Category Archives: World War Two (1939-1945)

BBC at 100 and a Heaton choir boy at 14

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

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

Chorister

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

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

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

5NO

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

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

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

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

Programme

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

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

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

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

Dix’s Debut

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lilian

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

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

Petition

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

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

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

Master Mariner

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

Shields Daily Gazette, 7 Nov 1936

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

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

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

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

Tragedy

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

SS Zurichmoor

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

Tower Hill Memorial Panel 121

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

Runciman and Co Moor Line Book of Remberance 1939-40

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

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

Acknowledgements

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

Can You Help?

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

Sources

Ancestry

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

‘British Broadcasting Century with Paul Kerensa’ podcast series

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

British Newspaper Archive

‘Into the Wind’ / by Lord Reith, 1966

Other online sources

The Parish Church of St Gabriel Part 3: the war memorials

There is no central monumental public war memorial in the suburb of Heaton but you may be surprised to hear that there were, in fact, around 50 different memorials dedicated locally to the dead and injured of the two world wars. As elsewhere in the country, most were placed in churches, schools (eg Chillingham Road School and Heaton Grammar), work places (eg Parsons, the Post Office and Locomotive Works) and in the cemetery and took the form of plaques, windows, crosses and books of remembrance. But some are quirkier; there’s Heaton Harrier’s cup, still raced for annually and hearing aids, commemorated on a plaque at Heaton Methodist Church.

Heaton History Group member, Robin Long, has been researching the story behind those in (and outside) St Gabriel’s Church:

World War One

There is an entry in the Chronological History of the Parish Church of St Gabriel, Heaton that reads ‘A decision was made to adopt a design by Mr Hicks for a War Memorial to be placed in the North Aisle, recording the names of all those who gave their lives in the war and had belonged to St Gabriel’s.

The above appears in 1919 and in 1920 we read that at the 21st Annual Vestry Meeting held on 8 April it was unanimously agreed to apply for a faculty to erect a war memorial tablet in church.

At evensong on November 27 1921 the new war memorial was dedicated. It had cost £200. ‘The enamelwork with two archangels, St Gabriel and St Michael were exquisitely worked and the alabaster border contains it and the Angel of Peace very well’.

 

STGabWW1memorial_edited-1

WW1 memorial in St Gabriel’s Church

The memorial was unveiled by Mr Angus who had lost two boys, Andrew and Leslie, in the war. Their names are the first two of the fifty six parishoners listed on the roll of honour. The memorial was then dedicated with prayers by the vicar.

World War Two

We move forward to 1946 where we find a record that George Elliott returned for the forces. As an artist he replaced the typewritten list of the fallen with a more worthy book of remembrance. In it were the names of 75 who belonged to St Gabriel’s before giving their lives for their country.

It was not until 1950 that an application was made for a faculty for the erection of a suitable war memorial to be inscribed with 78 names from World War II, consisting of two parts – one inside church and one outside.

Inside, in front of the existing 1914 – 1918 War Memorial, the lower part of the wall will be panelled, a dais laid down and a lectern placed on top bearing the Book of Remembrance, flanked by two candlesticks – all in oak.

StGabWW2

St Gabriel’s Church WW2 war memorial

StGabWW1site

Memorials to the fallen of both world wars in St Gabriel’s Church

‘Outside to the North West a large lawn will be laid out flanked with paths and backed by a shrubbery.’

StGabWW2Garden

ST Gabriel’s Garden of Remembrance

The War Memorial and the Garden of Remembrance were dedicated on 10 February 1951.

More to follow

This article was written by Heaton History Group member, Robin Long, who is now carrying out research into the names on the memorials.

Acknowledgments

Information taken from Chronological History of the Parish Church of St Gabriel, Heaton, Newcastle upon Tyne. Researched by Mrs Joan Brusey (1890 – 1992) and Denis Wardle (1992-1999). Typed by Mrs Jennifer Dobson and Miss Valerie Smith. Bound by Mr John Dobson.

North East War Memorials Project 

Can you add to the story?

If you can help with information about those listed on St Gabriel’s memorials or can help us tell the story of other war memorials in Heaton please contact us, either by clicking on the link immediately below the title of this article or by mailing  chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Memories of Eighth Avenue

Reading Eric Dale’s series of articles in growing up in the Heaton’s Avenues was all the motivation one of our readers, Jean Sowrey, needed to put pen to paper. Here are her memories:

I was born Jean Rudd in 1936 In the front room of a two bed roomed flat in  Eighth  Avenue. I think a Dr Bell was in attendance and a midwife called Jean. For years to come we’d see midwife Jean around Heaton,  Mam continually reminding me that she was the reason for my name Jean.  At that time Dad was a postman and I had an elder sister, Margaret, who was 22 months old.

EighthAvenue70 RLCedresize

Eighth Avenue

EighthAvenueRudd

Jean and Dorothy Rudd on the front step of their home in Eighth Avenue

Apart from the two bedrooms, our flat had a sitting room with a black leaded fireplace and the scullery with sink, gas cooker and a gas boiler  No hot water so kettle boiled  frequently and gas boiler used on Mondays (wash day) and for filling the tin bath. Latter used placed in front of the fire. Outside was the back yard where the mangle was stored  and also the toilet, no toilet paper only newspaper squares.  Washing was hung on a line  in the  back lane.

I think women had a hard life in the 1940s. Mam having to do all the  house work: black leading the fire place, doing the washing with a poss stick, plus shopping etc.  She also did a lot  of cooking. A pretty regular daily menu, Mondays always being Sunday’s leftovers .Occasionally we had jelly having been left  to set covered outside on a window sill. Having an abundance of relatives, we frequently  had Sunday afternoon callers –  the treasured tin of salmon opened.

Wartime

In 1939 Second World War started a month before my third Birthday. Margaret, my elder sister, was just about to start school. Alas Chillingham Road School had a glass roof  so  children were sent to North Heaton School. (Not sure if it was only the infant school?) .  More work for Mam having to arrange blackout curtains etc.  Dad in a reserved occupation didn’t need to enlist for military service but did so in 1941, joining the army Maritime Service as a Gunner. Previously from a young age,  he’d  served with the Royal  Scots Fusiliers, giving it upon  marriage.

In 1940 my sister Dorothy was born, our maternal grandmother, Frances Stephenson  having died a week before. She was buried in Heaton Cemetery.  The last of one of our grandparents

1941 and Dad went off to do military service. Women being required to work during the war, Mam started work at a chemists on Heaton Road, owners Mr and Mrs Bartle. They were excellent employers allowing Mam to take our younger sister Dorothy. How Dorothy occupied herself goodness knows!

EighthAvenueRudds0001 (2)

Margaret, Dorothy and Jean Rudd with their mother taken at James Riddell, Chillingham Road c1943-4

046772:Chillingham Road Heaton City Engineers 1979

Who remembers Riddell’s, the photographer?

School years

That year I joined Margaret at Chillingham Road  School. Memories are vague now  although I do recall a teacher Mrs Whitehouse  who absolutely terrified me and others.  She used a belt to reprimand pupils. One incident I recall was when she used it on   Cynthia Jackson, a girl  who wore a calliper on her leg. Fortunately it never happened to me, a rather mild child! One memory I have is when we celebrated Empire Day, marching around the Union flag. Another memory is Air Raid Drill. Going to the air raid shelter where we sang  songs:  ‘Ten Green Bottles Hanging On The Wall’ and many more.  If you were clever were top of the class you received a medal. Later my brainy young  sister Dorothy was frequently a recipient. Some pupil names I recall are my best friend Dorothy Rogers who also had a sister, Margaret;  Brenda Parker, Sheila Raine, John and Elisabeth Crowe, Gordon Winn, Dorothy Emily, Olga Hedley and, of course, Eighth Avenue children.

In Eighth Avenue my close playmates were Betty Kibble, Sheila Muir, Kathleen Flanagan, Freda Patterson, Joan Robinson, Eric Dale and  Harold Charlton. Other children in the street were Moira and Brian Law, Teddy Masterson, Alan  & David Hinkley, the Nicholson brothers, Ernest Wray, Lucy Aspinall, Joyce Munster. We played outdoors most of the time, hopscotch etc – and skipping ropes for the girls.

At home we spent a lot of time listening to the radio. Sunday lunch time ardently listening to ‘Two –Way Family Favourites‘ with Jean Metcalfe and Cliff Michelmore –  a programme for families and members of the armed forces – Dad even sent us a message.  Other indoor activities included knitting and letter-writing to Dad. My two sisters and I took piano lessons and the teacher would drop the shilling into a milk bottle: she also gave me dancing and elocution lessons gratis as she liked me. We also went to Heaton Swimming Baths and the library, and did a lot of walking to Jesmond Dene and Heaton Park, where I also played tennis. Occasionally we went to the cinema – The Scala and the Lyric.

Scala cinema Chillingham Road

Scala Cinema, Chillingham Road (where Tesco is now)

During air raids we would go across the road to the Taylor family air raid shelter. The camaraderie of Eighth Avenue neighbours was incredible. I  believe their daughter, Lily, was serving as a  Land Girl. The air raid I still recall was when Guildford Place  was bombed and totally devastated. We felt the blast too, though luckily only windows shattered. That particular night Mam had taken Margaret and myself to the Taylors’ shelter. Baby Dorothy (5 months) sleeping peacefully in her cot, Mam decided  unusually to leave her at home. Fortunately Dorothy survived unscathed even though glass was all around.                                                                                                                         .

At the end of Junior School girls had to go to North Heaton School whereas the boys went into senior school. A bit unfair really as we were about to sit the 11 plus exam which meant some of us were only there one year. Margaret and I passed for Middle Street Commercial School  For Girls. Young sister Dorothy eventually went to Central Newcastle High School For Girls.

Dad didn’t come home in 1945 as he’d been involved in an accident in an army lorry in Greenock and suffered a broken femur. He ended up spending two years  in Hexham General  Hospital. He had been torpedoed twice during the war, luckily rescued and survived. However war finished and he had his accident  whilst awaiting demob.  Finally home in 1947 with a serious limp, he couldn’t go back to his Heaton postman job but was given work at Orchard Street Sorting Office.

Being an ex-Army veteran  and because of Dad’s disability we were given a brand new council house at Longbenton  and in 1948 left Eighth Avenue, but the first 11 years will always remain with me.

Acknowledgements

Thank you, Jean, for taking the trouble to write down some of your Heaton memories. Fascinating both for your contemporaries and for those too young to remember the thirties and forties.

Can you help?

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

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

Bomb damage on Guildford Place

The Night Bombs Rained on Heaton

On Friday 25 – Saturday 26 April 1941, Newcastle endured one of its worst nights of the Second World War, with terrible consequences in Heaton. The area had suffered bomb damage before and would again, as the Germans targeted railways, factories and shipyards – but this was a night like no other.

Earlier in the evening, incendiary bombs had fallen around the Heaton Secondary Schools in High Heaton and damaged properties on Stephenson Road, Horsley Road and Weldon Crescent. Two had fallen onto the eaves of the Corner House Hotel, where civilians scaled a drainpipe and threw them to the ground to be extinguished with sand.

The Lyric Cinema (now the People’s Theatre) was also hit. And on Jesmond Park East, two houses ‘Denehurst‘ and ‘Wyncote’ (which was occupied by the military at the time) suffered fire and water damage. There was other minor damage right across the east of Newcastle. But none of these episodes, as terrifying as they were to those in the vicinity, prepared the people of Heaton for what came next.

Devastation

At 10.20pm a high explosive device seriously damaged numbers 20 and 22 Cheltenham Terrace. Two people were seriously injured at number 20 and were taken to First Aid post Number 6. Another ten people were treated at the scene. Simultaneously, incendiary bombs  hit the nearby Heaton Electric cinema.

Ten minutes later, another high explosive completely demolished numbers 4 and 6 Cheltenham Terrace. Two bodies were recovered before rescuers had to give up for the night due to the threat of the gable end collapsing. There was considered to be no chance of any survivors.

And at the same time, a parachute mine fell on the adjoining Guildford Place, demolishing several houses and causing severe damage to many more. Although water was immediately sprayed over the area, a fractured gas main caught fire.

Bomb damage on Guildford Place

Bomb damage on Guildford Place

And still the raid continued. A high explosive device made a huge crater at the junction of Algernon and Shields Roads, with three men injured when another gas main exploded. And nearby a gents’ lavatory at the junction of Shields Road and Union Road was completely destroyed. Yet another bomb fell on the main walk of Heaton Park but here only greenhouse windows were broken.

This  detail from a German map of Tyneside, dating from 1941, illustrates how vulnerable Heaton and, in particular Guildford Place and Cheltenham Terrace were, squeezed as they were between key Nazi targets, marked in red, purple and black.

German map of Heaton, 1941

German map of Heaton, 1941

You can see the full map on the Library of Congress website.

Heaton History Group member, Ian Clough, remembers that his father, who even then kept the sweetshop that still bears the family name, was one of the many overstretched emergency workers and volunteers on duty. He was a volunteer fireman and had to pass his own bomb-damaged shop to help others.

When we asked Ian if he could find out more about that awful night, he interviewed three survivors of the Guildford Place / Cheltenham Terrace tragedy. Here are their accounts:

Muriel’s story

‘I was at home with my parents Arthur and Elizabeth and Uncle George Shaw, Dad’s younger brother, at number 14 Cheltenham Terrace, together with two friends. We were having supper when the air raid siren sounded at approximately 9pm.

Muriel Shaw

Muriel Shaw

For some strange reason this was usually a cue for my mother to see that everything was tidy and that the dishes were washed. Father declared ‘That’s close’ and, after donning his black greatcoat, went upstairs to see if he could get sight of anything from the landing window. There was a whoosh sound initially, then a silence accompanied by a tangible pressure and then the force struck home – literally; father was propelled down the stairs without a button remaining on his coat.

The back of our house had been completely blown off. This was in the direction of the explosion so it was mainly through a vacuum effect. Father had erected stout doors to cover our dining room windows to comply with the blackout regulations and they may have offered protection from any flying debris from outside. I first realised that I was a victim in all that was happening when a wavering door in its frame threatened to fall on me but just missed. It gave way to a shower of bricks falling from upstairs which left lasting scars on my legs. Mother and I were showered with plaster dust and it seemed to take many weeks of hair washes to finally remove all of its traces. Strange things had happened; a teapot that was on the table was now on the mantelshelf in one piece. The piano was no longer an upright one as it had somersaulted over the settee and was now upside down and resting on a completely unharmed china cabinet with contents intact.

Dad’s other brothers also lived with us but were out at the time. Thomas was an air raid warden and William was a lay preacher and had been sick visiting. It wasn’t until the next day that we were told that both of them had been killed. At 4 Cheltenham Terrace, the Robson family of four had perished.

Guildford Place, the one-sided street that was back to back with us and overlooked the railway had taken a direct hit. Most of the occupants of numbers 8 through to 15 were killed. The Luftwaffe was targeting the marshalling yards at Heaton Junction but released their payload prematurely while following the line of the railway.

Our house was now uninhabitable but because the resources of the Council were overstretched we had to find temporary accommodation in Osborne Road, Jesmond. This happened immediately and so, what with that and working, I had little chance to witness the horrors that the authorities had to endure in recovering and identifying bodies and demolishing what was left of the houses.

After a year we moved back into our house (which by now was renumbered as 18). A gas pipe had burst in the blast and we were greeted by a bill for all that had leaked. Initially there was still scaffolding inside the house and as compensation was so inadequate we had to clear the mess and clean everything out ourselves. When we asked for wallpaper, which was in short supply, we were given enough to cover one wall. Our property now had become the gable end of one row of surviving terrace houses as the line of neighbouring homes on either side of us were deemed irreparable and pulled down.

On the night of the air raid my brother, Albert ,was away serving in the Army and brother Arthur was on fire watch for his firm on the Quayside. The devastation and annihilation of his neighbours prompted Arthur to join the R.A.F. and become a pilot but that, as they say, is another story.’

Ian discovered that the two friends who were having supper with Muriel and her family were Nell and her mother.

Nell’s story

Mother and I were sitting at the table after being invited to supper by Muriel and her family when suddenly we found ourselves in this nightmare situation. Both of us were being propelled backwards by the blast of an enormous explosion and then the ceiling came down on top of us. There was nothing we could do but lie there until the wardens came and dug us out. It is funny how strange things stick in your mind but as we were assisted out of the house via the hallway a musical jug was happily giving us a rendition of ‘On Ilkley Moor Ba Tat’.

Nell and her mother

Nell and her mother

Skirting around all of the amassed rubble that was once people’s homes we were taken to an air raid shelter in the cellar of Charlie Young, the butcher, on Heaton Road. When the ‘all clear’ was sounded, we discovered, through her covering of ceiling plaster, that mother’s face was covered in blood. Firstly she was taken to a first aid post at Chillingham Road baths and put on a stretcher. Then we both got into an ambulance and were turned back from many a hospital until mother was eventually admitted to the Eye Infirmary.

We asked a local policeman if he would get a message to my Uncle Jack who was also in the police and lived in the west end. Uncle took me in and the following day I realised that our handbags and other belongings had been left behind at Cheltenham Terrace. Walking along Heaton Road to see if I could retrieve them, I cannot recall how many people approached me with the same words; ‘I thought you were dead!’ Mother had lost the use of her left eye and had to wear a patch for the rest of her life and we had suffered a most traumatic experience. Yet we were the fortunate ones as for 45 members of those neighbouring families that night was to be their last.

Footnote 1 I believe that what Mr Shaw, Muriel and Arthur’s father, saw from his vantage point was something that at first looked like a large balloon which, on reflection, was a land mine on a parachute, floating down.

Footnote 2 I went to Heaton High School in the 1930s and one of my subjects was German so we were invited to meet and socialise with a group of German schoolchildren who were on a school visit hosted by Newcastle Council. They were given a list of Newcastle’s favourite tourist attractions and maps of Newcastle and the transport system to help them to get about. Many of us took up the offer of being pen pals and one girl even went on a visit to the home of one of the students and came back full of what she had been told of how Adolf Hitler was going to be such a wonderful leader of the German nation. When my pen pal remarked that he had heard that Newcastle had a large and important railway station and asked to be sent details, my dad told me not to write to him anymore. It was not long after that that we were at war with Germany. We then wondered if there had been something sinister behind the visit and were the children and their school teachers, innocently or otherwise, sent over on more than just a cultural mission.

Arthur’s story

I was on fire watch for my firm of importers at No14 Wharf on the Quayside when the air raid sirens started wailing and we were on full alert. I heard the noise of bombs exploding, repeatedly exploding, and I thought to myself ‘Somebody’s got it.’ I had a rough idea of the direction of the hits but nothing prepared me for the spectacle of devastation I was to see.

It was 9am, and daylight, as I approached Guildford Place; the one-sided terraced street overlooking the railway. Little was left of the houses nearest to Heaton Road and my heart raced as I hurried up to the corner of my own street Cheltenham Terrace. The first thing that greeted me was a ribbon strung across the road at the entrance to my street with a policeman on duty to prevent any looting. He stopped me going any further and I explained that I lived here. Well, I had lived here!

I was in a state of shock – astounded at what was all around me. I’m still vague as to how I found my family but they certainly weren’t there anymore. Muriel worked as secretary to the manager of Bitulac Ltd and he offered us temporary accommodation in his home on Osborne Road. Dad found us a house to rent on Chillingham Road and he borrowed a van to collect some of what was left of our furniture. When loaded up I got in the cab and father said ‘Have you locked the front door, son?’ He had to smile when I said ‘What’s the use of that, man? We’ve got no wall on the back of our house!’ We lived in Chillingham Road until our house was repaired.

Muriel and I were young and felt that we had to fulfil our duty to the nation. Muriel trained as a nurse and, at one time, she worked in a hospital where wounded soldiers were coming back from France. I had made my mind up that I wanted to be a pilot and joined the RAF.

Arthur Shaw

Arthur Shaw

The initial training procedure would astound anyone now. We were introduced to a de Havilland Tiger Moth and, within eight hours, were flying solo. The instructor would watch us from the ground – take off, fly around and then land. If you couldn’t do it you were no longer a pilot.

Then it was off to Canada to gain our proficiency. Why Canada? Well, most of the British airfields were being used for war operations and could not be spared for pilot training. We were taught navigation and how to read approaching weather conditions and understand the various cloud formations. We would normally then fly twin engine planes – Airspeed Oxfords in particular. One of the most difficult things to master was flying in formation and then banking to left or right. The outer pilots had to increase their speed slightly just to keep in line. It was important to be taught ground recognition and the open spaces of Canada did not challenge us enough and we had to come back home over towns and cities to gain experience in that skill.

I served abroad for a while and was then privileged to be asked to train as a flying instructor and was sent just over the Northumbrian border into Scotland for that. It was then my job to pass on my knowledge to the new recruits – young lads who were then sent out on dangerous missions where the mortality rate was so high.

When the war was over we queued up for our civvies (civilian clothes) it was almost a case of one size fits all and it did feel strange to be out of uniform. But we had done our bit and were thankful that we were the lucky ones – lucky to still be alive.

(You can read about Arthur’s later contribution to Heaton’s history here )

Roll of Honour

Bodies were still being recovered five days later. The final death toll was reported to be 46 with several bodies still unidentified. Those which remained unidentified were buried in a common grave in Heaton Cemetery.

As you can see from the following list, the ages of the known victims ranged from 9 weeks to 77 years and in several houses whole families died together.

William Aiken aged 43

Ethel Mary Airey, aged 23

Amy Angus 17

Edna Jane Angus 28

Hannah Angus 49

Ian Angus 13

Maureen Angus 15

Robert Nixon Angus 29

Mary Elizabeth Glass Balmer 17

William Blenkinsop 38

John McKnight Erskine 20

James Falcus 45

Albert George Fuller 37

Gordon W T Gardner 25

Elizabeth Glass 53

Edith Rosina Hagon 8

Joan Thompson Hagon 30

Joyce Hagon 16

Raymond Hagon 7

Isabella Harrison 77

William Henry Hoggett 39

Mary Jane Moffit 62

Archibold Taylor Munro 29

Ethel Mary Park 60

Francis Park 58

Mavis Park 31

Alice Jane Reed 64

Joseph Dixon Reed 68

Joseph Lancelot Reed 9 weeks

Eliza Margaret Robson 70

Ella Mildred Robson 43

Evelyn Robson 38

James Kenneth Robson 19

William Robson 72

Thomas Shaw 48

William Atkinson Shaw 40

Robert Smith 27

Edwin Snowdon 17

Henry Snowdon 12

Nora Snowdon 46

Victor Snowdon 48

Charles Thomas Thompson 62

David Harkus Venus 27

Alexander Henry White 54

Blanche White 43

Thank you

Roy Ripley and Brian Pears, whose website is an amazing resource for anyone researching the WW2 home front in the north east;

Heaton History Group member, Julia McLaren, who drew our attention to the German map of Tyneside.

Can you help?

if you know more about the night of 25-26 April 1941 or have memories, family stories or photographs of Heaton during WW2 to share, we’d love to hear from you. Either write directly to this website, by clicking on the link immediately below the title of this article or email the secretary of Heaton History Group, Chris Jackson 

Google image of the estate showing the former position of Heaton Hall and other features (by Keith Fisher)

Life and Wartime on Heaton Hall Estate

Heaton History Group member, Keith Fisher, is a keen local and family historian. Here is his account of his grandparents’ move to the Heaton Hall Estate in the 1930s and their wartime experiences:

My Grandad Fisher’s Mother and Grandmother, stalwart refugees from Aberdeen, had lived over their drapery, millinery and hosier’s shop – Carrol & Co – down at the bottom of Raby Street until 1920 when they moved into a flat on Eighth Avenue [#75]. Apart from working in the family shop, my Grandad also played violin and piano in the orchestra at the Heaton Electric dances which is where he met my Gran and they also went to live in Eighth Avenue after getting married [#73]. That’s where my Father was born in 1930; it was also where his younger brother was born, although he was still in the cradle when, in 1933, the Mother and Grandmother – whose business was doing very well – decided to buy a pair of flats on the forthcoming prestigious Heaton Hall Estate.

William Hall & Son of Low Fell were about to turn the Potter estate into what we know today and the flats at 20/22 Tintern Crescent were sold to us for £330.00. They were only ever sold as up and down pairs; in fact, that protocol remained in place until 1984 when #20 – which was then my flat – was sold independent of #22 after a great deal of head-scratching and pencil chewing by our solicitor considering who owned what front garden, who owned the shed, the coal-houses, the driveway down the side etc, etc, etc.

Google image of the estate showing the former position of Heaton Hall and other features (by Keith Fisher)

Google image of the estate showing the former position of Heaton Hall and other features (by Keith Fisher)

Anyway, back to Mother and Grandmother McPherson: they – along with my Grandparents – were convinced at the time of purchase that they would enjoy an unobstructed view across Tintern, out over the park and way beyond to the setting sun. It would have been a good deal less convincing if they had bothered to check the site plans, because not only was it Billy Hall’s intention to build on the opposite side but they had actually all been sold in advance before the end of 1932. My family had already moved-in when they discovered that construction was beginning on the top of the bank (overlooking Shaftsbury) and by then, of course, it was too late. It had seemed inconceivable that a row of houses could be secured on such a precipitous incline; and, in fact, only a few years after construction, two weeks’ worth of concrete was poured into the existing retaining wall in the hope of stopping the almost immediate slippage. Needless to say, it was unsuccessful and they continue to slide down the hill to such an extent that you can’t raise a mortgage on those properties and they must change hands on a cash basis.

By the time the war had started, my family had opened another shop at 108 Heaton Road (the opposite end of the block to Clough’s bar one) so my grandmother could run it and be close-by for her boys who were studying at Chilly Road School.

Because they were not short of a bob-or-two, my Grandparents had a rather sophisticated air-raid shelter constructed in the back-garden – by the same workers who had demolished Heaton Hall and built the new estate as it happens. Sophisticated by Anderson Shelter standards anyway: they dug a 10 foot deep and 8 by 6 foot hole which was lined with six inches of concrete; accessed by stairs past a blast-wall and covered over with 12 inches of reinforced concrete which was further protected by heaping up all the soil they had previously dug out. My Grandfather had money and he was using every penny necessary to protect his wife and kids. They put bunk beds in there, a fireside chair, an electric fire and a light. Luxury! Apart from the rain coming down the stairs of course; sandbagging was all they could do about that.

Friday 25th April 1941, the night of the Guildford Place/Cheltenham Terrace tragedy, my Grandmother stopped briefly at the top of the steps into the shelter because she heard a curious flap, flap, flap sound in the sky that she had never heard before. It was the parachute bringing down the ‘land-mine’. The explosion cracked the back wall of the house behind us (at 87 Heaton Road) from top corner to door lintel and it remained that way because the landlord wouldn’t repair it; I suspect the house was prone to subsidence because it was built on the site of a large tree from the old estate; I further suspect it is still cracked.

When my Grandfather (both he and Mr Clough had been on duty with the Auxiliary Fire Service that night) went to open his Heaton Road business the following morning he found a back-boiler, still glowing red-hot, in the rear of his shop – blown there from Guildford Place by the land-mine. He was subsequently told by neighbours that eight people had been found dead – totally unmarked and still sitting upright – in an air-raid shelter behind Clough’s: their heart’s stopped by the blast of the bomb. This fact was never reported publically and even today doesn’t appear in any of the official accounts of the incident; probably because of the adverse influence it could have had on people using shelters.

In the August of 1945 they brought in the workers again and broke up the roof of our shelter – it took them a week – then dumped the concrete and the soil into the hole, leaving the steps, the walls and the floor intact. My Grandfather built a large garden shed over the site that was subsequently replaced by my Father with the existing version in 1989; so the presence of the walls and stairs and floor of the shelter will remain a buried secret for eternity I suspect. Not exactly Tutankhamen’s tomb of course, but never mind: there’s so much undiscovered history on the site of Heaton Hall estate that it can just be added to the list.

If you would like to contribute to the Heaton History Group website, please contact Chris Jackson