Category Archives: Manufacturing and Engineering

Heaton Ice Cream Parlour in 1950

Heaton’s Paper Paradise

Keith Fisher has vivid memories of growing up in Heaton in the 1950s and ’60s. Here he recalls an encounter with an old Heaton business that most of us won’t have been aware of – and brings its story up to date:

Travelling south on Heaton Road there’s a final block of houses and shops on your right just before you cross the railway line.  It used to accommodate the Co-op chemist, barber Peter Darling, Gazzilli’s ice-cream parlour, and finally, at the end, a shop that never attracted much attention who sold ball-bearings if I remember correctly: well, I suppose someone had to.

Heaton Ice Cream Parlour in 1950

Just before that unassuming outlet for little steel balls, there remained a couple of houses; at one time, of course, they may all have been houses, with the possible exception of the pharmacy.  One of these houses – until then quite unregistered in our existence – opened its door to us after our gran had treated my sister and myself to ice-cream on an evening in coldest, darkest December.  We were led into a front room lit by a tired gas mantle plus a fire in the range attended by an old lady sitting in a dark corner.

Val and I were about five or six years old, so it was still the 1950s, and Gran must have been about fifty five – which we thought was terribly old; but that lady in that gloomy room must have been eighty five at least, and, just like our great gran: ancient beyond our conception.

However, not all of this was inconceivable to us, considering the majority of Byker was still without electricity; and Shieldfield folk, where our maternal grandparents and assorted family lived, were still comfortably co-existing with those big old black-leaded ranges that were the forerunner to our Agas.  We’d seen ironing done on the kitchen table with a pair of flat irons heated on the range; and eaten Yorkshire Puddings cooked in a big, square, cast-iron dish from the ‘oven bottom‘ (the finest I’ve ever eaten); we’d heard the whistle of the kettle hanging above the coals; and smelt the overwhelming aroma of kippers cooked on a rack over a glowing wood fire; all just part of the life our father’s parents, then our mother, had left behind to live in new-build semi-detached flats on the Heaton Hall Estate.

Aladdin’s cave

So back in that unfamiliar house the air of mystery was not the anachronistic room, nor the presence of the old lady, but the reason for our presence there, which was very quickly established as we looked around walls lined with trestle tables piled high with cheap cardboard boxes; the open ones on the top revealing Christmas decorations of the streamer, paper globe or bells variety, plus assorted novelties associated with Yuletide occasions like the inevitable glinting silver and gold tinsel, and – obviously – brightly coloured glass baubles shining like treasure in the firelight: an Aladdin’s Cave!

Peering up, we wandered along the rows of boxes while gran handed things down for us to examine, suggesting this one or that, some of these or some of those, and all the while accompanied by the old lady deftly pulling out box upon box of festive magic and stacking them on an empty table; until finally, we were done; brief words were exchanged between gran and herself, and away we went… empty-handed, taking none of the treasure with us… it was all left behind!

Recollecting many years later, I asked my grandfather what it was all about, and he told me it was a company he did business with: The Heaton Paper Company, who sold him his paper bags.  The treasure left behind had all been delivered to his shop of course, and would subsequently materialise at our house and gran’s house a few days later; just in time to decorate the freshly arrived Christmas trees, festoon the living rooms with streamers, and hang the paper ornaments from lights and window bays.

HeatonChristmas

Now then, fast forward fifteen years to a fine house in Gosforth where two friends lived: Danny and Mark Jacobson.  Remarkably, it turned-out their father owned The Heaton Paper Company, and I learned that the impromptu wholesale showroom in that house on Heaton Road was set up each December to allow local traders to choose stock for the Christmas season; my grandfather, being a wholesale customer, had access to this facility for his own personal consumption of course.

So, fast forward yet again to the present – or at least to the present present, which is 2018 – and let me tell you what I learned recently from Mark Jacobson, who I am happy to say remains a good friend, even though I see very little of him, and even less of Danny:

Their father (an engineer) got out of Poland before the Germans arrived and was in London when an old acquaintance from Warsaw suggested he to come up to Newcastle where he owned a toilet-paper factory and needed the skills of an engineer.  At some point thereafter, this fellow took off for South Africa; the business went down the toilet; and Mr Jacobson found himself unemployed.

Crossing Shieldfield one day, he saw a workman on a building site making a bonfire out of empty cement bags; knowing a thing or two about paper by then he asked the fellow if he could have the bags.  He returned the following day to consult the gaffer and was told he could have all he could take away.  So, from then on, he commandeered all the empty paper sacks he could, because he knew that they were made up of multiple layers of paper that could be separated from the inner and outer contaminated layers, providing him with good clean paper… free.  Starting off in his lodgings, he cut up the sheets, glued the edges with flour paste and produced paper bags which he then sold to local businesses – my Grandfather’s included.  When Danny and Mark retired recently, they sold what had become an enormously successful company manufacturing and distributing a vast array of products.

A remarkable conclusion to a misty memory; and a wonderful success story.

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Keith Fisher, Heaton History Group.

Can you help?

If you know more about The Heaton Paper Company or any historic Heaton business, 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

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.

Turbiniaed_resized

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.

OakleyGGStoneyHeatonRoadres_edited-2

‘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.

Stoney GeorgeGerald-Stoney

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.

StoneyGrave

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.

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Lord Armstrong (1810-1900): his science and his legacy

William George Armstrong was born on 26th November 1810, just as the Industrial Revolution on Tyneside was really getting into full swing. The Northumberland and Durham coalfield was expanding, William Hedley, Jonathan Forster and Timothy Hackworth would soon be working on their famous ‘Puffing Billy’ locomotive at Wylam and soon after George Stephenson would be working on his own ‘Rocket‘ locomotive. With the Literary and Philosophical Society established in 1793, Tyneside was in terms of both scientific achievements and progressive ideas about society, becoming a world leader. Armstrong would add to this in a number of ways – but also leave a darker legacy.

ArmstrongWilliam-George-Armstrong-Baron-ArmstrongNPG

Lord Armstrong, 1890, with permission of the National Portrait Gallery

As an inventor, Armstrong is perhaps most famous for his development of a hydraulic system enabling the famous Swing Bridge on Newcastle’s Quayside to open – and the Tower Bridge in London too. Armstrong’s hydraulic machinery was dependent upon water mains or reservoirs for power and so in 1850 he invented a hydraulic accumulator. It is noted that, ‘it comprised a large water-filled cylinder with a piston that could raise water pressure within the cylinder and in supply pipes to 600 pounds per square inch (42 kg per square cm)…..thus machinery such as hoists, capstans, turntables, and dock gates could be worked in almost any situation.’

SwingBridge

Armstrong’s Swing Bridge opened in 1876

Armstrong invented this because he had to use high water towers for the use of his cranes, on building sites where no water was available. However he hit a major problem when trying to use cranes at New Holland on the Humber Estuary, as the towers would have to be built in sand, which would not provide steady enough foundations. Accordingly, as is often the case, a problem brought forth a solution, which was in the form of a new invention, the weighted accumulator.

It is also claimed that Armstrong was an early environmentalist. Despite the huge importance of coal-mining to the local economy, Armstrong was one of the very first advocates of moving away from fossil fuels to water and solar power. Indeed Cragside, his large home near Rothbury in Northumberland, was the first house in the world to be lit by electric light – powered by hydroelectricity! So keen and visionary was Armstrong when it came to renewable energy that he claimed that coal, ‘was used wastefully and extravagantly in all its applications’, while he also predicted in 1863 that Britain would stop producing coal within two centuries. Armstrong did not only advocate hydroelectricity; he was also a great supporter of solar power, claiming that the solar energy received by 1-acre (4,000 m2) in tropical areas would ‘exert the amazing power of 4,000 horses acting for nearly nine hours every day’.

The light bulbs at Armstrong’s Cragside House were provided by his friend Joseph Swan, who demonstrated the first electric light bulb in the world at the Lit and Phil Society building near to Newcastle’s Central Station. Nearby Mosely Street was of course, the first street in the world to be lit by electric lights…

Sadly, Armstrong also had his downside. He was the inventor of modern artillery and had many weapons built in his Tyneside factory. He was also arguably the world’s first major arms dealer selling deadly weapons to governments around the world. Perhaps the only mitigation we can claim for Armstrong is that in his day, the weapons would have been used almost exclusively against other combatants and he operated before the wake-up call that was the First World War, really brought home to people just how deadly a business war is.

Armstrong and Heaton

The most obvious link between Lord Armstrong and Heaton comes with the parks, next to Heaton Road, one of which bears his name (originally Heaton Park was part of Armstrong Park)  , and the nearby Armstrong Allotments. During Victorian times the area around the Ouseburn Valley, was home to many rich and influential people. These included Sir Andrew Noble, Armorer Donkin and of course Lord and Lady Armstrong. Andrew Noble, was Armstrong’s right hand man and had the house which is now Jesmond Dene House Hotel built for him, it being designed by John Dobson.

The park forms part of a continuous area of land by the sides of the Ouseburn river, from South Gosforth to Warwick Street, which is not built upon. Armstrong acquired this land at various times throughout the 1850s and enclosed it, before planting exotic plants and shrubs and laying paths and building bridges.

HeatonParkLake252 RLC_edited-1

Heaton Park, originally part of Armstrong Park, on land donated to the city by Lord Armstrong

Armstrong and his wife, Margaret Ramshaw, lived in a house called Jesmond Dean, which he had had built in 1835 in preparation for his marriage. As he got wealthier, so Armstrong was able to acquire most of today’s Jesmond Dene, enclosing the land and transforming it into his own private garden. Together with his wife, he created a garden with rapids, waterfalls and a mysterious ghetto, while they also organised the laying of miles of paths and the planting of hundreds of trees and shrubs. Lady Armstrong, described as a ‘lover of nature’, supervised much of this work, with trees and shrubs, ‘culled from the gardens of the world’. Meanwhile, Armstrong’s banqueting house, completed in 1862, was used as a venue for entertaining both his employees from the Elswick Works and later a number of foreign clients. With reference to his employees, it is argued that, despite the business he was in, Armstrong was regarded as an enlightened employer. He built good quality housing for his workers and provided schools for their children.

The banqueting hall, is of course a significant feature of Jesmond Dene. It was built so that he could entertain the aforementioned high value clients as his own house, on the other side of Jesmond Dene Road was too small. The hall remained in regular use until the 1970s when it was damaged by fire. The remaining sections of the building are now home to a thriving artists community. Tyne and Wear Building Preservation Trust have plans for a full restoration of the site, subject to being able to raise the funds.

For thirty years, Armstrong used Jesmond Dene as his own private park, but he did allow the public in twice a week – on payment of a small sum of money! Eventually he decided that he could be a little more generous with this valuable environmental asset and in 1883, the main part of Jesmond Dene was presented to the people of Newcastle as a gift from Lord Armstrong, with the park being officially opened the following year. Armstrong essentially retreated to his home at Cragside, after the death of his wife Margaret in 1893.

When Lord Armstrong died on 27th November 1900, he also left us with the bridge bearing his name. The bridge was given as a gift to the citizens of Newcastle by Armstrong and opened on 30th April 1878.

ArmstrongBridgerev

Armstrong Bridge from Benton Bank

It is reported that, ‘the contractors for the masonry were Messrs W E and F Jackson. It is a lattice girder bridge, 550 feet in length with a 25 foot carriageway. Varying in height from 30 to 65 feet, it is supported on seven columns 70 feet apart – each end of the bridge rested on massive masonry abutments and, despite its solid construction, presents a light and ornamental appearance.’ The bridge was also notable as the first bridge in the world specially mounted to move in the heat…

Legacy

Unfortunately, it is hard to deny that part of the legacy of Lord Armstrong’s life and work is that Britain has been for many years , one of the five biggest arms manufacturing and dealing nations in the world, often second only to the United States. However carefully the business of selling weapons is done, there has too often been too little scrutiny and monitoring on ways in which arms have been sold on again and whose hands they have ended up in. Consequently, it is impossible to tell just how many innocent children and adults have been maimed or killed by weapons made in this country and indeed by the other nations who are major manufacturers and dealers of arms. Armstrong himself felt no guilt about his role in world history, choosing to not believe that arms manufacturing might inevitably lead to war. It is reported that he once said: ‘If I thought that war would be fomented, or the interests of humanity suffer, by what I have done, I would greatly regret it. I have no such apprehension.’ Subsequent history has taught us otherwise. As arguably the world’s first major arms dealer, we should not hide from the fact that this is sadly part of the legacy of the life and work of Lord Armstrong.

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Arms in Armstrong Park

Happily, however, there are many other more positive aspects to the legacy Armstrong has left us. It was said of Christopher Wren, the architect behind the famous dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, ‘if you seek his monument, look around you’. In some respects, the same could be said for Armstrong. We can see his legacy, in the bridge, which spans the Ouseburn Valley and in the parks next to Heaton and at Jesmond Dene itself. We can also see Armstrong’s legacy in every crane we can see rising over the skyline of Newcastle, as yet another student accommodation building is constructed…

Can you help?

If you know more about Lord Armstrong, including his connections with the Heaton area, or any of the people or places mentioned in the article, 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 Peter Sagar, 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.

Sources

https://williamarmstrong.info/about-the-man/

https://www.britannica.com/biography/William-George-Armstrong-Baron-Armstrong-of-Cragside

http://www.jesmonddene.org.uk/history/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Armstrong,_1st_Baron_Armstrong#Hydraulic_accumulator

https://co-curate.ncl.ac.uk/armstrong-bridge/

‘The Ouseburn Parks’, noticeboard: Ouseburn Parks Visitor Centre

A pleasure garden for the people’, noticeboard: Ouseburn Parks Visitor Centre

Jesmond Dene and Ouseburn Parks Park Guide and Map

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Two Davids: Grubb Parsons’ stellar double act

Heaton’s Grubb Parsons led the world in the design and building of high quality large astronomical telescopes for almost 60 years until the company’s untimely demise in 1985.

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Grubb Parsons 98 inch Isaac Newton telescope, 1967

For almost 30 years, from the late 1950s until the company closed, that success was driven by two very different men, both named David, whose skill and expertise complemented one another, driving the company’s success and world renown.

David Scatcherd Brown was an academic, with extensive mathematical insight, an expert on designing and testing telescopes, whose understanding and interpretation of test results was such that the quality and consistency of the firm’s products rapidly grew.

David Sinden on the other hand came from a working class background and learnt through doing. He became an expert in working with glass, producing the optically perfect mirrors essential to the large telescopes produced by Grubb Parsons.

Together they made a formidable team, both very different characters and backgrounds, but with a shared passion for astronomy. Although there’s no evidence that either David ever lived in Heaton, their work at Grubb Parsons certainly put it on the map.

Grubb Parsons

The firm of Sir Howard Grubb Parsons and Company was established in Heaton in 1925, although the roots of the firm in astronomy and telescope making go back to Dublin in the early 19th Century, with the establishment of a telescope manufacturing company by Thomas Grubb. The firm quickly developed a reputation for the quality of its astronomical telescopes. When Thomas retired in 1868, his son Howard took over, moving the business to St Albans in 1918. The business struggled under Howard’s leadership and some seven years later was bought out by Sir Charles Parsons and the new firm re-located to Newcastle, where C.A. Parsons and Company already had its headquarters.

Grubb Parsons Factory

Grubb Parsons, Heaton works

That Charles Algernon Parsons should have taken an interest in telescope making when he already had a well established business making power generating equipment and steam turbines may seem unusual. However, his father William Parsons, the 3rd Earl of Rosse, was a famous astronomer. Charles, along with his two older brothers, was privately educated at the family seat of Birr Castle, County Offaly, Ireland, where one of his tutors, Sir Robert Ball, was later to become Astronomer Royal for Ireland. So it’s hardly surprising that Charles had an interest in astronomy. Furthermore, the Irish connection almost certainly would have meant that he was familiar with the Thomas Grubb Company and would have wanted to continue its tradition.

Grubb Parsons was already well established and had a reputation for its large astronomical telescopes by the time the two Davids joined the company in the 1950s, but they would go on to achieve world renown over the next 20 years.

David Scatcherd Brown

David Scatcherd Brown was born in Coventry on 25 August 1927. The family were from Yorkshire, where his father was a headmaster. He attended Oldbury County School before securing a place at Queen’s College Cambridge to read Natural Sciences, specialising in physics and maths. The 2nd World War interrupted his studies while he served in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, gaining valuable engineering experience and skills, before returning to complete his studies.

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David Scatcherd Brown

By that time, Brown was already interested in telescopes and astronomy, so it must have been a natural fit for him to take up post at Grubb Parsons straight from University in 1950. He was put to work with the optical team, under the leadership of George Manville, working specifically on the testing and manufacturing methods for the large mirrors and lenses needed for large telescopes. At the time the business was just picking up after the war and David was quick to adopt and adapt the latest testing technologies, making the whole process more objective and improving the quality of the finished product. It was on his advice that a testing tower was built allowing mirrors to be tested lying on their back, which greatly improved the process and perhaps explains the unusual shape of the Grubb Parsons building.

In 1950, David married Margaret Stephens, whom he’d met at Cambridge, when she was studying Natural Sciences at Girton. The couple would go on to have two children.

David Sinden

David Sinden was born on 31 July 1932 in Hartlepool and was a keen astronomer from an early age. At the age of 16 he built his first telescope, with the help of his father, Fred, causing a stir among the neighbours in Hood Street, Haverton Hill. By the age of 22, now living in a council house in Billingham, a story appeared in the Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer when David, already a member of the British Astronomical Association, applied for planning permission to build an observatory in his parents’ back garden. The observatory was to be made of galvanised steel sheets on a wooden frame with an 8’ diameter dome. The council, approving the plan, admitted that they didn’t have any precedents for planning applications for such buildings on a council estate! In the article, David admitted that he had to wait for the street lights to go out and that the heat from Teesside’s factories sometimes made the stars appear square, although he did say that they may just be flying snuff boxes!

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David Sinden (in the waistcoat) with George Oliver and the 72 inch Helwan mirror

Having been apprenticed as a fitter at ICI, the young David found that the work wasn’t to his liking and moved to work for a local optician, becoming an expert in optical instruments. It was while working there that he made a mirror, which he sent to Grubb Parsons on spec. So impressed were they that they offered him a job. So it was that David Sinden joined the firm in 1957, working for David Brown.

David subsequently married Helen, although we’ve been unable to confirm the date, and the couple were recorded in the 1980s as living at the Poplars, Coley Hill Farm, North Walbottle, far enough out of town to avoid the worst of the light pollution.

Polar opposites

In 1961, David Brown was appointed Optical Manager focusing exclusively on telescopes and a year later he appointed David Sinden as Glass Shops’ Manager, with control over scientific instruments as well as telescopes. As David Brown’s obituary notes ‘There could not have been two more different types working together, the one with a deep mathematical insight and ability to interpret obscure testing problems, the other with the instinctive feel for working glass, the hardness of the pitch, the construction of the polisher and methods of working.’

It seems that the two men were also polar opposites in terms of personality. David Brown was described as a quiet, good natured and unassuming man, whereas David Sinden was much more outgoing. Many of his friends and former colleagues posted tributes after his death, all speaking warmly of a friendly, generous, passionate man with an improbable number of outside interests which included, but were not limited to, photography, sculpture, motorbikes, steam engines, archaeology, marathon running and pistol shooting. An exceptional public speaker with a passion and enthusiasm for science, astronomy and anything even vaguely telescope-shaped, who could hold an audience entranced for hours and hours.

Their time working together at Grubb Parsons saw the company produce some of its finest work and arguably some of the best large optical telescopes ever produced. The list is extensive and includes:

  • 48-inch reflector, Victoria, Canada, 1961
  • 40-inch reflector, Pic du Midi, France. Optics only, 1962
  • The 40 inch Elizabeth telescope, South Africa,1963
  • 74-inch reflector, Helwan (Kottamia), Egypt, 1963
  • 30-inch reflector, Jungfraujoch, Switzerland, 1966
  • 16/24-inch Schmidt, Castel Gandolfo, 1967
  • The 98 inch Issac Newton Telescope, Hestmonceaux, England, 1967
  • 72 inch (182cm) Mirror for Padua, Italy, 1973
  • 48/72-inch Schmidt, Siding Spring, Australia, 1973
  • 154 inch Reflector, Siding Spring, Australia, 1974
  • 48-inch reflector, Athens University, Greece, 1975
  • 150-in mirror, UKIRT, Hawaii, 1976
  • 60 inch Reflector, La Silla, Chile, 1976.

Many of them are still in situ.

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Magazine cover featuring Grubb Parsons

Grubb Parsons, during their time there, was a curious mixture of the latest techniques and processes that wouldn’t have seemed out of place in the dark satanic mills of old. In one room David Brown might be working on the very latest in computerised testing and design processes, while in another a vast cauldron of pitch was being boiled. David Sinden always spoke of his work as dirty, grubby, grimy, filthy and gritty, although the results were world renowned.

Decline of Grubb Parsons

By the late 1970s, despite the obvious success of a series of large scale telescopes, Grubb Parsons was in difficulty. The scientific instrument side of the business, which had always supported the more impressive work on large telescopes, started to decline and being part of a much larger group of companies with different priorities saw a lack of new investment.

David Sinden was the first to leave, in 1976, to set up his own business, the Sinden Optical Company. David Brown, having been promoted to Technical Director in 1975, stayed on with the company, taking control of all of the optics work and completing a number of major projects, including the 4.2m Herschel telescope even as the works were pulled down around the glass shops.

Life after Grubb Parsons

In 1981, David Brown was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by Durham University and when Grubb Parsons finally closed in 1985 joined the Physics Department as the Grubb Parsons Research Fellow. As well as working on a number of major projects, he travelled extensively around the world to advise on the construction of large telescopes. He also lectured at both Durham and Edinburgh Universities, where his lectures were said to be stimulating, with many practical demonstrations. He maintained his lifelong interest in Astronomy, with his own observatory and active membership of the Newcastle Astronomical Society.

He died at the young age of 59 on 17 July 1987 after what is described as a short illness. Probate records show his address at that time as 17, Douglas Avenue, Gosforth and that he left an estate of £97,063.

In 1979, David Sinden established his own optical company in Raby Cross, Byker, although the firm eventually moved to Ryton after being plagued by repeated problems with vandalism. The company dealt with all types of optical work, including building quite a reputation for Camera Obscuras. Loved by the Victorians, the Camera Obscura projects images of the locality onto a large circular table in a darkened room. SOC’s first commission was to build one for the Gateshead Garden Festival, where it was set up in a large tent. They then went on to build others for places as far flung as Portugal, Spain and Cuba. After the garden festival the Camera Obscura was moved to the Foredown Tower in a Country Park in Hove, where it remains the only example of SOC’s work in the UK.

In addition to Camera Obscuras, the company began to specialise in restoring historic telescopes and even in building new large mirrors, the largest being 48”, using equipment bought from Grubb Parsons when it closed down.

In 1993, David Sinden was awarded an Honorary masters Degree from Newcastle University. Perhaps the greatest accolade for his lifetime’s work though was the naming of a minor planet in his honour. In June 2005, Asteroid 10369 Sinden was named in his honour, with a team from Armagh University visiting his workshop to present him with documentation about his own star.

Grubb Parsons Presentation from Armagh Uni re asteroid 10369 Sinden June 2005 (1)

Sadly, he died just two months later on 29 August 2005, at the age of 73 after being diagnosed with lung cancer some 18 months earlier.

Legacy

The Sinden Optical Company closed in 2005 after David’s death. Although Grubb Parsons has been closed for almost 40 years, the old telescope testing tower can still be seen behind Siemens on land owned by a company called Houghton International;. But the real legacy of Grubb Parsons and their two optical geniuses, David Brown and David Sinden lives on in the great optical telescopes they built, many of which are still in regular use in all five continents of the world.

Can you help?

If you know more about Grubb Parsons, including the work of Davids Brown and Sinden, 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 Michael Proctor, 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.

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Sir Ove Arup: engineer and philosopher

You could be forgiven for never having spotted the black commemorative plaque high on the wall between the upstairs and downstairs bay windows of 16 Jesmond Vale Terrace, Heaton. The house is in the row of almost white brick terraced houses on the east side of Heaton Road, opposite the park. They have front gardens and, in the case of number 16, a high hedge so you really have to be looking for the plaque.

If you can catch sight of it from the road, you’ll see that it intriguingly reads ‘Ove Arup; 1895-1988; Engineer and Philosopher; Born here on 16 April.’

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Commemorative plaque at 16 Jesmond Vale Terrace

Arup is rarely mentioned among Newcastle’s great engineers. Even those who have heard of him usually assume he is Danish. (More of that later.) But almost everyone will be familiar with at least one example of his work.

Sir Ove Arup (for, although not mentioned on the plaque, he was awarded a knighthood in 1970) was one of the great structural engineers of the 20th century and he was instrumental in the construction of one of the world’s most recognisable buildings: the Sydney Opera House. But we can also see and admire examples of his work much closer to home. First, back to his local roots.

Geordie

Ove’s father, Jens, was Danish and a qualified veterinary surgeon who, in 1889, came to Newcastle to work for the Danish consulate, supervising the health of imported beef cattle. He found a house for the family in Jesmond but, sadly, the following year, before she could come to the UK to live with her husband and three daughters, Jen’s first wife, Johanne, died.

Following her death, Jens appointed a governess, Mathilde Nyquist, to educate his daughters and three years later he married her. Soon, with a child on the way, a larger house was required and so the Arups moved to Heaton, to the substantial 3-storey terraced house at 16 Jesmond Vale Terrace. And here on 16 April 1895, Ove Nyquist Arup was born.

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Members of the Arup family pictured at his birthplace in 1967

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Jesmond Vale Terrace, Heaton

Very soon after, however, with the British government increasingly concerned about the spread of diseases such as foot and mouth, an Act of Parliament was passed which banned the import of live cattle from areas in which listed diseases were found. Jen’s job became redundant and so, with Ove just a few months old, the family relocated to Germany. Ove was educated there and then in Denmark, where he went on to university to study philosophy and engineering, specialising in reinforced concrete.

So Ove’s initial stay in the country of his birth was brief. But he was to return. And the north east was to become especially important to him.

Back to Britain

On completion of his studies Ove took a job with a Danish company, Christiani and Nielsen. But in December 1923, when he was 28 years old,  the company transferred him to their UK office as Chief Designer. He went on to join J L Kier and Co (reinforced concrete specialists) and to meet and work with the famous architect, Berthold Lubetkin, most famously on the Penguin Pool at London Zoo. In 1938, Ove and his cousin, Arne, set up their own company Arup & Arup Ltd.

It was shortly after this, in the early years of WW2, that Ove faced an example of the sort of resistance that was to plague him for much of his life. And it was a formidable north east woman who stood in his way: Ove had designed a bomb shelter in ‘new-fangled concrete’, which he firmly believed would protect London citizens during enemy air raids. Jarrow MP, Ellen Wilkinson, was the parliamentary secretary at the Ministry of Home Security and entered into correspondence and talks with Arup about his proposals. While his designs would certainly save lives, Ellen Wilkinson and the government were concerned that the public would lose confidence in the existing brick and trench shelters and that those not able to shelter in the new concrete, underground shelters would be disadvantaged. In the end politics won the day, much to Arup’s disappointment, although his shelters were commissioned privately  by a number of wealthy clients.

After the war, Ove opened his own practice in London, Ove Arup, Consulting Engineers, which in 1949 became Ove Arup and Partners.

Iconic

In 1957, Ove began work on the project which would make his reputation. But little did he know then, how much heartache it would bring nor that it would be seventeen years before it was complete.

Throughout his working life Arup made a point of congratulating architects, who won prestigious prizes for their designs, in the hope that his company would win the contract to help realise their dreams. This is exactly what happened when the Danish architect, Jorn Utzon, won a competition to design an opera house in Sydney. The design was controversial and the engineering challenges immense. Ove had difficulty persuading Utzon to modify his original shell design to make it buildable and to take account of the acoustic requirements of a world class opera house.  Costs spiralled and there were constant personality clashes between client (Australian government), architect (Utzon) and chief engineer (Arup). Utzon eventually resigned in 1966 and the Australian government architect, Ted Farmer, appointed a team to oversee the completion of the building.

Sydney Opera House under construction - 5 shells erected

Sydney Opera House under construction (made possible by Heaton-born Ove Arup)

Nevertheless this protracted project and its eventual success cemented (sorry!) the reputations of Ove and his companies. In October 1973, Sydney Opera House was opened by Queen Elizabeth II. Ove and his wife, Li, were at the ceremony. Utzon, the architect, was not invited and was not mentioned at all during the proceedings.

Bridge Over the River Wear

In 1961, Ove was approached to construct a concrete, pedestrian bridge across the River Wear from Dunelm House to Bow Lane, linking the university with the historic centre of Durham. There was a seemingly paltry budget of £35,000.

It was assumed that the financial constraints would mean the bridge would have to be a low one requiring most pedestrians to climb and descend steep banks on either side. But Ove was always ready for a challenge and decided to design and oversee the construction of a high re-enforced concrete bridge himself. To minimize costs, he ingeniously designed it to be constructed on conical pivots, in two halves parallel to the river. When finished in 1964, the two halves were swung manually, through 90 degrees to meet and be connected centrally by a bronze expansion joint.  Kingsgate Bridge is now a Grade 1 listed building.

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Ove Arup inspecting Kingsgate Bridge

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Kingsgate Bridge, Durham, a favourite project of Ove Arup

Of all the projects that Ove worked on this was to give him the greatest satisfaction, so much so that it was his wish that his ashes be scattered from Kingsgate Bridge into the River Wear. And so he was both born in the north east and returned to the region in death.

Brutalist

The adjacent Students Union building, Dunelm House, was also an Arup building. Ove acted as structural engineer and architectural adviser and his bust is mounted on the wall, which faces this bridge. It is built in the so-called ‘Brutalist’ style and excites conflicting emotions: In 1968 it won a Civic Trust Award but has also been called ‘the ugliest building in Durham’ by the university’s students. Although, in 1995, English Heritage said it had once been described as ‘the greatest contribution modern architecture has made to the enjoyment of an English medieval city’. In 2017, Durham University declared that no longer fit for purpose and announced plans for demolition so that it could redevelop the site but there is a well-supported campaign to save and list the building.  A decision is yet to be made.

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Bust of Sir Ove Arup on Dunelm House

 

Sir Ove’s Park?

In 1967 Ove Arup drew up radical proposals in which Newcastle United Football Club would share sporting facilities with the nearby Newcastle University. The ground capacity of the £32.6m complex would have been around 63,000 with 31,000 seated and 32,000 standing.

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Arup proposal to redevelop St James Park

Included in the plans were two gyms, four multi-purpose halls, five-a-side football and rugby fives courts, 13 squash courts, swimming, diving and learner pools plus a supporters’ club and restaurant. The plan for a state of the art stadium to replace the old ground fell through when the club was reluctant to share the facilities with the university.

Byker Viaduct

A local Arup structure which was built, albeit one constructed after Sir Ove’s retirement, and one which is still very much standing, is the elegant Byker Metro bridge.

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Arup-designed Byker Metro Bridge

Again, the design was challenging because it had to be squeezed in between an existing road bridge and a main line rail viaduct; it crossed a steep-sided valley with old mine workings beneath; the valley is crossed by a geographical fault as well as the Ouseburn. The solution, a tall 800m S-shaped viaduct, won the Concrete Society Award for Civil Engineering in 1980 and makes a striking addition to the bridges which cross the valley. It is an appropriate local memorial for the Heaton-born company founder.

Polymath

Ove Arup, besides being a talented structural engineer had many interests. He was an art collector, pianist and the accordianist as well as writer and artist: After his death, his daughter Anja published a book, ‘Doodles and Doggerel,’ of his drawings and verse. He was also a keen and successful chess player, going so far as to set up a company to manufacture chess sets, made to his own innovative designs.

He was often considered eccentric and many stories still circulate among those who knew him. He is, for example, said to have almost always carried a pair of chopsticks in his jacket breast pocket, so that he could sample other peoples’ food while dining with them.

Philosopher

But what of the ‘philosopher’ as mentioned on the plaque on the house of his birth? As already mentioned, Ove studied philosophy, along with engineering, at university and it remained an important influence on his work throughout his life.

His ‘Total Design’ vision was intended to encourage creative collaboration across all disciplines: not only engineering, building and architecture but other less obvious ones too, including computing, ethics and philosophy. He was a creative and critical thinker, who loved to debate and apply both original thought and what he learnt from other disciplines to his work and to the way his firm was run. Ultimately he wanted to make the world a better place.

Honours

Ove was much-honoured during his lifetime. including:

CBE (1953); RIBA Gold Medal for Architecture (1966) – unusual for a Structural Engineer to receive;Knighthood (1970); The Gold medal of the Institution of Structural Engineers (1973); Queens Award for Export Achievement (1984); Elected Honorary Royal Academician (1986).

Legacy

When Sir Ove Arup died on 5 February 1988, he was the figurehead of one of the largest structural engineering companies in the world. Today his company employs over 14,000 staff in 92 offices across 42 countries and is responsible for many prestigious engineering projects worldwide. The firm is owned by trusts, the beneficiaries of which are past and present employees, each of which receive a share of the firm’s operating profit each year. There is still an Arup office in Newcastle upon Tyne.

The Ove Arup Foundation, a charitable educational trust, was set up in his memory for the advancement of education directed towards the promotion, furtherance and dissemination of knowledge of matters associated with the built environment’.

Can you help?

If you know more about Ove Arup and his work, especially his connections with the north east, 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, Heaton History Group, with additional research by Chris Jackson.

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

‘Ove Arup Masterbuilder of the Twentieth Century’; Peter Jones, 2006

‘The Arup Journal 50th Anniversary Issue’

http://www.engineering-timelines.com/who/arup_O/arupOve12.asp

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2017/feb/12/durham-university-dunelm-house-threat-of-demolition-brutalism

https://www.themag.co.uk/2014/08/newcastle-uniteds-st-james-park-looked/

https://mymagicalattic.blogspot.co.uk/2016/09/ove-arup-philosophy-of-total-design-at.html 

 

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Forgotten Music Makers of Heaton

If you were asked about Heaton’s most important exports, you might well mention great feats of engineering, such as Sir Charles Parsons’ ground-breaking steam turbines, or Grubb Parsons’ telescopes, both of which are still to be found throughout the world. Or perhaps you’d suggest music, with local boy Chas Chandler, inducted into Rock and Roll’s Hall of Fame with ‘The Animals’ in 1994 – the band’s 60s’ songs still played and performed all over the world half a century after they were written. We rightly commemorate such achievements with plaques, books and museum displays.

But hands up if you’ve ever stopped on Grafton Street and given even a passing thought to the local men who married both of the great Heaton industries of engineering and music?  In truth, you might never have had cause to go to Grafton Street at all: since redevelopment of the area, it’s perhaps the shortest street in Heaton (or is it Byker?) comprising little more than four parking bays (usually full) facing Shields Road and a single yellow line. There’s a pawnbroker’s shop on one corner and a council customer service centre on the other.

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Grafton Street

But there’s also a nearby bench on which you can sit and listen. There may still be music in the air.

So let’s rewind.

Apprentice

Charles William Howden was born in All Saints parish, of which Heaton was a part, in 1865 and baptised in St Nicholas’s Cathedral on 28 May of that year. He was the eldest child of Ryton born, Margaret Isabella, and John Howden, a shipping clerk from Wakefield in Yorkshire.

By 1881 at the age of 16 and still living with his parents and now four younger siblings in the west end of Newcastle, Charles was described as an ‘organ builder’s apprentice’. Ten years later, still living in the parental home, he is described on the census as an ’employer’ and ‘organ builder’.

We don’t yet know to whom young Charles Howden was apprenticed but we can trace the development of the organ building firm that bears his name from its foundation c1893  via Forth Street  and Snowdon Street in Newcastle to 65 Grafton Street, Heaton. Howden had joined forces with one William Charlton Blackett, the Bensham-born son of a coal agent, to set up the firm of Blackett and Howden Ltd.

Inventors

Like other more famous engineers operating around Heaton at this time, Blackett and Howden weren’t content to copy what had gone before. They wanted their organs to be better than everyone else’s. We can trace several patent applications: for ‘pallets‘ (1891). ‘pneumatic action’ (1895) and ‘blowing‘ (1904).

According to organ historian, James Ingall Wedgewood, they may have invented what is known as a ‘diaphone‘, the noise-making device best known for its use as a foghorn. While the invention of the diaphone is commonly attributed to Robert Hope-Jones,  it was apparently Blackett and Howden who first experimented with it as early as 1888:

‘It frequently happens in organ building, when the requisite conditions are fortuitously complied with, that a pallet will commence to vibrate rapidly, and it is often within the province of an organist’s or organ builder’s observation that such a “fluttering pallet,” or a Tremulant in a state of rapid vibration, when provided with a resonator in the form of a soundboard or wind trunk, generates tones of considerable power. The safety valves of steamboats constantly act similarly. … The idea must doubtless have occurred to many builders … that such phenomena might systematically be adapted to tonal use.

An experimental attempt at such adaptation was made in 1888 by Messrs. Blackett & Howden, of Newcastle [England]. The bulk of the apparatus employed was enclosed in a box (15 ins. square for the 16 ft. note). Wind passed into a chamber containing a vibrator in the form of a circular disc fixed on to the loose end of a spring, and so arranged as to beat against a hole in the under side of the resonator, being regulated in pitch and intensity by a sliding bridge and set-screw.’

Whether because they were louder or simply because they were of superb quality, Blackett and Howden organs were sold not only across the north east but soon throughout the UK and even overseas.

Some of the earliest church organs for which records exist are in Scotland; the one in the Braid Church in Edinburgh was built in 1898 and there were other early instruments in Glasgow, West Kilbride and Montrose. At one point the firm did so much business in Scotland that it ran a second workshop in Glasgow. Another one followed in Cardiff.

Close to home

According to the British Pipe Organ Register, locally, the firm built the organ for St Gabriel’s (date unknown), Heaton Methodist Church (1910) and Heaton Congregational Church (1920).

The transport costs to Heaton Congregational Church must have been among the lowest for any Blackett and Howden organ: the church (now Heaton Bingo) was only a few hundred yards from the factory. Unfortunately, we don’t know what happened to this organ: it doesn’t appear on the current National Pipe Organ Register.

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Heaton Congregational Church’s Blackett and Howden organ was installed in 1920

 

There is some confusion regarding the St Gabriel’s organ. According to the British Pipe Organ Register, organ N04082 was surveyed in St Gabriel’s in 1944 and described as ‘built by Blackett and Howden (date unknown)’. According to the opening sentence of a report written in 1994 by Paul Ritchie: ‘The builders of St Gabriel’s organ would appear to be modest as there is no name plate on the console, nor do the bellow weights carry their initial letters’. Ritchie goes on to say: ‘Somewhere in the back of my memory is a little voice saying Abbott and Smith’. And indeed there is another entry in the register for St Gabriel’s: organ N12464 ‘built by Abbott and Smith in 1905; surveyed in 1980′. Another unsigned and undated report states that Blackett and Howden installed an exhaust-pneumatic action around 1920 and that, at the same time, tuba and pedal trombone were added ‘and the Great Organ gained a large Open Diapason with leathered upper lips. This latter stop was placed on a separate unit chest and was reported to be rather poor; it was removed by Willis in 1963′.

But there are no such doubts about the instrument in Heaton Methodist Church. It was inaugurated on Wednesday 4 May 1910: ‘there were recitals from 2.30pm, followed by a public tea. Special services took place on the next three Sundays and a concert took place on Monday 23rd May.’ And it’s is still going strong.

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Heaton Methodist Church organ

A celebratory concert was held in 2010 to celebrate the centenary of its installation and the programme included a short history of both the organ and of Blackett and Howden itself.

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Heaton Methodist Church organ centenary programme

 

Military march

But perhaps the most famous Blackett and Howden organ still played today is in the Royal Memorial Chapel of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, which was built in 1924. The instrument is described in the history of the organ as ‘for its time, fairly cutting edge technology’ with ‘pioneering use of tubular pneumatic action’. After the war, the architect Sir Hugh Casson designed a new organ case for the instrument above the chapel’s main war memorial. At this point the organ was rebuilt and enlarged but using a lot of the original pipework.

 Rescue

Sadly many Blackett and Howden organs have been destroyed over the years but that originally built for the Prince’s Theatre in North Shields was fortuitously rescued by an Australian enthusiast. Apparently this was the only unit theatre organ ever built by the firm (in 1929) and its console was displayed at the North East Trade Fair Exhibition.

Records show that the flue pipes were ‘voiced’ by Syd Goldsmith and the reeds and strings by Frank ‘Hubbert‘ (although we believe this to be Frank Hubbard who in 1911 was living on Tosson Terrace, Heaton). The skill of manipulating an organ pipe to make it sound is known as voicing: ‘Each pipe must be made to play with the proper onset of sound (known as speech), sustained tone, and volume. When the voicing process is complete, each individual pipe in the organ forms a beautiful musical instrument.’

According to locals, the Prince’s Theatre organ had ‘a beautiful tone with sweet voicing and ample power for the large house.’ Although its console was destroyed in 1969, its chamber contents were bought for £75 by the Organ Society of Australia.  They even obtained the original receipt!

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Blackett and Howden document

In 1975, it was installed in Cinema North in Reservoir, Victoria. In 1999, it was moved to Coburg Town Hall, also in Victoria. You can read the full story of  this wonderful instrument here:

Eastward ho

We have found a record showing that, on 16 January 1917, William Blackett sailed from London to Hong Kong on the Japanese ship, SS Fushimi Maru. It was a dangerous time to be at sea: over 200 allied ships were lost during January 1917 alone. But it shows that Blackett and Howden’s reputation was worldwide. As you can see below, most of Blackett’s fellow British passengers were missionaries or nurses.

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Fushima Maru passenger list including William Blackett

The organ of St John’s Cathedral in Hong Kong was built by William Blackett ‘an elderly, bearded gentleman’ who ‘had come to the colony to install one of their organs in a church in the colony. Finding the climate congenial, he decided to stay and set up a small organ factory in the city. He recruited a group of Chinese and taught them the trade’.

Full renewal of the existing organ was priced at $14,000 but fundraising was suspended because of what was called ‘troublous times’ in 1925: a strike and anti-British boycott ignited by a deadly shooting during a strike in Shanghai, fuelled to fever pitch by British and French guards killing demonstrators in Canton. Nevetheless the organ was complete by 1927 and services, in which the organ could be heard, broadcast on the radio the same year.

Sale

Meanwhile back home, Blackett and Howden was sold to the London firm of Hill, Norman and Beard in 1924. At this time, John Christie of Glyndebourne became the major shareholder and Charles Howden became general manager with Ralph Walton Blackett, William’s son, sub-manager.

But on 25 September 1927, with William Blackett still in Hong Kong, Charles Howden died at the age of 62 at his home, 35 Rothbury Terrace. He left £1873 3s 3d in his will, a modest sum considering the success of the company he had co-founded more than thirty years earlier.

Blackett and Howden’s name continued to be used, however. It traded from its Grafton Street premises for another half century. The Heaton factory finally closed in 1974, when the remaining part of the business was purchased by N Church & Co.

Team effort

William Blackett and Charles Howden did not, of course, build their organs alone.

Hopefully this article will enable us to trace people employed in the factory in later years. In the meantime, it seems appropriate to pay tribute here to some of the workers listed in the 1911 census whose reputation and, in some cases, expertly crafted musical instruments live on more than a hundred years after they were made.

One of these was Terrot G Myles who, in 1911, was 30 years old. He lived at 149 Molyneux Street.

Blackett&HowdenTeretGMylesIMG_2086 (1)

Terrot G Myles

Terrot is described in the census as an ‘organ builder‘. Thanks to his granddaughter, Grace, we have  photographs of him and know quite a lot about his life. Terrot was born in Glasgow but moved to Edinburgh as a young boy. After leaving school, he was apprenticed to Ingram & Co, a firm of organ builders, in their Edinburgh factory and progressed to become a journeyman. The firm described him as ‘smart, willing and punctual’ and recommended him to future employers. In 1908, Scovell and Company called him ‘a most conscientious and painstaking worker, perfectly steady and reliable and a good all round man’. His reference made it clear that he was leaving the company only due to ‘depression of trade’ and they expressed a hope that he would return at some future date.

By this time though Terrot had already married Isabella Younger, a bookbinder from Sunderland. Their elder son, Richard, was born in Hampshire in 1908 but by 1911, they were in Newcastle, where, a year later, their younger son, John was born. We can only guess that while in Heaton and working as an organ builder, Terrot was employed by Blackett and Howden but it seems a fair assumption to make.

However, in 1923, the family set sail from Liverpool to New York in search of a better life. Terrot spent the next eight years working for Henry Pilcher’s Sons, an organ builder, in Louisville, Kentucky. He became a naturalised American the following year and spent his career building and installing organs all over the USA. He received and treasured many glowing references, which Grace still has. Terrot and Isabella eventually moved to White Lake, Michigan, where Isabella died in 1954 and Terrot a year later, aged 73 years.

Others listed in the 1911 census include:

William Blackett, aged 52, 13 Brough Street, Heaton Joiner in Organ Factory (We don’t know whether he was related in any way to the firm’s co-founder, William Blackett, who lived in Whitley Bay at this time)

Charles Brassington, aged 31, 26 Heaton Park Road, organ builder

John Wastle Craig, aged 14, 15 Tynemouth Rd, organ builder assistance

William Gill, aged 54, 13 Addison Street, organ builder, voicer, tuner

Thomas Miller Hendry, aged 23, 39 Langhorn St, organ builder

Frank Hubbard, 83 Tosson Terrace, organ voicer (*Almost certainly the Frank ‘Hubbert’ who voiced the North Shields organ. See above.)

James William Jobson, aged 50, 10 North View, organ builder

John Jobson, aged 16, 10 North View, apprentice organ builder

John George Millington, aged 34, 188 Warton Terrace, organ builder (Later lived in King John Terrace until his death in 1962)

John Matthew Mitchell, aged 63, 72 Addycombe Terrace, organ builder

John Henry Reed, aged 22, 80 Eighth Avenue, organ builder

Ernest Routledge, aged 22, 57 Malcolm Street,  organ pipe maker (Ernest died in 1918 aged 29 as did his 2 year old son, Roland)

Whenever you listen to organ music this Christmas, spare a thought for these Heaton master-craftsmen and the lasting joy they have brought to the world.

Can you help?

If you know more about any of the people or organs mentioned in this article or of anyone who worked at Blackett and Howden’s, we’d love to hear from you. We’d also be interested to hear and see photographs of any other Blackett and Howden organs you see on your travels. 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 Chris Jackson, Heaton History Group. Thank you to HHG member, Joyce Lovell, and to George Cottrell for information about Heaton Methodist Church organ; to Pauline Giles for information about St Gabriel’s organ;  to Grace Myles for photos and information on Terrot Myles.

Sources

Biographical Dictionary of the Organ

Laurence Elvin ‘Family Enterprise: the story of some north country organ builders‘ 1986

Norman F Moore and W Kirby Robinson ‘From Byker to Heaton: the origins and history of Heaton Methodist Church’ Pattinson, 2000

 National Pipe Organ Register list of Blackett and Howden organs 

James Ingall Wedgwood ‘A Comprehensive Dictionary of Organ Stops English and Foreign, Ancient and Modern’ The Vincent Music company, 1905 (via Wikipedia entry for Diaphone)

Stuart Wolfendale ‘Imperial to International: a history of St John’s Cathedral Hong Kong’ Hong Kong University Press, 2013

and online sources eg Ancestry

White Teeth to Blue Bottle: the Domestos story

If you’re a stickler for cleanliness (or a local historian), you might well know that Domestos originated in Newcastle. You might even remember the factory in the Ouseburn, where it was bottled until the then owners, Lever Brothers, moved production to Warrington in 1973. But perhaps you don’t know that its story began in a Heaton garden shed.

Origins

Wilfred (sometimes spelt Wilfrid) Augustine Handley was actually born in Essex in 1901 but his parents were both from co Durham and his older sister, Catherine, had been born in Heaton in 1893. By the time his younger sister, Doris Ruby, came along in 1905, the family (father George William, an insurance agent, mother, Dorothy Ann Elizabeth Jane, and older siblings, Robert William, Ruth Primrose , George Ingram Pope and Catherine Violet Beatrice, as well as young Wilfred) had returned to the north east. By 1911, they were living in Gateshead. Father, George, was no longer in insurance. He now worked as a ship’s blacksmith.

Dentistry

It’s something of a surprise then to move forward a decade or so and find trade directories listing both Wilfred and his father as dentists. This was around the time (1922) when the right to call yourself a dentist became regulated for the first time in the UK. Certainly there are sources which give Wilfred’s profession as ‘dental mechanic’ rather than ‘dentist‘. At the moment we can’t be sure but Wilfred’s younger brother, Cecil, followed in their footsteps and, like them, practised from the family home at 309 Chillingham Road for many years.

An article in the Evening Chronicle on 1 November 1945 states that ‘the Joint War Committee of Dental Associations announces that Captain C Handley, having been released from service of the Army Dental Corps is resuming practice at 309 Chillingham Road, Heaton on 5 November 1945’.

Directories list him as a graduate of Kings College University of Durham School of Dental Sciences, which was based in Newcastle. Some local people may remember him: his practice was at the same address on Chillingham Road until the late 1960s. He died at Heddon on the Wall in 1989.

Electoral registers show that Wilfred himself resided at 309 Chillingham Road from at least 1922 to 1934 (with the exception of 1932, when they show him living with his sister Catherine and her husband in nearby Portland Road, then part of Heaton ward). In 1935, he was at 152 Simonside Terrace.

Eau de Heaton

But it was while living at 309 Chillingham Road that the entrepreneurial Wilfred had his big idea. According to Unilever, which still produces it, Wilfred was a 25 year old dental mechanic when he started to dilute and bottle sodium hypochlorite,  a waste product bought from the chemical works, ICI Billingham, in the family’s garden shed. We can only guess that originally he was using the compound to whiten dentures (or even teeth?) but saw its wider potential.

In fact, bleach had been around since the eighteenth century when Claude Louis Berthollet produced potassium hypochlorite in his laboratory on the Quai de Javel in Paris. Hence it became known as ‘Eau de Javel‘. A hundred or so years later, in the late nineteenth century, an E S Smith patented the chloralkali process of producing sodium hypochlorite, which then started to be sold as a bleach under a number of brand names.

So Wilfred didn’t invent bleach but what he seems to have got right from the beginning was the marketing and distribution of his product. He set up the Hygiene Disinfectant Company and, according to Unilever, in 1929, chose the brand name ‘Domestos’, from the Latin ‘domus’ meaning house and the Greek ‘osteon’ meaning bone, suggesting ‘backbone of the home’.

The Handley family tells it a little differently: Wilfred asked his mother what his product should be called. When she enquired what it was for and he replied, ‘Domestic use,‘ the name ‘Domestos’ suggested itself.

Home delivery

At first, Domestos was marketed to local housewives and sold in large brown earthenware jars.

DomestosjarIMG_0113edresized

Domestos jar (Copyright: William Morris)

Perhaps inspired by the success of Ringtons Tea, established in Heaton in 1907, Handley set up a system of home delivery. (Interestingly, the 1939 Register shows Robert E Sturdy, Sam Smith’s trusted sales manager at Ringtons, who we have written about previously, living next door to Cecil in the Handley family home on Chillingham Road). The jars were refilled by door to door salesmen pushing hand carts or riding bicycle carts. The photograph below was supplied by descendants but we don’t know whether it’s Wilfred himself in the picture. It’s certainly a very early picture of door to door Domestos sales, when the Hygiene Disinfectant Company would have been very small.

Domestos Bike

Expansion

Sales were buoyant enough for production to move to a small factory on the Quayside in 1932 and to expand into a wide range of polishes, disinfectants, shampoos and detergents. By 1933, goods were being shipped south to Hull by sea and, within two years, supply depots had opened in both Hull and Middlesbrough.

In 1936, Wilfred married Ivy Isabella Cissie Halliday, the daughter of a Gateshead publican, who was herself born in Walker. She was a typist with the Post Office in Newcastle. The same year the company was renamed ‘Domestos’ after its original and most successful line. Records show the subscribers or directors as both Wilfred and Ivy.

In 1938, the company acquired larger premises, the College Works, a former toffee factory on Albion Row, Byker. By now, Domestos was sold in brown glass bottles with specially designed caps that allowed gas to escape. The cost of a bottle in 1938 was 6d with a 1d returnable deposit on the bottle.

After the war, the company was unable to acquire enough delivery vehicles so, again like Ringtons before them, it bought the St Ann’s Works at Heaton Junction and set up its own coach building division. This was soon renamed Modern Coachcraft Limited and by 1965 had a van sales force of over 150 salesmen.

Domestor150999

An advertisement from 1951 (Copyright: John Moreels, Photo Memories Organisation)

The bleach wasn’t only promoted as a cleaning agent and to ‘sweeten’ drains. It was also used as a cure for sore feet and, during the war, a treatment for burns. By 1952 there was national distribution with offices in London, Manchester, Cardiff, York and Glasgow and a national research laboratory.

Stergene (launched in 1948 and specially designed for washing woollens) and Sqezy (launched in 1957, the first washing up liquid to come in a squeezable plastic bottle) were other well known products developed by Handley and his staff. But there were specialist brands too – a variant of Stergene, called Hytox was used in hospitals and garages. And it was now that the slogan ‘Domestos kills all known germs’ was first coined.

Domestos151011

A window display from 1950. (Copyright: John Moreels, Photo Memories organisation)

Philanthropist

In 1961, Wilfred sold the brand to Lever Brothers Ltd. The 33 years of success and eventual sale of the company meant that Wilfred found himself a wealthy man. In 1963, he established a charitable foundation, the W A Handley Charity Trust, with a large donation. The charity is still in existence today and gives money to good causes throughout the North East and Cumbria. The charity says that it tries to follow the wishes of its founder and support those who are disadvantaged, young, elderly or disabled; maritime and service causes; education, training and employment; communities; historic and religious buildings, the environment, music and the arts.

In the financial year 2015-16, the 100 plus beneficiaries included: Percy Hedley Association, St Oswald’s Hospice, the Lit and Phil, Northern Sinfonia, Shelter, Northumberland Wildlife Trust, Bede’s World and Newcastle Cathedral.  Whatever your interests, if you live in the north east, you have good reason to be grateful to Wilfred Handley.

After the sale

After the sale to Lever Brothers (now Unilever), Newcastle at first continued to be the centre of production. There were by now 800 workers on the College Works site and a £100,000 four storey office building was commissioned. Nevertheless a  number of production lines, though not those of Domestos itself, were soon moved to Port Sunlight and Warrington.

In the 1970s, the bleach itself went from strength to strength (so to speak). It became thicker, the familiar blue plastic bottle was introduced and perfume was added for the first time. But in 1973, production was moved from Newcastle to Warrington ending Domestos’s long association with Newcastle. This must have greatly saddened Wilfred, who died in Low Fell on 8 May 1975.

Domestosfactory1970s

Domestos Factory, Albion Row in the 1970s (Thank you to Ouseburn Trust for permission to use)

However, the product first developed in a Heaton garden shed by the young dental mechanic, Wilfred Handley,  lives on. It is now sold in 35 countries right across the world. Think about that, as well as the many local good causes it has supported, while you’re whitening your dentures!

Acknowledgements

This article was researched and written by Chris Jackson, Heaton History Group.

Thank you to Jacob Corbin, Archivist and Records Manager, Unilever; Arthur Andrews, Michael Byrne and Allen Mulliss, Heaton History Group; John Moreels, Photo Memories Organisation; Michael Patten and William Morris, descendants of Wilfred Handley; Lesley Turner, Ouseburn Trust for their help. It’s much appreciated.

Sources

‘The Development of Domestos: a product of the Ouseburn valley’ / Michael Byrne in ‘Tyne and Tweed’ no 58, 2004 (Association of Northumberland Local History Societies)

Can you help?

If you know more about Wilfred Handley and the early history of Domestos or anybody mentioned in this article or if you have any photos you are willing to share, please get in touch, either by clicking on the link immediately below this article title or by emailing chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

And if you have any memories or photos of work in the Domestos factory in Ouseburn please contact Lesley Turner at the Ouseburn Trust on 0191 261 6596 or by email at lesley.turner@ouseburntrust.org.uk

We are always interested to receive information, memories and photos relevant to Heaton’s history.

 

Metal Box

Does anyone remember The Metal Box Company works near Heaton Junction?

A Bit of History

Nationally the company dates back to at least 1810, although some of its constituent companies predate that, including Hudson Scott and Sons of Carlisle and Newcastle, acquired by Metal Box in 1921 and which is said to have been founded in 1799.

However it was a Heaton firm,  I A Hodgson, that led to the company’s presence on Chillingham Road. I A Hodgson, owned by Irvine Anthony Hodgson, was originally a manufacturer of cork products but by 1922 described itself as a ‘decorated tin manufacturer’.

Tin Boxes (1)

Advert for I A Hodgson & Co Ltd, which became Metal Box

Metal Box seems to have acquired the company in 1924, although it continued to trade under its original name until WW2. Irvine, the son of a butcher from County Durham,  had died in 1931, leaving over £24,000 in his will.

Nationally, in 1932, Metal Box described itself as a ‘maker of plain and decorated tins and tins for fruit and vegetables’ At this point, fruit and vegetable canning represented only 20% of its business, although that was expected to grow. In the mid 1930s it made the first British beer cans.

But it wasn’t all about tin cans. During WW2, its products included:

‘140 million metal parts for respirators, 200 million items for precautions against gas attacks, 410 million machine gun belt clips, 1.5 million assembled units for anti-aircraft defence, mines, grenades, bomb tail fins, jerrican closures and water sterilisation kits, many different types of food packing including 5000 million cans, as well as operating agency factories for the government making gliders, production of fuses and repair of aero engines

However, it described its Heaton Junction enterprise as a ‘tin box manufacturer’ into the 1950s. Hopefully someone  who worked there will remember its range of products and let us know.

 By 1961,Metal Box boasted more than 25,000 employees in total in ten subsidiary and 13 associated companies and it soon became the largest user of tinplate in Britain, producing 77% of the metal cans in the UK.

But by 1970, the Metal Box name had disappeared from local trade directories and telephone books. There is a photo in Tyne and Wear Archives (not yet seen by us) of the premises in 1976 before work began on the Metro .

Globally, Metal Box is now part of the giant American multinational conglomerate, Honeywell.

But what of Metal Box in Heaton?

Mrs Anne Fletcher remembers:

‘It was situated at Heaton Junction at the top of Chillingham Road. The premises are long gone now and the site appears to be part of the environs of the Metro.

 

NorthView

North View, Heaton c 1974 with Metal Box visible in the background

 

My first job after leaving Heaton High school in 1956 was in the offices. I’d been looking for a job when I received a telegram from the firm asking me to contact them. Not many people had ‘phones then!

I duly began my working life as a junior telephonist/receptionist at the weekly wage of £3-12-6d. This enabled me to pay my mam for my keep, go dancing at the Oxfordballroom in Newcastle and buy a few treats.

I walked there and back, lunchtimes included. My route went over the skew bridge, passing the stone wall which bordered the railway shunting yard. I remember there were huge advertising hoardings behind the wall. I passed my old school, then on reaching the corner of Rothbury Terrace, passed the dark blue Police box (like “Dr  Who”) and so home to Warton Terrace.

My new duties included greeting visitors and learning to operate the switchboard with its plugs and extensions connecting callers to the various departments. I was shown how to correctly wrap sample tins for posting and I would take the franking machine up to the post office at the top of Heaton Road. I had to practise typing as I had to attend weekly classes in Newcastle.

In Reception it was fascinating to watch the large Telex machine spring to life, chattering, with typed pages magically appearing. I learned how the typists’ Dictaphone wax cylinders were cleaned on a special machine, after which they were redistributed.

Having to walk through the factory one day was a bit daunting as it was of course a very busy and noisy place. It was all new and interesting though.

I moved on to the accounts department and used a large calculator. Others worked as comptometer operators. I eventually decided to go to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance, as it then was, at Longbenton. I enjoyed my time at Metal Box  though. It  had given me a good introduction to working life.’

Your Memories   

If you have memories, information or photographs of Metal Box, which you’d like to share, please either upload them to this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or email them to chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org We’d love to hear your recollections of other notable Heaton workplaces too.

Acknowledgements

Many thanks to Mrs Fletcher for her memories and to Ian Clough, who found the advert for I A Hodgson & Co Ltd.

The photo is taken from ‘Heaton: from farms to foundries’ by Alan Morgan; Tyne Bridge Publishing, 2012. Thank you to Newcastle Libraries in whose collection the original can be found.

Details of  Metal Box’s history are from ‘Grace’s Guide to British Industrial History’ http://www.gracesguide.co.uk/Metal_Box_Co

William Douglass Horsley

High Flyer of Tenth Avenue

On 23rd March 1915, 17 year old William Douglass Horsley became the third young man from Tenth Avenue to be charged with an offence relating to national security. A few months earlier Leo and Aloysius Beers, who lived just five doors away, had been charged under the Official Secrets Act while William fell foul of the Defence of the Realm (Consolidation) Act of 1914. This wide-ranging act, known as DORA, governed many aspects of life during WW1. It forbade, for example, the purchase of binoculars, the flying of kites, the feeding of wild animals with bread and, understandably, communicating with the enemy.

As the Newcastle Journal reported the following day, William was accused of possessing wireless telegraphy apparatus Including ‘one complete receiving set of a fairly formidable type that could receive a message from a considerable distance, probably Paris or Berlin’. The apparatus was ‘home made but very powerful and much more than a mere toy’. Furthermore, its aerials were concealed. William pleaded guilty.

The chairman of the court said that while the equipment reflected great credit on the boy’s ability, the offence was a serious matter for the well being of the country. He ordered the equipment to be confiscated and fined William 20 shillings plus costs.

The Accused

William Douglass Horsley was born on 3 January 1898 in North Shields, where his father, William Percy Horsley, was a wherry owner.

Family photo of William as a very young boy

Family photo of William as a very young boy

Engineering ran in the family. Young William’s grandfather was described as an ‘engine builder’ as far back as 1871 at which time he employed ’50 men and 31 boys’. And his father in turn, yet another William, was a ‘colliery and railway engineer’ in 1851, the earliest days of rail. According to William Douglass Horsley himself he was the latest of six generations of engineers. Thank you to Teresa Gilroy, a descendant of William’s grandfather, who provided the photographs, along with information about the family. One of her sons, continuing the family tradition, is an electrical engineer. Notice that the photograph below was taken at the studio of Edward George Brewis, another Heaton resident.

William Douglass Horsley

William Douglass Horsley as a young man

By 1911, William Senior, his wife Margaret, 13 year old William Douglass and his 8 year old sister, Phyllis, had moved to Newcastle. They were living in Jesmond and William Senior was employed as a pattern maker in an iron foundry, a skilled engineering job. By the beginning of World War 1, the family were at 8 Tenth Avenue, Heaton.

High Flyer

The engineering skills and inventiveness which impressed the chairman of the court would have made young William attractive to many Tyneside employers and in 1913, on leaving school, he had secured what would have been a highly-prized apprenticeship at Parsons. A year later war broke out and soon after that came William’s arrest.

Before he had a chance to complete his apprenticeship, William was conscripted into the armed forces. For most of the war, there were just two options for young men: to join either the Royal Navy or the Army. And it was the latter to which William signed up in February 1918. But William’s academic ability and technical aptitude made him the ideal recruit for a soon to be established service, the Royal Air Force.

The RAF was formally established on 1 April 1918. Some 20,000 aircraft and 300,000 men and women were transferred from the Army or the Royal Navy branches of the Royal Flying Corps (RFC), William among them. The RAF was already a considerable force bearing in mind that it was less than 10 years after Louis Blerioz had become the first person to fly across the English Channel but it was still very much a place for pioneers. Aircraft were used for both combat and surveillance and in both areas the knowledge of telecommunications, which William had precociously demonstrated some three and a half years earlier, were indispensable. The painting below is by Howard Leigh, who illustrated the early Biggles books by W E Johns. (Leigh lived in High Heaton before his death in 1942 but that’s another story!)

Aerial combat in WW1 by Howard Leigh

Aerial combat in WW1 by Howard Leigh

William was never posted overseas partly because on 11 November 1918, just over eight months after he had enlisted, the war was over. He wasn’t discharged until March 1919 at which time he was designated an Honorary Second Lieutenant, a Junior Officer rank. William Horsley had clearly come a long way in the four years since he was branded a threat to his country’s security.

Career Ladder

William returned to his parents’ home in Tenth Avenue, Heaton and resumed his position at C A Parsons and Co Ltd. Here too, he was soon promoted. On discharge from the RAF, William worked first of all in the drawing office before entering the design department. He became a senior designer and in 1938 was appointed chief electrical engineer. If you put his name into a search engine, you will find many patents in the UK, Canada and the USA, registered on behalf of Parsons under the name of William Douglass Horsley.

In 1949, William was appointed to the board of directors on which he served until 1967, when he was aged 69. During his career, he was an active member of the Institution of Electrical Engineers, chairman of the NE Centre in 1937. He was also a longstanding member of the North East Coast Institution of Engineers and Shipbuilders. The pinnacle of William’s career came in 1971 when he was awarded an Honorary Degree by Newcastle University. His misdemeanour 56 years earlier was well and truly behind him. During the award ceremony he recalled that the day after his appearance in court and heavy fine for making a powerful radio receiver, William was summoned by Sir Charles Parsons himself. Fearing for his job and indeed his career, he entered the great man’s office where to his surprise and relief, Sir Charles asked ‘Could you make one for me?’ (Thank you to Newcastle University for providing us with the citation read out at his degree ceremony.)

William Douglass Horsley died in 1989, aged 91.

Heaton Avenues in Wartime

Heaton History Group has been awarded Heritage Lottery Fund funding to enable it to research and recount the impact of World War One on a Tyneside neighbourhood. Children at Chillingham Road School have been involved in the project. Below is a collage based on W D Horsley’s wartime experiences made by a Year 6 pupil, who clearly shares William’s engineering aptitude.

Collage based on William Horsley's life in WW1

Collage based on William Horsley of Tenth Avenue’s life during WW1 by a Year 6 pupil at Chillingham Road School

If you would like to get involved by helping with research, illustrating the stories we uncover, mounting exhibitions or organising events – or if you have information relating to WW1, especially relating to Heaton, including First to Tenth Avenues, or to William Horsley, please contact: Chris Jackson, Secretary, Heaton History Group via chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

There is a related exhibition of original documents and artworks in the lounge bar of the Chillingham pub on Chillingham Road. It is planned to run until May 2016. The display will change approximately every two months.

Wills Factory Exterior

Working at the Wills Factory

The Wills Building was voted Heaton’s second favourite building in our recent poll. It’s now a smart, residential apartment block but until the 1980s housed a cigarette factory. We’ve interviewed two former workers to get a feel for what it was like to work there:

Olga Jackson (born 1935) initially worked in retail at C&A in the centre of Newcastle but her love of Newcastle United forced her into an early change of job where she didn’t have to work on Saturdays. Here she describes the amazing social life at Wills and the inauspicious circumstances under which she met her future husband:

This photograph shows the stage in the dining room where Olga’s drama group put on plays:

Wills Factory stage in the canteen

Wills Factory stage in the canteen

Thank you to John Moreels of Photo Memories Organisation for permission to use this photograph from the Ward Philipson collection.

Next Olga describes how cigarettes were made.

Although Laura Young (born 1936) was born in Heaton at 7 Sackville Road, her family moved to the West End when she was a small child. Her father, grandfather and cousins all worked at the John Sinclair tobacco factory on Bath Lane. She joined them when she left school but when that factory closed in 1953, she, along with many other John Sinclair workers, went to work at Wills. Here she describes how finding an alternative to the long bus journey home led to her meeting her husband.

This photograph of the outside of the building is reproduced by kind permission of the Amber Films and Photographic Collective:

Wills Factory Exterior

Wills Factory Exterior

You can see more photographs of the Wills Factory, taken by Isabella Jedrzejczyk just before it closed in 1986. here.

Olga has a collection of Wills memorabilia which she hopes to bring to the Heaton History Group members’ night in November.

Many thanks to both Olga and Laura for giving up their time to be interviewed and for giving us permission to use extracts here and in any future publication and to deposit the full recording in a local museum. If you or anyone you know would be willing to talk to Heaton History group about your memories of Heaton including schooldays and play, work and leisure or living through World War 2, please get in touch with Chris Jackson – chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org. We’d love to collect more memories.