You may be surprised to learn that Heaton Secondary Schools were officially opened by the Right Honourable Grey of Fallodon, Chancellor of the University of Oxford. Surprised because a visit some weeks later by the King and Queen is often mistakenly referred to as the opening. Here’s what actually happened!
The schools. which had provision for 500 boys and 500 girls, were erected at a cost of £140,000 and claimed to be the most up to date and best equipped in the country. The opening ceremony on 18 September 1928 was big news and covered in newspapers from Aberdeen and Belfast to Gloucester and beyond.
The original plan, agreed before World War One, had been to build the school on 25 acres of land adjacent to Ravenswood Road but this project had to be shelved due to the war. Afterwards, a price could not be agreed with the landowner. Compulsory purchase was set in motion but eventually the council decided that this would mean unacceptably long delays so a site of equal size opposite the housing estate being built on the other side of Newton Road was negotiated.
The layout of the school was said to be reminiscent of a Cambridge college with the design of open loggias around a quadrangle.
The classrooms were ‘of the open air type, with sliding partitions along the sunny side, the north side being used for science laboratories, gymnasiums etc.’
There were two schools each with their own hall, dining room, library, labs, a commercial room, staff room and classrooms but the two halls were adjacent and so could be ‘thrown into one to form a great hall 80 feet long by 90 feet wide’. There was a craft room in the boys school and needlework and domestic science rooms in the girls’.
The first head teacher of Heaton Secondary School for Boys as it was first known was Mr F R Barnes, formerly of Barrow in Furness Secondary School for Boys. He started with a staff of 17 graduates and five specialists. Miss W M Cooper, formerly of Benwell Secondary School, had 13 graduates and four specialists working for her in the girls’ school, Heaton High School as it became known.
As for pupils, initially there would be 291 boys and 414 girls, 455 of which would be free scholarship holders. The remaining pupils were fee-paying. At the outset, their parents were charged £8 a year. The programme for the opening event announced that ‘Mrs Harrison Bell has very kindly endowed a history prize in memory of her husband, the late My J N Bell, who was elected in 1922 Member of Parliament for the east division of the city. The prize will be awarded in the boys’ and the girls’ school in alternate years.’
At the ceremony, there were prayers and songs including ‘Land of Hope and Glory‘ and Northumbrian folk song ‘The Water of Tyne’ and lots of speeches, not only Viscount Grey’s but also those of numerous local politicians, including the Lord Mayor, and presentations by the architect, H T Wright, and the contractor, Stanley Miller.
Viscount Grey is better known as the politician, Sir Edward Grey, who was Foreign Secretary from 1905 to 1916, the longest tenure ever. He is particularly remembered for the remark he is said to have made as he contemplated the enormity of the imminent World War One: ‘ The lamps are going out all over Europe. We shall not see them lit again in our time.’
In his speech in Heaton, Viscount Grey, a Liberal, said ‘The ideal system would be one in which the highest, most advanced and most expensive education was devoted solely to the youthful material of the country who were most capable by their abilities to profit from it. We have not reached that point today. A great deal of the highest and most expensive education in the country is given…. to <those> whose parents are able to pay for it… but… every school like that at Heaton is bringing higher education within the reach of those whose parents cannot pay for it. This is an advance towards a better system’.
And tackling another topic which has resonance today, the former tennis champion and keen fisherman and ornithologist spoke about the variety of entertainment available to young people, reminding the audience that in his day, there ‘was no electric light, no motor cars, no telephones, no wireless and no moving pictures’. But he reminded his young audience that the things which interested people most through life were those in which they took some active personal part. ‘Take part in games, rather than be mere spectators’ he urged. ‘It will give you more pleasure than all the other entertainments that come to you without trouble.’
For any locals lucky enough to have one, the whole ceremony was actually broadcast on the wireless from 3:00pm until 4:30pm. Radio station 5NO had been broadcasting from Newcastle since 1922 and its signals could reach up to about 20 miles. With broadcasting still in its infancy, many newspaper listings came with detailed technical instructions on what to do if the signal was lost: radio was still far from being a mass medium but it was catching on fast and those early local listings make fascinating reading. You can view them here.
Just over three weeks later, 23,000 pupils from all over Newcastle were invited to Heaton for the visit of King George V and Queen Mary to the school before the royal couple went on to open the new Tyne Bridge. And it’s this historic event which many people assume to have been the official opening. It was certainly a momentous occasion – and an excuse for more speeches!
‘Their majesties will drive round the school grounds where 23,000 children of the city will be assembled and on entering the school hall, the loyal address from the City of Newcastle will be presented by the Lord Mayor. Numerous public representatives will be presented to their Majesties, who will be asked to receive gifts from scholars.’
There were also displays of physical drills and country dancing by pupils.
Every school pupil present was given a commemorative booklet which included a photograph of the new school at the back but which was mainly about the opening of the new bridge.
‘To the boys and girls for whom these words are written, who have just begun their passage on the bridge of life, and who will go to and fro on the bridges of the Tyne, there is the lofty call to carry forward to future generations the progress which has brought them their own proud inheritance.’
A bouquet was said to have been presented to the Queen by the head girl and a book to the King by the head boy.
This made a lifelong impression on pupil Olive Renwick (nee Topping), who was 12 years old at the time, but at the age of 98 recalled;
We were all gathered in the hall and Miss Cooper, the head teacher, told us that the queen would be presented with a “bookie”. What on earth’s a bookie, I wondered. Only later did I realise she meant a bouquet!’
Again the event was broadcast on the wireless. A full day’s programming began at 10:50am with the ‘Arrival of the royal party at Heaton Secondary Schools’. And the excitement of arrival of the king and queen’s carriage pulled by four white ponies in front of thousands of handkerchief waving school children (along with hair raising footage of workers on the still incomplete Tyne Bridge) was captured on film by Pathe News.
And it shows a girl presenting a book (rather than ‘a bookie’) to the royal party. A last minute change of plan or an extra for the cameras?
After World War 2, the boys’ schools was renamed Heaton Grammar School and the girls’ Heaton High School. The two schools merged in September 1967 to form Heaton Comprehensive School. In 1983, this school merged with Manor Park School on Benton Road to form Heaton Manor. And in 2004, after the building of the new school on the Jesmond Park site, the Benton Park site closed to make way for housing.
The next instalment of ninety years of school history will have to wait for another day.
Can You Help?
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Researched and written by Chris Jackson, Heaton History Group. Thank you to Brian Hedley for a copy of the official opening programme and the family of Olive Renwick for the souvenir of the royal visit. Thank you also to Muriel La Tour (nee Abernethy) for correcting the subsequent names of the schools.
British Newspaper Archives
Heaton Secondary Schools: official opening Sept 18th 1928 programme
Visit of their majesties King George V and Queen Mary, October 1928 (souvenir booklet)
Miscellaneous online sources