Tag Archives: Armstrong Park

For People Not Cows: Armstrong Park’s ‘cattle run’

Funny, isn’t it, how once something becomes generally accepted it gets, well, accepted? Take Armstrong Park’s ‘cattle run’: according to an interpretation panel in the park, this distinctive feature was sunk for bovine use by Victorian industrialist Lord Armstrong.

The livestock, goes the story, were herded through this costly railway-style cutting because the route had long been used for leading cows to pasture.

Armstrong Park interpretation panel, 2010

‘When [Lord] Armstrong was given the land’ the panel explains, ‘he had this deeper channel dug so that cattle could follow the old track and be kept apart from visitors and their carriages.’

Using archive materials, period maps, and copious illustrations, local resident Carlton Reid explains why the lottery-funded interpretation panel is, in all likelihood, wrong:

Bullshi…

‘For centuries, cattle had been driven down to pasture by the River Ouseburn from the fields above the valley,’ states the interpretation panel. The moss-covered panel is situated to the side of the upper of two bridges which span the 200-metre-long sunken feature in Armstrong Park. In the 19th Century this lozenge of land which now sports the ‘Shoe Tree’ was known as Bulman’s Wood.

Even though I argue here that the feature wasn’t designed for cows, I refer to it throughout this piece as the ‘cattle run’. Another descriptive convenience is the interchangeable use of Armstrong Park and Bulman’s Wood for roughly the same 29-acre plot of land.

There’s a linear east-west feature marked on the large-scale map attached to the Deed of Gift of September 1879 in which Armstrong gave this woodland in perpetuity to the people of Newcastle, but it’s not labelled as a ‘cattle run‘.

Plan from Lord Armstrong’s Deed of Gift, 1879

The feature was constructed not in the 1850s, which the interpretation panel seems to suggest, but in 1880 when the council — then known as Newcastle Corporation — owned the land.

Armstrong may have handed Bulman’s Wood to the people of Newcastle via the council’s stewardship but, ever the canny speculator, he inserted a clause in the deed allowing him to continue draining the parts of Heaton which he wished to later develop for housing.

I also speculate that, with the Victorian equivalent of a nod-and-a-wink, the Corporation incorporated Armstrong’s pre-designed linear feature into their plans for what they named Armstrong Park.

Remarks on a cutting

The cutting today known as the ‘cattle run’ starts on Ouseburn Road, rising and curving to finish unceremoniously in a quagmire forming the southern boundary of the plots administered by the 103-year-old Armstrong Allotments Association. Waterlogged and overgrown, this patch of land is understandably little-visited today. (Wear wellies.)

As the interpretation panel rightly points out, the cutting’s high-quality sandstone blockwork is reminiscent of Victorian railway infrastructure.

Armstrong Park ‘cattle run’

Some of the sandstone blocks and their coping stones have fallen to the ground — or, more likely, were pushed — and they lie scattered on the feature’s floor, an ankle-twisting deterrent to those wishing to walk along the ‘cattle run’.

There are two pillars at the Ouseburn Road entrance of the ‘cattle run’, eight courses high and capped with flat coping stones.

If you brush fallen leaves to one side, you’ll uncover rusted remains of iron railings where, within living memory, a gate once closed off the sunken feature at the roadside pillars, one of which is decoratively triangular.

At the opposite end of the ‘cattle run’ the sandstone blocks fade almost to ground level. This entrance is marked by stumpy, ivy-covered pillars, only one of which is now easily visible. This pillar, only a couple of courses high, is capped with a pyramid-shaped coping stone.

Eastern end of the ‘cattle run’

The quality of the stone work was intended to be seen,’ an archaeologist told me, ‘but not by agricultural labourers and cows.’

Hanna Steyne specialises in 19th Century landscapes. I sent her a great many photographs of the ‘cattle run’ and surroundings, including drone shots, and she also accessed period mapping to get the contemporary lay of the land.

‘I would not expect decorative column features on a structure only to be used for agricultural purposes,’ she pointed out.

On several period Ordnance Survey maps, Armstrong Park’s elongated feature is marked with a finger-shaped 100ft contour line. It’s likely that the masonry of the ‘cattle run’ shored up what was once a natural feature in Bulman’s Wood, a feature that the ‘Newcastle Daily Chronicle’ in 1884 called a ‘deep gully’.

As shown on the map from Armstrong’s 1879 Deed of Gift, this gully contained a linear feature prior to the following year’s construction of the ‘cattle run’.

Landscape artist

Hydraulics innovator and arms manufacturer Lord Armstrong was, of course, a noted philanthropist. Five years after handing Bulman’s Wood to the people of Newcastle he gifted the larger Jesmond Dene to the city. This provision of an amenity for his fellow citizens was generous but, back in 1878 when he first discussed the gift, would he really have commissioned a channel in a deep gully to keep cows away from people in a park he was soon to give away? It’s far more likely that when he charged his agents with designing the cutting, he and they had something else in mind.

By the time the cutting was built in 1880 the land was owned by the Newcastle Corporation. The council had no need for such a feature so it was likely to have been built on Armstrong’s orders, and with his cash, on the undocumented understanding that he had a commercial use for it.

Kraal rangers

According to a Historic Environment Record, the ‘cattle run’ is a ‘stone-lined animal kraal which took Armstrong’s cattle from grazing land to the east to the lower pasture land to the west, without disturbing visitors to the park. What was the historical source for this citation? ‘Pers. Comm. Jesmond Dene Rangers, 2004,’ says the record. There’s nothing wrong with using such local knowledge — especially when such ‘personal communications’ were gleaned from folks out there in all weathers looking after our parks and who, in the course of their work, probably hear their fair share of handed-down history — but it’s odd that the entry only cites unnamed 21st century rangers rather than providing 19th century sources.

For Lord Armstrong to go to the considerable expense of sinking a bovine passageway, it would, you might think, have to be a feature in regular use and therefore would have been of at least passing interest to the local press. Yet not in any of the long and detailed descriptions of Armstrong Park in contemporary newspapers have I found mentions of a ‘cattle run’, a ‘kraal’ or any other bovine-related use for the feature.

Nor have I found any period maps, not even those of the largest scale, that mark the feature as a ‘cattle run.’ The only maps to do so are modern and crowdsourced such as OpenStreetMap, a volunteer-edited online resource founded, coincidentally, in 2004..

Don’t have a cow, man

Might there have been a time-out-of-mind cattle track through the deep gully of Bulman’s Wood? Maybe. According to an 18th Century field-name map, there were two large fields to the west of what became Heaton Road: North Cow Close and South Cow Close, both of which belonged to Low Heaton Farm. On the other side of Heaton Road there was a P-shaped field called ‘Cow Loan’ belonging to Heaton Town Farm.

Detail from a plan of Heaton believed to be by Isaac Thompson, c 1800.
Redrawn by Frank Graham, 1952. Included in ‘Maps of Newcastle’ by Frank Graham, 1984.

There was also Benton Bridge Farm, which according to the censuses between 1891 and 1911 was a dairy farm. The farmhouse was at the junction of Ouseburn Road and the Newcastle to Benton turnpike, today’s Coast Road. It is now a house called Woodburn, that, in exterior design, is little changed from the 1890s.

Bingo, you might think, cows. However, the existence of these three field names and dairy farms in the vicinity does not necessarily mean that cows would be taken to pasture on fields beside the Ouseburn.

Might cows have been taken down to the Ouseburn not for pasture but to drink? Thomas Oliver’s 1844 map of Newcastle shows Heaton Road, Heaton Hall’s garden that would become Heaton Park’s bowling green, and Ouseburn Road and, close to where the cattle run would be later built, there’s a field boundary.

Detail from Thomas Oliver’s 1844 map of Newcastle, showing Heaton

There’s no path marked at this point, for cows or otherwise, and it’s possible that cows might have been herded along the edge of this field and down to the river.

But as there were several water sources in or near the cow-themed fields was there any real need to lead cattle to a stream? Archaeologist Hanna Steyne thinks not:

‘From the topography identifiable from mapping, it seems highly unlikely that cows would be heading for pasture down by the river — there seems to have been plentiful farm land on which to graze cows.’

The three large fields may have corralled cows in the 18th century but, by the mid-19th century, only one of them — Cow Loan — was still being used for that purpose, and this only fractionally. According to an 1868 document mapping Armstrong-owned land in Heaton, only about an eighth of the fields worked by Heaton Town Farm and East Heaton Farm were devoted to pasture. (Today, these fields are mostly in the area around Ravenswood Primary School and the Northumberland Hussar pub on Sackville Road.)

As has been discussed previously on this website, Heaton Town Farm was an arable and dairy farm, owned through the 18th and most of the 19th Centuries by the aristocratic Ridley family once of Heaton Hall.

Sir Matthew White Ridley, the fourth Baronet, was the farmer of the family. He had a ‘thorough liking for agricultural pursuits, and took a deep interest in all matters relating to the farm’, reported an 1877 obituary ‘As a breeder of cattle, he was known throughout the whole of the North of England.’

Ridley sold Heaton Town Farm’s land and buildings in 1865. All were either then or soon after that owned by Sir William Armstrong. From the 1840s to the 1860s, the farm was leased by the 4th Baron Ridley to George Cairns. In the 1861 census, Cairns (who also features in records as ‘Carins’) was listed as working 145 acres of mixed farmland, employing ‘4 men, a boy and women labourers.’ Cairns lived with a housekeeper, a ploughman, a 19-year-old Irish dairymaid and a 14-year-old ‘cow keeper’. By 1881, it was still a dairy farm but was now just 27 acres.

Clearly, there were cows in this part of Heaton when Armstrong or his agents commissioned the feature which became known as the ‘cattle run’, but by the 1870s there would have been just a small number of them rather than herds so large and potentially disruptive that they required a cow cutting.

In the 19th Century, ‘dairy farming was seen as a fairly abhorrent activity,’ said Steyne, ‘and one which should be hidden from the delicate middle classes.’

Armstrong himself owned several Newcastle farms, at least two of which had cows on them. He kept small herds at Castles Farm (near to today’s David Lloyd fitness club) and at Benton Place (underneath today’s HM Revenues and Customs building off Benton Road). However, it’s unlikely these herds would have ventured as far as Bulman’s Wood, so we’re left with the small number of cows at Heaton Town Farm and Benton Bridge Farm. (By 1916, Benton Bridge Farm housed just three cows, said to be ‘shockingly emaciated’.)

The idea that cattle would be walked through a formal Victorian park is fairly strange,’ suggests Steyne.

The whole point about Victorian parks was that they were controlled “natural” environments — nature made beautiful — but deliberately separated from the reality of the [actual] natural environment.’

Even if the much-reduced number of cows in the locality during the 1870s and 1880s still used a ‘traditional’ route through the steep-sided gully in Bulman’s Wood, why would Armstrong care to preserve this? Cows are not eels, and the Ouseburn is not the Sargasso Sea. For a practical man like Armstrong, and probably for countless others before him, the sensible herding route would have been down the long-existing Jesmond Vale Lane.

Pedestrian pleasures

If the ‘cattle run’ wasn’t for cattle, what was it for? An 1880 newspaper report about the opening of Armstrong Park explains that it was for pedestrian use. The ‘Newcastle Daily Chronicle’ was clear: it was a ‘sunken footpath’.

The ‘new park is rapidly progressing towards completion’, began the report.

‘The ivy-covered mill on the eminence immediately above [the bank] has for many years been a conspicuous object of interest from the vale beneath’, explained the period writer, meaning the old windmill in Armstrong Park.

‘Beyond this ground, the boundaries of the park terminate at a hedge growing on the border of a fine grass field [where] it is intended … to erect villa residences, and in order to render these accessible from the Ouseburn road, a sunken footpath, which will be finished from plans suggested by Sir William, is at present being made.

(That’s it: the ‘cattle run’ was a sunken footpath for villa owners; quest over. True, but let’s carry on anyway, there’s plenty more to parse.)

The 1880 writer continued:

‘This path runs immediately through and underneath the park, but is in no way connected with the public pleasure ground.’

According to this contemporary description, a ‘wooden bridge forms a portion of the carriage drive over the path, which is also crossed in the middle path by a neat rustic bridge.’

Today, these two bridges are the large upper one over the ‘cattle run’ at the carriage road and the smaller one down the path from the Shoe Tree. Both bridges now have metal railings, and both are made from stone not wood. The bridges have been rebuilt some time after 1880, but let’s continue with the contemporary description.

Bridge over the ‘cattle run’, Armstrong Park

‘An elegant waterfall will be seen from both structures,’ wrote the correspondent.

Water surprise

Wait, what, a waterfall? Where? It ran parallel to the ‘cattle run’. To confirm its existence I pulled back some of the overgrown foliage to unveil the vertical rock face over which the cascade once ran.

Site of former waterfall, Armstrong Park

Just like the well-known waterfall in Jesmond Dene — the subject of countless paintings and photographs — the hitherto unknown one in Armstrong Park was built rather than being wholly natural.

Given similar landscape shaping in Jesmond Dene, it’s possible that the cascade was Armstrong’s idea, or perhaps that of his friend, the naturalist John Hancock, co-founder with his brother Albany of the museum which until recently bore their name. Some of the Dene’s naturalistic features, such as its ornamental rockeries, were either designed in whole by Hancock or in association with Armstrong.

The 1880 newspaper report has a vivid description:

‘The water, which is obtained from the fields beyond, will flow through a 15-inch pipe, placed for a distance beneath the sunken footpath, and then securing an outlet between the carriage drive and the rustic bridge, will dash merrily onwards over an ingenious arrangement of rocks, falls and ferns, until it at length mingles the purity of its stream with that of the singing burn beneath.’

(The original rocks remain, and there’s still a pipe in situ, although it’s a modern one, concreted into place.)

The waterfall pre-dated Newcastle Corporation’s ownership of Bulman Wood. According to a report in the ‘Newcastle Daily Chronicle’ of October 1878, the waterfall — described as a ‘small cascade’ — was fed by a spring that ‘runs evenly the whole year through’.

Armstrong Park has several perennial springs. Heavy rain landing on year-round saturated ground is now channeled by numerous drains but, before these were constructed, Bulman’s Wood would have been almost permanently boggy, and, during high rainfall events, there would have been a rapid runoff of stormwater down the deep gully.

Water on the brain

Bulman’s Wood, according to the ‘Chronicle’ report, was owned by a Mr. Potter. (Actually, it was owned by Armstrong, who had inherited the land in 1851.) The Mr. Potter in question was Colonel Addison Potter, who lived with his large family and many servants at Heaton Hall, once the seat of the White-Ridley family but bought in 1840 by Colonel Potter’s father, the coal owner and industrialist Addison Langhorn Potter, Armstrong’s uncle.

Armstrong bought land in Jesmond and Heaton as it became available, adding to the land he inherited from his father’s close friend Armorer Donkin, a rich Tyneside solicitor.

Armstrong Senior and Donkin were town councillors, and thick as thieves. In the 1820s and 1830s, the Armstrong family would spend holidays at Donkin’s country retreat in Rothbury. Young William developed a taste for open water fishing in the Coquet River during these holidays and loved the area’s hills, weirs, and waterfalls, a landscape he would later go on to recreate in Jesmond Dene before doing similar at Cragside.

Armstrong Junior had a lifelong fascination with water’s potential for motive power. From a young age, he was afflicted with ‘water on the brain’, joked his family.

After leaving school, Armstrong was articled with Donkin, a bachelor who treated the bright youngster as his adoptive son, heir to his fortune and his land in Heaton. Armstrong worked for some time as a solicitor in Donkin’s firm but his real vocation was as an inventor and engineer with an abiding interest in the growing science of hydraulics.

Donkin lived in Jesmond Park, a grand house in Sandyford with gardens and woodlands sloping down to the Ouseburn. Jesmond Park was famous among Tyneside’s elite for ‘Donkin’s ordinary’, a weekly Saturday luncheon where the great and good — and the rich and influential — would meet to exchange ideas as well as contacts and contracts.

Armstrong, eager to ditch his legal work and forge a living as an engineer, was a habitual attendee at these dinners, no doubt enthused after talking with visiting Victorian luminaries including Isambard Kingdom Brunel. For the young Armstrong, it would have been a short stroll down the slope from Jesmond Park to the deep gully that later became the ‘cattle run’.

There’s a linear feature in the gully shown on the 1864 Ordnance Survey map. The 200-metre-long feature is drawn like a road, with parallel lines. But it’s too narrow to be a road and isn’t dotted, so it’s not a footpath, either. Nor is it a field boundary. The nearest equivalent, on this particular map, would be a mill race.

While there’s a mill race in Jesmond Vale, opposite the gully and one of several mill races in the Ouseburn valley, there’s no known water mill in Bulman’s Wood.

The linear feature on the map was too straight to be natural and, if you were looking down from the lower bridge, it curved to the right as it neared Ouseburn Road. This “J”-shaped tail — which can still be seen on the ground today — curved in the opposite direction to the later ‘cattle run’.

There are footpaths marked on the 1864 map that follow and cross over the linear feature and its J-shaped tail. Many later maps plot both the tail and the ‘cattle run’.

The feature shown on the 1864 map is narrow, about the width of the mill race opposite. It’s probably an open-to-the-elements storm drain, yet large enough to be plotted on a map.

Detail from 1864 Ist edition OS map

‘[The] little stream which runs through [Bulman Wood’s] dell is sunk deep in a stone-lined channel,’ reported ‘Newcastle Daily Chronicle’ in 1884, adding that it had been built because it had been ‘difficult to prevent the rivulet when flooded from breaking the banks away.’

The ‘Chronicle’ didn’t give a date for the stone-lined channel’s construction but as it’s marked on the 1864 map, it must have been built sometime before 1858 when the OS map had been surveyed.

Could the channel on Donkin’s land have been used by Armstrong — or constructed, even — for experiments in hydraulics? Maybe. Armstrong certainly cited the Ouseburn as a stream that could power machinery.

‘The transient produce of useless floods’ Armstrong told an 1845 meeting at Newcastle’s Literary and Philosophical Society ‘could become available as a permanent source of mechanical power.’

He wanted to harness the ‘vast quantities of water which pour down brooks and watercourses … in time of rain.’

A newspaper report of the meeting said Armstrong ‘proceeded to point out the advantages which would result from the principles of impounding surplus water and causing it to act as a column, by referring to … the Ouseburn.’

‘Suppose,’ posited Armstrong to the august audience, ‘that instead of having a succession of six mill races and six falls, as was the case on the Ouseburn, the first mill race were continued along the banks of the stream gradually getting higher and higher above the natural channel of the brook, to within a short distance of the Tyne where a single fall of upwards of 100 feet might be obtained.’

There’s no documentary evidence to connect Armstrong’s 1845 desire for a high mill race to the probable storm drain down the gully in Bulman’s Wood, but he would have been well aware of the water feature’s existence.

The run-off from the storm drain was later employed for the scenic waterfall introduced above.

‘The stream of water,’ continued the 1880 newspaper report, ‘has been diverted along a channel of masonry almost at its highest point after entering the grounds, and it is brought along its artificial bed until opposite the larger of the two rustic bridges, where it is thrown over a rocky ledge in a high fall.’

While undoubtedly scenic, the waterfall also had a practical purpose. The storm drain which created it was said to also drain the upper field, which today is the waterlogged patch of ground between the end of the ‘cattle run’ and the multi-coloured plots belonging to the Armstrong Allotments Association.

Armstrong Allotments, 2020

‘Ingenious drainage [in Armstrong Park] has in several instances converted marshy, sodden land into pleasant places,’ reported the ‘Chronicle’

If this ‘ingenious drainage’ dates back to the 1840s or 1850s that’s only a decade or two after the introduction of the transformative Deanston method of agricultural field drainage. The work of James Smith of Deanston in Perthshire used drain tiles and narrow pipes beneath fields. Smith created the technique in 1823, but its use only became widespread after a journal published details in 1831.

‘Smith o’ Deanston’s the man!’ exclaimed a character in ‘Hillingdon Hall’, a now-forgotten but popular-in-the-1840s novel by Robert Smith Surtees of Hamsterley Hall, Rowlands Gill. ‘Who ever ‘heard o’ drainin’ afore Smith o’Deanston inwented it?’ continued John Jorrocks, an upwardly-mobile, country-sports-loving businessman who, wrote Surtees, couldn’t pronounce the ‘v’ sound.

The new method of drainage led to a revolution in British farming, financially boosted in 1846 by the Public Money Drainage Act. This largesse enacted by parliament extended generous farm improvement loans to landowners. (Many parliamentarians owned large estates at this time.) Previously soggy and unproductive land became highly profitable arable fields which, for 15 or so years, made the rich even richer.

The ‘now common accompaniment of a country gentleman,’ pointed out Surtees in ‘Hawbuck Grange’ (1847) was a ‘draining-pipe.’

After going ‘boldly at the Government loan’ another Surtees character was said to have transformed a ‘sour, rush-grown, poachy, snipe-shooting looking place’ into land ‘sound enough to carry a horse.’

Deanston’s method of introducing smaller-bore, more frequently placed drains was an improvement on former methods, wrote the landed Surtees, who described ‘gulf-like drains as would have carried off a river … but there was no making head against wet land with stone drains, the bit you cured only showing the wetness of the rest.’

The stone-lined watercourse in Bulman’s Wood was more likely to have been a storm channel than one that could drain a field, but contemporary descriptions are divided on the subject.

Even though, according to the 1864 map, it looked like one, the watercourse wasn’t a mill race, Duncan Hutt, a local watermill expert told me. ‘There is no clear evidence for any feature nearby being a conduit for water to feed a mill.’

He added: ‘The [cattle run] is far too steep to be a watercourse for a mill, [it’s] more likely something to help provide some surface drainage in times of heavy downpours in the past.’

Archaeologist Steyne agreed:

‘The identification of a drainage watercourse and a decorative waterfall to the north of the line of the cattle run, would correlate with the information in the mapping indicating earlier drainage from the land to the east, and then a later stone-built feature running alongside.’

An 1894/95 OS map shows the ‘cattle run’ to be a full-on watercourse, printed blue. This was probably a mistake by the map makers. (Mistakes were common — on the same map, Hadrian’s Wall is marked not as the Roman Wall but as the Romam Wall.)

‘It is very possible that the earlier drainage feature became less visible and was confused in the mapping with the later cattle run,’ suggested Steyne.

‘Land was not completely resurveyed for each new map, only changes added. The fact that both were perhaps unused, or fell into disrepair shortly after construction might explain [the anomaly on the 1894/95 OS map],’ she said.

‘Land for housing’

During the first 75 years of the 19th Century, the British landed aristocracy were the wealthiest class in the world’s richest country. For the last 25 of those years this wealth had at least partly come from the huge profits enabled by government-sponsored field drainage. But the good times for many of these landed elites did not last. A dramatic fall in grain prices following the opening up of the American prairies to cultivation led to a steep decline in British agriculture. This agrarian depression started in the 1870s and continued until the mid-1890s resulting in British fields that had previously been money-spinners losing much of their value.

Between 1809 and 1879, 88 percent of British millionaires had been landowners; from 1880 to 1914 this figure dropped to 33 percent.

‘Land has ceased to be either a profit or a pleasure,’ complained Lady Bracknell in Oscar Wilde’s 1895 ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’.

For the elites, it became prudent to sell land rather than farm it.

Urban farmland, in particular, could generate huge one-hit profits, with expanding cities such as Newcastle in desperate need of space for housing.

Heaton landowners Colonel Addison Potter, Sir Matthew White Ridley, and Lord Armstrong and others could — and did — make handsome profits by selling off their fields for building plots. These three in particular were voracious sellers of land, especially Armstrong who employed agents that developed housing estates on his behalf.

Armstrong, of course, also gave away land to the people of Newcastle, but the gift of his extensive Jesmond Dene ‘garden’ wasn’t perhaps as purely philanthropic as it is usually portrayed — creating an attractive country park from a steeply sided valley that might have proved too deep to fill and flatten was a savvy move for a housing developer.

‘The more he bestows, the richer [Lord Armstrong] becomes’ , a magazine calculated in 1889.

Creating the amenity of Jesmond Dene as a sweetener to help sell the plots on his extensive housing developments in Jesmond and Heaton made perfect business sense. Likewise, Armstrong Bridge wasn’t commissioned by its namesake to ease the burdens of packhorses climbing Benton Bank — a backstory usually attributed to the kindness of Lady Armstrong — but as a high-level road approach for the prestigious properties Armstrong planned to develop on both sides of the Ouseburn valley.

On the plus side, his shrewd philanthropy prevented any infilling of Jesmond Dene. Many of Newcastle’s other denes disappeared under landfill — a third-of-a-mile segment of the Ouseburn valley near Warwick Street was culverted in the early 1900s and crammed with rubble and other rubbish. However, the land created on top of the Ouseburn Tip — which is now the ‘City Stadium’ — proved too unstable for housing.

Similarly, today’s plots owned by the Armstrong Allotments Association only exist because the land they were carved from proved unsuitable for building use.

Armstrong originally planned to develop this land to create Heaton Park Estate, an exclusive neighbourhood of mansions overlooking the Dene.

In 1878, Armstrong instructed his architect Frank W Rich to ‘lay out villa residences upon the land to the eastward of the park,’ Rich had ‘already marked off into building plots the whole of the land which lives above Bulman’s Wood,’ reported the ‘Newcastle Courant’. but, as has already been discussed on this site, these villas would not be built.

Problem: ‘the ground here forms a natural basin, and a spring rises just above it, and runs evenly the whole year through,’ revealed the ‘Courant’, adding that the land was ‘soft and swampy.’

Solution: ‘The water … is now carried away to form a small cascade,’ reported the ‘Newcastle Daily Chronicle’

This cascade was the waterfall parallel to the ‘cattle run’. The waterfall, and the rivulet that formed it, were carried through one of the two arches beneath the lower of the two Armstrong Park bridges. The second arch spans the ‘cattle run’.

Bridge in Armstrong Park over the ‘cattle run’ and former waterfall

Except, remember, it’s not a ‘cattle run’, it was a sunken footpath, reported the period newspaper mentioned earlier. A sunken footpath from Ouseburn Road to Armstrong’s putative posh villas; a sunken footpath for use by the villa owners, or perhaps to be used as a hidden-from-view passageway for servants or tradespeople.

‘The quality and style of the stone work would support [the] suggestion [that this was a] pedestrian route to link the road to proposed housing,’ concluded Steyne.

The sunken footpath was built by Newcastle Corporation in 1880, working to plans drawn up by Armstrong or, more likely, his agents. Although decorative and with its own sylvan cascade, the expensive railway-style cutting didn’t help sell the plots — the thirteen posh villas never got built.

By 1884, Rich had modified the plan, dividing the development into 41 plots. However, after fresh surveys revealed the land to be unsuitable for housing, this plan, too, fell by the wayside.

The sunken footpath was itself sunk, with no longer any reason to exist.

Armstrong died in 1900. His will stipulated that part of what would have been the Heaton Park Estate should become allotments. Other parts of the would-be development lay fallow until the 1920s when almost 100 houses were erected on the land that had been deemed unsuitable forty years previously.

Heaton Park Estate never made the jump from Rich’s drawing board, but a similar development to the north of Armstrong Bridge proved more successful. In 1894, Rich (probably acting for Armstrong) was advertising ‘Villa SITES for Sale on Jesmond Park Estate.’ Significantly, the adverts stressed that on these plots the ‘drainage [was] perfect,’ which suggests that the drainage for the plots on Heaton Park Estate had not been perfect.

Jesmond Park Estate was a commercial success, and some of the large houses that stand back from the roads Jesmond Park East and Jesmond Park West are among the most expensive properties in Newcastle.

White elephant

The ‘cattle run’ was built in advance of the prestigious housing it was designed to service, perhaps constructed early to act as a sales tool to attract rich house hunters. It had been built on land owned by the city council by railway engineers who were working to plans commissioned by Lord Armstrong via his jobbing architect Frank W. Rich.

It’s possible that work on the cattle run was done by Rich’s assistant, H.G. Badenoch.

‘When Lord Armstrong presented the beautiful Jesmond Dene to Newcastle, the erection of the lodges, making of footpaths, and building of bridges was … in Mr. Rich’s hands, and I superintended most of the work,’ remembered Badenoch later in life.

Badenoch also reported that he had conducted ‘all the surveying, levelling, and setting out of streets’ for Lord Armstrong’s housing developments in Jesmond and Heaton.

The unsung Badenoch might have also been responsible for converting what had been a pre-1860s storm drain in Bulman’s Wood into Armstrong Park’s scenic waterfall.

There has never been a ‘cattle run’ in Heaton. The linear feature now known by that name was built as a sunken footpath next to a tumbling cascade. The cascade may have tumbled for some years, but it failed to drain the sodden field above it, and as the sunken footpath ended in a quagmire and not, as was planned, at the foot of thirteen posh villas, it too was a flop.

Knowledge of the ‘cattle run’’s true purpose was lost soon after its use became moot. Ordnance Survey maps didn’t label what was — and remains — a distinctive ground feature. A large-scale OS map of 1907 managed to pinpoint small items such as urinals but didn’t state the use of the feature that ninety or so years later became known, wrongly, as the ‘cattle run.’ A 1942 OS map got the closest, labelling the feature a ‘subway.’

Other Armstrong-commissioned subways exist, including the fully-covered one from his Banqueting House to St. Mary’s chapel, and another in Jesmond Dene to Blackberry crags.

Sorry, Newcastle City Council, but the lottery-funded interpretation board you installed in 2010 is incorrect — the ‘cattle run’ was built for people, not cows. But let’s look on the bright side: while Armstrong Park loses a bovine superhighway, it gains a long-lost waterfall.

Notes and Sources can be found here.

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Carlton Reid. Photographs by Carlton Reid. With thanks to Marek Bidwell, Sarah Capes, Ann Denton, Keith Fisher, Henrietta Heald, Duncan Hutt, Chris Jackson, Alan Morgan, John Penn, Yvonne Shannon, Hanna Steyne, Les Turnbull, and Will Watson-Armstrong.

Carlton Reid was ‘Press Gazette’ Transport Journalist of the Year, 2018. He writes for ‘The Guardian’, ‘Forbes.com’ and ‘Mail Online‘.

He’s also a historian – his recent books include ‘Roads Were Not Built for Cars‘ and ‘Bike Boom’ both published by Island Press, Washington, D.C. The ‘cattle run’ isn’t the first infrastructure he has shown to be wrongly labelled: in 2017 he discovered the existence of hundreds of miles of 1930s-era Dutch-style cycleways paid for by Britain’s Ministry of Transport but which fell out of use so quickly that they became buried under grass or were misidentified as service roads.

Robbie Burns in Heaton: a Scottish mystery

Who remembers a statue of Scottish poet, Robert Burns, in Heaton Park between the mid 1970s and mid ‘80s? It seems that, even among those of us who lived in Heaton back then that not many people do, which is something of a mystery. We are hoping that this story of the statue and how it came to be in Heaton will jog some memories and maybe even unearth a photograph or two.

On Tour

Robert Burns was born in Alloway near Ayr and later lived less than 30 miles from the border in Dumfries, so it’s perhaps surprising that he only visited England, or indeed left his native Scotland, three times, all in the same month, May 1787, while on a tour to collect orders for a collection of his poems. On two occasions, he ventured only a very short distance over the border to Coldstream and Berwick but on the third occasion he came to Newcastle via Wooler, Alnwick, Warkworth and Morpeth.

 To Newcastle

The date of the poet’s visit to Newcastle was Tuesday 29 May but unfortunately, although Burns kept a diary, it doesn’t give us any clue to the route he took through the town, where he stayed or what his impressions were. He recorded only that his party met ’a very agreeable and sensible fellow, a Mr Chatto, who shows us a great many civilities and who dines and sups with us.’

A letter, written during his brief stay, to his friend, Robert Ainslie, who had originally been with the group but had returned home, suggests he wasn’t particularly happy while he was here. Burns wrote, ‘Here am I, a woeful wight on the banks of Tyne. Old Mr Thomas Hood has been persuaded to join our Partie, and Mr Kerr & he do very well, but alas!  I dare not talk nonsense lest I lose all the little dignity I have among the sober sons of wisdom and discretion, and I have had not one hearty mouthful of laughter since that merry-melancholy moment we parted.’

The following day, Burns and companions were on their way again. After breakfasting at Hexham, they continued west.

Although Robert Burns only made a fleeting visit to Newcastle, his younger brother, William, did live and work here. He completed his apprenticeship at Messrs Walker and Robson, saddlers. He then briefly worked in London before his untimely death in 1790.

While William was trying to find work in Newcastle, Robert wrote to him: ‘I need not caution you against guilty amours – they are bad and ruinous everywhere, but in England they are the very devil’.

Commemorations

Robert Burns died in 1796 at the young age of 37, only nine years after his visit to Newcastle. By this time his work was extremely popular in Scotland and the tradition of Burns Night, in effect a second national day, began within a few years of his death. The first ‘Burns supper’ is said to have been held in Scotland in 1802 but it has been claimed that the first Burns club in the world was founded in Sunderland shortly afterwards. A Newcastle club was in existence by 1816. 

Migration of Scots into north-east England grew during the nineteenth century and with it a strong attachment to the national poet of their homeland. Many events were held in January 1859 to commemorate the centenary of Burns’ birth, including a supper for 70 in Low Walker and a festival dinner for 400 in the Newcastle Town Hall. There were further events in 1896, the centenary of Burns’ death.

Walker

It was in this context that Walker Burns Club, which comprised mainly workers in the local shipyards, decided to donate to the people of their district a ‘monumental drinking fountain’. At the unveiling of the ‘Burns Memorial Fountain’ on 13 July 1901 the secretary of the club, John McKay, said that for four or five years (ie from around the time of the centenary of Burns’ death) the members had wanted to do something for the people who had supported them and so had saved the profits of the club’s programme of concerts and lectures. As he formally handed over the  memorial to the chairman of Walker Urban District Council, he said the club members ‘were trying to do what they could to leave the world a better place than they found it and to more fully appreciate the beautiful and humane sentiments contained in nearly all Burns’ poems .’  He made no mention of Burns’ visit to Newcastle.

It was left to Hugh Crawford Smith, Liberal Unionist MP for Tyneside, who unveiled the fountain, to make passing reference to this visit:

‘[Burns] was once very near to Walker. In 1787, he came to Newcastle, slept there a night and then went home by way of Hexham and Carlisle. Burns never really got to Walker – laughter – but he might have done so if he could have foretold that more than a century later a drinking fountain would be erected to his honour’… the memorial would stand for all time as a practical manifestation of what the Burns club had done for Walker (Applause)’. 

The event merited only four and a half lines in the ‘Evening Chronicle’:

‘A Burns memorial fountain, the gift of the Walker Burns Club was unveiled in Walker Park on Saturday by Mr H Crawford Smith MP, who together with Father Berry, chairman of the council, and other speakers, made some interesting remarks about the ploughman poet.’

However, luckily for us there was much more detail in Joseph Cowen’s more radical ‘Newcastle Daily Chronicle’ and other local papers in Northumberland, Durham and Scotland.

From them, we know that the memorial comprised an ornamental, iron drinking fountain topped by a bronze ‘statuette’ of the ‘National Bard’ which stood on a capital on top the fountain, which itself was mounted on a raised platform accessed by four steps and surrounded by flower beds. It must have been an impressive sight. Father Berry, leader of the council, was the first person to point out that the poet had his back to his homeland. This became a recurring theme over the years.

The drinking fountain was cast in Glasgow by Walter Macfarlane’s Saracen Foundry, the most important manufacturer of ornamental ironwork in Scotland. Among its surviving works in Britain are the Alexander Graham Memorial Drinking Fountain in Stromness and the Barton Arcade in Manchester. Overseas works included gates in India and Argentina, fountains in Tasmania, Malaysia and Cyprus and verandas in South Africa and Singapore (at the Raffles Hotel). The Walker Burns Club chose their fountain from a pattern book. It was designed in a way that a statue of choice could be added.

The statue, which depicted Burns with right arm outstretched in the act of reciting his song ‘A Man’s a man for A ‘That’, was sculpted by David Watson Stephenson of Edinburgh whose many well-known works include a bronze statue of William Wallace on the National Wallace Monument in Stirling and the figures of Mary Queen of Scots, Halbert Glendinning and James VI on the Sir Walter Scott Monument in Edinburgh. The Scots of Walker chose the very best craftsmen to make their memorial. 

A shield attached to the capital between the fountain and the statue bore the inscription ‘Presented to the District Council by the Burns Cub, Walker on Tyne 1901’. 

The capital also bore the final lines from Burns’ well-known song A Man’s a Man for A ‘That’ :

‘It’s Coming Yet for A’ That

That Man To Man, the Warld O’er

Shall Brithers be for A’ That.’

The full song asserts that a man’s value lies not in his wealth, position or social class but in his mind and character. Of course, these sentiments still resonate today and the song is still performed in Scotland on major occasions, memorably at the opening of the Scottish Parliament and the funeral  of Donald Dewar, the inaugural minister for Scotland. The Walker Burns Club’s choice of inscription has stood the test of time.

Fresh Water

So, it is very clear from accounts of the unveiling that the drinking fountain was considered at least as important a part of the gift as the statue. 

Installation of free public drinking fountains, the first of which appeared in Liverpool in 1854, was often linked to the Temperance Movement, who wanted to give people a safe and easily available alternative to alcohol, although the irony of this in relation to Robert Burns was not lost at the unveiling. Expressing an expectation that the memorial would ‘stand for all time [dispensing] pure water’, Crawford Smith joked that Burns would probably have liked something stronger in it.

The Walker fountain had tin cups suspended on chains at the base to allow passers by to drink the water but even in 1901 the public health dangers of many people sharing unwashed vessels was recognised and safer designs were being introduced elsewhere. (But there were still similar cups at Armstrong Park’s ‘King John’s Well’, the postcard below also dating from 1901).

King John’s Well, Armstrong Park c 1901 with drinking cups

Interestingly, although they seemed to have had their day, there has been a revival of public drinking fountains in recent years in response to concerns about the use of plastic bottles, increasing summer temperatures and as an alternative to unhealthy sugary drinks. A 2019 campaign for the installation and restoration of drinking fountains in Newcastle seems to have stalled due to the current pandemic but the reasoning behind it is still strong.

Restoration

The first mention we have found of repairs to the monument was in 1956 when the council noted that the fountain was ‘now disused’. The plan was to point the masonry part of the base, remove the steps and clean and paint the statue. It would not be turned around to face Scotland! 

Today painting a bronze statue sounds like an unusual piece of restoration work. Nevertheless, we know that the work was done and afterwards it was returned to Walker Park, where it stood until the mid 1970s at which time ‘vandals’ and ‘the passage of time’ had reportedly left it without a head and arms. In 1975, the North East Federation of Burns Societies, rather than the city council, commissioned another restoration by a Hatfield firm of welders where a Mr Bill Fraser, himself a Scot, led the work to pin the arms and head back onto the statue and recreate fingers missing from the the right hand with glass fibre.

This time, at least in the reports we have read, there was no mention at all of the fountain.

Heaton

The next newspaper report we have found dates from 24 February 1984. It was reported in ‘The Journal’ that the statue of Robert Burns  had been ‘stolen from its home of five years in Heaton Park , and smashed to pieces by vandals’

Mr Max McGregor, president of the Ouseburn Burns Society, is reported as saying ‘The statue was donated to the city by a Burns society and was to have been used for our celebrations on Burns Night this January. This year’s visit had to be cancelled because of this affair’.

Mr Roger Neville, spokesman for Newcastle City Council, said: ‘The statue was stolen by youngsters and as they were rolling it away, it toppled down the hill and broke into pieces. It is now in our Jesmond Dene depot’.

So still no mention of the fountain and no photograph but, based on this report, we can apparently date the statue’s sojourn in Heaton Park from 1979 to 1984. There is at least one inaccuracy in the account though. As we know, the donation was to the Urban District of Walker, not the neighbouring City of Newcastle. And, as we’ll soon see, doubt has been cast on the date.

Forgotten

All went quiet for a decade when, in response to an enquiry from Newcastle United historian, Paul Joannou, ‘The Journal’ ran two articles which showed that collective memory can be very short. On 15 March, it asked ‘Was there ever a statue of Robert Burns on Tyneside?’ 

Joannou was enquiring as he was aware of a series of football matches in the 1920s, staged for the purpose of raising money for a statue to Burns in Newcastle. He said that large crowds watched legends such as Hughie Gallagher and Alex James and that players who took part were presented with a medal, one of which was on display in the Newcastle United museum. He had put an appeal in the club programme but nobody had come forward to say they knew of the statue.

At this stage ‘The Journal’ knew nothing about the statue either, with journalist Tony Jones writing ‘I reckon the nearest one to Newcastle is 90 miles away in Dumfries.’ However, the following day, it revealed to its readers that the statue had been found in storage ‘at a council depot’ (presumably Jesmond Dene where it had lain in pieces since 1984).

The Journal’ had ‘learnt ‘that the statue had been removed from Walker in 1979’, which fits in with the 1984 account in the same paper (so perhaps its own archive is where it learnt it from). Again, there was no mention of the fountain nor the 1975 restoration, only the temporary removal for repair in 1956. A photograph, showing the statue on a graffiti covered cylindrical column carrying a plaque, was labelled ‘Heaton Park, 1983’ but it is very difficult to see the surroundings.

Journal 16 March 1994 and the only photograph we have found so far of Burns in Heaton Park (far right), sadly almost impossible to see in this digitised copy.

The paper had by now been contacted by a reader who remembered walking past the memorial in Walker Park every day on his way to school in the 1950s but still no such memories had come to light of its much more recent time in Heaton Park. We are hoping that 26 years on, we will have more luck.

Football Fundraisers

The Journal’ was naturally bemused as to why fundraising football matches would be played to raise money for a statue particularly if there had been one all along. They wondered if the statue had originally stood somewhere else and only came to Walker after the 1920s.

We now know that the statue fund was for one in Newcastle, as opposed to Walker, and that the fundraising through popular and high profile football matches was extremely successful.

However, a spanner was thrown in the works by the Burns Federation, which at its annual conference in September 1926, passed a resolution to say that there should be no more statues and instead affiliated clubs should be encouraged to honour the poet’s memory by donating to local hospitals. An opinion piece in the ‘Dundee Telegraph’ didn’t mince words:

‘Few of the Burns statues are good, many are bad and a considerable number are very bad.’ Too generally they make the subject look like a moon-stricken idiot’.

We don’t know what the writer thought of the Walker statue but you can make up your own mind about its quality.

Walker Park’s replica statue on a new plinth and Alexander Nasmyth’s 1787 portrait on which the likeness was based

A number of contemporary portraits of Burns exist.

The honorary president of Newcastle Burns Club at this time was  Sir Thomas Oliver who, though born in Ayrshire just like Robert Burns, was now a world famous professor of medicine at Durham University. He specialised in industrial diseases such as lead poisoning and had also been instrumental in raising the Tyneside Scottish Battalions during WW1. Former shipyard worker and trades unionist, Alexander Wilkie, once of Cardigan Terrace and Third Avenue and by this time of 36 Lesbury Road in Heaton, who had been Scotland’s first Labour MP,  was an honorary vice president.

These were not men to mess with! In May 1927, in apparent defiance of the federation, the club reported that over £2,500 had already been raised and ‘with another £100 they could go ahead with the scheme and procure the site.’

Details thereafter are sketchy but the statue was never erected and we know that the Newcastle Burns Club donated considerable funds to local hospitals.

New Plaque

So by the second decade of the 21st century, all we had was one broken statue lying in pieces in Jesmond Dene council depot. The next document we have dates from around 2011 and confuses things further.

An entry in Tyne and Wear’s Historic Environment Record is headed ‘Robert Burns Memorial Fountain’ but states: 

In 1901 a statue commemorating Rabbie Burns was erected in Walker Park by the local Burns Club supported by the numerous ship builders who moved to Walker from Clydesdale.The plaque reads ‘THIS STATUE WAS ERECTED IN WALKER PARK BY THE WALKER ON TYNE BURNS CLUB ON 13TH JULY 1901 TO MARK THE VISIT TO NEWCASTLE BY ROBERT BURNS ON THE 29TH MAY 1797. REMOVED TO THIS SITE BY THE CITY OF NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE ON THE 27TH SEPTEMBER 1975’. It is a bronze cast and is in very poor condition. It is presently stored at Jesmond Dene Nursery. The Walker Park lottery bid [2010] has plans to recast the statue and put it back into the park.’

So the fountain is mentioned in the heading but nowhere in the text and there is no mention of either of the original plaques but we find that a new plaque had been created at some point – it might well be the one in the 1983 photograph – and the date it gives for its removal to a new site is four years earlier that the dates we have seen so far. But does ‘this site’ even refer to Heaton Park or did it stand somewhere else after Walker but before Heaton? Confused? You bet! And that’s why we need you to wrack your brains and sift through your old photos.

Here, for the first time, we read the claim that the statue was erected to commemorate Burns’ visit to Newcastle and this might be a suitable point to question whether Burns really was a worthy recipient of such a memorial.

Slavery

It is 36 years since the Burns statue was ‘stolen by youngsters and as they were rolling it away, it toppled down the hill and broke into pieces’  but that sentence surely brought to mind recent scenes in Bristol and elsewhere. Thanks, in part, to the Black Lives Matter movement, we are much more aware of the flaws of historical figures once revered – by some.

Burns was honoured by the people of Walker and people like Heaton’s Alexander Wilkie because he was a poet who spoke for ordinary workers and their families.  It may come as surprise then that the year before his visit to Newcastle, Burns had accepted a position as overseer at a friend’s sugar plantation in Jamaica, a plantation which was, of course, worked by slave labour.

In 1786, Burns faced financial ruin as his father’s death combined with the poor soil on the farm he worked with his brother had reduced both of them to near starvation.  To compound matters, his love life was even more troubled than usual. It has been noted that Burns, ‘had been nearly married to his first love Jean (to the horror of her parents and the Church) but they had agreed to separate (without knowing that Jean was pregnant with twins); then Robert had fallen in love with another, ‘Highland Mary’ who died suddenly while waiting for him to come to her. Jean’s vindictive father sought court proceedings to arrest him so, like a fox with the hounds snapping at his heels, Robert needed to escape.’

He accepted Patrick Douglas’s offer of a post on a small team of overseers on his plantation. There are some who argue that this wasn’t such a bad decision as Burns was only to be a ‘bookkeeper’.   But others have claimed that Burns would, ‘have a daily interface with the truth of slavery – from assisting in purchases, through recording punishments and deaths’. Burns himself described his role as ‘a poor Negro driver’, not a good look for a poet who revered as a champion of freedom and who came to Newcastle, shortly before 3,000 of its residents made their way to the Guildhall to sign a petition against the slave trade. 

Fortunately both for Burns and his legions of fans down the centuries, in a last act of defiance before taking this huge step, he decided to publish his ‘Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect’. They were instantly acclaimed and so Burns was able to turn back from his journey west into the dark world of slavery administration and instead turn east to a brighter future in Edinburgh and fame and marriage to Jean. The next year he was able to do his literary tour and come south to Newcastle. 

There is of course a great irony in the fact that Burns almost ended up playing a part in the  deeply destructive and dehumanising slave trade and it is one that arguably cuts right to the heart of Scottish society today.  Many of Burns’ poems spoke out strongly about freedom and against forms of human slavery. His national poem Scots Wha Hae’, has its title taken from words attributed to Robert the Bruce before the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, where Bruce’s army won the national freedom of the Scots against a larger English army.  But this is the rub; as has been pointed out on a recent BBC Scotland series, many Scots who are today advocating national freedom again, through a second independence referendum forget the major role Scotland played in the transatlantic slave trade. It was this trade that Burns himself nearly played a role in.

Burns’ only poem which is directly relevant to the issue of slavery is The Slave’s Lament’ from 1792. This is clearly an abolitionist poem.   It does beg the question then of just how was it that Burns so nearly became part of the trade he later seemed to abhor. There has been much speculation but we will never know.

But we do know that a young Abraham Lincoln came to the settlement of New Salem and craving books found  a ready made library in the home of a Scottish neighbour Jack or Jock Kelso who, unsurprisingly given his name, was a Scotsman. It is said that Lincoln was heavily influenced by the poetry of Burns that Kelso had in his collection and this would help him on the road to becoming the US president who freed the slaves.

Another American who was to read Burns’ poems and be heavily influenced by themes of liberty and the brotherhood of men found among them, was escaped slave, Frederick Douglass.  When Douglass visited Britain, he made a point of visiting Burns’ birthplace in Alloway. Like Burns, he visited Newcastle, and he became a freed slave due to the fund set up by two sisters-in-law from Jesmond.  Douglass went on to become known as the ‘Father of the American Civil Rights Movement’ and a close adviser to President Lincoln. Perhaps we should leave the last words on the matter to Douglass. Speaking of Burns, he said ‘we may condemn his faults, but only as we condemn our own’ and he argued that Burns was ‘far more faultless than many who have come down to us on the pages of history as saints’, words which might serve as a warning to anyone planning to erect a statue to any historical figure in future.

Replica

Nevertheless in 2016, Burns’ statue was returned to Walker Park. A  Heritage Lottery Fund grant was obtained for a revamp of the park as a whole and as part of that, a replica of the Burns statue was installed exactly where the original had stood – but this time facing Burns’ birthplace. At the same time, repairs were made to the original and it was placed in a new cafe in the park. There are now just three full length statues of Robert Burns in England, one in London’s Victoria Embankment Gardens – and two in Walker Park!

Talking in 2016, park ranger, Katharine Knox, noted that, ‘The statue was a prominent feature of the park and a lot of local people have memories of it’.

Newcastle City Council cabinet member for culture and communities, Kim McGuinness, added: ‘It’s really pleasing to see this statue, a prominent historical feature in the park, restored to its former glory and taking pride of place.’

It’s unfortunate that it was only the ‘statuette’ that was ‘restored to its former glory’. Somewhere along the line, the magnificent fountain, the quote from Burns and the plaque which explained who gave the statue to whom all became separated and, as far as we know, lost and there is nothing on the monument to tell passers by who the replica Walker Park statue depicts. There is brief information on information panels around the park which direct those interested into the cafe where the heavily restored original stand proudly along with detailed and well-presented information about Burns and the words of ‘A Man’s a man for A ‘That’, as well as a summary of the statue’s story.

Burns in the YMCA Walker Park Cafe, a community hub

At present, however, you can’t see the exhibition because, due to coronavirus, the cafe is offering a takeaway service only, alongside other community activities. Nevertheless, it’s easy to imagine that both Burns and Walker Burns Club would be satisfied at the current resting place of the the original statue, in a community hub, and they would understand why the display of a statue had to take second place to the incredible work YMCA staff and volunteers are doing to helping local people hit hard by the current pandemic.

Can You Help?

So, as you can see, there is much in the story of the Burns’ memorial which gives food for thought and much that has been forgotten or misremembered over the years. We would especially like to find out more about the statue’s stay in Heaton, which was well within living memory. Why Heaton? When was it here? Where did it stand? What became of the original fountain? Which way did Robbie face? Did you know who he was?

 If you can help in any way, please get in touch. 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

STOP PRESS

Before the ink was dry on our article, we had received the photographs below which, if you look carefully, show the statue in Heaton Park, on the far side of the pavilion before it was restored. It’s clear that the statue is mounted on a pedestal but there is no fountain. A big thanks to Ann Denton of Heaton History Group and Friends of Heaton Park. Do they stir any memories? Do you have a photo?

Acknowledgments

Researched and written by Peter Sagar of Heaton History Group, with additional material by Chris Jackson. Thank you also to Kevin Mochrie of Heaton History Group for sharing his library factsheet, to the staff and volunteers of YMCA Walker Park Cafe and Centre, who kindly gave us access to the cafe to photograph the Burns’ statue and to Ann Denton of Heaton History Group and Friends of Heaton and Armstrong Parks for supplying the photographs of the pavilion.

Sources

Burns: a biography of Robert Burns’ / James Mackay; Alloway Publlshing, 2004

Burns in the USA’, BBC Scotland

Myers’ Literary Guide: The North East’ / Alan Myers; 2nd Edition, 1997

‘Robert Burns: his connections to Newcastle and the North East’ / Kevin Mochrie. Newcastle City Library Factsheet, revised, January 2020.

Slavery: Scotland’s Hidden Shame’, BBC Scotland (TV programme)

burnswalkerstatue.wordpress.com

https://memorialdrinkingfountains.wordpress.com/2015/07/22/robert-burns-memorial-drinking-fountain/

https://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/whats-on/arts-culture-news/burns-night-statue-newcastle-walker-15729980  11:54, 25 JAN 2019 

https://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/news/north-east-news/statue-great-rabbie-burns-returns-11778972

https://www.twsitelines.info/smr/13508

Shields Daily Gazette 15 July 1901

Evening Chronicle 15 July 1901 p2

Newcastle Daily Chronicle 15 July 1901 p 5

Journal and North Star 7 May 1927 p8 

Journal 13 June 1956 p 5

Evening Chronicle 27 September 1963 p12

Journal 24 February 1984 p 5

Journal 15 March 1994 p

Journal 16 March 1994 p 17 

Where the Shoe Tree Grows

In August 2020 the Woodland Trust shortlisted a sycamore in Armstrong Park, known as the ‘Shoe Tree’, for its English ‘Tree of the Year’. Our representative in the competition certainly isn’t as ancient as many of the other contenders, although that didn’t stop an anonymous wit constructing a fictional history for it, as this panel, which mysteriously appeared one night in 2012, shows. 

Definitely not true but the tree is certainly growing in an area of the park with a very interesting actual history, some of which may provide an alternative narrative for why it now sprouts footwear.

Estate plans, estimated to date from around 1800, shows this particular part of Heaton, which was owned by the Ridley family, covered in trees and described as ‘plantations’. On the 1st edition Ordnance Survey map, the area is labelled ‘Bulman’s Wood’. We know that by the first half of the 19th century, it was owned by Armorer Donkin, the solicitor who in the 1830s employed William Armstrong as a clerk and became almost a father figure to him. On Donkin’s death in 1851, Armstrong inherited much of the land that he in turn gifted to the citizens of Newcastle, including the park which bears his name and houses the Shoe Tree.

But from the 1830s there was a house in the wooded area adjacent  to where the Shoe Tree stands. It can be seen on the first edition OS map below, the square just below the old windmill. A very substantial stone-built single storey house, some 20 metres squared, stood here. This house was occupied for over twenty years by Joseph Sewell, a man who deserves to be much better known in Heaton than he is.

Pottery

Joseph’s early life remain something of a mystery but we do know he was born c1777 in Northumberland. By 1804 he had become the owner of the already substantial St Anthony’s Pottery less than three miles from Heaton. The road now known as Pottery Bank led from the factory to the works’ own staithes on the River Tyne.

According to a modern reference book, ‘Although in recent years, Maling has received more attention than [other north-east potteries], the highest quality ware was made by the St Peter’s and St Anthony’s potteries.’ 

Sewell and Donkin Pineapple inkwell, c 1920 in the Laing Art Gallery

Under Sewell’s stewardship, the pottery went from strength to strength. It did not, for the most part, compete in the English market with the Staffordshire firms, which had advantages in terms of transport links by road. Instead, it took advantage of its position on the Tyne, with links to Europe, particularly Northern Europe.

Mr T T Stephenson, former works manager at St Anthony’s, interviewed by C T Maling in 1864, said:

‘I cannot go back to when it first began as a small white and common brown ware works but about 1803 or 1804, it was taken over by the Sewells and gradually extended by them for home trade until 1814 or 1815, when a considerable addition was made to manufacture entirely for exportation, chiefly CC or cream coloured, painted or blue printed [wares] and when I came to the works in 1819, the description of works then produced [was] say about five glost ovens and two or three enamel kilns per week, say CC and best cream colour to imitate Wedgwood’s tableware, then made in considerable quantities for Holland and other continental countries.’

As well as in local collections, there seem to be particularly large numbers of Sewell pieces in museums in Denmark which suggests this was a big market for Sewell’s pottery.

From 1819, the firm was known as Sewell and Donkin. Armorer Donkin, Jesmond and Heaton landowner, solicitor and businessman and soon to be Joseph Sewell’s landlord, had become a partner in the firm. 

We know that there were ‘dwelling houses’ on the site of the factory and a newspaper of 9 June 1834 reported that ‘The lightning struck the house of Mr Sewell at St. Anthonys and broke a quantity of glass’.  Whether this event was a factor, we don’t know but the following year, Sewell moved to a new house on Donkin’s land in Heaton.

Ironically, the advent of the railways from the 1830s, pioneered in the north-east, made things more difficult for Tyneside potteries as they enabled fashionable Staffordshire names to access the local market directly rather than have to transport goods by road and sea via London. Consequently their ceramics became relatively cheaper and more popular in this part of England.

The north-east firms were also affected by changes in shipping. Until this point, they had enjoyed access to cheap raw materials that were used as ballast on wooden collier ships making return journeys from Europe and London. But from the 1830s larger iron-clad ships came into use. They made fewer journeys and increasingly used water as ballast. The result was that as Staffordshire pottery became more affordable, local ware became comparatively expensive. Nevertheless St Anthony’s pottery continued to thrive by concentrating on cheaper mass-produced items. This plan is from the 1850s.

In 1851, the year in which Armorer Donkin died,  the pottery name reverted and became Sewell and Company. 

Sewell, the man

We know that Sewell diversified. He was manager and shareholder for a time at the Newcastle Broad and Crown Glass Company, the shareholder who recommended him being Armorer Donkin. 

That Joseph had some philanthropic leanings is shown by charitable donations including one from ‘Messrs Sewell and Donkin’ in 1815 to a relief fund set up after the Heaton Colliery disaster and in 1848 to another following a tragedy at Cullercoats when seven fishermen drowned. 

There are also references in the press to scholars such as those of the Ballast Hills and St Lawrence Sunday schools being taken up the Ouseburn to the ‘plantation of Joseph Sewell Esq’ including some mentions of tea and spice buns!  

His gardener also gets several mentions for having won prizes for horticultural prowess.

Joseph died on 10 June 1858 at his home in Heaton at the age of 81. 

Tearoom

At the time Sir William Armstrong gifted the land now known as Armstrong Park to the people of Newcastle in 1879, the tenant of the house was a Mr Glover. He may well have been the last occupant. Joseph Sewell’s house was soon used as a tearoom or refreshment rooms.  Later, possibly about 1882, a kiosk seems to have been built onto the side. 

Yvonne Shannon’s dad, who is 85, remembers going to the refreshment rooms for ice cream but he can’t recall anything about the big house.  Heaton History Group member, Ken Stainton, remembers it too. He told us that an elderly man ‘quite a nice guy’ called Mr Salkeld ran the refreshment rooms when he was young. Ken remembers the name because he went to school with Norman Salkeld, one of the proprietor’s grandsons. But Ken’s memories are from the second world war: ‘Sweets were rationed. I don’t think they had cake. I just remember orange juice.’ The identity of the writer of the letter accompanying the first photo below would seem to confirm Ken’s recollections.

Armstrong Park tea rooms, early 20th century

Runners’ retreat

What Ken remembers most vividly, however, is the ‘dark, dingy room at the back’ that was used as changing facilities for another great Heaton institution, Heaton Harriers. Again this was during world war two, in which many of the Harriers served and some lost their lives.

It’s fitting that Heaton’s athletes were among the last known users of the space before, in 1955, the refreshment rooms were demolished. Is it a coincidence that a tree close to the site has, for the last thirty or more years, been the final resting place for worn trainers and other footwear belonging to Heaton residents past and present?

And although a number of truly historic buildings, such as  ‘King John’s Palace’ and Heaton Windmill, survive just metres away, it’s the Shoe Tree, which particularly seems to capture the imagination of local people. It’s that which has a Heaton Park Road cafe named in its honour and has inspired local designers and artists.

Colin Hagan’s designs

But next time you pass, look up at the trainers and think about all the runners who set off from that spot, some of which were to lose their lives soon afterwards, and give a thought also to the entrepreneur, industrialist and philanthropist, Joseph Sewell, whose house footprint is beneath your feet. 

Cast your vote for the Woodland Trust’s Tree of the Year here.

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Yvonne Shannon of Friends of Heaton and Armstrong Park and Friends of Jesmond Dene, with additional material by Chris Jackson, Heaton History Group. Shoe Tree designs depicted by Colin Hagan.

Sources

‘St Anthony’s Pottery, Newcastle upon Tyne: Joseph Sewell’s book of designs’ / edited by Clarice and Harold Blakey on behalf of the Northern Ceramic Society and Tyne & Wear Museums, 1993

‘The Development of the Glass Industry on the Rivers Tyne and Wear 1700-1900’ / by Catherine Ross; Newcastle University thesis, 1982

‘William Armstrong: magician of the north’ / by Henrietta Heald; Northumbria Press, 2010.

Ancestry

Archaeologia Aelinae

British Newspaper Archive and newspaper cuttings

Ordnance Survey maps 1st and 2nd edition

Ridley collection, Northumberland Archives

Can You Help?

If you know more about the Shoe Tree, Joseph Sewell, The Armstrong Park refreshment rooms or have memories or photos to share, 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

Flying Visits to Jesmond Dene

If, like so many other people, you’ve been enjoying exercising in the green haven that is Jesmond Dene this spring, perhaps you’ve wondered about those in whose footsteps you’re walking: people like William and Margaret (later Lord and Lady) Armstrong, of course, who, in 1835, were given 16 acres of land in the Dene by Margaret’s parents as a wedding present and, who, in turn, later gifted the landscaped park he developed there to us, the people of Newcastle; but also Jane and Isabella, artist daughters of engraver Thomas Bewick, who loved to walk there as elderly ladies (They both lived into their 90s); eminent naturalists John and Albany Hancock, who lived nearby, and the family of Armstrong’s trusted lieutenant, ballistics expert Sir Andrew Noble, lucky enough to live in the Dene itself, first of all in Deep Dene House on the High Heaton side of the Ouseburn, now sadly a semi ruin but most recently known as Fisherman’s Lodge, and latterly in Jesmond Dene House, now a boutique hotel. What all of these people have in common (and also in common with, reportedly, a growing number of us today) is that they took a great interest in the natural world, especially that of their own locality.

It is Andrew and Margery Noble’s son, George, who we have to thank for a fascinating  book called ‘Birds of Jesmond Dene’ published in 1931. In it, he lists and comments on ‘merely those birds which I and one or two relatives and intimate friends have observed. My memory, alas! goes back over sixty years so I have taken that period roughly as a time limit.’

Thus the book is a valuable document which gives us a feel of how the bird life of the Dene has changed over a long period, from the late 1860s to 2020, as well as giving us little glimpses into life in the Dene during the period Noble writes about. This article is not a scientific study but, just as Noble did, we have enlisted the help of a small number of fellow Heatonians and local birdwatchers to get a better understanding of the range of birds that have been seen in recent years and allow rough comparisons with the period Noble covered. And we have the added advantage of being able to scour Twitter for those birds thought worthy of special mention by today’s 140 character chroniclers. It’s certainly not an exhaustive or official list though. We have also expanded the area covered to the whole of Heaton, although most of the birds listed have been seen in Heaton’s various parks.

Woodland

Jesmond Dene is, of course, essentially a wooded valley and so many of the birds seen there could be described as ‘woodland birds’. Apologies to ornithologists as it’s certainly not a scientific classification and many of the birds listed will often be seen in other habitats too but most build their nests, and are often seen, in and around trees. Many of our common garden birds would fit into that category.

Here are the woodland birds of Jesmond Dene as mentioned by Noble in 1930 in approximate order of how common he considered them to be, along with some contemporary observations:

Robin (or ‘Redbreast’, as Noble calls it) ‘Very common and breeds’ It’s perhaps surprising that he says no more about this perennial favourite, which has such a close relationship with man. Nowadays: Still resident in and beyond the Ouseburn parks. in In  2011 Peter Candler, Managing Director of Jesmond Dene House, Noble’s old home, posted a photograph on Twitter of one in the garden there. Lovely to be able to start with that direct link with the past.

Dunnock (‘Hedge Sparrow’, as Noble calls it) ‘Very common and breeds regularly.’ Nowadays: Still a common, if often overlooked bird, in the Dene and elsewhere in Heaton. Mike Cook says it’s ‘best seen having a free lunch in Pets’ Corner’.

Song Thrush ‘Very common and breeds’ . Noble includes his own painting of one in the book. Nowadays: Although according to the RSPB ‘in serious decline’, we’re lucky to still have them in and around the Dene. In January 2020, James Common tweeted that he’d seen good numbers in Heaton Park.

Painting of a song thrush by Sir George Noble

Chaffinch ‘Very common and breeds.’ Nowadays: Still resident in the Dene and other Heaton parks and gardens, but, again, is said to be in decline, possibly because of disease.

House Sparrow ‘Very common. A pair of pure white sparrows, which had evidently just left the nest, once appeared on the lawn of Jesmond Dene House. The family was away at the time, but one of our maids, in some mysterious way, managed to capture them. She amused us afterwards by saying they looked like angels amongst their darker brethren. Poor little things! They paid the penalty of their beauty by dying a martyr’s death.’ Nowadays: While still a common sight in the author’s north Heaton garden, Mike Cook reports that, although a common resident until 2005, they are now only occasionally recorded on the periphery of the Ouseburn parks.

Starling ‘Very common and increasing species. Nests every year. It is curious to think that sixty years ago it was, comparatively speaking rare.’ Nowadays: More common in the streets and gardens of Heaton than in the Ouseburn parks themselves.

Blackbird ‘Common and breeds. I have found many nests of this species placed on the ground on the banks of the burn in the grounds of Jesmond Dene House.’ Nowadays:  Very common, of course, in the Dene and in other parks and gardens.

Blue Tit ‘Common and breeds’. Nowadays: A beautiful bird but such a common sight at feeders and in nest boxes that only artist, Sophie Foster, has mentioned them on Twitter in the context of Jesmond Dene. She found an abandoned nest, which she took home to photograph and study to understand how it was constructed and the materials used.

Great Tit ‘Common and breeds’. Nowadays: Again very common but neither the majority of our birders nor the Twitter community thought it notable enough to mention specifically.

Wren ‘Common and breeds’. Nowadays:  It’s a secretive bird which tends to lurk in the undergrowth and so perhaps more common in and around the Dene than many people realise.

Rook ‘Common resident. There was a rookery near the Banqueting Hall till quite lately but I fancy this has been deserted. A small one was started some years ago in the grounds of Jesmond Dene House but as it was just above the chicken pen it was discouraged.’ Nowadays: Only recorded very occasionally flying over.

Redwing ‘Arrives in large numbers in the autumn.’ Nowadays: Still seen in winter. In March 2017, Gareth Kane tweeted ‘Flock of redwing in a beautifully sunlit Heaton Park this morning.’ Mike Cook suggests checking out yew trees with berries in autumn.

Fieldfare ‘As above.’ Nowadays: Another winter visitor to be seen in and around Heaton occasionally, especially during harsh weather. Marek Bidwell photographed one on a crab apple tree during Beast from the East in March 2018. Mike Cook says they’re most likely to be seen around the edges of Paddy Freeman’s playing fields.

Hooded Crow ‘Regular winter visitant.’ Nowadays: Not recorded by our birders – in the UK, breeding birds are confined to the far north and west, although apparently migratory birds can occasionally be spotted on the east coast of England. Interesting that they were once more common.

Coal Tit: ‘Quite common, though I don’t think we have seen a nest’. Nowadays: Still resident in the Dene and the wider area, although only visiting birder, Sam Porter, thought to mention a sighting on Twitter last October.

Jackdaw ‘Still fairly common’. Nowadays: Resident in the Ouseburn parks and seen regularly around Heaton.

Cuckoo ‘Regularly heard each year. In 1915 they appeared to be very plentiful, being heard and seen almost daily during the season. One was caught in the nets set to protect the gooseberries…’ Nowadays: No reported sightings in and around the Dene but the author heard one this May in Rising Sun Country Park, which isn’t too far away so listen carefully while there’s less traffic noise.

Spotted Flycatcher ‘Regular summer visitant. EC: I was walking along a path by the burn when I saw in an oak tree a shabby old blackbird’s nest… when I went to examine it, a flycatcher flew off and I found a neat new nest had been built inside the blackbird’s, like the lining of an entrée dish.’ 2020: Bred in the Dene up to about 2003 but not recorded since then.

Linnet ‘Common. Much commoner in past years when the Dene was less formally laid out and there were more patches of gorse and bramble.’ Nowadays: No recent reports even though the RSPB says, ‘There are concentrations along the east coast from Kent to Aberdeen’ including in parks and gardens. The linnet is, however, another bird in long term decline.

Greenfinch ‘Common though not quite so much as formerly when it used to breed very plentifully.’ Nowadays: Perhaps the same could be said today. They are seen in Heaton’s parks and gardens but they’re another species which has declined, partly because of disease.

Goldcrest (‘Golden Crested Wren’, as Noble calls it) ‘Seen every winter as recently as January 1928.’ Nowadays: Although tiny and difficult to spot, resident in and around the Dene. James Common posted a photograph on Twitter during snowy weather in March 2018:  ‘This Goldcrest spent a good quarter-hour feeding in the lower branches of Holly in Heaton Park this afternoon. One of the species hardest hit by bad weather, it was promising to see it nab a few morsels’.

Goldcrest, Jesmond Dene Copyright: Marek Bidwell

Willow Warbler (‘Willow Wren’, Noble calls it) ‘Still nests regularly. Miss Adamson: I saw such a pretty sight the other day. I was watering my begonias with a hosepipe… when a little willow wren came and bathed in the spray. It flew onto the apple tree nearby and sang its thanks and then came back and finished its bath.‘ Nowadays: A summer migrant which bred in the Dene until the turn of the century but now just recorded on migration. James Common reported one in Heaton Park on 10 April 2020.

Garden Warbler ‘Not uncommon. We found a nest of this species many years ago.’ Nowadays: No recent records although, as they sound like blackcaps and are difficult to spot, they may go unreported.

Woodpigeon ‘Fairly common’ is all Noble had to say. Nowadays: Most of our contemporary birders didn’t think to mention it at all and nobody has excitedly posted a sighting on Twitter but if they had they may have simply said ‘ubiquitous’. The woodpigeon has increased in numbers by some 87% in the last thirty years or so. In the countryside, it’s said to have benefited from the cultivation of oil seed rape but here in Heaton, it’s one of the birds that has gained most from our increasing provision of food on bird tables.

Bullfinch ‘ Not uncommon. Nested within the last few years and seen in 1917.’ Nowadays: A few resident pairs in the Dene. James Common photographed one in Heaton Park during the harsh early spring of 2018 ‘Bullfinch from Heaton Park this afternoon – appeared grateful for the sunflower seeds placed out by a kind local. Who wouldn’t be in this weather?’ They also love the plum trees in Iris Brickfield, especially in early spring.

Tawny owl, Armstrong Park Copyright: Michael Burney

Tawny Owl ‘This bird is, I think, more plentiful in the Dene than formerly. From the fact it can be heard all year round, I fancy it may still be considered a breeding species… When I was a boy, this bird always came under the disgusting denomination of vermin and was ruthlessly destroyed. [It] does occasionally take birds but makes up for this by the enormous quantity of rats and mice it destroys.’ Nowadays: More often heard than seen but Gareth Kane reported seeing one by the Ouseburn in November 2012 and Marek Bidwell has had one in his Heaton backyard, although he says they’re more often to be seen or heard in the tall trees at the bottom of Jesmond Vale Lane.

Woodcock ‘There are generally one or two seen every year on autumn migration. Some years ago, I saw one quite unconcernedly feeding on the lawn of Jesmond Dene House’. Nowadays: A rare winter visitor but Anthea James reports seeing one in her North Heaton garden  and Gavin Dudley has seen one on Shields Road!

Wood Warbler (‘Wood wren’j ‘Occasionally seen.’ Nowadays: Rarely recorded on migration. Mike Cook saw one in May 2002.

Kestrel ‘Still occasionally seen. Some years ago we had high hopes that it might breed in the quarry of Jesmond Dene House.’ Nowadays: Mike Cook says that they bred in a ruin at Castles Farm until 1996 but now only occasionally sighted. In November 2015, birdwatcher ‘Lophophanes’ tweeted that he’d seen a kestrel with a rat in the Dene, his first sighting of one there ‘for ages’.

Redstart ‘We used to see the redstart every year and a pair nested in our garden more than once’. Nowadays: Gavin Dudley saw one in his High Heaton garden in the 1990s.

Sedge Warbler ‘Some thirty five years ago I remember finding no less than three nests in one afternoon.’ Nowadays: No recent reports.

Chiffchaff ‘Have not heard or seen it for some years but I heard its note constantly in the sixties.’ Nowadays: It appears that chiffchaff is a success story over recent years as the distinctive onomatopoeic call of this summer visitor is regularly heard in all of Heaton’s parks from March onwards. Tom Middleton photographed one in Iris Brickfield in April 2015 and they have been heard by all our correspondents in and around the Dene this spring.

Grasshopper Warbler ‘I remember this bird’s curious note as one of my earliest recollections. It must have bred regularly during the sixties as we heard it year after year.’ Nowadays: Mike Cook recorded one in Jesmond Vale in July 2007.

Whitethroat ‘Used to nest fairly frequently in the Dene but I have not myself seen a nest or bird here for some years.’ Nowadays: The last one recorded by Mike Cook was in June 1996.

Magpie ‘Often seen in the late sixties. I remember a nest in a clump of high trees at a spot not far from the east end of Armstrong Bridge.’ Nowadays: Amazing to think it was still uncommon in Heaton even thirty to forty years ago but a success story over the last few decades and one of the easiest to spot birds in the Dene and throughout Heaton.

Brambling (‘Mountain Finch‘ as Noble referred to it) ‘One roosted regularly all through the winter in a shrub outside the library window of Jesmond Dene House.’ Nowadays: A sporadic winter visitor. Gavin Dudley recalls seeing a flock in Heaton Park in the 1990s.

Nightjar ‘This bird was not uncommon years ago, I remember that my father shot one within yards of the fence on the east side of the Dene.’ Nowadays : A nocturnal summer visitor to Britain not reported in Heaton in recent years. They are normally found on heathlands, moorlands, in open woodland with clearings and in recently felled conifer plantations.

Treecreeper (Simply ‘Creeper’ Noble calls it) ‘Not very common.’ Nowadays: Resident in the Dene and Heaton and Armstrong Parks. Dick Gilhespy posted a photograph on Twitter in March 2017.

Goldfinch  ‘Seen in the grounds of Jesmond Dene House a few years ago. Nested two years in succession in a pear tree at Craghall, 1911 and 1912. The nest… was given by me to the Hancock Museum’. Nowadays: Now commonly seen and heard in the parks and gardens of Heaton, they are a bird that has done well in towns and cities during recent years, spotted at just 8% of feeders in 1972 but by 2012 were seen at 87% of them.

Marsh Tit ‘Somewhat rare. Seen in the quarry of Jesmond Dene House in 1916’. Nowadays: A one off sighting for Noble and in recent years neither marsh nor willow tits, which look very similar, have been seen locally by our birders.  Despite their name, marsh tits are most often found in broad leaf woodland, and also copses, parks and gardens so, in theory, the Dene would suit them, although they are said to be more common in southern England.

Sparrowhawk ‘I have not seen this bird for some years’. Nowadays: Another 21st century success story! Resident in the Ouseburn parks and often seen around Heaton. In January 2013, Gareth Kane tweeted ‘Saw female sparrowhawk hunting long tailed tits in Heaton Park this morning.’ And in October 2017, James Common noted ‘ Sparrowhawk twisting and turning through the chimney pots of central Heaton just now in pursuit of a pigeon. Awesome to see!’

Tree Pipit ‘I have not seen this bird for many years. In 1869, I found a nest with 5 eggs in it above the Flint Mill.’ Nowadays: Not reported by our present day ornithologists but, as the RSPB describes its habitat as newly planted conifers or open heath in western UK, that’s perhaps not surprising. Again, Armstrong’s young plantations may have briefly suited it in the 1860s.

Blackcap  ‘This bird was pointed out to me by John Hancock when I was a very small boy. Nest seen by LA and EC for several years.’ Nowadays: Although, blackcap is historically a summer visitor, increasing numbers overwinter in Britain.  In January 2015, Marek Bidwell noted: ‘Female #blackcap on my feeders in #heaton #newcastle; last sighting on 12th Jan 2014 almost exactly a year ago’ but also in April 2016, ‘Lophophanes’ tweeted ‘ Male blackcap singing Jesmond Dene, first of the spring.’

Hawfinch ‘Seen by me two or three times and always when the yew berries were ripe.’ Nowadays: Hawfinch are now among Britain’s rarest / most difficult to spot resident birds and haven’t been reported in Jesmond Dene since the 1980s.

Icterine Warbler ‘Shot in the garden of Crag Hall about twenty five years ago by the gardener. This specimen… [was] presented to the Hancock Museum.’ Nowadays: No recent reports but clearly rare back in the day too –  and made rarer by the shooting!

But there are also woodland birds seen nowadays that George Noble and friends didn’t mention seeing at all between the 1860s and 1930:

Collared Dove: Even if you don’t know what they look like, you’ll be familiar with their call which sounds like ‘U-NIIII-TED’! Not recorded as breeding in Britain until the 1950s, they are now common throughout Heaton but have declined in the parks, now being more likely to be spotted on roofs and in gardens.

Long-tailed Tit: Numbers have risen nationally since the 1980s and that certainly seems to be the case in Heaton, where acrobatic flocks are a fairly common sight in our parks and increasingly gardens.

Jay: Rare before 2003 but now breeding. All our present day birders and many Twitter users report seeing jays in the Dene and local parks.

Nuthatch: Resident in the Ouseburn parks. Marek Bidwell says they especially like pecking at the old walls on Jesmond Vale Lane.

Great Spotted Woodpecker: Its distinctive drumming is often heard, particularly in Armstrong Park. Geoff Forrester managed to photograph this bird at its nest near Pets’ Corner.

Great Spotted Woodpecker, Jesmond Dene Copyright: Geoff Forrester

Ring-necked Parakeet: Britain’s only naturalised parrot, despite many having escaped from private collections, only began to breed in the UK in the late 1960s. They spread north from the south east and, having been first recorded in 2014, they have probably been breeding in Heaton Park for the last couple of years.

Waxwings: These beautiful winter visitors tend to be seen in larger numbers in Britain, especially the east side, when harsh winter weather affects their native Scandinavia. Marek Bidwell says they are occasionally seen around the bowling green near Heaton Road. They’re also quite often seen around the Coast Road around the junction with Benfield Road. A  large flock settled on telephone wires on Huntcliffe Gardens a few years ago.

Siskin: Gavin Dudley reports them being fairly regularly winter visitors to his High Heaton garden bird feeders in the 1990s. Mike Cook saw one in the Ouseburn parks in January 2019.

Red Kite: Introduced successfully to Gateshead in the early years of the twenty first century, they are occasionally seen over Heaton. Birder, Jack Bucknall, reported seeing one circling over Shields Road in June 2018.

Redpoll: A rare visitor, Mike Cook saw one in March 1997 and visiting birder, Sam Porter, tweeted about seeing one fly over Heaton and Armstrong parks in October 2019.

Harris Hawk: an escapee from captivity of this American species was first spotted in Jesmond Dene in late 2014 and often in 2015. Since then a number of escapees have been spotted, most recently in April this year.

Lesser Whitethroat: A single migrating bird seen by Mike Cook over Paddy Freeman’s lake in May 2002.

Peacock: Marek Bidwell was astonished when walking along Park Head Road a few years ago to hear ‘ the most unusual call high in a tree that made me think of a jungle. I looked up and saw a peacock.’ It turns out it had escaped from Pets’ Corner!

Buzzard: A number of our birdwatchers have reported seeng their first buzzards flying high over Heaton during 2020’s lockdown, whether that is a coincidence or a result of increased prey or birdwatchers enjoying more time staring at the sky from their yards and gardens, it’s difficult to know.

Water

What about birds associated with the Ouseburn itself? Here are the ‘water birds’ Noble mentions, again roughly in order of how common they were.

Moorhen (‘Water Hen‘, as Noble called it)  ‘Common and breeds. Although we constantly had two or three nests on stumps or stones in the burn… they seemed hardly ever to get more than one young away… I have no doubt they were taken by pike, of which there were a good many in the water or possibly rats may have been the culprits.’ Nowadays: Still common and easy to spot in and around the Ouseburn and in recent years at Iris Brickfield in North Heaton.

Pied Wagtail ‘Still quite common. Old and young birds seen together every year about the burnside.’ Nowadays: Although included in the ‘water birds’ section, they are perhaps more commonly spotted in Heaton’s streets. Gareth Kane tweeted about one on Stratford Road in snowy weather in March 2018, the ‘Beast from the East’.  There’s often one around Chillingham Road and the author saw one in May 2020 on Rothbury Terrace.

Grey Wagtail ‘Fairly common. Still seen about the burnside. Used to breed regularly above the Flint Mill’. Nowadays: Often seen along the Ouseburn. Gareth Kane reported seeing one while out running in March 2013. Marek Bidwell recommends the burn near Pets’ Corner as a good place to spot one. The author saw one on the Ouseburn in May 2020 near the newish metal footbridge by the flyover.

Grey Wagtail, Jesmond Dene Copyright: Marek Bidwell

Common Sandpiper ‘A tolerably regular summer visitant. Has bred within the last few years’. Nowadays: Gavin Dudley has seen one under the bridge by the flyover ‘but it was a long time ago’. Let us know if you’ve seen one.

Sand Martin ‘Up to about eight or ten years ago, this bird bred above the sandstone quarry at Crag Hall.’ Nowadays: Rare but Mike Cook has two records of sightings from 2003 and 2004.

Mallard (‘Wild Duck’ is the name Noble uses) ‘Used to be seen fairly frequently in hard weather, being no doubt attracted by the food for the tame ducks that my father kept’. Nowadays: Mallards are so common on and around  the Ouseburn and in Paddy Freeman’s pond, that it’s hardly ever mentioned by local birders.  Has definitely done well over the last century or so.

Kingfisher ‘We once saw five of these birds, three young and two old ones. Still occasionally seen… one seen at Crag Hall on 22nd November 1927. Also seen in 1929 and 1930.’ Nowadays: Regularly seen but possibly no longer breeding. In December 2019, Gareth Kane tweeted  ‘Nothing like watching a kingfisher fly along the Ouseburn to lift my spirits on a Monday morning!’ and they lifted many a spirit during this year’s lockdown too. Perhaps more surprisingly, in winter 2015/16, one spent several weeks around the pond in Iris Brickfield.

Dipper ‘ I fear that this bird is perhaps not as often seen owing to the pollution of the stream from Gosforth village and the consequent destruction of the larvae upon which it fed… although ‘Miss Adamson informs me that it certainly did breed here. The nest was under the waterfall, and when she was little, her old nurse used to take her there daily to watch the birds flying out and in…’ Nowadays: There have been regular sightings since 2006. In July 2019. Marek Bidwell wrote on Twitter: ‘I spotted a #Dipper at the top of @JesmondDeneOrg this morning – it had retreated into a rocky crevice to escape the torrent of steaming water cascading down the Ouseburn, creating humidity that I would more typically associate with a tropical rain forest rather than #Newcastle.’ Earlier, in 2016, he managed to photograph a nesting pair ‘under the bridge at Cradlewell’. He has not seen them there since and says there may have been a problem with rats or vandalism.

Dippers, Jesmond Dene Copyright: Marek Bidwell

Grey Heron ‘Seen flying so low that it can said to have been seen actually in the Dene’(Ethel Cochrane, Noble’s sister)‘ Nowadays: The occasional, mainly young, heron can still be seen in Jesmond Dene in an around the burn. Gareth Kane photographed one in November 2018. Marek Bidwell has seen one fishing near Castle Farm Road. There are also occasional sightings on Iris Brickfield.

(Red breasted) Merganser ‘Mr Alfred Cochrane tells me that in February 1929, during the very hard weather, he saw a merganser in the burn, most of which was frozen over at the time. The stream has not been frozen over more than twice in the last 40 years, at least solid enough for people to walk on the ice. The other occasion was in January 1895.’ Nowadays:  More recently, Gavin Dudley has seen a pair in the Dene.

Water Rail ‘Seen in the burn at Craghall in 1910 or 1911’ (Colonel Adamson). Nowadays: A rarity just as in Noble’s time but in February 2013, a ranger posted ‘First ever film of a Water Rail in Jesmond Dene! I was really lucky to see this (only 4th ever record in the Dene) and even luckier to catch some nice feeding behaviour on film.’

Snipe ‘In February 1929 Mr Alfred Cochrane saw a snipe near the bridge in the grounds of Jesmond Dene House. Doubtless it was driven to the burnside by the extremely cold weather.’ Nowadays: A single record in August 1995.

Green Sandpiper ‘I have included this bird… although the two occurrences come somewhat outside my time limit. John Hancock in “Birds of Northumberland and Durham” stated a specimen… was killed in Jesmond Dene on the 26th July 1843 and adds … a fine specimen… found dead [at Craghall] in August 1855.’ Nowadays: No recent reports.

Little Grebe ‘Seen in the burn just above the bridge at Crag Hall in late summer of 1910 or 1911’ (Colonel Adamson). Nowadays: Still a very rare visitor but Mike Cook recorded one in December 2008.

But there are also so called ‘water birds’ that George Noble and friends didn’t see at all between the 1860s and 1930 but which have been recorded in more recent years:

Mute Swan: Occasionally sighted but this year, for the first time anyone can remember, they built a nest on Paddy Freeman’s pond, perhaps partly because council cuts and lockdown have meant more debris than usual to use for nesting material. They even made an appearance with ranger, Sarah Capes, on ‘Look North’!

Common Gull: Occasionally spotted among flocks of black-headed gulls, Mike Cook’s last record was in January this year.

Reed Bunting: They were a common sight on the reeds of the Iris Brickfield pond, certainly up to a few years ago and one year, a pair were regular visitor to garden bird feeders in the North Heaton bungalows, including the author’s.

Canada Goose: The author photographed and tweeted about seeing one in the Iris Brickfield in March 2015. It was facing down a pair of magpies. They are also occasionally seen in Paddy Freeman’s.

Coot: The author saw a coot on the pond on Iris Brickfield a few years ago. Mike Cook last saw one in the Ouseburn parks in April 2012.

Cormorant: Gareth Kane’s report in January 2020 was the latest of a number of sightings of this coastal bird.

Goosander: Marek Bidwell has seen a female at the top of the Dene near Castles Farm Road. Mike Cook’s most recent record was in January 2020.

Tufted Duck:  Also seen from time to time in Paddy Freeman’s, most recently by Mike Cook this March.

Goldeneye: Gavin Dudley has seen them in Paddy Freeman’s pond. Mike Cook has recorded two in November 1991 and December 2011.

Mandarin Duck: Mike Cook reports regular sightings between November 2002 and September 2003 and sporadically until 2013.

Wood Duck: Mike Cook reports that one was a regular in the winter of 1995 and another from April 2002 to 2003.

Teal: a single report from Mike Cook in September 2011.

Curlew: Gareth Kane saw two among the beech trees in Heaton Park in the winter of 2010.

Redshank: Recorded by Mike Cook close to the stepping stones on the Ouseburn in November 2004.

Great Crested Grebe: Gavin Dudley reports seeing one in recent years.

Common Tern: A single sighting over Paddy Freeman’s lake by Mike Cook in July 2007.

Farmland (and cliff)

Noble lists a number of birds as being common on the fields on the east side of the Dene ie inHigh Heaton. From the Coast Road to Castles Farm Road, even in 1930, the only buildings shown on a map are a couple of farm houses and High Heaton Cottages on what we now call The Spinney. 

Mistle (‘Missel’) Thrush ‘This bird bred year after year in the grounds of Jesmond Dene House in a tree close to the road and in full view of passers-by’. Nowadays: Still commonly found in the Dene and around Heaton, it is more a bird of open spaces than its cousin, the song thrush. In May 2020, Gareth Kane photographed a parent and young in a nest in a tree on the banks of the Ouseburn.

Swallow ‘Common and breeds’. Nowadays: The most recent records from Paddy Freeman’s are September 2015 and around that time they also used to sometimes be seen flying low over Iris Brickfield field and pond.

House Martin ‘Used to breed every year at Crag Hall.’ Nowadays: Good numbers nest in some of Heaton’s terraces and at Heaton Community Centre. They can occasionally be seen hunting insects over the trees in the parks.

Swift ‘Occasionally seen. I fancy these have become much more common over the Dene since St George’s Tower was built.’ Nowadays: Although the numbers are much smaller than even a few years ago, small numbers of swifts still return to Heaton skies and roof spaces every May.

Skylark ‘This bird was very common in all the fields on the east side of the Dene. I found a nest with three eggs on 3 May 1870. These eggs are still in my collection… the ground where they used to breed so plentifully is now covered with villas and tennis courts’ (Presumably Jesmond Park East and West and Melbury Road. Ed). Nowadays: You’d have to go to the Town Moor or Rising Sun to hear skylarks today.

Partridge ‘My father had the shooting of the fields on the east of the Dene and occasionally he got quite a good bag’. 2020: Again, you might spot them at Rising Sun or the Town Moor.

Corncrake ‘I have not heard its note for some time but it was common and bred regularly in the fields east of the Dene. I remember being told that six nests were found in one field alone when it was being mown’. Nowadays: Sadly now confined to Western Scotland and Ireland, except perhaps on migration.

Lapwing (‘Green Plover’) ‘Used to breed regularly in the fields east of the Dene. I had some eggs in my collection taken in April 1877 and marked with the words ‘taken within 10 minutes walk of Jesmond Dene House’. Nowadays: The nearest lapwing to Heaton the author has seen is by the pond behind the Wills Building, visible through a fence just before the Newcastle United training ground.

Yellowhammer ‘I found a nest on the east side of the Dene containing two eggs, many years ago but it was a very common bird in the sixties.’ Nowadays: Not reported by any of our birders in the Dene or Heaton.

Pheasant ‘Occasionally seen in former years, no doubt having strayed down from Gosforth Park, where they used to be reared in large quantities. One seen early in 1930.‘ Nowadays: Anthea James reports seeing one once in her North Heaton garden. Mike Cook has recorded two, in April 1994 and June 2015.

Quail ‘My father shot one in the sixties, the skin of which I had for a long time in my possession. This bird was killed within a few yards of the Dene fence.’ Nowadays: No reports.

Black-headed Gull; Herring Gull; Lesser Black-backed Gull. Noble lists these three birds together and comments ‘I do not know how far these birds may be considered as birds of the Dene. They are seen in great quantities every winter flying close over the Dene and I think they occasionally alight in the field opposite the old Flint Mill. When the Dene was in the country, they often pitched in the surrounding fields’. Nowadays: Gulls are a common sight all year round throughout Heaton. Large flocks of black-headed gulls can be seen on Paddy Freeman’s playing fields and Iris Brickfield in winter; herring gulls can be seen year round in both parks and around Heaton roof tops; lesser black-backed is now a summer visitor and becoming more common.

However, there are also ‘farmland’ (and ‘cliff’) birds that George Noble and friends didn’t see at all between the 1860s and 1930:

Feral Pigeon: Descended from the rock dove, a farmland bird, which have been bred in captivity for many years and been very successful in their return to the wild, creating a new habitat in city streets as well as parks and gardens. The white ones are descendants of the occupants of a dovecote that used to be in Pets’ Corner. Did George Noble really not see any up until 1930 or did he not think they really counted?

Stock Dove: Distinguished from feral pigeons in flight by their lack of a white rump and from wood pigeons by their lack of a white patch on the side of their neck and white band on their wings. Their songs differ too. Resident throughout the Ouseburn parks.

Carrion Crow Only fairly recently separated as a species from the closely related Hooded Crow, which Noble did see, but, unlike its cousin, now ubiquitous all year round.

Greylag Goose: Mike Cook recorded one in January 2000.

Peregrine Falcon: Local naturalist, James Common, has reported several sightings from his home in Heaton’s terraces, including via this tweet in December 2018: ‘Peregrine silhouetted overhead at first light, Herring Gulls going beserk. My second record this Winter on my street in Heaton…’

Conclusion

Sir George Noble and friends recorded 74 different species in the almost 60 years between the 1860s and 1930, 58 of which were reported by our local birders in the 30 or so years between 1990 and 2020. Of those species not recorded in more recent times, 11 were considered by Noble to be common at some point during his recording period.

In addition, our birders recorded some 35 species that Noble and friends didn’t see, around 10 of which we could classify as very or relatively common and 25 rare.

So somewhat surprisingly, the final score is Noble 76 Nowadays 93. We have a number of advantages, not least of high speed communications to report sightings and social media on which those sightings can be permanently recorded. We also stretched the geographical area covered a little more than Noble did. But on the other hand, Noble and his friends and relatives had the advantage of actually living in the Dene itself.

We can argue all day about the numbers but what is clear is that Jesmond Dene and the other parks of Heaton are a precious historic and environmental resource, which we should both enjoy and do our very best to conserve for future generations.

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Chris Jackson of Heaton History Group with huge and much appreciated input from our local birders, Marek Bidwell, Michael Burnie, Mike Cook, Gavin Dudley, Geoff Forrester, Anthea James and Gareth Kane, along with additional assistance from David Noble-Rollin and Northumberland and Tyneside Bird Club and the many Twitter users mentioned in the text.

Can You Help?

Please fee free to add your sightings and other observations to the Comments section by clicking on the link below the title of this article.


The Great Peace: a Heaton schoolgirl’s memento

In summer 1919, every schoolchild in Newcastle was given their own, personally inscribed, copy of a booklet commemorating the ‘Signing of the Great Peace’ on 28 June.

GreatPeaceMementoBooklet

Newcastle schoolchildrens’ Great Peace souvenir, 1919

 

The booklet was full of stirring words, such as:

‘This Victory has only been made possible through the heroism of, and the sacrifices made by, your Fathers and Brothers, the splendid men from our Colonies, and our gallant Allies, nobly assisted by the patriotism of our women.

You were too young to take part in the struggle, but your turn has now come – not to fight as your Fathers and Brothers did, but to prove yourselves worthy of the noble men who fought and suffered for you, and to do your share as Citizens of the great British Empire, so that you may be able to preserve and to hand down to the next generation the priceless heritage of Freedom which has been secured for you at so great a cost.’

One recipient was Dorothy Mary Flann who, aged 10 years old, had just started Chillingham Road Senior School. She saw fit to keep this memento until she died in 1983.  Heaton History Group member, Arthur Andrews, recalls, ‘I probably bought her booklet for a small sum at Tynemouth Market several years ago because of my interest in WWI’. He has since looked into Dorothy’s family history and found out more about the ‘Great Peace’ celebrations in Newcastle and Heaton.

The Flann Family

Abraham Flann, Dorothy’s grandfather, an H M Customs Officer, and his wife had lived in St Helier, Jersey, where several of their children were born but by 1871 they had relocated to Willington Quay. By 1881 the family had moved to 6 North View, Heaton and by 1891 they had moved to 36 Heaton Road.

By the turn of the twentieth century, they were living at 45 Heaton Hall Road and, ten years later, Abraham was a 75 year old widower, at 34 Rothbury Terrace, with his single, 29 year old daughter, Caroline Amelia, a domestic servant and 2 sick nurses (who were probably visiting).

George Ernest Flann, a grocer’s manager, one of Abraham’s sons, continued to live at the family’s former home of 45 Heaton Hall Road, with his second wife, Charlotte Mary and children, William Henry, Jessy Emily and Dorothy Mary, whose commemorative booklet Arthur eventually bought.

GreatPeace45HeatonHallRoadwithStreetName

Flann family home on Heaton Hall Road

George’s brother, Edgar, who would have been 14, does not appear at home in the 1911 census, which was something of a mystery until Arthur found, in a Chillingham Road School admissions book, that he had been awarded a Flounders Scholarship, named after a Quaker industrialist called Benjamin Flounders. Flounders’ wife and daughter predeceased him so he left his fortune in a trust to help educate poor and needy children with their education in the form of schools and scholarships.

Evidently Edgar was the only scholar in the county to be awarded the scholarship, which was valued at £80, tenable for 4 years at the North East County School in Barnard Castle. When he left school, Edgar joined a bank as an apprentice. In 1916, he joined the Royal Naval Reserve and trained as a signaler, as can be seen from his surviving WWI records below:

GreatPeaceEdgarFlannGBM_ADM339_0146-FITZ_00060

Part of Edgar Flann’s military service record

In 1917, Edgar married Frances Lorna Skelton and they went to live in the west end.

The ‘Great Peace’ celebrations

According to the local papers, the form that the commemoration and celebration of the Great Peace  were to take, was hastily agreed by Newcastle Council and put together, remarkably, within a month or two but it didn’t pass entirely without a hiccup: a travelling historic pageant was put together with the proceeds going to the St Dunstan’s Blinded Soldiers and Sailors charity. Unfortunately, there was a train strike with the result that the wood for the makeshift grandstand and theatrical scenery did not arrive and so the council had to spend its own money to ensure that the pageant took place. In the end the event, at Exhibition Park, made a loss and no monies at all went to the charity. Schoolchildren were also supposed to be given a commemorative mug but not enough could be produced within the short timescale.

GreatPeaceMugAlan2

GreatPeaceMugAlan1

Great Peace commemorative mug as given to the children of Stocksfield, Northumberland

But lots of events did take place. On Saturday 19 July 1919, a ‘victory march‘ was held. Various local regiments left the Town Moor at 11.00am and marched through the city. At 3.00pm there was a choir and band concert at St James’s Park. There was English folk dancing in Jesmond Dene, as well as bands in parks throughout the city. Other parks had dancing until 10pm at night. At 9.30pm, the Tyneside Scottish Pipe Band processed around the city streets and an illuminated tramcar seemed to cover the whole tram network, leaving Byker Depot at 5.30pm for Scotswood Bridge before returning via Barras Bridge, Newton Road, Heaton Junction before finally ending up back at Byker Depot at 11.15pm.

It was reported that children celebrated with ‘gusto’, thoroughly enjoying themselves even if some felt that the Great Peace was more for the grown-ups than themselves. That would have changed when they heard King George V announce that they would get an extra week’s summer holiday from school, making it five weeks in all.

In speeches, it was impressed on the children that the fight had not been for the winning of great lands but to free people from oppression and allow them liberty in their own countries. It was also said that while remembering the heroes who had returned from war, they must not forget those who had died in the fight for civilization. Many of the children were bedecked in red, white and blue ‘favours’ and schools flew flags of not only the United Kingdom but of the Allies as well.

Heaton celebrates

 Over the next few weeks, street parties were held throughout Newcastle. One party in lower Pilgrim Street bedecked with flags, bunting and red and white chalked kerb stones, was painted by local artist, Joseph Potts. And there are reports in the papers of many such parties in Heaton, with each local politician, business and charity seemingly more generous than the last and, no doubt, enjoying the publicity that came with it.

GreatPeaceMayorSutherland1919MementoBooklet_edited-1

Arthur Munro Sutherland opened  a victory tea in Hotspur St back lane

 

On 2nd August, it was reported that ‘a victory tea and fete was in the back lane between Hotspur St and Warwick St. The lane was gaily decorated and tables and chairs set down in the centre’. It was opened by the Lord Mayor, Arthur Munro Sutherland. ‘Games and racing followed arranged by Mrs W Wilson and Mrs D Robson.’

On 11th, ‘About 150 children of Malcolm St and Bolingbroke St were entertained by their parents and friends at a victory tea and treat. Sports and dancing was held and each child received a toy and, through the kindness of Mr George Black of the Grand Theatre, they each received a 3d piece.’

On 12th, the Illustrated Chronicle carried pictures of the above and events in Mowbray St and Heaton Park Road. ‘Coming soon, pictures of Chillingham Road…’

On 22nd, ‘137 children were entertained at a Peace tea in Simonside Terrace. Councillor Arthur Lambert opened proceedings and presented each child with a piece of silver. The children were entertained at the Jesmond Pavilion at the invitation of the manager.’ The organisers even managed to show a profit with ‘the balance of £2-1s-0d presented to St Dunstans’.

On  1 September, ‘children were entertained in one of the fields beyond Heaton Cemetery courtesy of the Manchester Unity of Oddfellows.’

On 9th,  ‘150 children from Simonside and Warton Terraces were entertained at the Bungalow, Armstrong Park. They were afterwards given a free treat at the Scala Theatre.’

And, with that, the five week holiday appeared to be over.

Dorothy

As for Dorothy, proud owner of the Signing of the Great Peace souvenir that has prompted this article, in 1941, with much of  the world embroiled in yet another war, she married Raymond Lancelot Donaldson, a merchant seaman. They lived together at 46 Coquet Terrace for many years.

GreatPeaceMalingSouvenir

Great Peace Celebration commemorative mug made by Maling

Can you help?

If you know more about either the Great Peace celebration or  Dorothy Flann or her family or have photographs or anecdotes you’d like to share, 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

Acknowledgement

Researched and written by Arthur Andrews of Heaton History Group, with additional material by Chris Jackson. Thank you also to Alan Giles for the photograph of his Great Peace commemorative mug.

Sources

Ancestry

Findmypast

National Newspaper Archive

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benjamin_Flounders

 

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.

ArmstrongWilliam-George-Armstrong-Baron-ArmstrongNPG

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.

HeatonParkLake252 RLC_edited-1

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.

ArmstrongBridgerev

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.

ArmstrongParkguns279 RLC

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

Print

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.

 

Old Windmill

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.

 

The Parky's House

‘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.

 

A Hundred Years of Heaton Sprouts

A hundred years ago today (ie 22 December 1916), Newcastle Corporation announced that it would be making land available across the city for individuals to cultivate in order to grow food. Seed, manure and implements would be provided at cost price. The intention was that the council-owned  land would only be made available for the duration of the war. The Corporation was also negotiating with private landowners to make more plots available in the future.

sprouts

In Heaton, the sites to be made available by the Corporation included: between Heaton and Armstrong Parks and Ouseburn; between Ouseburn and Armstrong Park; Jesmond Park; Stephenson Road; North end of Chillingham Road; Biddlestone Road; Warton Terrace; after no 134 Heaton Road; north end of Heaton Road. A few of these sites still exist today, of course. (If you have any old photos or information about any of those mentioned, please get in touch).

The first applications on Christmas Day would have preference. And so, it seems appropriate for Heaton History Group to commemorate the centenary of  allotments in Heaton – and at the same time wish everyone ‘A Very Merry Christmas’. Enjoy your parsnips, Brussels sprouts and other veg, especially if they’re allotment grown!

An exile remembers: Part 5 – Heaton Park 2015

Heaton History Group is often contacted by people who used to live in the neighbourhood and have vivid and usually fond recollections. We love to hear their memories. ‘RS’ still returns to Heaton from time to time. Here is the fifth instalments of his thoughts.

‘So, it’s time to leave Armstrong Park and make the brief walk to its nearby neighbour. At this point I know what you may be thinking: there’s rather more to Armstrong Park than that which I have described. Too true. There’s the large area behind the old windmill, for example, which I must have explored at some time or other back in the sixties, but of which no particular memory is retained today. Described in Part 4 were simply the features of Armstrong Park with which I was, and remain, most familiar – the bowling green, the tennis courts, the large grassy area in front of the windmill, the windmill itself.

I walk from the windmill’s information board towards King John’s Palace, crossing, on my way, the narrow winding path which leads down to the park exit – much more foliage in this area than there used to be – then carefully negotiate my way down the grassy bank before  walking across Jesmond Vale Lane.

King Johns Palace

King John’s Palace also known as The House (or ‘Camera’) of Adam of Jesmond

Now on the other side of that road, with the ‘palace’ in front of me, several changes are clearly visible. Nevertheless, while standing here, it is another set of images from another experience, existing as a vivid memory from fifty years ago, which briefly dominates my consciousness. It happened like this.

And it’s a bit of a boys’ thing. Back in those days, it was fairly normal for young lads to be carrying a knife when out and about. (Yes, please feel free to read that sentence again.) No harm was obviously intended in doing so, or certainly not among my circle of primary school-age friends, but … well, back then a lad just did. Trust me on this. We even took them to school, where admittedly it probably wouldn’t have been a wise move to brandish them in lessons, even when overcome with the excitement frequently experienced when ploughing through the latest adventures of ‘Janet and John’, but when otherwise I can’t recall there being any particular problem, say at playtime. It could be a small or large penknife. Perhaps it might be a Swiss Army-type knife, incorporating a clever little tool for removing stones from horses’ hooves, always handy in the – admittedly unlikely, but I lived in hope – event that I might eventually stumble across a suitably distressed horse limping somewhere around Heaton. (It’s always best to be prepared – just in case.)

Ah yes: ‘Be Prepared’, the motto of the Cub Scouts, the youthful members of which organisation seemed to be routinely issued with sheath knives as a standard feature of their equipment, and which were worn freely and openly, hanging from their belts, even when not in uniform, with plenty of non-Cubs owning and publicly displaying their own examples, too.

I’m digressing now but, come to think of it, youthful ‘firearms‘ were in plentiful supply, as well. How many lads in those days didn’t own a cowboy-type cap-gun revolver? Or rifle? Not many. Or if so, it was only because they were impatiently waiting for Santa to get his act together the next time Christmas came around. Secret agent-type pistols were very common as well, in the style of James Bond or The Man From Uncle. Best of all was the legendary ‘Johnny Seven – One Man Army’. (We’re talking serious weaponry here. No messing.)

Want to get an idea of the genuine Johnny Seven experience? I can only recommend you click on the following YouTube link:  http://youtu.be/w-tz-9c-g4A

That’s a bit what it was like for a lad on the mean streets of central Heaton, about fifty years ago, although more often in short trousers and, unsurprisingly, without a random unseen American shouting orders in the background. (Come to think of it, like that advert, we may even have played in black and white, but it was rather a long time ago so I can’t be certain on that point.)

Interested? Well come over to my place and have a turn with mine. No, really – I’ve still got my own Johnny Seven. Some bits have gone missing over the decades and some now malfunction – I’m currently having problems with the grenade launcher – so it’s probably more accurate to call it a ‘Johnny Four And A Half’, but it certainly still exists.

You’re going to want a photo to believe me on that one, so here you are:

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(And don’t get me started on the joys of the catapult.)

Anyway, so there we were, roaming around central Heaton, openly carrying our fearsome assortment of knives, revolvers, pistols, rifles and Johnny Sevens – veritable armed militias of 8-10 year olds – perhaps, on reflection, rather as if ‘Crackerjack’ had decided to broadcast a special one-off edition from Vietnam. Can you imagine children playing like that today? Some horrified onlooker would get out their mobile phone, and within five minutes you’d be deafened by the sound of approaching squad cars, before the whole of Heaton would be put in ‘lockdown’ for the rest of the day, while Social Services implemented the politically correct provisions of their latest ‘children at risk’ intervention strategy.

Which takes me back to where I was. No, not in Vietnam – back to standing on Jesmond Vale Lane, just by the ‘palace’, sometime in the mid-sixties.

Standing with a friend, as it happens, name now long forgotten. There I was, holding my pearl-handled, multi-function, Swiss Army knife, no doubt still optimistically on the lookout for that perpetually elusive limping horse. In the meantime, as we’d been walking up the lane, on the way home, I had been amusing myself by aimlessly hacking away at random twigs, overhanging leaves and the like, as I went – fair enough, not ideal behaviour, but essentially harmless. The trouble was, he’d obviously been watching and following us for the last few minutes. And ‘he’ was … the ‘parky’!

Or should that be the ‘parkie’? No matter – it was going to take more than correct spelling to get us out of this one. This was serious. Appearing from seemingly nowhere was the man more officially known as the Park Keeper, and who seemed to operate in both Armstrong and Heaton parks. A smallish, perhaps fortyish gentleman, he very much resembled a typical bus inspector of the day – remember them? – with dark gabardine overcoat  and black peaked cap, an impression reinforced by the fact that he carried some sort of silver-coloured ticket machine slung over his shoulder, and which dangled by his waist, in his case for the purpose of issuing tickets in exchange for the sixpence needed for the use of the tennis courts.

And he wasn’t happy. Curtly he demanded that I hand over my knife. On reflection, I could have simply refused. If matters then became difficult, I suppose I could have sent my anonymous friend to my house in Simonside Terrace to get some back-up firepower. I’m sure Mr Parky would have thought twice about the wisdom of his demands – or at least considered entering into negotiations – when confronted with a fully loaded Johnny Seven: the anti-tank rocket, in particular, is some serious piece of plastic.

But of course, I did none of those things. I might ‘talk the talk’ now, but back then I didn’t ‘walk the walk’. Or rather, I did. All the way back home, in fact. Somewhat sheepishly, if the truth be told. Without my knife. Which, of course, I had meekly handed over to the ‘parky’. In those days, to defy an adult was often not such an easy thing to do, but to defy an adult in a uniform was close to unthinkable. So I didn’t think it, and didn’t do it.

And would you believe this? Just as we turned into Rothbury Terrace, there it finally came, hobbling uncomfortably towards us … clipetty, clop (painful whinny) clipetty, clop … (No, I didn’t think you would, and you’d be right not to.)

But in any case, the welfare of the infrequently encountered limping horses of Heaton were from that day on someone else’s responsibility.

And yes, Mr Parky – that person was you.

 

Photography in the blood

This rare photograph, of the visit to Newcastle in August 1884 of the Prince and Princess of Wales, was taken by Thomas Maitland Laws. This was the visit on which, after passing down Shields Road, North View and Heaton Park Road then through Heaton Park, they officially opened Armstrong Park and Jesmond Dene.

Almost all the images you will see of this famous event are drawings and engravings because to take documentary photographs of moving subjects was still a big challenge at that time. Thomas clearly understood the photograph’s commercial value because within a week of taking it, he had registered the copyright. It is, as a result, held in the National Archives,  where we found it.

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Prince and Princess of Wales, Newcastle August 1884. Perhaps you can help us identify where it was taken.

Although Thomas was living in the centre of Newcastle at this time, he later lived in Heaton. During this period, he owned a photography business based on Shields Road West.

Early life

Thomas was born in Paddington on 2 July 1855 to Isabella and Peter Maitland Laws. Although both Thomas’s parents were northerners (Peter, Durham born, and Isabella from Cumberland), at this time they were living in London where Peter worked as a carpenter.

However by 1861, the Laws had moved back north with children Henry, Thomas, Sarah and Peter. The family lived in Grainger Street in the centre of Newcastle and Peter was now earning his living as a photographer.

Thomas was thus exposed (forgive the pun) to photography from a very early age at a time when some of his neighbours and indeed his own father were at the forefront of the development and popularisation of a still new medium.

The first mention we have found of Thomas in the press is in July 1867 when, aged 12, he was announced as the winner of the not inconsiderable sum of five shillings, having achieved second place in the ‘Triple Kites’ category of a kite-flying contest on the Town Moor. The previous year a photograph to be taken by his father had been announced as the prize for the various winners.

Pioneering father

Thomas’s father, Peter Maitland Laws, had been a professional photographer for at least eight years at this point. He was listed in the trade directories of 1859-60 as a ‘photographic artist’, living in Pilgrim St and operating from Northumberland Court (which still exists between Waterstones and Jamie’s Italian on Blackett Street), at a time when, although there were a number of ‘photographic artists’ practising in Newcastle, the occupation did not yet appear as a category in the classified listings. (1839 is generally considered the year in which commercial photography was born and it was the year the term ‘photography’ was coined by ‘father of photography’, the astronomer and chemist, John Herschel. But the medium took off slowly at first due to significant technical constraints.)

It was two years later after Laws’ first listing in the trade directories, in  1861, that the Newcastle and North of England Photographic Society was formed. Peter was a member of its original ‘council’ and later became treasurer. At the society’s first meeting, he presented ‘two proofs of his very beautiful views of the ruins of Tynemouth Priory’.

Important technical developments to the art form were still to take place: here in Newcastle in 1864, Joseph Wilson Swan, who owned a ‘chemical and photographic establishment’ on Mosley Street with his brother in law, John Mawson, perfected and patented the carbon process, an early method of producing permanently fixed photographs. It wasn’t for another 13 years, in 1877, that the same inventor perfected dry gelatine-bromide plates which made enlargements possible.

But in the meantime, photography was booming, with small photographic visiting cards becoming hugely popular.  Laws’ business, by now based in Blackett Street, must have been doing well because, by 1871, Peter and Isabella’s elder son, Henry, had followed his father into the firm, while 16 year old Thomas worked as a lithographer. This photograph of Thomas Laws’ grandparents, William (born in Wolsingham, Co Durham in 1793) and Sarah (born in Paisley, Scotland in 1790) dates from this time.

William and Sarah Laws c 1871F76

William and Sarah Laws, grandparents of Thomas Maitland Laws, 1871

Peter Maitland Laws didn’t rest on his laurels. He was said to be one of the first photographers to take portraits using artificial light when he introduced gas lighting into his studio.  In 1879, he advertised ‘Portraits in Dull Weather and at NIGHT with Laws’ “light irradiator”‘ and ‘Portraits in winter equal to summer: gas nights, Tuesday, Friday and Saturday 6-8’. And in February 1880, he made history when he used gaslight to take the first ever photograph of a performance at the Theatre Royal.

He was experimenting with ‘colour photographs’ at around the same time.

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Hand colouring, late 1870s

Peter’s ability to innovate as well as his photographic skill meant that, not only did his business continue to thrive, but he continued to be awarded personal accolades and prizes. In 1887 two of his award-winning photographs were included in the Newcastle Royal Jubilee Exhibition.

Peter Maitland Laws died in 1906.

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Peter Maitland Laws

Developing talent

By 1881, aged 26, Thomas had followed his father into photography.  He was by now married and living in St Thomas Square with his wife Elizabeth, who hailed from the Isle of Bute. The couple were well enough off to employ a live-in servant.

It was around this time of his photograph of the royal visit that Thomas formally became a partner in the family business, which was retitled ‘P M Laws and Son’. In 1887, P M Laws and Son claimed to be ‘the largest and oldest established gallery of photography in the North’.

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Reverse of a P M Laws and Son photograph

However, whether because Thomas wanted to move out of his father’s shadow or for some other reason, Thomas and Elizabeth didn’t stay in Newcastle. By 1891, they were living in Staffordshire with their young family: Amelia, aged 9; Maitland, 7, and Angus, 3. Thomas’s business was in Darlington Street, Wolverhampton. A number of his photographs from this time are in the National Archives, notably two of Wolverhampton Wanderers 1893 cup winning team.

Return to Heaton

The family returned north, however, first to Cumberland, where Thomas ran a photographic and art supplies shop, and then, perhaps because Thomas’s father, Peter, had died in 1906, to 24 Addycombe Terrace in Heaton, where Thomas was a self-employed photographer once more, with a studio at 42 Shields Road West. One of his neighbours at no 55 Addycombe Terrace was his younger half-brother, Albert Heath Laws, also a photographer.

By 1911 Thomas and Elizabeth’s 23 year old son, Angus Ferguson Laws, worked as his assistant, the third generation of the family to become a photographer. But sadly Angus, a Private in the Grenadier Guards, was killed in France on 27 September 1918, aged 30, just weeks before the end of WW1. He is remembered at the Grand Ravine British  Cemetery, Havrincourt.

Thomas had moved from Addycombe Terrace to 7 Warwick Street a few years earlier but by 1921 the Shields Road West business had closed and Thomas had moved back to the midlands. He died in  1928 in Warwickshire.

Postscript

June Howard, a great great granddaughter of Peter Maitland Laws, who now lives in Australia, kindly sent us some family photographs, including those seen here, and told us that photography ran in her family: ‘My understanding is a few of PM Laws children took up photography. My grandfather, Percy Maitland Laws, certainly did all his own developing. I remember we couldn’t use the bath room as it was his dark room.’

Sources

‘One Hundred Years of Photography in the North’, J Arnold Little, 1960

‘Sun Pictures: the Lit and Phil and the history of British photography’,Anthony Flowers and Alison Gunning; Lit and Phil, 2014

Catalogue of the Newcastle Jubilee exhibition (at the Lit and Phil)

Ancestry, British Newspaper Archives and other online resources

Shakespeare Streets

This article was researched and written by Chris Jackson as part of Heaton History Group’s project to commemorate the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death.

There are a number of streets in the west of Heaton which have names associated with Shakespeare: Bolingbroke, Hotspur, Malcolm, Mowbray and Warwick Streets plus Stratford Grove, Stratford Road, Stratford Grove Terrace, Stratford Grove West and Stratford Villas. We would love to discover why they were so named and we will research and write about some of the people who, like Thomas Maitland Laws, have lived or worked there.

We are also interested in other connections between Heaton and Shakespeare through its theatres, past and present; writers, actors – and of course, the famous brick Shakespeare on South View West.

Shakespeare

If you would like to get involved or have any information or memories that you think might be of interest, please contact us, either by clicking on the link immediately below the title of this article or by emailing chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

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The Photographer and his House