Category Archives: Food and Drink

Heaton Hall

Christmas Fayre from Heaton Hall

Have you made your cake yet? Sweets to share after the Queen’s speech? Or drinks for guests who might be driving? If not and you like to use traditional, local recipes, then look no further. We present Christmas recipes from Heaton Hall, lovingly collected over almost fifty years between about 1869 and 1915.

Heaton Hall c1907

Heaton Hall, c 1907

The Find

Heaton History Group’s Arthur Andrews acquired a unique, handwritten recipe book, when he called into Keel Row Books in North Shields and fell into conversation with proprietor, Anthony Smithson. The book, which as well as recipes, mainly for desserts and cakes, also contains diets for invalids, remedies, household hints and even advice on how to tame a horse. It had at one time been the property of cookery book collector, Irene Dunn, formerly a library assistant at Newcastle University’s Robinson Library: there is a bookplate to that effect inside the front cover, dated 1988.

The book itself was attributed in the shop’s description to Hannah Beckworth, although her name doesn’t appear in the book. Naturally, Arthur wanted to dig deeper.

Cooks

Heaton Hall was owned for many years by the Potter family and they had a large retinue of domestic servants to enable them to live in the manner to which they had become accustomed. One of the most important roles was that of the cook to keep them ‘fed and watered’. The following are the cooks of Heaton Hall, as listed in the ten yearly census.

1861 – Jane Wright (age 34) born in Carlisle

1871 – Mary A Hervison (age 31) born in Newcastle

1881 – Margaret Halbert (age 20) born in Wrekenton

1891 – Elizabeth N Peel (age 17), born in Blaydon

1901 – Hannah Beckworth (age 30)

There are no cooks specifically mentioned in 1841, 1851 or 1911. Of course, there may have been many others during the ten year intervals between censuses and before and after those listed but it was a start and it immediately became clear that the last of these was the person to whom the book had been attributed.

Further research showed that she wasn’t, in fact,  Hannah Beckworth, but Hannah Beckwith. Hannah was born in 1871 at Pelton, Co Durham to Joseph and Mary Beckwith. In 1881 she was at school and by 1891 she was in domestic service, working as a ‘scullery maid’ at Woolsington Hall, near Newcastle. By 1901 she had moved to Heaton Hall and was employed as the cook with a kitchen maid, Jane Matthewson (23), working under her. She was, at that time, cooking for Addison Potter’s widow, Mary (72) and two of their children, Charles Potter (48) and Francis Potter (31). By 1911 Hannah had moved on to Derwent Hill, Keswick, where she cooked for the Slack family. After this her whereabouts are unknown.

But, although Hannah may have been the final contributor to the recipe book, she couldn’t have been the original writer as it was started at least two years before she was born. And none of the other cooks or domestic staff appear to have been at Heaton Hall for long enough.

Guests

The first page of the book is helpfully dated.

HeatonHallrecipesFirstPage1869

This entry states that on 3rd August 1869, there were seven for dinner, mentioning four Potters, Sir Rolland Errington (sic) and Mr Gibson.

Rowland-Stanley-Errington-11th-Bt-with-his-three-daughters

Sir Rowland Stanley Errington, 11th Bt with his three daughters , early 1860s photographed by John Pattison Gibson (With thanks to the National Portrait Gallery)

Sir Rowland Errington, was a wealthy landowner, whose estate was Sandhoe Hall, near  Hexham. He was High Sheriff of Northumberland in 1855 and became the 11th Errington Baronet in 1863. The photograph above in the National Portrait Gallery was taken by John Pattison Gibson, a notable photographer from Hexham. It is the only portrait by Pattison in the national collection perhaps because Gibson’s main interest for most of his career was landscape, architectural and archaeological photography. Portraits were mainly earlier works. Gibson’s archive is held by Northumberland Archives. We can’t be sure but this photographer may have been the Mr Gibson mentioned as the second guest. Unfortunately, we don’t know who the third was or what was eaten at the dinner party.

The first writer may have been the cook at that time, possibly Mary Hervison. The writing is untidy and a guest’s name is misspelled but Mary wasn’t at Heaton Hall by 1881 and much of the rest of the book is written in the same neat hand. Could this by the handwriting of a member of the Potter family?

The Potters

In 1869, the Potter family comprised:

Addison Potter, aged 48, a cement manufacturer at Willington Quay and Addison Colliery owner near Blaydon. He was Lieutenant Colonel of 1st Northumberland & Durham Artillery Volunteer Corps and was variously Lord Mayor of Newcastle (1873 and 1874), an Alderman and a JP.

Mary Potter, his wife , aged 40 and their children: Addison Molyneux 17, Charles 16, George Stephenson 10, Mary 7, Anna 3, Margaret 2 and baby Frances Sybil.

The only plausible candidate for the cookery book compiler is Mary Potter nee Robson. Mary married Addison Potter in 1859 and in 1861 were living in Chirton House, North Shields. They moved to the Potter family home, Heaton Hall, some time before 1871. The recipe book suggests it was before August 1869.

We do not know for sure but the handwriting and spelling looks like that of somebody well educated. And as the mistress of the house, supervision of the kitchen staff and activities would have been her domain. Mary lived at Heaton Hall until she died on 21 September 1904. After her death, the book may well have passed to Hannah Beckwith, her cook at that time. But the Christmas recipes we bring to you today may well be favourites of Mary Potter herself.

Christmas Recipes

The writer says the first Christmas cake recipe is the best she has tasted.

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Christmas cake recipe from Heaton Hall

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More Christmas cake recipes from Heaton Hall

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Christmas candy recipe from Heaton Hall

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Christmas ‘wine’, a ‘temperance beverage’ from Heaton Hall

The book gives us a small insight into the lives and the preoccupations of the Potter family of Heaton Hall and we’ll feature more from it in the future. In the meantime, Happy Christmas from Heaton History Group  – and be sure to let us know if you try any of the recipes.

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Arthur Andrews, with additional research by Chris Jackson. Thank you to Anthony Smithson of Keel Row Books, North Shields.

Can you help?

If you know more about anybody mentioned in this article, we’d love to hear from you.  Please get in touch either by clicking on the link immediately below the title of this article or by emailing chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Home Sweet Home

As you push your trolley round Sainsbury’s, have you ever wondered what went on there before the supermarket and nearby car showrooms were built? The photographs below (courtesy of Historic England’s Britain from Above project) show the area on 1 November 1938. The houses to the north, west and south east had been built over the previous decade or so but there was still open country to the east. On the extreme right of both photos, you can see Heaton Cemetery.

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A S Wilkin Ltd Cremona Park (on the right) from the west, 1938

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Cremona Park Confectionery Works, 1938

Cremona Park, the self-styled ‘ World’s Garden Toffery’  opened on what was then a green field site on Benton Road in 1920. It was founded by Albert Scholick Wilkin, the son of a Westmorland policeman. Wilkin had opened a sweet factory in Sunderland in 1908. It was an immediate success, especially its ‘Wilkin’s Red Boy Toffee’, which featured a detail from Thomas Lawrence’s famous painting, ‘Charles William Lambton’, later known as ‘Red Boy’. By the end of WW1, Cremona had become a national brand.

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Cremona’s Red Boy Toffee tin

At about the same time, the old Royal Flying Corps site in High Heaton, Newcastle was no longer needed by the military. It gave Wilkin the space he needed to expand his business. There were many new flavours of toffee in ever more beautiful tins.

In 1939, Albert received a knighthood for ‘political and public services in Newcastle upon Tyne’. He was a Justice of the Peace, Chairman of Newcastle Central Conservative Association, governor of King’s College (now Newcastle University), an honorary freeman of the City of London and a Liveryman of the Feltmakers Company. During the war, he served on committees which oversaw the regulation of the confectionery industry. But in 1943, aged only 60, Albert Wilkin died.

Sons, Gordon and Frank, took over the running of the company and after the war, the export markets returned: Hong Kong, China, Syria, Gibraltar, South Vietnam, Puerto Rico, the West Indies, the USA, among others, all loved High Heaton toffee. But, by the 1960s, larger companies began to dominate and Cremona Park had become part of Rowntrees Mackintosh and soon afterwards, the Benton Road factory closed its doors forever.

Home 

Veronica Halliwell (nee Erskine) has vivid memories of Cremona Park in the 1940s. Living what must be every child’s dream, she grew up in the grounds of a toffee factory.

Let Veronica take up the story: ‘I was born in 1940 and lived with my mother and grandparents at ‘The Lodge’, Cremona Park, Benton Rd. Newcastle upon Tyne until I was 8 years old.’ 

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Veronica with her doll’s house and the Cremona chimney behind (not part of the doll’s house!)

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Veronica and her mother outside the Cremona Park lodge where they lived

‘My grandfather was a commissionaire who checked transport at the gate of Cremona Park. He was also the office cleaner and a fire warden. My mother also worked in the factory – on the sweet machines. Meanwhile my father was a soldier on active duty with the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers. My grandmother looked after me.  I have many very happy memories of this time.’

Grandad

‘Grandad had a very smart uniform with brass buttons which, as a child, I loved to polish with him.  I had a toothbrush to collect the dampened solid block of brass polish and we polished it off when dry with a small duster at the dinner table in front of the black-leaded fireplace which always had a kettle on the boil.’ 

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Veronica and her grandparents with Cremona Park canteen to the right

‘When we had finished and the buttons were gleaming, grandad would toast me some bread on a long handled fork over the open fire. Then the tin bath would be placed in front of this fire and Grandad would have his weekly bath!

Now and again I was allowed to go to the offices while Grandad did his cleaning chores. With hindsight, the high, wooden desks were quite Dickensian in appearance with high stools which I couldn’t reach!  I used to play with the black telephones (probably Bakelite) and my Grandad lifted me up and I pretended to ‘clock-in’ at a very large ornate office clock.

The Boss’s office was a different affair altogether with a green leather top, silver ink pots and a wonderful green leather  chair which I could swivel away in to my heart’s content. One day, the boss appeared and I am told that he was delighted with me. So much so that for Xmas 1945 or ’46  he gave me my first hard-backed book, ‘The Little Fir-Tree’. It gave me such pleasure that to this day, 70 plus years on , I still retell the story to all manner of children at Christmastime, even though the book has disappeared in the sands of time.

The fire wardens met in the canteen when they were ‘on duty’ but they never seemed to put out any fires, they just played cards and dominoes while I had a few rides on the ’dumb waiter’ as a reward for singing ‘You are my Sunshine.’ No health and safety rules and regulations then!’

Sweet machine

‘I can remember being carried into the factory to see my ‘mam’ at her sweet machine. The jewelled coloured wrapping paper seemed magical, as sweets slid down a chute at an alarming rate. When all the machines had shut down for the day I can still recall the hot, clean smell as the thick wooden slabs where the  toffee was rolled  were sluiced down with boiling water.’

We are lucky enough to have copies of postcards which show what the factory looked like inside, at every stage of the production process. They are undated but the first image suggests they were taken soon after the factory opened in 1920. So before Veronica’s time but perhaps not her grandad’s.

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Wartime

Veronica continues: ‘We mustn’t lose sight that it was wartime and my uncle made me my very own ’Tommy gun’ which was almost as big as me.  I played with the two sons of the boiler man at the factory but they were older than me and they were boys so I always had to be a ‘Jap’ and spent most of my time tied up in prison. They had an indoor shelter in their bungalow which was a great den until the siren went off one afternoon and we heard the drone of the German planes overhead. According to the grown-ups they had a different sound to our planes.  We were told that the German bombers used the tall chimney of Cremona and the tall chimney next door of the Sylvan jam factory to navigate their way.

There was also a very large brick communal shelter which had slatted wooden benches  where the adults sat or slept during an air raid. I slept in my pram, so I am told, but I can very definitely remember my mam running with me in my pram to the shelter and whenever it is a cold, crisp, clear night I swear I can smell the fresh, cold air there as if it were yesterday. The sound of the ‘all clear’ siren still haunts me and gives me goose-bumps.’

Even though it was wartime I was very lucky to have an uncle whose hobby was making toys-hence the doll’s house you see on one of the photographs.’

When I was almost eight, we moved to a prefab in Wallsend but still continued to go to St Teresa’s School in Heaton.  When I was 11 years old we moved to a house just up Benton Rd. which was only a stone’s throw from Cremona Park and, in my teens, St George’s Methodist Church Youth Club paved the way to friendships and frequent visits to Paddy Freeman’s Park and Jesmond Dene.’

Lovely memories and photos of what must have been a very exciting place to grow up.

Can you help?

If you know more about Cremona Park Toffee Factory or have memories or photos to share, we’d love to hear from you. Please either leave a reply on this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or email   chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Acknowledgements

Thank you to Veronica for her memories and photographs; additional research by Chris Jackson

Sources include:

‘North East Life’, January 2010. Article by Jackie Wilkin, Albert Scholick Wilkin’s great niece.

Joseph Fagg's letter to Daily Journal

Joseph Fagg Story – Food Prices and Impact on Wages

On 6 February 1916, an open letter appeared in the Newcastle ‘Daily Journal’ from Joseph Fagg, of 27 Third Avenue in his capacity as Branch Secretary of the National Union of Clerks. In the letter, he protests about the alarming advances in the price of foodstuffs.

Joseph Fagg's letter to the press

Joseph Fagg’s letter to the press

In the letter he reports that ‘Clerks, like the rest of their fellow workers have nobly responded to their country’s call and this heartless fleecing of dependents of our patriotic comrades is a matter calling for immediate and drastic treatment on the part of the Government.’

It’s not clear whether the original letter was addressed to national or local government, or indeed whether it was addressed purely to the press in order to gain public support. However it does appear to have been part of a coordinated local campaign to persuade employers to recognise the impact of food price increases through increased wages.

Resolution

The city council minutes of February 1915 record the receipt of a letter to the Lord Mayor from a Mr J Wilkinson, Secretary of the Newcastle, Gateshead and District Trades and Labour Council, urging the council to adopt the following resolution:

That this council views with indignation and alarm the present and rapidly increasing prices of the people’s food, due in our opinion, not to shortage, but to the operation of greedy speculators and ship owners. 

We strongly urge upon the government the absolute necessity of at once instituting an inquiry thereon, and, if necessary, that they control the purchase, transport and distribution of food during the present war.

 He concludes by pointing out that other countries are already doing this.

Co-ordinated campaign

It’s not clear what the council’s response to the letter was, however we do know that within a month, Joseph Fagg’s letter had appeared in the ‘Daily Journal’ and the council had received simultaneous letters from Mr J M Gibson, North East Regional Secretary of the Municipal Employees Association and Mr H Goodhead, Secretary of the Amalgamated Association of Tramway and Vehicle Workers, seeking pay increases to recognise the impact of rising food prices.

The Municipal Employees Association letter went to all councils in the region. In it, Mr Gibson points out that his association had initially ‘instructed its officers to refrain from making applications for increased wages which would in any way tend to hamper or hinder the work necessary to enable the government to carry the present regrettable conflict to a successful issue’. However he goes on to say that the enormous increase in the price of foodstuffs had ‘made it imperative that the workers’ wages should be increased if they are to maintain themselves and families in a state of efficiency’.

Further evidence of a coordinated campaign comes in both unions seeking an increase of five shillings per week.

The council referred consideration to a special committee, which met on 19 March 1915 and which representatives of both unions attended. The arguments rehearsed by the committee are remarkably similar to current day discussions about public sector pay rises under a policy of austerity:

-If the application is granted, then the applicants and their families will be appreciably better off than before the war, and they will be relieved of the burden of increased expense which should be borne by all, including the applicants;

-In many communities, if carried out, would be disastrous to those ratepayers, who, out of limited incomes, would have to bear not only their own share of the burden, but also that which should be borne by the applicants;

-Where war bonuses have already been granted to workpeople other than municipal employees, it has been to men particularly affected by prevailing conditions: eg to those who have to work more assiduously consequent on excessive shortage of labour by means of the war, or to those who are called on to work long periods of overtime in work directly connected with the production of materials of war and the like. This is not the case as regards the present applicants.

War bonus

Despite these misgivings the Council made an offer of a war bonus of:

-2s per week to people earning less than 30s per week

-1s per week to those earning between 30s and 40s per week

-1s per week to boys under 18.

After further representations this was increased by a further 6d per week for all but boys under 18, to be reviewed in six months.

This was to be the first war bonus paid to the council’s employees, with further successful applications made in 1916, twice in 1917 and 1918.

A Special Committee report dated 23 December 1918 recorded the total annual cost of war bonuses to municipal employees (excluding tramway staff and attendance officers and nurses employed by the education committee) to be £10,285.

The total value of war bonuses for municipal employees at that point were:

25s per week for unskilled men

28/4 per week for labourers to skilled men; and

30/9 to 39/3 per week for skilled men

This represents almost a doubling of salary.

Price rises and shortages

Of course, the increases in food prices and food shortages were very real and badly affected the whole population. It is estimated that a pint of milk that cost 1d before the war cost 6d by the end of the war.

The reasons for the rising food prices were mainly linked to food shortages caused in part by the loss of skilled farm labourers, going off to war, but also of horses. Farms in the early 20th century were still heavily dependent on horse power, as was the army and many farm horses were requisitioned by the government

To add to the already escalating food prices and shortages, the 1916 potato harvest suffered severe blight, leading to the city council to send a telegram in February 1917 to the Ministry of Food expressing concern about severe shortages and that local farmers may be holding back supplies to keep prices even higher.

A response from the Controller of Food states that investigation of the matter by a local inspector indicated that the situation in Newcastle was not worse than in other parts of the country and reflected an abnormal shortage of potatoes due to failures in the harvest, not only in the UK but across the world. The response ends by stating that ‘it cannot be expected that persons in Great Britain will be able to obtain more than a small proportion of their normal requirements’.

Recipes

This would have been a particularly heavy blow as potatoes had been widely used as a substitute for other foodstuffs that were in short supply. A Ministry of Food leaflet titled Thirty Four Ways of Using Potatoes (other than as a vegetable) claimed that Britain had an unprecedented surplus of potatoes – over 2 million tons and encouraged people to use them as a replacement for grains, already in short supply.

Recipes included Treacle Potato Pudding:

1 lb. mashed potatoes,

1 egg,

half an ounce of sugar,

1 ounce of ground rice,

1 ounce of cooking fat,

flavouring essence or other flavouring,

3 tablespoons full treacle,

1/2 teaspoon full of baking powder.

Coat a plain charlotte mould whilst warm with a layer of thick treacle. Mix the potato, egg, sugar and melted butter together and add a few drops of flavouring essence. Stir in, lastly, the baking powder. Put the mixture into the prepared tin and cover with a greased paper. Steam the pudding slowly in a pan containing boiling water in a moderate oven or in a steamer for about 1 and a half hours. When cooked, turn out carefully on to a hot dish and serve.

Submarine warfare

The situation deteriorated even further when, on 9 January 1917, Germany announced unrestricted submarine warfare. This meant that British merchant ships transporting food from overseas would be at risk of being sunk, worsening the shortages.

On 2 May 1917, the city council considered the urgent need for food economy. The lord mayor stated that the ‘proclamation of the king as to economy in food would be publicly read by the town clerk the following day and he suggested that copies of the leaflet be distrusted to scholars in each of the public and private schools in the city; that the proclamation be reprinted and exhibited inside the tramcars and that posters calling attention to the need for economy in the use of food be placarded on the outside of cars; and asked the members of council to arrange open air meetings in their various wards for the purpose of impressing the need for economy among their constituents.’

King George V’s proclamation

WE, being persuaded that the abstention from all unnecessary consumption of grain will furnish the surest and most effectual means of defeating the devices of our enemies, and thereby bringing the war to a speedy and successful termination, and out of our resolve to leave nothing undone which can contribute to these ends or to the welfare of our people in these times of grave stress and anxiety, have thought fit by and with the advice of our Privy Council to issue this our Royal Proclamation, most earnestly exhorting and charging all those of our loving subjects, the men and women of our Realm who have the means to procure articles of food other than wheat and corn, as they tender their immediate interests and feel for the want of others, especially to practise the greatest economy and frugality in the use of every species of grain and wheat.

AND we do for this purpose more particularly exhort and charge all heads of households to reduce the consumption of bread in their respective families by at least one-fourth of the quantity consumed in ordinary times, to abstain from the use of flour in pastry, and, moreover, carefully to restrict, or wherever possible to abandon, the use thereof in all other articles than bread.

AND we do also in like manner exhort and charge all persons who keep horses to abandon the practice of feeding the same with oats or other grain, unless they shall have received from our Food Controller a licence to feed horses on oats or other grain to be given only in cases where it is necessary to do so with a view to maintain the breed of horses in the national interest.

AND we do hereby further charge and enjoin all ministers of religion in their respective churches and chapels within Our United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland to read or cause to be read this Our Proclamation on the Lord’s Day for four successive weeks after the issue thereof.

Given at Our Court of Buckingham Palace this second day of May in the year of Our Lord 1917, and in the seventh year of our reign.

GOD SAVE THE KING.

Purple ribbon

On the day of the publication of this historic document Sir Derek Keppel, Master of the Royal Household, said: ” The king would never ask and has never asked his people to make sacrifices in which he is unprepared to share. He will do consistently what he asks the general public to do, and, what is more to the point, he has already done and is still doing it. We are all on strict rations here and have been since the beginning of February.”

People showed their commitment to the King’s appeal by wearing a purple ribbon. Lord Davenport, the Food Controller strongly believed that the solution to shortages was a voluntary approach and he echoed the King’s proclamation with his own circular on 29 May appealing to the public’s patriotism. However, it soon became clear that a firmer policy was necessary as a Board of Trade report showed a 98% increase in the price of food since the start of the War. Lord Davenport and his replacement, Lord Rhondda acted quickly, enforcing a wide range of restrictions under the Local Authorities Food Control Order 1917, which fixed the prices of some foodstuffs including:

  • Brewer’s sugar;
  • Sugar;
  • Milk;
  • Swedes;
  • Potatoes.

And it applied controls to the use of others, particularly, bread, flour, cakes and pastries, as well as limiting the use of grain to feed livestock and preventing its use in feeding game birds.

WW1 Ration Card

WW1 Ration Card

Detail from a WW1 ration card

Detail from a WW1 ration card

Heaton Avenues in Wartime

This article was researched and written by Michael Proctor for Heaton History Group’s ‘Heaton Avenues in Wartime’ project, which has been funded by Heritage Lottery Fund. An exhibition, ‘Feeding the Avenues’, will be on display at the Chillingham pub from early August until late October 2015.

S in Ringtons, Tea in Heaton

The imposing white brick Ringtons building on Algernon Road bears the date ‘1924’, indicating that the famous tea company has Heaton connections going back at least 90 years.

Simon Smith, son of Sam, and staff outside Algernon Road HQ, 1932

Ringtons staff outside the company’s Algernon Road HQ, 1932

In fact the story starts much earlier than that.

Samuel Smith was born on 22 June 1872 in Leeds and christened on 22 December of that year along with his older brother, George. His parents were both local. William, his father, earned his living as a fettler, someone who cleaned the machinery in a woollen mill.

According to Sam’s great granddaughter, Fiona Harrison, young Sam started work, aged eight, as a ‘butcher’s boy’ on Friday nights and Saturdays. Aged ten, he joined the staff of one of the country’s biggest tea-dealers, as a ‘half-timer’. He gradually worked his way up and was sent to various of the firm’s offices across Yorkshire to learn all aspects of the business.

By the time he married Ada Emmerson, daughter of a Leeds milk dealer, at the age of 25, he was a travelling salesman for the company and was based in Sheffield. The couple’s two oldest children, John and Douglas, were born in Sheffield but the next two, Elizabeth and Vera, started life in Bradford and by time the youngest, Samuel and Harriet, came along, the family were back in Leeds but preparing for a new life in Newcastle.

We are extremely lucky in that, not only did Sam keep letters, diaries, notes, photographs and mementos, but that his family have treasured them and Fiona has painstakingly combed through the family archive to help us piece together the story of the birth of Ringtons and its relevance to our ‘Heaton’s Avenues in Wartime’ Heritage Lottery Fund project.

The records show that Sam had become increasingly disillusioned with the firm he worked for in Leeds. He felt its staff weren’t treated well and he believed that he could both run a successful company and live true to his values. His friend and colleague, Irishman William ‘Will’ Titterington, was of the same mind and they decided to set up in business together under the name of ‘Ringtons’, which combined the last part of Will’s surname with the first letter of Sam’s.

Sam Smith, founder of Ringtons

Sam Smith, founder of Ringtons

Tea to Newcastle

As was common at the time, there was a clause in their contracts stipulating that if they left their current employer, they couldn’t set up within 50 miles of its Leeds headquarters. The two men weighed up their options and were initially tempted by Scarborough, but in the end they couldn’t ignore the excellent opportunities offered by industrial Tyneside, where, although there were already a number of tea dealers including Brooke Bond and Pumphrey’s, none of them delivered door to door, which Sam and Will planned to make their unique selling point, one which has stood the company in good stead right up to the present day.

Fiona has found a letter from William Titterington to Sam Smith, dated 17 July 1907, and written from 2 Fourth Avenue, Heaton, where William is lodging in what is clearly a tiny room that the two men planned to share:

‘I have arrived at the combined room… This bed will only hold me, and I am afraid by the look of it, my feet will be hanging over the foot of it.’

On the other hand:

‘I am on the spot to assist at the shop and see that the workmen are getting on with the cleaning. This house is at the other end of the same terrace as the shop.’

Extract from letter from Will Titterington Fourth Avenue, Heaton to Sam Smith 1917

Extract from letter from Will Titterington, Fourth Avenue, Heaton to Sam Smith 1917

So it was in Heaton’s Avenues in 1907 that Ringtons was born. By 1908, the partners had two vans and four assistants and they were blending twice as much tea as a year earlier.

The first mention of the firm in the trade directories is in 1909-10 (which was probably surveyed in 1907-8). Ringtons was based at number 23 Third Avenue with Sam Smith, manager, living at 25. By 1911, the Smiths had moved to 129 Warton Terrace. Will Titterington and his wife Mary were living at 109 Tynemouth Road with their sons, William jnr and Francis, aged six and four.

By 1910 Sam Smith had bought Will Titterington’s share of the company and the firm itself had moved to more spacious premises on an abandoned rifle range at 392 Shields Road (where the Byker retail park is now).

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Ringtons, Shields Rd c1912

Ringtons, Shields Rd c1912 with extension to the 1910 building in the first picture

Here, their neighbours included a coach builder, cart proprietor, horse keeper and horse shoer, all vital to the Ringtons’ enterprise. Sam had worked hard to make the business a success and it had gone from strength to strength. By this time, there were 11 vans and 11 assistants.

Struggle for survival

But then World War One broke out. It changed everything, as Sam recalled later:

‘Of my staff of 17, some of whom were married, 15 were called to the colours and I promised to do certain things for them so their families should not suffer too much while they were fighting. Of course, I agreed to keep their jobs open for them.’

What Sam hadn’t reckoned with were the severe food shortages and the resulting rationing and restrictions. There was a sugar shortage so people were only allowed to buy it where they bought their tea. Ringtons didn’t sell sugar and couldn’t get hold of it, so business plummeted.

To compensate, the firm started to sell any foodstuff it could lay its hands on: tinned and evaporated milk, dried eggs, canned meat and fish, saccharine, pickles etc. However, often as soon as Sam had bought a consignment, the price of the commodity would be fixed by government at less than he’d paid for it.

‘ Somehow I managed to keep my promises to my soldier staff’ remembered Sam. ‘And somehow managed to relieve a little the distress of the widows of the three who never came back. But it was a fight to be able to pay my own rent and the wolf came nearer and nearer my door’.

At the end of the war, the 12 surviving members of staff returned, ‘three of them wearing the Military Medal’ and, as promised, Sam took them back although the outlook for the company seemed bleak. But gradually, once people and retailers were free to buy and sell what and where they liked, customers returned.

When the ex-servicemen received their gratuities, they clubbed together to buy Sam a watch, which from then on he always wore. It was inscribed: ‘Presented to Mr Samuel Smith, as a mark of gratitude and esteem, from the staff of Ringtons Ltd, on their return from military service. December 1920′

Loyal servant

One of the returning servicemen was Robert Ernest Sturdy, who, in 1911 was living with his wife, Minnie, and their three year old son, Norman Leslie at 57 Spencer Street, Heaton. Robert described himself as a ‘superintendent, tea trade’ . By 1916, the couple had two more very young children, May and Ernest. Robert volunteered to join the army, aged 32, in December 1915, just before conscription was introduced early in 1916. He described himself as a ‘manager (drivers)’ .

On enlistment it was noted that Robert’s heart ‘seemed weak’. His letter of enlistment stated that he was invited to join the Army Service Corps(Mechanical Transport), ‘provided he has not attained the age of 46 and is found medically fit for Service‘ Despite his heart condition, Ernest was accepted and he served on the home front for just over a month before being sent to France in October 1916.

Throughout 1918, he was in and out of military hospitals with conditions variously described as ‘mild debility’, ‘TB‘ and ‘Bronchial catarrh’ before being transferred back to the UK in October 1919, at which time he signed a disclaimer to the effect that he wasn’t suffering from any disability which was due to military service.

Robert returned to Ringtons where, as Sam Smith had promised, his old job was waiting for him. He was still there in the position of sales manager in 1934 by which time he was 50 years old. On completion of 25 years service, he was presented with tea and coffee services. Robert died in 1956, aged 73. By this time his son, Norman, was himself described as a tea dealer, presumably (though we can’t be sure) also with Ringtons. Robert’s younger son, Ernest ,was sadly ‘lost at sea’ during WW2.

The Somme

In total there were 14 people in Heaton in 1911 whose occupation, as recorded in the census, included the word ‘tea’. One was Sam Smith, of course, by now living at 129 Warton Terrace, with Ada and their six children. We can’t be sure which of the others worked at Ringtons, as employer names aren’t usually recorded, but Robert Clapperton Mair, aged 15, who lived with his parents, two brothers and a sister, at 13 Charles Street, described himself as a ‘tea merchant’s assistant’. He joined the 10th battalion Northumberland Fusiliers and was posted to France. Robert was one of those who didn’t return, having been killed in action on the Somme on 25 September 1916, aged 20. His name is recorded on the Thiepval Memorial and also on that of Heaton United Methodist Church on Heaton Road.

Bravery award

Bothers Patrick and Thomas Sullivan were both ‘van salesmen (tea)‘. The family had moved from Dundee while the boys and their sister, Lizzie, were young and the family lived at 16 Fourth Avenue, just a few doors down from Will Titterington’s lodgings in 1907. When war broke out their father, Patrick, a tram conductor, was active in recruiting volunteers for the ‘Pals‘ regiments and we know that Tom enlisted very early on, in September 1914, at the age of 22.

Two years later, by now a sergeant, he was awarded the Military Medal and a Card of Honour for conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty. A full report of his actions appeared in the Newcastle Journal, reproduced below. (Despite what it says in the article, the family appears to have lived on Fourth Avenue, rather than Sixth, throughout the war).

Newcastle Journal 18 November 1916

Newcastle Journal 18 November 1916

 So Tom was one of the three recipients of the Military Medal who returned to Ringtons after 1918 and was remembered by Sam Smith almost twenty years later. This was confirmed for us by Tom’s great great niece, Helen Wells, who told us:

‘My mam remembers talk of Uncle Tommy. We knew he’d been awarded the Military Medal but we didn’t know why. Tommy worked for Ringtons tea. He moved to Thornaby near Stockton to work for Ringtons there. He died in the 1940s and had no children. Patrick was exempt from military service because he was colour-blind’.

Post-war

A hundred years later, the personal stories give us a tiny insight into the suffering of Heaton and its people during World War One. But within just a few years, the firm, its staff and customers showed their resilience. Ringtons’ business picked up to such an extent that in 1924 a magnificent, modern building was commissioned on Algernon Road.

Ringtons, Algernon Road c1930

Ringtons, Algernon Road c1930

Work began in 1926 and it was finished in 1928. It still stands, of course, and is much loved, although the firm has since moved again. Not far though. Ringtons’, first managed from a cramped single bedroom on Fourth Avenue, is still very much associated with Heaton. Its headquarters remain on Algernon Road, next door to its impressive 1920s HQ.

Heaton Avenues in Wartime

This article was researched and written by Chris Jackson, with considerable help from Fiona Harrison, for Heaton History Group’s ‘Heaton Avenues in Wartime’ project, which has been funded by Heritage Lottery Fund. An exhibition, ‘’Tea in Heaton’, will be on display at the Chillingham pub from October to December 2015.

Find out more

This article and the exhibition at the Chilli concentrates on the early days in the Avenues and the impact of World War One but it’s just one chapter of the Ringtons’ story. To find out more, pay a visit to Ringtons’ museum in their Algernon Road headquarters and look out for a talk by Fiona  in our 2016-17 programme.

Can you help?

if you have worked at Ringtons, know more about any of the people mentioned in the article and/or have memories or photos to share, please either leave a comment on this website (by clicking on the link immediately below this article’s title) or email chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org