old George Foster said he once worked a treble shift, 36 hours underground with a couple of hours rest in total. Joseph Peel, aged 14, said that he he had often worked three shifts without coming to the surface and, on one occasion four – 48 consecutive hours underground.
Most of the boys had never been to school but some attended Sunday school. Nine year old Joseph Taylor, for example, said that he went to the Methodist school on Sunday. ‘Learnt the Bible and ciphering. Can read (pretty well). Cannot write at all.’ 15 year old George Foster could ‘read an easy book, cannot write.’ Edward Wright, an 18 year old, said he taught at the Sunday school. In his class were 11 boys from the pits. ‘These 11 boys are the active boys but in general the pit boys are stupid and dull.’
One of the fuller accounts was that of 17 year old Surtees Blackburn. He explained that he had been ‘down pits about 10 years’, starting with ‘two years down the middle pit at Heaton’. We know that the pithead of Middle Pit was approximately where Rokeby Terrace is now.
He described the various jobs he had done: ‘Kept a door for about two years. Next drove rolleys for four years. Hoisted the corves (hazel baskets in which coal was carried to the surface) by cranes for two years. Has been putting (moving corves of coal from the working area to the cranes to be lifted onto the rolley) and such-like the other two years… Is now putting the stones away from the sinking pit. This is not hard work.’ In fact he ‘Never found anything worse from his work than being tired sometimes’ and he was ‘Laid off work never more than a day now and then’.
Surtees might not have considered the work difficult but, in common with the majority of the boys he said that he: ‘Gets up at about 3 o’clock a.m. Goes down the pit about 4 o’clock,’ and he ‘Once worked 3 shifts, i.e. 36 hours, without coming up, 3 or 4 years since’. He made little of the fact ‘the overman hits the boys a few bats, not to hurt them much.’
Unlike some of his contemporaries, Surtees seemed to value education. The interviewer noted that he ‘Can read (well). Can write his name. Goes to a night-school in winter. Goes to Sunday-school regularly to teach and to chapel afterwards.’
We wondered whether it was possible to find out more about Surtees. Who were his parents and brothers and sisters? Where did they call home? Did he marry and have children of his own? Did he spend his whole working life as a miner? And how for long did he live?
We chose Surtees, in part because we expected that identifying him in the records to be more straightforward than trying to track fellow colliers with more common names such as Joseph Taylor, Thomas Todd and Robert Harrison. Surely there would be only one Surtees Blackburn.
Luckily for us, the ten yearly census took place just a few weeks after the Children’s Employment Commission interviews at Heaton Colliery. A quick check there would reveal who Surtees was living with and hopefully reveal a lot about his family. Except that, in the 1841 census, there were no less than four Surtees Blackburns all living in this area.
The first one can quickly be discounted. He was reported to be a 44 year old collier living at Killingworth Colliery with his wife, Jane, and eight year old daughter, Elizabeth.
We can track his life from the day his mother, Dorothy Crow, and father, John Blackburn, had him baptised on 21 May 1797. His comparatively long but hard life is apparent from subsequent censuses in which he’s described as a ‘pauper / coal miner’ (1851) still with Jane and Elizabeth at West Cramlington Colliery; a coal miner again (1861) when Elizabeth’s two young children had joined the household; to 1871 when he is described as an inmate in Tynemouth Union Workhouse and finally his burial just 12 weeks later on 26 June 1871, aged 74.
Incidentally, this Surtees Blackburn was preceded in the baptismal records by two other Surtees, one the son of Ann Blackburn (father unknown) , baptised on 19 April 1789 in Longbenton and the other the son of Katharine and William Blackburn, baptised on 13 July 1754 in Lanchester, Co Durham.
The second Surtees (or ‘Surtis’) Blackburn known to be alive in 1841 was aged 10 at the time of the census and living at Bigges Main, which was part of Heaton Colliery, with his mother, Ann, and father, Luke; two brothers, 15 year old Matthew and five year old, Luke junior; and eight year old sister, Elizabeth.
This Surtees’ brother, Matthew, was interviewed by the commission and had concerns about his health and working conditions:
‘Has been down pits about 5 years. Has felt shortness of breath. Helps up sometimes but is bound to drive. Cannot help up sometimes for shortness of breath. His legs often work; his shoulders work sometimes. Has been working in a wet place at the lately for a fortnight.’
Later censuses show that Matthew did not stay down the pit. He became a labourer on the railways.
It seems likely that Matthew’s ten year old brother, Surtees, may have been the ‘Saunders’ Blackburn also interviewed by the commission. Saunders does not appear in any other records and Surtees is the right age. Perhaps he was known by this name to avoid confusion or alternatively there may have been a transcription error or perhaps the interviewer, John Roby Leifchild (a 26 year old Londoner who had been a pupil of William ‘Strata’ Smith and who later was to become notorious for his devastating, anonymous review of Charles Darwin’s ‘On the Origin of Species’ ) misunderstood the Geordie accent.
The interview with ‘Saunders’ was reported thus:
‘Nearly 10. Has been down pits more than a year. Drives now. Was well in his breath before he went down the pit. Is now very short of breath and is bad about the breast. Never feels any other pain. The doctor puts a blister on. Has been off work 6 weeks. Is near the shaft in the pit. His work is not very hard. The air of the pit does not agree with him. Feels his breath short soon after he goes down the pit. Feels it nearly all day, not after he comes up. No one strikes him.’
Despite his health concerns and, unlike that of Matthew, who we think was his older brother, this ‘Saunders’ / Surtees remained a miner all his working life but died, aged only 45, in 1875.
On 6 June 1841 (census day), another Surtees, this one 17 years old, which is the age of the Surtees we wanted to track, was living at Bigges Main with his mother, Mary; father, John, a miner, older sister, Eleanor and three younger brothers, George, John and Robert.
As we have heard, he had already been working for around 10 years. His position as the oldest boy and, therefore, first child to be able to contribute to the family income may well have been a factor in his mature, hard working disposition. He told Leifchild that he ‘Gives his money to his parents.’
In fact, there is some confusion surrounding Surtees’ parentage. Although he called John and Mary ‘father and mother’ and they were certainly the parents of his older sister and younger siblings, the records of the baptism which appears to be his on 12 February 1824 at Brunswick Place Chapel state that his mother and father were Elizabeth and James Blackburn, a pitman, of Byker Hill, All Saints Parish. Perhaps John and Mary were an aunt and uncle who adopted the young Surtees? (Either that or there was yet another Surtees Blackburn of the same age!)
Surtees took some finding in 1851, as his name has been transcribed on ‘Ancestry’ as ‘Burtess’ but he was living with his mother Mary, his widowed older sister, Helen (who appears to be the Eleanor from 10 years earlier), brothers John and Robert and nephews John and Thomas at Low Row, Little Benton. All the brothers were described as ‘coal miners’.
In 1861, he was still living with his widowed mother, at Bigges Main along with brothers George, John and Robert plus two younger children, John and Mary. But on 4 August 1868, aged 43, he married Alexandria McLeod, a Scot. But by the time of the next census in 1871, he and Alexandria were living at 11 Old Shops, which judging by the census enumerator’s round, was close to Gosforth Pit Cottages. He was still a miner.
By 1881, however, aged 63, he was described as a ‘railway servant.’ He and Alexandria were living at 23 Byker Hill, which being so close to both Heaton Junction and Heaton Station, would have been very convenient for jobs in the growing railway industry which was transforming Heaton. Surtees Blackburn died on 3 January 1890, aged 66. Probate, dated 25 January 1890, describes him as a ‘railway wagon greaser’. The executor of his will was his brother, John, still a miner.
The evidence of Surtees and the other Heaton miners played a small part in improving the lives of the children who grew up after them, although change was gradual. The Mines and Collieries Act, which prohibited all underground work for women and girls (There is no evidence for women or girls having been employed in mining in Heaton) and for boys under ten, was passed almost immediately on 14 July 1842. The Coal Mines Inspection Act of 1850 tried to reduce the number of accidents in mines by introducing inspectors under the supervision of the Home Office. And, in 1860, a Coal Mines Regulation Act raised the age limit further from ten to twelve.
By this time, there was very little coal mining in Heaton. Heaton Main Colliery closed in 1852 and the last mine, a small landsale colliery (that is a tenanted pit, which sold its coal locally, duty free) in Low Heaton, closed in the 1860s. It is commemorated by a Heaton History Group red plaque on the boundary wall of Heaton Park Court on Heaton Park Road.
During his life span of 65 years, Surtees Blackburn saw Heaton change from an agricultural area, the landscape of which was dotted with the evidence of the coal mining taking place beneath its fields, to a fast growing residential township supported by a wide range of businesses. We don’t know very much about Surtees Blackburn but he was one of many who adapted to Heaton’s evolving economy by changing career from mining to the railways. He might have been one of several Surtees Blackburns but his story is unique and he played a significant part not only in Heaton’s history but in that of Victorian Britain.
Can You Help?
If you know more about any of the Heaton Colliery miners interviewed, we’d love to hear from you. You can contact us either through this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Researched and written by Chris Jackson of Heaton History Group.
‘A Celebration of our Mining Heritage: a souvenir publication to commemorate the bicentenary of the disaster at Heaton Main Colliery in 1815‘ / Les Turnbull; Chapman Research in conjunction with the North of England Institute of Mining and Mechanical Engineers and Heaton History Group, 2015