Category Archives: Health and Medicine

The Stoneys of Heaton: unsung heroes of the Parsons’ story

Most people in Newcastle have heard of Sir Charles Parsons, the eminent engineer whose invention of a multi-stage steam turbine revolutionised marine propulsion and electrical power generation, making him world famous in his lifetime and greatly respected still. Parsons’ Heaton factory was a huge local employer for many decades. It survives today as part of the global firm, Siemens.

But, of course, Charles Parsons did not make his huge strides in engineering alone. He was ably supported by a highly skilled workforce, including brilliant engineers and mathematicians, some of whom were much better known in their life times than they are today.

Two that certainly deserve to be remembered were siblings, Edith Anne Stoney and her brother, George Gerald. Edith worked for Parsons only briefly but her contribution was crucial. Her brother worked for Parsons and lived in Heaton most of his adult life. This is their story.

Family background

Dr George Johnstone Stoney (1826-1911), the siblings’ father, was a prominent Irish physicist, who was born near Birr in County Offaly.  He worked as an astronomy assistant to Charles Parsons’ father, William, at nearby Birr Castle and he later taught Charles Parsons at Trinity College, Dublin. Stoney is best known for introducing the term ‘electron’ as the fundamental unit quantity of electricity. He and his wife, Margaret Sophia, had five children whom they home educated. Perhaps not surprisingly, the Stoney children went on to have illustrious careers. Robert Bindon became a doctor in Australia; Gertrude Rose was an artist;  Florence Ada ( awarded the OBE in 1919), the first female radiologist in the UK. But it is George Gerald and Edith Anne who have the Heaton connection.

Edith Anne Stoney

Edith was born on 6 January 1869 and soon showed herself to be a talented mathematician. She won a scholarship to Newham College Cambridge where, in 1893, she achieved a first in the Part 1 Tripos examination. At that time, and for another 50 years afterwards, women were not awarded degrees at Cambridge so she did not officially graduate but she was later awarded both a BA and MA by Trinity College Dublin.

After graduation, Edith came to Newcastle to work for Charles Parsons. There is, in Newcastle University Library, a letter sent by Charles Parson to Edith’s father, George Johnstone Stoney, in 1903. Parsons pays tribute to:

‘your daughter’s great and original ability for applied mathematics… The problems she has attacked and solved have been in relation to the special curvature of our mirrors for obtaining beams of light of particular shapes. These investigations involved difficult and intricate original calculations, so much so that I must confess they were quite beyond my powers now and probably would have been also when I was at Cambridge… Your daughter also made calculations in regard to the gyrostatic forces brought onto the bearings of marine steam turbines…’

It looks like the sort of reference someone might write for a perspective employer except that, a sign of the times, it doesn’t mention Edith by name and is addressed to her father.

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Edith, Florence and George Johnstone Stoney

After working in Heaton, Edith went on to teach mathematics at Cheltenham Ladies’ College and then lecture in physics at the London School of Medicine for Women in London. There she set up a laboratory and designed the physics course.

In 1901, she and her sister, Florence, opened a new x-ray service at London’s Royal Free Hospital and she became actively involved in the women’s suffrage movement as well becoming the first treasurer of the British Federation of University Women, a post she held from 1909-1915.

During WW1, both sisters offered their service to the British Red Cross to provide a state of the art radiological service to the troops in Europe. In the x-ray facilities at a new 250 bed hospital near Troyes in France, planned and operated by her, she used stereoscopy to localise bullets and shrapnel and pioneered the use of x-rays in the diagnosis of gas gangrene, saving many lives.

She was posted to Serbia, Macedonia, Greece and France again, serving in dangerous war zones for the duration of the war. The hospitals in which she worked were repeatedly shelled and evacuated but she continued to do what she considered to be her duty.  Her war service was recognised by several countries. Among her awards were the French Croix de Guerre and Serbia’s Order of St Sava, as well as British Victory Medals.

After the war, Edith returned to England, where she lectured at King’s College for Women. In her retirement, she resumed work with the British Federation for University Women and in 1936, in memory of her father and sister, she established the Johnstone and Florence Stoney Studentship, which is still administered by the British Federation of Women Graduates to support women to carry out research overseas in biological, geological, meteorological or radiological science.

Edith Anne Stoney died on 25 June 1938, aged 69. Her importance is shown by the obituaries which appeared in ‘The Times’, ‘The Lancet’ and ‘Nature’. She will be remembered for her pioneering work in medical physics, her wartime bravery and her support for women’s causes. Although her time in Newcastle was brief, she deserves also to be remembered for her contribution to the work in Heaton for which Charles Parsons is rightly lauded.

George Gerald Stoney

But Edith’s elder brother had a much longer association with Parsons – and with Heaton.

George Gerald Stoney was born in Dublin on 28 November 1863, the first child of Margaret and George Johnstone Stoney. Like his sister, he was educated at home and gained a particularly good grounding in science. For example at a young age, he learnt about the silvering of mirrors which was to become very useful in his working life.

In 1882, when 19 years old, he went to Trinity College, Dublin. After four years he left with a first class honours in mathematics and a gold medal in experimental science. The following year he was awarded an engineering degree.

After working for a year with his uncle in Dublin, he came to England in 1888 to work alongside the more senior Charles Parsons for Clarke, Chapman and Company in Gateshead, earning ten shillings a week as an apprentice draughtsman. Here he first became acquainted with the compound steam turbine and did associated drawings for Parsons.

When, the following year, Parsons left the firm, after a disagreement on the pace at which work was progressing in the turbine field, to set up his own company in Heaton, Stoney was one of a dozen or so Clarke Chapman employees to follow him. He first worked as a fitter, earning £2 10s.

The 1891 Census shows Stoney living as a lodger at 69 Seventh Avenue, Heaton in the home of widow, Jane Beckett and her two working sons, John and William.

Key figure

There is ample evidence of Gerald (as he was known) Stoney’s importance to Parsons even in the early days.

In 1893, an agreement was made whereby Parsons agreed to employ Stoney who, in turn, agreed to work for Parsons for five years in the capacity of electrical engineer, ‘the duties which shall comprise the management of the mirror and testing departments, the carrying out of experiments and other such duties…’

A year later, he was given a share option. He put £200 into the company, which was matched by Parsons. And, in 1895, aged 32, he was named Chief Designer of the steam turbine department and Chief Electrical Engineer for high speed dynamos and alternators.

Stoney’s application, on 28 November 1895, to become a member of The Institution of Civil Engineers (his proposer was C A Parsons) states:

‘…appointed Manager of their Mirror Works for the manufacture of mirrors for search light projectors for English and foreign governments and is also manager for testing all dynamos and engines and technical adviser in the design and manufacture of all the steam turbines and dynamos made by the firm amounting to a yearly output of over 10,000 horsepower. These posts he now holds.’

He was elected Associate Member on 4 February 1896 when his address was given as 118 Meldon Terrace, Heaton.

Turbinia

It was around this time that Parsons was finally successful in his almost obsessive quest to apply the steam turbine to marine engineering. He had conceived and built ‘Turbinia’ which he was determined to make the fastest ship in the world. There were many trials of the ship in the Tyne and off the Northumberland coast at which Parsons and Stoney were always among the small group on board. After each trial modifications and improvements were made and the vessel was put to sea again. At every stage, Stoney was at the forefront.

Finally on 1 April 1897, as ‘Turbinia’, with Charles Parsons on the bridge and Gerald Stoney next to him as usual, made its way back up the Tyne after its latest sea trial , ‘at the modest pace allowed by local regulations‘ it was noted that ‘the river was nearly empty, the tide slack and the water smooth’ so Parsons decided to do a full power run along a measured nautical mile. A mean speed of 31.01 knots and a top speed of 32.6 knots was recorded, a record speed for any vessel. Charles Parsons had achieved his aim of adapting the steam turbine for marine propulsion.

Parsons’ first big opportunity to show his ship to the world was to come a couple of months later on 26 June 1897, when a review of the fleet to celebrate Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee was held at Spithead off Portsmouth. A hundred and fifty vessels were present, in an orderly procession when, with Parsons at the helm and Stoney in his  customary position alongside him, ‘Turbinia’ made the move, which was to secure its place in naval folklore.

As the ‘Times’ put it:

‘At the cost of deliberate disregard of authority, she contrived to give herself an effective advertisement by steaming at astonishing speed between the lines A and B shortly after the royal procession had passed. The patrol boats which attempted to check her adventurous and lawless proceedings were distanced in a twinkling but at last one managed by placing herself athwart her course… Her speed was, as I have said, simply astonishing.’ (27 June 1887).

In fact, Parsons denied deliberate lawlessness. He maintained that the watching Prince Henry of Prussia requested that ‘Turbinia’ be brought alongside his flagship and show a turn of speed. Permission was apparently given by the admiralty but there is no doubt that there were a number of close shaves as ‘Turbinia’ squeezed between other crafts at previously unknown speed.

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Turbinia with Gerald Stoney below Charles Parsons on the bridge

Growing recognition

Stoney continued to be indispensible to Parsons. For all Parsons’ genius and drive, Stoney seems to have had the better understanding of theory and he could also apply it in practice. In fact, there is evidence that, on occasion, Parson’s intransigence even held Stoney and his own company back when he refused to agree to their suggestions. If a solution to a problem had been found by a competitor, especially a foreign one, rather than adopt it and move on, Parsons more than once insisted that his engineers found a different, original answer. For the most part, Stoney seems to have accepted this trait in his employer and risen to the challenges it posed.

In 19 December 1900, Stoney became a full member of the Institution of Civil Engineers. He was now General Manager of C A Parsons and living at 7 Roxburgh Place, Heaton. By 1902, according to the Electoral Register, the Stoneys had moved to ‘Oakley’, an imposing,  three storey, semi-detached villa on Heaton Road.

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‘Oakley’ on Heaton Road

In 1903 Stoney was involved in the establishment of the ground breaking Neptune and Carrville Power Stations, which were so crucial to the economy of Tyneside. And in 1904, Parsons again rewarded his trusted lieutenant. He opened a bank account for him into which he deposited £5,000. 4.5% interest could be drawn half yearly or yearly. If Stoney stayed at the firm for another ten years, the capital would be his.

Stoney was by now well known in engineering circles. He published many papers and submitted patent applications and he gave lectures throughout Britain and Ireland.

In 1905, George Gerald Stoney and Charles Parsons were joint recipients of the Institution of Civil Engineers’ Watt Gold Medal for excellence in engineering and in 1911 Stoney, by now Technical Manager of the entire Heaton works, was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) by his peers, evidence that his part in Parsons’ work was recognised outside as well as within the firm.

Temporary departure

But in 1912,  ‘in a moment of extreme vexation’ as he later put it (rows between senior staff at the company seemed common), Gerald Stoney left C A Parsons. At first, he set up as a consultant and he was secretary of one of the Tyneside Irish battalions before, in 1917, being appointed to the Chair of Mechanical Engineering at the Victoria University in Manchester. Stoney’s eminence is shown by a photograph, taken at this time, being in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery.

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George Gerald Stoney (courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery)

However, Stoney’s wife Isabella, was by this time an invalid and didn’t make the move from Newcastle. Stoney increasingly had to travel between the two cities and when, in 1926, Charles Parsons became aware of the toll this was taking, he offered his old employee the chance to return to Heaton as Director of Research. Stoney’s career had turned full circle as, in his new role, he found himself once again conducting experimental optical work, this time for the recently acquired Grubb Telescope Company, now called Grubb Parsons. He eventually retired in 1930 following the death of his wife.

George Gerald Stoney died on 15 May 1942 at his home ‘Oakley’ on Heaton Road. He is buried in Corbridge Cemetery alongside his wife.

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The Stoneys grave in Corbridge

At the time of his death, he was the last surviving member of the original Turbinia crew. Obituaries and tributes show that he was widely appreciated as one of the pioneers in the development of the steam turbine and high-speed dynamo electric machines. We hope that by retelling his story here, Gerald Stoney, like his sister Edith, will be remembered once again in Heaton and beyond.

Can you help?

If you know more about Edith or Gerald Stoney including their connections with Parsons and the Heaton area, 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

Researched and written by Arthur Andrews and Chris Jackson, Heaton History Group.

This article is part of Heaton History Group’s project ‘Brains, Steam and Speed: 250 years of science, engineering and mathematics in Heaton‘, funded by Heritage Lottery Fund, with additional funding from Heaton History Group and the Joicey Trust

Pupils from local schools will study mathematicians, scientists and engineers associated with Heaton and produce artworks, inspired by what they have learnt, some of which will be exhibited at the People’s Theatre in July 2018.

Key Sources

From Galaxies to Turbines: science, technology and the Parsons Family / by W Garrett Scaife; Institute of Physics Publishing, 2000

Scope (December 2013) ‘Edith Stoney MA; the first woman medical physicist’

and a range of online and local archival sources.

Print

The Stroud Family of Cresta

274 Heaton Road is one of Heaton’s more substantial Victorian villas, also known as Cresta. The first recorded conveyance of the house is 1902 and it seems likely that the first residents were the Stroud family, Professor Dr Henry Stroud, his wife Eva Mary Antoinette Stroud and their three children, Irene Elizabeth, Bessie Vera and Henry Clifford. All fairly unremarkable, except that in one house we have a man who was professor of physics at the age of 26 and a close research collaborator and personal friend of Lord Armstrong; a world war one war hero and early aviator; a Red Cross volunteer in WW1 and a possible member of the peerage.

Henry Stroud was born in Bristol in 1862, the second of three children to John and Mary Stroud. John was a pharmaceutical chemist and as well as his family had two apprentices and a servant living in his home.

On leaving school, Henry had a brilliant academic career at both the University of London, where he gained first class degrees in both Physics and Chemistry and later a Doctorate, and at Cambridge, taking a first class degree in the second part of the Natural Science Tripos.

Henry became a lecturer in physics at Armstrong College, then part of the University of Durham in 1886. In 1887, he married Eva Marie Antoinette Emmett, also from Bristol.

Also in 1887, Henry became Professor of Physics and head of the department, at the ripe old age of 26. The 1891 census shows the family, Henry and Eva, with two daughters, Irene aged two and Bessie, six months, living at 8 Grosvenor Place Jesmond, supported by two servants. By 1911, they were living on Heaton Road, with their three children Irene, 22, Bessie, 20 and Henry Clifford, 17, again with two servants.

Either a Physics Professor earned a great deal more in 1911 than they do today, or one of the families had considerable wealth, as they certainly lived a comfortable lifestyle. There is no doubt that Henry was a great success in his position, growing the department from one professor, one lecturer and 76 students in 1887 to two professors, four lecturers, two demonstrators and 244 students when he retired in 1926.

What perhaps better explains the family’s wealth is Henry’s research interest. Throughout his career, Henry collaborated with Lord Armstrong on research into the nature of electricity. Lord Armstrong conducted early experiments on electrical discharges, which Henry worked with him on. A room, the Electrical Room, was specifically set aside at Cragside, Lord Armstrong’s country home, for their research work. Next door to the Billiard Room, the National Trust has recently opened this room to the public to celebrate their research. At Lord Armstrong’s request, Henry completed this research, which was published in 1899 as a ‘Supplement to Electrical Movement in Air and Water with Theoretical Inferences’ by Lord Armstrong CB, FRS. Essentially, the research led Armstrong to propose the existence of two ‘electric fluids’ in air and water, what we now understand as positively and negatively charged particles.

The photographs of their research showing the effect of negatively and positively charged particles are quite exquisite.

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Illustration of Lord Armstrong and Professor Stroud’s research on electrical discharges

A number of these are available on the Royal Society website. It seems likely that this research and Henry’s academic prowess made him a wealthy and famous man at a time when society revered knowledge. Certainly when he died in 1940, his estate was valued at £23,136/16/5, about £1.4m in today’s money.

Henry Clifford

The youngest of Henry and Eva’s children, Henry Clifford Stroud was born on 25 July 1893. He certainly followed in his father’s footsteps in terms of academic ability, although his passion was for engineering. He was educated at the Royal Grammar School, then gained his BSc in Engineering at Armstrong College in 1913, followed by a BA at King’s College Cambridge. He was a student of the Institution of Civil Engineers and a graduate of the North East Coast Institution of Engineers and Shipbuilders where, despite his young age, he read a number of papers and was awarded prizes. He was gaining practical experience at Sir William Arrol’s in Glasgow during vacations and had plans to become a civil engineer.

At University, Henry Clifford joined the Officer Training Corps, then the Territorial Force and in June 1912, at the age of 18, was gazetted a Second Lieutenant in the Northumbrian Royal Engineers then promoted to Lieutenant two years later.

Captain Henry Clifford Stroud

Henry Clifford Stroud (Imperial War Museum)

When war broke out Henry immediately volunteered for service overseas and embarked for France with the Northumbrian Royal Engineers, First Field Company in January 1915. His career was tragically short-lived as on 8th February he was severely injured in both legs and after immediate treatment in Versailles, he found himself back at Armstrong College, now converted into the No1 Northern General Military Hospital, where he had a long slow recovery.

Sadly his injuries made a return to front line service impossible, so he was posted to Otley as an Instructor in Field Engineering and Bombing, becoming a Captain in June 1916. However, this didn’t satisfy Henry and in July he was passed by the Medical Board to join the Royal Flying Corps, qualifying as a pilot on 22nd August 1916.

STROUDpilots licence

In September he was posted to 61st Squadron at Rochford Aerodrome in Essex (now Southend airport), engaged in the defence of London from air raids, often under the cover of darkness.

At around 11.30 on the night of 7 March 1918, Henry took off in a Se5a bi-plane to intercept a German plane. It was a moonless night, one of only two occasions when the Germans launched attacks on such nights during the war and there was obviously no radar or radio.

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Plane like that piloted by Henry Clifford Stroud

At about the same time, Captain Alexander Bruce Kynoch of 37 Squadron took off from Stow Maries to intercept the same raider. With no means of communication and next to no light, the two aircraft collided in mid air over Dollyman’s farm in Essex at around midnight, killing both pilots. Henry Clifford was buried at St Andrew’s Church, Rochford and a permanent memorial of the accident was placed at the spot where the two planes crashed. The memorial is still there and consists of an aeroplane propeller.

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Memorial to Henry Clifford Stroud

Professor Stroud endowed a physics prize in his son’s honour at the University. Newspapers show that the Henry Clifford Stroud Prize for Physics was still being awarded well into the 1940s.

Eva

Henry’s wife had been born Eva Mary Antoinette Emmett in 1862. Like her husband, she was born in Bristol, the eldest daughter and one of six children of Clifford and Laura Emmett. Her father, Clifford, started as an accountant, in 1881 was clerk to an iron merchant and subsequently took over the business.

Eva was well educated. In 1881, aged 19, she was recorded as a ‘scholar’ (and her name is given as Mary E), signs of an independent spirit or just a slip of the pen? Later documents refer to her as Eva Mary once more.

We don’t know much about Eva’s early adulthood other than that she married Henry in 1887 and had three children. But we do know that, soon after Henry Clifford’s death during WW1, she volunteered her services to the Red Cross and Victoria League, following in the footsteps of her daughter, Irene. Records show that they both worked in the ‘moss room‘. During the first world war, sphagnum moss was collected from peat bogs in industrial quantities, as it had mildly antiseptic properties. The moss was transported to depots where it was dried and made into dressings for use in military hospitals.

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When  Eva died on 3 March 1928,  Henry endowed another prize in her memory, the Eva Marie Antoinette Stroud Prize for Physics.

 Irene and Bessie

It’s relatively unusual to be able to track down what became of the daughters of a family, particularly post the 1911 census. However in the case of the Stroud family, the probate for Henry Stroud following his death in 1940 shows that his estate was to be divided between William Robert Gerald Wthiting and Ralph Oakley Whiting. Further research uncovered that Irene married William in the spring of 1911 and Bessie married his younger brother Ralph in September 1918.

The Whitings were the two sons of William and Marion Whiting. William was the Chief Constructor for the Admiralty. In other words, he was the person overall responsible for the construction of the naval fleet, which clearly influenced the careers of both sons.

William was born on 15th May 1884 and in 1911 was a Naval Architect, boarding at 2 Larkspur Street Jesmond. After marrying Irene, the couple lived at Perivale, Nun’s Moor Crescent. On 26 January 1923 he joined the Institute of Civil Engineers, where the records show that he had an MBE as well as BA. At that time he was working as Personal assistant to the General Manager at Armstrong Naval Yard. He died at the age of 63 on 5th September 1947 in Middlesex Hospital London.

Ralph was born on 16th January 1893, graduating Cambridge Trinity with a BA in Mechanical Sciences in 1914, acquiring an MA in 1918. He immediately joined the Royal Navy, becoming an Instructor Lieutenant in 1921 and Commander (the rank below Captain) in 1949. He was clearly stationed abroad for some of his career as immigration records show Bessie travelling alone to and from Malta, Singapore and Gibraltar in the 1930s, no doubt to be with her husband on his overseas postings.

The couple had at least one son, Anthony Gerald Stroud Whiting, born in 1926 and died in 2008 and he had a daughter Anita Julia Whiting.

What is intriguing about Ralph, Bessie and the family is that they are listed on a website called the Peerage, a genealogical survey of the peerage of Britain. So far I have been unable to determine why exactly. I have however discovered that Anita married the Very Rev. Hon. Dr Richard Crosbie Aitken Henderson, son of Peter Gordon Henderson, Baron Henderson of Brompton in 1985. So at the very least, Bessie and Ralph’s granddaughter is married to the son of a Baron, but there may be more to it. Watch this space.

 Acknowledgements

This article was researched and written by Michael Proctor, Heaton History Group. Thank you to Terry Joyce, who sent a photograph of Henry Clifford Stroud’s grave (reproduced below) and corrected a couple of errors in the article.

Can you help?

Terry Joyce is part of a group which is trying to restore the memorials to Captains Henry Clifford Stroud and Alexander Bruce Kynoch but which first needs to find out who owns them as the landowner denies that he does.

If you can help with this or know anything else about any of the people mentioned in this article, please get in touch either by clicking on the link immediately below the title of this article or by emailing chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

We are always interested to receive information, memories and photos relevant to the history of Heaton.

Henry Clifford Stroud’s grave (Copyright: Terry Joyce)

Kate Elizabeth Ogg Remembered

On 21 April  1919, the day before what would have been his daughter Kate’s 32nd birthday,  Newcastle’s John Ogg replied to a request from the Imperial War Museum in London for a photograph of her. Kate had died just eight weeks earlier.

In his letter, John apologised for the late response and promised that he would find something suitable and ‘forward it on with as little delay as possible’.  Below is the photograph he eventually sent. It can now be seen on the IWM website along with his letters.

 

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Kate Ogg’s photo held by Imperial War Museums

 © IWM (WWC H2-164)

But why would the Imperial War Museum want a photo of Kate and what does it have to do with Heaton? We’ve been finding out.

Bolingbroke Street

Kate Elizabeth Ogg, the first child of John (a brass finisher) and Catherine Ogg  was born in the west end of Newcastle on 22 April 1887. But by the time she was four, she and her younger sister, Maggie, had moved with their parents to 31 Bolingbroke Street in Heaton. Kate started at the nearby Heaton Park Road School in 1894.

By 1901, the family had grown (The now fourteen year old Kate had a younger sister, Edith, and a brother, John) and they had moved across the road to number 46 Bolingbroke Street.

Teacher

Kate was obviously an able scholar because after leaving school, she was employed as a teaching assistant and by 1911 was  employed at Welbeck Road School in Walker. By this time, her father had set up in business as a newsagent and, still single, Kate had moved back to Elswick with her family.

Perhaps to make her journey to work easier, the following year Kate changed school too. The Wingrove Council School log book, now held by Tyne and Wear Archives, records that she began work there as a ‘certified assistant’ on 27 August 1912. And there, but for events hundreds of miles away and totally outside her control, she may well have stayed and so contributed  to the learning of hundreds, if not thousands, of Newcastle schoolchildren for years to come.

Serving in World War One

But, in August 1914, World War One broke out and immediately millions of men volunteered for and later were conscripted into the armed forces. Schools were often short staffed and there were greater opportunities for women like Kate than ever before.

Indeed we know that Wingrove School was under pressure even in subjects traditionally taught by women.  On 10 January 1916, it was recorded in the log book that there were ‘only two ladies on the staff at present – Misses Bone and Ogg have the whole of needlework between them – and accordingly the classes for needlework have been rearranged’.

But sometime before, in 1914, Kate had started training with St John Ambulance and on Saturday 5 June 1915 ‘The Newcastle Daily Journal’ reported examination results in which Kate’s name appears among those successful members of the Novocastria Nursing Division who had been awarded vouchers as prizes.

And the following year, Kate made the momentous decision not merely to contribute to the war effort outside her working hours but to give up her promising teaching career completely for the duration of the conflict. We know that Kate’s brother, John, had joined the Merchant Navy as a wireless operator. He was, for example, on board the SS Lapland, which sailed to New York on 23 June 1915. Whether his dangerous job was a factor in her wanting to devote herself full time to hospital work, we can’t be sure but on 16 April 1916, it was noted in the school log book that ‘ Miss Kate E Ogg ceases duty today (pro tem) to take Military (Hospital) Duty on May 1st’.

She was missed. When, on 1 May,  the school reopened after the Easter holiday, the head wrote in the log book:

‘The vacancy caused by Miss Ogg’s departure has not been filled. This is awkward for it is thus impossible to assist at 1a where the ST (student teacher?) is in charge and is very weak in discipline’

As for Kate, Red Cross records show that on 28 April, eight days after leaving her teaching post, she was engaged as a VAD (Volunteer Aid Detachment) nurse, serving firstly in Fulham Military Hospital, London; then from 1 December 1916 to 31 January 1917 at Liverpool Military Hospital before returning to Newcastle to serve at the 1st Northern General Military Hospital from 10 March 1917.

Pandemic

The war officially ended, of course, on 11 November 1918 but many of those serving couldn’t immediately return to normal life. In the hospitals, there were still injured military personnel  to care for and in fact the need for nurses became greater than ever when troops travelling home from theatres of war brought with them the deadly strain of influenza  in which some 25 to 40 million people are estimated to have died worldwide. The virus spread quickly in cities like Newcastle and young adults such as the returning soldiers and the nurses like Kate who looked after them were worst affected.

Later that winter, on 23 February 1919, Kate Elizabeth Ogg died on active service. Her death was attributed to pneumonia, which was often the result of a serious bout of this deadly strain of influenza. She is buried in St John’s Cemetery, Elswick in a simple grave in which her parents were eventually laid to rest with her.

 

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Detail of Kate Ogg’s grave

 

Kate is commemorated on Wingrove School’s war memorial

 

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Wingrove School war memorial

 

and  is among the 17 Newcastle teachers who lost their lives and are named in ‘The National Union of Teachers War Record: a short account of duty and work accomplished during the war’ published by Hamilton House in 1920.

She is also remembered on the St John Ambulance Brigade Number VI Northern District war memorial, which covers divisions from Northumberland as far south as Whitby, Bridlington and Hull. It is currently stored at Trimdon Station Community Centre in County Durham. You’ll find Kate’s name in the middle of the third column of the centre panel.

 

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With permission of Derek Bradley and Trimdon Station Community Centre

And her name can be seen on page 44 of the St John Ambulance Roll of Honour.

Women in WW1

But why the letter to Kate’s father? The Imperial War Museum had been founded in 1917 and almost immediately put in place plans to ensure that the role of women in war would be recognised and recorded. By the end of the first world war, almost 700 women were known to have died and it is thanks to the diligence of the Women’s Work Subcommittee, even after Armistice day, that we have Kate’s photograph and read her father’s letters. Volunteers have recently digitised them so that they can be viewed online. Many, including Kate, have been researched as part of the Lives of the First World War project.

Finally, in the 1920s, money was raised for the restoration of a window in York Minster as a memorial to all the women of the empire who lost their lives as a result of the war. The Five Sisters window and oak panels list 1,400 women, including  Kate. They were officially opened on 24 June 1925 by the Duchess of York in the presence of family members of many of the women commemorated.

Kate Elizabeth Ogg will never be forgotten.

 

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Kate Ogg,  commemorated in St Nicholas’ Chapel, York Minster

 

Postscript

Kate’s brother, John, happily survived the war and married Margaret W Hunter in 1918. In 1939, the couple were living in Newburn.  John died in 1957, with probate granted to a Robert William Ogg (perhaps his son) who died in 1976.

In 1917, her sister, Maggie, had married William Robert Appleby who is buried in the family grave, though Maggie does not appear to be. And sister Edith married Robert T Hunter in 1918.

We hope eventually to make contact with descendants of the Ogg family.

Can you help?

If you know more about Kate Ogg or her family or have photographs or anecdotes you’d like 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

This article was researched by Arthur Andrews and John Hulme, who drew our attention to Kate Ogg’s story, with additional input from Chris Jackson. Thank you also to Keith Fisher for his photo-editing. The research forms part of our Historic England funded ‘Shakespeare Streets’ project in which we are working with Hotspur and Chillingham Road Primary Schools to explore both Heaton’s theatrical heritage and the people of the streets named in William Shakespeare’s honour.

Heaton Herbals

In the Newcastle trade directories from 1914-1923 the head of household of 2 Warwick Street, Heaton,  George Kingdon, was described as a ‘herbalist’. We decided to try to find out more about Mr Kingdon and the practice of herbal medicine in Newcastle and, especially, Heaton. Our research threw up some fascinating characters.

A bit of history

The practice of looking for therapeutic properties in plants dates back thousands of years, with the ‘Pen Tsao’ or ‘The Great Herbal of China’ dating back to c3000BC and the ‘Ebers’ papyrus, which listed around 700 herbal medicine used in Egypt, to about 2000BC. In ancient Rome, Pliny believed that there was a specific herbal remedy for every disorder, if only it could be found.

In Britain, Nicolas Culpepper’s ‘English Physician and Complete Herbal’ was published in the middle of the seventeenth century but, unlike in ancient China, Egypt and Rome, Culpepper incorporated magic and astrology into his work. When belief in magic faded, the popularity of herbalism waned too, although small herbal shops continued to exist, particularly in the north of England. In 1864 the National Institute of Medical Herbalists, was founded to improve standards, although old-style unqualified herbalists continued to practise.

Consumptive Cure

One of the most well known practitioners in Newcastle certainly wasn’t qualified. We might well consider him a ‘quack’ but his name will be familiar to anyone who lived in Newcastle before the mid 1980s. He’s George Handyside, who was born in Newton on the Moor, Northumberland in 1821. He started out as a shoe manufacturer and retailer in Berwick upon Tweed but soon had over 50 shops across north east England. By 1855, he had moved to Elswick in Newcastle and started to invest in property and, in 1888, he began a new business, as a ‘maker and vendor of medicinal cures’.

HerbalHandysidecartoon

Handyside’s most famous product was a ‘cure‘ for consumption but he also advertised ‘Blood Food’, ‘Blood Purifier’, ‘Blood Medicine’ and ‘Nerve Restorer’ (said to cure all appetite for alcohol), amongst other things. He’d hit on another successful business idea in the days before the NHS when, not only did conventional medicine not offer treatments for many common conditions, but also treatment by a doctor was beyond the means of many people.

George Handyside himself lived a long life. He died on 6 May 1904. His funeral was a huge affair with more than 1,000 mourners, mainly poorer people who believed they had benefitted from his medicines, along with those who remembered him as kindly neighbour. His biggest property development yet, an arcade on Percy Street, was still incomplete. It was finished after his death and named the ‘Handyside Arcade’.

Contemporaries

But Handyside was by no means the only herbalist operating in Newcastle during the 19th Century. Ward’s Directory of 1857-58, for example, lists six including a J Thomas (hopefully not wholly appropriately) ‘agent to Dr Coffin’ and James Wood, (‘dealer in British and Importer of Foreign Herbs, Barks, Roots etc‘).

HerbaladWood

In 1865, there were still six including James Wood still and now also Austin’s of Low Bridge, who promoted his ‘celebrated camomile, stomachic and aperient pills…’ .

HerbaladAustin

Twentieth Century

By 1900, Newcastle had expanded considerably and there were two herbalists on Shields Road: German, John James Reinecke, at 113 and Miss E Halsey at 42 Shields Road West. It is now that George Kingdon is first recorded in Newcastle. He ran Newcastle Herbal Medicine Stores at 110 New Bridge Street.

In Court

On 14 May 1901 George Kingdon appeared before Newcastle Police Court on a charge of keeping a refreshment house without a licence. Under the Refreshment House Act of 1860, refreshment houses were  defined as ‘all houses, rooms, shops or buildings kept open for public refreshment, resort and entertainment between 10pm and 5am not being licensed for the sale of beer, cider, wine or spirits’. The act required the keeper of a refreshment house that was open at any time between 10pm and 5am to apply for a licence. The Act was a way of monitoring establishments kept open at night for the sale of food or drink and ensuring that they weren’t operating as public houses, off licences, brothels etc.

In court, Police Sergeant Bestwick reported that he had entered Mr Kingdon’s premises in New Bridge Street at 12.10am on 3 March and bought a bottle of ‘botanic beer’ for which he paid a penny. Kingdon’s lawyer, Mr Parsons, drew the court’s attention to notices in the window of the shop which stated that tonics were sold, including one that read ‘Sarsaparilla, the great blood purifier’. When the prosecution asked Sergeant Bestwick whether the drink had a medicinal act, he replied that he’d only drunk half a bottle. The defence said ‘That wasn’t enough’.

When asked why the establishment was open at that hour, Mr Parsons said that it was not a refreshment house as covered by the act and that his client practised as a medical herbalist, selling spectacles etc, ‘everything that a chemist would sell except the scheduled poisons’. Furthermore he said that Mr Lucock, the Police-court Missionary, called regularly for a drink, believing that it did him good to which the Clerk of Court retorted ‘One needs a pick-me-up after leaving here!’

The role of the Court Missionary is interesting. It originated in London, funded by the Church of England, and was intended to steer criminals away from drink. Within a few years,  the idea had been adopted by more towns and cities and is acknowledged as the fore-runner of the probation service. Mention of the court missionary in this case appears to confirm the connections known to exist between herbalists and the temperance movement.

Despite the defence’s case, the bench’s decision was that the house was a place of refreshment under the Act and Kingdon was fined ten shillings plus costs.

George Kingdom

George Kingdon was born in Cardiff in c1866 but his early life remains  a mystery. What we do know is that by 1900 he’d moved to Newcastle and by the following year, he was described in the census as a ‘herbalist shopkeeper’ living with his wife Florence, who originated in Islington, London, at 32 Shields Road West, with a boarder called James Fielding Mattinson, aged 78, from Leeds, who was described as a ‘herbalist’s assistant’. Kingdon’s shop was downstairs at number 34. He no longer seemed to run a shop in New Bridge Street.

By 1911, George and Florence had a six year old daughter, Charlotte, and were living at 12 Stannington Avenue, Heaton, along with a domestic servant. George was still described as a ‘herbalist shopkeeper’ and he was still running the Shields Road West shop. From 1914 the couple lived at 2 Warwick Street.

We also know that George was a freemason, first at Lord Collingwood Lodge in Byker (He is mentioned in the ‘Newcastle Journal’ of 2 November 1914 as having donated £18 on behalf of the lodge to support Belgian refugees.) and then at Heaton Lodge. He died on 5 March 1923, leaving £8,183 8s 10d in his will. Florence outlived him. For a short time the Shields Road West shop continued with J W Young the proprietor but after World War 2 it became Oxteby’s Corn Stores and by the late 1960s a pet shop. It’s long since been demolished.

More Heaton Herbalists

By 1902, there was a herbalist practising in Heaton itself, Alfred Thomas Raper at 34 North View. Alfred was a former cartman from Yorkshire, who lived in Heaton with his wife, Sarah, and their six children before moving his business to County Durham. There was also a new herbalist in New Bridge Street, Alfred Salmon Barnfather’s at number 59.

Ten years later Bartholomew Westgarth, a local man who had previously kept a butcher’s shop at 65 Seventh Avenue and at 53 Chillingham Road and before that was a waterman,  was running a herbal medicine business from his home at 40 Rothbury Terrace. (Incidentally, Bartholomew was married to Elizabeth nee Hepple and on census night 1911, her nephew, John Wilson Hepple, a prominent local artist was staying with them.)

Also at this time Fred William Bernard was operating from 57 Heaton Road, a property well-known to older Heatonians as the ice-cream parlour.

Fred Bernard

Luckily for us in the early 1930s, F W Bernard published a book ‘The Rational and Natural Treatment of Disease by Medical Herbalism’, in which he promotes his products and gives a little information about himself. There is even a photo.

HerbalistBernard

Fred William Bernard

 

Fred was born in Bradford in c1882 and by 1911 was married with a seven year old daughter, Doris, and living in Heaton.

In his book, he says that he has been ‘connected with the herbal trade since a boy’ . He relates how some 15 years earlier, he had acquired the well established and previously mentioned New Bridge Street firm of J M Barnfather. He doesn’t mention possessing any specific qualifications or accreditation but asserts that ‘the various herbs, roots and barks stocked by me are gathered by trained botanists at the correct season and are dried and packed and are strictly hygienic conditions‘ and he quotes Taylor’s Chemists, Boots Cash Chemists, Principle Co-operative Stores and others as stockists of ‘Bernard’s Herbal Medicines’. He cites references from as far away as Inverness-shire and New Zealand.

HerbalBernard2

Fred died on 28 June 1941 leaving just over £11,000 in his will, with probate awarded to Second Lieutenant Leon Bernard and Frederick Bernard, herbalist. His knowledge lived on.

Sarsaparilla

Like George Kingdon thirty years earlier, Fred sold sarsaparilla (the roots of ‘smilax officianalis’, a perennial, trailing vine, native to Mexico and Central America.) as a ‘blood purifier’. His ‘finest Jamaica sarsaparilla’ cost 1s 6d per packer and was recommended for children and adults ‘for at least eight weeks every spring time’.

Herbalsarsrecipe

Thank you to G Baldwin & Co, still going strong on Walworth Road, London for permission to use this image

 

Sarsaparilla,  celebrated in the lyric in ‘Calamity Jane’: ‘Introducing Henry Miller, Just as busy as a fizzy sasparilla’  is still used as an ingredient in both herbal medicine and soft drinks. The sarsaparilla drinks you can buy today are mainly flavoured artificially but some, like those of Baldwin & Co, use a small amount of root extract.

With the advent of the National Health Service, the popularity of herbal medicine declined but it never fell out of favour completely and in Britain, and indeed Newcastle, was boosted by increased immigration from China and by a gradual realisation that conventional medicine didn’t have all the answers. And now increasingly universities, including Newcastle, and pharmaceutical companies are employing cutting edge scientific techniques to work out how to extract valuable plant compounds for use in mainstream medicine.

And you only need to call into Boots on Chillingham Road or any of our chemists and supermarkets to see how popular herbal remedies still are. Heaton’s George Kingdon, Fred Bernard and co might not have had formal medical qualifications but they knew a winner when they saw one.

Can you help?

If you have information, anecdotes or photographs of anybody mentioned in this article or herbalism in Heaton that you are willing to share, please either write direct to this page by clicking on the link immediately below the article title, or email chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Sources

‘Fringe Medicine’ by Brian Inglis; Faber and Faber, 1964

‘George Handyside: Newcastle entrepreneur and quack vendor’ by David Robertson and Alan Blakeman; BBR Publishing, 2007

‘The Rational and Natural Treatment of Disease by Medical Herbalism’ by F W Bernard; 1932.

plus online sources.

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Chris Jackson, Heaton History Group as part of our Historic England funded ‘Shakespeare Streets’ project.

 

 

 

 

VAD recruitment poster

VAD Nurses in Heaton’s Avenues

Following the end of the Boer War, the War Office was concerned that, in the event of another conflict, the medical and nursing services wouldn’t be able to cope sufficiently. The peacetime needs of a standing army, in relation to medical care, were very small and specific, and to find thousands of trained and experienced personnel at very short notice, without the expense of maintaining them in peacetime, was a difficult problem to overcome. On 16 August 1909 the War Office issued its ‘Scheme for the Organisation of Voluntary Aid in England and Wales’, which set up both male and female Voluntary Aid Detachments to fill certain gaps in the Territorial medical services. By early 1914, 1757 female detachments and 519 male detachments had been registered with the War Office.

VAD recruitment poster

VAD recruitment poster

When war came, the Red Cross and Auxiliary hospitals sprung up rapidly in church halls, public buildings and private houses, accommodating anything from ten patients to more than a hundred. The proportion of trained nurses in the units was small, and much of the basic work was the responsibility of the VADs – they cleaned, scrubbed and dusted, set trays, cooked breakfasts; they lit fires and boiled up coppers full of washing. They also helped to dress, undress and wash the men – which was of course a big step for young women who may never have been alone and unchaperoned with a member of the opposite sex before, other than their brothers.

There were about 50,000 women involved in the movement immediately before the war, and it’s thought that in total somewhere between 70,000 and 100,000 women served as VADs at some time during the war, some for very short periods, some for up to five years.

As part of the commemoration of the centenary of World War 1, the Red Cross has been digitising its VAD records, which has allowed us to identify three VAD nurses living in the avenues as well as two male members of voluntary aid detachments, shedding some light on their lives and contributions as well as the role that they played during the war.

The English Family

The English family lived at 30 Third Avenue, Heaton. The 1911 census shows Robert English (55), a plumber, and his wife, Isabella (48), had four children living at home, twins Annie and Mary Jane (28), Isabella (20) and William 18.

In 1911, William was working as a stained glass designer. On 29 October 1915, aged 22, he enlisted in the army. His military record describes him as 5’ 8” in height and weighing 7st 8lbs. His physical development was described as ‘spare’, with a chest measurement of 33 1/2 inches. It was noted that his sight was defective, except when wearing spectacles. He also had slight varicose veins. These were deemed as slight defects that were not significant enough to cause rejection. Given his physical development, it is perhaps not surprising that he was placed into the Royal Army Service Corps rather than a combat roll.

Four days after enlisting, on 1 November 1915, William married Lillian Phillips at St Gabriel’s Church. The next day, he joined his regiment at Aldershot. What is interesting about William, is not his relatively unremarkable military career, but that both his sister, Mary Jane, and his new wife, Lillian, were to go on to become VAD nurses.

Mary Jane English and the Liverpool Merchants’ Hospital

Mary Jane saw service with the VAD from 2 October 1915 to 12 November 1917 and is listed as a sister, although it’s not clear whether this meant she was a qualified nurse. Interestingly, the 1911 census does not show any employment for Mary, although it is possible that she trained as a nurse between then and the start of the war. Mary was posted to the No 6 Hospital of the British Red Cross in Etaples, also known as the Liverpool Merchants Hospital. She was awarded the 1915 star for her service.

The Liverpool Merchants’ Hospital was constructed and equipped from funds raised by members of the Liverpool Chamber of Commerce, making it unique. The hospital opened at the end of July 1915 and treated over 20,000 people during the course of the war at a cost of some £90,000. s a Base Hospital, the hospital had 252 beds and formed part of the casualty evacuation chain, further back from the front line than the Casualty Clearing Stations. In the theatre of war in France and Flanders, the British hospitals were generally located near the coast. They needed to be close to a railway line, in order for casualties to arrive; they also needed to be near a port where men could be evacuated for longer term treatment in Britain.

Staff of the Liverpool Merchants' Hospital

Staff of the Liverpool Merchants’ Hospital where Mary Jane English served

A report from the ‘Liverpool Courier’ in January 1920 gives a description of the facilities: ‘There were eight pavilion wards, each to accommodate 27 patients, with their own nurses’ duty rooms, sink, stores and cupboards, also large linen store; and each ward had attached to it a two-bed ward for special cases. Each large ward had also its own bath and lavatory. The operation block and the kitchen block were situated in the centre of the hospital. The operation block contained also X-ray room with dark room attached, an anaesthetic room, preparation room, operating theatre, dispensary, laboratory, medical store room, splint room, quarter-master’s and matron’s store rooms and ambulance stores.’

The article closes by saying:

‘Let it be recorded to the everlasting glory of Liverpool that the Merchants’ Hospital, the only military hospital which has been “designed, built, equipped, staffed, managed, and financed” entirely by the citizens of a particular city, has never been prevented from the fullest performance of the duties for which it was devised by lack of funds.’

This last fact is particularly interesting, as all of the records show that the hospital was staffed exclusively by the people of Liverpool. It’s not clear what relationship the English family had with Liverpool, or indeed if the necessities of war meant that this particular point was overlooked in the interests of providing a service.

Lillian English and the Australian Hospital

Lillian English married William on 1 November 1915. She was the youngest daughter of Alfred and Sarah Phillips of West Jesmond. The 1911 census shows Alfred as a letterpress machine overseer in the printing industry, with 19 year old Lillian working as an assistant at a music dealer and her older step sister Mary Gregory (28) working as a booksewer in a bookbinder’s. After their marriage, Lillian continued to live at her parents’ home, 34 Mowbray Street, Heaton and William’s military record was amended to show this as his address. The couple continued to live with Lillian’s parents for several years after the war.

Perhaps inspired by the experiences and contribution of her sister-in-law, Mary, Lillian also joined the Voluntary Aid Detachment on 6 March 1918, some four months after Mary returned from Etaples. Lillian’s stay in the service was however somewhat shorter, as she was discharged one month later on 8 April 1918. This initially caused us much speculation. Typically, VAD nurses would have one month probation and it appeared at first that either she was considered unsuited for the work or could not herself cope with it. However, the answer to her hasty departure became apparent when we discovered that William and Lillian’s only daughter, Monica, was born 12 November 1918. Obviously conceived during William’s leave, Lillian must have been about four weeks pregnant when she took up her post, a fact that would have become apparent during her brief placement, leading to her premature return home. Lillian spent her brief assignment with the VAD posted to the Australian Hospital, Harefield.

Some of the buildings at Harefield Park

Some of the buildings at Harefield Park where Lillian English served

In November 1914 Mr and Mrs Charles Billyard-Leake, Australians resident in the UK, offered their home, Harefield Park House and its grounds, to the Minister of Defence in Melbourne for use as a convalescent home for wounded soldiers of the Australian Imperial Forces (AIF). The property became the No. 1 Australian Auxiliary Hospital in December 1914. It was the only purely Australian hospital in England. The Hospital consisted of Harefield Park House, a 3-storey plain brick building, some out-buildings and grounds of some 250 acres. It was proposed that the Hospital would accommodate 60 patients in the winter and 150 in the summer. It would be a rest home for officers and other ranks, and also a depot for collecting invalided soldiers to be sent back to Australia. As Harefield Park House could only accommodate a quarter of the number expected, hutted wards were built on the front lawn, and a mess hall for 120 patients in the courtyard.

As the war progressed the hospital grew rapidly, becoming a general hospital. At the height of its use it accommodated over 1000 patients and the nursing staff had expanded to 74 members. Nearly 50 buildings were in use, including workshops, garages, stores, messes, canteens, a recreation hall (where concerts and film shows were held), a billiards rooms, writing rooms, a library, a cookhouse, a detention room and a mortuary. For entertainment, tours to London were arranged and paid for out of canteen funds, and the ladies of the district made their cars available for country trips, picnics and journeys to and from the railway station, both for patients and visitors. The hospital gradually closed down during January 1919 and the whole site was sold to Middlesex County Council who planned to build a tuberculosis sanatorium. The site is now the site of Harefield Hospital.

Irene Neylon

Mary Irene Neylon was born in 1881 in Ireland. Somewhere around the end of the 19th Century, Irene and her sister Susannah moved to Newcastle, possibly to join their Uncle James, a wine and spirit manager living in Jesmond. Irene lived at 60, Third Avenue, with her sister and her husband John William Carr and their family. She never married and remained at Third Avenue until her death on 16 March 1947, where probate records show that she left effects to the value of £164 3s.

Irene was working as a shop clerk at the time of the 1901 census, but by 1911 had trained as a nurse and was working at the Infirmary of the Newcastle upon Tyne Workhouse (later to become Newcastle General Hospital). Between 27 February 1917 and 20 January 1919 Irene is listed on the Red Cross Records as being a VAD Nurse. Unfortunately, Irene’s record only lists her placement as T.N. dept, so it’s not clear exactly where she was posted. However, we do know that part of the infirmary was taken over by the army to treat venereal diseases, with beds for 48 officers and 552 other ranks, so it is possible that she continued to work at the same location but with a different employer. What sets Irene apart from the other VAD members in the Avenues is that she was, as a qualified nurse, a paid employee, earning £1 1s per week when she joined, rising to £1 4s 10d when she was discharged.

Irene Neylon's VAD record card

Irene Neylon’s VAD record card

Life as a VAD Nurse

‘Do your duty loyally
Fear God
Honour the King

And only the Master shall praise us, and only the Master shall blame.
And no one shall work for money, and no one shall work for fame,
But each for the joy of working, and each in his separate star,
Shall draw the thing as he sees it for the God of things as they are.’

These were the final inspirational comments of a message from the Commander in Chief of the VAD, Katherine Furse. The message was handed to each VAD nurse before they embarked. The message was to be considered by each V.A.D. member as confidential and to be kept in her Pocket Book.

The nurses were subject to full military discipline and required to assist in any way they could, with only minimal training. Given that we know that Harefield, for example, only had 74 nurses for its 1000 beds, it’s safe to assume that VAD nurses would have been carrying out most of the care. They wore a distinctive blue uniform with a white apron and sleeves and a red cross on the apron to distinguish them from other nursing staff.

VAD uniform

VAD uniform

The rules they were expected to work to included detail around personal cleanliness and presentation, including gargling morning and evening, but especially in the evening with carbolic, 1 in 60; listerine, 1 teaspoonful to 5 oz. water; glyco-thymoline and water, ½ and ½. They also advised combing the hair with a fine toothed comb every day!

There are several contemporary accounts of the lives of VAD nurses, including this from Kathleen Marion Barrow, who worked at a base hospital in France, similar to that where Mary Jane English worked:

‘In France, when convoy after convoy poured in, and when one piteous wreck after another, whose bandages were stiff with mud and blood, had been deposited on a clean white bed; the extent of a VAD’s work was bound to be decided far more by the measure of her capacity than by rule of seniority, or red tape. Matron and sisters soon discovered those whose skill, quickness and level-headedness, justified trust. In every new venture there are few who have not to walk for a space some time or other in the Valley of Humiliation, the military hospitals in France were a magnificent school, not only for actual nursing, but for self-control and nerve.’

She also talks of the comradeship and the humour amidst the pain and tragedy: ‘One recalls the dummy – carefully charted and hideously masked – which was tucked into bed for the benefit of the VAD and orderly when they came on night duty, and the stifled laughter under the bedclothes in adjoining beds. One recalls, too, the great occasions when some Royal or notable person came to visit the wards. Then we spent ourselves in table decorations, emptied the market of flowers, or ransacked the woods and meadows for willow or catkins, ox-eyed daisies or giant kingcups. Incidentally, we made the boys’ lives a burden to them by our meticulous care in smoothing out sheets, tucking in corners, and repairing the slightest disorder occasioned by every movement on their part, till the occasion was over. Sometimes the expected visitor did not turn up, and when another rumour of a projected visit was brought into the ward by a VAD, she was hardly surprised to find that her announcement was greeted on all sides by the somewhat blasphemous chorus of “Tell me the old, old story.” ‘

Male VAD members

Interestingly, our search for VAD nurses on the avenues identified two male members of Voluntary Aid Detachments: William Holmes and Richard Farr, both members of the St Peter’s Works Division, allocated to air raids, coast defences and convoys and employed as part of the St John’s Ambulance Brigade’s 6th division.

William Holmes, aged 51 at the start of the war, lived at 25, Eighth Avenue, with his wife Maria and five children, three of them, Harriet, William and Mary being adults.

Richard Farr, aged 32 at the start of the war, lived at 45, Second Avenue, with his wife Mary and nine year old daughter Madge.

Both were marine fitters and joined the detachment on 4 August 1914. William was too old to fight, but it’s not clear whether Richard was subsequently called up, although it is possible, given the nature of their work, that they would have been exempted. Although it was not a naval base as such, Tyneside played a huge role in World War One. A third of all the battleships and more than a quarter of the destroyers completed for the Admiralty were built here. Many other naval vessels were repaired on the Tyne particularly after the Battle of Jutland. There were no fewer than 19 shipyards on the Tyne at the outbreak of war, and five of them were big enough to build warships. Hawthorn Leslie alone built 25 royal navy vessels during the war.

Unlike the VAD nurses, the role that William and Richard would have played is much less clearly documented, although it is clear that they were expected to work on an as required basis, most likely dealing with emergencies and possibly manning coastal monitoring stations such as those at Blyth and Tynemouth.

That we have identified five Voluntary Aid Detachment members just from the ten Heaton Avenues* perhaps gives some indication of scale of the enterprise. What is even more startling is to recognise that the women in particular came from all walks of life and, with very few exceptions, worked, often for a number of years, on a purely voluntary basis, receiving no pay and little recognition for their huge commitment to the war effort.

Heaton Avenues in Wartime

This article was researched and written by Michael Proctor, with additional input from Arthur Andrews, for Heaton History Group’s ‘Heaton Avenues in Wartime’ project, which has been funded by Heritage Lottery Fund.

*Postscript

Since this article was written, the Red Cross has continued to post the names of VAD volunteers and so far we have found four more from Heaton’s avenues:

Annie Maud Monaghan, 90 Second Avenue

Lillian Rankin, 21 First Avenue

Annie Isabella Richardson, 55 Tenth Avenue

William Ernest Statton, 27 Ninth Avenue

Those from elsewhere in Heaton include:

Margaret Dora Burke, 146 Trewhitt Road (who served in France)

Mary Douthwaite, Woodlands, Alexandra Road, who served in France and was mentioned in dispatches (30/12/1918)

Mary Haswell, 7 Stratford Villas (who served in France)

Kate Ogg, originally of 21 Bolingbroke Street, who died of influenza on 23 February 1919 while on active duty

Mary Sharpley, 3 Jesmond Vale Terrace, who served in Egypt and was mentioned in dispatches (5/3/1917)

Plus:

Mollie Allen, 62 Chillingham Road

Thomas Atkinson, Street 150 Hotspur Street

Ralph Boyd 160 Warwick Street

Hannah Buttery, 28 Sefton Avenue

John D Cant, 19 Trewhitt Road

Margaret Clare Checkie, 88 Bolingbroke Street

Mary Cowell, 36 Wandsworth Road

Margaret Annie Douthwaite, 3 Alexandra Road

Ernest Edward England, 99 Rothbury Terrace

Mary P Field, Silverdale, Lesbury Road

Gertrude Fotherby, Silverdale, Lesbury Road

Florence Garvey, 9 Meldon Terrace

Alberta Louise Gerrie, 137 Addycombe Terrace

Robert G Horne, 64 Balmoral Terrace

Gladys Mary Miller, 16 Bolingbroke Street

Hilda Oliver, Bellegrove, Lesbury Road

Jane Ethel Park, Westville, Heaton Road

Mary Isabella Roberts, Heaton Hall

E D Scott, 21 King John Terrace

Eva May Stroud, Cresta, Heaton Road

W Theobold, 39 Cardigan Terrace

Matthew Tulip, 13 King John Street

Elizabeth H Turner, 22 Bolingbroke Street

Jennie Walton, 10 Falmouth Road

Laura Whitford, 17 Guildford Place

Irene Helena Whiting, Cresta, Heaton Road

J Wilson, 101 Warwick Street

Can you help?

If you know more about any of the people mentioned in this article, please get in touch either by posting directly to this site by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or by emailing Chris Jackson, Secretary of Heaton History Group at chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Fred Robinson's gravestone

Fred Blenkinsop Robinson: teenage soldier who died of flu

Frederick Blenkinsop Robinson was born on 19 March 1900 and lived his entire life on Sixth Avenue, Heaton. He was the third of four children born to Joseph and Margaret Robinson. Joseph was a commercial traveller, born in York. He married Margaret Jane Blenkinsop of Newcastle in 1895 and the couple lived at no 13 Sixth Avenue. The 1911 census shows Joseph, aged 39 and Margaret, aged 41, living with their four children: Margaret May, aged 15; Joseph, aged 13; Frederick Blenkinsop, aged 11; and Thomas, aged 9. The family also had a lodger, William Blenkinsop, a 26 year old railway porter, who must have been a relative of Margaret.

Young life

Fred would have been only 14 at the start of the war and, like his siblings, was a pupil at Chillingham Road School. After leaving school, he became an apprentice fitter at Henry Watson and Sons Engineering Works in High Bridge, Walkergate. The company made cylinder blocks for commercial and marine engines as well as specialist pumps. An article in Commercial Motor on 5 September 1912, notes that the London General Omnibus Company were using cylinder blocks and pistons from Henry Watson and Sons exclusively for their B-type buses. The article particularly praises the quality of the work produced at the Walkergate factory in a new foundry specially built to produce commercial vehicle engines components.

Fred was almost too young to have been involved in the war and certainly too young to have fought at the front (young men could join up at 18, but weren’t posted to the front until they reached 19). Yet he died on 1 March 1919, 18 days short of his 19th birthday, some four months after the end of the war and is listed as a casualty of war, buried in a Commonwealth War Grave at Byker and Heaton Cemetery. 

Fred Robinson's gravestone

Fred Robinson’s gravestone

His is a particularly sad story among many such stories from the war.

Military service

It is likely that Fred’s older brother, Joseph, had joined the forces when he was 18, two years before although no record of his military service survives. We know that he survived the war and is mentioned in a list of family in Fred’s military record. Fred was obviously keen to sign up to do his military service, as he attended his initial medical assessment on 26 March 1918, one week after his 18th birthday. He passed this and was enlisted on 19 April. On 19 August, 102540, Private Frederick Robinson of the 5th Reserve Battalion of The Durham Light Infantry was called up and posted to Sutton on Hull in East Yorkshire for his initial training.

Fred was in hospital – the St John’s VAD Hospital in Hull – when the armistice was signed, having fallen ill with diarrhoea on 10 October, which he took 35 days to recover from. He might reasonably have expected that his time in the army would either be short or would at least involve less risk of death or serious injury. In Fred’s case, his discharge was rather shorter than he might have expected. By December, a process of discharge on the grounds of disability had started. On 13 December in a personal statement, Fred records that he has chronic discharge from both ears and resultant deafness. This had started about a month before he had joined up, but had got worse since.

When he examined Fred on 30 January, Lieutenant JD Evans of the Royal Army Medical Corps recorded that ‘there is a high degree of deafness and discharge from both ears. He says that this is worse since joining the army and he has certainly become more deaf since joining the unit. He is utterly unable to hear any commands unless they are shouted close to his ears and he is quite unfit for camp life.’ He recommended discharge on the grounds that he was permanently unfit. Today, we would think little of an ear infection which would be quickly and effectively treated with a course of antibiotics, but in 1918 it could be a permanent disability, leaving lasting damage even if and when the infection cleared up.

On 2 February, Fred was transferred to the OC Discharge Centre at Ripon to prepare for discharge. Six days later, he was admitted to the Military hospital at Ripon with influenza. The medical record notes that he was admitted unconscious, before going on to develop bronchopneumonia and late emphysema. On 26 February, an attempt was made to relieve the emphysema surgically, but to no avail. Fred died on 1st March, with his family with next of kin with him.

Pandemic

The 1918 flu pandemic ran from January 1918 to December 1920 and was unusually deadly It infected 500 million people across the world, including remote Pacific islands and the Arctic, and killed 50 to 100 million of them: three to five per cent of the world’s population. Two factors made it particularly deadly. Firstly, the unique conditions of the war. While the location of the first cases is disputed, the crowded and unsanitary conditions at the front made an ideal breeding ground. What is more, cases of flu are often limited by having sufferers stay at home. During the war, the opposite happened, with those affected transferred away from the front to hospitals both locally and in the soldiers’ home country, spreading the disease around the world. Secondly, flu most often affects the weakest, killing the young and old and those with existing medical conditions. The 1918 pandemic killed mainly healthy adults. Modern research has concluded that the virus killed through a cytokine storm (overreaction of the body’s immune system). The strong immune reactions of young adults ravaged the body, whereas the weaker immune systems of children and middle-aged adults resulted in fewer deaths among those groups.

To maintain morale, wartime censors minimized early reports of illness and mortality in Germany, Britain, France, and the United States; but papers were free to report the epidemic’s effects in neutral Spain (such as the grave illness of King Alfonso XIII), creating a false impression of Spain as especially hard hit, thus the pandemic’s nickname Spanish flu.

 Commemoration

In his report of Fred’s death, Major PW Hampton noted that ‘in my opinion death was attributable to service during the present war, viz exposure and infection on Home Service’. By doing so, he ensured that Fred could be buried in a Commonwealth War Grave and that his family would be entitled to a memorial scroll and plaque as well as service medals. This must have been of some comfort to his grieving family. Fred’s service record includes a copy of the slip that accompanied the memorial scroll to confirm receipt. This notes that the plaque will be issued directly from the Government plaque factory.

After the end of the war in 1918, Britain began the long process of commemorating the service of those who had lost their lives during its course. As part of this, the government issued to their next-of-kin (in addition to any of the standard campaign medals an individual might have been entitled to had they lived) what was known as the Memorial Plaque and the Memorial Scroll. The plaque was a bronze disc, about 5 inches in diameter, and depicted Britannia holding a trident whilst standing with a lion, holding an oak wreath above a rectangular tablet bearing the deceased’s name cast in raised letters. Rank and regiment was not included, since there was to be no distinction between sacrifices made by different individuals.

WW1 memorial plaque

WW1 memorial plaque

This was complimented by the Memorial Scroll, which provided additional information as to rank, branch of service or any decorations awarded.The scroll itself was a little smaller than a modern A4 sheet of paper, printed on thick card, and came in three main varieties. Those to the Army had a large blue H in the main text, with the rank/name/regiment hand-written at the bottom in red ink. Those to the Navy had a large red H, with the hand-written naming at the bottom in blue ink. Finally, those to the RAF had a large black H in the main text, with the hand-written naming at the bottom in both red and blue ink.

WW1 memorial scroll

WW1 memorial scroll

Clearly there was some delay in the issuing of plaques as a letter from Fred’s mother, Margaret, dated 13 November 1921 enquires about a memorial plaque and medals.

Margaret Robinson's letter requesting a plaque and Victory Medal for her son

Margaret Robinson’s letter requesting a plaque and Victory Medal for her son

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Fred was also commemorated on war memorials at Chillingham Road School and St Gabriel’s Church in Heaton.

Chillingham Road School War Memorial

Chillingham Road School War Memorial

St Gabriel's Church War Memorial

St Gabriel’s Church War Memorial

Postscript

Fred wasn’t the only young person from the Avenues or from Heaton known to have died of flu (or as the result an unnamed disease thought likely to be influenza) during the 1918-19 pandemic. They include:

Able Seaman John James Hedley of 12 Eighth Avenue, husband of Corrie Hedley and formerly a boot salesman, who died on 16 October 1918 and is buried at Saint Andrew and Jesmond Cemetery.

This list will be updated as our ‘Heaton Avenues in Wartime’ research progresses.

Heaton Avenues in Wartime

This article was researched and written by Michael Proctor, with additional input by members of our ‘Heaton Avenues in Wartime’ research team. The project is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. If you have further information about anything relating to the article, please get in touch either via this website (by clicking on the link immediately below the article title) or by emailing: chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org