Heaton fliers: the Smith family and Newcastle Aero Club

Until its demise in 2004, Newcastle Aero Club was Britain’s oldest flying club.  It was founded in 1925 and for its first 10 years operated from Cramlington Aerodrome, which was situated near Nelson village and had been used for coastal air defence during WWI. In 1935, it moved to a site in Woolsington, which subsequently became Newcastle Airport. Arthur Andrews has been researching its connections with a well known Heaton family.

At an early stage, Ringtons Tea Company owner, Sam Smith, became involved with the club and was even its president for a time. We know from his great grand daughter, Fiona Harrison, that the Heaton entrepreneur loved flying. He was also a founder member of Newcastle Gliding Club. But flying was more than a hobby: he had business interests in aviation too, as a director of Newcastle Air Training Ltd and a founding investor in Dyce Airport, Aberdeen.

He generously bought Newcastle Aero Club two De Havilland Tiger Moths, one of which was called ‘The Ringtonian’.

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Advert for Ringtons in Newcastle Aero Club magazine

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Sam Smith and Ada, his wife, at the hand over of the Tiger Moth to Newcastle Aero Club (Courtesy of Newcastle City Library)

Young Sam Smith

Following in his father’s footsteps, Sam Smith Junior obtained his pilot’s licence on 26 June 1936 at the age of 30.

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Sam Smith Junior’s Pilot’s Licence

 

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Sam Smith Junior

He was the manager of Rington’s subsidiary, Northern Coachworks and lived at 17 Jesmond Vale Terrace, Heaton with his wife, Mary Ann Noddings, the daughter of horse dealer and exporter Edward Noddings and his wife, Catherine, who were now living at 2 Stannington Grove.

On 30 June 1936, just four days after getting his pilot’s licence, Sam was flying in the Derwent Valley. According to a newspaper report, he lost his bearings due to mist and rain and while he was trying to find a field safe enough to land in, the plane’s engine stalled and it crashed into the farmyard of Glebe Farm. Sam was thrown from the cockpit, hitting the farmer’s wife, Mrs Elizabeth Armstrong and ended up in a pool of water or slurry. Sam was uninjured but Mrs Armstrong was badly bruised and shocked. The headline was ‘Falling ‘Plane Strikes Woman – Pushed in Pool with Craft on Top – Amazing Escapes’.

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Crash site at Glebe Farm, Medomsley, Co Durham (Courtesy of Newcastle City Library)

Nine months later, on 6 March 1937, another mishap took place at Woolsington, this time involving ‘The Ringtonian’ . It was not reported whether Sam was injured or how badly the aircraft was damaged.

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Sam Smith with the ‘Ringtonian’ Gypsy Moth (Smith family archives)

Triple tragedy

A third accident took place on 14 May 1938, while Sam was piloting a Percival Vega Gull on a flight from Newcastle to Liverpool.

The weather was apparently fair in Northumberland but, by the time the aircraft had reached the Lake District, conditions had markedly deteriorated: a heavy mist gave little or no visibility and the plane crashed into a hillside near Skiddaw. Sam was killed along with his two passengers, Robert Radcliffe (26) and Norman Ayton (30). The coroner’s verdict was ‘accidental death’.

Sam’s younger brother, Malcolm, should have been on board too but fortunately for him,  a business commitment prevented him from boarding.

There had been other flying related deaths at Newcastle Aero Club, but this was the worst in its short history. The loss of  Sam Smith Junior was a great shock to his family and the local area. A large funeral took place with many local dignitaries attending. The City Council passed a vote of condolence by standing in silence.

The 1939 Register shows that Sam Smith Junior’s young widow, Mary Ann, moved back to live with her parents in Stannington Grove.

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Arthur Andrews, Heaton History Group;

Thank you to Fiona Harrison for help with the history of the Smith family and Ringtons;

Thank you to Newcastle City Library for permission to use photographs;

Sources

In addition to original research:

70 years of flying 1925-1975 by John Sleight ISBN 0952690802 (A history of Newcastle Aero Club)

Can you help?

If you know more about Heaton’s connections with aviation, please either post a message direct to this site by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or email chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Jesmond Dene: past, present and future

Our August guided walk will take us to Jesmond Dene. The Ouseburn Parks Volunteer Guides will help participants explore this much-loved park – its history, its buildings and the families connected with it.

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Jesmond Dene

We will meet at 6.30pm (Please note the earlier start time) on Wednesday 23 August at the Ouseburn Parks’ Visitor Centre in Jesmond Dene. Booking is essential and until Thursday 25 May is open to Heaton History Group members only.

North East Bobbies

Not Bobby Robson, Bobby Charlton or even Bobby Thompson. Ian Roberts’ talk for Heaton History Group in September will be about policing in Northumberland from 1750 to 1950. The county, the fifth largest in England, has a fascinating history. It had an unusual rural approach to law and order and in World War Two provided an surprising number of services for local people.

The  talk will take place on Wednesday 27 September 2017 at The Corner House, Heaton Road NE6 5RP at 7.30pm (Doors open at 7.00pm. You are advised to take your seat by 7.15pm). Please book your place by contacting maria@heatonhistorygroup.org / 07443 594154. Until 25 May, booking will be open to Heaton History Group members only.

Lower Ouseburn Valley

Our July walk, led by well-known local historian writer, Alan Morgan, will take us on a journey around the lower Ouseburn valley. We will look at many interesting sites in a place synonymous with the development of Tyneside. We’ll visit old bridges, the culvert, the site of the cattle sanatorium, the entrance to the Victoria Tunnel and a former burial ground, as well as learn more about the importance of industries such as glass, lead and pottery. We’ll also see for ourselves how recent developments are transforming this former industrial area.

The walk will take place on Wednesday 26 July 2017, starting at 7.30pm at the Ship Inn at the foot of Stepney Bank. Please book your place by contacting maria@heatonhistorygroup.org / 07443 594154. Until 25 May, booking is open only to members of Heaton History Group.

Thank you  to Hilary Bray (nee Bates) who gave Heaton History Group permission to digitise and use photographs below of the Ouseburn valley from her postcard collection.

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Ouseburn

Metal Box

Does anyone remember The Metal Box Company works near Heaton Junction?

A Bit of History

Nationally the company dates back to at least 1810, although some of its constituent companies predate that, including Hudson Scott and Sons of Carlisle and Newcastle, acquired by Metal Box in 1921 and which is said to have been founded in 1799.

However it was a Heaton firm,  I A Hodgson, that led to the company’s presence on Chillingham Road. I A Hodgson, owned by Irvine Anthony Hodgson, was originally a manufacturer of cork products but by 1922 described itself as a ‘decorated tin manufacturer’.

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Advert for I A Hodgson & Co Ltd, which became Metal Box

Metal Box seems to have acquired the company in 1924, although it continued to trade under its original name until WW2. Irvine, the son of a butcher from County Durham,  had died in 1931, leaving over £24,000 in his will.

Nationally, in 1932, Metal Box described itself as a ‘maker of plain and decorated tins and tins for fruit and vegetables’ At this point, fruit and vegetable canning represented only 20% of its business, although that was expected to grow. In the mid 1930s it made the first British beer cans.

But it wasn’t all about tin cans. During WW2, its products included:

‘140 million metal parts for respirators, 200 million items for precautions against gas attacks, 410 million machine gun belt clips, 1.5 million assembled units for anti-aircraft defence, mines, grenades, bomb tail fins, jerrican closures and water sterilisation kits, many different types of food packing including 5000 million cans, as well as operating agency factories for the government making gliders, production of fuses and repair of aero engines

However, it described its Heaton Junction enterprise as a ‘tin box manufacturer’ into the 1950s. Hopefully someone  who worked there will remember its range of products and let us know.

 By 1961,Metal Box boasted more than 25,000 employees in total in ten subsidiary and 13 associated companies and it soon became the largest user of tinplate in Britain, producing 77% of the metal cans in the UK.

But by 1970, the Metal Box name had disappeared from local trade directories and telephone books. There is a photo in Tyne and Wear Archives (not yet seen by us) of the premises in 1976 before work began on the Metro .

Globally, Metal Box is now part of the giant American multinational conglomerate, Honeywell.

But what of Metal Box in Heaton?

Mrs Anne Fletcher remembers:

‘It was situated at Heaton Junction at the top of Chillingham Road. The premises are long gone now and the site appears to be part of the environs of the Metro.

 

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North View, Heaton c 1974 with Metal Box visible in the background

 

My first job after leaving Heaton High school in 1956 was in the offices. I’d been looking for a job when I received a telegram from the firm asking me to contact them. Not many people had ‘phones then!

I duly began my working life as a junior telephonist/receptionist at the weekly wage of £3-12-6d. This enabled me to pay my mam for my keep, go dancing at the Oxfordballroom in Newcastle and buy a few treats.

I walked there and back, lunchtimes included. My route went over the skew bridge, passing the stone wall which bordered the railway shunting yard. I remember there were huge advertising hoardings behind the wall. I passed my old school, then on reaching the corner of Rothbury Terrace, passed the dark blue Police box (like “Dr  Who”) and so home to Warton Terrace.

My new duties included greeting visitors and learning to operate the switchboard with its plugs and extensions connecting callers to the various departments. I was shown how to correctly wrap sample tins for posting and I would take the franking machine up to the post office at the top of Heaton Road. I had to practise typing as I had to attend weekly classes in Newcastle.

In Reception it was fascinating to watch the large Telex machine spring to life, chattering, with typed pages magically appearing. I learned how the typists’ Dictaphone wax cylinders were cleaned on a special machine, after which they were redistributed.

Having to walk through the factory one day was a bit daunting as it was of course a very busy and noisy place. It was all new and interesting though.

I moved on to the accounts department and used a large calculator. Others worked as comptometer operators. I eventually decided to go to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance, as it then was, at Longbenton. I enjoyed my time at Metal Box  though. It  had given me a good introduction to working life.’

Your Memories   

If you have memories, information or photographs of Metal Box, which you’d like to share, please either upload them to this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or email them to chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org We’d love to hear your recollections of other notable Heaton workplaces too.

Acknowledgements

Many thanks to Mrs Fletcher for her memories and to Ian Clough, who found the advert for I A Hodgson & Co Ltd.

The photo is taken from ‘Heaton: from farms to foundries’ by Alan Morgan; Tyne Bridge Publishing, 2012. Thank you to Newcastle Libraries in whose collection the original can be found.

Details of  Metal Box’s history are from ‘Grace’s Guide to British Industrial History’ http://www.gracesguide.co.uk/Metal_Box_Co

Heaton at Play Part 1

In this his fourth piece, Eric Dale, who grew up in Eighth Avenue, Heaton from 1939 describes how Heaton children amused themselves in the 1940s and 50s:

Street games

‘Due to the complete absence of cars we were able to use the streets as playgrounds and there were always lots of of kids around to make up the numbers required for Tuggie, Tuggie-on-High, Hide and Seek and its variation (that we liked to think we’d invented): Kicky-the-tin. Then there was Mr Wolf, Football (and Headers), Cricket, Knocky-nine-doors, Hopscotch, Olympic Games, Mountakitty (known as Harra Levens only a few streets away), Chucks, Marbles and Tops and Whips. If we made too much noise, even during the day, we risked being shouted at. The sash window would slide up, a woman’s head would emerge and it would be ‘why divvent youz lot bugger off  t’the park, me man’s a’bed’ (on nightshift).

Once we graduated to riding bikes we used to organise races around the block without even considering there’d be any traffic hazards; such as buses on Second Avenue. It was certainly only down to good fortune that we escaped any such encounters. A popular hobby was collecting empty cigarette packets and it was quite a craze for a while, there being some quite exotic ones such as Du Maurier, Abdulla, Passing Clouds, Kensitas and State Express. The cardboard these were made from was also useful for jamming against our cycle spokes. To our ears this made a very authentic ‘motorcycle’ sound as the wheel turned so we would then take the machines to rough ground nearby to play speedway.

Our street also claimed to have invented ‘clay boilers’ but the idea was probably handed down. They were about the size and shape of a present-day pack of butter but were hollow and made from slabs of clay dug out from the sand-pit in the park or from the brickyard at the bottom of Rothbury Terrace. There were several variants but the one I remember had a lid covering the top from the back to about two-thirds of the box length. Through the back of the box a half-inch hole was made. The idea was to stuff the box with rags, set them alight then extinguish the flames so that only the glow remained. Then holding it in one hand at about head height the idea was to run so that plumes of dense smoke spilled out from the hole. Innocent fun from our point of view but how come we always had matches?

Speaking of matches the father of one of our number had a painting and decorating business so we were able to make up what we called fire-raiser from all the inflammable odds and ends such as turpentine, linseed oil and paraffin. Our favourite spot for experimenting with this highly volatile mixture was the ‘waste-land’ at the Coast Road/Chillingham Road corner. It was there on more than one occasion that having set the surrounding grassland on fire we almost lost control of the result, only just in time subduing the flames whilst choking on the billowing smoke drifting across the carriageway. Not at any point in the proceeding were we ever warned off by nearby residents or passers-by. And we were never troubled by police. Kids who indulged in that activity today would rightly be branded as arsonists and be up before a magistrate.

A rather more innocent (but rather strange) pastime was to buy lengths of multi-coloured electric cable, strip out the copper then cut the plastic outer into lengths of about half an inch, place one of these on an ordinary pin so that it stopped against the pinhead. The next move was to stick the pin through another pre-cut length of plastic, slide that up to meet the ‘handle’ and voila! you had a miniature sword. These were pinned onto jacket lapels for no other purpose than for decoration.

Hardly qualifying under the heading of ‘Games’ our curiosity about cigarette smoking got the better of a few of us during a short period at the end of the forties. It sounds horrendous now but we trawled around picking up discarded ciggy ends and when enough were collected extracted the usable tobacco and made smoking roll-ups with Rizla papers and a little machine. Thankfully this activity put me right off smoking for ever after.

Armed and Dangerous

We were so lucky as urban kids having access to open spaces just minutes away from our homes, all without even having to resort to the any of the modes of transport mentioned above. And didn’t we take full advantage of them all?

Heaton Park, Armstrong Park, Jesmond Vale, Paddy Freeman’s and Jesmond Dene were our natural habitat all year round. Anyone remember the sandpit at the old windmill? In my day this was a sizeable lake populated by thousands of frogs in the spring.

 

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Heaton Windmill, 1977 (Copyright:Eric Dale)

 

We virtually ran wild in those days and were always being chased by the Parky for some misdemeanour or another.

 

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‘The Parky’s House’, Armstrong Bridge, 1977 (Copyright: Eric Dale)

 

One summer the Parky Wars were stepped up a notch or two when much younger, fitter men wearing sand-shoes (the ultimate in speedy footwear) were employed to run down any miscreants. I am happy to report that we managed always to escape their clutches, though can’t exactly remember what it was we were doing that we ought not to have been. Might it have been hacking y-shaped branches from small trees and shrubs in order to make catapults? Most of us carried a knife of one sort or another; it being commonplace to see boys with a long-bladed edition strapped to their belt in a scabbard. We also went in for water-pistols, pea-shooters, bows and arrows and sometime even spears! We played war games in the more densely wooded areas (‘dadadadadada…got ye, Brian!’) in summer, with pretend guns made from sticks, and in winter it was snowball fights and sledging.’

(To be continued)

Acknowledgements

A big thank you to Eric Dale for his photos and memories. We’ll be featuring more in the near future.

Can you help?

We hope that you will add to what we know about how children played in the Avenues and Heaton generally. Either post your comments direct to this site by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or email chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org. It would be fantastic to find some more old photos.

 

The Brave, the Bold and the Bad: north east men from the past

‘Life is a lottery comprised of interesting characters, some lucky some not so lucky. The north east has had its fair share of saints and sinners, hewn from hardship and life’s experiences. Some turn out bold, some brave and others bad.’ Freda Thompson will return to Heaton History Group in June to introduce us to some of our more colourful antecedents. Intrigued? You’ll need to come along to Freda’s talk to find out more.

 

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A Heaton back lane (Back Molyneux Street), c1913

 

The talk will take place on 28 June 2017 at The Corner House, Heaton Road NE6 5RP at 7.30pm (Doors open at 7.00pm. You are advised to take your seat by 7.15pm). Please book your place by contacting maria@heatonhistorygroup.org / 07443 594154. Until 23 March, booking will be open to Heaton History Group members only.