Category Archives: Heaton Park Road

Heaton’s Building Society Uncovered

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

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

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

‘Who was Joseph Peers?’

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

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

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

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

But first, the locals.

Directors

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

Mr J S Nicholson of 8 North View

Mr J Stokes of 26 Tynemouth Road

Mr A C Whitehead of 40 Clive Terrace

Mr H Weighell  of 10 Cardigan Terrace

Mr J Lively of 1 Molyneux Street

Mr C H Smith of Stratford Villas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Officers

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

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

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

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

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

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

The  Venues

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

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

Moore’s Cocoa Rooms

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

The Chair

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Housing

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

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

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

Building Societies

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

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

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

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

Peers’ Building Societies

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

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

Controversies

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

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

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

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

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

Scandal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can you help?

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

Acknowledgements

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

Sources

‘Ancestry’

‘British Newspaper Archives’

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

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

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

‘Whitley Seaside Chronicle’ , 14 October 1911

‘Wikipedia’ and other online sources

Harry, Heaton Park Road Hairdresser

Although life in the east end of Newcastle is very different now to that of a hundred or even fifty years ago, most of our streets and terraces would be instantly recognisable to any of our forebears from back then who had happened upon the secrets of time travel. An exception is the southern end of Heaton Park Road, especially the section from the railway to Shields Road, so we were especially delighted when Yvonne Shannon wrote to tell us about her grandad, who had a barber’s shop at number 60 in the 1930s.

New Road

Originally the road north towards, but not extending all the way to, Heaton Hall was called Cook Street but after the opening of Heaton Park, the road was completed to allow access to the park from Byker, with the new section called Heaton Park Road (though originally it had been intended to call it Shakespeare Road) and the original Byker end renamed Heaton Park Road South.

Below is a photograph of this older section which extends from the High Main pub, beyond Molyneux Court to the railway. You can just see the railway bridge in the background. The photograph was taken in 1962 just before these houses and shops were demolished and replaced by one of Heaton’s few tower blocks. Number 60 would have been immediately next to the shop on the extreme right and just off the photograph.

HeatonParkRoadSouth

Heaton Park Road, 1962 (courtesy of Newcastle City Library)

 

First occupants

The first occupant of number 60 Heaton Park Road South that we know of was Robert Gristwood, who ran a grocery there round about 1890. This may well have been the same Robert Gristwood who emigrated to Canada in 1911 and served with the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force in WW1.

Robert was succeeded by 1900 by Mrs Jessie Eadie, who continued to run the shop as a grocery, while her husband worked as an insurance agent. The 1901 census records their grown up daughters’ occupations as ‘girl in confectionary shop’, so presumably they helped run the family business too.

Jessie had been born in Carluke, Lanarkshire but by 1881 was living on Cook Street with her husband, William Algernon Eadie, who was at this time a ‘potter (bowl maker)’ and their two young daughters, Susan (aged 4) and baby Elizabeth. After William died in 1908, leaving the then quite substantial sum of £2305 14 shillings in his will, Jessie and her daughters moved to 221 Chillingham Road, later to become a bank, now Lloyd’s.

After World War 1, the confectioner’s was run first by Miss Mary Tabrah and Elizabeth, her sister, two of nine children born to John Henry Tabrah, a boilermaker, originally from Scotland, and his wife, Mary, a Liverpudlian. In 1901 Mary was nine and Edith ten years old and the family lived in Byker

Barber’s shop

The shop then became a hosiery briefly, run by Mrs Sarah Scott, and then in the late 1920s a men’s hairdresser’s, with the first proprietor A R Humphrey, before Yvonne’s grandad took over around 1930. Yvonne takes up the story:

HeatonParkRoad60ed

Harry, Willie and Joseph Pickering outside 60 Heaton Park Road, c1930

 

‘Henry Robson Pickering (known as Harry, who was my Grandad) is the man standing to the left of the photograph, next to him is his younger brother Willie and to the right of the photograph is their father and my great granddad, Joseph Pickering.  The address is 60 Heaton Park Road, and in the window to the right you can read the notice ‘This shop is now open under new management’.

Joseph’s story

Harry’s dad, Joseph, my great grandad, was the original hairdresser or barber of the family. He learned the trade either in Cumbria, where he was born, or in Gateshead, which was the first place he lived when he moved to the North East, and taught the skill to Harry and Willie.  

He had fought in WW1 enlisting with one of the four Tyneside Scottish units (not sure which one but he did wear a kilt in uniform). He came through the war unscathed but never talked about his experiences.

The conditions for working people between the wars were very hard, and Joseph eked out a living for his family by getting his sons Harry and Willie to find wood, chop it into sticks then try to sell the bundles around the neighbourhood. Joseph himself used his barbering experience to cut neighbours hair for a few pennies, and, often worked at the RVI to shave and cut the hair of male patients. His other duties at the hospital were a bit macabre: he used to ‘dress’ the hair of people who had died.  So, I think being proprietors of a shop would have been a real step up for the whole family.

In the late ‘30’s Joseph was the marching instructor of a juvenile jazz band, The Byker Imperials and was very proud to march with them in the parades.  There is a wonderful old photo first printed in the Evening Chronicle of the jazz band including Joseph posing on the steps of Heaton Park.

HeatonParkRoadgrtgradpickering

Byker Imperial Juvenile Jazz Band in Heaton Park

 

Joseph is pictured on the far right directly under the letter J. Also on the photo, in the front row, fourth from the right (just above small cross under photo), is Jimmy Pickering, the youngest child of Joseph, and brother of Harry and Willie.            

Joseph was too old to enlist for WW2 but he went to work in the shipyards at Walker and he didn’t retire until the age of seventy.

Harry’s story

Joseph’s son, Harry, was about to get married at the time of taking on the barber’s shop and I’m sure it meant a great deal to him, i.e. a new start and a reliable means of supporting his wife at their new home which was to be in Albion Row, Byker.

But, by 1932 they had given up the tenancy which would,  I think , have been a big loss to them. Harry’s daughter (Doreen, my mother) thinks the short tenancy was due to the terrible recession of the 1930s when thousands of men were out of work and was the time of the famous ‘Jarrow March’. The Wall Street Crash happened in 1929 so in a way it was the worst possible time at which to try and set up a new business.  People, ie customers, just couldn’t afford the luxury of paying for a haircut so they couldn’t earn enough to pay the rental for the shop. 

Throughout the recession Harry found it very hard to make ends meet and during winter he would volunteer (along with other men) to work for the corporation (council) to clear the snow from the streets using only shovels and was probably paid a pittance.   He kept the barbershop chair from the shop though and did the odd haircut from his house to earn a bit of money to keep them going.

World War Two   

To make a little extra Harry and Willie both joined the Territorial Army – The Royal Engineers – therefore, when war was declared in 1939 they were called up immediately and their first posting was to France.  Harry had four children by this time and it was left to their mother, Martha, to bring them up.  On his call-up papers, dated September 1939, he gives his ‘trade on enlistment’ as ‘hairdresser’ so he obviously still saw this as his main occupation.

Both Willie and Harry survived the Dunkirk evacuation and we are really sorry that we didn’t ask them about how they were brought out and on which boat they were rescued. 

HeatonParkRoadgandad pickering

Harry Pickering (right) with topi hat on his knee

 

HeatonParkRoad60medals

Five of Harry’s WW2 medals – one was lost!

 

By 1942 both brothers embarked in Southampton and were sent to Burma. At the same time Harry’s fifth child was born but he didn’t see her until 1946 when he was demobbed.

The brothers were amongst the last to be demobbed, Both survived unhurt except for bouts of malaria contracted in Burma. They continued to have periodic episodes of this debilitating disease throughout the remainder of their lives.  Harry was also hospitalised because of Dengue fever in 1942 but recovered well.

Post war

In 1947 Harry’s family were allocated a council house   The Homes fit for Heroes’ initiative was instigated after WW1 in 1919 but there was still a lot of appalling housing in Newcastle.   All the family thought it was fantastic, it enabled them to move from what had been slum housing in Byker to a new house in Walker where the street was planted with trees and it is here where their sixth and last child was born in 1951.  They regularly visited Heaton Park and Jesmond Dene for leisure outings throughout their lives and this continues with Harry’s great grandchildren today.

Jobs were plentiful after the war and Harry’s final job was at the George Angus Factory where he was a semi-skilled machinist until he retired at the age of 65.  He still did the odd hair cut though including one memorable time when his daughter (Doreen) asked him to style hers, she requested a ‘tapering cut ‘ into the sides and neck.  Unfortunately his idea of ‘tapering’ was not quite the same as hers and ‘I nearly died when I saw it’ and ‘burst into tears’.

The photograph of 60 Heaton Park Road depicts a snapshot in time not just in the photographic sense but in the way individuals were and are swept up in much bigger events taking place around them and over which they have no control i.e. Joseph sent to the trenches in WW1, followed by the recession which led to giving up their shop in Heaton, and also their hopes for a financially secure future as a small business.  Poverty led Harry and Willie to join the Territorial Army which in turn meant they were among the first to be called up in WW2 – another event over which they had no control.’

After Harry

Another barber, George Gunn, succeeded Harry but the property seems to have been mainly empty after the war and eventually most of the block was demolished. The last few properties, once part of Beavan’s drapery, which occupied the corner site, are now part of Wetherspoon’s High Main pub.

Beavans on site of High Main pub

Edwardian photograph of  Beavan’s, showing the now partly demolished terrace on Heaton Park Road (South)

 

The rest of the block was redeveloped from the mid 60s. A modern tower block, Molyneux Court, was built on the site and alongside it there is now also a NHS walk-in centre.

Can you help?

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

Acknowledgements

This article was researched and written by Yvonne and Doreen Shannon, Harry’s granddaughter and daughter and Chris Jackson, Heaton History Group. It forms part of Heaton History Group’s ‘Shakespeare Streets’ project, funded by Historic England.

A Road by Any Other Name

On 20th June 2016 in Stratford upon Avon, amateur actors from The People’s Theatre, Heaton will appear in a production of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ alongside professionals from the Royal Shakespeare Company. That performance, a reprise the following night and five nights at Northern Stage in March, will form part of the national commemoration of the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death and is a great honour for our local and much loved theatre company.

The People’s Theatre has links with the RSC going back many years. The Stratford company made Newcastle its third home back in the 1970s and the People’s has come to the rescue three times (1987, 1988 and 2004) when an extra venue was needed for one reason or another. But these are far from Heaton’s earliest connections with the ‘immortal bard’ and we’ve decided to explore some of them as part of our own contribution to ‘Shakespeare 400’.

 The Name of the Roads

The most obvious references to Shakespeare in the locality are a group of streets in the extreme south and west of Heaton: Bolingbroke, Hotspur, Malcolm and Mowbray are all Shakespeare characters, as well as historical figures. And immediately north of them are Warwick Street and the Stratfords (Road, Grove, Grove Terrace, Grove West, Villas). But could the literary references be coincidental? Perhaps it was the real life, mainly northern, noblemen that were immortalised? Why would a housing estate, built from the early 1880s for Newcastle workers and their families, pay homage to a long-dead playwright. It’s fair to say our research team was surprised and delighted at what we found.

Two documents, one in Tyne and Wear Archives (V273) and one in the City Library, provided the key. Firstly, in the archives, we found a planning application from Alderman Addison Potter of Heaton Hall and his architect, F W Rich (who later designed St Gabriel’s Church). Their plans show Bolingbroke, Hotspur, Malcolm and Mowbray Streets, pretty much as they look now, but bordering them to the south is Shakespeare Road! No doubt now about the references. (Thank you to Tyne and Wear Archives for permission to use the images below.)

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Plan of roads near Bolingbroke Street showing Shakespeare Road

Not only that but Lennox, Siward, and Umfreville Terraces also appear. You’d be forgiven for not immediately getting the Shakespearian references there but Siward is the leader of the English army in Macbeth; Lennox, a Scottish nobleman in the same play and Umfreville, we’ve discovered, has a line which appears only in the first edition of Henry IV Part II but, like many of the others, the real person on which he was based has strong north east connections. Clearly the inspiration for the street names came from one or more people who knew their literature and their history.

Shakespeareroadplan3ed

But two sets of plans were rejected by the council for reasons that aren’t clear and, within a year, Addison Potter seems to have sold at least the leasehold of the land to a builder and local councillor called William Temple. Temple submitted new, if broadly similar, proposals. Building work soon started on the side streets but the previous year, Lord Armstrong had gifted Heaton Park to the people of Newcastle and the road to the new public space took its name. And nobody lives on Lennox, Siward or Umfreville Terraces either: they became Heaton Park View, Wandsworth Terrace and Cardigan Terrace.

IMG_5817

Bricks stamped with Temple’s name can still be found in the area. This one is displayed in his former brickyard on the banks of the Ouseburn.

But why Shakespeare? Whose idea was it? A newspaper article, dated 21 May 1898, in Newcastle City Library provided our next clue. A former councillor, James Birkett, was interviewed: ‘Mr Birkett himself occupied a cottage on the land which is now known as South View. There were another cottage or two near his, but they had nearly the whole of the district to themselves’. It continues ‘In front of them was the railway line, and behind was the farmhouse of a Mr Robinson. This house stood on the site now forming the corner of Heaton Park Road and Bolingbroke Street, and one of its occupants was Mr Stanley, who for many years was the lessee of the Tyne Theatre’.

The Tragedian

Further research showed that George William Stanley had a deep love not only of drama but of William Shakespeare in particular.  He was born c 1824 in Marylebone, London. By 1851, Stanley described himself as a ‘tragedian‘ (ie an actor who specialised in tragic roles).

By 1860, he was in the north east. The first mention we have found of him dates from 28 July of that year, when he is reported to have obtained a licence to open a temporary theatre in East Street, Gateshead. A similar licence in South Shields soon followed. Later, we know that he opened theatres in Tynemouth and Blyth.

In 1861, he was staying in a ‘temperance hotel’ in Co Durham with his wife (Emily nee Bache) and four children: George S who is 8, Alfred W, 4, Emily F, 3, and Rose Edith Anderson, 1. He now called himself a ‘tragedian / theatre manager’.  And he had turned his attention to Newcastle, where attempts to obtain theatre licences were anything but straightforward.

In June 1861, Stanley applied for a six month licence for theatrical performances in the Circus in Neville Street. He argued that one theatre (the Theatre Royal) in Newcastle to serve 109,000 people was inadequate; he promised that the type of performances (‘operatic and amphitheatre’) he would put on would not directly compete with existing provision; he produced testimonials and support from local rate payers; he gave guarantees that alcohol would not be served or prostitutes be on the premises. But all to no avail. The Theatre Royal strongly objected; an editorial in the ‘Newcastle Guardian’ supported the refusal. Appeal after appeal was unsuccessful. Stanley continued to use the wooden building as a concert hall and appealed against the decision almost monthly.

In October 1863,  George Stanley made another impassioned speech, in which he begged to be allowed to practice his own art in his own building. He concluded: ‘I will not trouble your worships with any further remarks in support of my application, but trust that the year that witnesses the tercentenary of Shakespeare’s birth, will also witness the removal of any limitation against the performances of the plays of that greatest of Englishmen in Newcastle’.  The Bench retired for thirty five minutes but finally returned with the same verdict as before.

GeorgeStanley

George Stanley, tragedian and theatre manager

Tercentenary

Despite his latest setback, George Stanley started 1864 determined to mark Shakespeare’s big anniversary. In the first week of January, he played Iago alongside another actor’s Othello in his own concert hall. ‘Both gentlemen have nightly been called before the curtain’.

The following week, a preliminary public meeting was held to hear a dramatic oration ‘On the Tercentenary of Shakespeare’ by G Linnaeus Banks of London, Honorary Secretary to the National Shakespeare Committee, and to appoint a local committee to arrange the celebrations in Newcastle. Joseph Cowen took the chair and George Stanley was, of course, on the platform. And it was he who moved the vote of thanks to Mr Banks for his eloquent address.

Unfortunately the festivities were somewhat muted and overshadowed by Garibaldi’s visit to England. (He had been expected to visit Newcastle that week, although in the event he left the country somewhat abruptly just beforehand). There was a half day holiday in Newcastle on Monday 25 April ‘but the day was raw and cold and the holiday was not so much enjoyed as it might otherwise have been’ and  a celebration dinner in the Assembly Rooms, ‘attended by about 210 gentlemen’, was the main event. A toast ‘In Memory of Shakespeare’ was proposed, followed by one to ‘The Dramatic Profession’. George Stanley gave thanks on behalf of the acting profession.

Stanley continued to pay his own respects to the playwright. He engaged the ‘celebrated tragedian, Mr John Pritchard’ to perform some celebrated Shakespearian roles, with he himself playing Othello and Jago on alternate nights.

Tyne Theatre

In October 1865, Stanley’s wooden concert hall was damaged and narrowly escaped destruction in a huge fire that started in a neighbouring building. His determination to open a permanent theatre intensified and he had found powerful allies. On 19 January 1866, it was announced that an anonymous ‘party of capitalists’ had purchased land on ‘the Westgate’ for the erection of a ‘theatre on a very large scale’. They had gone to London to study the layout and facilities of theatres there. It was said that George Stanley would be the new manager.

In May of that year, in a sign that relations between Stanley and the Theatre Royal had at last thawed, Stanley performed there ‘for the first time in years’. And soon details of the new Tyne Theatre and Opera House began to emerge.  Joseph Cowen, with whom Stanley had served on the Shakespeare Tercentenary Committee, was among the ‘capitalists’.

Cowen was a great supporter of the arts and an advocate for opportunities for ordinary working people to access them. He was incensed at the council’s continued blocking of Stanley’s various theatrical ventures and offered to fund the building of a theatre in which Stanley’s ‘stock‘ ( ie repertory) company could be based.

The opening been set for September 1867 but a licence was still required. Stanley applied again on 31 August. The hearing was held on Friday 13 September before a panel of magistrates which included Alderman Addison Potter of Heaton Hall – and this time Stanley and his influential backers were in luck. Just as well as it was due to open ten days later. And it did, with an inaugural address by George Stanley himself.

Despite his earlier claims that the Tyne Theatre wouldn’t compete with the Theatre Royal, Shakespeare was very much part of the programme in the early years: ‘As you Like It’, ‘The Merchant of Venice’, ‘King Lear’… But it was soon acknowledged that there was room for two theatres in Newcastle. Stanley soon found the time and the good will to play the role of Petruchio  (‘The Taming of the Shrew’ ) at the Theatre Royal. He continued to manage the Tyne Theatre until 1881.

Heaton House

It was while still manager of the Tyne Theatre that Stanley moved to Heaton. His first wife had died in the early ’60s. He had remarried and with his second wife, Fanny, still had young children.

Heaton House, as we have heard, stood on what is now the corner of Heaton Park Road and Bolingbroke Street and the Stanley family were living there from about 1878.

The map below is from some years earlier (Sorry it’s such a low resolution. We will replace it with a better version asap) but gives a good impression of the rural character of Heaton at this time. In the top right hand corner of the map, is Heaton Hall, home of Alderman Addison Potter, one of Stanley’s few neighbours and the owner of the farmland on which Stanley’s house stood. Remember too that Potter had been a member of the panel that finally approved Stanley’s theatre in Newcastle.

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Memorial

Potter and Stanley would surely have discussed matters of mutual interest. So while we might not know exactly how the naming of the streets on the east bank of the Ouseburn came about, we can surely assume that George William Stanley, actor, tragedian, Shakespearean, passionate promoter of theatre and neighbour of Potter at the time, played a part. It might have taken almost another twenty years and the name ‘Shakespeare Road’ didn’t make the final cut but Newcastle finally had the long-lasting tribute that George Stanley had wanted for the Shakespeare’s tercentenary.

By the early 1880s the area looked very different. William Temple had developed the fields to the south and west of Heaton Hall;  Heaton House had been demolished and Bolingbroke Street and Heaton Park Road stood in its place; George Stanley had moved back to London.

Stanley would probably be surprised to know that his Tyne Theatre is about to celebrate its 150th anniversary; proud of the People’s Theatre‘s participation in the national commemorations a hundred and fifty two years after his own involvement and delighted that Shakespeare lives on in Heaton.

Can you help?

If you can provide further information about anything mentioned in this article 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, Caroline Stringer and Ruth Sutherland, 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

 

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

Brewis business card

The photographer and his house

 

 

190 Heaton Park Road – or 94 as it was until renumbering in 1904 – was a one off. The three-storey double-fronted half-timbered facade still distinguishes it from neighbouring houses. And the balcony and iron railings, as shown in the photograph below, which dates from around 1910, would have left nobody in any doubt about the status of its owner. The photo is reproduced with permission of Newcastle City Library.

190 Heaton Park Road, c1910

190 Heaton Park Road, c1910

Built to order

However, it was the interior which made it unique. As you can see from these beautifully drawn plans, which can be viewed in Tyne and Wear Archives, it was designed for (or even by) Edward G Brewis and from the outset incorporated studios, a dark room and a print room among the usual living space. The exterior looks a little different from the photograph so either it was modified before being built or was altered later.

Plans for Brewis's house

Plans for Brewis's house

Edward George Brewis was born in Gateshead, the youngest child of a publican and his wife. Even at the age of 17, on the family’s 1881 census return, he was described as a ‘photographic artist’.

By 1890, by which time Edward was in his mid 20s, he was already running his own business at 10 New Bridge Street in Newcastle, premises which had previously belonged to the long-standing photography firm of Downey and Carver, the successor of the earlier partnership of W and D Downey. This was one of Newcastle’s oldest photography businesses (going back to the 1850s) so Brewis was continuing in a proud tradition. At this stage he was still living with his widowed mother.

But just five years later, Edward was the proud owner of one of Heaton’s grandest houses and operating his business from newly expanded premises at both 8 and 10 New Bridge Street, which he called ‘Victoria Art Studios’, and the new ‘Victoria House Studio’ in Heaton.

Portraits

Brewis was primarily a portrait photographer although on his fantastic business cards reproduced below, he called himself variously a ‘photographic artist’ and ‘portrait painter’.

brewisbuscard1_edited-1

Brewis business card

He advertised that portraits could be enlarged to life size and painted in oil or water colour. Examples of his cabinet cards, which were so popular from the 1870s until well into the 20th century, can often be found on e-bay and in secondhand shops but the sitters are rarely identifiable. Check whether you have any Brewis portraits of family members in your attic – we’d love to see some.

The only Brewis photographs of which we currently know the identity of the sitter are two of Heaton’s world champion cyclist, George Waller, on which Brewis hastily applied for copyright in July 1900. They are, as a result, held by the National Archives. One is reproduced here.

Wallerwithpapered_edited-1

The reasons for this and other links between Edward George Brewis and George William Waller will be explored in a future article. Both men left their mark on Heaton and its history.

Short life

Amazingly Edward Brewis lived in his fantastic custom-built house for less than 5 years. By 1900, he was married with a daughter and living in Broomley near Bywell in the Tyne Valley. The young family moved house often at this time – from Stocksfield to Jesmond and then in 1906 to a house called ‘The Nook’ on Jesmond Park East in High Heaton. Their address at the time of Edward’s untimely death, in May 1908 at the age of 44, was in Warkworth but his business still operated from New Bridge Street. His success at a relatively young age was shown by the sum of over £12,000 he left in his will.

Postscript

The Edward Brewis photograph below of Eleanor Laverick nee Welford and was sent to us by her great granddaughter, Gillian Flatters.

Gillian told us that it was ‘lovingly watercoloured by my grandmother, Jessie Alexander Laverick. She did this to most of her back and white photos. Thanks to her other habit of keeping records, I can tell you the following about Eleanor:

Daughter of William Welford (Master Shoemaker) and Mary Ann Anderson, Eleanor was born at 5 Stepney Terrace, Newcastle on 05/01/1854. She married George Laverick in Aug 1877. At this time they lived in Ryton. Later moving to Ernest Street, Jarrow and Harvey Street, Hebburn. After Georges death in Nov 1902 she moved to Lyon Street, Hebburn Quay, where she kept a shop until she died there on 30 July 1930.

The only hint I have of a date for this picture is that as she appears to be pregnant in the photo it must have been taken after her marriage in 1877.’

EPSON scanner image

Eleanor  Laverick

 

fordyedward_fordy_senior1resizeweb

Edward Fordy

Micky Fordy wrote to tell us that the above photograph is of his 2xgt Grandfather Edward Fordy b 1837 Beadnell: ‘He was baptised Edward Scott but his father did a runner before he was born so he was brought up by his mother Elizabeth and her parents. As they were Fordy he took this as his surname.  But from 1851 or earlier Elizabeth was living with William Brewis , b 1810 to parents John Brewis and Mary Willis. John and Mary had other children including John b 1811. I believe this to be the father of Edward G Brewis. As far as I know Elizabeth and William never married (her death was recorded as Elizabeth Brewis in 1866) but Edward Fordy and Edward Brewis would have been regarded as cousins.’

John Duffy snr color tint photo c.1895

John Duffy c1895

The above photograph was sent to us by Godfrey Duffy, who said that is a hand tinted colour photograph of his grandfather, John Duffy, taken in about 1895 at the Heaton Park Road studio.

Can you help?

Do you have any photographs of local people by Edward Brewis?  If you know something about the subject, we’d love to see them. Email chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Beavans on site of High Main pub

Meet me on the corner

Not a detailed timeline but we couldn’t pass up the chance that the opening of the new pub on the corner of Heaton Park Road and Shields Road gives us to show pictures of the same building at different points in its history. Most people associate Beavan’s with the building on the opposite side of Heaton Park Road which still bears its name, but this lively street scene shows that it was previously on ‘High Main’ corner and seems to have extended down Heaton Park Road.

jBeavans  on site of High Main pub

Thank you to Beamish Museum for letting us use this photo. It’s interesting to see the now demolished shops and houses further down Heaton Park Road. And notice that some of the children have bare feet. But can you help us date the photograph? The fashions should give us a clue.

And what about this one, showing Woolworth’s occupying the site? Sometime in the 1960s? Who remembers shopping or working there? Did anyone own one of those sidecars?

Woolworths on Shields Road

And, for comparison, the new pub.

High Main Pub 2013

And in case you were wondering where the name came from:

Plaque outside the High Main pub

Thank you to Graham Soult for permission to use these two photographs.

There must be lots of people with information or memories of Woolie’s, Beavan’s (even if not in these premises!) or of other shops on Shields Road. We’d love you to post your comments here or email them to Chris Jackson.