Category Archives: Seventh Avenue

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

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

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

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

Family background

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

Edith Anne Stoney

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

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

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

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

Stoney Edith,_Florence,_Johnstone_Stoney

Edith, Florence and George Johnstone Stoney

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

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

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

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

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

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

George Gerald Stoney

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

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

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

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

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

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

Key figure

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

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

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

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

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

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

Turbinia

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

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

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

As the ‘Times’ put it:

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

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

Turbiniaed_resized

Turbinia with Gerald Stoney below Charles Parsons on the bridge

Growing recognition

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

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

OakleyGGStoneyHeatonRoadres_edited-2

‘Oakley’ on Heaton Road

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

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

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

Temporary departure

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

Stoney GeorgeGerald-Stoney

George Gerald Stoney (courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery)

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

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

StoneyGrave

The Stoneys grave in Corbridge

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

Can you help?

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

Acknowledgements

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

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

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

Key Sources

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

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

and a range of online and local archival sources.

Print

David and Isabella Wood in the backyard of their home in Seventh Avenue

The Woods of Seventh Avenue

Mrs Wood of 57 Seventh Avenue is listed in the local press as having donated lettuce and flowers between 21 August and 26 August 1916 to Northern General Hospital where casualties of WWI were being treated. Apart from the same desire as many of the general public to contribute to the war effort, she had the additional motivation of having two of her three sons already serving in the Royal Field Artillery with the youngest to follow a little later.

Back story

Isabella was born Isabella Walker on 19 May 1861 in Ayton, Berwickshire to Robert and Isabella Walker (nee Gourlay). The 1881 Scottish Census shows her still living in Ayton with her mother Isabella, now widowed, and her brothers John, Robert, James and Thomas. Her occupation is recorded as ‘farm servant’ so she is likely to have been familiar with growing vegetables which may be relevant to her later gifts to the wounded soldiers.

By the 1891 Census she was married to David Simpson Wood, 29, a railway porter, who was also born in Ayton, Berwickshire on 13 June 1861, the son of John and Helen Wood (nee Simpson). They were now living at Bishopwearmouth, Sunderland with their 2 daughters, Isabella Gourlay Wood, age three, and Helen Simpson Wood, age eight months, and Isabella’s brother Robert Walker, age 35, a corporation carter.

Ten years later the 1901 Census shows the family living at 33 Elvet Street, Heaton (parish of St. Michael) with four more children: John David, age eight, Robert Thomas, age six, Margaret Cleghorn, age four, and Stanley Alexander, age one. David is now a railway guard and Robert Walker is still living with them and is now a general labourer.

In 1911 all the children are still at home and the family is now living at 57 Seventh Avenue. David is now a railway passenger guard and Robert Walker a builders labourer. Of the children, Isabella at 23 is a confectionery shop assistant; Helen, 21, is a clerkess in a laundry; John, 19, is an electric wireman and Robert, 17, is a butcher with the Co-operative Society. Margaret, 14, is ‘at home’ and Stanley, 11, is at school.

Died from wounds

When the First World War started in 1914, life must have changed suddenly for the Wood family. John, Robert and subsequently Stanley joined up and served in the Royal Field Artillery. No military record has been found for John, but all three brothers are recorded on the Roll of Honour 1914-18 in Heaton Presbyterian Church (now United Reform Church). Robert served as a driver with 1st/3rd Northumbrian Brigade, Royal Field Artillery, Service No. 750395, as later did Stanley, Service No. 262357. Stanley was awarded the British War Medal and Victory Medal and it is likely that John would also have received these as a surviving serviceman.

Robert served in France from 18 April 1915, where he was wounded, brought back to England and died from his wounds in St. George’s Hospital, London on 20 April 1917. He was buried in Byker and Heaton Cemetery (Grave reference xviii.v.3). Like many servicemen, he carried a handwritten informal will which left ‘the whole of my property and effects to my mother Mrs Wood, 57 Seventh Avenue, Heaton, Newcastle upon Tyne’. This was enacted by the War Office and Isabella received the sum of £8 12s together with his War Gratuity of £11 10s.

Robert Thomas Wood's will

Robert Thomas Wood’s will

Robert Wood's grave

Robert Wood’s grave

David Simpson Wood died on 18 March 1934 aged 72 and was buried in the same grave as Robert, as was Isabella when she died on 7 July 1937, aged 76.

Allotments

Isabella Wood’s gifts to the Northern General Hospital suggest that she may have been able to grow her own flowers and vegetables. It is possible that there was some vacant land near the Avenues which residents were able to cultivate or perhaps David Wood’s connection to the Railways gave his family access to railway land. It is also possible that the family had an allotment somewhere nearby.

As food supplies became more restricted with an increase in U-boat attacks on supply ships, the Cultivation of Lands Order of 1916 required councils to provide more land for cultivation for food production, and the minutes of Newcastle City Council show that ’55 separate groups of allotments have been formed and about 200 acres of land in the city put into cultivation, representing 2,900 allotments.’ Seed potatoes and manure were acquired and distributed at cost price to allotment holders, who could spread the cost over two or even three years.

Things did not always run smoothly for allotment holders, however. Minutes of 8 May 1917 report:

‘Armstrong Allotments Association – Damage by rabbits

The Town Clerk reported that representatives of the AAA had made a complaint to him that rabbits from Armstrong Park entered upon the allotments and ate up the cabbage plants and other vegetables. They had endeavoured to prevent the nuisance but were unable to do so and appealed to the corporation to assist them.

It was agreed to suggest to the allotment holders that they should endeavour to kill the rabbits and, failing this, the committee agreed to consider the question of wiring the park fence.’

Hints for allotment holders were regular features in local newspapers – the Newcastle Courant of 19 May 1917 promises ‘Advice about Brussels Sprouts and the Best Way to Sow Beet in next week’s edition.’

Growing your own was now essential and it seems likely that Isabella’s farming experience as a young woman in Berwickshire may have proved extremely useful to her and her large family.

Postscript

Since this article was written, we’ve been lucky enough to meet Olive Renwick, Isabella and David’s grand-daughter – Olive’s mother was Isabella, the Woods’ eldest daughter. Olive was able to tell us more about her grandparents, mother and aunts and uncles. She gave us permission to publish the photographs below.

She confirmed that her grandparents had an allotment on railway land near Heaton Station but also that her Great Uncle Robert cultivated a field near Red Hall Drive. She remembers him carrying heavy bags of potatoes and stopping off at her house for a rest en route home to Seventh Avenue. She also recalled that her father, who worked on the railways, used to buy leeks from Dobbies in Edinburgh and sold them on to work colleagues and neighbours.

She was also able to add to what we knew from the 1911 census where it is recorded that Olive’s mother, the younger Isabella was a ‘confectionary shop assistant’. Olive said the shop was on Chillingham Road between Simonside and Warton Terraces ‘opposite Martha and Mary’s’. Her father used to call in and buy something every day on his way home from work, leading his mother to wonder why he’d suddenly acquired such a sweet tooth. Only later did she realised that the shop assistant was the attraction rather than the cakes!

David and Isabella Wood with eldest children, Isabella, Helen & John, c1893

David and Isabella Wood with eldest children, Isabella, Helen & John, c1893

David and Isabella Wood in the backyard of their home in Seventh Avenue

David and Isabella Wood in the backyard of their home in Seventh Avenue

Isabella Wood at her front door in Seventh Avenue, still tending plants

Isabella Wood at her front door in Seventh Avenue, still tending plants

 

Robert Walker, Isabella Wood's brother, who grew potatoes in a field of Red Hall Drive

Robert Walker, Isabella Wood’s brother, who grew potatoes in a field of Red Hall Drive

Finally, Olive’s daughter Margaret took this photograph of the war memorial in Heaton Presbyterian Church  on which her great uncles are remembered.

Heaton Presbyterian Church War Memorial where the contributions of Robert, John and Stanley Wood are commemorated.

Heaton Presbyterian Church War Memorial where the contributions of Robert, John and Stanley Wood are commemorated.

The Wood brothers' names on the Heaton Presbyterian Church war memorial

The Wood brothers’ names on the Heaton Presbyterian Church war memorial

Heaton Avenues in Wartime

This article was researched and written by Caroline Stringer for Heaton History Group’s ‘Heaton Avenues in Wartime’ projected, which has been funded by Heritage Lottery Fund. An exhibition, ‘Feeding the Avenues’, will be on display at the Chillingham pub from late July until late September 2015.

Many thanks to Olive Renwick, Margaret Coulson and Julia Bjornerud for all their help and for permission to publish photographs from the family archives.

Can you help?

If you know any more about the history of allotments in Heaton or any of the people featured in this article – or have relevant photographs – please contact Chris Jackson, Secretary, Heaton History Group (chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org)

Donaldsons by Kate Hancock

The Donaldsons of Seventh Avenue

Autumn 1914 saw frenzied efforts to mobilise the huge army that the government knew would be needed to win the war. Many men responded readily to the call to arms but, at home, women were left bringing up young children on their own, coping with rising food prices and shortages and worrying about their loved ones. For some it was too much. The story of the Donaldson family of Seventh Avenue illustrates well the story of those early weeks of World War One.

David and Mary Reith Donaldson lived at 55 Seventh Avenue, Heaton. The 1911 census tells us that David (aged 44) was a joiner in an engineering works and Mary (43) a domestic cook. They had three children Amba (10), David Junior (7) and Walter (5). They were already living in Heaton but in Queen Anne Street. In April 1913, Amba sadly died, aged only 11 years. The family had, by this time, moved to Seventh Avenue.

David’s story

David Donaldson was born in Alves, Morayshire in the North of Scotland on 7 January 1867. By 1901 though, he had moved south to Hebburn and was married to Mary. He described himself at this time as a ‘house joiner’.

In October 1914, David was one of the first men to join the Tyneside Scottish Brigade. Although from the outset men volunteered to join the army, to start with recruitment was far below the numbers Lord Kitchener, Secretary of State for War, believed necessary. General Sir Henry Rawlinson suggested that men would be more inclined to enlist if they knew they would be serving alongside their friends, work colleagues and other people like them. The first so-called ‘pals battalion’ was the London Stockbrokers’ Battalion, soon followed locally by the Newcastle Commercials, which formed the 16th Battalion of the Northumberland Fusiliers, and Newcastle Railway Pals (the 17th Battalion). Recognising that many on Tyneside, men like David, identified strongly with their Celtic roots, Scottish (20-23rd battalions) and Irish Brigades (24th-27th battalions) followed from October 1914. Luckily for us local historians, it was agreed early on that the names of men enlisting would appear in the local press to encourage others. David’s name appeared in the Newcastle Daily Journal on Wednesday 28 October and, as one of the earliest recruits, he joined the First Tyneside Scottish (20th Northumberland Fusiliers).

What is particularly striking about David is his age when he enlisted. The Tyneside Scottish advertised for men aged between 19 and 45 but David was by then 47 years old. It is well known that many recruits lied about their age in order to be accepted. Perhaps David did. Alternatively such was the shortage of trained men, an exception to the age parameters was made for those who had military experience. Certainly David must have been fit for his age as many would-be recruits failed their medicals or to complete their training. Although we haven’t yet uncovered details of his previous career, a clue that David had valuable experience comes on his army record card. The reason stated for his early discharge in 1918 is completion of 20 years military service. He would by then have been 51 years old.

Thanks to Graham Stewart and John Sheen’s comprehensive book ‘Tyneside Scottish’, we know a lot about David’s Battalion, the 20th Northumberland Fusiliers. At first they were billeted at either Tilley’s restaurant in New Market Street or Simpson’s Hotel in Wallsend. (By contrast, the 2nd Tyneside Scottish were originally based at four halls belonging to churches and schools in the Heaton Road area.) In late January 1915, the battalion marched to Alnwick. It wasn’t until January 1916 that the members of the battalion who had survived sixteen months of arduous training, set sail for France. Conditions there were much worse. Rats and lice were an ongoing problem even before the battalion became involved in the action. On 1st July 1916, Tyneside Scottish suffered huge losses on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. Almost 20,000 British soldiers were killed that day and some 57,500 injured. Tyneside Scottish lost almost 1,000 men with another 1,500 injured out of a total of some 4,000 soldiers. As we have heard, though, Private Donaldson happily survived and was discharged in 1918.

Mary’s story

Mary Reith Donaldson nee Sutherland was born in 1868 in the parish of Wigton in Cumberland. Her mother was a Londoner and her father Scottish. By the time she was three, Mary’s family were living in Simonburn, Northumberland, where her father, David, was a schoolmaster and Amba, her mother, despite having four children under six, a sewing mistress. By 1881, the family, by now with six children, was in Widdrington.

Ten years later, we find 23 year old Mary working at Close House in Heddon, part of the huge staff employed by Calverly Bewick, his wife, Eleanor, and their eight children. May is listed as a kitchen maid, one of a staff of sixteen. Interestingly the coachman was someone named Edward Donaldson. Perhaps it was through him that she met her husband, David. On 5 June 1899, Mary and David Donaldson were married in Glasgow.

In the 1901 census, Mary doesn’t mention an occupation and yet ten years later in 1911, by which time she had 3 children, she describes herself as a domestic cook. Recent research on the occupations of women suggests that the census under-reports women’s work but nevertheless calculates that only around four per cent of married women worked prior to WW1. It’s interesting that Mary followed in the footsteps of her own mother in this regard. Did she work out of necessity or choice? We can’t be sure but subsequent events suggest she may have needed more money than her husband earned.

What we do know is that Mary’s life wasn’t easy. Her first child, Amba, born in 1901, suffered from epilepsy. By 1906, she had three children under five. By 1911, she combined motherhood with a job and tragically in April 1913, her only daughter, Amba, died at the age of 11. Amba’s death certificate records the cause as a combination of acute bronchitis and epilepsy. One can only imagine the pain the loss caused Mary. But things were to get even worse for herself and her family.

On November 13 1914, only a matter of weeks after her husband joined the Tyneside Scottish, Mary appeared in court charged with two offences of drunkenness and child neglect. Under the sensational headline ‘A Craving for Drink’, the Newcastle Journal reported that she had been found drunk in Algernon Road, Heaton. It said that she ‘was constantly drinking and taking things out of the house to the pawnshop’. The court was given detailed information about the ‘separation allowance’ she had received from the government. It said that she had received £2 5s but after drinking had returned with only 18s and that her husband had taken possession of the remainder and spend 7s on rent and 6s on groceries.

Court records dating from this time can be examined in Tyne and Wear Archives. They show that, while Mary was acquitted of the offence of drunkenness, rather than be helped overcome her addiction, she was sentenced to six months imprisonment with hard labour for child neglect. We don’t know whether any attempt was made to treat Mary’s alcoholism or what happened to the two boys. Their grandmother lived in Tynemouth so perhaps she looked after them for a time but sadly she too died in 1915. Meanwhile David continued to serve his country.

Postscript

This glimpse of one Heaton family via surviving records gives some insight into how hard life could be both for those serving and those left behind. It also illustrates nicely two government priorities in the early months of the war. Firstly, the need to recruit huge numbers of men led to the formation of the ‘Pals’ regiments and a blind eye being turned to the recruitment of over-age and under-age volunteers.

Serving in WW1 by Kate Hancock

Serving in World War One by Kate Hancock

And, at the same time, the government had become increasingly worried about the consumption of alcohol and its effect on the war effort. Some newspapers claimed that soldiers’ allowances were over-generous and were being ‘drunk away’ by their wives; a new law outlawed the buying of rounds in pubs; opening hours were reduced with, in some places, specific restrictions on the times when women could be served; tax on drink was increased. David Lloyd George even started a campaign to persuade national figures to make a pledge that they would not drink alcohol (although Prime Minister Asquith, reportedly a heavy drinker, refused to sign up!).

By 1918, alcohol consumption had fallen by half and convictions for drunkenness were down by some 75%. The government measures played a part but so did other factors especially the huge numbers of men serving, and in many cases losing their lives, on the WW1 battlefields and the large number of women who worked full time outside the home.

Can you help?

if you have more information about any aspect of this story, please get in touch. We are also looking for local artists to illustrate future stories and for any photographs or mmemorabilia relating to WW1 and Heaton and its people in particular. Please respond via the link immediately below the article title or email chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org