Category Archives: When

The Sinking of the Cobra: a Heaton maritime disaster

When, on 18 September 1901, HMS Cobra sank on its maiden voyage on route from Newcastle to Portsmouth, it was a huge shock for the country and a particular tragedy for the north-east, but nowhere was the loss felt more keenly than in Heaton.

Steam

Only four years earlier, Charles Parsons had amazed onlookers by gatecrashing Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee Fleet Review and racing his yacht, Turbinia, between the lines of the officially invited vessels at speeds of up to 34 knots.

Sir Charles Algernon Parsons (1919) by Walter Stoneman
(National Portrait Gallery)

Turbinia was powered by marine steam turbines invented at C A Parsons and Co in Heaton by Parsons himself alongside other great engineers such as Gerard Stoney, whose home, as well as his office, was in Heaton and Robert Barnard, who worshipped at Heaton Congregational Church.

Turbinia

Turbinia’s spectacular demonstration of speed prompted local armaments and shipping firm Armstrong Whitworth to build a torpedo destroyer to be fitted with a turbine engine, confident that a buyer would quickly be found. The ship’s design was based on those of two other vessels built at Elswick and it was launched on 28 June 1899. Six months later the ship was offered to the Admiralty.  However, the turbine machinery on board was much heavier than the machinery on the earlier ships (183 v 110 tons) and 30 tons more than expected. Despite the assurances of the designer, Philip Watts, who was head of the Elswick shipyard and the firm’s chief naval architect, that the weight was within tolerance limits, the prospective purchaser expressed a number of concerns including about the  strength of the upper deck. 

Viper

While what was to become HMS Cobra was being modified on the quay at Elswick, a collier ship accidentally collided with her, delaying completion by another seven months. This misfortune allowed a sister ship, HMS Viper, ordered by the Admiralty from another Charles Parsons company, Parsons Marine (who subcontracted the building of the hull to a third local firm, Hawthorn Leslie) to become the world’s first turbine-driven warship. Sadly on 3 August 1901,  HMS Viper was grounded on rocks during naval exercises in fog off Alderney in the Channel Islands. The crew were forced to abandon ship as she sank.

HMS Viper

Disaster

Less than seven weeks later, at 5.00pm on 17 September 1901, HMS Cobra was deemed ready to leave Newcastle for Portsmouth, where she was to be armed and commissioned. On board were 79 men, 24 of whom were from the north-east, mainly employees of Armstrong Whitworth, the shipbuilders,  and Parsons, the turbine builders. 

HMS Cobra

As the weather deteriorated and the ship began to roll, the thoughts of many of those on board must have turned to the recent demise of the Viper, a ship well-known to the Parsons contingent in particular. Conditions, however, began to improve at first light until a sudden shock was felt throughout the Cobra. Within seconds, the ship had broken in two. There wasn’t time to launch any of Its five lifeboats but twelve men, including the ship’s chief engineer, John J G G Percy, were able to scramble into a small dinghy. They were the only survivors. Sixty seven men lost their lives, twenty three of them from ‘contractors’, mainly Parsons.

Local

Among those known to have Heaton connections were:

John Abel

John originated in Brighton, Sussex and, aged 28, worked for Parsons as a ‘steam engine maker and fitter’. His daughter had been born in Portsea, Hampshire in December 1899 so it’s possible that the family hadn’t been in Newcastle long. At the time of the 1901 census, they were living at 12 Morley Street but by the time John lost his life on the Cobra, they were at 44 Denmark Street.

Robert Barnard

The Essex born marine engineer was the senior Parsons Turbine representative aboard the Cobra. He was manager of Parsons Turbine Works, Newcastle and Wallsend. He had assisted in the design of Turbinia and superintended its construction. During its trials, he usually acted as steersman alongside Gerard Stoney and Parsons himself.

Barnard had also superintended the erection of the works at Wallsend and supervised the building and engineering of the Viper and the King Edward as well as the Cobra. Aged 38, he had been ‘associated with the development of the modern steam turbine from the very first. No one next to Mr Parsons believed more in the possibilities’. He was also, until shortly before his death,  treasurer of Heaton Congregational Church. He is buried in Preston Cemetery, North Shields with his wife, Mary.

Alfred Bryans

Alfred’s was one of the first six bodies to be found and it was formally identified in Grimsby Hospital mortuary by the coroner’s jury three days after the disaster. An envelope addressed to him at his home address of 25 Meldon Terrace, Heaton was found on him. Alfred was born and raised in Co Durham but in 1901, aged 25, was living in Heaton with his widowed mother. He described himself as a ‘steam engine maker and fitter’.Regarded as an exceedingly promising and capable young man’, he had worked as an electrical engineer at Parsons for five years and was previously on board the Viper ‘superintending work in connection with the dynamos’ when it sank. 

He had then been sent to Stockport to be in charge of the dynamos of the new electric car system there and had just returned to Tyneside to travel to Portsmouth aboard the Cobra ‘in the same capacity as he had worked on the Viper’. He had three brothers, one of whom was a doctor at the Middlesbrough hospital where some of the survivors of the Cobra disaster were taken. His older brothers were also engineers, one in London, and the other on a railway in South America. Alfred was among the first to be buried. His funeral took place at Bishopwearmouth Cemetery. Among the mourners at his funeral were Gerard Stoney, John Barker, manager of Parsons Turbine, and Sir Richard Williams who, in 1889, had moved from Clarke and Chapman with Parsons to help him set up his own company.

Edward Lee

Edward was a foreman fitter from C A Parsons and Co. He lived at 21 Morley Street.

George McGregor

Aged only 17, George was the youngest of the Heaton victims. He lived with his widowed mother, younger brother  and  two sisters at 69 Molyneux Street and was an apprentice fitter at Parsons. His older married brother, David McGregor, aged 29, who lived nearby at 33 Algernon Road was also a fitter at the firm.

John W Webb

John, a 32 year old Parsons fitter, lived at 9 Fifth Avenue with his wife, said to be ‘of delicate health’ and his sister in law. He was reported to be ‘well known and highly respected in the eastern part of the town’,  a member of Bainbridge Memorial Wesleyan Church and superintendent of the Sunday school.

Aftermath

Among the first announcements after the disaster was one the following day from the Admiralty declaring that they would ‘cease naming vessels after  the snake tribe – first the Serpent, next the Viper and now the Cobra’ (HMS Serpent had run aground and sank in a storm off Galicia in Spain  in November 1890, less than two years after going into service. 173 of her 176 crew lost their lives).

Locally, Charles Parsons headed to London immediately and the whole Parsons workforce was given the rest of the week off. There were reports of ’the horrors of scalding steam’ adding to the other dangers experienced by those on board. ‘The Evening Chronicle’ reported that Charles Parsons had foreseen this risk and insisted that the steam pipes on the Viper (on which no escape of steam was reported) were fixed as flexibly as possible. However, on the Cobra, the Parsons Company, as engine builders ‘were bound to follow specifications and these provided that the steam pipes should be as rigidly fixed as possible.’ The war of words between the various interested parties had begun.

The Admiralty immediately absolved the ship’s captain of any blame or navigational error, reporting that the ship was in deep, clear water when it sank. It conceded that it could have struck a wreck or some floating obstruction. A Captain Smith of a Yarmouth herring drifter which was the first vessel on the scene said that he might have seen a shark’s tail but it was impossible to know. A wounded whale, seen in the area, was also implicated until it was discovered that it had been landed a week earlier. The inquest jury expressed  ‘an informal opinion that the Cobra was too lightly built and hoped the government would build stronger destroyers’.

Meanwhile a special memorial service was held at Heaton Congregational Church on Sunday 22nd, led by the Reverend William Glover.

Appeal

And on Saturday 21st, a public meeting was announced by Councillor Thomas Cairns, to be held at the Victoria Hotel on Heaton Road ‘with a view to forming a committee to give assistance where necessary to the families deprived of their bread-winners by the loss of HMS Cobra’. The meeting was said to be crowded. Letters of support had been received from the Mayor, the Sheriff, MP Mr Crawford Smith, eminent trades unionist and Heaton resident Alexander Wilkie and the Reverend J Robertson of St Gabriel’s Church among others. Councillor Cairns made a stirring speech which concluded by assuring listeners that the organisers wished to alleviate distress only where it existed and so prompt enquiries into the circumstances of every case would be made. It was stated that the appeal would only be on behalf of the bereaved of the ‘Tyneside district’. A committee was elected and a further meeting convened.

However, a few days later it was announced that a national relief fund had been opened in Portsmouth. When Councillor Cairns contacted the mayor to ask that the Heaton committee be left to support its own bereaved as they better understood individual needs and appealed for the national fund not to appeal for donations for Parsons’ families, he was told the 600 letters had already been sent to national and local newspapers and that the fund would be for the widows and orphans of all those lost, not just the naval men. Cairns responded that Newcastle wouldn’t have dreamt of setting up a national fund. ‘If it had been set up in London, that would be different’. An agreement was soon made for the Heaton executive committee to be broadened to include the mayors of all the Tyneside boroughs. Mr Alfred Howson of 8 Heaton Road was appointed secretary and local councillor Thomas Cairns, treasurer.

Armstrong Whitworth contributed £1,000 to the Tyneside fund.

Court Martial

On 10 October 1901, the naval enquiry or court martial opened at Portsmouth. The Hon Charles Parsons was in court to hear his company absolved of any blame for the accident but Philip Watts, the designer of the ship for Armstrong Whitworth, endured lengthy questioning about the strength of the vessel and what might have caused it to sink. Watts said that he believed that wave action alone could not have sunk the Cobra because of where the ship broke and he maintained that the disaster could not have been caused by striking a rock as the shock felt by those on board would have been greater still. His best guess was that the destroyer had struck some drifting wreckage perhaps with an iron mast attached. He believed that if the aft half of the boat, which was still missing, were to be found, the likely damage would show this to be the case.

Parsons then gave evidence to the court. Perhaps undiplomatically, he said that he believed destroyers like the Cobra were intended to be ‘fine weather vessels but that gradually, having been found to survive heavy seas , they were not taken the same care of as they were originally.’ He clarified that he meant that they were designed to shelter in bad weather. When pressed on the fact that heavy seas were to be expected around the British Isles, he confirmed it ‘would become a necessity to ensure that the strength of these vessels is sufficient to stand any stress they may be likely to come across.’

He confirmed that the turbine machinery installed exceeded the original estimate of 155-160 tons, being 183 tons.

The enquiry concluded that Cobra didn’t meet with any obstruction and that there was no navigation error but ‘the loss was attributable to the structural weakness of the ship’. The court also found that the ‘Cobra was weaker than other destroyers and, in view of that fact, it is to be regretted that she was purchased into his Majesty’s service.’

Defence

Armstrong Whitworth immediately contested the court martial’s findings. The company pointed out that similar boats had sailed to Australia and Japan without incident.

Asked about Parsons’ comments the following day, an Armstrong Whitworth representative said that Parsons had meant that destroyers fitted with the turbine system of propulsion were constructed essentially for their high speed and this high speed could only be obtained in smooth water.

The company authorised Philip Watts, the ship’s designer, to conduct a search operation to try to restore its and his damaged reputations.  However, the missing aft section, which could have provided evidence of a collision and exonerated both Watts and the firm, wasn’t found.

Tutor

However, Armstrong Whitworth was invited to submit an article to a literary and current affairs magazine ‘The Monthly Review’. It commissioned John Meade Falkner, the English novelist best known for ‘Moonfleet’, the classic children’s story of shipwrecks and smuggling, written just a few years earlier, to write the piece. 

Why him? Well, soon after the Wiltshire born, Marlborough educated Falkner had graduated in history with a third class degree from Hertford College Oxford in 1882, he was introduced to an Eton schoolboy who was struggling to prepare for his Oxford University entrance examination. The boy was John Noble, son of Sir Andrew Noble, physicist, ballistics expert and partner of Sir William Armstrong.

John Meade Falkner

Falkner came to Newcastle to be a tutor both to John and to Sir Andrew Noble’s other children. You can see the 32 year old listed among the large extended household living in Jesmond Dene House on the 1891 census, even though by this time the youngest of the Noble children at home was 20 year old Philip who was recorded as being at Balliol College. 

Falkner’s occupation then appears to read ‘MA Oxon Secretary’. There is a second census entry for him as a lodger in Elswick and ‘secretary to engineering company’. He had become company secretary to Armstrong Mitchell in 1888. ‘Moonfleet’ was published in 1896.

By the time of the Cobra disaster in 1901, Falkner was living in Divinity House, Palace Green, Durham and described as a ‘mechanical engineer’  and an ‘employer’. At some point during that year, he became a director of what was now Armstrong Whitworth. His persuasive writing skills were undoubtedly a reason for him being chosen to pen the piece.

Like the naval enquiry, Falkner, in his article, quickly exonerated Parsons and the turbines but questioned the credibility of the court by drawing readers’ attentions to its members’ lack of knowledge of marine engineering. He went on to cast doubt on the competence of the naval divers who had dragged the wreck into deeper waters, searched in poor visibility and, in one case, ‘a foreigner, and his evidence, which seemed naturally vague, was rendered still more obscure by difficulties of interpretation.’

Falkner called for a ‘properly qualified tribunal’ … ‘which will command respect, and the country will accept nothing less’. The  truth would then be uncovered ‘on better authority than the verdict of a casual court-martial.’

His words fell on deaf ears but Armstrong Whitworth survived the blow to its reputation and, like Parsons’ turbine business, went from strength to strength in the following decades. Falkner succeeded Sir Andrew Noble as Chairman of Armstrong Vickers in 1915. He later became Honorary Reader in Paleography at the University of Durham and Honorary Librarian to the Dean and Chapter Library of Durham Cathedral. 

Sixty seven men, including twenty four from Parsons and at least six who lived in Heaton, weren’t so fortunate.

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Chris Jackson, Heaton History Group.

Can You Help?

If you know any more about the people named in this article or the sinking of HMS Cobra, we’d love to hear from you.You can contact us either through this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or by emailing chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Sources

Ancestry

British Newspaper Archive

‘The Cobra Trail’ / George Robson and Kenneth Hillier in ‘The John Meade Falkner Society Journal’ no 9, July 2008

‘Down Elswick Slipways: Armstrong’s Ships and People 1884-1918’/ Dick Keys and Ken Smith; Newcastle City Libraries, 1996

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

www.rjbw.net/JMFalkner.html

Other online sources

BBC at 100 and a Heaton choir boy at 14

Before her recent death at the age of 105, Lilian, the wife of St Gabriel’s parishioner Herbert Dixon (‘Dix’) Hodgson, shared some memories of her husband. Among the stories about Dix’s short but eventful life was one about a solo performance by him being broadcast on the opening night of Newcastle’s first BBC radio station. She also said that, as a young girl, she was taken to a neighbour’s house to listen to the historic launch. What she said she didn’t realise was that, among the voices she heard seemingly magically beamed across the Tyne into her neighbour’s living room in Whickham, was that of her future husband.

Dix and Lilian, March 1940 aboard SS Kirriemoor (Lilian borrowed one of the Mate’s uniforms and the captain’s cap!)

Chorister

Herbert Dixon Hodgson was born in October 1908.  Records show that in 1911 he was living at 41 Tosson Terrace, Heaton with his father William, mother Margaret and his four year old sister Hilda Annie. Another sister, Nellie Blue (Blue was a family name) came later.

Young Dix became a member of the choir at St Gabriel’s Church. He was soon recognised as having an excellent voice and starred as a soloist at church concerts. This seems to have led, as we have heard from his wife’s account, to him being selected to sing solo to mark a momentous occasion, the opening night of Newcastle’s first radio station.

There are, however, a number of unanswered questions around Dix’s involvement. We wondered whether his performance was live. And when and where did it take place? How old was Dix? And the listening Lilian? What do the historical records tell us about the occasion?

5NO

Newcastle’s first radio station was known as 5NO, its call sign. According to the BBC, its opening broadcast was a hundred years ago this year, on Christmas Eve 1922, so Dix would have been 14 years old. Incredibly the British Broadcasting Company had been in existence for only a couple of months. It had been set up by a consortium of wireless manufacturers, including Marconi, General Electric and Metropolitan Vickers, primarily in the hope of a commercial bonanza from the sale of radio equipment, although very few people at that time saw its full potential to ‘inform, educate, entertain’ as its first director, John (later Lord) Reith later put it.

Newcastle was just the 4th BBC station to open behind London, Manchester and Birmingham, set up by Marconi, Metrovick and General Electric respectively, all of which were a matter of months or weeks old. In fact, it was the first to be established by the BBC itself: the other three had been put in place before the national broadcasting company’s formation. The British Broadcasting Company had been set up on 18 October and BBC broadcasting had officially begun on 14 November. John Reith had been appointed General Manager on 14 December and hadn’t even started work that Christmas Eve. In fact he was to visit Newcastle on 29 December en route from Scotland, where he had spent Christmas, to London to take up his appointment.

The station Reith visited was set to become the first radio station to operate from new premises, independent of their parent wirelesss manufacturing company. They were in Eldon Square and had been kitted out by a small group of enthusiasts. However, there were technical problems on the 23rd, the night of the promised ‘before Christmas’ opening and so a decision was made to conduct proceedings as close as possible to the newly constructed transmitter on a tower at the Cooperative Society buildings on West Blandford Street. So, the opening broadcast of Newcastle’s first radio station was from a ‘donkey cart’ in a stable yard. Very Chrismassy! And perhaps not surprising that the BBC chose to ignore this first broadcast in its official records.

The station manager was a man called Tom Payne. Tom was born in South Shields in 1882 and was an accomplished musician. But he was most famous for his feats during a competitive walking career which began in 1906. By 1916, he had broken world records for 12 and 24 hour duration feats and won three London to Brighton and six Manchester to Blackpool races. In the meantime, he had found time in 1910 to  open Morpeth’s first cinema, ‘The Avenue’, and then set up a business on Gallowgate as a wireless dealer and a music promoter.  It was because he recognised the potential for his business that Tom got involved with 5NO and, at least according to Tom himself, financed the arrival of broadcasting in the city out of his own pocket. (You can hear him tell the tale on the podcast mentioned below this article.)

Programme

It isn’t easy to tell whether later references to the opening night referred to 23rd or 24th December. But we know it was scheduled to last just one hour. There were live acts including Tom himself playing violin and a Mr W Griffiths playing cello. Miss May Osbourne sang ‘Annie Laurie’ but she couldn’t be accompanied in the stable yard as intended by pianist, W A Crosse, because the piano Payne had borrowed for the occasion wouldn’t fit on the cart. There may have been  recorded music on both occasions, as well as other live acts whose names aren’t recorded. There were no listings in the press ahead of the event. The first we have found date from the first week of 1923 but, as you’ll see if you scroll right at the bottom of the image below, they weren’t exactly comprehensive in Newcastle’s case. The Radio Times didn’t appear until 28 September 1923.

In the event, on that very first night a barking dog in the stable yard reportedly forced proceedings to end early.

It was because of these difficulties that John Reith was asked to break his journey from Scotland a few days later. Reith was unlikely to be of much help to Tom. He admitted that he knew nothing about broadcasting, he didn’t own a radio set and, unlike Lilian, aged 5, hadn’t even listened to a BBC broadcast. His diary entry for the day reads:

‘Newcastle at 12.30. Here I really began my BBC responsibility. Saw transmitting station and studio place and landlords. It was very interesting. Away at 4.28, London at 10.10, bed at 12.00. I am trying to keep in close touch with Christ in all I do and pray he may keep close to me. I have a great work to do.’

Dix’s Debut

So where did Dix’s solo fit in? The truth is we don’t know. It has been suggested that the full St Gabriel’s Choir performed and that the concert took place in Newcastle Cathedral. Both are unlikely.

There certainly was no outside broadcast from Newcastle Cathedral. The first music outside broadcast nationally did not take place until January 1923 and was a high profile performance of ‘The Magic Flute’ from Covent Garden.

If St Gabriel’s choir had performed on the very first night, it would have had to have been in the Co-op stable yard. Ensembles did perform in those early days but, even in a proper studio, a full choir would have posed enormous problems for the equipment and space available in Newcastle at the time. It certainly wouldn’t have fitted onto a donkey cart!

Perhaps the choir had been recorded on a previous occasion and played on a gramophone on the opening night. But recording music was still an expensive and laborious process. In the early 1920s, the quality of the live music broadcast would be far superior to any recordings used. A search through the St Gabriel’s parish magazine from that period yielded nothing.

This suggests that, if Dix did perform on that opening night, it was as a solo, probably unaccompanied, voice. Achieving the right balance between a singer and an accompanist or multiple voices had not been fully mastered at that point even if there hadn’t been the issue with the borrowed piano. 

What did Dix sing? Given the time of year, one could imagine him singing carols but the above poster for a St Gabriel’s concert just a few weeks later on 13 February 1923 suggests another possibility. Then, Master Hodgson sang Handel’s‘ Rejoice greatly’ and ‘Angels ever bright and fair’ . There may not have been a dry eye either in the Coop stable yard or that Whickham living room.

Lilian

Lilian would have been one of a select few listening to that first north-east broadcast. There were apparently only about 100 potential listeners in the Newcastle area at that time and only those within about 15 miles of Newcastle were expected to be able to hear 5NO, although a ship’s radio as far away as Gibraltar reportedly picked up the signal. At home, many of the radio hams who had crystal sets or early valve radios at that time were ex-servicemen who had learnt how to use radio during the war.

However, there had been a huge advertising campaign for sets ahead of that Christmas. They weren’t cheap (from about £4) but the audience was set to expand quickly.

Petition

Tom Payne did not last long at 5NO. There are conflicting accounts about his departure sometime in 1923. One account says that he was heard to swear on air and was fired, another that his quirky presentation didn’t fit with the more formal style favoured by Reith. A petition to have him reinstated was unsuccessful.

But Tom’s walking exploits continued to keep him in the public eye. Indeed on 15 November 1926, he delivered a lecture on athletics to members of Heaton Harriers at their headquarters in Armstrong Park Refreshment Rooms.

The headline of a local newspaper report of his death at Walkergate Hospital in 1966 said ‘Champion walker dies’ rather than the ‘Broadcasting pioneer’.

Master Mariner

Two years after Newcastle’s first BBC broadcast, aged 16, Dix signed indentures and became an apprentice to the Moor Line, the merchant fleet operated by Walter Runciman and Co. He attended college to gain qualifications, including, to obtain his Master’s Certificate in 1936, at Nellist’s Nautical College.

Shields Daily Gazette, 7 Nov 1936

Between 1931 and 1938, Dix’s name appears on the Newcastle electoral register. He is still living with his father and mother but now at 31 Tosson Terrace, a few doors away from where he grew up. In 1938 and ‘39, a Leonard and Wilhelmina Runciman are registered at his childhood home at number 41. A coincidence? Were they part of the Runciman shipping dynasty and were they known to the Hodgsons? By 1939, the Hodgson family is registered  at 305 Chillingham Road.

We don’t know when and where Dix eventually met Lilian Mary Spittle. They lived on opposite sides of the Tyne but we know that Lilian had trained as a fever nurse and the Newcastle Upon Tyne Infectious Diseases Hospital was situated at Walkergate just up the road from Heaton.

Dix and Lilian were married in spring 1939, sixteen and a half years after that first broadcast, and Andrew their first son was born in late 1940. Douglas came along soon after.

By now, Dix was a master mariner, the highest rank in the merchant navy and what is usually referred to as a ship’s captain.

Tragedy

But on 21 May 1942, he was in charge of the SS Zurichmoor as it left Halifax, Nova Scotia in ballast bound for St Thomas in the Virgin Islands.

SS Zurichmoor

Three days later while 400 miles east of Philadelphia, it was torpedoed by a German U-boat and sank within 90 seconds. Dix, his crew of 38 and six naval gunners were lost. Many of them were, like Dix, from north-east families.

Tower Hill Memorial Panel 121

They are all remembered on the Tower Hill Memorial, London, a war memorial to ‘merchant seamen with no grave but the sea’.

Runciman and Co Moor Line Book of Remberance 1939-40

In Tyne & Wear Archives there is a Book of Remembrance commissioned by the directors of Walter Runciman and Company, owners of the Moor Line.

Angels ever bright and fair, take o take them to your care.

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Robin Long of Heaton History Group with additional material from Chris Jackson; thank you to Andrew and Douglas Hodgson for their help and for the photograph of Dix and Lilian.

Can You Help?

If you know any more about the people named in this article or about the launch of the BBC in Newcastle or the sinking of SS Zurichmoor especially as they relate to Heaton, we’d love to hear from you.You can contact us either through this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or by emailing chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Sources

Ancestry

‘The Birth of Broadcasting 1896-1927’ by Asa Briggs; OUP, 1961

‘British Broadcasting Century with Paul Kerensa’ podcast series

https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/the-british-broadcasting-century-with-paul-kerensa/id1516471271especially Season 1 Episode 20 ‘The First BBC Christmas’ and Episode 34 ‘Newcastle’s Christmas Launch: Let it 5NO, Let it 5NO, Let it 5NO’.

British Newspaper Archive

‘Into the Wind’ / by Lord Reith, 1966

Other online sources

Heaton’s Building Society Uncovered

Earlier this year, during building work on their home, some Heaton residents spotted a dusty pile of fragile, browning papers under the floorboards of their boxroom. Luckily for us, they didn’t just bin them because the documents were able to shed considerable light on the economic conditions and social and political networks in Heaton at the time they last saw the light of day.

The find comprised around fifty copies of a leaflet advertising a public meeting and a subsequent ‘subscription night’ to which people could buy shares in ‘Newcastle upon Tyne East End Economic Building Society’. The meetings would take place on Monday 2 and Tuesday 10 February 1891. Considerable detail about how the society would work are given on the leaflet along with the names and addresses of the provisional directors, bankers, solicitor, surveyor and secretary – and the name ‘Joseph Peers FSA’, whose role wasn’t clear, other than that he would fully explain ‘the principles and working of these societies’.

We thought it might be helpful to find out a little about the Heaton people mentioned before investigating a little further the society and others like it – but our first question was:

‘Who was Joseph Peers?’

This took a bit of working out. We had no birthplace, date of birth or address for the man named on the leaflet and, in the 1891 census, many people with that name appear. Some we could dismiss because they were too young and others we thought perhaps unlikely because of their occupation or where they lived. There was a prominent Justice of the Peace in Denbighshire, to whom grateful neighbours had erected a monument, who seemed like a possibility. But eventually, after combing through newspaper articles including the occasional court report, we were able to pin him down to the Joseph Peers who was born in Bury, Lancashire in 1837, the son of a woollen weaver. He apparently started work in a mill aged six, but went on to be an affluent accountant and an influential figure in local politics.

Despite his difficult start in life, Joseph said later that he was alway determined  to be a teacher and somehow he educated himself sufficiently to win a bursary to a teacher training college. After qualifying, he opened his own boarding school, at which he himself taught languages and mathematics. According to Peers himself, after some seventeen years, he gave up teaching due to ill health and trained as an accountant, after which he practised mainly around Clitheroe and Burnley in Lancashire. 

During the 1880s, he began, with great energy, to tour first of all the north-west of England and then the north-east, Scotland and increasingly further south, encouraging the establishment of a series of local building societies. By 1887, he and his wife had moved to the highly desirable Lancashire town of St Anne’s-on-Sea, where he became president of the Liberal Club, choirmaster and deacon of the Baptist church: a stalwart of the local community. 

Joseph Peers died on 18 January 1915. Curiously, the obituary in the local paper which gave so much detail of his early life, didn’t mention his role in building societies for which he was known all over the country. We will try to unpick this a little below. 

But first, the locals.

Directors

There are 6 ‘provisional directors’ listed on the flyer, all referred to as living in Heaton:

Mr J S Nicholson of 8 North View

Mr J Stokes of 26 Tynemouth Road

Mr A C Whitehead of 40 Clive Terrace

Mr H Weighell  of 10 Cardigan Terrace

Mr J Lively of 1 Molyneux Street

Mr C H Smith of Stratford Villas

What sort of men became proposed directors of a new building society in eighteen nineties’ Heaton? Here we were assisted by the fact a census took place only a couple of months after the advertised meetings and that most of the men (and, of course, they were all men) were featured in the press from time to time. 

Joseph Nicholson had been living at 8 North View for over ten years. However, his middle initial was not ‘S’ but ‘I’ for Innes. Joseph was born in Corbridge around 1843 and, aged 18, was a student at Gilesgate Training School in Durham. By 1881, he was living in Heaton, married with a young daughter and a servant. His employment status was recorded as ‘managing director of a glass ????’ (likely to be factory or similar), employing ‘38 men, 38 boys and 10 women’. At the time we are interested in, 1891, he and his wife, Anne, had two children but he had changed tack in his career again. Now, aged 48,  he was a ‘commercial traveller and clerk to the burial board’. By the next census, he described himself as ‘burial board clerk and journalist’.

There is corroborating evidence for some of this sketchy census information in the form of regular mentions in newspapers, especially in connection with his duties for Heaton and Byker Burial Board. It was Joseph who, in 1890, had announced that the new cemetery was open for burials. He was also mentioned as the ‘honorary secretary (pro tem)’ for a public meeting at Leighton Schools calling for Byker Bridge to be made toll-free. And in 1894, he stood unsuccessfully to be Assistant Overseer of St Andrew’s parish. There are also some articles by him including one about the new Royal Victoria Infirmary and a letter commenting on the proposed width of a new bridge over the Ouseburn ‘near the mill’.

Joseph Innes Nicholson died on 3 September 1903, aged about 60. He is buried, not in the Heaton Cemetery he helped run, but in Jesmond Old Cemetery along with his wife, two of their children who died in infancy and two other people whose identity we don’t know. An obituary in the newspaper refers to Joseph’s friendly nature, his work as clerk to the burial board, as a journalist and in teaching but sheds no light on his directorship in the glass industry or his unusual career path. The East End Economic Building Society isn’t mentioned either.

John Stokes was, in 1891, living at 94 Tynemouth Road (not number 26 as the leaflet stated but he may have moved) in what was, at that time, usually described as Byker rather than Heaton, with his wife, Annie, and four children aged between four and fourteen. He worked as a solicitor’s clerk. Twenty years later, the couple were still at the same address and still had four of their total of eight children at home. John continued to work as a solicitor’s clerk.

He had been born in Northampton in 1850. His father, a wheelwright, had died aged 29 less than three months before John was born. Initially, John and his mother, Sarah, lived with Sarah’s sister and family but three years later, Sarah married Richard Christmas who worked as a butler and footman in grand houses in London and the south. By 1871, John was lodging in Stamford, Lincolnshire where he was employed by a solicitor. Within four years, he had married Annie, who, like John, hailed from Northampton and they had moved to Newcastle. By 1881, they had four children. John died in Gateshead in 1932. Annie outlived him. 

Arthur Charles Whitehead was a Brummie, who at the time of the building society launch was 38 years old, living in Clive Street in Byker (although  the leaflet places it in Heaton)  and the ‘secretary of a glass manufactory’. Maybe this is what brought him into contact with Joseph Nicholson. Ten years before he had been a grocer in Aston near Birmingham and, aged 18, he was a clerk in a brewery. 

We also know that Arthur was an active member of the Perseverance Lodge of Good Templars, Byker.  The  Independent Order of Good Templars was an organisation which advocated temperance and had a structure based on freemasonry. It was founded in the USA in the early 1850s but soon became international and a returning British emigré, Joseph Malins, established the first British lodge in Arthur’s native Birmingham in 1866.  The Byker lodge was certainly a place where he could have met some of his fellow directors. Arthur Whitehead died in September 1905, aged c 52.

Henry Weighell was, in 1891, aged 31 and living with his wife, Hannah, three children and a servant at 10 Cardigan Terrace. As a young man, ten years earlier, he was boarding with an uncle of his future wife, a Northallerton grocer, and working as his assistant. But now, the Yorkshireman was described as a ‘commission agent’. We know from newspaper advertisements that he was a rep for ‘McGregor’s Dumfries Home Made Preserves’ and sold ‘Balmoral Crystalline Marmalade (as supplied to Her Majesty)’ and ‘Far-famed gooseberry jam (new season)’. At this time, he was living on Mowbray Street.

Ten years later Henry, Hannah and their five children were at 26 Kingsley Place next door to artist John Wallace, with Henry running his own wholesale confectionery business. 

By 1911, however, the family had left Heaton for the west end of Newcastle and Henry had changed sector. He was, by now, a ‘commercial traveller in cattle food.’ By 1915, 55 year old Henry and 61 year old Hannah had relocated again, this time to Belford in Northumberland, perhaps because in and around Newcastle, houses had increasingly replaced the farms of his erstwhile customers. We know this both from advertisements for the cattle food which Henry was selling and the announcement of Hannah’s death in December 1915. Henry was soon placing an advert in the ‘Wanted’ column for a country house with modern conveniences, a garden and a garage a reasonable distance from a station. He was looking for a new home because he was about to remarry. In July 1917, he married 44 year old Isabella Tindall, whose now deceased father had farmed 504 acres near Chatton in Northumberland.  Henry continued to trade in agricultural products. He died on 10 March 1939, aged 79. 

James Lively was recorded on the leaflet as living at 1 Molyneux Street but, by the time of the census, a couple of months later, he was living at 75 Mowbray Street with his wife Sarah and three young daughters and earning a living as a self employed watchmaker and jeweller. He lived and had  shops at various times on Shields Road, Molyneux Street, Mowbray Street and Warwick Street.

James was born in 1859 in North Yorkshire. His father, also called James Lively, was an Irishman from Sligo, who at the time of the 1851 census lived in ‘hawkers’ lodgings’ in Painters Heugh, All Saints parish and described his occupation as a stationer. Two years later, he married local girl, Mary Watson, who seemed to have been just 15 years old at the time. Mary had at least three children over the next six years, the youngest of whom was James, before her husband disappeared from her life.

In 1861, aged 23, Mary was living in Bishopwearmouth near Sunderland with her three young children and no visible means of support. By 1871, however, things seem to have looked up for the family. They were living on Low Friar Street in Newcastle. Mary had a new partner, Patrick Develin, also from Ireland. Both he and Mary were described as clothiers and the oldest of Mary’s children was an upholsterer. James and his other siblings were at school. All were described as Patrick’s children and were recorded on the census with his surname. However, two years later Patrick had died, aged only 48. 

A couple of years later, Mary was married for a third time to seaman Stephen Easten. She had two more children with him before he too died, at sea. In 1881, the unfortunate Mary, aged 43 and still described as a clothier, had upped sticks again to South Hetton in County Durham. She now had some financial help as 21 year old James was employed as a watchmaker and his younger brother, Michael, was a draper. 

It sounds like a tough start in life for young James but despite the poverty the family must have endured, having three father figures in his life, all only briefly,  and the frequent changes of address, he somehow learned a trade, built up his own business (He placed advertisements in the newspapers for an apprentice) and was nominated as a building society company director. Another indication of James’ status was his mention in the press the following year as being one of a group of friends to have made a presentation to James Peel, Newcastle United’s treasurer, who was leaving the city for a job in London. Most of the other friends listed were either directors of the football club or like James Birkett, who we’ll meet again later, a councillor.

By 1901, James, Sarah and their five children had moved away from Heaton to Ashington in Northumberland. James died in 1905, aged c 44.

Charles Henderson Smith was, at the time of the 1891 census, a 51 year old ship surveyor living with his wife, Mary, at 4 Stratford Villas in Heaton. He had been born in Aberdeen but his father, a blacksmith, and mother relocated to Wallsend with their young children in the 1840s. After serving an apprenticeship at Charles Mitchell and Company in Walker, Charles joined Andrew Leslie of Hebburn as a lofts man and then a ship carpenter in which role he spent several periods at sea.  He married Mary Ann Mein in 1861 and the couple soon had two children, the younger of whom was somewhat confusingly also called Charles Henderson Smith, also had a wife called Mary and worked in the same profession. They don’t make it easy for us historians! 

As Charles senior advanced his career with a number of different companies,  the family lived briefly in both Glasgow and Barrow in Furness before coming to Heaton where, in 1883, Charles set up his own business as a ship surveyor and then went into a partnership, a decision which, he gave as a reason for led his being declared bankrupt in 1889, while living on Falmouth Road, Heaton. This doesn’t seem to have prevented him from becoming the director of a building society less than two years later. However, an otherwise extensive obituary in the ‘Whitley Seaside Chronicle’ doesn’t mention either his financial misfortune or his association with the East End Economic Building Society. It does refer him to being a ‘staunch nonconformist’ and specifically a member of Salem United Methodist Church in Newcastle and then the Congregationalist Church in Whitley. Charles and his wife, Mary had moved to Whitley Bay in 1899. It was there that,  in 1911, first Mary then, six months later, Charles died. He was 71. Notice the name of his house as given on the notice of his death in the obituary.

Six men from diverse occupation but what they seem to have in common is that they were aspirational. Many had endured tough upbringings but had gone on to forge successful careers for themselves. They were the sort of people who might have had a little money to invest and to whom the idea of owning a house might appeal. You can see why they might be attracted to an organisation which could help them achieve their aim, something open only to a small minority in the late nineteenth century. It is striking though that, just as with Joseph Peel, neither of the two directors’ obituaries we have seen mention involvement with the East End Economic Building Society

The Officers

Morris Robinson, who must at some point have put a pile of leftover flyers for the building society under the floorboards of his home of 5 Holmside Place was listed as secretary of the society. (Is it just a coincidence that ‘Holmside’ was the name of Charles Henderson Smith’s residence?) On census night, 5 April 1891, he was aged 24, employed as a solicitor’s clerk and living with his stepmother, three siblings and two lodgers. Morris’s father, a Prussian Jew, also known as Morris, had emigrated to Newcastle and set up in business as a slipper and shoe manufacturer. By 1881, he employed 30 people. Sadly, he had been admitted to Newcastle Lunacy Asylum a year before the 1891 census and would die a matter of a few weeks after it took place.

Morris junior was also a keen athlete and member of Heaton Harriers. He went on to marry and have children but in 1908, just like his father, was admitted to the Lunacy Asylum and died the following month, aged 41.

5 Holmside Place remained in the Robinson family for over fifty years until after the Second World War. It seems likely that Morris Robinson senior, a successful businessman, bought it as a new build but we haven’t seen documentary evidence of this and whether he had a building society loan and, if so, which one.

Andrew Robinson, the society’s solicitor, was Morris’s elder brother, four years his senior and the first-born boy of the large family. In 1891, Morris was his clerk. Andrew lived in Tynemouth at this time with his wife and family.

The North Eastern Banking Company was founded in Newcastle in 1872 but with branches throughout Northumberland. Its Byker branch was at 184/186 Shields Road. It became part of Martins and eventually Barclays.

William Hope, listed as the society’s surveyor, was an architect, particularly well known for his design of theatres, including Byker’s Grand Theatre. In Heaton, he later designed Heaton Methodist Church and large houses on Heaton Road, including Coquet Villa and Craigielea. 

The  Venues

Leighton School Rooms The initial public meeting was to be held at Leighton Schoolrooms. We have already written extensively about William Brogg Leighton and his church, with its attached schoolrooms, which opened in 1877 at the southern end of Heaton Road. The rooms were used extensively for public meetings. 

Leighton Primitive Methodist Chapel c 1910
Leighton Primitive Methodist Chapel c 1910

Moore’s Cocoa Rooms

The subscription meeting was to be held at Moore’s Cocoa Rooms, which were described as the society’s temporary offices. The cocoa rooms  were at 46 Shields Road, opposite where Morrisons is now, between about 1886 and 1894 and often used as a venue for meetings. There were many cocoa rooms in and around Newcastle at this time. John Thomas Moore, the manager, was 39 years old in 1891 and lived in Byker. He had managed cocoa rooms for over ten years but went on to work in insurance. For a while, the Byker rooms also bore the name of his business partner, John Wilson.

The Chair

James Birkett, had, in 1891, been a well respected Liberal councillor in the East End for eight years. He lived at 37 Heaton Park Road. 

James was born on 4 February 1831 in Gatehouse of Fleet in Scotland. He came to Newcastle in 1855 as a young man and began work for a firm of anchor and chain-makers of which he eventually became a managing partner. 

James soon became involved in public life, where he was known as a radical. For example, in January 1867, he was a member of the committee which planned a demonstration in Newcastle in favour of extending male suffrage and, in particular, in support of Gladstone’s Reform Bill, initially shelved when the Tories came to power. 

In 1873 and 1884, he was the mounted marshal at the head of further large protests in favour of greater suffrage and electoral fairness, part of a national campaign which led eventually to the Third Reform Act, which extended the right to vote to about 60% of the male population.

He was also president of the Northern Republican League and a member of the Congregational church.

Locally, Birkett was elected chairman of Byker Liberals in 1874 and he was an active supporter of East End Football Club and other sports in Heaton. He campaigned tirelessly to improve sanitation in the city and for Byker Bridge to be toll-free and he was instrumental in Heaton getting parks and a public library.

He was the first chairman and then vice chairman of the Byker and Heaton Burial Board, in which context he will have known Joseph Nicholson, the clerk, and possibly also Andrew Robinson as can be seen from this plaque, still to be seen at the entrance to the cemetery. Note also the names of champion cyclist George Waller and his brothers.

Like Arthur Whitehead, Birkett was a vociferous and effective temperance campaigner who had a lasting influence on the development of Heaton as a suburb with very few public houses, up until the present day, yet another link between two of the names on the flier. As President of the Byker and Heaton Temperance Council, Birkett chaired a meeting in 1886 ‘to celebrate the success their friends had secured against the granting of certain licences for pubic houses’, and ‘condemned the idea of granting a licence to a public house on the main road to a Board School and on a road which the majority of their workmen traversed to and from their work’.

He had also, as early as 17 December 1889, chaired a meeting just like the one advertised in Heaton for a ‘new and improved Economic Building Society‘ in Newcastle at which Mr J Peers FSA would explain how to ‘Become your own landlord’. The office at which people could enrol was 76 Grey Street.

James Birkett died on 10 February 1898. On 20 July 1899, a clock was unveiled in his memory above the aviary in Heaton Park close to where ‘Mr Birkett’s figure was the most prominent among those who night after night patronised the bowling green in season’.

The James Birkett memorial clock can be seen on the Heaton Park aviary.

So they were the people involved in the proposed building society. But what was the context?

Housing

As late as 1914, only around ten per cent of houses in Britain were owner-occupied. In 1891, there was very little social housing and no council housing, certainly in Newcastle. As elsewhere, the vast majority of people in Heaton, even the more well-to-do, lived in the private rented sector. Indeed some wealthy people bought houses to rent out, while renting from others the property they themselves lived in. 

Renting was the norm and working class people in particular often moved house very frequently. We see this when looking at the census records and electoral registers for Heaton. Sometimes people moved just a few doors down the same street. Many poorer people’s tenancies were weekly, meaning landlords could evict them almost at will. Conversely, tenants could easily trade down if their income was reduced or up if they hit better times or if the size of their family grew or reduced.

However,  that doesn’t mean that some people didn’t aspire to or support the idea of home ownership. 

Building Societies

Building societies were not new in the 1880s and 90s. In fact, the first seems to have been founded in Arthur Whitehead’s birthplace, Birmingham, almost a century earlier in 1795. Their popularity increased throughout the nineteenth century, resulting in an Act of Parliament in 1874 to safeguard the interests of owners, investors and borrowers. From then, new building societies had to become incorporated companies under the act.

The building societies we are familiar with today in Britain (and more so before most became banks in the late twentieth century) are what is known as ‘permanent societies’, that is their rules allow them to exist indefinitely. But in the nineteenth century, many building societies were what were called ‘terminating’ building societies.

Such a society was open to subscribers only until the required number of investors needed to make it viable had been found (and then a new society could be formed). Depositors would be contracted to make a small regular deposit. They did not receive interest. The society invested the deposits in property. When the society had enough funds, a ballot would be held to determine which saver received an interest free loan, typically for 60% of the value of a property. The saver’s investments would usually be expected to cover the other 40%.

A local society might operate for around 10 years before it held any ballots at all. It would only hold ballots when it could afford to and would  suspend them if the economic situation was considered unfavourable. People invested knowing that they wouldn’t own a property in the short term and not even in the expectation of owning one in the medium or long term but with a dream that one day they just might. 

Peers’ Building Societies

The first building society that we have come across associated with Joseph Peers was in Darwen, Lancashire, close to where he lived. A newspaper report in 1985 refers to him as the secretary who had submitted the annual accounts. The society is referred to as the Starr Bowkett Darwen Society ie one based on monthly lotteries. The following year the neighbouring Heywood ‘Economic’ Building Society was described as ‘based upon rules drawn up by Mr Joseph Peers‘, suggesting that he had further developed the Starr Bowkett idea.

For the next ten years or so local newspapers, particularly in the north and Scotland, advertised forthcoming talks or opportunities to subscribe on pretty much a weekly basis. Joseph Peers was the advertised speaker at most of them.

Controversies

There were, however, some brushes with the law.  In 1889, the secretary of Peers’ Padiham Building Society was prosecuted on behalf of the Registrar of Friendly Societies because the society had not been incorporated. He tried to apportion some of the blame to Peers.

In February 1990, a question was put at one subscribers’ meeting concerning the amount mentioned for Peers’ salary. It was requested that Peers left the room while the discussion took place; he refused and a compromise was eventually reached.

Later that year, Jesse Morton Roby of Bury took Peers to court to claim £99.95 for work done, ‘promoting and establishing certain building societies known as Peers Economic Building Societies’. It was claimed in court that Roby visited Newcastle, Sunderland, North Shields, South Shields, Chester le Street, Wallsend, Gateshead, Morpeth and Derby and established societies but had not been paid at the agreed rate. He won his case.

And, just after the Heaton meetings were due to have taken place, a long letter in the Morpeth Herald took issue with the claims made by Peers about the likely growth of his societies’ funds and the amount he was paid by each society. The writer referred to the small likelihood of a member being successful in the ballots.

Nevertheless Peers continued to tour the country, promoting his building society model and seemingly finding queues of willing subscribers. 

Scandal

But the year after the Heaton meetings, a much bigger scandal occurred, which caused nervousness around building societies in general. A group of companies, including the Liberator Building Society (a permanent building society), all associated with someone called Jabez Spencer Balfour, collapsed. Balfour was at that time the Liberal Member of Parliament for Burnley. Facing charges of fraud – his companies were using investors’ capital to buy, at inflated prices, properties owned by Balfour – and the anger of thousands of penniless investors, Balfour fled to Argentina. He was eventually brought back to the UK to face trial and was sentenced to 14 years penal servitude. Despite his being disgraced, there are apparently two roads in the West End of Newcastle named in honour of Jabez Balfour: Croydon Road and Tamworth Road (He hailed from Croydon and also served as MP for Tamworth), both built using funds invested in the Liberator Building Society.

There are a number of connections between Balfour and the East End Economic Building Society:

One is Liberalism. Peers himself was president of St Anne’s on Sea Liberal Association and the chair of the public meeting here in Heaton was James Birkett, a much respected Liberal councillor, and some of the directors such as Joseph Nicholson were also supporters. Balfour was a Liberal MP. Liberals might be expected to support ideas which they thought would further the interests of ordinary people, including tenants. But for the less scrupulous and more cynical, like Jabez Balfour, association with trusted public figures and parties who were seen to be on the side of working people, did businesses aimed at those same sort of people no harm at all. 

Another is nonconformism. Jabez Balfour was a Congregationalist, like James Birkett and Charles Henderson Smith; Joseph Peers was a Baptist. Nonconformists tended to espouse hard work, temperance, frugality, and upward mobility. Late 19th century nonconformists were mostly Liberals politically.

And lastly Burnley. Balfour was MP for Burnley from 1889 to 1893. Joseph  Peers practised accountancy in Burnley and although he had moved to nearby St Annes in around 1887, he still had business interests there as evidenced by the court case involving Padiham Building Society in November 1889. It would be surprising if the two men didn’t know each other. 

In any case, the Liberator scandal led to a rapid decrease in consumer confidence. Investment in building societies fell and led to further legislation in 1894  including a ban on Starr-Bowkett and similar societies ‘based on dubious gambling principles’. Joseph Peers’ societies including the East End Economic would have fallen into this category. Although we have found no evidence of any serious wrongdoing by Peers or his societies,  it is perhaps understandable that neither he nor the East End directors spoke much in later life about their association with a now outlawed type of financial institution. 

We haven’t found evidence that the East End Economic attracted enough subscribers to get off the ground, still less whether any of its subscribers won mortgages in its ballot or which, if any, Heaton properties were financed by it, but the discovery of a pile of undistributed leaflets under the floorboards of its secretary’s former home has allowed some light to be shone on what was until now a hidden aspect of Heaton’s social and economic history.

Can you help?

If you know any more about anyone mentioned in this article or the East End Economic Building Society, or if you come across any reference to the society in property deeds, we’d love to hear from you. You can contact us either through this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or by emailing chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Chris Jackson of Heaton History Group (HHG). A big thank you to Josie, who shared her family’s find with us and to Marty Douglass of HHG, who acted as go-between. Also to Arthur Andrews of HHG for his help, especially for retrieving the article about Charles Henderson Smith from the ‘Whitley Seaside Chronicle’ archive at Discover North Tyneside, North Tyneside Libraries.

Sources

‘Ancestry’

‘British Newspaper Archives’

‘The Building Society Movement’ / by Harold Bellman; Methuen, 1927

‘The Building Society Promise: building societies and home ownership c 1880-1913’ / by Luke Samy; Discussion papers in Economic and Social History no 72; University of Oxford, 2008

‘Housing Landlordism in late nineteenth century Britain’ / by P Kemp; Environment and Planning A, 1982 pp 1437-1447

‘Whitley Seaside Chronicle’ , 14 October 1911

‘Wikipedia’ and other online sources

Escape to Heaton: Mike’s wartime memories

Stories of women and children hurriedly gathering a few belongings together and leaving the home they know to escape the horror of war, only to find themselves once more in the midst of it, have become only too commonplace in 2022. Heaton History Group member, Mike Summersby, arrived in Newcastle as a three year old in 1941 under just those circumstances.

We are delighted to be able to publish some extracts from the memoirs Mike has recently written. Here, he remembers those early days in Heaton, the family’s new home in Mowbray Street and the underground shelter where the family spent many hours:

‘ The wailing siren warned of the attack. Searchlight beams danced across the night sky, seeking out their prey. The dull drone of the planes heightened the sense of fear. Were they ours or theirs?

People hurried from their homes to the row of reinforced concrete air-raid shelters that sat between the Tyneside flats on either side of Mowbray Street. Hurriedly dressed over nightclothes, some carried books, or food, or other comforts. It could be a long night in the shelter. 

It was 1941. Jessie Summersby (Mam) and her two sons – my brother Peter aged twelve and me aged three – had only days earlier arrived in Newcastle. Dad was serving in the army. Mam knew not where, except that it was probably somewhere overseas. 

As a wartime street warden, Mam had witnessed close-up the horrors of the London blitz. Near breaking point, she and her boys had left the capital as evacuees. After a brief stay in the Wiltshire village of Little Somerford, she had moved us to Newcastle, her childhood home, where her father and her twin sister lived. 

From her London home she had watched aerial dogfights between the RAF and the German Luftwaffe. She could tell from the sound of the engines which planes were ours and which were theirs.

Our new home 

Our new home was a single room in a downstairs two-bedroom Tyneside flat at 164 Mowbray Street, Heaton (now, but not then of course, opposite Hotspur Primary School) in which my grandfather, William Newton lived with his ‘housekeeper’, Mrs Montgomery. 

164 Mowbray Street in 2022

Mam, my brother Peter and I were given the front room. I assume all concerned hoped that it would be a temporary measure. But these were uncertain times. No one could know how long the war would last. As it turned out this one room was to be our home for the next four years. 

We also had use of the scullery, including a shelf in the larder, and access to a shared outside lavatory (colloquially the ‘netty’) next to the coalhouse in the small, red-brick-walled back yard. 

So it was that 164 Mowbray Street became the place of some of my earliest recollections and our family home until the end of World War 2. 

Being only three years old when we first arrived in Newcastle, I had no awareness of our previous home in London. Nor could I possibly, at that young age, be aware of the sense of loss and deprivation that my mother must have felt as she came to terms with her new situation. 

The young Mike Summersby

Now, as I reflect on that time and the years that followed, I can only marvel at how brave and resourceful she was, and how magnificently she coped single-handedly during the next four years bringing up her two boys in such strained circumstances. 

Mam (Jessie)

Mam did her best with what she had. Out of necessity she quickly settled us in. Typical of the front room of a Tyneside flat, our room was roughly thirteen feet square with two alcoves, one either side of a chimney breast. The sash windows looking out onto the front street were curtained with blackout material. 

Furniture was basic and second hand or improvised. Much of the floor space was taken up by a three-quarter size bed initially shared by mam, Peter and me, and a square table and two horsehair-covered chairs (rough on the legs of a young boy wearing short trousers). 

Later, Peter slept on a camp bed which was folded away each morning and set up in front of the window each evening. I marvel now that without complaint, and for much of our four years living in that room, he slept so many nights on canvas stretched on a wooden frame. Perhaps it felt like camping out but it could not have been comfortable, particularly for a growing teenager. 

The two alcoves were used for storage of all our worldly goods, including the less perishable items of food. Orange boxes served for shelving. Mam hand-sewed hems on pieces of cretonne curtain which she then suspended on string across the front of the boxes to hide the contents. The wood floor was covered with faded patterned linoleum that had seen better days and was cracked in places where the floorboards were uneven, which made it difficult to keep clean. Heating in our room was an open fireplace with an iron grate. Teasing a fire into flame on a chilly night required the careful layering of paper, sticks of firewood and coal. One of Peter’s regular jobs was to buy and fetch coal from the coal yard next to the nearby railway line. 

Lighting was by gas from a pipe at the centre of the ceiling. When the gas was turned on, a replaceable mantle fixed to the end of the gas fitting glowed when it was lit with a match or a lighted taper. The flow of gas, and thus the brightness, was regulated by the manipulation of pull-chains attached to the light fitting. The mantles were very fragile and frequently needed replacement. The gas mantle would be lit only when the light was intended to be left on – otherwise a candle or a torch would be used as a short-term temporary light – like when someone needed to use the chamber-pot (kept under the bed) for a nocturnal pee. Whatever the form of lighting, it had to be blocked by curtains or screens so that no light could be seen from outside. Stray lights could assist enemy bombers in locating or confirming target areas. The ‘blackout’ was enforced by patrolling Air Raid Precautions (ARP) wardens who would promptly order ‘Put that light out’ if it wasn’t properly screened. 

The netty was a cold, stark, forbidding cupboard of a place housing a wooden platform straddled across its width, with an appropriately shaped opening above the lavatory bowl. Faded whitewash decorated the otherwise bare brick walls. ‘Toilet paper’ was squares cut or torn from newspapers, each square punched in one corner, threaded with string and hung in a swatch on a nail. Mounted precariously above the facility was a rusted metal water cistern from which hung a similarly rusted metal chain. The cubicle was little wider than the wooden entry door with its gaps at top and bottom – presumably for ventilation. Ceiling cobwebs added to the sense of gloom. This was a grim place of necessity in which to spend the least possible time, particularly during the winter months. 

The Culvert 

We had left London to escape the blitz but Mam soon found that the air raid threat, though less intensive than in the capital, was a fact of life here in Newcastle, too.
During our first year living at 164 Mowbray Street we spent many hours in the culvert. After a night spent there, Peter always liked to prolong his stay in order to avoid going to school, or at least to provide him with an excuse for arriving late. Grandad didn’t use the culvert or the street shelters. He preferred to stay in his home, taking refuge in the cupboard underneath the stairs of the flat above. 

About a third of a mile long, the Ouseburn Culvert had two entry points. The preferred access for us was down in the Ouseburn Valley off Stratford Grove West. The other – which we never used – was under Byker Bridge. 

The Culvert was our place of refuge many times during World War 2. At the wail of the air raid siren we would stop whatever we were doing, grab our gas masks and run out into the streets in the direction of sanctuary. There was no street lighting to guide us if it was a night raid and, anyway, moonlit nights were a mixed blessing. If you could see, you could be seen. 

The Culvert today

Once inside the Culvert we felt safe. An elliptical structure 6 metres high and 9 metres wide, with a concrete platform floor, it was dry and had the space for distractions and facilities to make the experience tolerable. A canteen, a first aid post and sick bay, bunk beds, an area for worship, a stage for performance, a library, and tolerable – if basic – toilet facilities. 

One particularly memorable evening the wail of the air raid siren sounded just a couple of minutes after we had returned to our room from a trip to the fish and chip shop on Stratford Road. Fish and chips were a hugely popular takeaway meal, especially as they were not subject to food rationing. As usual we’d had to stand in a queue to wait our turn at the counter. Then, with happy anticipation of the meal ahead, we carried the hot, newspaper-wrapped bundles the short distance back to our room in Mowbray Street. As soon as Mam had unwrapped the feast, off went the siren. We hurriedly dressed, grabbed gas masks and without a second thought Mam loosely gathered up the fish and chips in their newspaper wrappers and we all ran towards the Culvert. Sadly, on our arrival at our safe haven there was very little left of our now barely warm meal. Most of it lay scattered along the pavements between Mowbray Street and our sanctuary. 

Whilst the Culvert offered safety from whatever mayhem might be going on above ground, the overriding but generally unspoken fear was of what would happen if bombs were dropped at either end of the tunnel. Otherwise the occupants were sufficiently protected in their underground location, with its cleverly designed inner blast walls, to offer safety for up to 3,000 residents for as long as it might be needed, until the ‘all clear’ siren was sounded. 

Street shelters fell into disfavour after a number of people were killed or maimed as a result of direct bomb hits, in some cases resulting in the concrete and reinforced steel roofs collapsing on the people inside. It turned out that the Ouseburn Culvert was probably our safest option after all. 

The culvert was originally constructed to cover a section of the Ouseburn, a tributary of the River Tyne, through a valley which then would be infilled to provide improved access between Heaton and the city centre. (You can read much more about its construction and history here.)

Today, much is rightly made of the Victoria Tunnel, an underground waggon-way built in the 1840s to carry coal between Leazes Main Colliery to the waiting ships on the River Tyne. Longer than the Ouseburn Culvert, it was not as spacious in section but, like the Culvert, it was converted for use as an air raid shelter during World War 2. Tours of the Victoria Tunnel give visitors a graphic interpretation of the sounds of war and the conditions under which people sought shelter from the bombing raids of the Luftwaffe. If similar reconstruction of World War 2 facilities and other interpretation work were to be carried out at a section of the Ouseburn Culvert, it would make a very impressive addition to Newcastle’s heritage offer. 

I’ll tell you more about my memories of growing up in Heaton during and after the second world war anon.’

Acknowledgements Thank you to Heaton History Group member, Mike Summersby, for permission to publish this extract from his memoirs. We plan to feature more over the coming months.

Heaton Hall

Christmas Fayre from Heaton Hall

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

Heaton Hall c1907

Heaton Hall, c 1907

The Find

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

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

Cooks

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

1861 – Jane Wright (age 34) born in Carlisle

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

1881 – Margaret Halbert (age 20) born in Wrekenton

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

1901 – Hannah Beckworth (age 30)

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

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

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

Guests

The first page of the book is helpfully dated.

HeatonHallrecipesFirstPage1869

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

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

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

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

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

The Potters

In 1869, the Potter family comprised:

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

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

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

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

Christmas Recipes

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

Heaton HallRecipes4HHXmasCakes1of2

HeatonHallRecipes5HHGXmasCakes2of2

Christmas cake recipe from Heaton Hall

HeatonHallrecipes3HHXmasCakeRecipes

More Christmas cake recipes from Heaton Hall

heatonHallRecipes6HHXmasCandy

Christmas candy recipe from Heaton Hall

HeatonHallRecipes7HHXmasWine

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

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

Acknowledgements

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

Can you help?

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

Heaton Divided: the 1740 Corn Riots

Manchester’s infamous Peterloo massacre is rightly being remembered ahead of its bicentenary. But political protests weren’t unique to Manchester nor was Peterloo the earliest modern example of the military breaking up such a demonstration, leading to loss of life.  Almost 80 years before Peterloo, Heaton miners were at the forefront of a less well known incident in Newcastle in which a Heaton landowner was also a key figure.

It has been argued by A W Purdue that the 18th century was a time in England when there was: “a social order which demonstrated considerable cohesion in that, despite acute social tensions, ‘acceptable compromises could be negotiated, compromises which safeguarded the social fabric'”. 

There was indeed a strict social hierarchy, with the power in the land concentrated in the hands of a small number of men.  In return for the compliance of the vast majority of the population with this arrangement, there was an expectation that there would be enough food for the general public. But what would happen, if there wasn’t enough food or the people couldn’t afford it?  How would the population react and how would the authorities respond to that reaction?  Events in Newcastle in 1740 give us some clues.

Background

There was heavy rain in August and September 1739, leading to a bad harvest, causing the price of oats and rye to double by June 1740.  The winter of 1739-40 was also very severe. The Newcastle Courant carried reports of unemployment and shortages of food, coal and even water. Alderman Matthew Ridley of Heaton Hall is reported to have allowed the poor to collect small amounts of coals from his colliery in Byker. This was a heartening sign of compassion from a member of the Newcastle elite, but it was not  a foretaste of what was to happen the following summer.

It has been reported that by March 1740, local food supplies were running short and there developed the widespread belief that speculators were hoarding grain to sell abroad at an inflated price. With less grain being available, so the market value went up drastically, to the point where miners in Heaton and keelmen on the River Tyne could no longer afford to feed themselves and their families.

There were riots in many parts of the country during May 1740, although at first those in Newcastle seemed insignificant: a small group of women, led by ‘General’ or Jane Bogey, apparently rang bells and impeded the passage of horses carrying grain through the town. Five women were committed for trial but discharged at Newcastle sessions a few days later and a regiment of dragoons on standby was withdrawn.

But disturbances continued elsewhere and, on 17 June, orders were sent for three companies of troops to march from Berwick to suppress troubles south of the Tyne.

Heaton miners’ dispute

On 19 June 1740, miners on the night shift at Heaton Bank pit went on strike in a dispute about their coal allowance, which may have been recently reduced by the owners.

HeatonRoyalty1745

Map of Heaton in 1745 showing Bank pit just south of High Heaton Farm towards the north west (courtesy of the Mining Institute)

By 3.00am, the men had garnered support from other pits and 60-100 of them marched into Newcastle, demanding a settlement of the price of grain, higher wages and better food.

Les Turnbull has noted that, ‘the affidavits record that the overman, George Laverick, “saw about 60 in Number of Workmen belonging to Heaton Colliery go past about 6 o’clock on Thursday morning”. Later, several hundred men, women and children joined the throng in Sandhill near the quayside.’

The following day, the miners were joined by keelmen and iron joiners from North and South Shields, with a crowd of several hundred descending on SandgateThe authorities were alarmed by this and the Riot Act was read.  The protest at this stage was mainly peaceful. A group of women and children did force their way into a granary with the help of some of the Heaton pitmen but in the main the protesters were just trying to put their case. Miners and the keelmen  petitioned the city corporation and at first there seemed to be some sort of agreement to reduce the price of grain but when, the following morning, many grain stores failed to open, the mood of the protesters changed.

It wasn’t only miners who were involved. Keelmen were usually the protesters in those far-off days – they went on strike in both 1661 and 1731, arguably two of the first industrial strikes anywhere in the world.

It is instructive to see what happened in another north east town. Something similar happened in Stockton, but there the magistrates and aldermen sent letters to London, putting pressure on the government.  Consequently, they averted major violence in Stockton. The magistrates in Newcastle decided on another path.

Magistrates’ response

The crowd of protesters soon grew to around 1,000 and they launched a full-scale attack on the granaries, with women and children again playing a prominent part, although even now they were peaceful and often persuaded to leave empty handed.

Many gathered outside the Guildhall, which was situated on its present site by the banks of the Tyne in the Sandhill area and at the northern end of the old Tyne Bridge, where the Swing Bridge is today.

Guildhallold

Guildhall as it would have looked in 1740

Attack on the Guildhall 

The violence escalated and the crowd, by now numbering at least 1,500, attacked the Guildhall, which was described at the time as a ‘very beautiful and sumptuous‘ building. (The building was not that with which we are so familiar with today. It had been built from 1655-60 by Robert Trollope, a mason from York, replacing an earlier building which had been damaged by fire in 1629.) It is recorded that the crowd of keelmen, iron workers and townspeople, ‘smashed the woodwork and windows, tore the paintings, and ransacked the archives and treasury.’   At least £1,300 was removed from the vaults but weapons that were captured were smashed and thrown in the river rather than used on the magistrates, all of whom escaped unharmed.

The actions that took place included the blocking of the movement of grain through the town, the seizure of grain and bread and unsuccessful negotiations with magistrates and merchants in an effort to reduce prices on a range of food items.  There was also an attempt to commandeer a ship-load of rye. Interestingly, it has been noted that women and children were again prominent in the disturbances, but they were joined by contingents of pitmen, keelmen and iron-workers, as the food protest merged with discontent over wages and labour conditions.

Much of the anger was connected to the fact that corn and rye were being exported from the Tyne, from the towns of Newcastle and Gateshead, where people needed it.  This was seen as going against the idea of a moral economy – more of which later.  It has been noted that, ‘the transportation of grain from the Tyne and the Tees occasioned food riots there in May 1740.  At Newcastle, women led protests against high prices and then attempted to unload a ship at the quayside.  When an alderman, supported by a private army confronted them and fired upon the crowd, major disturbances followed.’

The private army of 60 horsemen and over 300 men on foot, all of them bearing oak cudgels, was led by Heaton Hall’s Matthew Ridley. At first it enforced an uneasy calm but the Grand Allies, who owned Heaton colliery, refused to cooperate, perhaps because it would mean coming into conflict with their own workforce but more likely because  they could not bring themselves to work with Matthew Ridley, with whom they were often involved in bitter industrial and land disputes. There were other divisions among the authorities, too particularly between Alderman Fenwick, the mayor, and Ridley.

Over the following days, more and more people came into town to take advantage of the lower prices, which had been agreed earlier, but little grain was on sale. Eventually on 26 June, Ridley led a group of 20-30 armed freemen through the demonstrators. In the scuffling that followed, shots were fired. We know that at least one demonstrator was killed, possibly more, and others were wounded.

Understandably,  the violence escalated. Ridley was so concerned that his home would be attacked that he bricked all his valuables away in a vault but, in the event, Heaton Hall escaped unharmed.

HeatonHall1793

Heaton Hall in 1793

Mayor Fenwick had to appeal to the border garrison at Berwick to send more troops down through Northumberland before the protests were finally quelled.

Aftermath

The following day Matthew Ridley wrote a letter to the ‘Newcastle Courant’:

As it hath been maliciously reported that I was the first person that fired in the unhappy tumult yesterday, I think myself obliged to declare in this publick manner that I had neither gun or pistol in my hand nor did I give orders to any person to fire; but when the gentelmen were attacked in so violent a manner and several of them knocked down, they defended their lives in the best manner they could. Our intention at that time was to guard the delivery of the ship lying in the key laden with rye at the low price and to protect the poor upon the terms promised last Saturday’

Ninety one ringleaders’ names were collected for their part in the disturbances on 19 and 20 June, 41 of which were pitmen, seven waggonmen, seven keelmen, six women, five tradesman, one labourer and 24 of unknown occupation.

Eventually twenty pitmen, predominantly from Heaton, were indicted. Most escaped punishment as the authorities chose to respond with moderation, although there were two convictions for felony, with sentences of seven years transportation, and one of riot, with a sentence of six months in prison and a further twelve months ‘on securities’.

Among the Heaton miners were William Dunn of Gateshead, who worked under Ralph Laverick, Thomas Clough of Gateshead, who worked under George Claughton and Robert Clewett of Sidgate, who worked under John Taylor.  There was also George Clewett of Gateshead, who worked under George Claughton, John Todd, who worked under Henry Laverick and William Richardson, who worked under Ralph Weatherburn.  This suggests that men came from quite long distances to work in Heaton.

A further 213 men were identified as being involved in the disturbances on 26 June, 112 of whom were prosecuted, but again the punishments were relatively lenient, perhaps influenced by the fact that most local collieries had gone on strike while awaiting the verdicts.

The Guildhall was not, in fact, completely destroyed but, following further damage by fire, the frontage was rebuilt in 1794 to designs by William Newton and David Stephenson. In 1809, the south side was redesigned again in a classical style by John and William Stokoe. John Dobson’s east extension was completed in 1823.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Matthew Ridley failed in his bid to be elected to Parliament as a Member for Newcastle in 1741 but he was elected unopposed in 1747. He was also mayor of Newcastle in 1745, 51 and 59. Interestingly in May 1768 he spoke in Parliament in defence of Newcastle men involved in London riots and against the use of the militia in riots.

Reflections

It has been noted that two distinct views of the riot prevailed afterwards; ‘The outbreak of popular violence confirmed some people’s suspicions that “respectable” grievances served only as a pretext for the mob’s brutish desire to loot and plunder: to others it vindicated the traditional argument that it was not only unjust but also unwise “to provoke the necessitous, in times of scarcity, into extremities, that must involve themselves, and all the neighbourhood in ruin”’.

When E.P. Thompson wrote in 1971 about the Newcastle Corn Riots of 1740 in his famous paper The Moral Economy of the English Crowd in the 18th Century, he talked of how the moral economy had been disturbed. Here is a definition of moral economy from the Oxford Dictionary online:  ‘The regulation of moral or ethical behaviour;  an economic system in which moral issues, such as social justice, influence fiscal policy or money matters.’

Thompson argued that the merchants and magistrates had disrupted the idea of the moral economy by not listening to the arguments of the working people that they could no longer afford rye and bread at market prices. Here was a sign of the beginning of the modern capitalist economy where items would be sold at the market value and the idea that there should still be a moral economy – which, it has been argued, in one interpretation, ‘is an economy based on goodness, fairness, and justice. Such an economy is generally only stable in small, closely knit communities, where the principles of mutuality — i.e. “I’ll scratch your back if you’ll scratch mine” — operate to avoid the free rider problem’ – was being lost.

As the economy of the north east grew during the 18th century, so society was moving further and further away from the older ideas that those at the top of the social hierarchy should be paternalistic towards those lower down the pecking order. As the market value of commodities became more important to those in positions of power than a sense of responsibility to those who would have been called the ‘lower orders‘, so it is argued, working people increasingly protested, especially when faced with starvation.

It is perhaps, then no wonder that the coming years would see the hierarchy itself being increasingly challenged but we shouldn’t forget the Newcastle corn riots of 1740 or the parts played by Heaton miners – and the local landowner.

Acknowledgements Researched and written by Peter Sagar with additional material by Chris Jackson.

Sources

‘A Celebration of Our Mining Heritage ‘ / Les Turnbull; Chapman, 2015

‘The Guildhall’, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1952

‘The Moral Economy of the English Crowd in the Eighteenth Century’ / E P Thompson;  Past and Present, No. 50. (Feb, 1971), pp76-136

Newcastle in the Long Eighteenth Century’ / A W Purdue; Northern History, September 2013

‘The Politics of Provisions: Food Riots, Moral Economy, and Market Transition’ by John Bohstedt; Routledge, 2010

‘Popular Cultures in England 1550-1750’ / Barry Reay; Routledge, 1988

‘Riotous Assemblies: Popular Protest in Hanoverian England’ / Adrian Randall; OUP, 2006.

‘Urban Conflict and Popular Violence: the Guildhall riots of 1740 in Newcastle upon Tyne’ / Joyce Ellis; International Review of Social History, Vol 25 Part 3, 1980.

https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/us/moral_economy

https://everipedia.org/wiki/Moral_economy/

http://englandsnortheast.co.uk/Georgian.html

https://co-curate.ncl.ac.uk/guildhall/

 

 

 

 

Peggy Murray: Lord Mayor and adopted Heatonian

Members of Heaton History Group’s  research team are always on the look-out for stories relating to our area, so when Arthur Andrews read a book called ‘Women on the March’ about early women MPs of the North East, the following paragraph, that a lesser researcher might have let pass, caught his attention:

When Grace Colman [Tynemouth MP 1945-50] died on 7 July, 1971, aged 79, she was mourned by many members of the North Labour Party, not to say the women of Tyneside and Northumberland. After cremation at Tynemouth crematorium, it was Peggy Murray who carried out her last request to scatter her ashes on a moor near Wooler.’

Arthur wondered who it was who had scattered her friend’s ashes and, in the hope that she would turn out to be a Heatonian with a story to tell, he set about finding out:

Scot

Margaret’s father James Malloch was born in Govan, Lanarkshire and was a marine engine fitter. In the 1901 census he was a ‘boarder’ living with a family in Benwell. By the time of the 1911 census, he was married to Alice from Longbenton, and they were living in Byker with 3 children. The eldest was Margaret (Peggy), who had been born in 1903 in Govan and she had two younger brothers, Thomas and Ronald, both born in Newcastle.

By 1931 the family had moved to Walker with just mother Alice, Margaret (Peggy), Ronald and, presumably another son, James. Father John and brother Thomas are not there.

In 1932 Peggy married Alexander Easson Murray (1907-1965) of 110 Cartington Terrace, Heaton. They had a son, Alan, born in 1937. For many years after that, the Murray family lived at 3 Marleen Avenue, which overlooks Heaton Junction rail yards (though later they moved to the West End before returning to Heaton). Arthur had his story!

Politics

Peggy became a Newcastle Councillor, representing the Moorside ward for Labour for almost 30 years, from 1952 to 1982. Tony Flynn, one time Moorside councillor and Leader of Newcastle upon Tyne City Council, described his former colleague:

“I knew Peggy Murray very well as I was a fellow Ward Councillor with her in Moorside from 1980.

When I was Chair of the Moorside Ward in 1979, we managed to get Peggy elected to the Moorside Ward so that she could become Lord Mayor in the City’s 900th anniversary year, after she had lost her seat the previous year.

I then stood for the Council in 1980 and was elected taking the seat from the Tories in the first year when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister.

Peggy and I used to share weekly surgeries together, at what was then the old Snow Street School, when we used to chat for an hour in between seeing ‘punters’.

Peggy was unlike many other councillors as she never hid her personal political opinions from others, who seemed to her to be personally ambitious and had forgotten why they were on the council.

She talked extensively about her past in the women’s labour movement and in particular the history of the suffragettes.

She refused to accept councillors’ allowances saying money was not her motivation for being a councillor. She was a doughty fighter for what she believed in and upset many of her fellow Labour councillors who she thought were “In it for themselves”.

Peggy was blunt with electors. She used to bring a marked electoral role to surgeries and after agreeing to help people with their problems, confronted them with the fact that they had not voted at the previous election, when women had fought for their vote. (Or worse that they had not bothered to register to vote.)

She would say, I will help you if you promise to vote in future, preferably for her as she could only help them if she was a councillor. (Peggy continued to hold surgeries the year she was not a councillor, and therefore spoke from hard experience.)

Peggy was an avid reader and believed in self education. Even when she was Lord Mayor she still managed to walk into the Central Library every week to borrow books. 

Jeremy Beecham, who was Leader of the Council at the time, would not allow Peggy to dispense with the Lord Mayor’s car during her term of office, as she did not want the trappings of office!

I suppose Peggy for a long time was my ‘mentor’and in turn would nominate me for office at the annual Labour Group meetings even though I was a novice.

When I was elected to the group executive in my first year on the council, older members disapproved of my quick elevation. Peggy would reply that they had been there all their lives and ‘had done nothing’ ‘better to give a younger person an opportunity’ before they ‘sold out’ and ‘lost their values’.

So, Peggy was a character and a ‘one off’ who had a ‘cutting-edge’ and did not mind ‘telling it’ as she saw things.”

Lord Mayor

It must have been a great privilege for Peggy Murray to be elected as Mayor by the Labour group during the Newcastle’s 900th anniversary celebrations. Her daughter-in-law, Mrs Jean Murray, was the Lady Mayoress.

MurrayPeggyandQueenMother

Lord Mayor Peggy Murray with Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother

Councillor Margaret Collins, who nominated Peggy, said that it was ‘a triumphant return’, after Peggy won back her seat in the Moorside ward.

She received an Honorary Doctor of Civil Law from Newcastle University for her ‘outstanding contribution to the wellbeing of Newcastle’ by serving on social services, residential and day care, education, workshops for the adult blind, health services advisory and St Mary Magdalen Trust committees as well as the Moorside Priority Team. She had been in her time Chairman of the Healthcare Committee,Welfare Committee and Libraries Committee. She was a former alderman.

The atlas below was produced by the School of Geography and Environmental Studies of Newcastle Polytechnic as a contribution to the 900th Anniversary of the city’s foundation. It contains many interesting facts, figures, maps and diagrams of the city’s development over the centuries. The atlas was printed as a limited, edition of 1000 copies, the one illustrated being number 495. This book is mentioned because the foreword was written by the Lord Mayor, Councillor, Mrs M S Murray (Peggy).

HistoricalAtlasofNewcastle1res

She writes that this was a daunting task for her, in trying to encapsulate ‘the many changes through the centuries, to what is now Newcastle upon Tyne’. Also noted by her is that industrial recession at the start of the 20th Century was changed to prosperity by the Great War, with women working long hours and even night shift in the factories along Scotswood Road. The women also organized a strike. She then mentions the decline in heavy industry etc and mentions Newcastle people being resilient in hard times. She finished her foreword with:

‘May we leave a pleasant city to our children in which they may live, learn, work and play in peace’.

Mayoral Year

During her year in office, Peggy:

Played host to Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother;

Stitched the first stitch in a tapestry to mark Newcastle’s 900th Anniversary, now in Newcastle Civic Centre;

Welcomed home the round the world yachtsman, David Scott Cowper, with receptions on the Quayside and the Mansion House;

Attended the opening of Odeon 4 in Pilgrim Street with the launch of the film, ‘Rocky II’. A commentator said that she declared that she was not particularly fond of fight films but nevertheless performed her civic duty perfectly, without ‘throwing the towel in’;

Murraypeggy900Aleres

Pressed the button on the Scottish and Newcastle bottling line for the first batch of a total of 900,000 half pint bottles of the special edition ‘Newcastle 900 Anniversary Ale’, selling for 30p. The teetotal’ mayor said that she hoped people on Tyneside would enjoy the ale ‘but not too frequently’.

Obituary

Peggy Murray died in August 1987, in the Freeman Hospital, aged 84. Her home at the time of her death was Stannington Place, Heaton. Her obituary noted that she refused the £1000 gold medallion for her year in office because the council could not afford it, saying: ‘I have the memories of the kindness of the people of Newcastle which no one can replace’.

Find Out More

Our talk ‘800 Years of Newcastle Mayors’ by David Faulkner on Wednesday 23 January 2019 at the Corner House will be about the renowned individuals who have held the office down the centuries. Find out more, including how to book, here.

Can you help?

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

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Arthur Andrews, Heaton History Group. Thank you to Tony Flynn for his time and for his memories of Peggy Murray.

Sources

‘The March of the Women’ by Tony Sleight;

Newcastle City Library;

Online sources including FindMyPast, Ancestry, British Newspaper Archive.

Royal visit to Heaton Sec Schools

Heaton Secondary Schools: the beginning

You may be surprised to learn that Heaton Secondary Schools were officially opened  by the Right Honourable Grey of Fallodon, Chancellor of the University of Oxford. Surprised because a visit some weeks later by the King and Queen is often mistakenly referred to as the opening. Here’s what actually happened!

The schools. which had provision for 500 boys and 500 girls,  were erected at a cost of £140,000 and claimed to be the most up to date and best equipped in the country. The opening ceremony on 18 September 1928 was big news and covered in newspapers from Aberdeen and Belfast to Gloucester and beyond.

Quadrangle

The original plan, agreed before World War One, had been to build the school on 25 acres of land adjacent to Ravenswood Road but this project had to be shelved due to the war. Afterwards, a price could not be agreed with the landowner. Compulsory purchase was set in motion but eventually the council decided that this would mean unacceptably long delays so a site of equal size opposite the housing estate being built on the other side of Newton Road was negotiated.

The original buildings of what became Heaton Manor School

The original buildings of what became Heaton Manor School

The layout of the school was said to be reminiscent of a Cambridge college with the design of open loggias around a quadrangle.

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Heaton Secondary Schools West Gateway

The classrooms were ‘of the open air type, with sliding partitions along the sunny side, the north side being used for science laboratories, gymnasiums etc.’

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Heaton Secondary Schools’ ‘open-air classrooms’

There were two schools each with their own hall, dining room, library, labs, a commercial room, staff room and classrooms but the two halls were adjacent and so could be ‘thrown into one to form a great hall 80 feet long by 90 feet wide’. There was a craft room in the boys school and needlework and domestic science rooms in the girls’.

The first head teacher of Heaton Secondary School for Boys as it was first known was Mr F R Barnes, formerly of Barrow in Furness Secondary School for Boys. He started with a staff of 17 graduates and five specialists.  Miss W M Cooper, formerly of Benwell Secondary School, had 13 graduates and four specialists working for her in the girls’ school, Heaton High School as it became known.

As for pupils, initially there would be 291 boys and 414 girls, 455 of which would be free scholarship holders. The remaining pupils were fee-paying. At the outset, their parents were charged £8 a year. The programme for the opening event announced that ‘Mrs Harrison Bell has very kindly endowed a history prize in memory of her husband, the late My J N Bell, who was elected in 1922 Member of Parliament for the east division of the city. The prize will be awarded in the boys’ and the girls’ school in alternate years.’

Viscount Grey

At the ceremony, there were prayers and songs including ‘Land of Hope and Glory‘ and Northumbrian folk song  ‘The Water of Tyne’ and lots of speeches, not only Viscount Grey’s but also those of numerous local politicians, including the Lord Mayor, and presentations by the  architect, H T Wright,  and the contractor, Stanley Miller.

Viscount Grey is better known as the politician, Sir Edward Grey, who was Foreign Secretary from 1905 to 1916, the longest tenure ever. He is particularly remembered for the remark he is said to have made as he contemplated the enormity of the imminent World War One: ‘ The lamps are going out all over Europe. We shall not see them lit again in our time.’

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Viscount Grey

In his speech in Heaton, Viscount Grey, a Liberal, said ‘The ideal system would be one in which the highest, most advanced and most expensive education was devoted solely to the youthful material of the country who were most capable by their abilities to profit from it. We have not reached that point today. A great deal of the highest and most expensive education in the country is given…. to <those> whose parents are able to pay for it… but… every school like that at Heaton is bringing higher education within the reach of those whose parents cannot pay for it. This is an advance towards a better system’.

And tackling another topic which has resonance today, the former tennis champion and keen fisherman and ornithologist spoke about the variety of entertainment available to young people, reminding the audience that  in his day, there ‘was no electric light, no motor cars, no telephones, no wireless and no moving pictures’. But he reminded his young audience that the things which interested people most through life were those in which they took some active personal part. ‘Take part in games, rather than be mere spectators’ he urged. ‘It will give you more pleasure than all the other entertainments that come to you without trouble.’

Live Radio

For any locals lucky enough to have one, the whole ceremony was actually broadcast on the wireless from 3:00pm until 4:30pm. Radio station 5NO had been broadcasting from Newcastle since 1922 and its signals could reach up to about 20 miles. With broadcasting still in its infancy, many newspaper listings came with detailed technical instructions on what to do if the signal was lost: radio was still far from being a mass medium but it was catching on fast and those early local listings make fascinating reading. You can view them here.

Royal Visit

Just over three weeks later, 23,000 pupils from all over Newcastle were invited to Heaton for the visit of King George V and Queen Mary to the school before the royal couple went on to open the new Tyne Bridge. And it’s this historic event which many people assume to have been the official opening. It was certainly a momentous occasion – and an excuse for more speeches!

King and Queen open Heaton Secondary Schools, 1928

King and Queen open Heaton Secondary Schools, 1928

‘Their majesties will drive round the school grounds where 23,000 children of the city will be assembled and on entering the school hall, the loyal address from the City of Newcastle will be presented by the Lord Mayor. Numerous public representatives will be presented to their Majesties, who will be asked to receive gifts from scholars.’

There were also displays of physical drills and country dancing by pupils.

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Every school pupil present was given a commemorative booklet which included a photograph of the new school at the back but which was mainly about the opening of the new bridge.

‘To the boys and girls for whom these words are written, who have just begun their passage on the bridge of life, and who will go to and fro on the bridges of the Tyne, there is the lofty call to carry forward to future generations the progress which has brought them their own proud inheritance.’

A bouquet was said to have been presented to the Queen by the head girl and a book to the King by the head boy.

This made a lifelong impression on pupil Olive Renwick (nee Topping), who was 12 years old at the time, but at the age of 98 recalled;

We were all gathered in the hall and Miss Cooper, the head teacher, told us that the queen would be presented with a “bookie”. What on earth’s a bookie, I wondered. Only later did I realise she meant a bouquet!’

Olive (middle) & friends in Heaton High uniform, late 1920s

Olive (middle) & friends in Heaton High uniform, late 1920s

Again the event was broadcast on the wireless. A full day’s programming began at 10:50am with the ‘Arrival of the royal party at Heaton Secondary Schools’. And the excitement of arrival of the king and queen’s carriage pulled by four white ponies in front of thousands of handkerchief waving school children (along with hair raising footage of workers on the still incomplete Tyne Bridge) was captured on film by Pathe News.   

And it shows a girl presenting a book (rather than ‘a bookie’) to the royal party. A last minute change of plan or an extra for the cameras?

After World War 2, the boys’ schools was renamed Heaton Grammar School and the girls’ Heaton High School. The two schools merged in September 1967 to form Heaton Comprehensive School. In 1983, this school merged with Manor Park School on Benton Road to form Heaton Manor. And in 2004, after the building of the new school on the Jesmond Park site, the Benton Park site closed to make way for housing.

The next instalment of ninety years of school history will have to wait for another day.

Can You Help?

If you have memories or photos of any of the above schools or know more about notable teachers or pupils, 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 Chris Jackson, Heaton History Group. Thank you to Brian Hedley for a copy of the official opening programme and the family of Olive Renwick for the souvenir of the royal visit. Thank you also to Muriel La Tour (nee Abernethy) for correcting the subsequent names of the schools.

Sources

British Newspaper Archives

Heaton Secondary Schools: official opening Sept 18th 1928 programme

Visit of their majesties King George V and Queen Mary, October 1928 (souvenir booklet)

Miscellaneous online sources

 

The Dewey-Eyed Librarian and his Legacy in Heaton

One of Heaton’s most recognisable buildings and one which contributed to the education and entertainment of generations of Heatonians is 120 years old this autumn. The Victoria Branch Library was opened by Earl Grey on 6 October 1898.

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The library was gifted to the city by Alderman William Haswell Stephenson who, two years earlier, had financed a library for the west end of the city in Elswick. When nobody else responded to the council’s appeal for another local benefactor to ensure that the people of the east end also had access to books, Stephenson put his hand in his pocket a second time, stipulating only that the council should undertake the equipment, management and maintenance of the building.

The position chosen for the library was controversial. Many people had concerns which resonate today about the encroachment of buildings, even a library, onto a public green space, Heaton Park:

‘It might seem a small thing to take 450 yards out of a park but they did not quite know where this nibbling process would end’ reported the ‘Daily Journal’.

Local residents also wanted the Corporation to approve both the site and the design of the building rather than all decisions being made by Alderman Stephenson, again a contemporary concern as private enterprise becomes increasingly involved in what have previously been public sector concerns. However, the site on Heaton Park View and the design by Newcastle architect, John William Dyson, were eventually approved.

Inside, on the ground floor there was a large reading room and a newsroom (where people had access to newspapers), a smoking room and a ladies reading room. Upstairs was the library itself, which measured 70 feet by 36 feet and would be able to house around 25,000 books; a committee room and the janitor’s room. External features included a turret on the roof, the dome of which was covered in copper. Carved panels depicted the royal arms, the city arms and Alderman Stephenson’s arms.

Grand Opening

At the opening,  over 200 of the great and the good enjoyed breakfast and speeches.  Apart from benefactor Alderman Stephenson, guest of honour Earl Grey, and the architect, they included the mayors of Newcastle, Gateshead, Tynemouth and South Shields; the Bishop of Newcastle; the Sheriff of Newcastle; most of the council; industrialists such as shipbuilder, John Wigham Richardson and many many more.

Alderman Stephenson reminded the audience that it was 44 years to the day since the ‘Great Fire of Gateshead’, which he remembered well as a young boy serving his apprenticeship on the Quayside. He regretted the absence of Heaton Councillor James Birkett, a great supporter of the project, who had recently died. And he spoke about the success of the Elswick branch library, including how few books had been lost.

The library was officially opened by the Right Honourable Earl Grey. In his speech, Lord Grey praised Alderman Stephenson’s generosity at a time when ratepayers’ money wasn’t forthcoming and also his modesty in not requiring the library to be named after him (although this may have been because he’d already ensured that the Elswick Library carried his name!), preferring instead to honour the queen. He urged others to follow the alderman’s example perhaps by gifting ‘more pleasure grounds, great and small, bright with flowers; drinking fountains of artistic design; clocks with chimes, for bells are the best music a crowded city could enjoy; nursing homes in every ward; halls in every ward with the best organs money could buy..’

The Bishop of Newcastle gave a vote of thanks, in which he said:

‘Even fiction, if it were rightly chosen, would aid in the development of character and if that aid was found in fiction, it would certainly be found in other books as well.’

Lord Grey was presented with a copy of the library’s initial catalogue of 7,000 volumes. This was a significant document as contemporary newspaper accounts state that the shared catalogue with Elswick Library (To save money, they both carried the same stock) was ‘ the first catalogue published in the Dewey Decimal System in the British Isles’.  The newspaper praised Andrew Keogh, Assistant Librarian at the Central Free Library ‘ who had earned the gratitude of all who have need to consult the catalogues’.

We are used to Heaton being at the forefront of developments in the various branches of engineering, science and mathematics and Heatonians excelling in arts, music, literature and sport but should we also be trumpeting our place in the history of librarianship? And does the library and its innovative catalogue partly explain why Heaton was at the forefront of so much. We carried out a little more research.

Catalogue

Amazingly, copies of that first catalogue survive eg in the Lit and Phil and so we can see exactly what was on the shelves of Heaton’s Victoria  Library when it opened. There was a broad selection, catering for all interests and some written in foreign languages, as you can see from the first page of the author listing below.

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To mention just a few, artist John Wallace  will have watched the library being built at the end of his street, Kingsley Place, and was surely delighted with the selection of books on painting and other arts as, a little later, would  Alfred Kingsley Lawrence of Heaton Road. And suffragist and social campaigner Florence Nightingale Harrison Bell, who married in 1896 and went to live on nearby Hotspur Street, suddenly had access to a wide range of books on politics and sociology including Engels’ ‘Condition of the Working Class in England’ as well as a surprising number of books on the emancipation of women and ‘The Woman’s Manual of Parliamentary Law’. Gerald Stoney of Meldon Terrace then Roxburgh Place, who had helped Sir Charles Parsons develop the record breaking Turbinia the previous year, had many books on engineering and physics from which to choose.

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There were plenty of books for ‘juveniles’ too, marked with a J in the main catalogue, as well as having their own separate listing. The musical Beers children, living on Kingsley Place just yards from the library when it opened,  had access to a vast array of fiction, including many classics still enjoyed today, but also books on music – and photography, a hobby which led to their wrongful arrest years later.

The library was an incredible resource for the people of Heaton, even if the books weren’t on open access. As was normal practice at the time, you made a choice from the catalogue and asked the librarian to bring you the book if it wasn’t on loan. A bit like Argos today. This made the catalogue extra important.

And the catalogue of the Victoria Library in Heaton was groundbreaking. Although the Dewey system had been copyrighted in the USA over 20 years earlier by Melvil Dewey, in the eighteen nineties almost all British libraries, if they were classified at all, used very broad classes, such as ‘Theology and Philosophy’ or ‘ Arts, Sciences, Law, Politics, Commerce’. Readers would have to peruse lists of accessions arranged chronologically under each heading. No further breakdown was considered necessary in Victorian public libraries, although by 1908, the absence of a detailed classification system was described as a weakness by the Library Association. Yet, ten years ahead of his time, the year in which our library opened, an Andrew Keogh (whose name you might remember from the newspaper report mentioned earlier) had written in ‘Library World’  that it was highly desirable that a uniform, detailed classification system be adopted across the country.

Assistant Librarian

Andrew Keogh was born on 14 November 1869  the son of recent Irish immigrants, Bridget and James Keogh, a shoemaker. In 1871, aged 11, Andrew was living with his parents, older sister, May and younger siblings, Bridget, Elizabeth and Edward at ’14 Trafalgar Street (or, as the census form gives as an alternative, 8 1/2 Back Trafalgar Street, All Saints, off New Bridge Street). Did this young man of such humble origins really produce the first published Dewey catalogue in Britain? Luckily we have enough further sources of information to draw on in order to flesh out Andrew’s career and confirm his pioneering work for the people of Elswick and Heaton.

1945.140, 44785

His biography would grace any library shelf.

While Andrew was a student, Newcastle’s first public library opened at the end of his street. It is said that he was never away. The staff got to know this ‘modest, serious, polite young boy’ and, if a staff member was ill or away, they called on him. Two years into his college course, the library offered him a full time job.

His parents were divided and he too was unsure about giving up his education but he accepted the post. He clearly took his work very seriously and researched developments which he could bring to Newcastle.

Keogh became an advocate for Melvil Dewey’s Decimal Classification System and was allowed to try it out on the stock for Stephenson’s new branch libraries. So the people of Heaton were able to easily see in detail what books they could take home on ornithology, plumbing, physics, horticulture, world religions, baking, poetry or whatever else interested them when most of those few libraries in Britain that already used Dewey used it only in their reference libraries. It seems that, at this time, not only was it a first for Britain but no library in Europe had published a catalogue arranged and indexed by Dewey.

What Next?

In July 1897, when Keogh was 27 years old, a big international librarians’ conference was held in London. It was attended by 641 librarians and influencers from all over the world – from Australia, Canada, Ceylon, India, Jamaica, Japan,  New Zealand and South Africa, as well as from right across Europe and the United Kingdom. Newcastle Public Library’s head librarian, Basil Anderton; Councillor Robert Flowers, Vice Chairman of the Books Committee of Newcastle Public Library; Councillor Henry Newton, Chairman of Newcastle Public Library Committee and Robert Peddie of the Lit and Phil were among the many British delegates. But by far the largest foreign delegation was from the United States, including Melvil Dewey himself, who delivered a paper on the relation of the state to the public library.

Afterwards many of the American delegates took a tour of important English libraries, including on Friday 6 August, those in Newcastle. We haven’t been able to discover whether Dewey was among them.

Andrew Keogh was put in charge of their reception and arranged an evening river trip, followed by dinner at the Grand Assembly Rooms and ‘conversazioni’ at the Lit and Phil. One of the delegates was Jessica Sherman Van Vliet, a librarian from the Armour Institute in Chicago. Keogh immediately fell in love and it is said ‘took her home that evening’. He saw her and the rest of the delegates off the following day and the pair started to correspond. His letters often contained poetry, ‘some original, some quoted, always meticulously referenced’. Soon he proposed by letter and, his proposal having been accepted, Keogh set about finding a job in the USA.

Eventually he secured a post in a Chicago bookshop which was looking for someone who knew the Dewey system (the manager no doubt impressed by Keogh’s pioneering catalogue for the Elswick and Heaton libraries) and in January 1899, he sailed for America, reaching Chicago in February. But with his aim a position in a library, Keogh soon made the arduous 720 mile journey to the next annual meeting of the American Library Association in Atlanta, where he reacquainted himself with some of the delegates he had met in Newcastle. He was offered posts in several public libraries but, with his heart set on an academic position, turned them down, a brave move for a foreigner of humble origins and no university education. Eventually though, his persistence paid off with the offer of a post in Yale University library. He began work on 1 August 1900 and on 6th, he married Jessica Sherman Van Vliet.

By 1902, Keogh was teaching bibliography at Yale and he quickly progressed up his chosen career ladder, also becoming a lecturer and professor of bibliography. In 1909, he successfully applied for an American passport, from which we have a description of him as 5 feet 8 inches tall with an oval face, hazel eyes, dark brown hair and a moustache.

On 1 July 1916, despite ‘certain limitations of a middle class Englishman which he will probably never overcome’,  he was appointed Librarian of the University of Yale.

Keogh wrote many papers and books and one of his many career highlights was a term as President of the American Library Association in 1929-30.

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On his retirement in 1938, Andrew Keogh was named Librarian Emeritus of Yale University. He and Jessica were together for over 50 years until her death in 1952 aged 84. Andrew died a few months later on 13 February 1953 at the same age. Not a bad shelf life for the working class Geordie who cut his teeth cataloguing the collections  of Elswick and Heaton branch libraries and whose life was shaped by love at first sight  – and an equally strong passion for books.

Heaton’s Victoria Library, loved and appreciated by generations, closed in 2000. The nearest public libraries are now in High Heaton and Byker.

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Can You Help?

If you have memories or photos of Heaton Library or know more about Andrew Keogh, 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 Chris Jackson, Heaton History Group.

Sources

Andrew Keogh: his contribution to Yale / James T Babb; The Yale University Gazette Vol 29 No 2, October 1954

Classification in British Public Libraries: a historical perspective / J H Bowman; Library History Vol 21, November 2005

Heaton: from farms to foundries / Alan Morgan; Tyne Bridge Publishing, 2012

Transactions and Proceedings of the Second International Library Conference held in London July 13-16 1897

The Lit and Phil library

plus Ancestry, British Newpaper Archive and other online sources

 

Wrong Place, Wrong Time: Heaton WW1 civilian prisoners of war

They say that every picture tells a story, that it’s worth a thousand words even. But, in this case, the few words on the board in the foreground of the photograph enabled us to look past the polished boots and smart suits and ties; beyond the forced smiles and resigned expressions into the sixteen pairs of sunken eyes and imagine what these men and thousands more like them, Heaton men and boys among them, were going through far from home.

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SS Juno

The SS ‘Juno‘ was a 1,311 ton vessel built in 1882 and acquired in 1904 by the Tyne-Tees Steamship Company, newly formed in a merger of the Tyne Steam Shipping Company, the Tees Union Shipping Company, Furness Withy and Co and the Free Trade Wharf Company. The new company’s headquarters were in the building we now know as Hotel du Vin on City Road and it also had an office in King Street, just off the Quayside. You can still see a large advert for it on the wall of Sabatini’s restaurant.

The company operated passenger and cargo services to Dutch, German, French and Belgian ports. SS ‘Juno’ had the misfortune to be in Hamburg on 4 August 1914, the day World War One started.  The crew, almost all from Tyneside, were immediately arrested and interned at first in or around the port. Among them was John Rowe of Heaton.

Donkeyman

John was born in West Hartlepool in 1856, the son of John senior, a sailor, and Mary Ann Rowe of Stockton. In 1874, he married Cicely Jowsey of Hartlepool and by 1881 they had three children: Dorothy, Rose and Maude. By 1891, a further five had been added to the family: Jowsey, Cecily, Daisey, Jessie and John junior. John gave his occupation as stoker on a steamship. In 1901, John was absent and there was a younger daughter, Gladys. By 1911, John and Cicely and three of their younger children plus a grandson  had moved to 5 Addison Street in Heaton. Cicely reported that she had been married for 37 years and had given birth to 11 children, nine of whom were still alive. Again John was away from home, presumably at sea once more.

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In August 1914, John, by this time living at nearby 60 Addison Road, would have been 58 years old. He was the ‘donkeyman‘ on SS Juno. His job would have been to oil and grease moving engine parts and to stoke the boiler. After their capture and a short time under arrest in Hamburg, John and the rest of the crew of SS ‘Juno’ were transferred to Ruhleben prison camp just outside Berlin.

Ruhleben

A prison camp to house Germany’s civilian prisoners was established at the outset of the war on a harness racing track in Ruhleben, 10k to the west of Berlin. As soon as war was declared, nationals of the Allied Powers and anyone suspected of sympathising with them were arrested. Most of the 4-5000 prisoners were British, all were male but they came from all walks of life. There were merchant seamen, like John, but also fishermen, businessmen and sportsmen.

Among the detainees were a number of very famous footballers, including Steve Bloomer, who had starred for Derby County ( 291 goals in 473 appearances)  and Middlesbrough (59 goals in 125 appearances) and had scored 28 goals in 23 appearances for England. He had begun a coaching job in Berlin just weeks earlier.

Composer Edgar Bainton was another famous prisoner. He was piano professor and principal of Newcastle upon Tyne Conservatory of Music and a leading figure in the Tyneside music scene and later nationally and internationally. He had travelled to Germany to the Bayreuth Music Festival, where along with other foreign performers and concert goers, he was arrested. Bainton is credited with introducing Tynesiders to composers such as Holst and Vaughan Williams. He is best remembered for his church music but he composed a wide range, neglected for a long time, but  now increasingly heard.

Although life and conditions in the camp weren’t easy, prisoners were allowed to administer their own affairs and were allowed letters, sports equipment, even a printing press. The prisoners organised their own police service, postal deliveries, magazine, library – even businesses. There were football, rugby, cricket and golf tournaments; concerts, opera and drama performances; lectures; a garden club affiliated to the Royal Horticultural Society and many other diversions. But there were also accounts of a class divide, racial segregation and other social problems.

Most prisoners stayed at Ruhleben, far away from their worried family and friends, for the entire duration of the war but a few were lucky enough to have been released early. Perhaps because of his age, illness or a swap with a German prisoner in Britain, John was freed on 22 December 1915 and so does not appear on the photograph, which was taken in the camp in 1916 or ’17. From research carried out by Marcus Bateman and published on the MT9 Project website, we know the names of the crew members and their home address at the time of capture but not who is who in the photo.

John Rowe was awarded the Mercantile Marine Medal and the British Medal in 1921. He and Cicely continued to live in Heaton. He died in December 1929, aged 73.

Marine Engineer

Another former Heaton resident detained was John Cyril Vasey, a marine engineer on board the SS ‘Indianola‘, a Liverpool registered ship. Records show that he was arrested on 16 October 1914 and, after a short period of confinement on the Hamburg hulks, was sent to Ruhleben.

Vasey was a Freemason: we have membership records from 1913 and he was one of 112 Ruhleben prisoners who signed a message of greeting to Sir Edward Letchworth, Grand Secretary of English Freemasons, postmarked 9 December 1914 and printed in ‘The Times’ on 28 December. He was also a keen footballer: his name appears in the ‘Handbook of the Ruhleben Football Association, Season 1915‘.

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John Cyril Vasey’s merchant navy ID card, 1923

John was born in Newcastle on 28 June 1885. By 1891, aged 11, he was living in Jesmond with his father Henry, a Londoner, part owner of Hawks, Vasey and Ridley, iron and steel merchants; his mother, Louisa, a Yorkshire woman; three older brothers, Henry, Arthur and Thomas and younger siblings, George, Frances and Nora, along with a servant.

In 1901, he was an eighteen year old marine engineering clerk, living at 192 Heaton Road with his mother Louisa, older brothers Henry and Arthur, both students, and younger siblings, George, Frances and Nora, along with a servant, Elizabeth Barnes. By 1911, the family had moved to Leyton in Essex, although John did not appear on that year’s census. Possibly he was at sea.

John returned to the merchant navy after the war. He died in 1936 at Papworth Village Hospital, Cambridgeshire, aged 50.

First Engineer

And Edwin Henry Perry was First Engineer aboard the SS ‘Sheldrake’, a Sunderland built steamer, when it was shelled and sunk on 8 November 1916 by the German U-Boat, ‘U 34’, 20 miles WSW of Marittimo Island in the Straits of Sicily. The crew survived but two senior members, Edwin Perry and the Master, Charles Stanley Johnson, were taken prisoner and transported to a prisoner of war camp at Furstenberg, north of Berlin.

In 1911, Edwin was living with his wife, Leila, and their two young children, John (3) and Henry (2) in Catford, SE London. Edwin gave his occupation as ‘seagoing engineer’. By January 1914, when he was admitted to the freemasons, he was recorded as a ‘chief engineer’.

All the family were born in the London area but they were soon to move north to Heaton. At the time of his capture in 1916, Edwin’s address was given as 18 Third Avenue, Heaton. Leila died in 1917, leaving three young children. Following the war, Edwin was married for a second time to Mary Elizabeth Gwinnett, with whom he had three more children.

Edwin was also awarded medals for service as a merchant seaman during WW2 at the start of which he would have been 60 years old. He died in 1950 in Poole, Dorset.

Apprentice

Our final Heatonian and the youngest, 17 year old William Martin Henry, was detained when the ship on which he was serving his apprenticeship, the ‘French Prince‘, was captured and sunk by the German auxiliary cruiser, ‘Mowe’, off the coast of Brazil on 15 February 1917. This time, the crew were taken to Gustrow prisoner of war camp in Northern Germany, where William was interned for the remainder of the war.

William was born at 49 King John Street, Heaton on 8 July 1899, son of Aberdonian Robert Martin Henry and Banff born Isabella Robertson Henry (nee Farquharson). On census night 1901, aged 1, he was at the home of his widowed grandmother, Annie Henry, originally from Scotland but by now a boarding house keeper  at 62 North View, Heaton. Also in the house on census night were her daughter, Mary, a ‘contralto vocalist‘ and four boarders from around the country.

On census night 1911, aged 11 William was staying with his 16 year old brother, Robert Farquharson, a clerk, who was described as head of household; his 13 year old brother Norman Charles, a ‘scholar’ and a 21 year old servant, Annie Stephenson, at 64 Rothbury Terrace. (We haven’t yet discovered where the brothers were in 1901 or where Isabella, William’s mother was in 1901 or 1911. Please let us know if you can help.)

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William Martin Henry’s 1st Mate’s certificate, 1921

After the war, William returned to the family home on Rothbury Terrace, where his mother and father lived until they died in 1924 and 1932 respectively. He was granted his Second Mate’s Certificate on 29 December 1919 and his First Mate’s Certificate two years later.  (We know from this that he was 5 feet 8 inches with blue eyes, brown hair and a fresh complexion.) On 11 September 1924 William was granted his Master’s Certificate.

We have found records showing that, after his release, he continued to enjoy a life at sea. On 8 July 1932 (aged 33), he sailed from Liverpool to Boston on the SS ‘Nova Scotia‘ as a passenger. On Feb 1935, he was a crew member aboard the SS ‘Javanese Prince‘, which sailed from Halifax in Canada to Boston.

We haven’t found WW2 records relating to William but his older brother, Robert, is honoured on panel 29 of the Merchant Seamen’s Memorial at Tower Hill in London, which commemorates losses in WW2. It names his ship as SS ‘City of Canberra’ (Liverpool) although he didn’t actually die until 28 May 1947 in Withington Hospital, Manchester, aged 52.

William himself died at the former home of his brother, Robert, in Manchester in 1962. Probate was granted to Nellie Grace Henry, named as his widow. She had previously been married to Robert.

So a photograph that, as far as we know, doesn’t include anyone from Heaton has helped uncover an often forgotten aspect of WW1, the detention of civilians by both sides, and the stories of a number of Heaton residents, caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Can you help?

If you know more about any of the people mentioned or in the SS ‘Juno‘ photograph , have photos you are willing to share or can add to our list of Heaton WW1 civilian prisoners of war, 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 Chris Jackson, Heaton History Group. Thank you to Colin Green of Water Orton, North Warwickshire, who kindly sent us the photograph along with others from his collection which he believes to be relevant to this area. And also to Marcus Bateman of the MT9 project for additional information about the SS Juno, John Vasey and John Rowe.

Sources

MT9 Project

The Ruhleben Story

Ancestry UK

and other online sources