Category Archives: Research

Mystery of a Knight on a Bike

He’s conducted painstaking research into many topics of local interest but, in a quiet moment during lockdown, Heaton History Group’s Ian Clough decided to get to grips at last with a mystery that had literally been staring him in the face, a trophy on his own sideboard:

It is probably something that magpie, Uncle Jimmy Irwin, paid a few coppers for at a jumble sale long before charity shops appeared. It’s a bit battered and lost its wooden mount. I don’t even know how I ended up with it but I have always liked the penny farthing bicycles. If I took it to the Antiques Roadshow they would probably say it was worth a few coppers – “but if you could prove provenance …“‘

The scroll on the richly decorated trophy gave Ian his first clue: ‘Science and Art School Amateur Cycling Club’; a shield at the bottom is inscribed ‘Ellis Challenge Shield’ and, on two further shields at the top the name, ‘Robert Bolam’, alongside the dates, 1889 and 1890 respectively.”

To put the dates in context, local cycling hero, George Waller, who twice won the World Six Day Championship on a penny farthing, was nearing retirement and living in Heaton. In 1885, the Rover safety bicycle had been invented and three years later John Dunlop introduced the pneumatic tyre. Penny farthings were still ridden but their days were numbered. Incidentally in April 1889, a new cycle track was opened in the Bull Park on the Town Moor, where Exhibition Park is now. George Waller did a test run on it and pronounced it to be ‘one of the finest in the kingdom’. More than 140 years later, Newcastle no longer has a cycling track. The Olympic and Paralympic medallists all come from elsewhere. But we digress!

Schools

Ian first set about finding out more about the school. It was founded in 1877 by Dr John Hunter Rutherford, a Scottish  Congregationalist preacher, who qualified as a medical doctor at the age of 41. As well as running a medical practice, Rutherford campaigned for better sanitation, But he is best known as a pioneering educationalist. He founded Bath Lane School in 1870 and the School of Science and Art in 1877. A number of branch schools soon followed, in Gateshead, Shieldfield, Byker – and two on Heaton Road.

The first branch to open in Heaton was on 24 May 1880 in the Leighton Primitive Methodist Church Sunday School buildings, which, as has already been described here, stood on the site of the modern shops at the bottom of Heaton Road, just before you reach Shields Road.

In 1885, a further branch was opened at Ashfield Villa, Heaton Road to meet the local demand not just for elementary but also higher education. Ashfield Villa stood directly opposite the Leighton Primitive Methodist School, where Heaton Buffs Club is now.

Dr Rutherford died suddenly at the age of 64 on 21 March 1890. Amongst the extensive press coverage, the following appeared:

‘The announcement of the death of Dr. Rutherford has caused wide-spread regret…Yesterday the Bath Lane Schools, the Camden Street School, the Heaton Road School and the Science and Art School, Heaton were closed as a tribute of respect to the deceased gentleman.’

Benefactor

So we know something about the schools. But the Ellis Challenge Shield? A clue came in the British Newspaper Archive. On Saturday 13 September 1890, ‘The Newcastle Courant’ carried a report of the Newcastle Science and Art School sports day, which took place on the Constabulary Ground in Jesmond (now the home ground of Newcastle Cricket Club, the Royal Grammar School Newcastle and Northumberland County Cricket Club).

The article named one of the judges as Mr A M Ellis. Andrew Murray Ellis, another Scot, was headmaster of the Newcastle Science and Art School. On his retirement in 1905, it was stated that he had served the school for 28 years, which meant he must have been on the staff since the school’s foundation. The cycling shield surely bears his name.

Races

The article went on to list the first three in every race at the sports day. There, under the hoop race, the egg and spoon race and the dribbling race ‘open to members of the football club’ was:

‘Ellis Challenge Shield. Bicycle Race, one mile (open to members of the Science and Art School ACC).  Carries Championship of the club.  Holder,  R Bolam. Robert Bolam, 1;  Robt. Redpath, 2 ; Alf. Bell, 3.  Won by 12 lengths.’

But how could this Robert Bolam be identified? It’s quite a common name.  Luckily, there was a further clue to the identity of the winner:

‘Challenge Cup (presented by Councillor Cooke). Holder, Robert Bolam. Bicycle Race (mile).- [Result] Robert Bolam, 1; George T Easten, 2; Joe Bolam, 3. J Bolam and Easten made the running until the last lap, when Robert Bolam went to the front and won easily by ten yards. Easten finished second six yards in front of J Bolam.’

A further search revealed an announcement for the previous year’s sports day, due to take place on 31 August 1889. Again the Ellis Challenge Shield is specifically mentioned.  And on 17 June 1890, in the ‘Newcastle Daily Chronicle’, there was a description of the trophy and more information about the club:

‘One of the most unqualified successes among local cycling clubs has been the Science and Art School ACC, which, now in its third year, may claim to be one of the largest in the city.’

‘The Ellis Challenge Shield, a beautiful silver trophy, is competed for each year, in a one mile race, carrying with it the championship of the club – the present holder of the title being Mr R A Bolam.’ 

So now Ian knew Robert’s middle initial and that he perhaps had a brother called Joseph. He could look for census records.

Winner

Robert Alfred Bolam was born on 11 November 1871. In the 1881 census he is shown as a 9 year old scholar, the oldest son of John Bolam, a dispensing chemist, of 46 Northumberland Street and his wife, Isabella. He had three sisters and a brother. Yes, Joseph.

Seven years later on 31 July 1888, ‘The Evening Chronicle’ gave extensive coverage of the ‘Local Science and Art examinations’ and there, under the practical organic chemistry results advanced stage for Ashfield Villa, Heaton, is the name Robert A Bolam, ‘First Class and Queen’s Prize.’ Our champion cyclist had studied in Heaton and was 17 years old at the time of his first victory in the Ellis Challenge Shield.

A few weeks before his second victory, ‘The Evening Chronicle’  of 31 July 1890 gives the results of ‘Science and Art Examinations’ and among the entries:

’Framwellgate Moor Science Class examination. Hygiene – Advanced Stage, 1st Class and Queen’s Prize – Robert A Bolam.’ Still on track!

 And, so not to leave him out entirely, at ‘School of Arts and Science, Corporation St, Newcastle – Practical Organic Chemistry, 2nd Class – J H Bolam’ his younger brother.

By the time of the next census in 1891, Robert, now 19, was described as a ‘student in medicine’. He studied at Newcastle College of Medicine and Kings College London. In 1896, he won the Gold Medal at Newcastle College of Medicine, awarded to the best student in his year. By 1901, he was a ‘physician surgeon’, married with a baby and living on Saville Place. 

A young Robert Bolam

Witness

The next mention of Dr Robert A Bolam which is relevant to Heaton came on 5 July 1910 in the extensive coverage of the trial of John Alexander Dickman, then of Jesmond but previously of Heaton ( eg, in 1901 at 11 Rothbury Terrace), accused of the murder of John Innes Nisbet of 180 Heaton Road on a train between Newcastle and Alnmouth on 18 March that year. An expert witness was Dr Robert A Bolam, MRCP, Professor of Medical Jurisprudence in the College of Medicine at Newcastle. He had been asked to examine three items of Dickman’s clothing:  ‘a pair of Suede gloves, a pair of trousers and what was known as a Burberry overcoat.’ 

Bolam told the court that he had tested the garments ‘as regards solubility, chemically, microscopically and with a micro spectroscope’. He said that there were recent blood stains on the gloves and trousers and that attempts had been made to clean an unidentified stain on the coat with paraffin. Dickman was eventually hanged for murder. The case was controversial at the time and it continues to be the subject of books, articles and television programmes even today. (Unfortunately, a number of them refer to Robert Boland rather than Bolam.)

In 1911, now 39 years old, Robert Bolam lived in Queens Square and was married with 3 children and 3 servants, coincidentally one called ‘Margaret Isabella Rutherford’ . He described himself as a ‘consulting physician’. In fact, by this time Robert was already the first honorary physician in charge of the skin department at the RVI. Robert, our cycling champion, was in the fast lane.

War Service

During the WW1, Bolam served as major and acting lieutenant-colonel in the First Northern General Hospital. He was mentioned for distinguished service and awarded the rank of brevet lieutenant-colonel and the OBE (Military). He was commanding officer of the Wingrove Hospital, which specialised in venereal diseases and, a speech by him in 1916 to the BMA is credited with doing more to secure the passage of the Venereal Diseases Act of 1917 ‘than any other pronouncement’. The act prevented the treatment of the disease or the advertising of remedies by unqualified persons. After the war, when the Ministry of Health merged the clinic with the skin department at the RVI, Bolam was put in charge of both, a position he held until his retirement in 1931.

At Durham University, he was lecturer in dermatology, professor of medical jurisprudence, president of the University College of Medicine, a member of the senate and in 1936-7, vice chancellor.

National Figure

But Robert Bolam wasn’t just a major figure locally or regionally, he served as chair of council of the British Medical Association from 1920 to 1927 (‘which involved night journeys between Newcastle and London two or three times each week’). He oversaw the erection of the BMA’s headquarters in Tavistock Square, London and it was to him who fell the honour of welcoming King George V and Queen Mary in 1925, a year in which he was also awarded the association’s coveted gold medal.

He was a member of the General Medical Council from 1928 until his death, and elected President of the British Association of Dermatologists 1933-34. Robert Alfred Bolam was Knighted in 1926.

Distinguished

Sir Robert Bolam died in Newcastle on 28 April 1939 but not before, in February of that year, he had overseen the move of the King’s College Medical School to its new building opposite the RVI and received King George VI and the Queen on its official opening. Sir Robert was survived by his wife, Sarah, son, Robert, and daughters, Dorothy and Grace.

Sir Robert Alfred Bolam by Allan Douglass Mainds (Newcastle University)

On his death, the above oil painting, which is currently in store at Newcastle University, was commissioned by friends and colleagues.

Bolam’s obituary writer for the British Association of Dermatologists stated that the distinguished medical practitioner was also an authority on the Roman Wall, a first class rifle shot who regularly competed at Bisley and once shot for England, and had  ‘a large collection of prizes as a cyclist and swimmer’, which is where we came in.

When we first encountered Robert Bolam he was already in a lofty position atop his penny farthing and so it continued throughout his distinguished life. He certainly did ‘get on his bike’.

Postscript

But that’s not quite the end of the story. During the course of his research, Ian found the Bolam family tree on Ancestry. He contacted the owner, Wendy Cox, who turned out to be the granddaughter of Sir Robert Bolam and a proud, exiled Geordie. She told Ian that she hadn’t known her grandfather as he had died before she was born. Neither had she heard of the Ellis Challenge Shield or her grandfather’s cycling achievements. But when Ian told her that, much as he’d enjoyed owning it, the shield rightfully belonged with her and the Bolam family, Wendy was delighted. She says it’s already sitting on her mantlepiece next to a photograph of her grandfather and plans are afoot to display it in a frame with a fabric background. The pedalling future knight is home.

Robert’s granddaughter, Wendy, with the trophy

Acknowledgements Researched and written by Ian Clough, Heaton History Group with additional material by Chris Jackson. Thank you to Wendy Cox for photographs of herself and her grandfather. And to Uncle Jimmy Irwin for his crucial rôle in this story.

Ian’s uncle, Jimmy Irwin, who first rescued the trophy.

Sources

Ancestry

British Newspaper Archive

Obituaries of Sir Robert Bolam in the British Journal of Dermatology, British Medical Journal, Nature, The Times

Can You Help?

If you know more about Sir Robert Alfred Bolam 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 chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Heaton Below the Surface: William ‘Strata’ Smith and Charles Hatchett

One of the most treasured possessions in the library of Newcastle’s Mining Institute is the ‘Geological Atlas of England and Wales’ by William Smith, ‘the father of English geology’. Imagine how excited we were to receive an email recently from from Roy McIntyre, an amateur enthusiast of William Smith and exiled Geordie, revealing that, in 1794, this famous scientist had actually visited Heaton.

William Smith by Thomas Anthony Dean, after Hugues Fourau
stippled line engraving, published 1837. National Portrait Gallery.

Childhood

William Smith was born in Oxfordshire on 23 March 1769. He was the son of John Smith, the village blacksmith and his wife, Ann. William’s father died when he was just eight years old and so William and his siblings were brought up by their uncle, a farmer. Young William, largely self-educated, showed an aptitude for mathematics from an early age and at the age of 18 he found work with a surveyor in Gloucestershire, soon becoming proficient in his field.

Early Career

We know that, in 1791, Smith carried out a survey of the Sutton Court estate in Somerset, the seat of the Strachey family and then owned by John Strachey, a renowned geologist. Strachey had previously surveyed the family estate and nearby coalfields, measuring the layers of rock he could see below ground and recording them pictorially.

William Smith built on Strachey’s work and went on to work for the Somersetshire Coal Canal Company. He had observed that the rock layers in the pits were arranged in a predictable pattern, always being found in the same relative position. He had also noticed that each stratum could be identified by the fossils it contained and so he was working towards a theory he called ‘The principle (or law) of faunal succession’.  But he needed to go further afield to really test his hypothesis.

North to Heaton 

In his email to Heaton History Group, Roy wrote that ‘Smith’s trip up north in 1794 is what showed him the need for a geological map of the country, and gave him ideas on how that could be accomplished’. He added that ‘some of the things that he observed while travelling on the coach can be seen on the maps he went on to make’. The notebooks he used on the journey have not survived, but what he wrote down from memory in June 1839, two months before he died, does. Smith’s memory was excellent and his biographer, John Phillips (a prominent geologist in his own right, whose interest in the subject had been nurtured by Smith, his uncle), said that his account of the tour was ‘ nearly in the same words he had often used before in narrating it’. Here is what he wrote:

“… We arrived at Newcastle on Saturday afternoon, time enough to get to Heaton Colliery, but unfortunately too late for me to go down the pit; but a very intelligent overlooker kindly drew me with his stick on the dust a plan of the mode of working the coal, which to me was perfectly intelligible.

The railways to the staiths on Tyneside were then mostly wood, or wood plated with iron; and such was the state of machinery, that at Heaton Colliery the deepwater was raised by a steam-engine into a pool on the surface, and at other times in the twenty-four hours from the pool, by much larger pumps, to the top of two high water-wheels, which raised the coal.

We did not expect to see the things so managed in the north; and I was surprised to see the fires they kept, and other contrivances for promoting ventilation, as in the Somersetshire collieries there is no want of pure air.  I had observed that my friend Palmer’s string of questions sometimes produced a shyness in obtaining answers, and therefore I used to proceed upon the principle of give and take; and in thus offering my exchange of knowledge of the mode of working coal in Somersetshire, 1000 yards down the steep slope of 1 in 4, and perfectly dry and in good air, 100 to 250 perpendicular yards beneath the bottom of the pumps, I believe the honest manager of Heaton Colliery thought I was telling him a travelling story.

The mode of dividing their shafts and mother-gates by brattices of wood-work seemed inconvenient and unphilosophical, and we rather dissatisfied, hastened back through Ripon and Harrogate…’

A copy of Andrew Armstrong’s one inch 1769 map of Northumberland, used by Smith on the trip, annotated in pencil, and with colour wash added by him to show the strata , survives.

Detail of Andrew Armstrong’s 1769 map of Northumberland showing Heaton. Copyright: Oxford University Museum of Natural History.

Later Life

Smith continued to travel, taking rock samples and mapping the strata in various locations. He amassed a large collection of fossils and published his findings.

In 1799, he produced the first large scale geological map of the area around Bath and, in 1801, a rough sketch of what would become the first geological map of most of Great Britain. His completed version published in 1815 was the first geological map to depict such a wide area in detail.

Detail from Smith’s 1815 map. Heaton Colliery is marked by a cross above the 2nd ‘e’ in ‘Newcastle’.

He used different colours applied by hand to indicate the various rock types and conventional symbols to show geographical features such as canals, tunnels, tramways and roads, collieries, lead, copper and tin mines, as well as salt and alum works. He went  on to produce a number of books and papers about strata and their fossils. 

Unfortunately around the same time, Smith began to have serious financial problems. He had first met Sir Joseph Banks in 1801 and, the botanist, realising the importance of Smith’s research, became an important and generous patron, without whom at some points Smith would not have had the means to carry on his work. Indeed, he dedicated his 1815 map to Banks.

Smith sold his fossil collection to the British Museum for £700 but was nevertheless, in 1819, sent to a debtors’ prison. On his release, he worked as an itinerant surveyor until Sir John Johnstone, appointed him as land steward on his estate in Scarborough. Smith designed the Rotunda in the town, a geological museum devoted to the Yorkshire coast.

In 1831, the Geological Society finally recognised Smith’s achievements by making him the first recipient of the Wollaston Medal, its highest award. It was at the presentation that the society’s then president, Adam Sedgwick, first used the term ‘the father of English geology’. In 1838, Smith was one of the commissioners appointed to select the building stone for the Palace of Westminster.

William ‘Strata’ Smith died in Northampton on 28 August 1839, aged 70, and is buried there.

Legacy

Smith’s many publications, his fossil collection, and especially his maps, are his most important legacy, of course. His maps are now appreciated for their beauty as well as their function and his genius. But there is also, for example, an annual Geological Society lecture in his honour and a crater on Mars named after him. The Rotunda in Scarborough has been refurbished and is a worthy memorial to its designer.

Heaton Main

Heaton Main Colliery had only been opened two years at the time of Smith’s visit. Its viewer (chief engineer and manager) was George Johnson of Byker, the leading colliery engineer on Tyneside at the time. It was one of the largest and most technically advanced coal mines in the world. It is not surprising that a man of Smith’s calibre should pay a visit. 

Hatchett job

Indeed he was not the only distinguished scientist to pick the brains of people associated with the colliery. Another distinguished visitor was chemist and mineralogist, Charles Hatchett (1765 -1847).

Charles Hatchett. Lithograph by W Drummond, 1836, after T Phillips. Welcome Collection.

Unlike William Smith, Charles was the son of well-to-do parents. His father, John, was a London coach builder ‘of the greatest celebrity’ and later a magistrate. Charles attended private school but is said to have taught himself mineralogy and analytical chemistry.

He had an opportunity to travel abroad with his wife, Elizabeth, when his father asked him to deliver a coach to Catherine the Great in St Petersburg. On this trip, with an introduction from William Smith’s later benefactor, Sir Joseph Banks, he visited a number of well known European scientists. In 1796, he began another extensive tour, this time through England and Scotland, where he visited geological sites, mines and factories. On Thursday 26 June 1796, he came to Heaton.

Charles Hatchett, ‘breakfasted with Mr Johnson at Byker and afterwards went with him and his son to Heaton Colliery’. 

Hatchett commented that ‘the ropes are worked by a steam engine…the cylinder of which is 70 inches in diameter…the same raises the water out of the mines, 300 gallons each stroke’ and noted that ‘the coal is raised in basket corves, which contain 24 pecks.The coal is conveyed to the waterside by what they here call wagons, made of wood with small iron wheels, which have a rabbit which fits the wooden railroads.’

The following year Hatchett was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, largely as a result of his work analysing lead. Like Smith, albeit for very different reasons, he sold his collection comprising 7,000 mineral samples to the British Museum.

In 1801, Hatchett discovered the element, niobium (which he named ‘columbium’), widely used today in the superconducting magnets of MRI scanners, as well as in welding, nuclear industries, electronics, numismatics and jewellery. He was awarded the Royal Society’s Copley Medal in 1798 and in 1822 was presented with a gold medal by the society.

‘Men of Science Living in 1807-8’ by George Zobel and William Walker. Both Smith and Hatchett feature along with other distinguished figures, such as Brunel, Davy, Herschel, Jenner and Telford.

Soon after this, Hatchett largely gave up his scientific pursuits. He had inherited his father’s business and began to pursue other interests: book collecting, manuscripts, musical instruments and painting. Hatchett died at his home in Chelsea in 1847. The Charles Hatchett award is presented annually by the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining for the best research on niobium and its alloys. The medal is cast in pure niobium.

Historical Perspective

Threatened with extinction as a consequence of global warming by fossil fuels, the world now views ‘King Cole’ in a different light. But these visits remind us that the Northumberland and Durham Coalfield was for several centuries the world leader in mining technology and Heaton one of the most technically advanced collieries in that coalfield.

Mining technology played a significant role in the creation of the society which we enjoy today. The genie had been let out of the bottle but that doesn’t detract from the achievements of our forebears or the importance of a visit to Heaton to pioneers like William Smith and Charles Hatchett.

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Les Turnbull, Heaton History Group, with additional material by Chris Jackson. Huge thanks to Roy McIntyre without whom we would not have known about William Smith’s Heaton connection. Thank you to the National Portrait Gallery and Welcome Institute for permission to use the images of Smith and Hatchett.

Sources

A Celebration of our Mining Heritage’ by Les Turnbull; Chapman Research, 2015.

Geological Atlas of England and Wales’ by William Smith, 1815

Geological Map: a delineation of the strata of England and Wales with part of Scotland…’ by William Smith, 1815

‘The Hatchett Diary: a tour through the counties of England and Scotland visiting their mines and manufacturies‘ by Charles Hatchett; edited by Arthur Raistrick; Barton, 1967

Memoirs of William Smith’ by John Phillips; John Murray, 1844

Resources of the North of England Institute of Mining and Mechanical Engineers library

Wikipedia

Can You Help?

If you know more about William Smith or Charles Hatchett and, particularly, their visits 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 chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Doctor Henstock of Heaton High

A recent article about Heaton’s Olympians, which included a profile of the former head of Heaton Grammar, Harry Askew, elicited a number of responses from former pupils, so it seems only fair that we should look into the life of an equally legendary head of Heaton High School for Girls, Doctor Henstock.

Edith Constance Henstock was born on 3 March 1906 in Derby, the third child of four and the only daughter of Walter, a railway cerk and his wife, Rachel.

Edith was a bright girl. She won her first scholarship aged nine and attended Parkfields Cedars Secondary School, Derby, where she was an outstanding pupil, always coming first in her year. She was awarded a scholarship to Nottingham University and left with a first class honours degree in mathematics. She then went on to Cambridge to study for postgraduate qualifications. 

Her first teaching post was at Darlington Girls’ School. After this, she became senior mathematics teacher at Henrietta Barnet Girls’ School in Hampstead Garden Village, London. While working there, she studied part time for a University of London MSc in the History, Principles and Methods of Science, which she completed in 1933. By 1938 she was head of mathematics at the school and had been awarded a University of London PhD in Mathematics, no mean accomplishment while simultaneously holding down such a responsible job. The 1939 Register shows Edith living at 79 Fitzjohn’s Avenue, Hampstead, a ‘private ladies’ club’, along with 12 other residents.

To Heaton

Edith’s next move was to Newcastle. She took up the post of the headmistress of Heaton Secondary School for Girls in autumn 1944, just as 400 evacuees returned to the school from Kendal where they had been sent for their safety early in the war. The school name changed to Heaton High School for Girls a few months later.

A royal visit to Heaton High School shortly after its opening in 1928

In December 1944, Dr Henstock was a member of a council committee investigating the large number of children being killed and injured on Newcastle’s roads (414 between 1941 and 1944. The committee found that most were caused by children running in front of vehicles without looking.)

In 1950, she was living at the Gordon Hotel on Clayton Road, Jesmond, now the Newcastle YWCA. But  by the following year, she had moved to a large, double fronted, terraced house in High West Jesmond, where she lived for the rest of her life. The Electoral Register shows that Ada Lilian Hall, a maths and PE teacher at Heaton High, lived with her there until Miss Hall’s death in 1972.

Travels

Dr Henstock’s scholarship days were not over though. In November 1959, it was reported that she had returned from a four week educational tour of the USA, after having won the coveted, Walter Hines Page travelling scholarship. She had flown to New York  with Icelandic airline, Loftleidir and travelled back to Southampton on the Queen Mary. (Walter Page Hines was USA ambassador to Great Britain during WWI, as well as a journalist and publisher. His educational travelling scholarship still exists.) 

She continued to enjoy travelling the world long into her retirement, later saying that that she owed all of her adventures to the ‘old girls of Heaton’, who had ‘left their front doors open to her, no matter where their homes were’.

Comprehensive

When Newcastle eventually adopted a comprehensive and co-educational system in 1966, the headmaster of Heaton Grammar School for boys, Harry Askew, was appointed as the first head  of the newly formed Heaton Comprehensive School and Dr Henstock, now aged 61, was appointed deputy. 

A newspaper interview in 1982, long after Dr Henstock’s retirement, perhaps gives some insight into her character. The interview was conducted by  Avril Deane of the ‘Journal‘, an ex-pupil of Dr Henstock in Heaton. The journalist speculated that ‘a little bit of the heart was torn out of the woman when the school turned comprehensive in the mid 1960s’ and she elicited from her former head that she had yearned to be a headmistress from the age of seven. Ms Deane recalled that Dr Henstock had been ‘feared and cussed and kept our velour hats on for’ by the girls and was a stickler for tidiness of mind and body.

The interviewee is reported as admitting ‘slightly apologetically that she was quite good at everything’ and, having three brothers, she was ‘not going to ever let them get one up on her’. She believed there was no such word as ‘can’t’ and set out to inspire her girls to think like her.

She was proud that she had never hit a child in over 40 years of teaching and that no pupil of hers had ever failed ‘O’ Level maths. 

During the interview, with ‘clarity and honesty’, she confesses that she would have liked to marry. However, in the 1930s, as a female teacher if you married, you lost your job.

‘I do regret though not having the love and affection of any one man now that I am in my 70’s but I think it would have been impossible to devote the same attention to a husband, as I could to the girls. Each partner has to be prepared to work for the good of the other.’

In addition to travel, she continued to enjoy swimming, dancing, playing bridge and golf as well as keeping up with the progress of hundreds of Old Heatonians.

Pupils remember

There are many references to Dr Henstock on a Heaton High School Alumni website. Here are just a few:

‘Was always terrified of Dr. Henstock, even when having to partner her in tennis and badminton games.    She came to visit me in Calgary in the 70s and I was still in awe of her.’

‘Doc H (awe inspiring and scary)’ 

‘I entertained Dr. Henstock twice in my home and my kids called her Auntie Constance and my husband thought she was lovely!!’

‘School days weren’t my happiest days, at least not at HHS, but I’ve enjoyed my life since leaving so it didn’t do any lasting damage except, to this day, I can’t let anyone link their arm through mine ‘like a common factory girl’ or eat in the street!!   Dear Dr. E. Constance Henstock!!’

Death and Obituary

Dr Henstock died in hospital, aged 84, on 24 December 1990.

A short obituary was published in the ‘Journal’ with a small portrait photograph alongside it. It seems this would have disappointed Dr Henstock as Avril Deane had reported eight years earlier that she said she would like the full length photograph of her dressed in her headmistress’s gown shown above right to accompany her obituary. We have looked high and low for a better copy to set wrongs to right but haven’t so far been able to find one. Please get in touch if you can oblige.

Can You Help?

If you remember Dr Henstock or especially, have photos 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 chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Arthur Andrews of Heaton History Group.

Sources

Ancestry

British Newspaper Archive

FindMyPast

Heaton High School Alumni website

Heaton Olympians

It’s late June 2021 and Team GB for the 2020 Summer Olympics has just been announced. Such are the strange times we’re living through. But amidst ongoing uncertainty about the next games, let’s celebrate Heaton’s distinguished past Olympians.

No 1 Harry Askew

Harry represented Great Britain in the long jump at the 1948 London Summer Olympics. 

Born in Barrow-in-Furness on 31 December 1917, he excelled in sports at school, particularly as a sprinter, only moving to long jump while at Cambridge University. Pre-war, he won the 1937 Oxbridge Sports long jump and 2 years later the UAU title and was second in the AAA Championships. The war interrupted Harry’s career. He spent six years in the army with the Royal Corps of Signals, achieving the rank of captain.  After the war, he moved to Jersey to teach.

The Olympic champion and world record holder in the long jump was famously the great Jesse Owens, who had won 4 gold medals in Berlin in 1936. Because of World War 2, it was to be 12 years before the next games and so the American didn’t get to defend his title. Harry was one of 21 competitors to take part in the qualifying round on 31 July 1948 and comfortably made the final in 6th place with a jump of 7.14. He was 9th in the final with a jump of 6.935m. The medal winners were all from the USA, the winner, Willie Steele, achieving 7.825.

Harry Askew

Harry’s son, Roger, told us that Harry stayed in Hammersmith during the games and travelled to White City, where the athletics took place, by bus, even on the day he was competing.

Askew went on to teach and coach in Essex. He improved his personal best to 7.29m in 1949 and in 1950 won the AAA title, the British championship, aged 32. In 1958, the Askew family moved north in order that Harry could take up a position as head of Heaton Grammar School, which is what makes his name so familiar to many older Heatonians. Despite being a vociferous opponent of comprehensive education, he was appointed head of Heaton School, Heaton’s  new coeducational comprehensive in 1967.

Askew achieved more national and even international fame than for his Olympic achievements in 1976 when his controversial response to the newly enacted Equal Opportunities Act was to announce  that, henceforward, girls would be subject to corporal punishment on the same basis as boys ie liable to receive it. Parents and pupils organised a protest and alerted the media. There was damage to the school, assaults, expulsions, court cases.

The dust settled, however, and Harry Askew eventually retired in 1979 after 21 years in post. On his retirement he told the ‘Journal’.Do you know, I still have my jumping shoes, my England vest and tracksuit? I couldn’t bear to part with them, although today I can hardly get my feet off the ground unless it’s to put them up in front of the television set!’ 

Harry Askew and his wife moved south on his retirement to be closer to family. He was looking forward to having more time for his passion for jazz music – he was a talented pianist – and for gardening.  He died on 31 October 1986, aged 68.

No 2 Alan Lillington

Alan represented Great Britain in the 100m at the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki.

Born in South Shields on 4 September 1932, Alan grew up in Heaton and attended Heaton Grammar. His mother and father were steward and stewardess of Heaton Liberal Club at 25 Heaton Road, the building with the stone lion above the bay window. He continued to live there until he married local girl, Eileen Murray, in 1955. After their marriage, the couple lived with Eileen’s family at 14 Cloverdale Gardens, High Heaton. 

Alan was an all round sportsman and is reported to have played for Newcastle United as a junior as well as rugby for Northern. The first mention we have found of him in the local press, however, was in August 1949 when the ‘Evening Chronicle’ reported that the 16 year old Elswick Harrier, already the champion at 100 yards, had been set to miss competing for the Northumberland and Durham 220 yards title at Cowgate because of plans for a holiday in Portsmouth. He and a friend had seats booked on the night bus departing at 7.15 until his father stepped in with a more costly rail ticket, which left three hours later, allowing him to race earlier in the evening. In the article, Lillington was described as a ‘young sprint star’. The following July he won the All England Schools’ Silver Jubilee Intercounty AA championships in a time of 10 seconds dead and was in the victorious 440 yards relay team too. And in August he won the junior 100 yards at White City, London.

By 1952, Olympic year, Lillington, now a medical student at Durham University, was second only to Trinidad-born Emmanuel McDonald Bailey, the joint 100m world record holder, in the senior AAA Championship and so was deservedly selected for Helsinki, aged 19, as the ‘baby’ of the team.

Helsinki had originally been chosen to replace Tokyo in 1940 after Japan announced two years before that it would be unable to host the games because of the ongoing Second Sino-Japanese War. In the event, of course, the 1940 games were cancelled because of World War 2. London, which had been selected for the also cancelled 1944 event, was awarded the first games after the war with Helsinki getting its turn four years later.

None of the medallists from 1948 were competing in the 100m this time round and so McDonald Bailey, who finished 6th in London was favourite along with American, Art Bragg, and Jamaica’s Herb McKenley.

Young Alan Lillington was drawn in the first heat on 20 July, from which he qualified in second place behind Australia’s John Treloar, but in the quarter finals, he finished in 6th and last place to Lindy Remigino of the USA and so failed to qualify for the semi final or final. It was nevertheless a magnificent feat for a teenager.

The final on 21 July was one of the closest races imaginable with all six runners separated by only 0.12 seconds, hand-timed. A photograph showed Lindy Remigino to have finished first, Herb McKenley second with GB’s McDonald Bailey in bronze medal position.

Much later, Alan said the games brought back fond memories but that he was sorry that Great Britain recorded its lowest medal total with ‘its only gold medal winner a horse!’ (In fact, three horses and their riders in the team show jumping).

After the Olympics, Lillington continued to perform at a high level. He represented England in the 1954 British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Vancouver.

He remembered celebrating his 21st birthday at an event in Stockholm where he was carried around the room on the stroke of midnight by his mentor, Harold Abrahams (1924 Olympic Champion, whose story was told in ‘Chariots of Fire’) and Chris Chataway (5,000m finalist in Helsinki, pacer for Roger Bannister’s 4 minute mile and, later, minister in the Heath government). 

But soon, Alan Lillington’s mentions in the press were mainly in connection with his work as a doctor and for charity. He worked at Newcastle’s RVI and General before becoming a consultant paediatrician in Sunderland. He was also a director of St Benedict’s Hospice in Sunderland, as well as a committed Freemason, and he helped set up Sunderland Sports Council.

Alan Lillington (centre)

Lillington was appointed a Deputy Lord Lieutenant for Tyne and Wear and, in 1995, Sheriff. He was awarded the MBE for services to the community in Wearside in 2006.

Alan and Eileen’s son, Peter, played club rugby for Harlequins and toured New Zealand with Scotland in 1981.

No 3 Maurice Benn 

Maurice represented Great Britain in the 1500m at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City.

Born in Wallsend on 9 November 1946, Maurice was a member of Heaton Harriers. The first mention of him we have found in the press so far was on 7 January 1966 when the  ‘Evening Chronicle’ reported:

‘Heaton’s boys proved their worth by finishing second team on Boxing Day and with Dick Balding, Joe Hawes and Maurice Benn in their senior line up, the ‘East Enders’ if they can find a couple of useful youths, must be among the medals again on Saturday.’

A month later, the future Olympian was referred to as having the best time for a youth over a Team Valley cross-country course and was expected to take his place in Heaton Harriers’ senior team in the race for the Royal Corps of Signals (coincidentally Harry Askew’s old regiment) Trophy over the same course.

But it wasn’t until 3 June 1968 that Maurice came to national attention during the inter-county finals at London’s White City. The Birmingham Post summed up the media’s surprise:

‘Perhaps the biggest shock of all was the entry of 21 year old Maurice Benn into the ranks of Britain’s sub-four-minute milers. An “unknown” from the north east, Benn had a previous best of 04:04.8 and he beat the established international, John Whetton of Nottinghamshire into third place.’ 

Benn’s time was 03:59.9. He was the first north-east athlete to achieve this feat. It transpired that he had recently teamed up with north-east based national coach, Peter Harper, after being coached for the previous two years by letter by the AAA’s travelling coach, who was based in Glasgow. No Zoom back then!

And so on 5 August 1968, Maurice Benn of Heaton Harriers, received a letter signed by Prince Philip inviting him to compete in the games. With the times he had achieved that summer, Benn’s selection was certainly merited but Maurice himself later said that he had really gone to Mexico for the experience. The Birmingham Post called his selection ‘controversial’.

Maurice struggled in the altitude of Mexico City. As he later recalled ‘I shouldn’t have gone to Mexico. I had a history of anaemia and didn’t acclimatise well… I trained with Ron Hill and I was panting like an old bloke’.

The reigning champion was New Zealander, Peter Snell, who had won in Tokyo four years earlier  with a time of 3:38.1, but he wasn’t competing in Mexico. Here, the favourite was the USA’s Jim Ryun, the world record holder. Maurice was drawn in the first heat on 18 October along with Ryun and, although the Heaton Harrier achieved a time of 3:56.43, a personal best, it was well behind the qualifiers. Ryun went onto win his semifinal ahead of Kenyan, Kip Keino, but in the final Keino, who was paced by his compatriot, Ben Jipcho, won gold in an Olympic record time. John Whetton, beaten by Maurice at sea level, just a few months earlier, was a creditable 5th.

Maurice Benn

After the games, Benn went to study in the USA where, representing the University of Nevada, he won the USA National Collegiate cross-country championship. The university won the team prize as well and they were welcomed home in style with banners, a motor-cavalcade and television interview. It was said to be the first national victory by any Nevada team at any time in any sport – and led by a former Heaton Harrier. But anaemia continued to dog him in the states – Nevada is at altitude too.

By 1970, Benn was back in Britain but had moved away from the north-east. He continued running for Cambridge Harriers. The following year he ‘surprisingly won the Southern Counties 10,000m’ in cold and blustery conditions with a ‘staggering time of 28:53:08, which is top international standard’ but by the time of the 1972 games his training had become spasmodic, his form had dipped and he was out of contention for Olympic selection.

Maurice went on to work as a finance worker for British Rail in London, where he represented Woodford Green athletics club for many years. He has a permanent place in the pantheon of Heaton sport.

No 4 Derek Talbot

Derek Talbot represented Great Britain at badminton at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich.

Heaton’s Derek Talbot (right)

Born in Newcastle in 1947, Derek grew up on Etherstone Avenue in High Heaton and attended Heaton Grammar, where he first played badminton.  He went on to study metallurgy at Newcastle University, where, after doing well with the British Universities’ badminton team, he was spotted by the England selectors. He then moved to London for five years to establish himself in the sport.

Talbot’s first major title was Commonwealth Games mixed doubles gold with Margaret Boxall in Edinburgh in 1970 and in April 1972, he again won mixed gold with Gillian Gilks and bronze with fellow Heatonian, Elliot Stuart, at the European Badminton Championships in Sweden.

Badminton had been chosen as a demonstration sport for the 1972 Olympics so medals did not count in official tables. The intention was to promote to a global audience a sport which was, and is, very big in some parts of the world but unknown, at least as a spectator sport, in others. Some years later, Talbot summed up the different levels of fame top players enjoyed in different countries:

‘In many parts of the far east, we were recognised in the streets and invited to meet presidents in their palaces. But I could always come back to Newcastle and be inconspicuous, which I prefer. So I got the best of both worlds’. 

The demonstration sports rules allowed for doubles partners of mixed nationality and the medals awarded were slightly smaller replicas of the official ones. The entire tournament took place on a single day, 4 September.

Derek competed in the men’s doubles, partnered again by fellow Heaton Grammar old boy, Elliot Stuart. They beat a German / Canadian pairing in the1st round before losing to the eventual winners, Indonesians Ade Chandra and Christian Hadanata, in the semi-finals. Thus they were bronze medallists.

In the mixed doubles, he again partnered fellow Britain, Gillian Gilks, one of the most decorated British badminton players of all time. The pair beat Japanese, West German and Danish opponents to win gold.

The Munich Olympics are remembered, of course, for the events of 5-6 September. Eight members of a Palestinian terrorist group, Black September, took nine members of the Israeli Olympic team hostage, killing two of them. Five terrorists and a German police officer were also killed during a rescue attempt.

Speaking some years later, Talbot said that he witnessed the  start of the incident first hand:

‘I went out on the town celebrating and came back at 4.00am to what seemed like fireworks just 20 yards away. I walked right past and thought how inconsiderate it was of people to let off fireworks that time of night when many others had important events the next day. It was only later that I realised that I had almost stumbled across the terrorist attack.’

He went on to represent his country 83 times and won a total of four Commonwealth golds, one silver and two bronzes; three European golds, three silvers and two bronzes medals. He also won three All England Open golds and three silvers; a gold with Elliott Stuart in the Indian Open; a silver in the World Championships and a bronze in the World Cup. 

Derek retired from international badminton in 1981 and became a successful businessman, running a sports shop and having his own brand of badminton racquets, alongside coaching, commentating and property development. He continued to serve his sport as a selector and an administrator.

He didn’t always speak well of Heaton, however. Having bought a £95,000 house in Jesmond Park East in 1986, he reportedly sold it a matter of months later, allegedly because ‘couldn’t make a right turn at the end of the street.’

‘It was impossible. If I wanted to drive to Newcastle I had to take a two mile detour to get on my way. I also found the neighbourhood lacking in facilities like shops, open space, a library, cinema and swimming pool’.

Perhaps Brian Johnson of AC/DC fame, who is said to have bought the house, found a quicker route west and also realised that High Heaton Library, Biddlestone Road baths and the shops of Heaton and Chillingham Road were just a twelve minute walk away and the open spaces of Jesmond Dene barely six.

After a spell in Jesmond, Talbot, who had had a longstanding interest in alternative medicine, moved to Ibiza in the early 1990s where he practised homeopathy. He later returned to Tyneside. In 2013, he received an MBE for services to badminton.

No 5 Elliot Stuart

Elliot represented Great Britain at badminton at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich.

Like Derek Talbot, Elliot attended Heaton Grammar. He lived with his parents on Kingsley Place and, after leaving school, also like Talbot, he studied metallurgy at Newcastle University because, he said,’dad worked in Vickers and Armstrong shipyards on the Tyne, and he thought it would be interesting – he was wrong.’

Stuart joined Barclays as a computer operator, later becoming a programmer, systems analyst and project manager. He said that he moved to London because he was on the verge of playing international badminton and ‘because it was easier to fly from Heathrow (regional airports barely existed then) to the many badminton tournaments throughout Europe and the world.’ In 1969, after he had been at Barclays for just a year, the company gave him ‘six months a year paid leave, without contractual obligations, except to spread the name of Barclays, whenever appropriate at events across the globe’.

In April 1972, Stuart won bronze with fellow Heatonian, Derek Talbot, at the European Badminton Championships in Sweden before representing Great Britain in the Olympic Games in Munich  some four and a half months later. Although, the bronze medal the pair won doesn’t count officially, it was nevertheless a great honour to be chosen to represent their sport in the biggest event on earth.

The Heatonian went on to win gold at the 1973 Indian Open with Derek Talbot, 1974 Commonwealth gold, again with Talbot, and bronze with Susan Whetnall. In 1975, he won the All England mixed doubles title with Nora Gardner. But he says that his biggest badminton success was marrying Swedish World Singles Champion, Eva Twedberg!

In 1996, aged 50, Elliot took early retirement so that he could help top level badminton transition from an amateur to a professional sport. He continued to coach and mentor and became Performance Director for English Badminton. After retirement. he went to live in Portugal. 

No 6 Jonathan Edwards

Jonathan represented Great Britain in the triple jump at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta and the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney.

Born in London on 10 May 1966, Jonathan was the son of Jill Edwards and her husband, Andy a clergyman. He was brought up to have a strong Christian faith which included preserving Sundays as a special day. The family didn’t watch television, work or study on the Sabbath. Jonathan remembers watching his mother prepare the vegetables for Sunday lunch on Saturday evenings.

Jonathan went to school in Devon, before coming north to study Physics at Durham University. While a student, he began to be coached by Gateshead-based, Carl Johnson, and, after graduation, decided to remain in the north east so that they could continue to work together.

It was the faith that Jonathan had inherited from his parents that brought him to Heaton.  He began to worship at Heaton Baptist Church and took advantage of a book held at the back of the church listing local people with property available for rent.

His biographer writes of Edward’s  first impressions of Heaton when a prospective landlord took him to view the King John Street property that became his first Heaton home:

‘Edwards confesses that as the car drove into Heaton his heart missed a beat. As rain drilled against the windows, all he could see was street after street of dreary-looking terraced houses. For a young man spoiled by the wild, rural beauty of the north Devon coast and the quaintness of Durham, this urban landscape was a culture shock. Still, Edwards needed a roof over his head and the accommodation was clean and affordable. He was to discover that his first impressions did not necessarily provide a fair reflection of the area. He found a friendliness and warmth in Heaton and, with his wife Alison, later established their first marital home in the street that had provided him with such an unflattering view of the suburb on the day he came flat-hunting’. They went on to live at several other Heaton addresses including on Heaton Park View.

Edwards recalls his early days, newly unemployed and alone, in Heaton: ‘I cried my eyes out’.

‘I’d never experienced life, real life, like this. After I’d moved into the flat in Heaton, my first attempt at cooking involved making an omelette and putting it on a lettuce leaf. Grotesque.’

Soon, however, Edwards got a job as a maternity cover scientific officer in the cytogenetics laboratory at the RVI. After work, he would go to Gateshead to train and then catch a Metro back into town. From there, he’d catch the Number 1 bus back to Heaton or walk if one didn’t arrive. We’ve all been there!

But soon Heaton and particularly Heaton Baptist Church became the focus of a national media storm. Improving performances meant that Edwards was selected for the 1988 British Olympic trials. The first two in the trials were guaranteed selection for the games and there would be a third wild-card place. Unfortunately for Edwards, the triple jump event was scheduled for a Sunday and so the young, unknown Edwards declared that he could not compete. The media had already besieged the RVI and on the day of the event itself, television crews turned up at the church on Heaton Road hoping to film Edwards going in to worship. However, Edwards’ gamble paid off: he was selected for Seoul anyway. It was never expected that he would achieve a high place but he would gain valuable experience. In fact he finished 23rd in qualifying with a best jump of 15.88.  Bulgaria’s Khristo Markov won the final with a new Olympic record of 17.61.

By the time of the Barcelona games, 4 years later, Jonathan Edwards had married Alison Briggs, a physiotherapist at the RVI, at Heaton Baptist Church. Expectations, including his own, were high. His father was in the stadium to watch him qualify and his mother and Alison would be there for the final. Except, for Jonathan, there was to be no final. He fouled his first jump and messed up his next two as well. His position of 35th was worse than Seoul. His best distance of 15.76 almost two metres shorter than that of the eventual winner, USA’s Mike Conley, who achieved a new Olympic record of 17.73. Edwards was distraught.

By the time of the next summer games in Atlanta in 1996, Edwards was a full-time athlete, having been able to give up work at the RVI thanks to a grant from the Great North Run Trust. He had also changed his coach and adopted the jumping style of the Barcelona gold medallist, Mike Conley. And there were new names in the Edwards’ family, Alison having given birth to two sons, Sam and Nathan, in 1993 and 1995 respectively.  Most importantly from an athletics point of view, he was now world record holder.

In the European Cup Final in Lille on 25 June 1995, he had jumped a huge but slightly wind-assisted 18.43. A legitimate world record of 17.98 in Salamanca followed, and then on 7 August  two more massive world record breaking jumps of 18.16 and 18.29 metres during the World Championships in Gothenburg while his wife Alison was back in Heaton, trying to take her mind off things by gardening. When the media converged on our area again, a home made banner outside the Edwards’ flat read ‘Simply the Best’. That Edwards was now a sporting superstar was confirmed when he won the prestigious BBC Sports Personality of the Year. He went into the 1996 Olympics as hot favourite.

The triple jump event in Atlanta took place on 26 July. In qualifying, Edwards struggled, as he had previously, while reigning champion Mike Conley and former world champion, Kenny Harrison, both on home soil, along with Cuban Queseda, Bermudan Wellman, and Bulgarian Georgiev, all reached the automatic qualifying distance on their first jump. Edwards eventually qualified for the final in sixth place. 

In the final, Harrison set a new Olympic record with his first jump and bettered it with his fourth. Edwards struggled with two red flags before managing a legal jump which put him in third place and entitled him to a further three attempts. His fourth effort was the longest jump ever not to win gold but the Briton had to settle for silver. (This was Heaton’s first official Olympic medal!)

Four year’s later in Sydney, the now Gosforth-based Edwards was determined to better that. Harrison wasn’t competing and so when qualifying began on 23 September 2000,  the British athlete was favourite again. This time he achieved the required distance with his second jump, although his British team mates, Onochie ‘Larry’ Achike and Phillips Idowu, were in first and second place, both with personal bests, and Edwards in fourth going into the final two days later.

In the final, Achike led after the first round and Russia’s Denis Kapustin after the second but in the third round Edwards jumped 17.71m and took gold (Heaton’s first!) He was awarded a CBE.

Jonathan Edwards

Following his Olympic success, Edwards won gold at the 2001 World Championships. At one point he was the reigning champion in the Olympics, World, Commonwealth and European Championships. At the time of writing, he still holds the World Record with his jump of 18.29m on 7 August 1995 in Gothenburg and his wind-assisted 18.43m on 25 June the same year, while not counting in the record books, also remains unsurpassed. He is also Heaton’s most successful Olympian.

No 7 Freya Ross née Murray

Freya represented Great Britain in the marathon at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

Born on 20 September 1983, Freya grew up in Temple, Midlothian and was a successful runner as a schoolgirl, winning the Scottish Schools 3,000m title in 1999 and 2000 and Scottish Cross-Country Champion in 2001.

Her progress continued into senior athletics and she won the Scottish 10,000m in 2009 and the 5,000 national title in 2010. She represented Scotland in both the 5,000m and 10,000m the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, finishing 7th and 5th respectively. 

In 2006, after studying structural engineering at Heriot-Watt University, Freya moved to the north east, initially to Sunderland where she ran for Chester le Street. She joined international engineering consultancy Cundall and able to work part time for them, while pursuing her athletics career. She describes how she often ran to and from their Regents Centre office from her home in Tosson Terrace. She has also described how she used to like running at Rising Sun Country Park and along the wagonways. The flexibility of her employer also meant she could train for part of the year in California. 

Freya didn’t originally originally make the London Olympics squad. She had been pipped to the final marathon place by Claire Hallissey who had beaten her in that April’s London Marathon and she was picked only when injury forced the withdrawal of Paula Radcliffe, the world record holder and one of the favourites. On 29 July, only a week before the event, Freya was at home in Heaton doing table plans for her wedding when she got the call to pack her bags. Nevertheless, the following day, she went into work as she ‘had a few bits to finish off’. It wasn’t until the Thursday that she flew down to London.

Freya Ross née Murray

The London Olympics women’s marathon on 5 August 2012 began and finished on the Mall and took in iconic sights such as Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, St Paul’s Cathedral, the Tower of London and the Houses of Parliament. Unfortunately for both athletes and spectators, the race began in heavy rain and so Paula Radcliffe’s world record was never in jeopardy. It was nevertheless a dramatic contest. The eventual winner, Ethiopia’s Tiki Gelana, fell at around halfway, trying to negotiate a water station but fought back to power past the bronze medallist, Russian Tatyana Arkhipova and silver medallist, Kenyan Priscah Jeptoo. Freya was the best placed Briton in 44th place from 118 starters in a personal best of 2 hours 28 minutes 12 seconds.

Following the Olympics, Freya got married as planned, became a full time athlete for a while and moved back to Scotland. She continued to compete, winning the Scottish National Championships 5,000m in 2016. She now has two young children, works as an events coordinator, has written a recipe book ‘Food on the Run’ and coaches at her local running club. 

She has a permanent place in Heaton’s history as our first female Olympian.

No 8 Brazil, Spain and Gabon Football Teams, 2012 Summer Olympics in London 

The previous athletes all were either born in, lived in, worked in or represented Heaton. But we must also reserve a place for the footballers who trained here before and during the 2012 games.

It was announced a good year before the event that the Brazil and Spain football squads had been allocated training facilities at the Newcastle University sports complex at Cochrane Park. The facilities underwent a half a million pound revamp in preparation for their illustrious visitors, the most famous of whom was to be Neymar, who at that time still played for Santos in his home country but was the hottest property in South American football. There was disappointment as a high fence appeared around the sports ground but excitement as it was discovered that good views of the pitches could be obtained from the first floor café of the High Heaton Sainsbury store across the road. The Geordie public had a chance to watch him properly in the quarter final v Honduras where he scored a penalty and registered an assist in Brazil’s thrilling 3-2 win v Honduras.

On 17 July 2012, Gabon became the first team to train on the university facilities but it was their warm-up match five days later that has gone down in local folklore. Former Newcastle United star Nobby Solano’s agent was drafted in to help the African underdogs find opponents to play in a friendly. He’d tried the Magpie’s Under 21s to no avail so he got in touch with the Heaton Stannington manager requesting a game the very next day. It was July. Some of the squad were on holiday, none were in training but it felt like too good an opportunity to miss, especially as Gabon boasted another of the most promising players in the world, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, then of St Étienne in France but soon to sign for Dortmund and later Arsenal. A team of part-timers was scrambled together, word was put out on social media and the game was on.

But not before the Stan assistant manager had made two mercy dashes to the African team’s base at the Gateshead Hilton, firstly to reunite Aubameyang with the boots he’d left behind and then to pop back for the sort of match balls they’d be playing with in the tournament. Aubameyang was marked by captain Joe Wear who had run the Great North 10K that morning ‘so I was a bit tired’. He scored two first half goals in Gabon’s 4-0 win before being substituted at half time.

Pierre-Emerick Aubeyang at Grounsell Park. Photo: Simon Hobson/Newcastle Chronicle/NCJ Media

The Africans turned down the Stan’s offer of a pie and a pint after the game but hung around to chat and pose for photographs. Their signed shirt still hangs in the clubhouse. Four days later they stepped out against Switzerland at St James Park with Aubameyang scoring their only goal of the tournament in a 1-1 draw. Their next opponents Mexico beat them 2-0 and went on to win the tournament, beating Neymar’s Brazil in the final. 

Can you help?

So they’re the Heaton Olympians we have discovered so far. They all deserve a commemorative postbox! Please let us know if you know more about the Heaton connections of any of them. And we hope you can help us discover more Olympians or connections between Heaton and the Olympic Games more generally. You can contact us either through this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or by emailing chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Updated on 15 July 2021 with details of a recently rediscovered Heaton Olympian, Alan Lillington. Thank you to Arthur Andrews of Heaton History Group. Updated on 20 July 2021 to include Heaton Park View as a Heaton address for Jonathan Edwards. Thank you, David Faulkner.

Sources

Ancestry

British Newspaper Archive

‘The Eastenders: Heaton Harriers 1890-1990’ by William Allen; Heaton Harriers, 1990

‘A Time to Jump: the authorised biography of Jonathan Edwards’ by Malcolm Folley; Harper Collins, 2000

Other online sources

Acknowledgements 

Researched and written by Chris Jackson with additional material supplied by Arthur Andrews. Thank you to Roger Askew for personal information and photos of his father and to Freya Ross and Jonathan Edwards for confirming their Heaton addresses.

Where There’s a Wills: Jean Jobbins’ memories

The younger lives of older members of our community often remain hidden when they can reveal so much about the person and about the world they have experienced, not least the Heaton of the recent past. It was, then, a pleasure for Heaton History Group’s Fiona Stacey to interview 96 year old Jean Jobbins and discover more about her long life:

The young Jean Jobbins ( née Thomas)

Jean (née Thomas), a native of Bristol, was born in 1925. When she left school at the tender age of 14 there were job opportunities in Bristol with Wills, the cigarette manufacturers, at the firm’s Bedminster works. Armed with an excellent letter of recommendation from her headmaster, Jean was offered an interview. Getting a job with Wills was considered a ‘cut above’. As Jean says, they ‘didn’t just take any old rubbish’. The questions she was asked in the interview felt quite hard to Jean: she describes them as ‘unusual’ but she answered as best she could and was offered a position, where she was taken under the wing of her supervisor, a Mr Bryant.  Jean remembers him very fondly. ‘He was a very nice and kind gentleman and always very smartly dressed’. Jean was given a sage green uniform with the Wills emblem on it which she says was very smart and she was ready to start work. 

Wartime

Jean’s working day began at 7.30am and her first job was in the stripping room which she hated straightaway.  She had to strip the tobacco leaf from the stalk. As soon as she had finished one stalk, she had to start on the next. Jean found that her hands got sore extremely quickly and when Mr Bryant asked how she was enjoying her job, she promptly told him that she hated it. He was surprised by her candour but gave Jean some advice on her technique which was of great help. She found the job a lot easier after that. She says she still hated it but her hands did not hurt so much. 

Jean had started work at the factory in 1939 so it was not very long before the second world war broke out.  The men left the factory and the women were required to take over their roles.  Jean was moved into the baulking room. This was where the leaves were sorted and graded and it was classed as a more skilled job, one that was normally done by men and attracted higher pay.  Jean did not class it as skilled at all but the women took great delight in pushing the men out of their jobs.  At this time, the atmosphere in the factory changed considerably: the women did not seem to be as much fun as the men had been and there was always an anxiety, over and above that brought on by the war, about what would happen to them once the men returned.

During the war, Jean had a supervisor called Grace. She was no Mr Bryant, and Jean did not like her much at all but she oversaw the women until the men came back. Jean was 20 when the war ended and had no intention of going back to the stripping room.  

Sure enough, when the men returned, Jean was asked several times to go back to her old job but she always refused, holding out for something better than the dreaded stripping room. And Jean’s determination and sense of self-worth eventually paid off with a position in the laboratory.  This involved taking the temperature of various pieces of equipment and monitoring them. Jean enjoyed this work and made some good friends there.

Social life

Wills provided excellent working conditions. Jean says the company pioneered workers’ canteens, free medical care, sports facilities, paid holidays and even a football team.  She remembers there were various societies: drama, music and luncheon clubs, along with dances, which she particularly enjoyed.

Once the men were back there was more fun again in the factory. Generally, there was not much mixing of the sexes but the dances were different. Jean had got to know one colleague, Ern, as she would pass him by during her working day.

She laughs that she thought his surname, Jobbins, unusual and found it amusing to change the name a little when she greeted him, partly because he looked so serious.  She would say ‘Good morning, Mr Giblet’ one day and ‘Good morning, Mr Goblet’ on another. She came up with a good variety and always with a twinkle in her eye in the hope he’d ask her for a dance at the next social.  Ern was a good dancer and not at all shy as he had been in the Royal Marines during the war. He played it cool at first, dancing with some other girls but once he asked Jean, they danced for the rest of the night.  Jean says they got on ‘like a house on fire’

Up North

Eventually Jean and Ern were married. 

Jean and Ern’s wedding, 25 February 1950

They were ‘living in’ with Jean’s parents when the opportunity came for them to move north with the promise of a house and a manager’s job ‘with prospects’ for Ern at the soon to be opened Wills factory in Newcastle. 

Grand opening of the Wills Factory on the Coast Road 1950. Ernest Jobbins is 3rd row, 2nd left.

Houses were in extremely short supply so it was an at attractive opportunity for a young couple. 

Jean’s family, however, were not so keen on her moving so far away so they told her she would never see a cow or sheep ever again, as they didn’t have them in the north-east!  But Ern and Jean weren’t to be deterred and, although Jean remembers that she was very frightened, her determination once again came to the fore and, with 12 other couples, they moved to Newcastle.  Everyone else chose to live in Kenton but Jean and Ern opted for High Heaton and were given a council house on the High Heaton estate, which Jean loved.

 

Jean and Ern in their garden at Newton Place, High Heaton

Nevertheless, she missed her family back in Bristol very much.  None of them had telephones. Jean recalls that they were for the rich not the ordinary folk so all communication was by letter. Jean would write to her parents on a Sunday; they would receive her letter the next day, write straight back and she would receive their reply by Tuesday. Swift service indeed!  Jean wrote to her parents daily and, if for some reason, she missed a day, a stern letter would arrive remonstrating with her but also expressing concern for her wellbeing.

Outsider

Jean encountered some hostility from local women when she arrived. She overheard some of them talking loudly about her at the bus stop, claiming that the incomers had taken jobs that their sons could have had and jumped the queue for council houses. Jean eventually tackled one of the gossips informing her that she would never be given a job at Wills, even if she wanted one, as they didn’t take people like her.  She never had problems with this woman again.  The hostility didn’t last long and although Jean felt very lonely at first, she quickly settled into her new life and made friends.  

There was some confusion too over the local dialect, knowing what scallions and stotties were, for example. But, in the main, Jean didn’t have problems with Geordie, although Ern never ever fully came to grips with it.

Of course, when they arrived, rationing was still in place and the women would eye each other’s baskets as they came out of Newton Road Co-op to see what they’d managed to get that day.   Jean remembers that one of her neighbours struggled to manage her coal rations and would often come to borrow some: a loan which was never repaid, she recalls with some amusement. 

Nights Out

For entertainment Jean and Ern would go to the Lyric cinema (now the People’s Theatre) every Monday night.  Jean remembers seeing one particularly bad film and, as they were leaving, the manager asked if she’d enjoyed it.  She was more than happy to tell him that she had not, much to his surprise.  There was no television so Jean and Ern also went to the Flora Robson Theatre weekly, either on a Friday or Saturday night.  She also enjoyed night classes at Cragside School, taking up needlework and art. And she joined High Heaton Library.

Social at Wills, with Jean and Ern on the left

Family

Eventually Jean and Ern’s daughter, Ruth, was born and their family thoroughly enjoyed their visits from Bristol, usually in August.

Jean and baby Ruth

They particularly enjoying trips to the coast and discovering that there are cows and sheep in the north-east after all.  Jean, Ern and Ruth would spend Christmases in Bristol and, on visits at other times of year, Jean remembers that Ruth was terrified by the intense west country thunderstorms, which often went on for hours.

Jean doesn’t feel it would be any easier today to move so far from family, but feels that her strong character and determination stood her in good stead. Her father had gone to Canada as a very young man before returning to Bristol to work on the railways and she thinks she inherited some of his pioneering spirit.

Throughout her life, Jean has demonstrated a sense of independence that many of us may find surprising in an era when women did not enjoy the same rights as men, and she comes across still as someone who knows her own mind. Her advice to young people today? ‘Stick to what you believe in.’

Acknowledgements

 Jean Jobbins’ story was told to Fiona Stacey of Heaton History Group on 20 February 2020. It has not been published until now because Covid restrictions meant that the content could only recently be checked with Jean. Fiona would like to thank Jean and her daughter, Ruth, for giving her their time and patience whilst recounting this wonderful story. All photographs are published with the kind permission of Jean and Ruth.

Jean and Ruth, Christmas 2019

Scrannin’ on the Tip

The grandly titled City Stadium is a well-used green space at the south end of Heaton. In all weathers, you’ll find runners, cyclists, walkers, outdoor gymnasts, playing children, allotmenteers and many others enjoying the fresh air and perhaps a coffee.

City Stadium, April 2021 (Copyright: Chris Jackson)
City Stadium, April 2021 (Copyright: Chris Jackson)

But it’s not always been like this. We asked Heaton History Group’s Keith Fisher to delve into the archives and his memory bank to tell its story:

Having friends and associates on both sides of the water, I’ve always been rather impressed with the degree of separation caused by the River Tyne.  Despite the arrival of the tunnel in 1967 and now that I live in North Shields, getting to friends’ homes in South Shields still requires at least thirty minutes of driving (plus tolls) to cover no more than a mile as the crow flies.

What has this got to do with Heaton, you may well ask; well, even today, the Ouseburn valley presents a somewhat similar – albeit less severe – impediment. And 100 years ago it was a distinctly difficult obstacle during journeys east to west and vice versa.  Between the city centre and Heaton there were few options that didn’t require labouring first down and then up a very steep bank.

Uphill Struggle

A typical symptom of the enthusiasm to avoid Byker Bank for example can be seen by the number of people paying the pedestrian toll to cross the Byker Railway Viaduct (yes, folk paid to walk over) which was approximately 72,000 per year.  So the first option was the building of the Byker Road Bridge in 1878 – you had to pay to use that as well, of course.  Admittedly the toll was withdrawn in 1895 when the city corporation bought the bridge and it soon had to be widened because of increased traffic: a very familiar modern-day story. 

The City Road route was relatively level, so you could bypass Byker Bank by crossing over Glasshouse Bridge and cutting across the western edge of Byker and Heaton with only the slope of Albion Row to contend with.  OK, maybe we can consider that as an option, but if you needed to deliver anything by handcart from the town centre to Craigielea on Heaton Road then that was a long way out of your way on a cold and windy day.

I mention pushing heavy laden handcarts because my maternal grandfather, having retired as a lion-tamer in the circus, took to the variety theatre boards and would transport his props on a handcart. His sons, my uncles, were commandeered to labour on his behalf and they complained to me about it until they died.

Fortunately for the waggoneers, in the same year as Byker Road Bridge opened, another improvement arrived, as did so many, from Lord Armstrong: I never stop waxing lyrical regarding his unstinting benevolence, despite his motives being held to doubt in certain quarters.  He had apparently bowed to the demands of Lady Armstrong – who was horrified by the sight of poor old horses dragging carts of coal up Benton Bank – and built Armstrong Bridge at his own expense, before giving it to the city council, insisting it remain toll-free.  

Back in 1900, as far as the council were concerned, a more central route to all the new industries and residencies in Heaton from the town was desirable, but the best that was going to be achieved would still involve a steep bank. 

Shieldfield, like the city centre, is far lower down than the centre of Heaton, and if we think that Warwick Street is steep today, imagine what it must have been like a century ago with a 30 metre deep Ouseburn Valley across its way.  In mitigation, the new route would only be an uphill struggle in one direction; it would create new land for housing development; plus, it would provide a waste disposal facility in the centre of the city for 40 years.

Rubbish

During my youth in the ’50s and ’60s, everyone referred to the City Stadium as ‘The Tip’ because for the previous 40 years it had been the destination of both domestic and commercial refuse while the 100 foot deep valley was brought up to Shieldfield’s level.  We didn’t generate much waste back then, did we?  Couldn’t afford to!

The council’s plan to develop the infilled valley with houses never came to fruition because building regulations stiffened and residential development on infilled land was forbidden.

Concrete

But first, culvert the Ouseburn. And to do that city engineer F J Edge decided that François Hennebique’s system was the method of choice: what we know today as reinforced concrete.  The French Hennebique system was pioneered in this country by L G Mouchel with offices in Jesmond; work was initially executed by engineering firm W T Weir and Co of Howdon.

Actually, my mention of Craigielea on Heaton Road was not without significance.  Its first resident, Joseph Lish, was an early pioneer of reinforced concrete and has many buildings to his name: up here, the best known being the Dove Marine Laboratory in Cullercoats.  As early as 1874, he had exhibited his own invention: ‘Tilo-Concrete’. Lish was prominent in his profession both regionally and nationally. At one stage he was the President of the Society of Architects, whose Gold Medal he was awarded. He died in 1922 at the age of 80.

The Corporation might have saved themselves a great degree of trouble if they had awarded the contract to Lish, and we shall see why as we move on; although I suspect that the real problem was city councillors expecting the impossible by yesterday for no more than the price of a pint of beer and a bag of pork scratchings.

Ouseburn culvert, City Engineers drawing

Looking at the above plan it can be seen that filling up the narrowest portion of the valley came first (‘WORK No.1’). This allowed an extension of Newington Road to link with Starbeck Avenue in Sandyford. It is also apparent that the burn had travelled a good way west before turning towards the Tyne in the south, slowly eroding away the bank and creating the large loop that the engineers by-passed by hugging the steep bank at the end of Stratford Grove.  The shading and black bars are mine.  The following picture shows the original river course in the foreground running left to right.  Also apparent is the height of Newington Road above the valley floor, and it is at the foot of Warwick Street: hard going, even for horses.  

Building the Ouseburn culvert

The tunnel is 2,150 feet long.  Construction used 850 tons of steel and 17,000 cubic yards of concrete.  It is 30 feet wide and 20 feet high; at its apex it is only 8 inches thick, supporting 90 feet – or 2·5 million cubic yards – of compacted waste material.  Started in 1906, it was interrupted by flooding and old colliery workings and became a huge financial embarrassment to the corporation, resulting in a stoppage of work and a change of contractors very early on… sound familiar?

What did they do with the water in the meantime?

There were two pre-existing facilities: one was a large bore sewage pipe heading for the Tyne.  Yes!  Who remembers the smell of the Tyne on hot days before the interceptor sewer was built?  Or what was worse, the smell of the Ouseburn which itself was an open sewer until the middle of the 1970s when a big pipe was buried running from one end of the valley to the other.  It is not always 100% sealed, as many folk will probably be aware when walking past various manholes at certain times, but I still vividly recall, from my early years, the large, open, vertical grills of the outlet pipes choked with unmentionable material that was the norm back then.

The second was a weir and sluice gate in Jesmond Vale – as it happens, mere yards from the beginning of the future culvert – which diverted full-flow water into a mill-race that more or less paralleled the burn, passing alongside the original large lead works, then under the railway bridge where it powered a flint-mill.  That mill does not look big enough to warrant construction of a 3,000 foot long race, so who contributed to the cost? Early maps show nothing definite, even though the race is in existence by 1859.  It’s curious: why take a mill-race all that distance to power a rather insignificant flint-mill that is only yards from the burn itself?  There are many references in old newspaper accounts of ‘washing tubs’ and I suspect they are referring to the mill-race heading for the original lead works before it moved under the railway bridge and straddled the burn itself.  Maps are full of interesting activity around the burn; there are all sorts of mysterious doings – both old and new; and also up the hill a-ways, where we find a huge brick-works I never realised had been there.  The red rectangle on the OS map below indicates the point where the Ouseburn absorbs the Sandyford Burn, coming down the back of Portland Road from Lambert’s Leap on Sandyford Road.  It is now culverted under Grantham Road.

The above picture shows us the sewage pipe (bottom left) carrying its share of the burn while in the distance, top right, can be seen the original route of the burn and mill-race. All of the property visible was compulsorily purchased and demolished; much more, it would turn out, than had been initially anticipated.

The following pictures give us a good idea of the construction process. Reinforcing poured concrete with iron bars is a fairly common sight nowadays but back then it was relatively novel and the entire endeavour was officially photographed for posterity.

The next photo shows tipping activity; and the inset shows ‘scrannin on the tip’ (as it was known) by folks foraging for usable material.  In the background can be seen the slowly submerging parabola of the culvert roof.  Many people will remember the smell of the tip; I can certainly remember the smell of similar activity as they began to widen Lansdowne Gardens at the other end of Jesmond Vale; I believe that was still going on through the ’70s: dreadful!

The Ouseburn tip while the culverting was still underway

All things considered, it was a relatively unsatisfactory project: original cost estimates spiralled out of control; work was halted; suggestions it be abandoned were voiced. The council had been anxious to get cross-roads established as soon as possible: that was achieved in the first six years; and having rapidly built heavily above the Jesmond Vale section, repairs soon became necessary in order to strengthen the walls.  

If you look closely at this aerial photo from 1938 you can see how the extension to Warwick Street was accomplished; it is also apparent why getting an extension from Newington Avenue up to Starbeck Avenue was achieved so quickly as the valley is comparatively narrow at that point. 

The white border on this 1945 photo shows the extent of the area being filled; these two aerial shots indicate the lack of progress during the war years, as it seems it remained untouched; so where was all the rubbish going?

Shelter

Speaking of war: during my youth, many folk told me that the culvert had been an air-raid shelter during the war, as many of them used it – but most of us are completely unaware of the extent of the facilities provided.

Marian Jones describes what must have been the finest public air -raid shelter in existence: a concrete floor was laid across the tunnel sealing off the burn below and thick concrete blast-walls were installed across the entrances. Gangways accessed a space big enough to accommodate up to 3,000 people. As well as lighting, there were benches, bunk-beds, a canteen/shop and a well equipped and manned hospital room.

Susan Bright tells of an office for air raid wardens, a youth club, a religious space, and a staging area for musical performances.  And, in 1943, a library and reading room were added.  Entrances were under the railway bridge and at the foot of Warwick Street, with gangways giving access to the shelter.

 Many people didn’t even wait for the sirens and simply headed down there every night – with blankets, pillows, flasks of tea and cocoa etc – when the bombings were at their worst.  In 1941 this unplanned and intense activity unfortunately led to a crack 100 feet long appearing in the wall of the tunnel and that section had to be cordoned off.  Even so, this was as luxurious an accommodation as was possible during such fearful times; a lot better than those in Anderson Shelters in back gardens or even the Victoria Tunnel.  Better again than the London Underground tunnels, as the culvert shelter was purpose built and exclusive… hence the extraordinary facilities.

Post War

Today’s evidence of the culvert’s existence is decidedly removed from the original construction. When I was a nipper exploring my vast dominion, the entrance to the culvert was mostly unchanged, except for the metal railings preventing access at the Sandyford entrance. You could see the construction but that was all. The exit under Byker Bridge, however looked like this in the early 1960s.

Ouseburn Culvert, 1960s

We little lads can find adventure wherever, along with wet shoes, muddy knees and diphtheria.

Now the picture is very different, most evidence of the entrance and exit has been obliterated, except what you see in my 2021 photos.

The first is the Vale.

Ouseburn Culvert images (Copyright: Keith Fisher)

The south exit is even more inaccessible, which has a lot to do with raves held there around 2017. Ubiquitous graffiti provides further disguise.

Ambitious Plans

With the war over and housebuilding on the tip forbidden, what could be done with the land created by the culverting and levelled by infill? How about a sports stadium? Here’s an ‘Evening Chronicle’ sketch from the 1950s of the plans. 

City Stadium plans from the 1950s

Seating for 86,000 people (Yes, eighty six thousand!) was augmented by a further space for 8,500 standing.  Car parking was to be on three floors below the stands.  Indoor sports, ice rinks (yes, plural), and badminton courts were also planned.  T Dan Smith proposed spending £500,000 to prepare such a stadium for the British Empire Games. (Renamed the British Commonwealth Games by the time 1966, the year he was targeting, came round). ‘The best intentions’ right?  We got a wooden hut and a cinder track, plus the grand name.

Build by Numbers

I passed our – so called – City Stadium on an almost daily basis riding the Number 1 or 2 bus to and from town during the ’60s and early ’70s, and remained mystified by the enormous forest of stone blocks, all numbered in white figures, scattered over the near corner of the unrealised City Stadium.  It turned out they were the Royal Arcade waiting to be resurrected at some future time and place.  I was equally mystified by their disappearance sometime during the ’70s; at least I assume it was then because I was in and out of Newcastle throughout that decade and was gone almost for good by the ’80s: just like the Royal Arcade, the prestigious City Stadium and our Empire!

Now, if you drop by ‘the tip’ you’ll see the unmistakeable signs of gentrification, the most recent phase of the rich history of this patch of Heaton. What went before has almost, but not quite, been forgotten. But should we be making more of our heritage? The Victoria Tunnel has become a tourist attraction. Perhaps I’m biased but I reckon the City Stadium and Ouseburn Culvert has an even more exciting history. Conducted tours anyone?’

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Keith Fisher, Heaton History Group. Thank you to Carlton Reid for information about the washing tubs.’ Photograph of the Victoria Tunnel courtesy of ‘The Evening Chronicle’.

Can You Help?

If you know more this part of Heaton or have memories or photos 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 chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Sources

The author’s personal archives

‘The Ouseburn Culvert and the City Stadium’ by Marian Jones; ‘The Newsletter of the Ouseburn Trust Heritage Group’, Spring 2008.

‘Bridging the Ouseburn’ by Sue Bright; Ancestors Publishing, 2013

Herbert Barnes: long serving Unitarian church minister

Over fifty years ago a Heaton High School pupil sat on the number 11 bus to school when a teenage boy got talking to her. The pair later started going out together. That teenage boy is now a member of Heaton History Group and he has finally got round to researching an interesting member of his one time girlfriend’s family: Reverend Herbert Barnes, who was a well known non-conformist minister in Newcastle and one time Heaton resident.

Reverend Herbert Barnes

Early Life

Herbert Barnes was born into a farming family on 13 August 1885 at Greyabbey, a small settlement on the banks of Strangford Lough in County Down in Ireland (now Northern Ireland). The family were members of the Non-subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland, a Christian church which placed emphasis on individual conscience in matters of Christian faith and which became part of the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches on that organisation’s foundation in 1928.

In the 1901 census, Herbert was a 15 year old schoolboy, still living near Greyabbey. On leaving school, he entered into business in the art trade but by 1911, 25 year old Herbert was a theological student and boarding with a family in Belfast, some twenty miles from home. From there, he soon moved to Unitarian College Manchester, which has been ‘preparing students for ministry and lay leadership positions in the Unitarian and Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Churches since 1854′. It is still going strong. Herbert was ordained in 1915.

His first ministry was at the Oldham Road Unitarian Church in Manchester. We know from newspaper records that he also preached at other churches in the vicinity.

But just four years later, he transferred to Newcastle to take up a new post at the Unitarian church on New Bridge Street said to be the first non-conformist place of worship in Newcastle with a congregation dating from 1662, which worshipped initially in private homes. The first purpose built meeting house was built c1680 outside the Close Gate, roughly where the Copthorne Hotel is now. In 1726, the church moved to Hanover Square, behind what is now the Central Station before moving to the John Dobson designed New Bridge St church in 1854.

John Dobson’s Church of the Divine Unity, demolished in the 1930s

Heaton Ties

On 25 August 1920, in Cheshire, Herbert married (Lizzie) Beatrice Watterson who hailed from the Isle of Man. She had been a maths teacher firstly at Burnley High School and then in Manchester. 

For at least the first five years of their marriage the couple lived at 12 Cheltenham Terrace in Heaton. They had three children, Henry Greenfield, Herbert Abner and Mary, at least two of whom continued to have connections with Heaton even after the family moved to the west end of the city. Henry Greenfield, who became a general practitioner, used to play rugby for the Medics, whose ground is, of course, on Heaton Road. Herbert Abner became a lawyer and, in 1949, the recipient of the Law Society’s ‘Newcastle upon Tyne Prize’. Mary became a hospital almoner (a pre-NHS forerunner of a hospital social worker). After marriage, she and her family lived for a time at 35 Lesbury Road.

Sadly, Beatrice, Herbert’s wife, died in 1939 aged only 51. Her funeral was attended by many Newcastle dignatories, including Sir Arthur Lambert (Northern Regional Commissioner for Civil Defence) and his wife, councillors and the Reverend E Drukker of the Jesmond Synagogue. The chancel furnishings in the new church were gifted in her memory.

Ministry

The Reverend Barnes seems to have been very popular with his congregation. It is said that the church was so full at the services he led that that extra seats had to be crammed into the aisles.

In 1929, when he announced from the pulpit that he had declined a call to the ministry of Cross Street Chapel in Manchester, there was said to have been a round of applause in the church. Barnes said that to be invited to the ministry of the most historic and outstanding pulpit in the church’s general assembly was an honour that comes only once in a man’s lifetime but that he had decided to remain in Newcastle.

One of Herbert Barnes’s challenges during his ministry was the dangerous state of repair of John Dobson’s church. The cost of repairs eventually became prohibitive and after serious subsidence was discovered, it was decided to build a new church in its place.  A public building appeal fund was set up in 1938. The last service in the old church was on Sunday 26 March 1939 and the first in the new one in nearby Ellison Place, on the site of another demolished John Dobson church, St Peter’s, was on Sunday 21 January 1940.

Drawing of St Peter’s Church as it was being demolished by Byron Dawson, once of Heaton

The new church was also known as the Church of the Divine Unity. All of this was overseen by Reverend Herbert Barnes.

Church of the Divine Unity, Ellison Place

Arthur Andrews takes up the story:

‘In the 1970s, I used to work at Newcastle Polytechnic and every day would see the church and wonder what it was like inside. However, it was only when I noticed that not only was it open for Heritage Open Day and there was the link with Herbert Barnes but also I read that it might soon be sold and closed to the public, that I visited.’

The art deco building was designed by the architects Cacket, Burns Dick and McKellar, who had been responsible for many familiar landmarks including the Tyne Bridge towers and Pilgrim Street Police Station.

Interior of Church of the Divine Unity, Ellison Place

The new church could accommodate 500 people and the church hall, where there was a stage,  could hold 250 people and was used for meetings, as a theatre and for badminton. Rev Herbert Barnes’s Ministry celebrated his silver jubilee in the ministry three years after the new church opened.

Golden Book

Rev Barnes is said to have taken a vigorous stand against anti-Semitism. On 8 January 1934, it was reported that, later that week, ‘in appreciation of his personality and public works and services rendered to the Jewish People’ and in commemoration of the 15th anniversary of his ministry, he was to be honoured  by an inscription in The Jewish National Fund’s ‘Golden Book’ and a certificate marking this was to be presented to him.

The public works referred to included serving on both Newcastle Public Libraries Committee and Education Committee. This inscription in the ‘Golden Book’, given on the recommendation of the Jewish Agency for Palestine, was said to be the highest form of tribute the Jews can pay to those whom they wish to honour. Speeches would be made by Rabbi J Kyanski and Reverend Emmanuel Drukker from the Jesmond Synagogue. Members of Mr Barnes’s church were to be individually invited to the presentation. It was reported in Reverend Barnes’ obituary in ‘The Daily Journal’, that Herbert Barnes was ‘one of the few gentiles to have had their names inscribed in the Golden Book’

Statues

Herbert Barnes wrote a weekly piece for the Evening Chronicle from 1929 until 1941. It was called ‘The Weekly Epilogue’ and published under the pen name of ‘Unitas’. It dealt with aspects of daily life in relation to the bible and philosophy.

In April 1941 he started a new weekly piece called ‘A Saturday Postscript’, for the ‘Evening Chronicle’, which he wrote under his real name until the month before his death.

And he also wrote a column for ‘The Journal’ from 1936 until 1954, called ‘Weekend Thought’ under another pen name ‘Ignotus’.

His final column was entitled ‘They Ought to have Statues’, where he made a case for more statues dedicated to women and their unsung role in society. He cited the recently unveiled statue of Thomas Hardy, observing that the doctor who delivered Hardy was sure that he was stillborn and discarded his young body, only for a woman present at the birth to check the discarded child and found him to be breathing. Herbert Barnes thought that this woman deserved a statue in her honour for saving the life of the future, great author. Although, he could perhaps have mentioned female achievements in addition to saving the life of a famous man, he was certainly ahead of his time, given that this is a more widely understood issue 67 years later.

Tributes

Rev Herbert Barnes retired from the ministry on 19 July 1951. He died at his home in Wylam on 29 October 1954

On 1 October 1961, two commemoration services were held at the Church of Divine Unity to honour the memory of Reverend Hebert Barnes. The morning service was attended by the Lord Mayor, Alderman Dr H Russell and members of the City Council, at the end of which the ‘Herbert Barnes Memorial Stone’ was unveiled.

Someone who knew Herbert Barnes well said that, through his preaching and his newspaper articles, he brought his views before almost every thinking person in the north-east. It was also said that perhaps the greatest tribute to his personality was the fact that more than half of the £35,000 needed to build the Church of Divine Unity, was subscribed by people outside of his own congregation.

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Arthur Andrews, Heaton History Group. The drawing by Byron Dawson has been reproduced with the permission of Newcastle City Library. Thank you to Maurice Large, Church of the Divine Unity leader. Herbert Barnes’s grandchildren: Lesley, Jonathan and Paul, with fond memories.

Additional Sources

British Newspaper Archive 

Ancestry

FindmyPast

Wikipedia

Can You Help?

If you know more Herbert Barnes or have memories or photos 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 chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

For People Not Cows: Armstrong Park’s ‘cattle run’

Funny, isn’t it, how once something becomes generally accepted it gets, well, accepted? Take Armstrong Park’s ‘cattle run’: according to an interpretation panel in the park, this distinctive feature was sunk for bovine use by Victorian industrialist Lord Armstrong.

The livestock, goes the story, were herded through this costly railway-style cutting because the route had long been used for leading cows to pasture.

Armstrong Park interpretation panel, 2010

‘When [Lord] Armstrong was given the land’ the panel explains, ‘he had this deeper channel dug so that cattle could follow the old track and be kept apart from visitors and their carriages.’

Using archive materials, period maps, and copious illustrations, local resident Carlton Reid explains why the lottery-funded interpretation panel is, in all likelihood, wrong:

Bullshi…

‘For centuries, cattle had been driven down to pasture by the River Ouseburn from the fields above the valley,’ states the interpretation panel. The moss-covered panel is situated to the side of the upper of two bridges which span the 200-metre-long sunken feature in Armstrong Park. In the 19th Century this lozenge of land which now sports the ‘Shoe Tree’ was known as Bulman’s Wood.

Even though I argue here that the feature wasn’t designed for cows, I refer to it throughout this piece as the ‘cattle run’. Another descriptive convenience is the interchangeable use of Armstrong Park and Bulman’s Wood for roughly the same 29-acre plot of land.

There’s a linear east-west feature marked on the large-scale map attached to the Deed of Gift of September 1879 in which Armstrong gave this woodland in perpetuity to the people of Newcastle, but it’s not labelled as a ‘cattle run‘.

Plan from Lord Armstrong’s Deed of Gift, 1879

The feature was constructed not in the 1850s, which the interpretation panel seems to suggest, but in 1880 when the council — then known as Newcastle Corporation — owned the land.

Armstrong may have handed Bulman’s Wood to the people of Newcastle via the council’s stewardship but, ever the canny speculator, he inserted a clause in the deed allowing him to continue draining the parts of Heaton which he wished to later develop for housing.

I also speculate that, with the Victorian equivalent of a nod-and-a-wink, the Corporation incorporated Armstrong’s pre-designed linear feature into their plans for what they named Armstrong Park.

Remarks on a cutting

The cutting today known as the ‘cattle run’ starts on Ouseburn Road, rising and curving to finish unceremoniously in a quagmire forming the southern boundary of the plots administered by the 103-year-old Armstrong Allotments Association. Waterlogged and overgrown, this patch of land is understandably little-visited today. (Wear wellies.)

As the interpretation panel rightly points out, the cutting’s high-quality sandstone blockwork is reminiscent of Victorian railway infrastructure.

Armstrong Park ‘cattle run’

Some of the sandstone blocks and their coping stones have fallen to the ground — or, more likely, were pushed — and they lie scattered on the feature’s floor, an ankle-twisting deterrent to those wishing to walk along the ‘cattle run’.

There are two pillars at the Ouseburn Road entrance of the ‘cattle run’, eight courses high and capped with flat coping stones.

If you brush fallen leaves to one side, you’ll uncover rusted remains of iron railings where, within living memory, a gate once closed off the sunken feature at the roadside pillars, one of which is decoratively triangular.

At the opposite end of the ‘cattle run’ the sandstone blocks fade almost to ground level. This entrance is marked by stumpy, ivy-covered pillars, only one of which is now easily visible. This pillar, only a couple of courses high, is capped with a pyramid-shaped coping stone.

Eastern end of the ‘cattle run’

The quality of the stone work was intended to be seen,’ an archaeologist told me, ‘but not by agricultural labourers and cows.’

Hanna Steyne specialises in 19th Century landscapes. I sent her a great many photographs of the ‘cattle run’ and surroundings, including drone shots, and she also accessed period mapping to get the contemporary lay of the land.

‘I would not expect decorative column features on a structure only to be used for agricultural purposes,’ she pointed out.

On several period Ordnance Survey maps, Armstrong Park’s elongated feature is marked with a finger-shaped 100ft contour line. It’s likely that the masonry of the ‘cattle run’ shored up what was once a natural feature in Bulman’s Wood, a feature that the ‘Newcastle Daily Chronicle’ in 1884 called a ‘deep gully’.

As shown on the map from Armstrong’s 1879 Deed of Gift, this gully contained a linear feature prior to the following year’s construction of the ‘cattle run’.

Landscape artist

Hydraulics innovator and arms manufacturer Lord Armstrong was, of course, a noted philanthropist. Five years after handing Bulman’s Wood to the people of Newcastle he gifted the larger Jesmond Dene to the city. This provision of an amenity for his fellow citizens was generous but, back in 1878 when he first discussed the gift, would he really have commissioned a channel in a deep gully to keep cows away from people in a park he was soon to give away? It’s far more likely that when he charged his agents with designing the cutting, he and they had something else in mind.

By the time the cutting was built in 1880 the land was owned by the Newcastle Corporation. The council had no need for such a feature so it was likely to have been built on Armstrong’s orders, and with his cash, on the undocumented understanding that he had a commercial use for it.

Kraal rangers

According to a Historic Environment Record, the ‘cattle run’ is a ‘stone-lined animal kraal which took Armstrong’s cattle from grazing land to the east to the lower pasture land to the west, without disturbing visitors to the park. What was the historical source for this citation? ‘Pers. Comm. Jesmond Dene Rangers, 2004,’ says the record. There’s nothing wrong with using such local knowledge — especially when such ‘personal communications’ were gleaned from folks out there in all weathers looking after our parks and who, in the course of their work, probably hear their fair share of handed-down history — but it’s odd that the entry only cites unnamed 21st century rangers rather than providing 19th century sources.

For Lord Armstrong to go to the considerable expense of sinking a bovine passageway, it would, you might think, have to be a feature in regular use and therefore would have been of at least passing interest to the local press. Yet not in any of the long and detailed descriptions of Armstrong Park in contemporary newspapers have I found mentions of a ‘cattle run’, a ‘kraal’ or any other bovine-related use for the feature.

Nor have I found any period maps, not even those of the largest scale, that mark the feature as a ‘cattle run.’ The only maps to do so are modern and crowdsourced such as OpenStreetMap, a volunteer-edited online resource founded, coincidentally, in 2004..

Don’t have a cow, man

Might there have been a time-out-of-mind cattle track through the deep gully of Bulman’s Wood? Maybe. According to an 18th Century field-name map, there were two large fields to the west of what became Heaton Road: North Cow Close and South Cow Close, both of which belonged to Low Heaton Farm. On the other side of Heaton Road there was a P-shaped field called ‘Cow Loan’ belonging to Heaton Town Farm.

Detail from a plan of Heaton believed to be by Isaac Thompson, c 1800.
Redrawn by Frank Graham, 1952. Included in ‘Maps of Newcastle’ by Frank Graham, 1984.

There was also Benton Bridge Farm, which according to the censuses between 1891 and 1911 was a dairy farm. The farmhouse was at the junction of Ouseburn Road and the Newcastle to Benton turnpike, today’s Coast Road. It is now a house called Woodburn, that, in exterior design, is little changed from the 1890s.

Bingo, you might think, cows. However, the existence of these three field names and dairy farms in the vicinity does not necessarily mean that cows would be taken to pasture on fields beside the Ouseburn.

Might cows have been taken down to the Ouseburn not for pasture but to drink? Thomas Oliver’s 1844 map of Newcastle shows Heaton Road, Heaton Hall’s garden that would become Heaton Park’s bowling green, and Ouseburn Road and, close to where the cattle run would be later built, there’s a field boundary.

Detail from Thomas Oliver’s 1844 map of Newcastle, showing Heaton

There’s no path marked at this point, for cows or otherwise, and it’s possible that cows might have been herded along the edge of this field and down to the river.

But as there were several water sources in or near the cow-themed fields was there any real need to lead cattle to a stream? Archaeologist Hanna Steyne thinks not:

‘From the topography identifiable from mapping, it seems highly unlikely that cows would be heading for pasture down by the river — there seems to have been plentiful farm land on which to graze cows.’

The three large fields may have corralled cows in the 18th century but, by the mid-19th century, only one of them — Cow Loan — was still being used for that purpose, and this only fractionally. According to an 1868 document mapping Armstrong-owned land in Heaton, only about an eighth of the fields worked by Heaton Town Farm and East Heaton Farm were devoted to pasture. (Today, these fields are mostly in the area around Ravenswood Primary School and the Northumberland Hussar pub on Sackville Road.)

As has been discussed previously on this website, Heaton Town Farm was an arable and dairy farm, owned through the 18th and most of the 19th Centuries by the aristocratic Ridley family once of Heaton Hall.

Sir Matthew White Ridley, the fourth Baronet, was the farmer of the family. He had a ‘thorough liking for agricultural pursuits, and took a deep interest in all matters relating to the farm’, reported an 1877 obituary ‘As a breeder of cattle, he was known throughout the whole of the North of England.’

Ridley sold Heaton Town Farm’s land and buildings in 1865. All were either then or soon after that owned by Sir William Armstrong. From the 1840s to the 1860s, the farm was leased by the 4th Baron Ridley to George Cairns. In the 1861 census, Cairns (who also features in records as ‘Carins’) was listed as working 145 acres of mixed farmland, employing ‘4 men, a boy and women labourers.’ Cairns lived with a housekeeper, a ploughman, a 19-year-old Irish dairymaid and a 14-year-old ‘cow keeper’. By 1881, it was still a dairy farm but was now just 27 acres.

Clearly, there were cows in this part of Heaton when Armstrong or his agents commissioned the feature which became known as the ‘cattle run’, but by the 1870s there would have been just a small number of them rather than herds so large and potentially disruptive that they required a cow cutting.

In the 19th Century, ‘dairy farming was seen as a fairly abhorrent activity,’ said Steyne, ‘and one which should be hidden from the delicate middle classes.’

Armstrong himself owned several Newcastle farms, at least two of which had cows on them. He kept small herds at Castles Farm (near to today’s David Lloyd fitness club) and at Benton Place (underneath today’s HM Revenues and Customs building off Benton Road). However, it’s unlikely these herds would have ventured as far as Bulman’s Wood, so we’re left with the small number of cows at Heaton Town Farm and Benton Bridge Farm. (By 1916, Benton Bridge Farm housed just three cows, said to be ‘shockingly emaciated’.)

The idea that cattle would be walked through a formal Victorian park is fairly strange,’ suggests Steyne.

The whole point about Victorian parks was that they were controlled “natural” environments — nature made beautiful — but deliberately separated from the reality of the [actual] natural environment.’

Even if the much-reduced number of cows in the locality during the 1870s and 1880s still used a ‘traditional’ route through the steep-sided gully in Bulman’s Wood, why would Armstrong care to preserve this? Cows are not eels, and the Ouseburn is not the Sargasso Sea. For a practical man like Armstrong, and probably for countless others before him, the sensible herding route would have been down the long-existing Jesmond Vale Lane.

Pedestrian pleasures

If the ‘cattle run’ wasn’t for cattle, what was it for? An 1880 newspaper report about the opening of Armstrong Park explains that it was for pedestrian use. The ‘Newcastle Daily Chronicle’ was clear: it was a ‘sunken footpath’.

The ‘new park is rapidly progressing towards completion’, began the report.

‘The ivy-covered mill on the eminence immediately above [the bank] has for many years been a conspicuous object of interest from the vale beneath’, explained the period writer, meaning the old windmill in Armstrong Park.

‘Beyond this ground, the boundaries of the park terminate at a hedge growing on the border of a fine grass field [where] it is intended … to erect villa residences, and in order to render these accessible from the Ouseburn road, a sunken footpath, which will be finished from plans suggested by Sir William, is at present being made.

(That’s it: the ‘cattle run’ was a sunken footpath for villa owners; quest over. True, but let’s carry on anyway, there’s plenty more to parse.)

The 1880 writer continued:

‘This path runs immediately through and underneath the park, but is in no way connected with the public pleasure ground.’

According to this contemporary description, a ‘wooden bridge forms a portion of the carriage drive over the path, which is also crossed in the middle path by a neat rustic bridge.’

Today, these two bridges are the large upper one over the ‘cattle run’ at the carriage road and the smaller one down the path from the Shoe Tree. Both bridges now have metal railings, and both are made from stone not wood. The bridges have been rebuilt some time after 1880, but let’s continue with the contemporary description.

Bridge over the ‘cattle run’, Armstrong Park

‘An elegant waterfall will be seen from both structures,’ wrote the correspondent.

Water surprise

Wait, what, a waterfall? Where? It ran parallel to the ‘cattle run’. To confirm its existence I pulled back some of the overgrown foliage to unveil the vertical rock face over which the cascade once ran.

Site of former waterfall, Armstrong Park

Just like the well-known waterfall in Jesmond Dene — the subject of countless paintings and photographs — the hitherto unknown one in Armstrong Park was built rather than being wholly natural.

Given similar landscape shaping in Jesmond Dene, it’s possible that the cascade was Armstrong’s idea, or perhaps that of his friend, the naturalist John Hancock, co-founder with his brother Albany of the museum which until recently bore their name. Some of the Dene’s naturalistic features, such as its ornamental rockeries, were either designed in whole by Hancock or in association with Armstrong.

The 1880 newspaper report has a vivid description:

‘The water, which is obtained from the fields beyond, will flow through a 15-inch pipe, placed for a distance beneath the sunken footpath, and then securing an outlet between the carriage drive and the rustic bridge, will dash merrily onwards over an ingenious arrangement of rocks, falls and ferns, until it at length mingles the purity of its stream with that of the singing burn beneath.’

(The original rocks remain, and there’s still a pipe in situ, although it’s a modern one, concreted into place.)

The waterfall pre-dated Newcastle Corporation’s ownership of Bulman Wood. According to a report in the ‘Newcastle Daily Chronicle’ of October 1878, the waterfall — described as a ‘small cascade’ — was fed by a spring that ‘runs evenly the whole year through’.

Armstrong Park has several perennial springs. Heavy rain landing on year-round saturated ground is now channeled by numerous drains but, before these were constructed, Bulman’s Wood would have been almost permanently boggy, and, during high rainfall events, there would have been a rapid runoff of stormwater down the deep gully.

Water on the brain

Bulman’s Wood, according to the ‘Chronicle’ report, was owned by a Mr. Potter. (Actually, it was owned by Armstrong, who had inherited the land in 1851.) The Mr. Potter in question was Colonel Addison Potter, who lived with his large family and many servants at Heaton Hall, once the seat of the White-Ridley family but bought in 1840 by Colonel Potter’s father, the coal owner and industrialist Addison Langhorn Potter, Armstrong’s uncle.

Armstrong bought land in Jesmond and Heaton as it became available, adding to the land he inherited from his father’s close friend Armorer Donkin, a rich Tyneside solicitor.

Armstrong Senior and Donkin were town councillors, and thick as thieves. In the 1820s and 1830s, the Armstrong family would spend holidays at Donkin’s country retreat in Rothbury. Young William developed a taste for open water fishing in the Coquet River during these holidays and loved the area’s hills, weirs, and waterfalls, a landscape he would later go on to recreate in Jesmond Dene before doing similar at Cragside.

Armstrong Junior had a lifelong fascination with water’s potential for motive power. From a young age, he was afflicted with ‘water on the brain’, joked his family.

After leaving school, Armstrong was articled with Donkin, a bachelor who treated the bright youngster as his adoptive son, heir to his fortune and his land in Heaton. Armstrong worked for some time as a solicitor in Donkin’s firm but his real vocation was as an inventor and engineer with an abiding interest in the growing science of hydraulics.

Donkin lived in Jesmond Park, a grand house in Sandyford with gardens and woodlands sloping down to the Ouseburn. Jesmond Park was famous among Tyneside’s elite for ‘Donkin’s ordinary’, a weekly Saturday luncheon where the great and good — and the rich and influential — would meet to exchange ideas as well as contacts and contracts.

Armstrong, eager to ditch his legal work and forge a living as an engineer, was a habitual attendee at these dinners, no doubt enthused after talking with visiting Victorian luminaries including Isambard Kingdom Brunel. For the young Armstrong, it would have been a short stroll down the slope from Jesmond Park to the deep gully that later became the ‘cattle run’.

There’s a linear feature in the gully shown on the 1864 Ordnance Survey map. The 200-metre-long feature is drawn like a road, with parallel lines. But it’s too narrow to be a road and isn’t dotted, so it’s not a footpath, either. Nor is it a field boundary. The nearest equivalent, on this particular map, would be a mill race.

While there’s a mill race in Jesmond Vale, opposite the gully and one of several mill races in the Ouseburn valley, there’s no known water mill in Bulman’s Wood.

The linear feature on the map was too straight to be natural and, if you were looking down from the lower bridge, it curved to the right as it neared Ouseburn Road. This “J”-shaped tail — which can still be seen on the ground today — curved in the opposite direction to the later ‘cattle run’.

There are footpaths marked on the 1864 map that follow and cross over the linear feature and its J-shaped tail. Many later maps plot both the tail and the ‘cattle run’.

The feature shown on the 1864 map is narrow, about the width of the mill race opposite. It’s probably an open-to-the-elements storm drain, yet large enough to be plotted on a map.

Detail from 1864 Ist edition OS map

‘[The] little stream which runs through [Bulman Wood’s] dell is sunk deep in a stone-lined channel,’ reported ‘Newcastle Daily Chronicle’ in 1884, adding that it had been built because it had been ‘difficult to prevent the rivulet when flooded from breaking the banks away.’

The ‘Chronicle’ didn’t give a date for the stone-lined channel’s construction but as it’s marked on the 1864 map, it must have been built sometime before 1858 when the OS map had been surveyed.

Could the channel on Donkin’s land have been used by Armstrong — or constructed, even — for experiments in hydraulics? Maybe. Armstrong certainly cited the Ouseburn as a stream that could power machinery.

‘The transient produce of useless floods’ Armstrong told an 1845 meeting at Newcastle’s Literary and Philosophical Society ‘could become available as a permanent source of mechanical power.’

He wanted to harness the ‘vast quantities of water which pour down brooks and watercourses … in time of rain.’

A newspaper report of the meeting said Armstrong ‘proceeded to point out the advantages which would result from the principles of impounding surplus water and causing it to act as a column, by referring to … the Ouseburn.’

‘Suppose,’ posited Armstrong to the august audience, ‘that instead of having a succession of six mill races and six falls, as was the case on the Ouseburn, the first mill race were continued along the banks of the stream gradually getting higher and higher above the natural channel of the brook, to within a short distance of the Tyne where a single fall of upwards of 100 feet might be obtained.’

There’s no documentary evidence to connect Armstrong’s 1845 desire for a high mill race to the probable storm drain down the gully in Bulman’s Wood, but he would have been well aware of the water feature’s existence.

The run-off from the storm drain was later employed for the scenic waterfall introduced above.

‘The stream of water,’ continued the 1880 newspaper report, ‘has been diverted along a channel of masonry almost at its highest point after entering the grounds, and it is brought along its artificial bed until opposite the larger of the two rustic bridges, where it is thrown over a rocky ledge in a high fall.’

While undoubtedly scenic, the waterfall also had a practical purpose. The storm drain which created it was said to also drain the upper field, which today is the waterlogged patch of ground between the end of the ‘cattle run’ and the multi-coloured plots belonging to the Armstrong Allotments Association.

Armstrong Allotments, 2020

‘Ingenious drainage [in Armstrong Park] has in several instances converted marshy, sodden land into pleasant places,’ reported the ‘Chronicle’

If this ‘ingenious drainage’ dates back to the 1840s or 1850s that’s only a decade or two after the introduction of the transformative Deanston method of agricultural field drainage. The work of James Smith of Deanston in Perthshire used drain tiles and narrow pipes beneath fields. Smith created the technique in 1823, but its use only became widespread after a journal published details in 1831.

‘Smith o’ Deanston’s the man!’ exclaimed a character in ‘Hillingdon Hall’, a now-forgotten but popular-in-the-1840s novel by Robert Smith Surtees of Hamsterley Hall, Rowlands Gill. ‘Who ever ‘heard o’ drainin’ afore Smith o’Deanston inwented it?’ continued John Jorrocks, an upwardly-mobile, country-sports-loving businessman who, wrote Surtees, couldn’t pronounce the ‘v’ sound.

The new method of drainage led to a revolution in British farming, financially boosted in 1846 by the Public Money Drainage Act. This largesse enacted by parliament extended generous farm improvement loans to landowners. (Many parliamentarians owned large estates at this time.) Previously soggy and unproductive land became highly profitable arable fields which, for 15 or so years, made the rich even richer.

The ‘now common accompaniment of a country gentleman,’ pointed out Surtees in ‘Hawbuck Grange’ (1847) was a ‘draining-pipe.’

After going ‘boldly at the Government loan’ another Surtees character was said to have transformed a ‘sour, rush-grown, poachy, snipe-shooting looking place’ into land ‘sound enough to carry a horse.’

Deanston’s method of introducing smaller-bore, more frequently placed drains was an improvement on former methods, wrote the landed Surtees, who described ‘gulf-like drains as would have carried off a river … but there was no making head against wet land with stone drains, the bit you cured only showing the wetness of the rest.’

The stone-lined watercourse in Bulman’s Wood was more likely to have been a storm channel than one that could drain a field, but contemporary descriptions are divided on the subject.

Even though, according to the 1864 map, it looked like one, the watercourse wasn’t a mill race, Duncan Hutt, a local watermill expert told me. ‘There is no clear evidence for any feature nearby being a conduit for water to feed a mill.’

He added: ‘The [cattle run] is far too steep to be a watercourse for a mill, [it’s] more likely something to help provide some surface drainage in times of heavy downpours in the past.’

Archaeologist Steyne agreed:

‘The identification of a drainage watercourse and a decorative waterfall to the north of the line of the cattle run, would correlate with the information in the mapping indicating earlier drainage from the land to the east, and then a later stone-built feature running alongside.’

An 1894/95 OS map shows the ‘cattle run’ to be a full-on watercourse, printed blue. This was probably a mistake by the map makers. (Mistakes were common — on the same map, Hadrian’s Wall is marked not as the Roman Wall but as the Romam Wall.)

‘It is very possible that the earlier drainage feature became less visible and was confused in the mapping with the later cattle run,’ suggested Steyne.

‘Land was not completely resurveyed for each new map, only changes added. The fact that both were perhaps unused, or fell into disrepair shortly after construction might explain [the anomaly on the 1894/95 OS map],’ she said.

‘Land for housing’

During the first 75 years of the 19th Century, the British landed aristocracy were the wealthiest class in the world’s richest country. For the last 25 of those years this wealth had at least partly come from the huge profits enabled by government-sponsored field drainage. But the good times for many of these landed elites did not last. A dramatic fall in grain prices following the opening up of the American prairies to cultivation led to a steep decline in British agriculture. This agrarian depression started in the 1870s and continued until the mid-1890s resulting in British fields that had previously been money-spinners losing much of their value.

Between 1809 and 1879, 88 percent of British millionaires had been landowners; from 1880 to 1914 this figure dropped to 33 percent.

‘Land has ceased to be either a profit or a pleasure,’ complained Lady Bracknell in Oscar Wilde’s 1895 ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’.

For the elites, it became prudent to sell land rather than farm it.

Urban farmland, in particular, could generate huge one-hit profits, with expanding cities such as Newcastle in desperate need of space for housing.

Heaton landowners Colonel Addison Potter, Sir Matthew White Ridley, and Lord Armstrong and others could — and did — make handsome profits by selling off their fields for building plots. These three in particular were voracious sellers of land, especially Armstrong who employed agents that developed housing estates on his behalf.

Armstrong, of course, also gave away land to the people of Newcastle, but the gift of his extensive Jesmond Dene ‘garden’ wasn’t perhaps as purely philanthropic as it is usually portrayed — creating an attractive country park from a steeply sided valley that might have proved too deep to fill and flatten was a savvy move for a housing developer.

‘The more he bestows, the richer [Lord Armstrong] becomes’ , a magazine calculated in 1889.

Creating the amenity of Jesmond Dene as a sweetener to help sell the plots on his extensive housing developments in Jesmond and Heaton made perfect business sense. Likewise, Armstrong Bridge wasn’t commissioned by its namesake to ease the burdens of packhorses climbing Benton Bank — a backstory usually attributed to the kindness of Lady Armstrong — but as a high-level road approach for the prestigious properties Armstrong planned to develop on both sides of the Ouseburn valley.

On the plus side, his shrewd philanthropy prevented any infilling of Jesmond Dene. Many of Newcastle’s other denes disappeared under landfill — a third-of-a-mile segment of the Ouseburn valley near Warwick Street was culverted in the early 1900s and crammed with rubble and other rubbish. However, the land created on top of the Ouseburn Tip — which is now the ‘City Stadium’ — proved too unstable for housing.

Similarly, today’s plots owned by the Armstrong Allotments Association only exist because the land they were carved from proved unsuitable for building use.

Armstrong originally planned to develop this land to create Heaton Park Estate, an exclusive neighbourhood of mansions overlooking the Dene.

In 1878, Armstrong instructed his architect Frank W Rich to ‘lay out villa residences upon the land to the eastward of the park,’ Rich had ‘already marked off into building plots the whole of the land which lives above Bulman’s Wood,’ reported the ‘Newcastle Courant’. but, as has already been discussed on this site, these villas would not be built.

Problem: ‘the ground here forms a natural basin, and a spring rises just above it, and runs evenly the whole year through,’ revealed the ‘Courant’, adding that the land was ‘soft and swampy.’

Solution: ‘The water … is now carried away to form a small cascade,’ reported the ‘Newcastle Daily Chronicle’

This cascade was the waterfall parallel to the ‘cattle run’. The waterfall, and the rivulet that formed it, were carried through one of the two arches beneath the lower of the two Armstrong Park bridges. The second arch spans the ‘cattle run’.

Bridge in Armstrong Park over the ‘cattle run’ and former waterfall

Except, remember, it’s not a ‘cattle run’, it was a sunken footpath, reported the period newspaper mentioned earlier. A sunken footpath from Ouseburn Road to Armstrong’s putative posh villas; a sunken footpath for use by the villa owners, or perhaps to be used as a hidden-from-view passageway for servants or tradespeople.

‘The quality and style of the stone work would support [the] suggestion [that this was a] pedestrian route to link the road to proposed housing,’ concluded Steyne.

The sunken footpath was built by Newcastle Corporation in 1880, working to plans drawn up by Armstrong or, more likely, his agents. Although decorative and with its own sylvan cascade, the expensive railway-style cutting didn’t help sell the plots — the thirteen posh villas never got built.

By 1884, Rich had modified the plan, dividing the development into 41 plots. However, after fresh surveys revealed the land to be unsuitable for housing, this plan, too, fell by the wayside.

The sunken footpath was itself sunk, with no longer any reason to exist.

Armstrong died in 1900. His will stipulated that part of what would have been the Heaton Park Estate should become allotments. Other parts of the would-be development lay fallow until the 1920s when almost 100 houses were erected on the land that had been deemed unsuitable forty years previously.

Heaton Park Estate never made the jump from Rich’s drawing board, but a similar development to the north of Armstrong Bridge proved more successful. In 1894, Rich (probably acting for Armstrong) was advertising ‘Villa SITES for Sale on Jesmond Park Estate.’ Significantly, the adverts stressed that on these plots the ‘drainage [was] perfect,’ which suggests that the drainage for the plots on Heaton Park Estate had not been perfect.

Jesmond Park Estate was a commercial success, and some of the large houses that stand back from the roads Jesmond Park East and Jesmond Park West are among the most expensive properties in Newcastle.

White elephant

The ‘cattle run’ was built in advance of the prestigious housing it was designed to service, perhaps constructed early to act as a sales tool to attract rich house hunters. It had been built on land owned by the city council by railway engineers who were working to plans commissioned by Lord Armstrong via his jobbing architect Frank W. Rich.

It’s possible that work on the cattle run was done by Rich’s assistant, H.G. Badenoch.

‘When Lord Armstrong presented the beautiful Jesmond Dene to Newcastle, the erection of the lodges, making of footpaths, and building of bridges was … in Mr. Rich’s hands, and I superintended most of the work,’ remembered Badenoch later in life.

Badenoch also reported that he had conducted ‘all the surveying, levelling, and setting out of streets’ for Lord Armstrong’s housing developments in Jesmond and Heaton.

The unsung Badenoch might have also been responsible for converting what had been a pre-1860s storm drain in Bulman’s Wood into Armstrong Park’s scenic waterfall.

There has never been a ‘cattle run’ in Heaton. The linear feature now known by that name was built as a sunken footpath next to a tumbling cascade. The cascade may have tumbled for some years, but it failed to drain the sodden field above it, and as the sunken footpath ended in a quagmire and not, as was planned, at the foot of thirteen posh villas, it too was a flop.

Knowledge of the ‘cattle run’’s true purpose was lost soon after its use became moot. Ordnance Survey maps didn’t label what was — and remains — a distinctive ground feature. A large-scale OS map of 1907 managed to pinpoint small items such as urinals but didn’t state the use of the feature that ninety or so years later became known, wrongly, as the ‘cattle run.’ A 1942 OS map got the closest, labelling the feature a ‘subway.’

Other Armstrong-commissioned subways exist, including the fully-covered one from his Banqueting House to St. Mary’s chapel, and another in Jesmond Dene to Blackberry crags.

Sorry, Newcastle City Council, but the lottery-funded interpretation board you installed in 2010 is incorrect — the ‘cattle run’ was built for people, not cows. But let’s look on the bright side: while Armstrong Park loses a bovine superhighway, it gains a long-lost waterfall.

Notes and Sources can be found here.

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Carlton Reid. Photographs by Carlton Reid. With thanks to Marek Bidwell, Sarah Capes, Ann Denton, Keith Fisher, Henrietta Heald, Duncan Hutt, Chris Jackson, Alan Morgan, John Penn, Yvonne Shannon, Hanna Steyne, Les Turnbull, and Will Watson-Armstrong.

Carlton Reid was ‘Press Gazette’ Transport Journalist of the Year, 2018. He writes for ‘The Guardian’, ‘Forbes.com’ and ‘Mail Online‘.

He’s also a historian – his recent books include ‘Roads Were Not Built for Cars‘ and ‘Bike Boom’ both published by Island Press, Washington, D.C. The ‘cattle run’ isn’t the first infrastructure he has shown to be wrongly labelled: in 2017 he discovered the existence of hundreds of miles of 1930s-era Dutch-style cycleways paid for by Britain’s Ministry of Transport but which fell out of use so quickly that they became buried under grass or were misidentified as service roads.

Rothbury Terrace: the Magpies’ nest

Rothbury Terrace is one of the oldest streets in Heaton, although on the First Ordnance Survey Map, surveyed in 1858, it boasted only a couple of buildings and no name. The groups of buildings either side are the farmhouses of two of Heaton’s farms.

First edition Ordnance Survey map, surveyed in 1858, showing what was to become Rothbury Terrace

Even by 1886, there were only 8 heads of household listed and the houses were not named or numbered. The residents were John Glover of Rothbury House; Thomas Hudson, a schoolmaster; Ralph Henry Probert, a grocer; Edward Fulton, a draper; Jordan Evens, a brewer’s traveller; William G Wodson, a brick manufacturer; John L Miller, a builder and contractor and Jacob Hume, whose occupation was not given.

Just four years later, half of these remained: Jacob Hume, now a carpet buyer, was at number 5; Ralph Probert, the grocer, at no 7; Thomas Hudson, still a schoolmaster, at no 9; William Wodson, the brick manufacturer was much further down at number 65.

Neighbours

But they now had many neighbours and it is on this newly developed residential street of the early 1890s that this article focuses.

The occupations of the 1891 ‘heads of households’ give us a flavour of the diverse social make up of the street as well as of the Tyneside economy at that time. Residents included Mrs Isabella Bunton, a fishmonger who had a shop on Shields Road;  Christopher Harborn, an iron merchant, whose business was on Dispensary Lane; John Nichol Rowell, a master mariner, and Andrew Tilston Dudgeon, a naval architect with offices on The Side.

There was also, at number 25, Benjamin Moody, a primitive methodist minister. A former miner from County Durham who performed his ministry throughout the north east, we learn from a contemporary obituary that he was a ‘man of well-built physique, had a good voice and [was] musical’  and ‘behind his somewhat brusque exterior was a kindly heart.’  From his own diary, we know that during his short time living on Rothbury Terrace, Moody suffered ill health.  On 1 January 1892, he wrote:

‘I am glad I am still alive and considerably improved in my physical frame; though seemingly not fully free from the effects of influenza I had in Heaton a year and nine months ago’. The Reverend Moody died just six month’s later.

Artistic Dynasty

George Blackie Sticks at number 67 was a painter. George was born in Newcastle in 1843 into a distinguished family of artists. His father, James, was one of the top designers at William Wailes’ stained glass studio. George also served an apprenticeship there, studying under William Bell Scott at the Government School of Design in Newcastle. But on qualification, perhaps inspired by Scott, he turned to painting, establishing his own studio. 

Sticks was a landscape painter and, as well as finding inspiration close to home, for example on the Northumberland and Durham coast, he travelled extensively on sketching tours of Scotland and the Lake District. His work was exhibited by the Royal Academy and Royal Scottish Academy. Locally it can still be seen in the Laing, Shipley, Hatton and South Shields art galleries, as well as in Newcastle’s Mansion House.

The Cliffs at Marsden Bay by George Blackie Sticks (South Shields Museum and Art Gallery)

In 1862, Sticks married Christine née Thorn and they had three children. Christina died in 1879. At the time of the 1891 census, George was living on Rothbury Terrace with his elder son, Christian, also an artist. George Blackie Sticks is reported to have died c 1900, though we haven’t yet located official records. Perhaps you can help.

Also living on the newly developed Rothbury Terrace next door to naval architect Andrew Tilston Dudgeon and artist George Blackie Sticks respectively were two men whose occupations did not define them but whose love of sport and business acumen led to the foundation of one of Newcastle’s greatest institutions.

Uncle Joe

Joseph Bell was born and bred in Newcastle. In 1891, aged 29, he lived, with his wife, Mary Alice, and three young children, along with a servant and a fourteen year old grocer’s assistant, at 43 Rothbury Terrace above the corner shop he ran. 

We know that he had been there for at least a couple of years before that and probably since the houses were first built as, in 1889, he applied for a licence to sell alcohol, an application which was approved despite a petition signed by 119 people and reported concerns about Lord Armstrong”s views on the matter.

The family was still in Heaton in 1901 but, by this time, Joseph was no longer a grocer but a self-employed builder and they lived at 2 Cheltenham Terrace. Apparently Bell retired from business early but served on the Newcastle Board of Guardians. He was described as a courteous and kindly man and politically a Liberal. 

Joseph Bell

Joseph Bell was, above all, a lover of football and, in 1890, one of the original shareholders and directors of East End FC.

Historic Summit

It is especially noteworthy in terms of the history of Heaton, and Rothbury Terrace in particular, that it was at Joseph Bell’s upstairs flat that, in May 1892, a meeting was held between the directors of East End and those of the recently folded West End.

43 Rothbury Terrace, where the meeting was held at which
the decision for East End FC to relocate to St James Park was taken.

It was at this meeting that a decision was made for East End to move to St James’ Park. The North East Railway Company had just increased the rent on its Chillingham Road ground to £50 a year, a sum the directors believed the club couldn’t afford. The prospect of a more central location, along with the opportunity to attract some of West End’s fan base, was an attractive one.

Detail of 2nd ed OS Map, surveyed in 1895, showing the proximity of Rothbury Terrace (top) to East End’s former ground

The East End directors at that historic meeting all had strong Heaton connections and would have been been reluctant to move their beloved club away from their own neighbourhood but they had the vision to see that it was the way to secure its future. Most continued to be instrumental in the success of Newcastle United, as it soon became, right through its Edwardian hey-day. The East End representatives were: Joseph Bell, the host; Alex Turnbull, his neighbour; T Carmichael; John Cameron and James Neylon.

Bell became treasurer of Newcastle United in 1893. He was then vice chairman from about 1904-8 before becoming  chairman of the club in 1908. During these very successful years, he was very close to the players, who called him ‘Uncle Joe’.

Bell died while still chairman of Newcastle United on 22 March 1909, aged only 47. Newcastle United directors, staff and players, local councillors, football men he’d known since East End days, Freemasons, friends and neighbours attended his funeral. The great Billy Hogg, who also lived in Heaton, represented Sunderland’s players. Joseph Bell is buried in All Saints cemetery.

First NUFC Chairman

Alexander (Alex) Turnbull was born in Scotland c 1858 but by 1881 had married Mary Ann Maun, a Geordie, and was working as a commercial clerk in the coal trade. In 1891, the couple lived at 69 Rothbury Terrace with their seven children, next door to George Blackie Sticks and up the road from Joseph Bell. In 1891, they were still there, now with nine children. Early on, he was was co-owner of the Byker and Heaton Coal Co until the partnership was dissolved. He was a property developer until, in 1901, his brick company at Byker Hill was declared bankrupt.

Turnbull served two spells as East End and Newcastle United chairman, during those formative years from 1891 until 1893 and and so, naturally, was at the May 1892 meeting at Joseph Bell’s at which the move to St James Park was approved. He also presided over the public meeting on 9 December of that that year at which another historic decision to change the club’s name to Newcastle United was made.

Alex Turnbull is on the extreme right of this photograph of East End, wearing a bowler hat. It was taken in front of the stand at the club’s Heaton Junction ground, just off Chillingham Road.

Turnbull served a second spell as chairman from May to August 1895 and was a director for 11 years in total, from 1890 to 1901.

Unlike Bell, Turnbull was an active Conservative. In fact, at one point he stood for the city council only to withdraw before the election took place. In 1895, he stood as a candidate for Newcastle School Board as ‘an advocate of sound education, close economy and generous recognition of the rights of private schools’.

Colin Veitch, in his autobiography, describes how he was approached at home just after Christmas 1898, when he was just seventeen years old. He was asked if he would like a game with Newcastle United and was told that two directors were available to meet him if he went immediately to the Conservative HQ at the corner of Wilfred Street and Shields Road ‘within a hundred yards of my home’. (It’s a little further than that!) The directors hadn’t had far to travel either. They were Joseph Bell and Alex Turnbull, both of Rothbury Terrace. Veitch played a number of friendlies for the club before signing permanently and becoming the captain and inspiration of its finest ever team.

The rest is history – and Rothbury Terrace’s place in the story of the city and in the birth and success of its football club secure!

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Chris Jackson, Heaton History Group. With special thanks to John Allen, who always generously shared the results of his Heaton related football discoveries with HHG.

Sources

‘All with Smiling Faces: how Newcastle became United’ / Paul Brown; Goal-Post, 2014

‘The Artists of Northumbria’ / Marshall Hall; Marshall Hall Associates; 2nd ed, 1882

‘Newcastle United: the ultimate who’s who’ 1881-2014 / Paul Joannou; N Publishing, 2014

‘Newcastle United’s Colin Veitch: the man who was superman’ / Keith Colvin Smith, AFV Modeller Publications, 2020

‘Pioneers of the North: the birth of Newcastle United FC’ / Paul Joannou and Alan Candlish; D B Publishing, 2009

Ancestry

British Newspaper Archive

myprimitivemethodists.org.uk

National Library of Scotland

Major Bager’s Last Post

During the years immediately following World War One, the world very quickly became a smaller place. Developments were taking place almost on a daily basis in aviation. An international air mail service was becoming established and newsreels, introduced before the war, became a must-see bi-weekly feature of cinema-going.  As a result of all of these, the events of 14 December 1920 and the name of a Heaton pilot were spoken about, not only across Britain, but around the world. 

Growing Up

Robert Wilkinson was born on 27 June 1886 in Byker, the second son of Margaret Chambers, a single mother. Margaret went on to marry Lawrence Bager, a merchant seaman, and, by 1891, the family were living in Wallsend. Lawrence and Margaret had had a baby son together, while the older boys, Foster and Lawrence, were both recorded on the census under the surname ‘Wilkinson’ and as the stepsons of Lawrence, the head of household.

By 1901, the family were in Byker. Fourteen year old Robert was employed as a merchant’s clerk, as was his older brother, now listed as Fredrick. Both boys now had the surname ’Bager’ and were listed as sons of Lawrence, just like their younger siblings. Lawrence died in 1910 leaving Margaret at home, now 109 Tosson Terrace, Heaton, with her three grown up sons. 

The older boys’ names had changed again by the time of the 1911 census to Robert William Moore-Wilkinson and Foster Moore-Wilkinson. Robert, now 25, was an engineer’s fitter at a firm of marine engineers. Apparently, prior to WW1, he made trips to Germany for Sopwith, a new company designing and building military aircraft and the ‘Bat Boat’, an early flying boat, which could operate on sea or land, one of which was bought by the German Navy Air Service.

War Hero

It’s no surprise, to find that, on the outbreak of war, Robert quickly joined the Royal Navy or that he was recruited to serve in the Royal Naval Air Service, the pioneering forerunner of the RAF. It is from Robert’s war records that we learn a little of what he looked like: 5 ft 91/2 inches tall, blue eyes and a complexion described as fresh. The photograph below is from the Royal Aero Club records.

Robert Bager’s Royal Aero Club Aviator Certificate

Robert was a member of No 7A Squadron (which, in 1917, became 14 Squadron) at first working as an aerial gun-layer. The squadron flew Handley Page Type 0 biplane bombers. In a report in the ‘Daily Mirror’ on 3 November 1917, headlined ‘Cavalry of the Clouds: honours for heroes who have been bombing foe docks’, Leading Mechanic R W Bager is listed as a recipient of a Distinguished Service Medal. We know too that he was wounded in engagements over Zeebrugge but was soon able to resume his duties.  After the war, Robert joined the Handley Page Co, whose aircrafts he was so familiar with. 

Airmail

Handley Page, founded in 1909, was Britain’s first publicly traded aircraft manufacturing company. During the war it built heavy bombers at its factory in Cricklewood. Having been narrowly beaten in June 1919 to the kudos of making the world’s first transatlantic flight by Alcock and Brown in a Vickers Vimy, on which there was a cargo of 196 letters and one letter packet with them, four months later Handley Page’s plane the ‘Atlantic’ won the consolation prize of carrying the first airmail from Canada to the USA.

The company had already launched  a goods and passenger service between London and Paris and Brussels. The first Brussels service was advertised as three times weekly and the Paris service daily (except Sunday). A single ticket cost £15.15s and a ‘double journey’ £31.10 (No saving there then!) ‘Luncheon Baskets ‘ could be ordered in advance and passengers would be conveyed between the aerodrome and  the respective cities by ‘landaulette cars’.

Handley Page advertisements

Just a month later on 11 November 1919, the first public overseas airmail service began, flying between London and Paris. This historic flight, captained by Lt Henry ‘Jerry’ Shaw, chief pilot of Aircraft Transport and Travel, flew the first commercial flight across the Channel, a de Havilland DH.9 biplane. The flight from Hendon to Paris-Le-Bourget took 2 hours and 30 minutes and cost £21 per passenger, the equivalent of more than £1,000 today. Pilots sat in unheated open cockpits before the age of reliable radio, often following landmarks such as railway lines to ensure they were on track. 

The following year, Handley Page inaugurated its own air mail services to Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam. The Paris flight left daily at noon. The price was still £10 10s but there was now  a discounted return fare available for £18 18s.

One of its pilots was Major Robert Bager of Tosson Terrace, Heaton.

Fateful Day

In mid-December 1920, England was experiencing severe weather. The headlines in the ‘Halifax Evening Chronicle’ on Tuesday 14th were typical: ‘Bolshevik weather: cold winds direct from Russia.’ ‘Iceland Warmer Than England’. The article went on to say that the Hebrides was the warmest part of Britain, while ten inches of snow was lying in Plymouth. The overnight temperature was ‘1 degree above zero’ FAHRENHEIT (-17 degrees Centigrade) in Peterborough. There were stories of happy polar bears in London Zoo and hardy swimmers in the Serpentine. 

And below under the heading ‘Aeroplane Thrills’ was the story of the previous day’s Handley Page Transport flight from Paris. The pilot described his three hour flight across the Channel in a blizzard ‘Mine was the only machine to arrive in London today’ pilot Lt R H Macintosh is reported to have told the ‘Daily Mail.’ ‘The conditions were terrible, particularly on the English coast and the machine was covered with ice… when nearing London, I completely lost my bearings and flew about aimlessly until I succeeded in getting in touch with the aerodrome by wireless, which put me right and guided me home.’ 

As people read this in Yorkshire, other local papers from Portsmouth to Dundee were beginning to carry news of the crash of that day’s outward flight at Golders Green, very close to the Cricklewood aerodrome. In early editions there were just a couple of lines but, by late afternoon, news came through of fatalities.

By the following day, Handley Page Transport had issued a statement saying that an accident occurred to one of its 0/400 aeroplanes (G-EAMA HP-25) shortly after it left their aerodrome at 12.30pm for Paris. 

It named the four victims: ‘Mr Salinger of London, an employee of a bristle merchant, passenger; Mr Van der Elst, of Paris,  passenger; Mr Bager, pilot; Mr Williams, mechanic.’ Four other passengers survived: Mr Pierre Curioni of Lima, Peru and Mr E Rosenthal, a London shipbroker, were slightly injured;  Mr Alexander Bona, an agent for Cinzano of Turin and Mr Eric Studd of Harley St, London, who was on his way to India via Paris,  were unhurt. Mr Studd was said to have left for India by train later that afternoon.

The company pointed out that it was the first accident that had occurred in connection with its air services, which, it said, had been running since September 1919, during which time they had carried 4,000 passengers over a total distance of over 320,000 miles. The details of the passengers gives us some idea of the sort of people making international flights a century ago.

Some of the survivors were soon interviewed: Alexandre Bona, the Cinzano rep, who described himself as an ‘Italian balloon pilot’ is reported as saying:

‘It is only through our coolness that my friend, Curioni, and I survived.’ He said they broke windows and were able to jump out. ‘They’re easy to break these mica windows’. He said that those who died were seated in the front section of the plane.

Plan of Handley Page Transport plane

There were eye witness accounts too: ‘Nursemaids, postmen, milkmen and policemen [were among the first to] rush to the scene’ . ’Many of them said that the ‘machine’ appeared to be in difficulty immediately after take off, swerved but hit a tree and then an outhouse in the garden of no 6 Basing Hill ‘the eight-roomed residence of Miss E Robinson’. The fire service responded to a telephone call from Miss Robinson, who said she was in her front room when she heard the noise, but by the time they arrived, there was only ‘the skeleton of the plane’ left. As time went on, the accounts became ever more graphic. One witness said he saw one person jump clear and make an attempt to help others. Others said they could hear the harrowing shouts of those inside.

By the end of the day, it had emerged that the pilot was from Newcastle. The local press had printed his address and interviewed his mother, said to be ‘overcome by the news’ but who proudly told journalists of her son’s many achievements and his award for gallantry.

And within a few days, cinema-goers in Heaton and elsewhere were able to see the scene of the crash for themselves in a British Pathe newsreel which survives.  You can clearly see the snow falling.

Interest in the accident was unsurprising. Flying was in its infancy and fascinated the public. Landmark achievements seemed to occur almost daily but setbacks too were big news – and there were plenty of them: The previous year, Winston Churchill, the UK’s first Secretary of State for Air, having resumed flying lessons which had been interrupted by the war, had suffered severe bruising after crashing his plane, severely injuring his instructor; in the USA, airmail pilots had gone on strike after being forced to fly even in zero visibility, a policy which resulted in 15 crashes in a fortnight with two fatalities; a year ago almost to the day, Sir John Alcock of Manchester, the first person to pilot a flight across the Atlantic, had died after crashing in fog near Rouen on route to an air show; and just a few months before, actor and stuntman, Ormer Locklear and his flying partner were killed while filming a night time spin for a feature film ‘The Skywayman’ before a large crowd in Los Angeles.

But the accident on 14 December was the first ever fatal, commercial air crash on British soil and is widely considered only the third in the world. The first, in July 1919, was the crash of the Wingfoot Air Express, an airship, into the Illinois Trust and Savings Building in Chicago, killing one crew member, two passengers and ten bank employees. The second, and the first involving a heavier than air plane, occurred near Verona in Italy, in August 1919. Tullo Morgagni, the founder of many still important cycle races, including the Giro d’Italia, was among the 14-17 (reports vary) victims.

Inquest

The inquest heard that Major Bager was a very experienced pilot and that the machine had always functioned well. It had been examined before take-off by two ground engineers and, according to a Major Brockley, who said he had helped start the engine before the flight, it was ‘quite satisfactory’. The verdict was that the four victims died from the consequences of burns due to the crashing of an aeroplane to the ground after it had struck a tree and that there was not sufficient evidence as to how it crashed to the ground.

There appears to have been no allusion to the weather, the previous day’s dramatic flight, the design of the aircraft, communications with the ground or the commercial pressure to fly.

Funeral

Major Bager’s funeral was held on 20 December. The cortege left his family home in Tosson Terrace, accompanied by the chief mourners, his mother, brothers and sister, fiancé Ethel Gibbett of Cricklewood and representatives of Handley-Page and the Amalgamated Engineering Union, as well as many old friends and ‘sympathetic spectators.’ Reverend R Trotter, Vicar of St Gabriel’s, conducted the funeral at Heaton Cemetery where Major Robert William Bager rests still.

Acknowledgments

Researched and written by Chris Jackson, Heaton History Group.

Sources

Airline Timetable Images www.timetableimages.com from the collection of Björn Larsson

Ancestry

British Newspaper Archive