Tag Archives: Algernon Road

Ringtons’ Story

 

Ringtons is one of Heaton’s most long established family firms. The tea company was founded by Sam Smith and Will Titterington in Heaton’s Avenues in 1907 before moving to Shields Road and then, in 1928, to a magnificent new building on Algernon Road, which still stands today, with Ringtons’ head office now next door.

 

Fiona Harrison, Sam Smith’s great granddaughter, has been helping to organise the company and family archives. On 27 April, she will show us some fantastic photos and tell us how the firm came to be founded and take us through its history up to the present day.

Ringtons Tea

Simon Smith, son of Sam, and staff outside Algernon Road HQ, 1932

Early Days

Fiona has already supplied us with photographs and information about Ringtons’ early history for our article ‘S in Ringtons, Tea in Heaton’ and the display, still up in The Chillingham pub, for our ‘Heaton Avenues in WW1’ project. But her talk will tell the fascinating story of Ringtons from the birth of Sam Smith, the founder, to the present day.

To book

The talk will take place at The Corner House, Heaton Road, NE6 5RP on Wednesday 27 April 2016 at 7.30pm and is FREE to Heaton History Group members. Non-members pay £2. The 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. Booking is open to Heaton History Group members only until Wednesday 10 February.

The Night Bombs Rained on Heaton

On Friday 25 – Saturday 26 April 1941, Newcastle endured one of its worst nights of the Second World War, with terrible consequences in Heaton. The area had suffered bomb damage before and would again, as the Germans targeted railways, factories and shipyards – but this was a night like no other.

Earlier in the evening, incendiary bombs had fallen around the Heaton Secondary Schools in High Heaton and damaged properties on Stephenson Road, Horsley Road and Weldon Crescent. Two had fallen onto the eaves of the Corner House Hotel, where civilians scaled a drainpipe and threw them to the ground to be extinguished with sand.

The Lyric Cinema (now the People’s Theatre) was also hit. And on Jesmond Park East, two houses ‘Denehurst‘ and ‘Wyncote’ (which was occupied by the military at the time) suffered fire and water damage. There was other minor damage right across the east of Newcastle. But none of these episodes, as terrifying as they were to those in the vicinity, prepared the people of Heaton for what came next.

Devastation

At 10.20pm a high explosive device seriously damaged numbers 20 and 22 Cheltenham Terrace. Two people were seriously injured at number 20 and were taken to First Aid post Number 6. Another ten people were treated at the scene. Simultaneously, incendiary bombs  hit the nearby Heaton Electric cinema.

Ten minutes later, another high explosive completely demolished numbers 4 and 6 Cheltenham Terrace. Two bodies were recovered before rescuers had to give up for the night due to the threat of the gable end collapsing. There was considered to be no chance of any survivors.

And at the same time, a parachute mine fell on the adjoining Guildford Place, demolishing several houses and causing severe damage to many more. Although water was immediately sprayed over the area, a fractured gas main caught fire.

 

Bomb damage on Guildford Place

Bomb damage on Guildford Place

And still the raid continued. A high explosive device made a huge crater at the junction of Algernon and Shields Roads, with three men injured when another gas main exploded. And nearby a gents’ lavatory at the junction of Shields Road and Union Road was completely destroyed. Yet another bomb fell on the main walk of Heaton Park but here only greenhouse windows were broken.

This  detail from a German map of Tyneside, dating from 1941, illustrates how vulnerable Heaton and, in particular Guildford Place and Cheltenham Terrace were, squeezed as they were between key Nazi targets, marked in red, purple and black.

German map of Heaton, 1941

German map of Heaton, 1941

You can see the full map on the Library of Congress website.

Heaton History Group member, Ian Clough, remembers that his father, who even then kept the sweetshop that still bears the family name, was one of the many overstretched emergency workers and volunteers on duty. He was a volunteer fireman and had to pass his own bomb-damaged shop to help others.

When we asked Ian if he could find out more about that awful night, he interviewed three survivors of the Guildford Place / Cheltenham Terrace tragedy. Here are their accounts:

Muriel’s story

‘I was at home with my parents Arthur and Elizabeth and Uncle George Shaw, Dad’s younger brother, at number 14 Cheltenham Terrace, together with two friends. We were having supper when the air raid siren sounded at approximately 9pm.

Muriel Shaw

Muriel Shaw

For some strange reason this was usually a cue for my mother to see that everything was tidy and that the dishes were washed. Father declared ‘That’s close’ and, after donning his black greatcoat, went upstairs to see if he could get sight of anything from the landing window. There was a whoosh sound initially, then a silence accompanied by a tangible pressure and then the force struck home – literally; father was propelled down the stairs without a button remaining on his coat.

The back of our house had been completely blown off. This was in the direction of the explosion so it was mainly through a vacuum effect. Father had erected stout doors to cover our dining room windows to comply with the blackout regulations and they may have offered protection from any flying debris from outside. I first realised that I was a victim in all that was happening when a wavering door in its frame threatened to fall on me but just missed. It gave way to a shower of bricks falling from upstairs which left lasting scars on my legs. Mother and I were showered with plaster dust and it seemed to take many weeks of hair washes to finally remove all of its traces. Strange things had happened; a teapot that was on the table was now on the mantelshelf in one piece. The piano was no longer an upright one as it had somersaulted over the settee and was now upside down and resting on a completely unharmed china cabinet with contents intact.

Dad’s other brothers also lived with us but were out at the time. Thomas was an air raid warden and William was a lay preacher and had been sick visiting. It wasn’t until the next day that we were told that both of them had been killed. At 4 Cheltenham Terrace, the Robson family of four had perished.

Guildford Place, the one-sided street that was back to back with us and overlooked the railway had taken a direct hit. Most of the occupants of numbers 8 through to 15 were killed. The Luftwaffe was targeting the marshalling yards at Heaton Junction but released their payload prematurely while following the line of the railway.

Our house was now uninhabitable but because the resources of the Council were overstretched we had to find temporary accommodation in Osborne Road, Jesmond. This happened immediately and so, what with that and working, I had little chance to witness the horrors that the authorities had to endure in recovering and identifying bodies and demolishing what was left of the houses.

After a year we moved back into our house (which by now was renumbered as 18). A gas pipe had burst in the blast and we were greeted by a bill for all that had leaked. Initially there was still scaffolding inside the house and as compensation was so inadequate we had to clear the mess and clean everything out ourselves. When we asked for wallpaper, which was in short supply, we were given enough to cover one wall. Our property now had become the gable end of one row of surviving terrace houses as the line of neighbouring homes on either side of us were deemed irreparable and pulled down.

On the night of the air raid my brother, Albert ,was away serving in the Army and brother Arthur was on fire watch for his firm on the Quayside. The devastation and annihilation of his neighbours prompted Arthur to join the R.A.F. and become a pilot but that, as they say, is another story.’

Ian discovered that the two friends who were having supper with Muriel and her family were Nell and her mother.

Nell’s story

Mother and I were sitting at the table after being invited to supper by Muriel and her family when suddenly we found ourselves in this nightmare situation. Both of us were being propelled backwards by the blast of an enormous explosion and then the ceiling came down on top of us. There was nothing we could do but lie there until the wardens came and dug us out. It is funny how strange things stick in your mind but as we were assisted out of the house via the hallway a musical jug was happily giving us a rendition of ‘On Ilkley Moor Ba Tat’.

Nell and her mother

Nell and her mother

Skirting around all of the amassed rubble that was once people’s homes we were taken to an air raid shelter in the cellar of Charlie Young, the butcher, on Heaton Road. When the ‘all clear’ was sounded, we discovered, through her covering of ceiling plaster, that mother’s face was covered in blood. Firstly she was taken to a first aid post at Chillingham Road baths and put on a stretcher. Then we both got into an ambulance and were turned back from many a hospital until mother was eventually admitted to the Eye Infirmary.

We asked a local policeman if he would get a message to my Uncle Jack who was also in the police and lived in the west end. Uncle took me in and the following day I realised that our handbags and other belongings had been left behind at Cheltenham Terrace. Walking along Heaton Road to see if I could retrieve them, I cannot recall how many people approached me with the same words; ‘I thought you were dead!’ Mother had lost the use of her left eye and had to wear a patch for the rest of her life and we had suffered a most traumatic experience. Yet we were the fortunate ones as for 45 members of those neighbouring families that night was to be their last.

Footnote 1 I believe that what Mr Shaw, Muriel and Arthur’s father, saw from his vantage point was something that at first looked like a large balloon which, on reflection, was a land mine on a parachute, floating down.

Footnote 2 I went to Heaton High School in the 1930s and one of my subjects was German so we were invited to meet and socialise with a group of German schoolchildren who were on a school visit hosted by Newcastle Council. They were given a list of Newcastle’s favourite tourist attractions and maps of Newcastle and the transport system to help them to get about. Many of us took up the offer of being pen pals and one girl even went on a visit to the home of one of the students and came back full of what she had been told of how Adolf Hitler was going to be such a wonderful leader of the German nation. When my pen pal remarked that he had heard that Newcastle had a large and important railway station and asked to be sent details, my dad told me not to write to him anymore. It was not long after that that we were at war with Germany. We then wondered if there had been something sinister behind the visit and were the children and their school teachers, innocently or otherwise, sent over on more than just a cultural mission.

Arthur’s story

I was on fire watch for my firm of importers at No14 Wharf on the Quayside when the air raid sirens started wailing and we were on full alert. I heard the noise of bombs exploding, repeatedly exploding, and I thought to myself ‘Somebody’s got it.’ I had a rough idea of the direction of the hits but nothing prepared me for the spectacle of devastation I was to see.

It was 9am, and daylight, as I approached Guildford Place; the one-sided terraced street overlooking the railway. Little was left of the houses nearest to Heaton Road and my heart raced as I hurried up to the corner of my own street Cheltenham Terrace. The first thing that greeted me was a ribbon strung across the road at the entrance to my street with a policeman on duty to prevent any looting. He stopped me going any further and I explained that I lived here. Well, I had lived here!

I was in a state of shock – astounded at what was all around me. I’m still vague as to how I found my family but they certainly weren’t there anymore. Muriel worked as secretary to the manager of Bitulac Ltd and he offered us temporary accommodation in his home on Osborne Road. Dad found us a house to rent on Chillingham Road and he borrowed a van to collect some of what was left of our furniture. When loaded up I got in the cab and father said ‘Have you locked the front door, son?’ He had to smile when I said ‘What’s the use of that, man? We’ve got no wall on the back of our house!’ We lived in Chillingham Road until our house was repaired.

Muriel and I were young and felt that we had to fulfil our duty to the nation. Muriel trained as a nurse and, at one time, she worked in a hospital where wounded soldiers were coming back from France. I had made my mind up that I wanted to be a pilot and joined the RAF.

Arthur Shaw

Arthur Shaw

The initial training procedure would astound anyone now. We were introduced to a de Havilland Tiger Moth and, within eight hours, were flying solo. The instructor would watch us from the ground – take off, fly around and then land. If you couldn’t do it you were no longer a pilot.

Then it was off to Canada to gain our proficiency. Why Canada? Well, most of the British airfields were being used for war operations and could not be spared for pilot training. We were taught navigation and how to read approaching weather conditions and understand the various cloud formations. We would normally then fly twin engine planes – Airspeed Oxfords in particular. One of the most difficult things to master was flying in formation and then banking to left or right. The outer pilots had to increase their speed slightly just to keep in line. It was important to be taught ground recognition and the open spaces of Canada did not challenge us enough and we had to come back home over towns and cities to gain experience in that skill.

I served abroad for a while and was then privileged to be asked to train as a flying instructor and was sent just over the Northumbrian border into Scotland for that. It was then my job to pass on my knowledge to the new recruits – young lads who were then sent out on dangerous missions where the mortality rate was so high.

When the war was over we queued up for our civvies (civilian clothes) it was almost a case of one size fits all and it did feel strange to be out of uniform. But we had done our bit and were thankful that we were the lucky ones – lucky to still be alive.

(You can read about Arthur’s later contribution to Heaton’s history here )

Roll of Honour

Bodies were still being recovered five days later. The final death toll was reported to be 46 with several bodies still unidentified. Those which remained unidentified were buried in a common grave in Heaton Cemetery.

As you can see from the following list, the ages of the known victims ranged from 9 weeks to 77 years and in several houses whole families died together.

William Aiken aged 43

Ethel Mary Airey, aged 23

Amy Angus 17

Edna Jane Angus 28

Hannah Angus 49

Ian Angus 13

Maureen Angus 15

Robert Nixon Angus 29

Mary Elizabeth Glass Balmer 17

William Blenkinsop 38

John McKnight Erskine 20

James Falcus 45

Albert George Fuller 37

Gordon W T Gardner 25

Elizabeth Glass 53

Edith Rosina Hagon 8

Joan Thompson Hagon 30

Joyce Hagon 16

Raymond Hagon 7

Isabella Harrison 77

William Henry Hoggett 39

Mary Jane Moffit 62

Archibold Taylor Munro 29

Ethel Mary Park 60

Francis Park 58

Mavis Park 31

Alice Jane Reed 64

Joseph Dixon Reed 68

Joseph Lancelot Reed 9 weeks

Eliza Margaret Robson 70

Ella Mildred Robson 43

Evelyn Robson 38

James Kenneth Robson 19

William Robson 72

Thomas Shaw 48

William Atkinson Shaw 40

Robert Smith 27

Edwin Snowdon 17

Henry Snowdon 12

Nora Snowdon 46

Victor Snowdon 48

Charles Thomas Thompson 62

David Harkus Venus 27

Alexander Henry White 54

Blanche White 43

Thank you

Roy Ripley and Brian Pears, whose website is an amazing resource for anyone researching the WW2 home front in the north east;

Heaton History Group member, Julia McLaren, who drew our attention to the German map of Tyneside.

Can you help?

if you know more about the night of 25-26 April 1941 or have memories, family stories or photographs of Heaton during WW2 to share, we’d love to hear from you. Either write directly to this website, by clicking on the link immediately below the title of this article or email the secretary of Heaton History Group,  chris.Jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

 

S in Ringtons, Tea in Heaton

The imposing white brick Ringtons building on Algernon Road bears the date ‘1924’, indicating that the famous tea company has Heaton connections going back at least 90 years.

Simon Smith, son of Sam, and staff outside Algernon Road HQ, 1932

Ringtons staff outside the company’s Algernon Road HQ, 1932

In fact the story starts much earlier than that.

Samuel Smith was born on 22 June 1872 in Leeds and christened on 22 December of that year along with his older brother, George. His parents were both local. William, his father, earned his living as a fettler, someone who cleaned the machinery in a woollen mill.

According to Sam’s great granddaughter, Fiona Harrison, young Sam started work, aged eight, as a ‘butcher’s boy’ on Friday nights and Saturdays. Aged ten, he joined the staff of one of the country’s biggest tea-dealers, as a ‘half-timer’. He gradually worked his way up and was sent to various of the firm’s offices across Yorkshire to learn all aspects of the business.

By the time he married Ada Emmerson, daughter of a Leeds milk dealer, at the age of 25, he was a travelling salesman for the company and was based in Sheffield. The couple’s two oldest children, John and Douglas, were born in Sheffield but the next two, Elizabeth and Vera, started life in Bradford and by time the youngest, Samuel and Harriet, came along, the family were back in Leeds but preparing for a new life in Newcastle.

We are extremely lucky in that, not only did Sam keep letters, diaries, notes, photographs and mementos, but that his family have treasured them and Fiona has painstakingly combed through the family archive to help us piece together the story of the birth of Ringtons and its relevance to our ‘Heaton’s Avenues in Wartime’ Heritage Lottery Fund project.

The records show that Sam had become increasingly disillusioned with the firm he worked for in Leeds. He felt its staff weren’t treated well and he believed that he could both run a successful company and live true to his values. His friend and colleague, Irishman William ‘Will’ Titterington, was of the same mind and they decided to set up in business together under the name of ‘Ringtons’, which combined the last part of Will’s surname with the first letter of Sam’s.

Sam Smith, founder of Ringtons

Sam Smith, founder of Ringtons

Tea to Newcastle

As was common at the time, there was a clause in their contracts stipulating that if they left their current employer, they couldn’t set up within 50 miles of its Leeds headquarters. The two men weighed up their options and were initially tempted by Scarborough, but in the end they couldn’t ignore the excellent opportunities offered by industrial Tyneside, where, although there were already a number of tea dealers including Brooke Bond and Pumphrey’s, none of them delivered door to door, which Sam and Will planned to make their unique selling point, one which has stood the company in good stead right up to the present day.

Fiona has found a letter from William Titterington to Sam Smith, dated 17 July 1907, and written from 2 Fourth Avenue, Heaton, where William is lodging in what is clearly a tiny room that the two men planned to share:

‘I have arrived at the combined room… This bed will only hold me, and I am afraid by the look of it, my feet will be hanging over the foot of it.’

On the other hand:

‘I am on the spot to assist at the shop and see that the workmen are getting on with the cleaning. This house is at the other end of the same terrace as the shop.’

Extract from letter from Will Titterington Fourth Avenue, Heaton to Sam Smith 1917

Extract from letter from Will Titterington, Fourth Avenue, Heaton to Sam Smith 1917

So it was in Heaton’s Avenues in 1907 that Ringtons was born. By 1908, the partners had two vans and four assistants and they were blending twice as much tea as a year earlier.

The first mention of the firm in the trade directories is in 1909-10 (which was probably surveyed in 1907-8). Ringtons was based at number 23 Third Avenue with Sam Smith, manager, living at 25. By 1911, the Smiths had moved to 129 Warton Terrace. Will Titterington and his wife Mary were living at 109 Tynemouth Road with their sons, William jnr and Francis, aged six and four.

By 1910 Sam Smith had bought Will Titterington’s share of the company and the firm itself had moved to more spacious premises on an abandoned rifle range at 392 Shields Road (where the Byker retail park is now).

RingtonsShieldsRdc1910ed

Ringtons, Shields Rd c1912

Ringtons, Shields Rd c1912 with extension to the 1910 building in the first picture

Here, their neighbours included a coach builder, cart proprietor, horse keeper and horse shoer, all vital to the Ringtons’ enterprise. Sam had worked hard to make the business a success and it had gone from strength to strength. By this time, there were 11 vans and 11 assistants.

Struggle for survival

But then World War One broke out. It changed everything, as Sam recalled later:

‘Of my staff of 17, some of whom were married, 15 were called to the colours and I promised to do certain things for them so their families should not suffer too much while they were fighting. Of course, I agreed to keep their jobs open for them.’

What Sam hadn’t reckoned with were the severe food shortages and the resulting rationing and restrictions. There was a sugar shortage so people were only allowed to buy it where they bought their tea. Ringtons didn’t sell sugar and couldn’t get hold of it, so business plummeted.

To compensate, the firm started to sell any foodstuff it could lay its hands on: tinned and evaporated milk, dried eggs, canned meat and fish, saccharine, pickles etc. However, often as soon as Sam had bought a consignment, the price of the commodity would be fixed by government at less than he’d paid for it.

‘ Somehow I managed to keep my promises to my soldier staff’ remembered Sam. ‘And somehow managed to relieve a little the distress of the widows of the three who never came back. But it was a fight to be able to pay my own rent and the wolf came nearer and nearer my door’.

At the end of the war, the 12 surviving members of staff returned, ‘three of them wearing the Military Medal’ and, as promised, Sam took them back although the outlook for the company seemed bleak. But gradually, once people and retailers were free to buy and sell what and where they liked, customers returned.

When the ex-servicemen received their gratuities, they clubbed together to buy Sam a watch, which from then on he always wore. It was inscribed: ‘Presented to Mr Samuel Smith, as a mark of gratitude and esteem, from the staff of Ringtons Ltd, on their return from military service. December 1920′

Loyal servant

One of the returning servicemen was Robert Ernest Sturdy, who, in 1911 was living with his wife, Minnie, and their three year old son, Norman Leslie at 57 Spencer Street, Heaton. Robert described himself as a ‘superintendent, tea trade’ . By 1916, the couple had two more very young children, May and Ernest. Robert volunteered to join the army, aged 32, in December 1915, just before conscription was introduced early in 1916. He described himself as a ‘manager (drivers)’ .

On enlistment it was noted that Robert’s heart ‘seemed weak’. His letter of enlistment stated that he was invited to join the Army Service Corps(Mechanical Transport), ‘provided he has not attained the age of 46 and is found medically fit for Service‘ Despite his heart condition, Ernest was accepted and he served on the home front for just over a month before being sent to France in October 1916.

Throughout 1918, he was in and out of military hospitals with conditions variously described as ‘mild debility’, ‘TB‘ and ‘Bronchial catarrh’ before being transferred back to the UK in October 1919, at which time he signed a disclaimer to the effect that he wasn’t suffering from any disability which was due to military service.

Robert returned to Ringtons where, as Sam Smith had promised, his old job was waiting for him. He was still there in the position of sales manager in 1934 by which time he was 50 years old. On completion of 25 years service, he was presented with tea and coffee services. Robert died in 1956, aged 73. By this time his son, Norman, was himself described as a tea dealer, presumably (though we can’t be sure) also with Ringtons. Robert’s younger son, Ernest ,was sadly ‘lost at sea’ during WW2.

The Somme

In total there were 14 people in Heaton in 1911 whose occupation, as recorded in the census, included the word ‘tea’. One was Sam Smith, of course, by now living at 129 Warton Terrace, with Ada and their six children. We can’t be sure which of the others worked at Ringtons, as employer names aren’t usually recorded, but Robert Clapperton Mair, aged 15, who lived with his parents, two brothers and a sister, at 13 Charles Street, described himself as a ‘tea merchant’s assistant’. He joined the 10th battalion Northumberland Fusiliers and was posted to France. Robert was one of those who didn’t return, having been killed in action on the Somme on 25 September 1916, aged 20. His name is recorded on the Thiepval Memorial and also on that of Heaton United Methodist Church on Heaton Road.

Bravery award

Bothers Patrick and Thomas Sullivan were both ‘van salesmen (tea)‘. The family had moved from Dundee while the boys and their sister, Lizzie, were young and the family lived at 16 Fourth Avenue, just a few doors down from Will Titterington’s lodgings in 1907. When war broke out their father, Patrick, a tram conductor, was active in recruiting volunteers for the ‘Pals‘ regiments and we know that Tom enlisted very early on, in September 1914, at the age of 22.

Two years later, by now a sergeant, he was awarded the Military Medal and a Card of Honour for conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty. A full report of his actions appeared in the Newcastle Journal, reproduced below. (Despite what it says in the article, the family appears to have lived on Fourth Avenue, rather than Sixth, throughout the war).

Newcastle Journal 18 November 1916

Newcastle Journal 18 November 1916

 So Tom was one of the three recipients of the Military Medal who returned to Ringtons after 1918 and was remembered by Sam Smith almost twenty years later. This was confirmed for us by Tom’s great great niece, Helen Wells, who told us:

‘My mam remembers talk of Uncle Tommy. We knew he’d been awarded the Military Medal but we didn’t know why. Tommy worked for Ringtons tea. He moved to Thornaby near Stockton to work for Ringtons there. He died in the 1940s and had no children. Patrick was exempt from military service because he was colour-blind’.

Post-war

A hundred years later, the personal stories give us a tiny insight into the suffering of Heaton and its people during World War One. But within just a few years, the firm, its staff and customers showed their resilience. Ringtons’ business picked up to such an extent that in 1924 a magnificent, modern building was commissioned on Algernon Road.

Ringtons, Algernon Road c1930

Ringtons, Algernon Road c1930

Work began in 1926 and it was finished in 1928. It still stands, of course, and is much loved, although the firm has since moved again. Not far though. Ringtons’, first managed from a cramped single bedroom on Fourth Avenue, is still very much associated with Heaton. Its headquarters remain on Algernon Road, next door to its impressive 1920s HQ.

Heaton Avenues in Wartime

This article was researched and written by Chris Jackson, with considerable help from Fiona Harrison, for Heaton History Group’s ‘Heaton Avenues in Wartime’ project, which has been funded by Heritage Lottery Fund. An exhibition, ‘’Tea in Heaton’, will be on display at the Chillingham pub from October to December 2015.

Find out more

This article and the exhibition at the Chilli concentrates on the early days in the Avenues and the impact of World War One but it’s just one chapter of the Ringtons’ story. To find out more, pay a visit to Ringtons’ museum in their Algernon Road headquarters and look out for a talk by Fiona  in our 2016-17 programme.

Can you help?

if you have worked at Ringtons, know more about any of the people mentioned in the article and/or have memories or photos to share, please either leave a comment on this website (by clicking on the link immediately below this article’s title) or email chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

The Donaldsons of Seventh Avenue

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

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

David’s story

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

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

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

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

Mary’s story

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

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

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

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

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

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

Postscript

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

Serving in WW1 by Kate Hancock

Serving in World War One by Kate Hancock

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

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

Can you help?

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