Category Archives: Who

People in Heaton’s history

The Sinking of the Cobra: a Heaton maritime disaster

When, on 18 September 1901, HMS Cobra sank on its maiden voyage on route from Newcastle to Portsmouth, it was a huge shock for the country and a particular tragedy for the north-east, but nowhere was the loss felt more keenly than in Heaton.

Steam

Only four years earlier, Charles Parsons had amazed onlookers by gatecrashing Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee Fleet Review and racing his yacht, Turbinia, between the lines of the officially invited vessels at speeds of up to 34 knots.

Sir Charles Algernon Parsons (1919) by Walter Stoneman
(National Portrait Gallery)

Turbinia was powered by marine steam turbines invented at C A Parsons and Co in Heaton by Parsons himself alongside other great engineers such as Gerard Stoney, whose home, as well as his office, was in Heaton and Robert Barnard, who worshipped at Heaton Congregational Church.

Turbinia

Turbinia’s spectacular demonstration of speed prompted local armaments and shipping firm Armstrong Whitworth to build a torpedo destroyer to be fitted with a turbine engine, confident that a buyer would quickly be found. The ship’s design was based on those of two other vessels built at Elswick and it was launched on 28 June 1899. Six months later the ship was offered to the Admiralty.  However, the turbine machinery on board was much heavier than the machinery on the earlier ships (183 v 110 tons) and 30 tons more than expected. Despite the assurances of the designer, Philip Watts, who was head of the Elswick shipyard and the firm’s chief naval architect, that the weight was within tolerance limits, the prospective purchaser expressed a number of concerns including about the  strength of the upper deck. 

Viper

While what was to become HMS Cobra was being modified on the quay at Elswick, a collier ship accidentally collided with her, delaying completion by another seven months. This misfortune allowed a sister ship, HMS Viper, ordered by the Admiralty from another Charles Parsons company, Parsons Marine (who subcontracted the building of the hull to a third local firm, Hawthorn Leslie) to become the world’s first turbine-driven warship. Sadly on 3 August 1901,  HMS Viper was grounded on rocks during naval exercises in fog off Alderney in the Channel Islands. The crew were forced to abandon ship as she sank.

HMS Viper

Disaster

Less than seven weeks later, at 5.00pm on 17 September 1901, HMS Cobra was deemed ready to leave Newcastle for Portsmouth, where she was to be armed and commissioned. On board were 79 men, 24 of whom were from the north-east, mainly employees of Armstrong Whitworth, the shipbuilders,  and Parsons, the turbine builders. 

HMS Cobra

As the weather deteriorated and the ship began to roll, the thoughts of many of those on board must have turned to the recent demise of the Viper, a ship well-known to the Parsons contingent in particular. Conditions, however, began to improve at first light until a sudden shock was felt throughout the Cobra. Within seconds, the ship had broken in two. There wasn’t time to launch any of Its five lifeboats but twelve men, including the ship’s chief engineer, John J G G Percy, were able to scramble into a small dinghy. They were the only survivors. Sixty seven men lost their lives, twenty three of them from ‘contractors’, mainly Parsons.

Local

Among those known to have Heaton connections were:

John Abel

John originated in Brighton, Sussex and, aged 28, worked for Parsons as a ‘steam engine maker and fitter’. His daughter had been born in Portsea, Hampshire in December 1899 so it’s possible that the family hadn’t been in Newcastle long. At the time of the 1901 census, they were living at 12 Morley Street but by the time John lost his life on the Cobra, they were at 44 Denmark Street.

Robert Barnard

The Essex born marine engineer was the senior Parsons Turbine representative aboard the Cobra. He was manager of Parsons Turbine Works, Newcastle and Wallsend. He had assisted in the design of Turbinia and superintended its construction. During its trials, he usually acted as steersman alongside Gerard Stoney and Parsons himself.

Barnard had also superintended the erection of the works at Wallsend and supervised the building and engineering of the Viper and the King Edward as well as the Cobra. Aged 38, he had been ‘associated with the development of the modern steam turbine from the very first. No one next to Mr Parsons believed more in the possibilities’. He was also, until shortly before his death,  treasurer of Heaton Congregational Church. He is buried in Preston Cemetery, North Shields with his wife, Mary.

Alfred Bryans

Alfred’s was one of the first six bodies to be found and it was formally identified in Grimsby Hospital mortuary by the coroner’s jury three days after the disaster. An envelope addressed to him at his home address of 25 Meldon Terrace, Heaton was found on him. Alfred was born and raised in Co Durham but in 1901, aged 25, was living in Heaton with his widowed mother. He described himself as a ‘steam engine maker and fitter’.Regarded as an exceedingly promising and capable young man’, he had worked as an electrical engineer at Parsons for five years and was previously on board the Viper ‘superintending work in connection with the dynamos’ when it sank. 

He had then been sent to Stockport to be in charge of the dynamos of the new electric car system there and had just returned to Tyneside to travel to Portsmouth aboard the Cobra ‘in the same capacity as he had worked on the Viper’. He had three brothers, one of whom was a doctor at the Middlesbrough hospital where some of the survivors of the Cobra disaster were taken. His older brothers were also engineers, one in London, and the other on a railway in South America. Alfred was among the first to be buried. His funeral took place at Bishopwearmouth Cemetery. Among the mourners at his funeral were Gerard Stoney, John Barker, manager of Parsons Turbine, and Sir Richard Williams who, in 1889, had moved from Clarke and Chapman with Parsons to help him set up his own company.

Edward Lee

Edward was a foreman fitter from C A Parsons and Co. He lived at 21 Morley Street.

George McGregor

Aged only 17, George was the youngest of the Heaton victims. He lived with his widowed mother, younger brother  and  two sisters at 69 Molyneux Street and was an apprentice fitter at Parsons. His older married brother, David McGregor, aged 29, who lived nearby at 33 Algernon Road was also a fitter at the firm.

John W Webb

John, a 32 year old Parsons fitter, lived at 9 Fifth Avenue with his wife, said to be ‘of delicate health’ and his sister in law. He was reported to be ‘well known and highly respected in the eastern part of the town’,  a member of Bainbridge Memorial Wesleyan Church and superintendent of the Sunday school.

Aftermath

Among the first announcements after the disaster was one the following day from the Admiralty declaring that they would ‘cease naming vessels after  the snake tribe – first the Serpent, next the Viper and now the Cobra’ (HMS Serpent had run aground and sank in a storm off Galicia in Spain  in November 1890, less than two years after going into service. 173 of her 176 crew lost their lives).

Locally, Charles Parsons headed to London immediately and the whole Parsons workforce was given the rest of the week off. There were reports of ’the horrors of scalding steam’ adding to the other dangers experienced by those on board. ‘The Evening Chronicle’ reported that Charles Parsons had foreseen this risk and insisted that the steam pipes on the Viper (on which no escape of steam was reported) were fixed as flexibly as possible. However, on the Cobra, the Parsons Company, as engine builders ‘were bound to follow specifications and these provided that the steam pipes should be as rigidly fixed as possible.’ The war of words between the various interested parties had begun.

The Admiralty immediately absolved the ship’s captain of any blame or navigational error, reporting that the ship was in deep, clear water when it sank. It conceded that it could have struck a wreck or some floating obstruction. A Captain Smith of a Yarmouth herring drifter which was the first vessel on the scene said that he might have seen a shark’s tail but it was impossible to know. A wounded whale, seen in the area, was also implicated until it was discovered that it had been landed a week earlier. The inquest jury expressed  ‘an informal opinion that the Cobra was too lightly built and hoped the government would build stronger destroyers’.

Meanwhile a special memorial service was held at Heaton Congregational Church on Sunday 22nd, led by the Reverend William Glover.

Appeal

And on Saturday 21st, a public meeting was announced by Councillor Thomas Cairns, to be held at the Victoria Hotel on Heaton Road ‘with a view to forming a committee to give assistance where necessary to the families deprived of their bread-winners by the loss of HMS Cobra’. The meeting was said to be crowded. Letters of support had been received from the Mayor, the Sheriff, MP Mr Crawford Smith, eminent trades unionist and Heaton resident Alexander Wilkie and the Reverend J Robertson of St Gabriel’s Church among others. Councillor Cairns made a stirring speech which concluded by assuring listeners that the organisers wished to alleviate distress only where it existed and so prompt enquiries into the circumstances of every case would be made. It was stated that the appeal would only be on behalf of the bereaved of the ‘Tyneside district’. A committee was elected and a further meeting convened.

However, a few days later it was announced that a national relief fund had been opened in Portsmouth. When Councillor Cairns contacted the mayor to ask that the Heaton committee be left to support its own bereaved as they better understood individual needs and appealed for the national fund not to appeal for donations for Parsons’ families, he was told the 600 letters had already been sent to national and local newspapers and that the fund would be for the widows and orphans of all those lost, not just the naval men. Cairns responded that Newcastle wouldn’t have dreamt of setting up a national fund. ‘If it had been set up in London, that would be different’. An agreement was soon made for the Heaton executive committee to be broadened to include the mayors of all the Tyneside boroughs. Mr Alfred Howson of 8 Heaton Road was appointed secretary and local councillor Thomas Cairns, treasurer.

Armstrong Whitworth contributed £1,000 to the Tyneside fund.

Court Martial

On 10 October 1901, the naval enquiry or court martial opened at Portsmouth. The Hon Charles Parsons was in court to hear his company absolved of any blame for the accident but Philip Watts, the designer of the ship for Armstrong Whitworth, endured lengthy questioning about the strength of the vessel and what might have caused it to sink. Watts said that he believed that wave action alone could not have sunk the Cobra because of where the ship broke and he maintained that the disaster could not have been caused by striking a rock as the shock felt by those on board would have been greater still. His best guess was that the destroyer had struck some drifting wreckage perhaps with an iron mast attached. He believed that if the aft half of the boat, which was still missing, were to be found, the likely damage would show this to be the case.

Parsons then gave evidence to the court. Perhaps undiplomatically, he said that he believed destroyers like the Cobra were intended to be ‘fine weather vessels but that gradually, having been found to survive heavy seas , they were not taken the same care of as they were originally.’ He clarified that he meant that they were designed to shelter in bad weather. When pressed on the fact that heavy seas were to be expected around the British Isles, he confirmed it ‘would become a necessity to ensure that the strength of these vessels is sufficient to stand any stress they may be likely to come across.’

He confirmed that the turbine machinery installed exceeded the original estimate of 155-160 tons, being 183 tons.

The enquiry concluded that Cobra didn’t meet with any obstruction and that there was no navigation error but ‘the loss was attributable to the structural weakness of the ship’. The court also found that the ‘Cobra was weaker than other destroyers and, in view of that fact, it is to be regretted that she was purchased into his Majesty’s service.’

Defence

Armstrong Whitworth immediately contested the court martial’s findings. The company pointed out that similar boats had sailed to Australia and Japan without incident.

Asked about Parsons’ comments the following day, an Armstrong Whitworth representative said that Parsons had meant that destroyers fitted with the turbine system of propulsion were constructed essentially for their high speed and this high speed could only be obtained in smooth water.

The company authorised Philip Watts, the ship’s designer, to conduct a search operation to try to restore its and his damaged reputations.  However, the missing aft section, which could have provided evidence of a collision and exonerated both Watts and the firm, wasn’t found.

Tutor

However, Armstrong Whitworth was invited to submit an article to a literary and current affairs magazine ‘The Monthly Review’. It commissioned John Meade Falkner, the English novelist best known for ‘Moonfleet’, the classic children’s story of shipwrecks and smuggling, written just a few years earlier, to write the piece. 

Why him? Well, soon after the Wiltshire born, Marlborough educated Falkner had graduated in history with a third class degree from Hertford College Oxford in 1882, he was introduced to an Eton schoolboy who was struggling to prepare for his Oxford University entrance examination. The boy was John Noble, son of Sir Andrew Noble, physicist, ballistics expert and partner of Sir William Armstrong.

John Meade Falkner

Falkner came to Newcastle to be a tutor both to John and to Sir Andrew Noble’s other children. You can see the 32 year old listed among the large extended household living in Jesmond Dene House on the 1891 census, even though by this time the youngest of the Noble children at home was 20 year old Philip who was recorded as being at Balliol College. 

Falkner’s occupation then appears to read ‘MA Oxon Secretary’. There is a second census entry for him as a lodger in Elswick and ‘secretary to engineering company’. He had become company secretary to Armstrong Mitchell in 1888. ‘Moonfleet’ was published in 1896.

By the time of the Cobra disaster in 1901, Falkner was living in Divinity House, Palace Green, Durham and described as a ‘mechanical engineer’  and an ‘employer’. At some point during that year, he became a director of what was now Armstrong Whitworth. His persuasive writing skills were undoubtedly a reason for him being chosen to pen the piece.

Like the naval enquiry, Falkner, in his article, quickly exonerated Parsons and the turbines but questioned the credibility of the court by drawing readers’ attentions to its members’ lack of knowledge of marine engineering. He went on to cast doubt on the competence of the naval divers who had dragged the wreck into deeper waters, searched in poor visibility and, in one case, ‘a foreigner, and his evidence, which seemed naturally vague, was rendered still more obscure by difficulties of interpretation.’

Falkner called for a ‘properly qualified tribunal’ … ‘which will command respect, and the country will accept nothing less’. The  truth would then be uncovered ‘on better authority than the verdict of a casual court-martial.’

His words fell on deaf ears but Armstrong Whitworth survived the blow to its reputation and, like Parsons’ turbine business, went from strength to strength in the following decades. Falkner succeeded Sir Andrew Noble as Chairman of Armstrong Vickers in 1915. He later became Honorary Reader in Paleography at the University of Durham and Honorary Librarian to the Dean and Chapter Library of Durham Cathedral. 

Sixty seven men, including twenty four from Parsons and at least six who lived in Heaton, weren’t so fortunate.

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Chris Jackson, Heaton History Group.

Can You Help?

If you know any more about the people named in this article or the sinking of HMS Cobra, we’d love to hear from you.You can contact us either through this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or by emailing chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Sources

Ancestry

British Newspaper Archive

‘The Cobra Trail’ / George Robson and Kenneth Hillier in ‘The John Meade Falkner Society Journal’ no 9, July 2008

‘Down Elswick Slipways: Armstrong’s Ships and People 1884-1918’/ Dick Keys and Ken Smith; Newcastle City Libraries, 1996

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

www.rjbw.net/JMFalkner.html

Other online sources

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

Alexander Wilkie: Scotland’s first Labour MP

Alexander Wilkie was born in 1850 in Leven in Fife, Scotland, where he became an apprentice to a firm of shipbuilders in Alloa. Although he spent his formative years and early adulthood in Scotland, it was on Tyneside, while living in Heaton, that he was to make his name, after he became the first General Secretary of the Associated Society of Shipwrights in 1882. This was an early national shipbuilders’ trade union and was based initially on the shipyards of Glasgow and Tyneside, reflecting the large number of ships being built on the Rivers Clyde and Tyne in the later years of the nineteenth century.

WilkieAlexanderresized

By 1897, Wilkie was also the Chairman of the Trades Unions Parliamentary Commitee and one of the founders and trustees of the General Federation of Trade Unions. He was a member of the Council of Federated Trades. He was also politically active in the nascent Labour Party and contested Sunderland for Labour (unsuccessfully) in 1900.

According to the census, Wilkie lived at 56 Cardigan Terrace, Heaton in 1891, before living at 84 Third Avenue in 1901 and then at 36 Lesbury Road (below) in 1911.

WilkieALevenHouse

Leven House on Lesbury Road, home of Alexander Wilkie

He named this last address ‘Leven House’ in recognition of his birthplace. In his personal life, Wilkie married Mary Smillie, daughter of James Smillie in 1872.

Wilkie was always involved in local affairs, wherever he lived. He was a delegate to the Trades Council in Glasgow when he worked there for the Glasgow Shipwrights. When he moved to Newcastle, Wilkie served for a number of years on the School Board and then on the Education Committee which replaced it. His interest in education was further developed, after he became a councillor in Newcastle in 1904.

MP

Wilkie was finally elected to parliament in 1906 as an MP for Dundee. He has the distinction of being the first Labour M.P. in Scotland. Hansard records his first speech to parliament being on 28 February that year, in an intervention during a debate about the Poor Law Commission. He spoke, he said as Scotland’s first Labour MP ‘to voice the keen disappointment of the Scottish workers that so far their claims to representation on this Commission had been disregarded.’

Labour then won 40 seats across Britain in the January 1910 general election including Wilkie himself, who was elected again in Dundee and was becoming something of a national political figure. He represented Dundee, in a two-seat constituency, alongside the victorious Liberal candidate, a certain Winston Churchill. Wilkie retained his seat in December 1910 as Labour won a further two seats nationally. He was to remain as an MP for Dundee until 1922.

However Wilkie retained close links with the city of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. In 1910, he was made a magistrate here, while in 1917 he became a Companion of Honour. When he retired from national politics in 1922, Alexander Wilkie returned to his Heaton home and became an alderman.

It was surely very appropriate that on Mayday, 1 May 1914, the ‘Newcastle Daily Journal’ reported that Alexander Wilkie had been the honoured guest at a large gathering at the Cooperative Hall, Darn Crook. It was further reported that Wilkie was presented with a gold watch and a cheque, whilst his wife was given a silver salver. All this was in recognition of what the ‘Newcastle Daily Journal’ described as his ‘thirty three years service as Secretary of the Ship Constructors and Shipwrights Association, and in acknowledgement also of his work on behalf of trade unions generally’.

The Lord Mayor paid a special tribute to Wilkie saying that he had come back specially from London for the ceremony and that he had come not only as Lord Mayor, but as a personal friend of Wilkie. The ‘Newcastle Daily Journal’ went on to report that, ‘the gathering had been arranged in order that they might show that they recognised the services which Mr Wilkie had rendered to the community and to the labour world, particularly the shipwrights. They deserved also to show their affections to Mr Wilkie as a man of the world.’

Wilkie was a very active member of the House Commons and spoke on many issues. Despite these interventions including a wide range of topics, he never forgot his commitment to the shipyard workers in places like the east end of Newcastle and Wallsend. In 1918 for example, Wilkie spoke about naval shipwrights pay and skilled labour in shipyards, while the following year he spoke about increases to dockyard workers’ pensions and national shipyards.

Wilkie died on 2nd September 1928, at his home, 36, Lesbury Road, Heaton, and was subsequently laid to rest at Heaton Cemetery 5 days later His effects were valued at £11 302, which today would be about £675 000. From this Wilkie left his housekeeper £104 a year for life.

WilkieGraveHeatonCemeteryresized

Alexander Wilkie’s grave, Heaton Cemetery

The Fife Free Press reported on 8 September 1928 that, ‘the universal esteem in which he was held was evidenced by the large attendance (at Wilkie’s funeral)’ and that, ‘the hearse was proceeded by two open landaus heaped high with beautiful wreaths – tributes of esteem and affection from all sections of the community.’ The last rites were then performed as the band played ‘Abide With Me’.

Legacy

Wilkie left a huge legacy of trade unionism on Tyneside, with the shipyards at the forefront of this movement. Indeed by the end of the 19th century, north east England was the most unionised region of England, having already had unions formed in the mining and engineering industries, before the Associated Society of Shipwrights was formed in 1882. Wilkie’s work helped to build this tradition further. His political legacy can be seen in Labour’s dominance for many years in Scotland, particularly from the 1960’s onwards, until the landslide by the Scottish National Party in 2015.

Can you help?

If you know more about Alexander Wilkie, especially his time in Heaton, 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

Sources

Jamieson, Northumberland at Opening of XXth Century, Pike, 1905

Newcastle-upon-Tyne Official Blue Book 1920

Newcastle Daily Journal 1 May 1914

The Fife Free Press, Saturday 8th September 1928

 

Acknowledgements

Written and researched by Peter Sagar, Heaton History Group, with assistance from Arthur Andrews.

 

 

 

Sir Vincent Litchfield Raven: railway legend

Even among railway enthusiasts, Sir Vincent Litchfield Raven is one of the less well known names, yet he was hugely influential in shaping the railway system as we know it today. Rising from an apprentice to Chief Mechanical Engineer, he only ever worked for the North Eastern Railway and for a short while, early in his professional career and newly married, he lived on Heaton Road.

RavenIm1925IMERavenres

Vincent Litchfield Raven

Early Life

Vincent Litchfield Raven was born on 3 December 1858 in the village of Great Fransham, North Norfolk, the third of 10 children born to Vincent and Anne Raven. His father was the Rector of All Saints church in the village and the family were clearly wealthy middle class, as Vincent and five of his six brothers went to Aldenham Grammar School in Hertfordshire, a small private school, where he would have received a conservative Anglican flavoured education. The 1871 census shows him boarding there as a scholar, aged 12.

He moved straight from school to an engineering apprenticeship with the North Eastern Railway. Such a move may seem odd to our minds, but at the time, with the rapid Victorian growth of industry and commerce, careers in science and engineering were increasingly regarded as acceptable to the middle classes. Clearly, young Vincent’s family supported his move to the North Eastern Railway, as a five year apprenticeship, would typically cost the family around £50 per year, over £4,000 in today’s money.

North Eastern Railway

The NER was established in 1854 from the merger of a number of smaller companies. The early years of the railways had seen numerous companies established, often operating often relatively small routes or branches, each with their own locomotives and rolling stock. The North Eastern Railway was unusual in that it recognised early the benefits of larger scale operations and over the 50 years from its establishment bought numerous smaller companies, so that by the early 1900s, it had a virtual monopoly east of the Pennines from south of Doncaster right up to the Scottish border at Berwick. By the time Raven joined the company, there were around 1,500 miles of track. The NER also owned docks at Hartlepool, Hull, Middlesbrough and Tyne Dock as well as staithes at Blyth and Dunston (still the largest wooden structure in Europe) and hotels in York and Newcastle.

Apprenticeship

In making the long move north, the young Vincent undoubtedly found an employer that was at the leading edge of railway development. Unusually, for someone who was, 35 years later, to take on the post of Chief Mechanical Engineer, he only ever worked for the NER, although it’s obvious that he put considerable effort into furthering his knowledge and education throughout his career, including a number of foreign visits. He retired when legislation forced the merger of railway companies into the big four (LNER, LMS, GWR and Southern) in 1923.

Vincent left school at Easter 1875, taking up his apprenticeship at the North Eastern Railway’s Greenesfield works on the south bank of the Tyne, between the High Level and the modern day Redheugh bridges.

He was apprenticed directly to Edward Fletcher, the Locomotive Supervisor (the most senior engineering position at that time) to whom the apprenticeship fees would have been paid directly.

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NER’s Greenesfield works

As the picture shows, the Greenesfield works were vast and incorporated the original Gateshead station, the northern terminus of the line from London before the building of the High Level Bridge, as well as five turntables and 18 roads of track, as well as massive cranes that could lift a whole locomotive. As an apprentice, Vincent would have gained experience of every aspect of railway engineering, from cleaning, firing, driving and maintaining locomotives, through to making technical drawings of engines, carriages and wagons. He would also have been required to work with the railway’s engineers, labourers and managers at all levels of the organisation, giving him a sound grounding in engineering, before starting work as a junior engineer in 1880.

Throughout his apprenticeship, Vincent seems to have lodged with the Swallow family, George and Isabella and their young daughter Maria in Elswick, which is where the 1881 census shows him living.

The Heaton connection

Having completed his apprenticeship in 1880, Vincent’s first job was as fireman, where he appears to have been based at the Heaton depot. Opened in 1875 to provide extra capacity for the overstretched Greenesfield works, the Heaton Depot was the home base for locomotives and carriages, where they would be stored maintained, serviced and repaired – a role that it still plays today with the modern fleet.

It appears that Vincent was based here in his early working career as it was 30 Heaton Road that Vincent made his first family home on his marriage to Gifford Allan Chrichton on 15 February 1883. Gifford was born on 13 August 1859 and was the eldest daughter of John Taylor Chrichton and his wife Emma of 13 Catherine Terrace, Gateshead. Her father is described as a chemical agent, and Raven’s biographer describes him as working for the Walker Alkali Company. Although the company had closed by the time of the Raven’s marriage, the Walker Ironworks shared the same address and both seem to have been overseen by Isaac Lowthian Bell, a wealthy Ironmaster and Director of the NER. That would no doubt have been a very valuable connection for the young Vincent to make as his career progressed.

The 1884-5 electoral roll for Newcastle shows the family at 30 Heaton Road, a quite substantial terraced house, then relatively newly built. It was there that the couple’s first child Constance Gifford Raven was born later in 1883.  The couple would go on to have a further four children over the next six years, one of whom, Annie, died in infancy.

Raven30 Heaton Res

30 Heaton Road

Their stay in Heaton though was short-lived, as in 1884, the family moved to Gateshead with Vincent’s first promotion to workshop foreman back at Greenesfield.

Career progression

Vincent’s career progressed rapidly through a number of promotions as he continued his study through the North Eastern Railway’s own Literary Institute, where he quickly became a committee member of the Gateshead branch, as well as attending lectures at the newly established Rutherford College in Arthur’s Hill. It seems likely that this is where he developed his interest in the electrification of railways, which was to become a feature of his career as well as the source of much frustration.

By 1891, Vincent was Assistant Locomotive Superintendent at Greenesfield and the family were employing two resident domestic servants.

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Commemorative plaque near the High Level Bridge, close to the site of the Greenesfield works.

His next promotion was to the post of Chief Assistant Locomotive Superintendant, which saw the family move to Darlington, where the NER’s main locomotive works was sited. The 1901 census shows them employing three resident staff, ‘a hospital sick nurse’, cook and domestic. The nurse was most likely employed for the Raven’s second daughter Guendolin (born 1884), who had suffered from glandular fever and was left with subsequent heart problems. The family stayed in Darlington for the next 30 years, taking on an increasing role in the civic life of the town, even hosting balls in their home.

Vincent’s next promotion was to the post of Assistant Chief Mechanical Engineer in 1902, eventually taking over from his boss, Wilson Worsdell, when he retired in 1910.

Chief Mechanical Engineer

On 1 June 1910, Raven took up his new position, responsible for the design, construction, repair and operation of rolling stock and all outside machinery for the railway. At that time, the railway had 2,000 locomotives, 4,600 coaches and 11,200 wagons as well as the various docks, staithes etc. His salary was £2,500 (about £276,000 in today’s money). In addition, he had his own locomotive and six wheeled carriage, available to take him wherever he wished on the network as well as his own chauffeur driven car. This was a post of the highest status within both the railway and society. He was based, from 1911 in the newly built Palladian style Stoopergate building.

RPMI, Stooperdale Offices, Darlington, Previously the London & N

NER’s Stoopergate, Darlington

Part of a wider new development that included boiler shops and a paint-shop that could accommodate 24 locomotives, the new offices had every modern convenience and were described as draught proof, floored with Terrazzo marble Venetian mosaic and oak panelled. The complex included sidings for the delivery of coal and a garage for his car and were equipped with telephones.

The family business

Railway engineering was obviously in the family blood. Both of Raven’s sons went on to work on the railways. Norman Vincent Chrichton Raven, the eldest, was apprenticed to the Great Northern Railway, which was responsible for the section of the east coast mainline between London and Doncaster and would have worked under Nigel Gresley, who became the first Chief Mechanical Engineer of the LNER after grouping in 1923. Ultimately, he moved on to the steel industry.

Frederick Gifford Raven, the youngest of the four surviving Raven children, did his apprenticeship in the UK before working on the railways in Brazil and India before the start of the First World War. With the onset of war, he joined the Royal Engineers Railway Operating Division as 2nd Lieutenant, where he would have been responsible for the railways that moved troops and equipment to and from the front. Badly injured by shell fire on the Somme, he was evacuated to a military hospital in Le Havre, where he sadly died of infection on 24 March 1917.

Even Guen, the second eldest daughter married into railway royalty. She married Edward Thompson, a protégé of her father in 1913. Thompson would go on to become the LNER’s second Chief Mechanical Engineer. Only Connie, the Raven’s eldest daughter moved out of the business, marrying solicitor George Newby Watson in 1910.

Sir Vincent Raven

The First World War saw Raven’s skills as an engineer and leader put to different uses. On 15 September 1915 he was appointed Chief Superintendent to the Royal Ordnance Works at Woolwich, released from his position at the NER for the duration of the war. Sir Frederick Donaldson, the holder of the position had gone to the US and Canada to work increasing their production of weapons and Raven took over. He very quickly had a positive impact on production, which was falling dangerously behind the army’s needs. Lloyd George, Minister of Munitions, reported to the House of commons in December 1915 that he had increased production by 60-80% while staff had only increased by 23%. When Lloyd George became Prime Minister of the wartime coalition government, he rewarded Raven for his efforts with a Knighthood in the 1916 New Year honours.

Civic life

Aside from his professional life, Vincent Raven always played a significant wider role and maintained a particular interest in education. Right from his early days he’d been involved on the committee of the NER Gateshead Literary Institute and remained their honorary president throughout his career. He also became involved in the education committee of Darlington Technical College and was active in both the Institute of Civil Engineers and the Institute of Mechanical Engineers, who elected him Honorary Life Member in 1932. In 1915 Raven was elected Councillor in Darlington and quickly co-opted onto the tramways committee and in 1917 he became a Justice of the Peace.

Raven the innovator

What is apparent from his long and successful career is Vincent’s detailed and methodical approach to improving efficiency, problem solving and, in particular, his passion for electrification of the railways. One of his early tasks as assistant CME was to do a detailed analysis of the steam engine fleet, which he did in meticulous detail, identifying numerous improvements. It was this attention to detail that led to his success in the Royal Ordnance Works and to improving efficiency across the NER network. As Chief Mechanical Engineer, he focused his attention on compounding and superheating as means of improving the efficiency of steam locos and his own designs were elegant and efficient, but he always had his eye on the longer term goal of electrification.

As Assistant Chief Mechanical Engineer, he would have been involved in the 1904 electrification of the North Tyneside commuter network, only the second electrified network in the UK outside of London. In 1905, he electrified the Quayside branch from Manors Station, which was notoriously difficult for steam engines, with a steep incline, 90 degree curves and a 2 mile, poorly ventilated tunnel. In 1911, he gained approval for his most ambitious venture in electrification, the 15 mile mineral line from Shildon to Newport, Middlesbrough. When the line opened in 1916, the Newcastle Journal listed the many advantages of electrification in an article on 26 May. These included much greater efficiency and control as well as a more comfortable environment for the crew. The electric locos were designed by Raven, with the electrification of the route done by Newcastle firm Merz & McLellan. This was the first industrial railway line to be electrified in the world and continued operating until the 1930s, when it reverted to steam operation!

Of course the big prize was to electrify the east coast main line and Raven had plans to do so as early as 1910, although he may well have been ahead of his time, as he himself recognised as the real problem was the transport of electricity from power stations. Before the widespread adoption of alternating current, the direct current supply could only be transported a short distance without a drop in voltage, meaning lots of small local power stations close to the track would have been required.

The war prevented him from further pursuing his plans and when he returned in 1919, the financial position of the railways after four years of diverting all resources to the war effort was too poor to consider investment on this scale. With the approaching grouping of the railways in 1923, Raven set out a clear and detailed case for electrification of the LNER main line, but it was rejected.

Whether because of this or the prospect of being based at Kings Cross, Raven decided not to stand for the post of Chief Mechanical Engineer for LNER, which was taken by Nigel Gresley and when NER became LNER he retired, having started at the bottom and reaching the top of his chosen profession while only ever having worked for the North Eastern Railway.

The final years

Leaving NER didn’t mean the end of Raven’s work with the railways, but gave him the opportunity to pursue his passion for electrification as well as applying his knowledge as an independent expert. In 1923 he was appointed to the board of Metropolitan Vickers, who made electric trains for the London Underground and South East Network and also joined the Institution of Electrical Engineers. He took part in Royal Commissions to report on the railways in New South Wales and New Zealand and was frequently consulted as an expert, particularly on electrification. In 1925, he became president of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

The Ravens moved in 1923 from Darlington, as Grantley, their home in recent years, belonged to LNER. Their new home in Hook, Hampshire was nearer to London, the centre of most of Raven’s work.

While on holiday with Gifford at the Felix Hotel Felixstowe late in 1933, Vincent fell ill, heart problems were suggested and he died there on 14 February 1934.

Probate records show that he left £20,036 14s 6d. His legacy to the railways that were his lifelong passion was incalculable, even if it were to take another 50 years before the east Coast Main Line was finally electrified.

Can you help?

If you know more about Vincent Litchfield Raven, especially his time in Heaton, 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

Written and researched by Michael Proctor, Heaton History Group.

Sources

Everett A (2006) ‘Visionary Pragmatist, Sir Vincent Raven North Eastern Railway Locomotive Engineer’

Ancestry.co.uk

Wikipedia.org

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

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

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

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

Family background

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

Edith Anne Stoney

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

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

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

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

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Edith, Florence and George Johnstone Stoney

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

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

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

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

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

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

George Gerald Stoney

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

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

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

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

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

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

Key figure

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

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

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

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

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

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

Turbinia

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

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

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

As the ‘Times’ put it:

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

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

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Turbinia with Gerald Stoney below Charles Parsons on the bridge

Growing recognition

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

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

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‘Oakley’ on Heaton Road

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

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

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

Temporary departure

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

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George Gerald Stoney (courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery)

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

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

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The Stoneys grave in Corbridge

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

Can you help?

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

Acknowledgements

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

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

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

Key Sources

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

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

and a range of online and local archival sources.

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Lord Armstrong (1810-1900): his science and his legacy

William George Armstrong was born on 26th November 1810, just as the Industrial Revolution on Tyneside was really getting into full swing. The Northumberland and Durham coalfield was expanding, William Hedley, Jonathan Forster and Timothy Hackworth would soon be working on their famous ‘Puffing Billy’ locomotive at Wylam and soon after George Stephenson would be working on his own ‘Rocket‘ locomotive. With the Literary and Philosophical Society established in 1793, Tyneside was in terms of both scientific achievements and progressive ideas about society, becoming a world leader. Armstrong would add to this in a number of ways – but also leave a darker legacy.

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Lord Armstrong, 1890, with permission of the National Portrait Gallery

As an inventor, Armstrong is perhaps most famous for his development of a hydraulic system enabling the famous Swing Bridge on Newcastle’s Quayside to open – and the Tower Bridge in London too. Armstrong’s hydraulic machinery was dependent upon water mains or reservoirs for power and so in 1850 he invented a hydraulic accumulator. It is noted that, ‘it comprised a large water-filled cylinder with a piston that could raise water pressure within the cylinder and in supply pipes to 600 pounds per square inch (42 kg per square cm)…..thus machinery such as hoists, capstans, turntables, and dock gates could be worked in almost any situation.’

SwingBridge

Armstrong’s Swing Bridge opened in 1876

Armstrong invented this because he had to use high water towers for the use of his cranes, on building sites where no water was available. However he hit a major problem when trying to use cranes at New Holland on the Humber Estuary, as the towers would have to be built in sand, which would not provide steady enough foundations. Accordingly, as is often the case, a problem brought forth a solution, which was in the form of a new invention, the weighted accumulator.

It is also claimed that Armstrong was an early environmentalist. Despite the huge importance of coal-mining to the local economy, Armstrong was one of the very first advocates of moving away from fossil fuels to water and solar power. Indeed Cragside, his large home near Rothbury in Northumberland, was the first house in the world to be lit by electric light – powered by hydroelectricity! So keen and visionary was Armstrong when it came to renewable energy that he claimed that coal, ‘was used wastefully and extravagantly in all its applications’, while he also predicted in 1863 that Britain would stop producing coal within two centuries. Armstrong did not only advocate hydroelectricity; he was also a great supporter of solar power, claiming that the solar energy received by 1-acre (4,000 m2) in tropical areas would ‘exert the amazing power of 4,000 horses acting for nearly nine hours every day’.

The light bulbs at Armstrong’s Cragside House were provided by his friend Joseph Swan, who demonstrated the first electric light bulb in the world at the Lit and Phil Society building near to Newcastle’s Central Station. Nearby Mosely Street was of course, the first street in the world to be lit by electric lights…

Sadly, Armstrong also had his downside. He was the inventor of modern artillery and had many weapons built in his Tyneside factory. He was also arguably the world’s first major arms dealer selling deadly weapons to governments around the world. Perhaps the only mitigation we can claim for Armstrong is that in his day, the weapons would have been used almost exclusively against other combatants and he operated before the wake-up call that was the First World War, really brought home to people just how deadly a business war is.

Armstrong and Heaton

The most obvious link between Lord Armstrong and Heaton comes with the parks, next to Heaton Road, one of which bears his name (originally Heaton Park was part of Armstrong Park)  , and the nearby Armstrong Allotments. During Victorian times the area around the Ouseburn Valley, was home to many rich and influential people. These included Sir Andrew Noble, Armorer Donkin and of course Lord and Lady Armstrong. Andrew Noble, was Armstrong’s right hand man and had the house which is now Jesmond Dene House Hotel built for him, it being designed by John Dobson.

The park forms part of a continuous area of land by the sides of the Ouseburn river, from South Gosforth to Warwick Street, which is not built upon. Armstrong acquired this land at various times throughout the 1850s and enclosed it, before planting exotic plants and shrubs and laying paths and building bridges.

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Heaton Park, originally part of Armstrong Park, on land donated to the city by Lord Armstrong

Armstrong and his wife, Margaret Ramshaw, lived in a house called Jesmond Dean, which he had had built in 1835 in preparation for his marriage. As he got wealthier, so Armstrong was able to acquire most of today’s Jesmond Dene, enclosing the land and transforming it into his own private garden. Together with his wife, he created a garden with rapids, waterfalls and a mysterious ghetto, while they also organised the laying of miles of paths and the planting of hundreds of trees and shrubs. Lady Armstrong, described as a ‘lover of nature’, supervised much of this work, with trees and shrubs, ‘culled from the gardens of the world’. Meanwhile, Armstrong’s banqueting house, completed in 1862, was used as a venue for entertaining both his employees from the Elswick Works and later a number of foreign clients. With reference to his employees, it is argued that, despite the business he was in, Armstrong was regarded as an enlightened employer. He built good quality housing for his workers and provided schools for their children.

The banqueting hall, is of course a significant feature of Jesmond Dene. It was built so that he could entertain the aforementioned high value clients as his own house, on the other side of Jesmond Dene Road was too small. The hall remained in regular use until the 1970s when it was damaged by fire. The remaining sections of the building are now home to a thriving artists community. Tyne and Wear Building Preservation Trust have plans for a full restoration of the site, subject to being able to raise the funds.

For thirty years, Armstrong used Jesmond Dene as his own private park, but he did allow the public in twice a week – on payment of a small sum of money! Eventually he decided that he could be a little more generous with this valuable environmental asset and in 1883, the main part of Jesmond Dene was presented to the people of Newcastle as a gift from Lord Armstrong, with the park being officially opened the following year. Armstrong essentially retreated to his home at Cragside, after the death of his wife Margaret in 1893.

When Lord Armstrong died on 27th November 1900, he also left us with the bridge bearing his name. The bridge was given as a gift to the citizens of Newcastle by Armstrong and opened on 30th April 1878.

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Armstrong Bridge from Benton Bank

It is reported that, ‘the contractors for the masonry were Messrs W E and F Jackson. It is a lattice girder bridge, 550 feet in length with a 25 foot carriageway. Varying in height from 30 to 65 feet, it is supported on seven columns 70 feet apart – each end of the bridge rested on massive masonry abutments and, despite its solid construction, presents a light and ornamental appearance.’ The bridge was also notable as the first bridge in the world specially mounted to move in the heat…

Legacy

Unfortunately, it is hard to deny that part of the legacy of Lord Armstrong’s life and work is that Britain has been for many years , one of the five biggest arms manufacturing and dealing nations in the world, often second only to the United States. However carefully the business of selling weapons is done, there has too often been too little scrutiny and monitoring on ways in which arms have been sold on again and whose hands they have ended up in. Consequently, it is impossible to tell just how many innocent children and adults have been maimed or killed by weapons made in this country and indeed by the other nations who are major manufacturers and dealers of arms. Armstrong himself felt no guilt about his role in world history, choosing to not believe that arms manufacturing might inevitably lead to war. It is reported that he once said: ‘If I thought that war would be fomented, or the interests of humanity suffer, by what I have done, I would greatly regret it. I have no such apprehension.’ Subsequent history has taught us otherwise. As arguably the world’s first major arms dealer, we should not hide from the fact that this is sadly part of the legacy of the life and work of Lord Armstrong.

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Arms in Armstrong Park

Happily, however, there are many other more positive aspects to the legacy Armstrong has left us. It was said of Christopher Wren, the architect behind the famous dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, ‘if you seek his monument, look around you’. In some respects, the same could be said for Armstrong. We can see his legacy, in the bridge, which spans the Ouseburn Valley and in the parks next to Heaton and at Jesmond Dene itself. We can also see Armstrong’s legacy in every crane we can see rising over the skyline of Newcastle, as yet another student accommodation building is constructed…

Can you help?

If you know more about Lord Armstrong, including his connections with the Heaton area, or any of the people or places mentioned in the article, 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 Peter Sagar, 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.

Sources

https://williamarmstrong.info/about-the-man/

https://www.britannica.com/biography/William-George-Armstrong-Baron-Armstrong-of-Cragside

http://www.jesmonddene.org.uk/history/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Armstrong,_1st_Baron_Armstrong#Hydraulic_accumulator

https://co-curate.ncl.ac.uk/armstrong-bridge/

‘The Ouseburn Parks’, noticeboard: Ouseburn Parks Visitor Centre

A pleasure garden for the people’, noticeboard: Ouseburn Parks Visitor Centre

Jesmond Dene and Ouseburn Parks Park Guide and Map

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Two Davids: Grubb Parsons’ stellar double act

Heaton’s Grubb Parsons led the world in the design and building of high quality large astronomical telescopes for almost 60 years until the company’s untimely demise in 1985.

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Grubb Parsons 98 inch Isaac Newton telescope, 1967

For almost 30 years, from the late 1950s until the company closed, that success was driven by two very different men, both named David, whose skill and expertise complemented one another, driving the company’s success and world renown.

David Scatcherd Brown was an academic, with extensive mathematical insight, an expert on designing and testing telescopes, whose understanding and interpretation of test results was such that the quality and consistency of the firm’s products rapidly grew.

David Sinden on the other hand came from a working class background and learnt through doing. He became an expert in working with glass, producing the optically perfect mirrors essential to the large telescopes produced by Grubb Parsons.

Together they made a formidable team, both very different characters and backgrounds, but with a shared passion for astronomy. Although there’s no evidence that either David ever lived in Heaton, their work at Grubb Parsons certainly put it on the map.

Grubb Parsons

The firm of Sir Howard Grubb Parsons and Company was established in Heaton in 1925, although the roots of the firm in astronomy and telescope making go back to Dublin in the early 19th Century, with the establishment of a telescope manufacturing company by Thomas Grubb. The firm quickly developed a reputation for the quality of its astronomical telescopes. When Thomas retired in 1868, his son Howard took over, moving the business to St Albans in 1918. The business struggled under Howard’s leadership and some seven years later was bought out by Sir Charles Parsons and the new firm re-located to Newcastle, where C.A. Parsons and Company already had its headquarters.

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Grubb Parsons, Heaton works

That Charles Algernon Parsons should have taken an interest in telescope making when he already had a well established business making power generating equipment and steam turbines may seem unusual. However, his father William Parsons, the 3rd Earl of Rosse, was a famous astronomer. Charles, along with his two older brothers, was privately educated at the family seat of Birr Castle, County Offaly, Ireland, where one of his tutors, Sir Robert Ball, was later to become Astronomer Royal for Ireland. So it’s hardly surprising that Charles had an interest in astronomy. Furthermore, the Irish connection almost certainly would have meant that he was familiar with the Thomas Grubb Company and would have wanted to continue its tradition.

Grubb Parsons was already well established and had a reputation for its large astronomical telescopes by the time the two Davids joined the company in the 1950s, but they would go on to achieve world renown over the next 20 years.

David Scatcherd Brown

David Scatcherd Brown was born in Coventry on 25 August 1927. The family were from Yorkshire, where his father was a headmaster. He attended Oldbury County School before securing a place at Queen’s College Cambridge to read Natural Sciences, specialising in physics and maths. The 2nd World War interrupted his studies while he served in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, gaining valuable engineering experience and skills, before returning to complete his studies.

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David Scatcherd Brown

By that time, Brown was already interested in telescopes and astronomy, so it must have been a natural fit for him to take up post at Grubb Parsons straight from University in 1950. He was put to work with the optical team, under the leadership of George Manville, working specifically on the testing and manufacturing methods for the large mirrors and lenses needed for large telescopes. At the time the business was just picking up after the war and David was quick to adopt and adapt the latest testing technologies, making the whole process more objective and improving the quality of the finished product. It was on his advice that a testing tower was built allowing mirrors to be tested lying on their back, which greatly improved the process and perhaps explains the unusual shape of the Grubb Parsons building.

In 1950, David married Margaret Stephens, whom he’d met at Cambridge, when she was studying Natural Sciences at Girton. The couple would go on to have two children.

David Sinden

David Sinden was born on 31 July 1932 in Hartlepool and was a keen astronomer from an early age. At the age of 16 he built his first telescope, with the help of his father, Fred, causing a stir among the neighbours in Hood Street, Haverton Hill. By the age of 22, now living in a council house in Billingham, a story appeared in the Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer when David, already a member of the British Astronomical Association, applied for planning permission to build an observatory in his parents’ back garden. The observatory was to be made of galvanised steel sheets on a wooden frame with an 8’ diameter dome. The council, approving the plan, admitted that they didn’t have any precedents for planning applications for such buildings on a council estate! In the article, David admitted that he had to wait for the street lights to go out and that the heat from Teesside’s factories sometimes made the stars appear square, although he did say that they may just be flying snuff boxes!

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David Sinden (in the waistcoat) with George Oliver and the 72 inch Helwan mirror

Having been apprenticed as a fitter at ICI, the young David found that the work wasn’t to his liking and moved to work for a local optician, becoming an expert in optical instruments. It was while working there that he made a mirror, which he sent to Grubb Parsons on spec. So impressed were they that they offered him a job. So it was that David Sinden joined the firm in 1957, working for David Brown.

David subsequently married Helen, although we’ve been unable to confirm the date, and the couple were recorded in the 1980s as living at the Poplars, Coley Hill Farm, North Walbottle, far enough out of town to avoid the worst of the light pollution.

Polar opposites

In 1961, David Brown was appointed Optical Manager focusing exclusively on telescopes and a year later he appointed David Sinden as Glass Shops’ Manager, with control over scientific instruments as well as telescopes. As David Brown’s obituary notes ‘There could not have been two more different types working together, the one with a deep mathematical insight and ability to interpret obscure testing problems, the other with the instinctive feel for working glass, the hardness of the pitch, the construction of the polisher and methods of working.’

It seems that the two men were also polar opposites in terms of personality. David Brown was described as a quiet, good natured and unassuming man, whereas David Sinden was much more outgoing. Many of his friends and former colleagues posted tributes after his death, all speaking warmly of a friendly, generous, passionate man with an improbable number of outside interests which included, but were not limited to, photography, sculpture, motorbikes, steam engines, archaeology, marathon running and pistol shooting. An exceptional public speaker with a passion and enthusiasm for science, astronomy and anything even vaguely telescope-shaped, who could hold an audience entranced for hours and hours.

Their time working together at Grubb Parsons saw the company produce some of its finest work and arguably some of the best large optical telescopes ever produced. The list is extensive and includes:

  • 48-inch reflector, Victoria, Canada, 1961
  • 40-inch reflector, Pic du Midi, France. Optics only, 1962
  • The 40 inch Elizabeth telescope, South Africa,1963
  • 74-inch reflector, Helwan (Kottamia), Egypt, 1963
  • 30-inch reflector, Jungfraujoch, Switzerland, 1966
  • 16/24-inch Schmidt, Castel Gandolfo, 1967
  • The 98 inch Issac Newton Telescope, Hestmonceaux, England, 1967
  • 72 inch (182cm) Mirror for Padua, Italy, 1973
  • 48/72-inch Schmidt, Siding Spring, Australia, 1973
  • 154 inch Reflector, Siding Spring, Australia, 1974
  • 48-inch reflector, Athens University, Greece, 1975
  • 150-in mirror, UKIRT, Hawaii, 1976
  • 60 inch Reflector, La Silla, Chile, 1976.

Many of them are still in situ.

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Magazine cover featuring Grubb Parsons

Grubb Parsons, during their time there, was a curious mixture of the latest techniques and processes that wouldn’t have seemed out of place in the dark satanic mills of old. In one room David Brown might be working on the very latest in computerised testing and design processes, while in another a vast cauldron of pitch was being boiled. David Sinden always spoke of his work as dirty, grubby, grimy, filthy and gritty, although the results were world renowned.

Decline of Grubb Parsons

By the late 1970s, despite the obvious success of a series of large scale telescopes, Grubb Parsons was in difficulty. The scientific instrument side of the business, which had always supported the more impressive work on large telescopes, started to decline and being part of a much larger group of companies with different priorities saw a lack of new investment.

David Sinden was the first to leave, in 1976, to set up his own business, the Sinden Optical Company. David Brown, having been promoted to Technical Director in 1975, stayed on with the company, taking control of all of the optics work and completing a number of major projects, including the 4.2m Herschel telescope even as the works were pulled down around the glass shops.

Life after Grubb Parsons

In 1981, David Brown was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by Durham University and when Grubb Parsons finally closed in 1985 joined the Physics Department as the Grubb Parsons Research Fellow. As well as working on a number of major projects, he travelled extensively around the world to advise on the construction of large telescopes. He also lectured at both Durham and Edinburgh Universities, where his lectures were said to be stimulating, with many practical demonstrations. He maintained his lifelong interest in Astronomy, with his own observatory and active membership of the Newcastle Astronomical Society.

He died at the young age of 59 on 17 July 1987 after what is described as a short illness. Probate records show his address at that time as 17, Douglas Avenue, Gosforth and that he left an estate of £97,063.

In 1979, David Sinden established his own optical company in Raby Cross, Byker, although the firm eventually moved to Ryton after being plagued by repeated problems with vandalism. The company dealt with all types of optical work, including building quite a reputation for Camera Obscuras. Loved by the Victorians, the Camera Obscura projects images of the locality onto a large circular table in a darkened room. SOC’s first commission was to build one for the Gateshead Garden Festival, where it was set up in a large tent. They then went on to build others for places as far flung as Portugal, Spain and Cuba. After the garden festival the Camera Obscura was moved to the Foredown Tower in a Country Park in Hove, where it remains the only example of SOC’s work in the UK.

In addition to Camera Obscuras, the company began to specialise in restoring historic telescopes and even in building new large mirrors, the largest being 48”, using equipment bought from Grubb Parsons when it closed down.

In 1993, David Sinden was awarded an Honorary masters Degree from Newcastle University. Perhaps the greatest accolade for his lifetime’s work though was the naming of a minor planet in his honour. In June 2005, Asteroid 10369 Sinden was named in his honour, with a team from Armagh University visiting his workshop to present him with documentation about his own star.

Grubb Parsons Presentation from Armagh Uni re asteroid 10369 Sinden June 2005 (1)

Sadly, he died just two months later on 29 August 2005, at the age of 73 after being diagnosed with lung cancer some 18 months earlier.

Legacy

The Sinden Optical Company closed in 2005 after David’s death. Although Grubb Parsons has been closed for almost 40 years, the old telescope testing tower can still be seen behind Siemens on land owned by a company called Houghton International;. But the real legacy of Grubb Parsons and their two optical geniuses, David Brown and David Sinden lives on in the great optical telescopes they built, many of which are still in regular use in all five continents of the world.

Can you help?

If you know more about Grubb Parsons, including the work of Davids Brown and Sinden, 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 Michael Proctor, 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.

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Sir Ove Arup: engineer and philosopher

You could be forgiven for never having spotted the black commemorative plaque high on the wall between the upstairs and downstairs bay windows of 16 Jesmond Vale Terrace, Heaton. The house is in the row of almost white brick terraced houses on the east side of Heaton Road, opposite the park. They have front gardens and, in the case of number 16, a high hedge so you really have to be looking for the plaque.

If you can catch sight of it from the road, you’ll see that it intriguingly reads ‘Ove Arup; 1895-1988; Engineer and Philosopher; Born here on 16 April.’

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Commemorative plaque at 16 Jesmond Vale Terrace

Arup is rarely mentioned among Newcastle’s great engineers. Even those who have heard of him usually assume he is Danish. (More of that later.) But almost everyone will be familiar with at least one example of his work.

Sir Ove Arup (for, although not mentioned on the plaque, he was awarded a knighthood in 1970) was one of the great structural engineers of the 20th century and he was instrumental in the construction of one of the world’s most recognisable buildings: the Sydney Opera House. But we can also see and admire examples of his work much closer to home. First, back to his local roots.

Geordie

Ove’s father, Jens, was Danish and a qualified veterinary surgeon who, in 1889, came to Newcastle to work for the Danish consulate, supervising the health of imported beef cattle. He found a house for the family in Jesmond but, sadly, the following year, before she could come to the UK to live with her husband and three daughters, Jen’s first wife, Johanne, died.

Following her death, Jens appointed a governess, Mathilde Nyquist, to educate his daughters and three years later he married her. Soon, with a child on the way, a larger house was required and so the Arups moved to Heaton, to the substantial 3-storey terraced house at 16 Jesmond Vale Terrace. And here on 16 April 1895, Ove Nyquist Arup was born.

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Members of the Arup family pictured at his birthplace in 1967

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Jesmond Vale Terrace, Heaton

Very soon after, however, with the British government increasingly concerned about the spread of diseases such as foot and mouth, an Act of Parliament was passed which banned the import of live cattle from areas in which listed diseases were found. Jen’s job became redundant and so, with Ove just a few months old, the family relocated to Germany. Ove was educated there and then in Denmark, where he went on to university to study philosophy and engineering, specialising in reinforced concrete.

So Ove’s initial stay in the country of his birth was brief. But he was to return. And the north east was to become especially important to him.

Back to Britain

On completion of his studies Ove took a job with a Danish company, Christiani and Nielsen. But in December 1923, when he was 28 years old,  the company transferred him to their UK office as Chief Designer. He went on to join J L Kier and Co (reinforced concrete specialists) and to meet and work with the famous architect, Berthold Lubetkin, most famously on the Penguin Pool at London Zoo. In 1938, Ove and his cousin, Arne, set up their own company Arup & Arup Ltd.

It was shortly after this, in the early years of WW2, that Ove faced an example of the sort of resistance that was to plague him for much of his life. And it was a formidable north east woman who stood in his way: Ove had designed a bomb shelter in ‘new-fangled concrete’, which he firmly believed would protect London citizens during enemy air raids. Jarrow MP, Ellen Wilkinson, was the parliamentary secretary at the Ministry of Home Security and entered into correspondence and talks with Arup about his proposals. While his designs would certainly save lives, Ellen Wilkinson and the government were concerned that the public would lose confidence in the existing brick and trench shelters and that those not able to shelter in the new concrete, underground shelters would be disadvantaged. In the end politics won the day, much to Arup’s disappointment, although his shelters were commissioned privately  by a number of wealthy clients.

After the war, Ove opened his own practice in London, Ove Arup, Consulting Engineers, which in 1949 became Ove Arup and Partners.

Iconic

In 1957, Ove began work on the project which would make his reputation. But little did he know then, how much heartache it would bring nor that it would be seventeen years before it was complete.

Throughout his working life Arup made a point of congratulating architects, who won prestigious prizes for their designs, in the hope that his company would win the contract to help realise their dreams. This is exactly what happened when the Danish architect, Jorn Utzon, won a competition to design an opera house in Sydney. The design was controversial and the engineering challenges immense. Ove had difficulty persuading Utzon to modify his original shell design to make it buildable and to take account of the acoustic requirements of a world class opera house.  Costs spiralled and there were constant personality clashes between client (Australian government), architect (Utzon) and chief engineer (Arup). Utzon eventually resigned in 1966 and the Australian government architect, Ted Farmer, appointed a team to oversee the completion of the building.

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Sydney Opera House under construction (made possible by Heaton-born Ove Arup)

Nevertheless this protracted project and its eventual success cemented (sorry!) the reputations of Ove and his companies. In October 1973, Sydney Opera House was opened by Queen Elizabeth II. Ove and his wife, Li, were at the ceremony. Utzon, the architect, was not invited and was not mentioned at all during the proceedings.

Bridge Over the River Wear

In 1961, Ove was approached to construct a concrete, pedestrian bridge across the River Wear from Dunelm House to Bow Lane, linking the university with the historic centre of Durham. There was a seemingly paltry budget of £35,000.

It was assumed that the financial constraints would mean the bridge would have to be a low one requiring most pedestrians to climb and descend steep banks on either side. But Ove was always ready for a challenge and decided to design and oversee the construction of a high re-enforced concrete bridge himself. To minimize costs, he ingeniously designed it to be constructed on conical pivots, in two halves parallel to the river. When finished in 1964, the two halves were swung manually, through 90 degrees to meet and be connected centrally by a bronze expansion joint.  Kingsgate Bridge is now a Grade 1 listed building.

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Ove Arup inspecting Kingsgate Bridge

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Kingsgate Bridge, Durham, a favourite project of Ove Arup

Of all the projects that Ove worked on this was to give him the greatest satisfaction, so much so that it was his wish that his ashes be scattered from Kingsgate Bridge into the River Wear. And so he was both born in the north east and returned to the region in death.

Brutalist

The adjacent Students Union building, Dunelm House, was also an Arup building. Ove acted as structural engineer and architectural adviser and his bust is mounted on the wall, which faces this bridge. It is built in the so-called ‘Brutalist’ style and excites conflicting emotions: In 1968 it won a Civic Trust Award but has also been called ‘the ugliest building in Durham’ by the university’s students. Although, in 1995, English Heritage said it had once been described as ‘the greatest contribution modern architecture has made to the enjoyment of an English medieval city’. In 2017, Durham University declared that no longer fit for purpose and announced plans for demolition so that it could redevelop the site but there is a well-supported campaign to save and list the building.  A decision is yet to be made.

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Bust of Sir Ove Arup on Dunelm House

 

Sir Ove’s Park?

In 1967 Ove Arup drew up radical proposals in which Newcastle United Football Club would share sporting facilities with the nearby Newcastle University. The ground capacity of the £32.6m complex would have been around 63,000 with 31,000 seated and 32,000 standing.

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Arup proposal to redevelop St James Park

Included in the plans were two gyms, four multi-purpose halls, five-a-side football and rugby fives courts, 13 squash courts, swimming, diving and learner pools plus a supporters’ club and restaurant. The plan for a state of the art stadium to replace the old ground fell through when the club was reluctant to share the facilities with the university.

Byker Viaduct

A local Arup structure which was built, albeit one constructed after Sir Ove’s retirement, and one which is still very much standing, is the elegant Byker Metro bridge.

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Arup-designed Byker Metro Bridge

Again, the design was challenging because it had to be squeezed in between an existing road bridge and a main line rail viaduct; it crossed a steep-sided valley with old mine workings beneath; the valley is crossed by a geographical fault as well as the Ouseburn. The solution, a tall 800m S-shaped viaduct, won the Concrete Society Award for Civil Engineering in 1980 and makes a striking addition to the bridges which cross the valley. It is an appropriate local memorial for the Heaton-born company founder.

Polymath

Ove Arup, besides being a talented structural engineer had many interests. He was an art collector, pianist and the accordianist as well as writer and artist: After his death, his daughter Anja published a book, ‘Doodles and Doggerel,’ of his drawings and verse. He was also a keen and successful chess player, going so far as to set up a company to manufacture chess sets, made to his own innovative designs.

He was often considered eccentric and many stories still circulate among those who knew him. He is, for example, said to have almost always carried a pair of chopsticks in his jacket breast pocket, so that he could sample other peoples’ food while dining with them.

Philosopher

But what of the ‘philosopher’ as mentioned on the plaque on the house of his birth? As already mentioned, Ove studied philosophy, along with engineering, at university and it remained an important influence on his work throughout his life.

His ‘Total Design’ vision was intended to encourage creative collaboration across all disciplines: not only engineering, building and architecture but other less obvious ones too, including computing, ethics and philosophy. He was a creative and critical thinker, who loved to debate and apply both original thought and what he learnt from other disciplines to his work and to the way his firm was run. Ultimately he wanted to make the world a better place.

Honours

Ove was much-honoured during his lifetime. including:

CBE (1953); RIBA Gold Medal for Architecture (1966) – unusual for a Structural Engineer to receive;Knighthood (1970); The Gold medal of the Institution of Structural Engineers (1973); Queens Award for Export Achievement (1984); Elected Honorary Royal Academician (1986).

Legacy

When Sir Ove Arup died on 5 February 1988, he was the figurehead of one of the largest structural engineering companies in the world. Today his company employs over 14,000 staff in 92 offices across 42 countries and is responsible for many prestigious engineering projects worldwide. The firm is owned by trusts, the beneficiaries of which are past and present employees, each of which receive a share of the firm’s operating profit each year. There is still an Arup office in Newcastle upon Tyne.

The Ove Arup Foundation, a charitable educational trust, was set up in his memory for the advancement of education directed towards the promotion, furtherance and dissemination of knowledge of matters associated with the built environment’.

Can you help?

If you know more about Ove Arup and his work, especially his connections with the north east, 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, Heaton History Group, with additional research by Chris Jackson.

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

‘Ove Arup Masterbuilder of the Twentieth Century’; Peter Jones, 2006

‘The Arup Journal 50th Anniversary Issue’

http://www.engineering-timelines.com/who/arup_O/arupOve12.asp

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2017/feb/12/durham-university-dunelm-house-threat-of-demolition-brutalism

https://www.themag.co.uk/2014/08/newcastle-uniteds-st-james-park-looked/

https://mymagicalattic.blogspot.co.uk/2016/09/ove-arup-philosophy-of-total-design-at.html 

 

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Two Heaton war heroes honoured

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

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

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

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Edward Lawson

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

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

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

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

Back home

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

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

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Members of Edward Lawson’s family after the unveiling

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

John Weldon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Death of a Hero

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To Heaton for Love: an artist’s life

What do the present queen and her 16th century namesake; Vivien Leigh (in the roles of Cleopatra and Blanche DuBois); scenes from Romeo and Juliet and these ‘builders’ have in common?

 

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‘The Builders’ by A K Lawrence Copyright: The Governor and Company of the Bank of England

 

A clue – naturally, there’s a Heaton connection. No, nothing to do with The People’s Theatre but, yes, the answer is arts related. They were all depicted by a notable artist who spent part of his life in Heaton. Not Kingsley Place’s John Gilroy (though he too painted the Queen) nor John Wallace (landscapes were more his forte) but a painter still more lauded in fine art circles. You may not have heard of him but you may well have seen his work.

Early life

Alfred Kingsley Lawrence was born in Lewes, Sussex on 4 October 1893, the third son of Fanny Beatrice and Herbert Lawrence, a solicitor. His father, however, died, when Alfred was only around a year old and when the boy was just three years old, his mother remarried  George Giffin, a customs officer.

By 1901, while Fanny continued to live in Lewes with the children (by now there was a younger half brother, George junior too), her husband seems to have relocated to Newcastle (We don’t know why.) and was living in Roxburgh Place in Heaton.  The family eventually followed, although one of Alfred’s older brothers, Frederick, had died in 1906, aged 14 in Sussex.  By 1911, they were living in Sandyford.  Alfred, now 17, was a ‘civil engineer’s clerk and student’.

He was, in fact, a student at the King Edward VII School of Art, Armstrong College, where his teachers included Professor Richard Hatton, who was soon to found the Newcastle University gallery which still bears his name. A local newspaper article in 1925 said that ‘not since the[ school of art] was founded has a student displayed such conspicuous talent or worked so consistently and with such conspicuous talent as a student of painting’.

Alfred won the John Christie scholarship, aged 18, in 1912; the School Medal for the most brilliant student in his year in 1913 as well as Silver Medal s awarded by the Royal College of Art in both 1913 and 1914. In the latter year, he was also awarded a Royal Exhibition Scholarship tenable at the Royal College of Art in London.

But by now the country was at war.

Heaton wife

It was apparently while at the King Edward VII School of Art that Alfred met his future wife, Margaret Crawford Younger, a Heaton lass. Margaret was the daughter of Robert Younger, a marine engineer, and his wife, Catherine, who lived at  42 Heaton Road. The family were very comfortably off: the 1901 census shows a governess lived with the family, presumably to home school the four daughters.

By 1911, Robert had retired: local trade directories now refer to him as a ‘Gentleman’ and no occupations are listed in the census for the daughters, now aged between 21 and 27. Alfred married Margaret on 26 June 1915 and joined his wife at his parents in law’s on Heaton Road (by now known as Elmire House), although mostly he was away from home.

War Service

In 1914, he had voluntarily joined the Northumberland Fusiliers’ 19th battalion (2nd Tyneside Pioneers), which was posted to France in 1916. Alfred, a Second Lieutenant, was mentioned in despatches in January 1917, most likely for his actions during the latter stages of the Battle of the Somme. Upon discharge in 1919, he resumed his scholarship at the Royal College of Art. He won a travelling scholarship to Italy in 1922 and in 1923 won the prestigious Prix de Rome, which allowed him to study in Rome for  three years. Paintings by Lawrence during this period and during his military service can readily be found on line. Influenced by his time in Italy, he often painted classical themes.

Success

From this point on,  commissions came thick and fast and Alfred’s adopted city was among the first in the queue. The Hatton Gallery owns two works ‘Male Nude’ and ‘Female Nude’ painted in 1922 (hopefully they’ll be on display when the gallery reopens later this year) and his magnificent ‘The Building of Hadrian’s Bridge (Pons Aelii) over the Tyne, c122’ is in the Laing. (But not on display at the time of writing).

When next you’re in London, head to  St Stephen’s Hall in the Houses of Parliament,where you’ll find his ‘Queen Elizabeth Commissions Sir Walter Raleigh to Discover Unknown Lands, 1584’ and to the Bank of England, which commissioned a group of large oil paintings, of which the above work is one.

In 1930, Lawrence was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy and in 1938 he became a Royal Academician, a huge honour for an artist. The photograph below shows the Academicians selecting works for the 1939 summer exhibition. AK Lawrence is nearest the camera on the right. The president, Sir Edwin Landseer Lutyens is holding a letter D, which stands for ‘doubtful’ (for inclusion in the exhibition).

 

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Royal Academicians, 1939 Copyright: Royal Academy of Arts, London

 

Lawrence himself exhibited in the Royal Academy’s summer exhibition almost much every year from 1929 until his death, a period of almost 50 years.

His ‘Study for Leda’ was presented to the Queen as part of the institution’s coronation gift in 195 3 and is now in the Royal Collection. His painting ‘Elizabeth II at the State Opening of Parliament 1962’ is in the Parliamentary Art Collection.

Character

In the 1920s, the young Alfred was described as ‘shy of temperament but studious and painstaking, with sound and erudite knowledge and the crowning gift of imagination. He has high ideals and his conception of art, particularly in the employment of the figure, is lofty and virile’.

Lawrence’s entry in the ‘Dictionary of National Biography’  refers to his great interest in the theatre and suggests that that he might have been a successful professional actor ‘particularly in heroic roles. He was a tall, dignified man with a resounding voice, a stalwart in debate, forthright in his adherence to traditions and rather grand in his renderings of Shakespeare (We wonder, did Lawrence,  before he left Newcastle for London,  see his Heaton neighbour, Colin Veitch, play Falstaff in  the People’s first Shakespeare production in 1921?)… he was a stickler for the correct use of words…strongly against the use of photography or substitution for good draughtsmanship’.

The article also states that Margaret, with whom he had been married since their days on Heaton Road during WW1, died in 1960, after which ‘AK’, as he was known, became a rather solitary figure. Their son, Julius, had emigrated to New Zealand.

Legacy

Alfred Kingsley Lawrence died suddenly on 5 April 1975 at his London home. His legacy is his art, however.

In addition to the works already mentioned, Lawrence paintings and drawings are in the collections of National Portrait Gallery; Victoria and Albert Museum;  Imperial War Museum;  Scottish National Portrait Gallery;  National Trust; Queens College, Cambridge; Guildhall Art Gallery; Royal Society;  Royal Air Force Museum and many other collections, both public and private. Digital copies of many of those in public collections can be seen here.

As recently as April 2015, A K Lawrence’s classically inspired ‘Persephone’ (1938) was the Royal Academy’s ‘Object of the Month’ and in December of the same year, the ‘Daily Telegraph’ illustrated an article about the government owned works being hidden from public view with a Lawrence painting.

And now, at last, Heaton, where he found love, has paid tribute to him.

Acknowledgements

This article was written by Chris Jackson, Heaton History Group. Research was carried out by Joe Chipchase, Christopher Durrans and Chris Jackson.

Can you help?

If you know more about Alfred Kingsley Lawrence or have photos of him or works by him that you’re happy to share or if you know of any other eminent artist with a Heaton connection, we’d love to hear from you. Either click on the link below the article title to post direct to this website or email chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org.