Category Archives: Inter War Years (1919-1939)

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

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.

HeatonsecWestGateway

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.’

HeatonSecOpenAirClass

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.’

ViscountGrey

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.

HeatonSecRoyalvisit

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

 

Alexander Wilkie: Scotland’s first Labour MP

Alexander Wilkie was born in 1850 in Leven in Fife, Scotland, where he became an apprentice to a firm of shipbuilders in Alloa. Although he spent his formative years and early adulthood in Scotland, it was on Tyneside, while living in Heaton, that he was to make his name, after he became the first General Secretary of the Associated Society of Shipwrights in 1882. This was an early national shipbuilders’ trade union and was based initially on the shipyards of Glasgow and Tyneside, reflecting the large number of ships being built on the Rivers Clyde and Tyne in the later years of the nineteenth century.

WilkieAlexanderresized

By 1897, Wilkie was also the Chairman of the Trades Unions Parliamentary Commitee and one of the founders and trustees of the General Federation of Trade Unions. He was a member of the Council of Federated Trades. He was also politically active in the nascent Labour Party and contested Sunderland for Labour (unsuccessfully) in 1900.

According to the census, Wilkie lived at 56 Cardigan Terrace, Heaton in 1891, before living at 84 Third Avenue in 1901 and then at 36 Lesbury Road (below) in 1911.

WilkieALevenHouse

Leven House on Lesbury Road, home of Alexander Wilkie

He named this last address ‘Leven House’ in recognition of his birthplace. In his personal life, Wilkie married Mary Smillie, daughter of James Smillie in 1872.

Wilkie was always involved in local affairs, wherever he lived. He was a delegate to the Trades Council in Glasgow when he worked there for the Glasgow Shipwrights. When he moved to Newcastle, Wilkie served for a number of years on the School Board and then on the Education Committee which replaced it. His interest in education was further developed, after he became a councillor in Newcastle in 1904.

MP

Wilkie was finally elected to parliament in 1906 as an MP for Dundee. He has the distinction of being the first Labour M.P. in Scotland. Hansard records his first speech to parliament being on 28 February that year, in an intervention during a debate about the Poor Law Commission. He spoke, he said as Scotland’s first Labour MP ‘to voice the keen disappointment of the Scottish workers that so far their claims to representation on this Commission had been disregarded.’

Labour then won 40 seats across Britain in the January 1910 general election including Wilkie himself, who was elected again in Dundee and was becoming something of a national political figure. He represented Dundee, in a two-seat constituency, alongside the victorious Liberal candidate, a certain Winston Churchill. Wilkie retained his seat in December 1910 as Labour won a further two seats nationally. He was to remain as an MP for Dundee until 1922.

However Wilkie retained close links with the city of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. In 1910, he was made a magistrate here, while in 1917 he became a Companion of Honour. When he retired from national politics in 1922, Alexander Wilkie returned to his Heaton home and became an alderman.

It was surely very appropriate that on Mayday, 1 May 1914, the ‘Newcastle Daily Journal’ reported that Alexander Wilkie had been the honoured guest at a large gathering at the Cooperative Hall, Darn Crook. It was further reported that Wilkie was presented with a gold watch and a cheque, whilst his wife was given a silver salver. All this was in recognition of what the ‘Newcastle Daily Journal’ described as his ‘thirty three years service as Secretary of the Ship Constructors and Shipwrights Association, and in acknowledgement also of his work on behalf of trade unions generally’.

The Lord Mayor paid a special tribute to Wilkie saying that he had come back specially from London for the ceremony and that he had come not only as Lord Mayor, but as a personal friend of Wilkie. The ‘Newcastle Daily Journal’ went on to report that, ‘the gathering had been arranged in order that they might show that they recognised the services which Mr Wilkie had rendered to the community and to the labour world, particularly the shipwrights. They deserved also to show their affections to Mr Wilkie as a man of the world.’

Wilkie was a very active member of the House Commons and spoke on many issues. Despite these interventions including a wide range of topics, he never forgot his commitment to the shipyard workers in places like the east end of Newcastle and Wallsend. In 1918 for example, Wilkie spoke about naval shipwrights pay and skilled labour in shipyards, while the following year he spoke about increases to dockyard workers’ pensions and national shipyards.

Wilkie died on 2nd September 1928, at his home, 36, Lesbury Road, Heaton, and was subsequently laid to rest at Heaton Cemetery 5 days later His effects were valued at £11 302, which today would be about £675 000. From this Wilkie left his housekeeper £104 a year for life.

WilkieGraveHeatonCemeteryresized

Alexander Wilkie’s grave, Heaton Cemetery

The Fife Free Press reported on 8 September 1928 that, ‘the universal esteem in which he was held was evidenced by the large attendance (at Wilkie’s funeral)’ and that, ‘the hearse was proceeded by two open landaus heaped high with beautiful wreaths – tributes of esteem and affection from all sections of the community.’ The last rites were then performed as the band played ‘Abide With Me’.

Legacy

Wilkie left a huge legacy of trade unionism on Tyneside, with the shipyards at the forefront of this movement. Indeed by the end of the 19th century, north east England was the most unionised region of England, having already had unions formed in the mining and engineering industries, before the Associated Society of Shipwrights was formed in 1882. Wilkie’s work helped to build this tradition further. His political legacy can be seen in Labour’s dominance for many years in Scotland, particularly from the 1960’s onwards, until the landslide by the Scottish National Party in 2015.

Can you help?

If you know more about Alexander Wilkie, especially his time in Heaton, 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

Sources

Jamieson, Northumberland at Opening of XXth Century, Pike, 1905

Newcastle-upon-Tyne Official Blue Book 1920

Newcastle Daily Journal 1 May 1914

The Fife Free Press, Saturday 8th September 1928

 

Acknowledgements

Written and researched by Peter Sagar, Heaton History Group, with assistance from Arthur Andrews.

 

 

 

White Teeth to Blue Bottle: the Domestos story

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

Origins

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

Dentistry

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

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

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

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

Eau de Heaton

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

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

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

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

Home delivery

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

DomestosjarIMG_0113edresized

Domestos jar (Copyright: William Morris)

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

Domestos Bike

Expansion

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

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

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

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

Domestor150999

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

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

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

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

Philanthropist

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

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

After the sale

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

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

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

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

Acknowledgements

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

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

Sources

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

Can you help?

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

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

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

 

Heaton fliers: the Smith family and Newcastle Aero Club

Until its demise in 2004, Newcastle Aero Club was Britain’s oldest flying club.  It was founded in 1925 and for its first 10 years operated from Cramlington Aerodrome, which was situated near Nelson village and had been used for coastal air defence during WWI. In 1935, it moved to a site in Woolsington, which subsequently became Newcastle Airport. Arthur Andrews has been researching its connections with a well known Heaton family.

At an early stage, Ringtons Tea Company owner, Sam Smith, became involved with the club and was even its president for a time. We know from his great grand daughter, Fiona Harrison, that the Heaton entrepreneur loved flying. He was also a founder member of Newcastle Gliding Club. But flying was more than a hobby: he had business interests in aviation too, as a director of Newcastle Air Training Ltd and a founding investor in Dyce Airport, Aberdeen.

He generously bought Newcastle Aero Club two De Havilland Tiger Moths, one of which was called ‘The Ringtonian’.

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Advert for Ringtons in Newcastle Aero Club magazine

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Sam Smith and Ada, his wife, at the hand over of the Tiger Moth to Newcastle Aero Club (Courtesy of Newcastle City Library)

Young Sam Smith

Following in his father’s footsteps, Sam Smith Junior obtained his pilot’s licence on 26 June 1936 at the age of 30.

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Sam Smith Junior’s Pilot’s Licence

 

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Sam Smith Junior

He was the manager of Rington’s subsidiary, Northern Coachworks and lived at 17 Jesmond Vale Terrace, Heaton with his wife, Mary Ann Noddings, the daughter of horse dealer and exporter Edward Noddings and his wife, Catherine, who were now living at 2 Stannington Grove.

On 30 June 1936, just four days after getting his pilot’s licence, Sam was flying in the Derwent Valley. According to a newspaper report, he lost his bearings due to mist and rain and while he was trying to find a field safe enough to land in, the plane’s engine stalled and it crashed into the farmyard of Glebe Farm. Sam was thrown from the cockpit, hitting the farmer’s wife, Mrs Elizabeth Armstrong and ended up in a pool of water or slurry. Sam was uninjured but Mrs Armstrong was badly bruised and shocked. The headline was ‘Falling ‘Plane Strikes Woman – Pushed in Pool with Craft on Top – Amazing Escapes’.

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Crash site at Glebe Farm, Medomsley, Co Durham (Courtesy of Newcastle City Library)

Nine months later, on 6 March 1937, another mishap took place at Woolsington, this time involving ‘The Ringtonian’ . It was not reported whether Sam was injured or how badly the aircraft was damaged.

SamSmith5ringtonian

Sam Smith with the ‘Ringtonian’ Gypsy Moth (Smith family archives)

Triple tragedy

A third accident took place on 14 May 1938, while Sam was piloting a Percival Vega Gull on a flight from Newcastle to Liverpool.

The weather was apparently fair in Northumberland but, by the time the aircraft had reached the Lake District, conditions had markedly deteriorated: a heavy mist gave little or no visibility and the plane crashed into a hillside near Skiddaw. Sam was killed along with his two passengers, Robert Radcliffe (26) and Norman Ayton (30). The coroner’s verdict was ‘accidental death’.

Sam’s younger brother, Malcolm, should have been on board too but fortunately for him,  a business commitment prevented him from boarding.

There had been other flying related deaths at Newcastle Aero Club, but this was the worst in its short history. The loss of  Sam Smith Junior was a great shock to his family and the local area. A large funeral took place with many local dignitaries attending. The City Council passed a vote of condolence by standing in silence.

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Sam Smith Junior’s grave

The 1939 Register shows that Sam Smith Junior’s young widow, Mary Ann, moved back to live with her parents in Stannington Grove.

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Arthur Andrews, Heaton History Group;

Thank you to Fiona Harrison for help with the history of the Smith family and Ringtons;

Thank you to Newcastle City Library for permission to use photographs;

Sources

In addition to original research:

70 years of flying 1925-1975 by John Sleight ISBN 0952690802 (A history of Newcastle Aero Club)

Can you help?

If you know more about Heaton’s connections with aviation, please either post a message direct to this site by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or email chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Kate Elizabeth Ogg Remembered

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

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

 

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Kate Ogg’s photo held by Imperial War Museums

 © IWM (WWC H2-164)

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

Bolingbroke Street

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

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

Teacher

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

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

Serving in World War One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pandemic

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

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

 

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Detail of Kate Ogg’s grave

 

Kate is commemorated on Wingrove School’s war memorial

 

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Wingrove School war memorial

 

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

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

 

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With permission of Derek Bradley and Trimdon Station Community Centre

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

Women in WW1

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

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

Kate Elizabeth Ogg will never be forgotten.

 

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

 

Postscript

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

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

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

Can you help?

If you know more about Kate Ogg or her family or have photographs or anecdotes you’d like to share, we’d love to hear from you. You can contact us either through this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or by emailing chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Acknowledgements

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

The type of passenger train William Skinner was driving in 1926

Dead Man’s Handle

It is late evening on a Saturday in early August 1926. The sun set an hour ago, but the sky in the west is still bright. The gaslamps of Heaton railway station dimly illuminate the expanse of the glass canopy above. The two platforms of the station are virtually deserted, and its signal box is closed for the night. The station foreman is in his small wooden office, catching up with the paperwork now that the trains are less frequent. The last of the birds are singing their songs in the trees above the cutting walls before they settle down for the night.

From the east comes a distant whistle, high pitched and short, and then the puffing and wheezing of a steam locomotive. Round the bend from Heaton Yard appears an engine, small and black but kept clean and shiny by its crew, starting up its short train. It is a ‘Special Goods’ for Blaydon made up of 13 wagons from railway companies far and wide. Slowly the engine clanks by, its crew exchanging a wave with the station foreman whose head pokes out from his office door to watch its passing.

A procession of wooden goods wagons goes rumbling and squealing through the platforms, the noise echoing off the walls that surround Heaton station in its cutting. The first wagon has ‘GW’ painted on its side, an indication that it belongs to the mighty Great Western Railway. Then comes one with ‘L&Y’ indicating that until the 1923 ‘Grouping’ of the railway companies it had belonged to the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway. The next wagon is brand new grain wagon, probably filled with the products of a farm somewhere in Northumberland. It has the letters LNER on the side, a company formed only three years ago, and one which took over the running of Heaton station and its trains from the old North Eastern Railway.

The train clanks its way along the up main line; the driver has no worries about holding up fast express trains at this time of night and has a clear run at least as far as Manors. That’s the next station towards Newcastle to the west, after the cutting in which Heaton station stands opens out for the junction at Riverside, and then the great viaduct over the Ouseburn. The red glow from the tail lamp on the guards van slowly disappears off down the line as the steam, trapped under the huge glass canopy above, slowly starts to drift away through the trees and into the darkening sky.

Ten minutes later a different sound drifts in from the east. This time it’s the swishing and clackety-clack of a much faster train running in on the line from Tynemouth and the coast. It’s one of the old North Eastern Railway’s electric trains, built in 1904 but still performing a sterling service over 20 years later. It’s possible to tell from the roofs that the second two carriages in the train are much newer, built only six years ago to replace the trains lost in the fire at Heaton Car Sheds. Some of the cars are still painted in the old North Eastern Railway crimson lake, but others have already acquired the new drab teak colour favoured by the LNER. The lights from the carriages illuminate the cutting walls as the train speeds into the station, displaying ‘CENTRAL’ on the front.

Experienced driver

At first it appears it’s not going to stop in time, but the driver, William Skinner of Felton Street, Byker, applies the brakes firmly and the train squeals to a halt in the platform. The sliding door of the van section of the first carriage rumbles open and out steps Skinner onto the platform, standing about two feet from his train. The train is made of wood, with matchboard on the lower half, and large windows above. Inside it looks comfortable but functional, and only one young couple can be seen inside the first class compartment of the first vehicle. There is a large parcels compartment in this first coach, one of the motor luggage composite carriages built at the opening of electric services, to carry fish from the coast and the prams of toddlers on their way to the beach.

The type of passenger train William Skinner was driving in 1926

The type of passenger train William Skinner drove through Heaton  in 1926

Skinner is 35 years old and has worked on the railway for 18 years, starting off as a cleaner and being promoted to a driver six years ago. He has been mainly been driving goods trains of late, but passed for driving these electric trains four years ago. This is a nice change for him, running out to the coast on a clean electric service instead of the heat, smoke, and grime of a goods train. He has enjoyed his ride so far, fast out to Monkseaton and then stopping at all stations on the return to Newcastle Central station. After this stop he only has Manors to go before his arrival back at the Central. His wife and five children will be waiting for him at his home, which is only a mile away from where his train currently waits.

Last trip

The station foreman emerges from the gloom and stands on the platform to watch the passengers disembark. They’re mainly day-trippers who’ve enjoyed an evening at the coast, with few people getting on at this time of night. He notices Skinner on the platform, which seems a bit odd to him, and shouts hello. “Is this your last trip?” he asks, to which Skinner replies “Yes!” The train’s guard, George Patterson, closes the metal gates on the old carriages, and the doors on the new ones, and gives a blast on his whistle. Skinner gets back into his van and re-enters his cab, but doesn’t take the time to slide the door closed. The train’s Westinghouse brakes hiss as they’re released and with a whirr and a whine the train accelerates quickly off towards Newcastle, blue flashes of electricity lighting up the station as the current arcs from the conductor rail beside the tracks.

The train now gathers speed, getting up to its full pace as it rattles over the pointwork at Riverside Junction, where the line to the shipyards of Walker and Wallsend peels off to the left. Over the huge iron structure of the Ouseburn viaduct it roars, the lights of the factories and warehouses dimly twinkling in the gloom below. In his van at the rear of the train, Patterson is engaged in making notes for his next trip as the train clickety-clicks its way through the darkness towards Newcastle. Into the cutting it goes, towards Manors station and its complex junction of lines. It rattles past Argyle Street signal box, its signalman hard at work in his little illuminated world, and into the bend at Manors. But as Patterson looks up from his work and out of the window his heart skips a beat; he sees that they’re already pulling into the platforms but still going full speed. He hadn’t noticed, so engaged was he in his work, that Skinner hadn’t tested the brakes at Argyle Street as he should have done. Up he jumps, and makes for the door to the driver’s compartment at the back of the train to apply the Westinghouse brake.

The signalman at Manors, Francis Topping, had it all planned out. The goods train that had passed Heaton fifteen minutes ago had arrived at his signal box ten minutes later. It had stood at his Up Home Main Line signal for a minute or two whilst he let traffic clear the junction but when he was ready for her to move he’d set the signal for the train and with a toot and a hiss it was already underway. His intention was to let it clear the junction whilst, as the rules stated, he brought the passenger train almost to a stop on approach to the platforms before allowing it to pull in. As soon as he’d heard the bell in his box that signalled the entrance of the passenger into his section he’d set the ‘calling-on’ signal to allow it into the station.

But now Topping turns to look out of his window and up the line towards Heaton and his face freezes in terror. He immediately realises that the train is going far too fast to stop at the signal as he’d intended. He watches it race at full speed towards his signal box, which straddles the tracks to the west of the station and affords a grandstand view of the drama playing out below. The passenger train heads inexorably towards the special goods that is now across the junction in front of it and leaving nowhere to go. In the cabin at the back of the train George Patterson is frantically applying the Westinghouse brake to slow the train down, but it’s too late. It ploughs into the third vehicle of the goods train, a loaded grain wagon, with a glancing blow. Splinters of wood and metal fly into the air. The electric train lurches to the left, rips the steps from Topping’s signal cabin, and jams itself against the parapet wall of the railway viaduct, balancing above the street some 60 feet below, bricks and rubble falling down onto the road. The other vehicles are derailed too but stay upright, crashing into the back of the first, and a cloud of dust and smoke fills the air.

Signalman Topping regains his senses, and springs into action. He knows his duty in an emergency like this, and immediately protects all of the lines leading to and from his signalbox and summons ambulances and the police. Thankfully the automatic circuit-breaker for the electrical system has worked as intended and there is no fire amongst the wooden coaches and wagons. He watches as passengers warily make their way out of the carriages, and the driver and fireman of the goods train run back to help them. He looks down on the wreckage below and knows this is going to take some time to sort out. “Just what was that driver doing?” he wonders to himself, almost in disbelief.

Within minutes Inspector Gill from the Northumberland Constabulary is running up the ramp onto the platform at Manors station from the street below with a number of his constables. He clambers down onto the tracks and makes his way towards the half-demolished first carriage of the passenger train. Carefully picking his way through shattered wood planks and broken glass, he reaches what is left of the driver’s cabin. With the help of his men, he begins to clear the wreckage in expectation of finding the driver’s body. He moves aside twisted metal and wood, grains of wheat falling down onto the tracks below from the destroyed wagon which had borne the brunt of the impact. But search as they might, they find no sign of Skinner’s body.

Dead man’s handle

Eventually the inspector reaches the control unit of the electric train. He finds the controller, which limits the power to the train and thus its speed. The handle is in the ‘Full Power’ position, with the reversing key in ‘Forward’. Skinner hadn’t even made any attempt to stop accelerating the train. The controller has an important safety feature, the ‘Dead Man’s Handle’. This is actually a button on the top of the controller which must be pressed down at all times by the driver or the power to the train is automatically cut-out. The dead man’s control on Skinner’s train could never do its job, however, because he’d seen to it himself that it would not work.

Inspector Gill finds the button on the controller cleverly tied down by two handkerchiefs, which together exert enough pressure on the button to ensure it is kept constantly pressed. A red handkerchief is looped around the controller handle and over the control button and knotted in place with a triple-knot. Over this the second hanky, a white one, is tied even tighter around the first adding to the pressure on the button. This is secured with a double knot. The arrangement of the hankies evidently saved Skinner from having to constantly press the dead man’s control, something which became wearisome after a while, and leave the controller with the train still under power.

Inspector Murray arrives at around 12:50am and examines the handkerchiefs. He finds no identifying marks on either, and removes them for safe keeping. For the next two hours a search of the wreckage continues. Thankfully there were only two passengers travelling in the first vehicle of the train, a young couple from Durham, who miraculously only suffered leg injuries and shock. The other 150 or so passengers in the remaining five coaches of the train walked away relatively unscathed. What the constables and inspectors are searching for is Skinner, and he is nowhere to be seen. Some firemen are asked to search the roofs of the houses in the street below in case his body had been catapulted from the train, but to no avail. Eventually Murray calls over Sergeant Sandels and tells him to start walking back up the line towards Heaton to see if he can see any sign of Skinner, or anything untoward.

So Sandels sets off walking, back past the silent and dark carriages of the now-empty 9:47pm Newcastle to Newcastle (via Monkseaton), down the ramp at the end of Manors station platform, and into the cutting towards Argyle Street signal box. The crunch of the ballast is loud beneath his feet as he walks up through the damp cutting, scanning the darkness below with his eyes for the sight of anything strange. He passes the entrance to the Quayside railway, its foreboding tunnel disappearing to his right and down to the river where ships unload their wares into waiting railway wagons. He passes under the short tunnel where New Bridge Street passes overhead, and then under Ingham Place and Stoddart Street. The lights of the signals are all on red as far as he can see along the straight line ahead, their beams glinting off the shiny railtops of the many sidings and running lines. Out across the Ouseburn Viaduct he strides, with the smells of industry and animals drifting up from below, the sky lightening to the east ahead of him. He hears a ship’s hooter echo mournfully from the River Tyne to his right as he presses on past Riverside Junction signal box and the little station at Byker.

Eventually, after walking over a mile, he comes to the bridge carrying Heaton Park Road over the railway. There he sees something on the tracks; a dark shape lying beside the electrified rail on the left-hand side of the lines as he faces east. Sandels runs towards this object and bends down to look more closely; it is Skinner, lying on his back with his feet facing away towards Heaton station, his right arm outstretched below the conductor rail and his eyes staring lifelessly up. Sandels checks for a pulse, not expecting to find one. He doesn’t. Skinner is dead and already quite cold.

Sandels runs to Heaton station and asks them to call for a local doctor. Dr Blench arrives after half an hour, during which Sandels has been standing guard over Skinner, trying to comprehend what has happened that night. The doctor examines the body, and finds that the back of his head is badly injured and his skull fractured. There are also bruises down his neck and back. The two men then get up and walk over to the row of iron columns supporting the road above. On the nearest column to the body they find a patch of blood. Then on the next another patch, higher than the first, and the same on the third column higher still. On the first of the bridge’s columns that Skinner’s train would have reached they find a patch of blood, quite high up, but about the height at which Skinner’s head would have been whilst leaning from the train. Sandels sits down on the rail with a sigh and waits for his inspector to arrive. “The damn fool!” he whispers to himself.

Epilogue

Nobody will ever know what went through Skinner’s mind that night. It was clear that tying down the ‘dead man’s control’ was a common practice for him. But why did he set his train in motion then go to the door of his van to look back along the train? Why did he forget about the bridge, under which he’d passed many times before? That accident at Manors thankfully claimed no further lives, and Skinner was the only victim of his own misfortune. His widow and five children were left to ponder his actions, and given his implication in the accident it is unlikely that the railway company were particularly generous towards them. Whilst there was quite a stir in the area at the time of the accident, it was soon forgotten and the electric trains went back to running their busy service for the next 35 years.

Postscript

Since this article was written, the author and Chris Jackson, Secretary of Heaton History Group, were privileged to meet Olive Renwick, daughter of Francis Topping, the signalman on duty at Manors on the night of the accident. See the article ‘The Signalman and his Daughter’ for more about them both.

Francis Topping (left)had a road in Hartlepool named after him

Francis Topping (left)had a road in Hartlepool named after him

Author

Researched and written by Alistair Ford. Alistair has lived in Heaton for 10 years. He is a researcher into sustainable transport and climate change at Newcastle University with a ‘passing interest in railways’. 

 Sources

Newspaper report of the incident: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=2507&dat=19260809&id=Y51AAAAAIBAJ&sjid=SKUMAAAAIBAJ&pg=2327,4806101&hl=en

Newspaper report of the inquiry: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=2507&dat=19260819&id=bJ1AAAAAIBAJ&sjid=SKUMAAAAIBAJ&pg=6455,6064739&hl=en

Accident report: http://www.railwaysarchive.co.uk/documents/MoT_ManorsJunction1926.pdf

Can you help?

If you have further information about this incident or any of the people mentioned or have  knowledge, memories or photographs of railways in Heaton more generally that you’d like to share, please either leave a comment on this website by clicking on the link immediately below this article title or email Chris Jackson, Secretary, Heaton History Group (chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org).

Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII) on Shields Road

The Prince of Wales’ visit 1923

The photographs below were taken on 5 July 1923. The occasion was a visit to Newcastle by the Prince of Wales, later to be crowned King Edward VIII. The Prince’s visit to the North East lasted 3 days. Amongst his engagements in Newcastle itself were visits to the Royal Agricultural Show, which that year was held on the Town Moor, and to St James’ Park, St Thomas’ Church and Walker Naval Yard. On the afternoon of Thursday 5th he went to Parsons in Heaton and returned to town along Shields Road. It was a very hot day with the temperature reported to have reached 86 Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius) in the shade, although you might not know from the clothes the crowd are wearing.

199. Prince of Wales Visit Shields Road

200. Prince of Wales Visit 1923

206. Prince of Wales

Shop Shields Road Lipton Pledger Prince of Wales Royal visit Couzens

Shields Road in 1923

The pictures were taken by Edgar Couzens, a keen amateur photographer, who at that time was the proprietor of a butcher’s shop at 185 Shields Road. He set up his tripod to the side of his shop, which was just East of Heaton Road. Thank you to Mike Couzens, Edgar’s grandson for permission to publish them for the first time.

Lipton’s, the most prominent shop in the last photo, is now Ladbrokes Bookmakers. Next door (in premises now also part of Ladbrokes) was Pledger’s drapery which also had the larger shop two doors down, now Nobles Amusements. Between them was squeezed Bookless, a fruiterer, now the Cooperative Funeral Store. The Raby Hotel was, as now, further along the road to the right.

While Lipton’s was a national chain which had its beginnings in Glasgow, Pledger’s was a local company. It had had a presence on Shields Road since the 1890s, firstly at number 214 as Flintoft and Pledger. But by 1900 it was solely Pledger’s and had expanded into a second shop.

Successful Businessman

Herbert Pledger senior was born in Cambridgeshire, the son of a ‘bootmaker and publican’. He was one of at least 10 children. By 1891 at the age of 22, he was a draper’s assistant in Saffron Walden, Essex, and lodging with his employer. Within a few years he had moved North and entered into a business partnership on Shields Road. Soon he was to have his own firm.

We can track Herbert’s success by his various Heaton addresses. In 1895, he lodged at 29 Kingsley Place. By 1900, he was married, with a young son, and was the householder at 106 Cardigan Terrace. In 1911 he, his Gateshead-born wife Annie and their growing family lived at 20 Simonside Terrace and by the time this photo was taken in 1923, they lived at the much grander Graceville, overlooking the park on Heaton Road. He died in 1929 with an estate worth over £80,000, a significant fortune then.

His sons, another Herbert and William followed him into the drapery business and Pledger’s was a well known landmark on Shields Road until the mid-1960s. It was succeeded by Waring and Gillow, a furniture store.

Parsons

The photograph here shows CA Parsons employees who had fought in World War 1 forming a guard of honour for the prince earlier in the day.

If you can add to the information we have here, we’d love to hear from you. Contact Chris Jackson chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org