Category Archives: Entertainment

The ‘Happy Heatonians’ – Bob Colston’s Variety Entertainment Group

During WWI there were numerous groups of entertainers prepared to give their time freely and perform throughout the country to cheer up and boost the morale of soldiers at their camps and wounded soldiers in hospital.One such group was the ‘Happy Heatonians’ managed by Bob Colston, who lived at 127 Clifford Street, which was a 3 room flat in Byker. In 1917 Bob Colston (36), a postman, was living at home with his father, mother and sister.

It is not known when the ensemble was formed, but the first mention of Bob Colston performing as a comedian, was reported in the Daily Journal, Friday, 26 February 1915. This took place at the Collingwood Restaurant, Newcastle where the first annual dinner of the Scotswood Checkers of the Fuse and Shell Department at  Sir W. G. Armstrong, Whitworth & Co Ltd took place. About 80 members attended.

Members of the ‘Happy Heatonians’ mentioned in subsequent newspaper articles were as follows (Not all appeared at each venue and they were not necessarily from Heaton.):

Mr Bob Colston                       –           Organiser, Comedian and Mimic

Mrs G D Tetley                     –           Mandolin Duettist

Miss Cockburn                        –           Mandolin Duettist

Miss Peggy Lowrey                –           Banjo and Mandolin

Mrs T H Booth                      –           Banjo and Mandolin

Little Rita*                                 –           Juvenile Entertainer

Madam Laura Fraser              –         Entertainer at Piano

Miss Gerty Moskow **             –        Mezzo Soprano

Miss Lily Farrell                       –        Comedienne

Corporal Bob Maitland            –     Scotch Comedian

Mr Taylor Scorer                    –         Baritone

Miss Enid Carverhill                –     Comedienne

Miss Bella Angus                    –       Soprano

Mr J B Cavan                       –         Actor, Vocalist

Miss Lily Nicolson                   –     Accompanist

Miss G. Makon

Mr G W. Beautyman

*Rita May Barker of 20 Tenth Avenue, Heaton, the daughter of William, a commercial traveller (flour milling) and Sophia, seem to fit the bill. She would have been aged 13 in 1917.

**At first we thought this must be a stage name but it is her real name as recorded in the 1911 census. The was the daughter of Samuel Moskow, a watchmaker and jewellerand his wife Julia. they lived in Elswick with Gertie’s sister and brother, Lily and Abraham Jacob.In 1917, she would have been 19 years old.

Newspaper Reports and Venues

23 January 1917  –   North Shields YMCA – Variety concert to a crowded audience.

17 May1917  –   Newcastle Naval Hostel – Where 587 men lived

12 October 1917  –   Residents of Greystoke Avenue and Jesmond Vale arranged for a party of wounded soldiers to have tea and supper and be entertained by a programme of music performed by the ‘Happy Heatonians’.

27 October 1917  –   Blyth YMCA Hut – Where a crowded audience of soldiers were given a concert.

4 December 1917  –   Cambridge Hall, Northumberland Road – A fund raising concert for St John Ambulance, under the patronage of the Lord Mayor. Over 200 members of St John Ambulance are on active service.

29 January 1918   –  North Wylam, Holeyn Hall, home of Sir Charles Parsons, the inventor of the Steam Turbine and of Turbinia fame. During WWI his private residence became the 14th Northumberland VAD Hospital, where a variety concert was given for the wounded soldiers.

Charles Parsons

Charles Algernon Parsons

18 November 1918      Holeyn Hall – A concert, directed by Mr Bob Colston and arranged by Mrs Manning of Wylam, was given for the wounded soldiers.

12 December 1918      Holeyn Hall V.A.D. Hospital Saturday Night Entertainment Committee offered their thanks to friends who have kindly entertained the wounded soldiers during the year. Amongst them was Mr Bob Colston. Others with Heaton associations that maybe of interest were:

Heaton Juveniles Dramatic Entertainment run by Madam Kendall and Mr Alfred Braford;

Addison Wounded Soldiers Entertainment Committee, who on 10 occasions invited the soldiers to half day entertainments at Wylam Institute and also at Ryton and Newcastle;

Addison Branch of St John Ambulance Association;

Addison Male Voice Choir.

The last three would have been associated with the Addison Potter colliery and village, just west of Blaydon and named after Addison Potter, the owner of Heaton Hall and the colliery.

1 August.1919      West Moor – A second ‘welcome home’ was held in the West Moor Council Schools for the soldiers residing in the West Moor and Forest Hall districts, who enlisted from Burradon Colliery.

The above was the last reported performance of the ‘Happy Heatonians’, nine months after the Armistice took place.

It certainly seemed that during WWI (as now!), ‘Heaton had Talent’ in abundance and it was put to good use, entertaining wounded servicemen, munitions workers and helping with fund raising events, all under the direction of Bob Colston.

Note: We cannot find any evidence that Bob Colston was conscripted to fight in WWI. He does not appear in the Newcastle Absent Voters List to indicate that he was away on active service. Whether he was not fit enough to join up is unknown, but his occupation was given as postman in the 1911 Census. Being in his mid thirties he would not have been too old to join up and fight for King and Country.

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Arthur Andrews, Heaton History Group.

Can you help?

If you have any more information about the Happy Heatonians or any of the members listed here, we’d love to hear them. Please either leave a message on this site by clicking on the link immediately below the title of this article or email chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Rex Hart, The Man with the X-Ray Eyes

Knowing that we’re always on the look out for stories of interesting Heatonians from times past, Allan Robinson of High Heaton has contacted us to tell us about Jack Arthur Elvidge, who some older readers may remember as Rex Hart, ‘The Man with the Monocle’ or ‘The Man with X-ray Eyes’. Allan, who himself has an alias ‘Clogs the Clown’ takes up the story:

‘Rex was born Jack Arthur Elvidge on 6 August 1906 in Byker . But he moved to Heaton at an early age. On census night 1911, he was aged 4 and living at 98 Spencer Street, Heaton with his widowed grandmother and her two sons and two daughters plus a boarder.

Jack was a passionate entertainer. He started his stage career in Whitley Bay at the age of 10. This was followed by a lifetime entertaining his North East audiences as magician, Rex Hart. Rex had excellent manipulative skills and wonderful humour. He was always in demand on the dinner circuit as many of his programmes, that I have show. In busy times he would go from one venue to another carrying his act in a briefcase.

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Rex was a founder member of the Newcastle Branch of the Institute of Magicians, an organisation founded in London in 1934. In the 1940s, the Newcastle branch held its meetings in the County Hotel.  He later became a member of the Northern and the Newcastle Magic Circle.

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Rex married his wife Hilda on the 6 November 1935. The reception was held at the County Hotel, where he used to meet his magical friends. While Hilda never performed herself, she had a very keen interest in magic and gave Rex every encouragement and ensured that his clothes were clean and pressed before every show. 

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Even during World War 2 as a Sergeant in the Royal Air Force, Rex was in demand, entertaining the airmen. Rex served time in West Africa and was demobbed from the force on 25 December 1945 having been awarded two medals.

Whilst Rex and Hilda never had any children, they had many friends with whom they enjoyed annual holidays camping at Coldingham Bay in the Scottish Borders. The locals also enjoyed their company as even on holiday Rex would give performances.

 I first met Rex in the 1980s and, whilst he had retired by then due to ill health, his passion for entertaining never left him and he would accompany me to my own magical shows. We would also meet weekly on a Saturday night at his home, 17 Ivymount Road, where in his front room with Hilda we would discuss and perform magic tricks. It was here that I would learn all about his magic life and hear tales like the time he lent Max Bygraves who was performing on the Empire Theatre in Newcastle, his ventriloquist doll. Amongst my collection of Rex’s items I have a signed photograph that Max gave him as a thank you.’

Rex died on 23 February 1992.

Thank you to Allan alias Clogs the Clown for telling us about Jack / Rex.

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Can you help?

If you have any more information or memories of Jack Elvidge / Rex Hart or would like to tell us about any other interesting Heatonian, please either leave a comment here by clicking on the link below the article title or email chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

 

Henner Hudspeth

Hearing Henner Hudspeth

We recently published Jean Walker (nee Pretswell)’s account of growing up on Cardigan Teraace. She referred to her next door neighbour: ‘On the left side, at number 11, was Henner Hudspeth. He had a dance band and used to practise in the house – noise pollution! It wouldn’t be allowed nowadays!’

Henner Hudspeth

Henner Hudspeth practising his accordian

Bandsman

Jean’s memories prompted Heaton History Group member, Ian Clough, to do some further digging. Ian takes up the story:

‘No sooner had I read Jean’s recollections, than my memories were transported back in time, vividly picturing the painted sign above the front door of number nine Cardigan Terrace reading ‘PRETSWELL’S REMOVALS’, when I remembered my friend, Tricia Easby, once telling me that her father Henry Hudspeth was born at number 11. And sure enough he is found there, aged two, in the 1911 census, “But who was Henner Hudspeth?” , I hear you asking. Well, stick a lad in a group of others long enough and the chance is he’ll end up with a nickname and that’s what happened to Henry Hudspeth, the Victor Silvester of Heaton aka Henner Hudspeth. Here he is as a young man playing accordion in Al Moore’s Band at The Heaton in 1933:

Al Moore's band at the Heaton, 1933

Al Moore’s band at the Heaton, 1933

‘And here, with a little imagination we can read the banner as ‘HENNER HUDSPETH AND HIS BAND’ and the singer is apparently ‘Edna’, the name pencilled on the back of the photo but Edna who? Henner formed a dance band and played at the time when ballroom dancing was in its heyday. The band played at many venues but the principal ballrooms in Heaton at the time were ‘The Heaton’ and the ‘Grosvenor Ballroom’. The latter is still to be found on Chillingham Road.

Henner Hudspeth and his band

Henner Hudspeth and his band

And below, the band is caught in full swing but had they literally gone to the dogs playing at Brough Park? The music stands would suggest so.

Henner Hudspeth's band

Henner Hudspeth’s band

The Hudspeth family

‘Henner had good taste, marrying a Heaton lass, Anne (Nancy) Sweeney from Plessey Terrace, at St Gabriel’s Parish Church in 1939.

Henner and Nancy Hudspeth on their wedding day

Henner and Nancy Hudspeth on their wedding day

‘And here are other members of his family, as mentioned in the 1911 census’.

Henner Hudspeth with his mother and father

Frank Hudspeth with his mother and father

Emma Hudspeth

Emma Hudspeth

Arthur Hudspeth

Arthur Hudspeth

The final photograph is of older brother, Arthur, who as previously mentioned in the article, ‘Cardigan Terrace: the memories live on’ was killed in WW1. He was a teacher at Westgate Hill School and is remembered on the Cuthbert Bainbridge Wesleyan War Memorial, now held in storage at St Cuthbert’s on Heaton Road.’

Can you help?

Lots of readers must have heard Henner Hudspeth and his band or danced at the venues mentioned. Please share information or your memories either by adding a comment to the site (by clicking on the link just below the article title) or emailing chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Hoppings at the Ouseburn by Edgar Couzens

When the Hoppings came to the Ouseburn

It’s  June. What are we going to talk about with no Town Moor Hoppings in Race Week? As now, this was the issue facing the city 99 years ago when, following a series of disputes between the Freemen, the showmen and the council concerning, among other things, ‘damage to the pasturage’ (Sound familiar?),  the fair left the Town Moor. This year, alternative events ‘with broader appeal’ are planned.  In 1914, the solution was for the Hoppings to relocate to Jesmond Vale and the Ouseburn. As you can imagine, plans to hold it on land known as ‘Green Water Pool’ or ‘The Greenies’, roughly where the Ouseburn Road allotments are now, set off a series of public protests, high court injunctions, rows and letters to the paper.

Some people were pleased to see it leave the Moor. ‘West Jesmond’ wrote: ‘It will be a great satisfaction to most people of our city to know that the Freemen have… put an end once and for all to  the abuse of the Town Moor during Race Week by the show people and their machinery’.

Billy Purvis agreed that  ‘Surely it is possible to hold this show without enormous traction engines. I am old enough to remember fairs and hoppings for many years back when such things were not dreamt of. The people enjoyed it just as much as now’

But moving it to Jesmond Vale was far from universally popular. George Lamb of Salisbury Gardens objected to ‘ the Festival with all its attendant noises and ribaldry’. He convened a public meeting, attended by ‘upwards of seven hundred’  and said ‘ no pains will be spared to prevent this projected disturbance of a peaceful community’. The protesters said they didn’t object to the Hoppings at such but believed it should be held in a proper place –  and that proper place was the Town Moor’. The protesters also voiced concerns that attempts might be made to make the site a permanent showground, that people who could not afford to pay were being taken advantage of by a greedy, profit making company and ‘by the racket of those unearthly 50 horse power organs and other instruments of torture’. The resolution to oppose the fair was carried, with those voting against claimed to consist ‘largely of youths, who were obviously not residents of the locality’.

Another correspondent, ‘Verax’ of Lansdowne Gardens, warned that  ‘houses will become vacant’ and ‘the estate will attract a different class of tenant’ not to mention that ‘even if there is a substantial latrine sytem, it cannot entirely be erected without coming into the outlook from some of the bedroom windows’.

However John Angus of Jesmond Vale House, on behalf of the trustees of the estate, accused the protesters of nimbyism: ‘You can hold the festival anywhere but not in my neighbourhood’ and pointed out that the field was some 100 yards away from the nearest house and had been used as a ‘free playground for football, golf etc’ by those very ‘inhabitants of the estate’ who were now protesting.  He hoped the weather would be favourable for ‘what is really the summer holidays of thousands of poor children whose parents cannot afford to take them further afield’.

Mr Lamb replied with new concerns about health and safety: ‘It is damp, the approaches are steep and unsafe, and the stream at the foot is unfenced’. He urged parents to inspect it for themselves before allowing their children to enter such a dangerous place’.

However, despite ongoing expressions of doubt as to the suitability of the site, the Town Moor and Parks Committee of Newcastle Corporation decided not to interfere and the Journal commented on ‘the beauty of the scene in its green valley surrounded by wooded banks’ and ‘the green glories of the trees and shrubs’ of Heaton and Armstrong Parks’ which looked down’ on it.

The fair opened on Saturday 20 June. The weather ‘held fine until late afternoon’ ( You know what’s coming next), when there was ‘ a violent thunderstorm, accompanied by a heavy shower of rain. For the best part of an hour it continued, the lightning flashing vividly… Such was the downour of rain that pools were quickly created on this low-lying ground and mud was everywhere when people began to assemble, after the storm was over…  Patrons were just beginning to crowd the scene when the sky became black again, and there was another fall of rain which drove them off the scene.’

Later in the week though when the ‘recent excessive humidity of the atmosphere’ had passed, the newspaper reports emphasised the fun of the fair and by the Thursday, the Westgate Road Picture House  was inviting the fair goers to ‘come and see yourself on the pictures ‘ along with Viennese Orchestra, dainty teas and the main show ‘The Sacrifice of Kathleen’ (a fine drama of great heart interest’). Wouldn’t it be great if the reels could be found?

Despite the arguments and the weather, the festival remained at Jesmond Vale. It couldn’t return to the Town Moor  during World War 1, as troops were trained there and parts of it were used as an airstrip.  It returned to the Moor in 1919 but again between 1920 and 1923, smaller Hoppings took place at Jesmond Vale. (Source www.newcastle-hoppings.co.uk).

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The photographs above were taken sometime around 1920  by Edgar Couzens, a local butcher, who had shops in Heaton Road, Chillingham Road and at 185 Shields Road and who lived at various Heaton addresses including Sefton Avenue and Charminster Gardens. The photos were kindly digitised and passed to us by his grandson Mike Couzens.

If you have pictures or any further information about the Hoppings during their time by the Ouseburn, we’d love to hear from you.