Category Archives: Victorians (1837-1901)

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

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

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

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

Family background

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

Edith Anne Stoney

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

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

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

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

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Edith, Florence and George Johnstone Stoney

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

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

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

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

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

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

George Gerald Stoney

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

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

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

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

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

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

Key figure

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

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

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

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

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

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

Turbinia

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

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

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

As the ‘Times’ put it:

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

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

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Turbinia with Gerald Stoney below Charles Parsons on the bridge

Growing recognition

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

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

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‘Oakley’ on Heaton Road

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

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

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

Temporary departure

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

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George Gerald Stoney (courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery)

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

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

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The Stoneys grave in Corbridge

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

Can you help?

If you know more about Edith or Gerald Stoney including their connections with Parsons and the Heaton area, we’d love to hear from you. Please either leave a reply on this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or email chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Acknowledgements

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

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

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

Key Sources

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

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

and a range of online and local archival sources.

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Two Heaton war heroes honoured

Two military heroes associated with Heaton have been honoured in separate ceremonies in Newcastle. Firstly, on 29 August 2017, Edward Lawson was one of three recipients of the Victoria Cross to whom a new memorial was dedicated.

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Monument to Newcastle’s VC winners including Edward Lawson, who lived in Heaton for many years.

Then, on 23 September 2017, another adopted Heatonian, Company Sergeant Major John Weldon DCM was honoured at a ceremony on the Quayside.

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Edward Lawson

Edward Lawson was born on 11 April 1873 at 87 Blandford Street, Newcastle (within yards of the spot where his memorial now stands). His father was a cattle drover.

As a young man of 17, Edward joined the Gordon Highlanders. In the 1890s the regiment was called into active service on the North-West Frontier province of what was then known as British India. On 20 October 1897, a famous battle was fought at Dargai Heights, at which 199 of the British force were killed or wounded.

24 year old Edward Lawson carried a badly injured officer, a Lieutenant Dingwall, to safety. He then returned to rescue a Private McMillan, despite being wounded twice himself. He, along with a colleague, Piper George Findlater, was awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery. Edward’s award was presented to him personally by Queen Victoria at Windsor Castle on 25 June 1898. He then returned home to work in the East End Hotel in Newcastle (or, as we now know it, the Chilli!).

According to military records, Lawson soon returned to his regiment and served until 31 October 1902, including in South Africa during the Second Anglo-Boer War. He received further military medals and clasps for this period of service.

Back home

On 14 March 1908, Edward married Robina Ursula Scott. At this time, he was living at 128 Malcolm Street and working as an electrical wiremen. The Lawsons soon moved to 14 Matthew Street, South Heaton just north of Shields Road, where they brought up their six children. Matthew Street was their home until c1924 (when Edward was 51 years old) at which time they relocated to Walker where they were to live for the remainder of their lives. Edward Lawson VC died on 2 July 1955. He is buried in Heaton and Byker Cemetery, where in 1999 a new headstone was erected on his grave. His Victoria Cross is held by the Gordon Highlanders Museum in Aberdeen.

On 29 August 2017, a memorial of grey granite was unveiled outside the Discovery Museum. It bears individual plaques to Private Edward Lawson VC  along with Newcastle’s two other recipients of the gallantry award: Captain John Aiden Liddell VC, MC and Private Adam Herbert Wakenshaw VC. Her Majesty’s Lord Lieutenant of Tyne and Wear, Mrs Susan M Winfield OBE, presided, assisted by Lord James Percy, Honorary Colonel Lord James Percy of The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. Members of Edward’s family were in attendance.

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Members of Edward Lawson’s family after the unveiling

You can read more and see photographs relating to Edward Lawson here.

John Weldon

John Weldon was born c1885 in Stannington, Northumberland. By 1901, he was living with his family at 44 Chillingham Road, Heaton, and was working as a signalman on the railways.

In 1912, he married Isabella Laidler and the couple were living at 48 Mowbray Street. The next year, their only child, Margaret Isabella, was born. Sadly she was not to get to know her father. When she was only one year old, World War One was declared and John was  recruited by Northumberland Fusiliers into its 16th Battalion, a so-called ‘Pals’ regiment, known as ‘The Commercials’.

John had, by now, been promoted to the rank of Company Sergeant Major. Along with his comrades, he was on active duty on 1 July 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme. On this day, 1,644 Northumberland Fusiliers were among 19,240 British soldiers who died in just a few hours.

John was among the survivors. But a citation in the ‘London Gazette’ some months later, gave some indication of his bravery:

 ‘For conspicuous gallantry in action.  He led his platoon with great courage and determination, himself accounting for many of the enemy. Later he dressed 13 wounded men under fire.’

Just over a year after that tragic day, John Weldon was given a ‘Hero’s Reception’ at the Newcastle Commercial Exchange (The Guildhall) on the Quayside in honour of his being awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal.

The Sheriff  of Newcastle, Arthur A Munro Sutherland reported that Weldon’s company went over the top at 07:30am and when all the officers were out of action, he took charge of the company. He did not return to the trenches until 10:45pm after lying out in ‘No Mans Land’ under continuous heavy fire. He was known to have killed or wounded 29 Germans. His rifle was twice shot out of his hands. At a later stage in the afternoon he crawled from shell hole to shell hole and was able to collect 15 badly wounded men and get them back to the British trenches.

Death of a Hero

John soon returned to the front. But on 22 September 1917 CSM John Weldon DCM was reported wounded and he died the following day at the 14th Hospital at Wimereux, aged 32. He is buried in the Communal Cemetery there.

Northumberland Fusiliers Museum and archive now has John Weldon’s Distinguished Conduct Medal in its collection and he is listed in ‘Historical Records of the 16th (Services) Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers’ by Captain C H Cooke MC for the Council of the Newcastle and Gateshead Incorporated Chamber of Commerce, The Guildhall, Newcastle, published in 1923. He is also mentioned on the war memorial of Nedderton Council School, Northumberland where he had been a pupil. Locally, he was among the 950 servicemen listed on the St Mark’s Church, Byker war memorial (now Newcastle Climbing Centre) but the whereabouts of this memorial is currently unknown.

On 23 September 2017, a hundred years after his death, on a still, sunny autumn morning by the River Tyne, about fifteen regimental representatives, including flag bearers and two buglers, along with members of the general public remembered the bravery of CSM John Weldon DCM. Ian Johnson, the local WWI historian, was the wreath layer, in the absence of John Weldon’s great-great nephew George Patterson, who unfortunately was unable to attend.

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A page from the pamphlet produced for the centenary of John Weldon’s death

Ian Johnson, author of ‘Newcastle Battalion World War One’ and Arthur Andrews of Heaton History Group, who has researched the life of CSM John Weldon, at the ceremony.

You can read more and see more photographs relating to CSM John Weldon DCM here.

Private Edward Lawson VC and Company Sergeant John Weldon DCM, Heaton remembers you.

John Wallace: landscape painter in oils

This evocative detail of ‘Newcastle upon Tyne from the South West’ is available on a greetings card, sold by Tyne and Wear Museums.

 

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From John Wallace’s painting ‘Newcastle upon Tyne from the South West’

 

The original painting hangs in the Laing Art Gallery. It is the work of John Wallace who, for more than 20 years, lived at 28 Kingsley Place in Heaton.

Journeyman joiner

John Wallace was born in Ryton, Co Durham in 1841, the son of Henry, a cartwright, and his wife, Mary. On leaving school, young John joined his father’s firm as an apprentice and progressed to become a journeyman joiner. In his late twenties, he branched out into building and property development in Ryton and, by 1871, aged 27, was a successful businessman, married with a family. On census night, in addition to his one year old daughter, Jane, there were two ‘nephews’, Henry and William, in the household. The family was by now living in the west end of Newcastle.

Eventually though, during a period of recession affecting the building trade, John abandoned his livelihood to devote himself to art. According to a contemporary profile, it was only now that he took up painting, initially taking lessons from a local teacher. He progressed quickly, however, and, in 1880 and 1881, he exhibited works at the Arts Association  in Newcastle.

By 1881, he was still living in Elswick with his expanding family: Henry (17) and William (15)  were now described as ‘sons’ and were an architect and draughtsman respectively and there were three school-age daughters, Jane (11), Mary (7) and Alice (2). John now considered himself to be a professional painter and was described on the census form as  ‘artist – painting’.

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Wallace was a prominent and early, maybe even founding, member of the Bewick Club, which was established by local artists in 1884. It is from one of its catalogues, held by Newcastle City Library, that this portrait was taken. The club’s primary function was to promote the needs of professional artists and to encourage not only the patronage of rich individuals but also that of the less wealthy. The club’s headquarters were in Lovaine Hall, St. Mary’s Place, where Northumbria University is now. Wallace remained a member until his death. We know that some of his exhibits at the club were bought by collectors and patrons such as Dr Charles Mitchell and Lady Armstrong. 

Kingsley Place

By 1891

, John, now a successful artist, and Mary, his wife, had moved with their three daughters to a newly built house in Kingsley Place, a quiet, pedestrianised street in a prime location overlooking the recently opened and picturesque Heaton Park. Soon a fine public library would open at the end of the street.

Their next door neighbours at 30 Kingsley Place were the musical Beers family from Holland, who we have written about on this site previously. Conveniently, a couple of doors the other way lived an Italian picture framer. Another soon to be well known painter and illustrator, John Gilroy, grew up across the road at number 25. He was a young child at the turn of the 20th century as John Wallace approached the end of his life. And, at the same time, a photographer, William Thomas, and more musicians, including Mary W Parkinson, who described herself as a ‘music teacher and vocalist’  moved into the street. It’s intriguing to imagine that the man in the photograph below could have been John Wallace and the little boy on the right a young John Gilroy.

 

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Kingsley Place looking towards the Victoria Library from the collection of Hilary Bray (nee Bates)

Little wonder that, like their brothers, Henry and William, the Wallace girls also were drawn towards creative occupations: Jane and Mary were both dressmakers and, perhaps more unusually for the time, youngest daughter, Alice, was a photographer. Could she have even taken the above photograph?

You won’t be surprised to hear that John Wallace stayed in Kingsley Place for the rest of his life and that he thrived as an artist here.

Wallace painted many scenes around North East England especially in the Tyne valley. But he also travelled apparently and, for example, painted locations around Stratford upon Avon, including Anne Hathaway’s cottage, to increasing acclaim. So far though we know of only one painting of the area immediately around his home, even though Jesmond Dene, in particular, would seem to provide the perfect subject matter for him.

Royal Academy

In 1892, Wallace’s painting ‘Butter Washing’ was selected for inclusion at London’s Royal Academy annual exhibition. Wallace exhibited at the Royal Academy on two further occasions, with ‘A Northumberland Dairy’ selected in 1896 and ‘Derwent Vale’ in 1902.

In 1901, 59 year old John was described on the census form as ‘a landscape painter in oils’. He also produced black and white drawings for use in printed publications.

A number of Wallace’s works were selected for the newly opened Laing Art Gallery’s first ever ‘Artists of the Northern Counties’ exhibition in 1905. They included the one familiar local scene we know of, ‘Jesmond Falls’ , dated 1901. He died on 4 November 1905.

You can see John Wallace paintings at the Laing and Shipley Art Galleries and at George Stephenson’s birthplace in Wylam. They are reproduced here. His works also appear regularly at auction. ‘ Waterfall – Jesmond Dene’ was sold in 2013. You can see it here.

And perhaps you have a John Wallace on a wall at home? Although we are not art experts and cannot help with identification or valuation, it would be lovely to discover more John Wallace works, perhaps even more local scenes. We are sure he must have painted many more. Do let us know.

Postscript

This John Wallace shouldn’t be confused with his contemporary, the Scottish artist John Wallace who died in September 1903 and who, under the pseudonym George Pipeshank, did artwork for Cope’s Tobacco Company in Liverpool.

Aside from his work for Cope’s, John Wallace was primarily a watercolourist, who exhibited at the Scottish Academy. The two, their works and their dates are often confused but death notices for each can be found in the Newcastle and Edinburgh press respectively. There is also a self portrait of the Scottish John Wallace in the Liverpool University Special Collections and Archives John Fraser Collection.

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Chris Jackson of Heaton History Group. Sources included: ‘The Artists of Northumbria ‘by Marshall Hall, 1973.

Can you help?

If you know more about John Wallace or his work,  please either leave a comment by clicking on the link immediately below the title of this article or email chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

 

The People of Heaton High Pit

Heaton High Pit (also known as the Far Pit or E Pit) was part of Heaton Main Colliery and was in High Heaton, opposite where Heaton Manor School is now. The mine lay just to the east of the Thistle Fault where the valuable, thick seam of coal known as the ‘Main Seam’ lay much further underground than in neighbouring areas to the west. Consequently, it was only towards the end of the 18th century that engineers had developed the technology to mine there.

Heaton Main

Heaton Main Colliery was technically one of the most advanced collieries in the world, attracting visitors from elsewhere in Britain and further afield, even America. Huge steam pumping engines drained the mine and a steam locomotive hauled coal along the colliery railway to the River Tyne. This was before George Stephenson built his locomotives for Killingworth Colliery.

We now remember Heaton Main Colliery for the 1815 disaster, in which  75 men and boys died. This took place about a mile from Heaton High Pit, approximately below the site of Saint Teresa’s Church. But there were problems  at Heaton High pit too; a fire in 1810; and in 1813 ‘creep’,  which caused the colliery floors to lift, meaning the pit was abandoned until 1816, one of the things that proves that this was not the site of the 1815 disaster.

What is particularly interesting about High Pit is that, unlike Heaton’s other pits, a small mining community, what we might call a ‘hamlet’, grew up around it. We’ve been researching the ten-yearly census records and newspaper reports relating to this community.

 

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Thank you to Newcastle City Library for permission to use this photograph.

 

The above photograph of cottages at Heaton High Pit was taken in 1922 just before the present High Heaton estate was developed around the wooded area immediately above the old pit head, which we now know as The Spinney. It gives an idea of what the hamlet might have looked like.

Mining village

In 1841, there were around 25 households. Almost all the men were coal miners and, although 70 year old William Fenwick was a horse-keeper and 15 year old John Hall an apprentice smith, they too would have worked at the pit. Theirs were important jobs in the mining industry.

The surrounding area was rural: 35 year old John Twizell and 30 year old Alexander Cairns earned their living as agricultural labourers. Only two young women are listed as having a job: 15 year old, Margery Anderson and Elizabeth were servants.

In 1851, a few of the families remained  from ten years earlier but many were recent migrants from other mining communities around Newcastle and the immediate area.  Most men were still colliers but 18 year old Septimus Widderington was an engineer,  26 year old William Gascoigne a gardener and 40 year old William Taylor an agricultural labourer. Several women and girls are recorded as working:  Elizabeth Clarke (18) as a dressmaker and  Ann Ayre (14), Sarah Bell (21) and Jane Stephenson (38) as household servants.

Whereas boys as young as seven were among those killed in the 1815 disaster, the Mines Act of 1842 had made it illegal to employ anyone under ten underground, so the youngest miner in 1851 was ten year old James Cross. Nevertheless,  siblings Anne, Mary and Christopher Roaby, aged four, five and seven, were the only children, among the many who lived in the hamlet, recorded as going to school .

Heaton High Pit was closed in 1852, the battle with floodwater having finally been lost,  but many men of the village continued to work at nearby Benton Colliery. This was situated on what is now Wych Elm Crescent by the tram track across Benton Road from the Newton Park pub. You can see how close they were and how rural the area was on the OS map below.

 

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Detail from 1st edition Ordnance Survey map, surveyed in 1858

In 1861, the village was still a mining community but some of the residents had come from further afield: for example, John Bowes, a cordwainer, had been born in Yorkshire; and Elizabeth Nichol in Cumberland.  The recent birth and expansion of railways was a possible factor.

A school is listed  in the census and 12 boys and girls, aged between 4 and 12 are recorded as attending. The youngest collier was 15 year old John Burdis. Ann Bell, a 50 year old married woman, recorded as the head of household, was a shopkeeper and her daughter, 24 year old Hannah Ramsay, earned her living as a dressmaker.  By this time though, there were also a number of uninhabited dwellings,  a sign perhaps that that the housing was now considered substandard and, with the local pit closed,  the village had become a less attractive place to live.

In  January 1862 miners, George Handy and Robert Minto, both  of Heaton High Pit village, were killed in an accident at Benton Colliery.

In April 1864, the auction of the materials of 21 cottages at Heaton High Pit was announced in the local press, although the 1894 Ordnance Survey map below shows a couple of cottages just to the north of the present Spinney. By this time, trees had been planted as was customary over disused pitheads. You can also see that, although Jesmond to the west was beginning to be developed, as was Heaton to the south, High Heaton was still very rural, the sight of Byker and Heaton Cemetery being the most obvious change from 36 years earlier.

 

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Detail from 2nd edition Ordnance Survey Map, 1894

And just before WW1, when the map below was published, not that much seemed to have altered. But after the war, things moved quickly and by the late 1920s, many of the houses we are now familiar with had been built and the Heaton Secondary Schools had opened. But more of them another time!

 

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Detail from 3rd edition Ordnance Survey map, 1913

 

Can you help?

If you know more about anyone who may have lived or worked at Heaton High Pit, 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 and written by Chris Jackson with Les Turnbull and Michael Proctor as part of Heaton History Group’s HLF-funded ‘Heaton Beneath Our Streets’ project.

The Grand Opening

In our previous article about Heaton’s Shakespearean heritage, we showed that, in the late 1870s, Heaton was home to an important local theatrical figure at the time when a number of streets in the area were given names connected with the bard. But we also claimed that this part of Newcastle’s connections with the Royal Shakespeare Company itself go back much further than the 1970s when the RSC’s made Newcastle its third home and its actors began to stay in digs in the east of the city. Here’s why:

On Saturday 21 December 1895, it was announced in the ‘Newcastle Courant‘ that the ‘accomplished and popular Shakespearian actor, F R Benson‘, had laid the foundation stone of a new theatre in Heaton the previous Tuesday.

NPG x96407; Sir Francis Robert ('Frank') Benson as 'Romeo' in 'Romeo and Juliet' by Alexander Bassano

Frank Benson as Romeo by Alexander Bassano, half-plate glass negative, 1886, courtesy of National Portrait Gallery

Francis Robert Benson wasn’t local. He was born in Tunbridge Wells in 1858 and after studying at New College, Oxford, he immediately took to the stage. Benson’s first recorded appearance at the Theatre Royal was in 1881, before he had officially turned professional, when he performed with the company of Charles Bernard and Miss Alleyn. Soon afterwards, Benson started his own company. From the outset, he concentrated on Shakespeare.

Stratford remembers

Surprisingly it seems that until 1864 (the year in which, you may remember, George Stanley our ‘tragedian‘ had served on the Newcastle Shakespeare Tercentenary Committee, made an impassioned plea to be allowed to practice his own art in his own building and put on his own tribute to the bard) there was little interest in putting on Shakespeare’s plays in the town of his birth. Stratford did, however, put on a successful festival that year, promoted and bankrolled by Edward Flower of the brewing family, who happened to be mayor at the time. The success of the commemoration gave momentum to attempts to raise money to build a theatre in the town specifically to put on the plays of its famous son, an appeal that was scoffed at by influential commentators in London, but officially supported by many in Newcastle including the council itself.

The Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, Stratford upon Avon opened its doors and launched its first Shakespeare Festival on 23rd April 1879, the year, you may remember, in which the plans for Heaton’s own memorial to Shakespeare, our ‘Shakespeare streets’ were first submitted.

In 1886, Frank Benson became the director of the Stratford Festival, which was effectively the forerunner of the Royal Shakespeare Company. Nevertheless he continued with a gruelling touring schedule.

Early in 1893, Benson played Richard III at the Theatre Royal with a temperature of 104 and what turned out to be typhoid. After the show, he collapsed on the train back to Stratford and was seriously ill for several weeks, missing that year’s Stratford Festival.

Grand opening

The Grand Theatre, where Benson laid the foundation stone, was, by the time of its opening, recognised by the press as being in Byker, although, on the north side of Wilfred Street (just west of where Morrison’s is today), it was only a couple of hundred yards away from the boundary with Heaton. It was designed by William Hope of North Shields and built by the firm of Samuel Ferguson Davidson. Both men were Freemasons, who specialised in theatre work, often in partnership, not only in the north east but much further afield.

Samuel Ferguson Davidson was from Heaton. We know that, in 1895, he was living at 53 Falmouth Road. Samuel was a Temperance campaigner as well as a Freemason. He worked on theatres as far away as Birmingham and Margate and, locally, perhaps most notably on Spanish City in Whitley Bay. He died on 12 February 1964, aged 97.

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The Grand Theatre, Byker, was described as a very fine building, which could seat 2,500 people. The principal entrance was surmounted by an imposing turret, which you can see above. Inside the main entrance was a spacious vestibule. There was a large handsome marble staircase to the circle. The tip-up chairs were upholstered in ‘terracotta plush’.

The stage was large and could accommodate the largest shows, hence its suitability for Benson’s Shakespearean productions. It also had ‘a commodious suite of dressing rooms on each side fitted with every convenience for the comfort of the artistes’ which would no doubt also appeal.

The Grand was established, owned and managed by Weldon Watts, an Irishman who had previously managed the Theatre Royal in Sheffield and the Queens Theatre in Gateshead

Seven months after laying the foundation stone of the Grand, Fred Benson, brought his production of ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ to its opening night, which took place on 27 July 1896. Below is a silk VIP programme for that performance for which we are indebted to John Moreels of Photo Memories Organisation.

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Programme from the Grand Theatre, Byker’s opening performance

Local critics were rather sniffy about the liberties Benson took with the text but conceded that the comedy had been well received by the audience, which must have comprised many people from Heaton, including from our Shakespeare streets, from which it was only a couple of hundred yards or so via the Elizabeth Street underpass below the railway.

The performance was just the first of Byker’s own Shakespearian festival that week. Benson’s company also put on ‘The Merchant of Venice’, ‘Hamlet’ and ‘As You Like It‘, with ‘Richard III‘ played al fresco at the Sandyford Park home of a Dr Gibb (See the Comments to this article for more on the interesting Dr Gibb).

Benson was back at the Grand in December 1899. His company had been at the Theatre Royal performing ‘Macbeth‘, the play famously considered by actors to be unlucky, when a disastrous fire destroyed the interior of the theatre and with it most of the company’s costumes, props and scenery as well as personal effects. They say in the theatre that the show must go on. So Frank Benson dashed to London to source replacements and the management of the Grand Theatre, Byker offered it as an alternative venue, not the last time Newcastle’s East End was to help out the Stratford company.

Services to Shakespeare

Benson’s contribution to the cause of Shakespeare can hardly be overestimated and was formally recognised a hundred years ago during the commemorations for the Tercentenary of Shakespeare’s death. He was playing Julius Caesar in front of an audience of nearly three thousand people, which included King George V and Queen Mary, when a telegram finally reached Benson informing him that he was to be honoured with a knighthood. A royal aid was informed that the message had just been received, a sword was sent for and Frank Benson was knighted on stage still wearing the blood-stained robes and ashen make-up of the dead Caesar.

Postscript

The Royal Shakespeare Company evolved out of the Shakespeare Festival that Benson ran in Stratford between 1888 and 1916. The debt that the company owes to him is acknowledged by a set of stained glass windows in the original Shakespeare Memorial Theatre.

The Grand, after struggling for many years to be profitable as either as a theatre or a cinema, finally closed its doors on August 1954. But Heaton got its own theatre in 1960, when The People’s moved here.

In 1961, the RSC itself was formed. The story of Shakespeare at the People’s and its ongoing links with the RSC is another story!

Can you help?

If you have memories of the Grand or can provide further information about anything mentioned in this piece, please contact us, either by clicking on the link immediately below the title of this article or by emailing chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Shakespeare 400

This article was written by Chris Jackson and researched by Chris Jackson, and Peter Walker, as part of Heaton History Group’s project to commemorate the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death.

We are interested in connections between Heaton and Shakespeare through its theatres, past and present; writers, actors – and of course, the famous brick Shakespeare on South View West.

We are also researching and writing about some of the people who have lived in the ‘Shakespeare Streets’: initially, we are looking at Bolingbroke, Hotspur, Malcolm, Mowbray and Warwick Streets plus Stratford Grove, Stratford Grove Terrace, Stratford Grove West, Stratford Road, and Stratford Villas.

If you would like to join our small friendly research group or have information, photos or memories to share, please contact us, either by clicking on the link immediately below the title of this article or by emailing chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Armstrong Park

Royal Opening of Heaton’s Parks

20th August 1884 lived long in the memory of Victorian Heatonians. It was the day that royal visitors to the city processed down Shields Road, North View and Heaton Park Road before driving through Heaton Park, across Benton Bridge and Armstrong Bridge into Jesmond Dene. Once there, the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII) officially opened Armstrong Park and Jesmond Dene, the fine public spaces which, along with Heaton Park (opened a few years earlier in 1879), had been created on land presented to the people of Newcastle by Sir William Armstrong. Almost all of Heaton came out to see the first royal visit to Newcastle in thirty years and the first by the then Prince of Wales. The event was covered extensively in newspapers, not only locally but across the country.

Old Mill, Jesmond Dene

This postcard was written less than two years after Lord Armstrong’s death


Triumphal Arch

In the days before the event, there was speculation (and disappointment) about the route the royal procession would take:

The changing of the route has effected the subscription list considerably but as to make the alteration would lengthen the route, the suggestion of allowing the procession to pass along Heaton Road was not entertained. Newcastle Courant, Friday 1 August 1884

A ‘Decorative Executive Committee’ of the council was formed with a chairman and three vice chairmen and separate committees set up for individual streets down which the royal party would pass on route to Heaton. There would be triumphal arches in Barras Bridge, Northumberland Street, New Bridge Street, Grainger Street and Grey Street (two). The representative of the Byker district:

presented a plan for a triumphal arch to be placed at the old toll gate at the east end of Byker Bridge. The plan is for an imitation of Temple Bar and it will be called ‘Byker Bar’.

With huge crowds expected, there was understandable concern about the arrangements for spectators:

The road from the west end of Benton Bridge to Jesmond Grove is very narrow and barricades will be erected along it, a limited number of people being admitted behind the barricades by tickets…. the distribution of which will be made by Newcastle Town council.
Newcastle Courant, 15 August 1884

Close shave

The day itself almost started disastrously.

As the procession was passing up Grey Street, the horse ridden by Colonel Young of the Newcastle Artillery Volunteers, suddenly grew restive and became entangled with the wheels of the royal carriage and, in the struggle to liberate itself, swung round, bringing the sword of the rider into dangerous proximity to the head of the Prince of Wales, who had to bend down to escape a blow thereof. Nottingham Evening Post, Wednesday 20 August

After this narrow escape, which might have changed the course of history, the royal party headed east:

At Byker, the prince obtained a view of many artisans’ dwellings, in the improvement of which His Highness has evinced a strong practical interest. Newcastle Courant Friday 22 August

Impassable in its beauty

But early near miss aside, the day seems to have gone well, at least if the flowery language of the reporters of the day are to believed:

It was within the grounds of [Heaton] Park that one of the most pleasant sites of the whole day came into unexpected view. On a verdant slope, some thousands of children connected with the various educational schools in the city were congregated. The young faces were all eagerness with the prospect of seeing the royal personages. The majority of them were dressed in gay summer costumes and appeared veritably on the green sward like a ‘bed of daisies’… When the Prince and Princess of Wales came in view of the children, the sweet and fresh voices rose in swelling notes with ‘God bless the Prince of Wales’, the strains of this splendid anthem ringing through the woods and dales of Jesmond with a most charming effect..

Armstrong Park

Carriage drive the royal procession would have taken through Armstrong Park

From there the royal carriage ‘wended its way at a brisk trot to the elegant bridge which spans Jesmond Dene, and which is a magnificent and useful gift of Sir William Armstrong.’

After the prince had planted a commemorative oak tree using a silver spade, the party sat down to a sumptuous meal in the newly renovated and lavishly decorated Banqueting Hall. The parks were praised fulsomely in press reports all over the country, such as this in The Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligence, Thursday 21 August:

… one of the handsomest public grounds in the north of England. The natural scenery is almost impassable in its beauty and where nature has rested and left a spot whereon the eye could not rest with pleasure, art has stepped in to finish off the work.

…the brawling stream, the roaring waterfalls, the song of thrush and blackbird, the winding walks, the precipitous banks and the abundance of trees and shrubs, coupled with the ancient mill house and the ruined water wheel makes that portion of the Dene one of the most charming and attractive spots in the two northern counties.

There are several wells in the Dene and around some of them quaint old legends cluster. From what ‘Ye Old Well of King John’ derives its name, there is no exact information. There is a tradition that there stood a palace in the immediate vicinity which King John for some time inhabited.

King John's Well

The drinking vessels at King John’s Well were still in place within living memory

Legacy

It brings a lump to your throat! We’re lucky enough to still be able to access Heaton and Armstrong Parks and Jesmond Dene today, of course, 130 years after their official opening. Get out and enjoy them but also find a few moments to post your memories of the parks here or email them to chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Gentlemen of Philadelphia, 1884

Lords to the Oval via Heaton

Overseas cricket teams’ tours of England are a much loved part of our sporting summer but bet you didn’t know that Newcastle once appeared on the tourists’ itinerary and that Heaton was a venue alongside the likes of Lords, the Oval, Maidstone and Hove. Admittedly we have to go back to 1884 – but it’s not just the local links that’ll surprise you but the identity of the tourists too.

Gentlemen of Philadelphia, 1884

The tourists of 1884

Armstrong’s field

But first of all, when and how did Heaton acquire a cricket ground? For over 40 years, Northumberland Cricket Club had played its home matches at Bath Road (now Northumberland Road), an important sporting centre in the late nineteenth century – you may remember that George Waller competed in cycling events there. However, projected development meant that the club had to find another ground and was delighted when William (Later, Lord) Armstrong offered a six acre field at a nominal rent with a ten year lease. A cricket ground was prepared and a pavilion constructed on the site on the corner of what is now Heaton Road and Cartington Terrace.

Detail from 1890 Ordnance Survey map showing cricket ground

Detail from 1890 Ordnance Survey map

Heaton Medicals Cricket Ground 2014

Cricket (and rugby) are still played there today. The cricket club’s home didn’t meet with everyone’s approval, however. It was considered remote and ill-served by public transport. Remember, there were no buses or trams at this time – and Heaton Station was a fair walk away, through mainly open countryside.

Worldwide appeal

Although, then as now, most matches at the Heaton ground brought together local teams, cricket had long been a worldwide game. Its popularity was spread by English colonists from the 17th century onwards but what is generally considered the inaugural test match between Australia and England didn’t take place until 1877. The Ashes themselves didn’t start until 1882 when the Australians beat England at the Oval.

However, perhaps surprisingly the first international cricket match had taken place decades before when the USA hosted Canada in New York. In fact, America had been an early adopter of cricket. It’s said it had been introduced by English colonists even before it had reached the north of England. It’s in this context that we need to consider the tour of 1884.

Philadelphian pioneers

There’s an engraving of 1800 entitled Back of the State House Philadelphia which depicts a small boy with a curved cricket bat in his hand. Later the first cricket club entirely comprising native-born Americans was said to have been founded at Haverford College in the same state. By 1870, cricket was spoken of in Philadelphia as ‘the national game’. In 1854 Philadelphia Cricket Club was founded and in 1859, 13 Philadelphians were in the 22 to play the visiting All England XI.

The American Civil War stalled the development of the sport as many Philadelphian men responded to Abraham Lincoln’s 1861 call for 75,000 volunteers. Those too young to enlist continued to play the game, however, and when the war was over the Philadelphians were keen to play more overseas opposition. In 1878 its representative team played and beat the Australian tourists and plans were soon hatched to test further their skills against the inventors of the game.

The sum of $8,200 was raised from five local clubs and the help of the MCC was sought in compiling a fixture list. Finally on 17 May 1884, fourteen players set sail from New York on the steamer, The City of Rome. Thousands turned out to wave off the tourists, the docks were ’black with thousands of spectators’ and The City of Romegay with flags and decorations’. Eight days later the ship docked in Liverpool.

Gentlemen of Philadelphia, 1884

Gentlemen of Philadelphia, 1884 as depicted in The Illustrated London News

From there, the team, known as Gentlemen of Philadelphia to indicate its amateur, and therefore respectable, status, travelled to Dublin where they played 2 matches, and Edinburgh where they played The Gentlemen of Scotland. From there they toured English county grounds including MCC at Lords and WG Grace’s Gloucestershire (with Mrs Grace, W G’s mother, in attendance).

Gentlemen of Northumberland

The match in Heaton took place on 11 and 12 July 1884. One of the tourists kept a diary in which he describes some of the matches, venues and off-field hospitality in detail. For example, about 4,000 people attended the Lords match over the two days, the Aigburth ground in Liverpool was ‘the prettiest ground we saw in England’ and, in an interval between matches some of the players went to Wimbledon to watch the tennis. However, frustratingly little information was recorded about their trip to Northumberland.

However, there were lengthy reports in local newspapers in which the fixture was described as ‘the most important match that will be played in this district during the present season’ and the Northumberland team as ‘a thoroughly representative team, having been carefully selected by the County Committee’.

A clue to the conditions can be found in the weekly Newcastle Courant for Friday 11 July, day one of the match. The newspaper reports the heavy thunderstorms of the previous day in which a house in nearby Jesmond was damaged by lightning.

The Journal had more to say about both the attendance and the weather:

Though the weather was tempting enough at the outset, the attendance was small… It appears to us that no matter what exertions are put forth by the many ardent cricketers in the north – and their name is legion – they fail to command the patronage of the general public… there should be a free gate or a smaller amount charged for admission. If this plan were adopted, the working classes could obtain a fair idea of the game and we have no doubt that cricket would be more appreciated in the north than it is at present time… about 5 o’clock a thunderstorm visited the district and necessitated an adjournment for a half an hour after which the wicket was so soft that it was determined to postpone the game for another quarter of an hour and a recommencement wasn’t made until 6 o’clock.

The following day:

In glorious summer weather, this important match was concluded… the wicket wasn’t nearly so treacherous as on the first day. There was considerable improvement in the attendance but still the number present was small when the importance of the match was taken into consideration.

Defeat

Cricket was still evolving at this time. It was less than 3 months earlier that the number of players in a team had been standardised at 11 and there were still only 4 balls in an over. Come what may, the local team was no match for the tourists. One American bowler, W C Lowry took 5 wickets in each innings and another, W C Morgan, was top scorer with 38. The Northumberland team failed to make 100 in either innings with only C F Cumberlege scoring over 30 and, although E B Brutton took five wickets in the second innings, the Philadelphians won comfortably by 96 runs.

It may be that the ground only recently used for pasture on Heaton Town Farm wasn’t of the highest standard and that, together with the weather and the modest opposition, accounts for both the tour diarist’s silence and the low scores. The tourists’ final record that summer read: Played 18 Won 8 Drawn 5 Lost 5.

The players

We don’t know too much about the Philadelphians outside of cricket except that one of their players, J B Thayer, later became the only first class cricketer to die on board The Titanic.

We know a little more about the Gentlemen of Northumberland. The team comprised:

Shallett John Crawford (1858-1922), a shipbroker who was born and lived in North Shields;
Ralph Spencer (1861-1928), Harrow and Cambridge educated, who became chairman of John Spencer and Sons steel works, founded in Newburn by his grandfather;
Charles Farrington Cumberlege (1851-1929), born in India and worked for the Bank of England;
John William Dawson (1861-1921), a railway clerk;
Ernest Bartholomew Brutton (1864-1922), also Cambridge educated, who became a clergyman, latterly in Devon;
Charles Edward Lownds (1863-1922), another Cambridge graduate, born in Walker, who became a surgeon;
William Henry Farmer (1862-1934), a railway inspector, who later emigrated to Vancouver;
Stephenson Dale (1859-1985), an engine fitter who joined the merchant navy and who died at sea less than one year after the match;
James Finlay Ogilvie (1848-1926), a solicitor;
Tom Raine (1859-1929);
Alfred Stephen Reed (1860-1939), born in Newbiggin, a boarder in Northallerton at aged 10, and who , in 1881, was living at The Priors, Church Street, Storrington, Sussex and described as a member of the ‘Northumberland militia’;

There were further tours over the next 3 decades but other sports gained popularity in the USA and the final nail in cricket’s coffin across the Atlantic seemed to be the decision to set up the Imperial Cricket Conference, which specifically excluded countries from outside the British Empire. Nevertheless cricket is still played in the United States and Philadelphia Cricket Club is still going strong, although cricket gave way to other sports, such as golf and tennis, between 1924 and its revival in 1998.

And although it hasn’t featured on an MCC-organised tour for a while, the sport is thriving in Heaton too – the Cartington Terrace Ground (known as the Medicals Ground) is now owned and used by Newcastle University: it would be great to hear from or about anyone who’s played there or who can add to what we know.

Medicals who fell in World War 2 are commemorated by cherry trees around the ground

Medicals who fell in World War 2 are commemorated by this plaque and cherry trees around the ground

Leave a comment here (See the link below the article title) or email chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Main sources
The Tour of the Gentlemen of Philadelphia in Great Britain, 1884 by One of the Committee; published by Red Rose Books, 2002;
Heaton: from farms to foundries by Alan Morgan; Tyne Bridge Publishing, 2012
Cricket Archive (to which we owe most of the biographical information)
Resources of Newcastle City Library including The Journal on microfilm
Ancestry UK

Private Edward Lawson VC - photograph from the Gordon Highlanders Museum

To Edward Lawson – for valour

The Victoria Cross is the highest military decoration ‘for valour in the face of the enemy’ awarded to British and commonwealth servicemen. It was founded by Queen Victoria in 1856 and to this day only 1,357 have been awarded worldwide. The simple words ‘For Valour’ are inscribed on it. One man so honoured lived and worked in Heaton for many years and is buried in Byker and Heaton Cemetery.

Edward Lawson was born at 87 Blandford Street, near the centre of Newcastle on 11 April 1873. His father, Thomas, is described in the 1881 census as a ‘cattle drover’.

Private Edward Lawson VC - photograph from the Gordon Highlanders Museum

Private Edward Lawson VC – photograph from the Gordon Highlanders Museum

Soldier

As a young man of 17, Edward joined the Gordon Highlanders. In the 1890s the regiment was called into active service on the North-West Frontier province of what was then known as British India. On 20 October 1897, a famous battle was fought at Dargai Heights, at which 199 of the British force were killed or wounded.

24 year old Edward Lawson carried a badly injured officer, a Lieutenant Dingwall, to safety. He then returned to rescue a Private McMillan, despite being wounded twice himself. He, along with a colleague, Piper George Findlater, was awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery. The award was presented to him personally by Queen Victoria at Windsor Castle on 25 June 1898.

Private Lawson of the Gordon Highlanders

Private Lawson of the Gordon Highlanders

Piper Findlater, the other recipient, was shot in the feet but continued to play his pipes to encourage his battalion’s advance. This act of bravery was widely covered in the press back home and Piper Findlater became a very well-known public figure. On his return to Scotland, much to the consternation of the military and political establishment, he capitalised on his fame and for a while supplemented his army pension by performing in music halls. He went on to be celebrated in literature, art and music.

Modest

Private Lawson seems to have been a more self-effacing man. A few months later, a comrade described him to the Yorkshire Evening Post:

I heard Sergeant Ewart questioning Lawson about the affair: ’Did you know the danger you were in?’ Lawson said: ‘No, I didn’t know what I was doing.‘ …Lawson was always a decent fellow but very rash and reckless: he would stick at nothing… He was made quite a god of in the regiment.

The Aberdeen Weekly Journal (22 June 1898) reported that the Newcastle Evening Chronicle had interviewed him on his return to Newcastle and found ‘a modest, unassuming man, little disposed to talk of his own exploits’. By this time, the paper says, he had completed his period of service and was back home in Newcastle working in the East End Hotel, Heaton. (Does anyone know where this was?*). Official records describe him as a ‘Reservist’ at this time.

The article goes onto describe his military career. After enlisting, Private Lawson had been posted to Aberdeen and after 5-6 weeks training, he was transferred to Curragh Camp in Ireland. He remained in Dublin for about 5 months. He was sent to India in March 1893, where he remained until his discharge. Lawson said that he received ‘a couple of scratches’ during the episode for which he was honoured.

And seemingly the action for which Lawson received the Victoria Cross wasn’t his only act of bravery. According to the newspaper, when, on another occasion, one of his comrades was hit by a bullet and fell into a dried up river bed, Lawson carried him safely to camp.

According to military records, Lawson soon returned to his regiment and served until 31 October 1902 including in South Africa during the Second Anglo-Boer War. He received further military medals and clasps for this period of service.

Back home

On 14 March 1908, Edward married Robina Ursula Scott, who was known as Ursula. At this time, he was living at 128 Malcolm Street and working as an electrical wiremen. The Lawsons soon moved to 14 Matthew Street, South Heaton just north of Shields Road, where they brought up their six children. Matthew Street was their home until c1924 (when Edward was 51 years old) at which time they relocated to Walker where they were to live for the remainder of their lives.

Prior to and during the First World War, Edward served as a Company Sergeant with the Northern Cyclist Battalion, which was employed to protect the coastline. The battalion was based at Alnwick Castle during World War One. The next photograph shows men of the Northern Cyclists in 1910. Edward Lawson VC is seated at the front. The next photograph was taken at Bamborough Castle in 1914. Edward is fourth from the right on the back row. Left of him is his wife Ursula, right of him is sister-in-law Agnes (known as Lily). Both were employed as cooks to the officers mess. Front left is Thomas and right front is Arthur, both sons of Edward and Ursula.

Northern Cyclists 1910

.Edward Lawson at Bamborough Castle

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Edward Lawson

Edward Lawson

Edward Lawson VC died on 2 July 1955. He is buried in Heaton and Byker Cemetery, where in 1999 a new headstone was erected on his grave. His Victoria Cross is held by the Gordon Highlanders Musuem in Aberdeen.

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Thank you to Barry Lawson, Edward’s grandson, who supplied us with much of the above information and photographs. If you know any more about Edward’s career in the army or his life, we’d love to hear from you. Post a reply here or email: chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

*See comments attached to this article for information about East End Hotel

Update

Read here about a memorial to Edward and the other two Newcastle men to have been awarded the Victoria Cross.

George Waller – life as a champion

The first part of George Waller’s story can be found here.

Having retained (and so won outright) the 6-day Cycling World Championship belt, George William Waller was in great demand. The report below of an appearance later the same month at Burradon, Northumberland describes him entering the arena on the bike on which he had won the championship:

He received a warm greeting which was not lessened when he mounted his machine. Accompanied by a number of bicyclists, he twice made the circuit of the field and while doing so, he was much admired but he very nearly had a serious accident, as, owing to the roughness of the track, he got what is known as a cropper, which might have done him a serious injury.

George Waller on Penny farthing

George Waller

Fortunately he wasn’t badly hurt and appearances on the track came thick and fast. Waller rode mainly in the North but further afield too. For example, on 4 October 1879, he won a 25 mile race in Coventry ‘ on a 15 inch DHF Premier’. His ‘massive championship belt ‘ and the ‘machine’ on which he won it were exhibited at the ground. On 10 November, he competed in a 100 mile race in Birmingham but retired after 82. And on Saturday 13 December, he competed, riding a ‘Dan Rudge’ bicycle , at the same distance in Nottingham.  Closer to home, there were races in places like Sunderland, South Shields, Darlington, Middlesbough and  York.

The champion was also honoured by local fans and patrons.  On 24 March 1880, a ‘testimonial’ was held in his honour  at ‘Mr W Gilroy’s Three Crown’s Inn, Buxton Street, Newcastle’. Waller  was presented with a purse of gold containing upwards of £70, which had been collected by ‘his numerous admirers in the North’.

However, he didn’t join his rivals in March 1880 on the starting line for the following year’s 6 day Championship but instead appeared later the same month in a six-dayer, which he himself had organised, in his home city of Newcastle. It’s interesting to see where the races took place.  An early favourite in Newcastle was Northumberland Cricket Ground on Bath Road.

And increasingly Waller began to make public challenges to other riders. His offer in 1880 to compete in a six day contest ‘ against any man in the world ‘ … ‘for any sum over £200 a side’ was reported at least as far afield as Cornwall. And riders challenged him to take part in shorter distance races, where they had a better chance of winning. There were always considerable sums of money at stake and Waller won more than his fair share. Often in shorter events, he negotiated a start for himself and he’d grant his opponent one over the longer distances.

Waller was clearly aware of his own value to the events he promoted. While he did compete on many occasions, even when he wasn’t fully fit, he would ride a number of exhibition laps or show his bikes and medals. And he usually announced he’d be riding, even when he didn’t in the end appear. Throughout and beyond his career, he was referred to as ‘world champion’ never ‘ former champion’ or ‘one-time champion’ even though he didn’t attempt to to defend his 1879 title. Thus from the outset, he showed a commercial acumen of which today’s agents would be proud. Later, there were many announcements of his ‘farewell ride’ in this town or that. Again, this wouldn’t have done the gate money any harm.

Celebrity

At the Newcastle Race Week six dayer on 25th June 1880, Waller broke his collar bone. This was reported in newspapers throughout the country much as an injury to Sir Bradley Wiggins, Mark Cavendish  or Chris Froome might be ahead of this year’s Tour de France or Wayne Rooney or Luis Suarez in the build-up to football’s World Cup:

 ‘Waller was at once driven to the Infirmary, where he received the necessary treatment, and afterwards he was taken to his own residence. Latest reports last night were that he was doing well. Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette 26 June

After his removal from the Newcastle Infirmary to his home, Waller passed a bad night, and as the collar bone again slipped, it had to be reset on Saturday morning. This having been accomplished satisfactorily, Waller suffered less pain and he expects to be in the saddle again in a short time. York Herald, 30 June

The six days’ bicycle champion, G W Waller, has so far recovered from the injuries he received from the injuries he sustained in the accident which befell him in the latter part of June last as to be able to mount his machine. However, as his arm has not yet become quite strong again, his spins will for a time be of only a gentle character. Edinburgh Evening News, 12 August

He did recover though – and the races, challenges and public appearances continued apace. As with celebrities today, Waller was sometimes the centre of attention even when he wasn’t present at all:

Yesterday, the champion bicyclist Mr G W Waller, accompanied by five friends and a boy, engaged a coble at Tynemouth Haven… when the squall suddenly burst on them, the coble was upset and its occupants thrown into the water. …All the party were picked up… Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette, 25 July 1881

There followed an almost passing reference to an actual victim of the tragedy:

With regard to the boat accident [on Sunday] it appears that it was not Mr G W Waller, the champion cyclist, but his brother T Waller who was in the boat. The body of one of the drowned men, named R Cowl, was recovered last night. Edinburgh Evening News, 26 July 1881

Promoter

Increasingly though, Waller turned his attention to the promotion of cycling. He continued to ride but also arranged races at a variety of venues, mainly in the North East but also the North West, Scotland and  the Midlands. On 23 July 1881 Waller’s own ‘Bicycle and Recreation Ground’ at Dalton Street, Byker, was opened ‘under the most favourable auspices’ . The Journal  on 10 April 1882 referred to  ‘Waller’s Bicycle and Recreation Grounds, Byker’ (Incidentally the same day’ s newspaper carried a report of events at  Heaton Bicycle and Recreation Grounds ‘these popular grounds’). An advert a few months later  for a race between Waller and his rival John Keen ‘of London’ gave the entry fee as 6d or 1 shilling and made play of the fact ‘ Byker tram passes the grounds’.  They would have been horse-drawn trams, a service which had begun in Newcastle just three years earlier. The popularity of the events were indicated by the fact the gates were to open an hour and a half before the race ‘to avoid any unnecessary crush’.

Innovator

Waller’s adverts often stressed technological innovation. While earlier events were lit by candles in the evening, soon there was a:

mammoth tent, illuminated by gas’

Although, on occasion, not everything went according to plan:

A gale of unusual violence broke over South Durham yesterday. At Bishop Auckland last night, a large covered marquee, extensively fitted up with gas mains and pipes for night illuminations and erected for a bicycle riding exhibition promoted by Mr G Waller, came to the ground a complete wreck. The professional bicyclists engaged, along with the crowd inside, made all possible haste outside, and, with the exception of some injury to a woman, no casualty occurred. Damage was also sustained to a refreshment bar and stalls inside the marquee, the canvass of which was to a large extent also reduced to shreds. Shields Daily Gazette, 11 August 1881

The following month, at an event before which, not for the only time, Waller’s farewell appearance was announced, an alternative source of lighting was introduced:

The grounds were illuminated with the electric light, which was under the charge of Mr Spark, electrician, George Street and worked remarkably well. Aberdeen Journal, 12 September 1881

There are rumours to the effect that at night the tent will be illuminated by the electric light. Daily Gazette for Middlesbrough, 15 September 1881 – amazing given that Swan had invented his lightbulb and William Armstrong’s Cragside had become the first house in the world to be lit by electricity only 3 years before. It must have been an amazing site to the average spectator.

But electricity wasn’t without problems of its own. A 26 hour race in September 1882 had to be postponed, ‘the machine which was to have supplied the electric light not having come to hand’

Entertainer

It wasn’t all about the cycling. At the annual gathering of the Ancient Order of Foresters at Crystal Palace in August 1882, the programme, in addition to the cycling in which Waller competed,  included  ‘acrobatic, musical and comical entertainment’, cricket, processions, ‘aquatic fun’ , dancing, and a balloon ascent which ended in near disaster.

Adverts were placed by Waller :

‘Wanted – good brass band’.

And there was an application in July 1881 for a licenceto serve alcohol in booths owned by him ’in a tent to be used for bicycle contests’ opposite the Royal Agricultural showground in Derby.

Novelty races included one in Gateshead between Waller on a bicycle and ‘Blue Peter, a roan trotting horse, driven in a sulky by Mr Rymer of Manchester.’ On this occasion the horse was the victor.

Charitable

However, Waller wasn’t only concerned with making money for himself: proceeds from one event  were donated to Sunderland Infirmary and in South Shields in December 1880

‘The proceeds were for the benefit of orphans and widows left destitute through the loss of the steam trawlers: Wonga (sic), Nation’s Hope and Flying Huntsman in the October gale.’

International

It’s possible that Waller, like a number of his contemporaries, also competed overseas. In November, 1881 a  farewell  ride  in Sunderland ‘before leaving for America’ was reported by Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette. So far, we haven’t found any documentary evidence that Waller rode outside Britain and, if anyone has further information, it would be great to find out more.

Waller with belt

Waller with his 1879 World Championship belt

Retired

In September 1884, Waller was present at the opening of Byker and Heaton Conservative Working Men’s Club and the same November he ‘admirably ‘ replied to the toast of ‘Professional Cyclists’ at Jesmond Amateur Cycling Club’s fourth annual dinner. By this time, he seems to have retired from participation in the sport but continued to officiate.

But when, on April 1889, the new Bull Park bicycle track was completed at what is now Exhibition Park, George did a test run and declared it one of the finest in the kingdom.

Builder

Waller had started his working life as a mason and his prize money had enabled him to start a construction business in Albion Row, Byker, with his brother Henry. It seems to have been extremely successful. Newcastle was expanding rapidly and in July 1896, he advertised far and wide from an 87 Raby Street , Byker address for bricklayers to be paid 10d an hour.

Ironically, however,  the first real evidence we have of Waller’s success in this field came with tragedy. On March 6 1897, the North East Daily Gazette reported that four men had been killed and nine others injured when a public house, called the Green Tree,  on Sandgate ‘ one of the most antique of houses…said to date from the time of Queen Elizabeth’ , which Waller had bought to renovate, collapsed while eighteen of  his men were working on it. By this time, Waller is described in the newspaper not as a cyclist but ‘a well-known builder in the city’. A few months later, the same paper reported a court case in which Mrs Jane Brogden, wife of one of the men killed, sued Waller for damages. She was awarded £225 compensation.

In the late 1880s, the champion  was living in Waller Street. (Did he name it himself or was it an honour bestowed by someone else?) But by 1890, he had moved to Heaton. It was common for builders to move in one of the new houses they had recently completed and so there is circumstantial evidence that Waller’s firm was responsible for building locally. He lived first of all at 78 Heaton Park Road and then at  number 92, a house next door to the photographer, Edward George Brewis. Heaton Park Road has since been  renumbered. Waller’s  old house is now number 188.

But, ever the entrepreneur, Waller continued to diversify. In August 1898 he applied for a licence to sell alcohol at houses in Raby Street (167 and 179), Byker.

Untimely end

On  9 July 1900, aged 45 George Waller was driving in a pony and trap from Jesmond Dene Hall, where he was supervising alteration work, towards his home in Heaton Park Road. Apparently, as the horse approached Jesmond Road, it  reared and turned towards the Armstrong Bridge, throwing Waller from his seat.

A near contemporary view of Armstrong Bridge near the spot where Waller was thrown from his trap

A near contemporary view of Armstrong Bridge near the spot where Waller was thrown from his trap

He was removed to Jesmond Dene House where he died from head injuries the following morning.

Waller had been accompanied by a boy called Joseph Cranston of Byker, who, giving evidence at an inquest the following day in Heaton’s Addison Hotel, said he had looked after the pony since Waller had bought it and that it had no history of bolting.

George Waller left a wife, Isabella, three sons, James, Herbert (who was to die in France during World War 1) and William. His daughter, Georgina, was born just weeks after her father’s death.

The very same day, his death was reported in newspapers right across the country. It was just over 20 years since his most famous sporting triumph. The sport had changed – the reports refer to his success on ‘the old high bicycle’ as if from another age – but he had certainly not been forgotten.

Memorial

And a final indicator of Waller’s ongoing fame and commercial value came just a week after his death and packed funeral service when the equally enterprising businessman, photographer Edward Brewis, rushed, seemingly for the only time in his life, to register copyright on two photographs he’d taken of his next-door neighbour. One of the photos is reproduced below. (The other can be seen in the article about Brewis himself.)

Waller by Brewis

One of the photos of George Waller by Edward Brewis

Wallercopyrightform It was while researching Brewis’ story, interesting in its own right,  that the document and the photographs came to light in the National Archive – and led to the even more fascinating character of George William Waller.

Waller’s grave can still be seen in All Saints Cemetery

George Waller's grave

but appears to be the only memorial to him. It would be fitting, during the year the Tour de France comes to the North of England where Waller did so much to promote cycling, to see his championship belt displayed at The Discovery Museum and perhaps a commemorative plaque at  his Heaton home .

Acknowledgements

Many thanks to to Alex Boyd of Tyne and Wear Museums for information, photographs and arranging access to George Waller’s championship belt, to Brian MacElvogue for information and the loan of material and to Carlton Reid for pointing the author towards Brian. Also this website is a mine of information – http://www.sixday.org.uk/html/the_beginnings.html

If you can add to the story of George William Waller or if you’d like to see his achievements celebrated, we’d love to hear from you (See ‘Leave a reply’ just below the title of the article) or email chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Waller with belt

George Waller – world champion cyclist

Nine of the riders at the starting line of the World Cycling Championships in London on 28 April 1879 knew each other well. They had competed against each other just 5 months before when the winner, Sheffield’s William Cann, had ridden over 1,060 miles in 6 days. Naturally Cann started as favourite again with French champion, Charles Terront, considered to be his closest rival for the fabulous prizes on offer – £105 in cash and a belt said to be worth another £100 (worth many thousands of pounds in today’s money). The contestants could be forgiven for not giving more than a sideways glance to the one newcomer among them, George Waller, a young rider from Newcastle, who had previously won prizes only in minor contests in the north and midlands.

Who was Waller?

George William Waller was born on 12 April 1855 at 11 Back Lane, Gallowgate in Newcastle upon Tyne. His father, James, was a mason from Yorkshire and his mother, Catherine, a local woman. She was 12 years older than her husband and died, aged 58, when George was just 15.

The family lived in Elswick when George was a young boy but the 1871 census shows George and his father both working as masons and living at 13 Miller’s Hill, Byker.

We know that George worked for a time in York on the building of the Foss Islands Railway, which eventually opened in 1880. Apparently it was here that he first had the idea of long distance cycling. It was said that, wishing to visit home at weekends, he bought a ‘boneshaker’. His colleagues reportedly thought it a great joke at first but it was reported that he commuted between York and Newcastle with some ease after a hard week of physical labour and was back at work on time on Mondays. Whether this story is true we can’t be sure but it was certainly told during his lifetime and fits in with what we know about Waller: that he was extremely tough, although a modest 5 foot 8 inches tall and weighing only around 8 stones 11 pounds, a ‘compactly framed well set man with no extraordinary muscular development’.

‘of medium height and fair complexion and has a wiry and hardy appearance.’

Some reports mention that he was also a diver.

George Waller on Penny farthing

George Waller

Racing pedigree

The first reference to Waller racing we have found so far dates from 1871 when, as a 16 year old, he came third and won 10 shillings in a handicap event promoted by Mr T Sutton at Fenham Park Grounds in a ‘poor race’ in a sport ‘only recently introduced to the North.’

In 1874 he finished third in his heat in the Great All-England one mile handicap held in Sheffield. The following year he won a heat in Wolverhampton but it was again described as a very poor race. In 1876, he won a heat again in a one mile race in the same city.

Test of endurance

The six day race at the Agricultural Halls in Islington was covered in detail in newspapers across the country. It lasted from Monday to Saturday with riders permitted to spend up to eighteen hours on the track. The reports describe brief rests during the day to ‘shampoo‘, change and eat and just six hours compulsory rest at night. With Cann, the champion and favourite, having crashed on the first day in a collision with Terront, Waller took an early lead, closely followed by the French rider. The crowd of spectators grew as the week went on, with 8,000 cheering on the riders by Wednesday by which time the leaders were taking few rests. By midnight, when the race adjourned for the night, Waller had ridden 878 miles and Terront just over 840.

Contemporary illustration

Contemporary illustrations

Wallerillus2rev

By five pm on Friday, the fifth day, Waller had ridden 1,020 miles on his Hillman and Herbert DHF Premier and so became the first rider to win the prize of £20 offered to any rider who achieved 1,000 miles over six days. He was attended by his brother Tom, along with a Charley Smith and the one hundred miles champion, Walter Phillips.

On the final evening, the crowd had swelled to around 10,000 and was allowed into the centre of the tight circuit ‘on extra payment, of course‘. The leaders ‘shaking hands, sped away merrily to the inspiring strains of the Marseillaise’. Waller’s final distance was 1,172 miles, 44 miles more then Terrront.

Waller with belt

Waller with his 1879 World Championship belt

Thank you to Tyne and Wear Museums and Archives for permission to reproduce these photographs.

Celebrity

Waller was instantly a sporting hero. He returned to Newcastle via York where ‘admirers gathered round the cab in which he was being conveyed to the station, took out the horse and dragged the vehicle, amid cheers, to the booking office’.

One newspaper expressed wonder at the distances travelled: ‘The bicycle is thus once again shown to be a much speedier means of locomotion than a horse and there is little doubt that an ordinary traveller accustomed to the vehicle could with ease compass 100 miles a day. It seems strange that it cannot be turned to greater practical advantage as a mode of travelling.’

Rematch

The event was clearly considered a success as only a few months later on 1 September, most of the same cyclists took to the track again. There was even more media interest and bigger crowds. Performers, including Terront’s brother, again performed ‘circus tricks of bicycle riding’ in the centre of the track, helping to create a carnival atmosphere.

And this time, after his exploits the previous spring, Waller was hot favourite. There were colourful descriptions of him in the newspapers:

‘He wore a little round straw hat, with a fluttering green ribbon, and beneath it such a crop of bright, crisp yellow hair as his Saxon ancestors must have bequeathed him centuries ago, before the invention of either brush, comb or pomatum pot’ (Freeman’s Journal, Dublin).

The story of an incident in Morpeth while Waller was training for the race was recounted: apparently, a policeman caught the champion cycling on the footpath and, when Waller failed to stop, threw his truncheon at the bike. It caught in the spokes and brought down the rider, knocking him unconscious. The policeman helped Waller at the scene and nothing further was said about the crime.

Waller, as expected, took an early lead but Terront was never far behind. Again there were spills. On the first day, Waller’s ‘machine gave way and he fell heavily though fortunately without hurting himself’. By the second day ‘ this race has assumed an importance far in advance of anything previously known in the bicycle world’ as Waller and Terront had both smashed their previous records.

‘Waller combines speed and endurance in a really wonderful measure and the style in which he rode past opponents was really surprising’.

Again the race came down to a head to head between Terront and Waller, with no quarter given. On day three, it was Terront’s turn to fall, grazing his elbow but almost immediately returning to the saddle. On day four, Terront arrived at the track nine minutes late (at 6.09am!) saying that his attendants had failed to wake him on time. The competition between the two men was described as ‘severe’. Waller was reported to have rested only 4 minutes all day and Terront just 2 minutes and 10 seconds.

‘The Englishman remained cool and dry, betraying his exhaustion only by gradually bending his figure, which he had hitherto maintained stiff and upright, lower and lower towards the saddle’

On 7.45am on day five, Waller passed the 1,000 mile mark, with Terront achieving the same distance at 8.54am. By 9.43pm, Waller had passed his previous record. It was reported that neither man dismounted from his bicycle all day. The Frenchman was gaining on Waller, who was unable even to take food from the hands of his attendants. Each time he attempted to, it was said Terront put on a superhuman spurt and was heard to exclaim: I will prevent him from eating and try to starve him!

There was controversy too. Waller was accused of cutting corners and cautioned that he would forfeit a lap if he repeated the offence. The alleged misdemeanour was covered in many papers but a letter in ‘The Sportsman’ reprinted in the ‘Northern Evening Mail’ (9 September) denied that he had cheated. It said that all the riders were forced to cut corners at the bottom of the course but rode many yards extra elsewhere.

The two men continued their battle on day six and again neither ride stepped from his bike. Finally though, Terront had to admit defeat. In the final session, in front of a crowd of 12-13,000, the two men rode hand in hand, having ridden the incredible distance of 1,404 miles (Waller) and 1,390 (Terront) on penny farthings.

Homecoming

George Waller’s victory was celebrated not only in Newcastle but across the country, especially in places with which he had a connection:

‘His victory was celebrated at the dock extension in Hartlepools where his father and brother are engaged, by a show of flags from the new engine house at Middleton; and it is expected he will make a public appearance in this town shortly’

At Darlington the station was crowded and the carriage which the northern party occupied was quite besieged by an enthusiastic multitude’.

But in Newcastle, where news of Waller’s expected arrival time had been announced in that morning’s newspapers, thousands turned out at Newcastle Central Station. The scenes were amazing: ‘a reception as has never been surpassed even by the enthusiastic Tynesiders’.

‘Lamps were scaled and every accessible elevated point was occupied by people anxious to get the first glimpse of an athlete who has jumped so suddenly into prominence.’

Ringing cheers greeted the champion as he stepped from the carriage and he was at once surrounded by a dense crowd who carried him bodily away. The progress from the platform to the portico was painfully slow. The crowd surged about with such force that the lines of policeman were overpowered and driven away’.

Eventually a distressed Waller was helped into a cab and driven to his home in Gibson Street, Byker, where thousands more awaited him and demanded that he speak. Eventually a representative came to an upstairs window and thanked the crowd but said the world champion was too exhausted and bashful to talk to them and so he ‘had the pleasure of expressing [Waller’s] feeling of pleasure and pride at the noble reception which his townsmen had given him.

Life changing

Immediately Hillman and Herbert, the manufacturers of his bicycle, capitalised on the triumph, placing adverts quoting from a letter said to have been written by Waller, expressing gratitude to the company, and using photographs of him on its posters.

Waller used in advert for bike

Waller’s championship belt is held at Newcastle’s Discovery Museum but is not currently on display. The year the Tour de France is due to come to the north of England would seem like an appropriate time to find a way of celebrating the pioneering achievements of Bradley Wiggins, Mark Cavendish and Chris Froomes’ illustrious predecessor.

To be continued: Waller’s life following his 1879 triumphs – cycling, promotion of the sport, his building company, move to Heaton Park Road and an untimely death can now be found here

Many thanks to to Alex Boyd of Tyne and Wear Museums for information, photographs and arranging access to George Waller’s championship belt, to Brian MacElvogue for information and the loan of material and to Carlton Reid for pointing the author towards Brian. Also this website is a mine of information – http://www.sixday.org.uk/html/the_beginnings.html