Tag Archives: Avenues

Around Heaton’s Shops – with a Camera (Part One)

Eric Dale was born in 1937 and in about 1939 moved with his family from Corbridge Street, Byker to Eighth Avenue in Heaton. Like many of us, he clearly remembers many of the shops of his boyhood but, even better, from our point of view, he returned with his camera in the 1970s, 80s and 90s.

Here he takes us on a walking tour of some of the highlights, from  the Avenues where he grew up and along Chillingham Road and back, where he was sent on errands every Friday.  Inserted are photographs he took years later, alongside some taken this week.

The Avenues

On Second Avenue from Meldon Terrace going south: east side, on corner of Tenth Avenue I remember a small sweet shop and penny lending library at the no 1 bus stop. Opposite on Meldon corner was Thompson’s Red Stamp Stores. (Ed: This was a chain of grocery stores, which started in Blyth and spread throughout the north east.)

 

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Thompon’s Red Stamp Store, by 1994 a second hand furniture shop (Copyright: Eric Dale)

 

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Corner of Second and Meldon, 2017 – now a lettings agent (Copyright: Chris Jackson)

 

Next, a shop which recharged the glass-encased wet acid batteries (accumulators) which powered the household radio/wireless on the basis of take a spent one to the shop, pay your sixpence and get a freshly charged one in return. There was a chip-shop on King John Street corner. Opposite corner had a general dealer. (Ed: this corner is now residential properties.)

 

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Corner of Second Avenue and King John Street, 1994 (Copyright: Eric Dale)

 

On the corner of Balmoral Terrace and Second Avenue corner was an off-licence. If it still exists it must be the longest established retail outlet in Heaton. I lived in Eighth Avenue from the early 40s and remember as a very small child seeing deliveries being made to it by a steam-driven lorry or dray.

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Balmoral Wines, 1994 ( copyright Eric Dale)

(Ed: Well, yes, it does still exist! We’ll have to delve more into its history and see whether it rivals Clough’s for that title.)

 

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Balmoral Wines, still going strong, 2017 (Copyright: Chris Jackson)

Finally, on Second Avenue between First and Third, there was John Cook, gents’ hairdresser – and part-time bookies’ runner!

 

Chillingham Road

On west side of Chillingham Road going north was the Chillingham Hotel, then on the corner of Seventh a newsagent.

 

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Newsagent on the corner of Chillingham Road and Seventh Avenue in 1994 (Copyright: Eric Dale, 1994)

(Ed: This may have changed hands a few times but it’s still a newsagent’s)

 

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Newsagent on the corner of Chilli and Seventh, 2017 (Copyright: Chris Jackson)

 

On the opposite corner was Miss Welch’s, which sold sweets. Higher up Seventh on south side, McGee’s Bakery.

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McGee’s bakery, empty by 1984 (Copyright: Eric Dale)

(Ed: Again, like many of the former shops in the Avenues, it’s been converted into a residential property.)

Back to Chillingham Road: Harrison’s Bakery (‘Harrison’s Pies are full of flies, it’s a puzzle to find the meat!’) was where mam always specified a ‘high-baked’ wholemeal small loaf which cost sixpence farthing. Wedgewood’s general dealers was on Eighth corner.

On the opposite corner was the Grace Fairless second-hand shop, where on rainy days I used to swap comics such as the ‘Beano’, ‘Dandy’, ‘Knockout’ and ‘Film Fun’ for older editions that I’d take along. As I grew older myself the favourites became the boys’ story papers ‘The Adventure’, ‘Hotspur’, ‘Wizard’ and ‘Rover‘; featuring ‘The Tough of the Track’ and ‘Smith of the Lower Third’).

Elliot’s general dealers (a small refund when returning pop bottles) was next in the row, later taken on by John and Mary from Chester-le-Street, then came Laidler’s fish and chips (‘a fish and threepen’orth’ was the usual order, but when new potatoes were in season chips went up to fourpence) and thenTurnbull’s newsagents.

Still on west side of Chillingham Road, after the school and on Meldon Terrace corner Fong Wah Laundry, then The Pie Shop (without doubt the least savoury chips in Heaton: greasy, limp and soggy), The Clock and Model Shop, Dennison and Graham chemist, the garage and filling station.  (Ed:Note the 1984 prices in the photo. If our maths can be trusted that’s £1.85 for 4.55 litres or 40.66p a litre. About £1.15 today? But maybe that’s not too bad compared with the rise in cost of, say, going to St James’ Park?)

 

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Chillingham Road filling station, 1984 (Copyright: Eric Dale)

 

 

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The old Chillingham Road filling station site, about to be redeveloped, 2017 (Copyright: Chris Jackson)

 

Grosvenor Ballroom, The Scala Cinema, The Co-op, a newsagent and Post Office on the corner of Cartington Terrace. Finally Riddells Photography, another very long-established business.

On east side from the south: on Spencer Street corner L.C. Garage, then Oakley fireplaces/plumbers.

 

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Oakley’s the plumber, 1994 (Copyright: Eric Dale)

 

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Oakley’s the plumbers boarded up for many years, 2017 (Copyright: Chris Jackson)

 

Hedley’s the greengrocer was on the corner of Rothbury Terrace (there was a sloping wooden ramp down into the shop) and then Trutime Watch Co, which many older residents will remember well.

 

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The Trutime Watch Co, 1984 (Copyright: Eric Dale)

 

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Trutime Watch Co ( the fascia uncovered a couple of years ago) to let, 2017 (Copyright: Chris Jackson)

 

Nearby was London and Newcastle Tea Company and, just before Watson’s Paint and Wallpaper, Clough’s sweet shop. Yes, younger readers might not know there used to be more than one Clough’s – they must have bulk bought all the blue paint in Heaton!

 

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Clough’s Chillingham Road shop’s golden anniversary, 1984 (copyright: Eric Dale)

 

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Formerly Clough’s Chilli Road, Bijou Hairdressing in 2017 (Copyright: Chris Jackson)

 

My Weekly Shop at the Co-op

Each Friday tea-time it was my job to walk along to the Co-op on Chillingham Road with my little shopping list and bring back the bacon (literally). Shopping there was a nightmare as each product was allocated a different counter. Sugar had to be weighed up and neatly packed in blue bags, lumps of the desired weight were hacked from barrel-shaped slabs of butter, cheese was similarly cut from large rounds and bacon thinly sliced on a hand-operated machine. Nothing perishable was pre-wrapped. And there was the additional tedium waiting whilst the relevant coupons were clipped from ration books. Jam, when it was available (and during the war it was always Damson) at least came in jars! Because there was no queueing system in place it was a struggle to maintain position in the mass of adult customers clamouring to be served….and I was only a kid less than half their size. I hated it, and it’s no surprise that I can remember our Co-op dividend number to this day. Just for reference, ration allocations per person per week in 1945 were 2 ounces butter and cheese, 4 ounces bacon and margarine, 8 ounces sugar. All rationing ended in 1954.

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 the shops on Chillingham Road and in the Avenues. 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.

Or if you are able to volunteer to take photos in Heaton today, again please get in touch. Think how interesting they will be in a few years time.

Our home in Eighth Avenue (Heaton in the 40s and 50s Part 1)

We love to hear the memories of older Heatonians, past and present, so were delighted to receive an email from Eric Dale. Eric was born in 1937 and in about 1939 moved with his family from Corbridge Street, Byker to Eighth Avenue in Heaton. He had a career in typography and copywriting in both Newcastle and Edinburgh before becoming graphic design manager for Northumberland National Park in Hexham. He now lives near Kelso in the Scottish Borders but has vivid memories of growing up in Heaton.

We will publish Eric’s memories in a series of articles over the coming months. The first one concerns his childhood home in Eighth Avenue during and immediately following the Second World War. It is interesting to compare Eric’s recollections, not only with our experiences today, but also with those of Jack Common, born just around the corner in Third Avenue 34 years before Eric, and who, in ‘Kiddar’s Luck’, wrote about growing up in the years leading to and during the First World War:

Our house

We lived in a rented downstairs flat on Eighth Avenue.

 

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Postcard of Eighth Avenue (looking towards Second Avenue) from the collection of Hilary Bray (nee Bates)

 

From the front door there was a small lobby to a glass door then a short passage to the living room. On the right of the corridor was the front bedroom. In the living room on the left was the ‘gas cupboard’ which was under the stairs leading up to next door’s flat. A door on the right of the living room led to the back bedroom. Continuing straight through the living room led to the scullery with a door on the right giving access to the backyard which housed the toilet (torn up strips of newspaper for ‘toilet paper’) and coal house.

When I was very young, lighting was provided by gas mantles. There was no heating except that provided by the fire in the living-room. Both bedrooms had fireplaces but fires were rarely lit. For many years we took baths in a galvanised metal bath placed in front of the living room fire which was set in the then commonplace black iron surround with a built-in oven and a hob for the kettle. As far as I can remember hot water was provided by means of a back boiler. ‘Mod cons’ that we all take for granted now; central heating, double glazing, fridge, freezer, microwave oven, dishwasher, washing machine, vacuum cleaner, television, telephone and fitted carpets were, in several cases, decades away.

Front and back

The front street and back lane were cobbled. Wheeled traffic at the front was in the main generated by traders such as the milkman and his horse-drawn float and the Ringtons tea salesman or, less often, the knife sharpener with his half-barrow, half-cycle. Occasionally we were visited by the fisher ladies from Cullercoats offering ‘Caller-herrin’ and travelling people selling clothes pegs. I can also clearly remember that a man, presumably from the council or gas company, used to visit each gas lamp in the street at dusk, reach up with a long pole and set them aglow.

Back lane traffic consisted of the coal man’s cart (and later lorry), the dustbin men and rag and bone merchants with their carts who would offer balloons or a goldfish for ‘any old rags or woollens’. The coal man repeatedly mistimed his deliveries by arriving on a Monday, much to the annoyance of the housewives who were obliged to gather in their washing strung out across the width of the lane.

We also had a regular cycle of tramps, one of whom always wore a green-with-mould claw hammer coat and a filthy bowler hat (or was it a topper?). Anyway, it looked posh from a distance. He was fairly local as he rarely carried anything other than a small bag. We followed him a few times to see where he lived but he always shook us off somewhere near Byker tip. We named him Greasy Dutt. The other regular who may well have been a WW2 ex-serviceman carried a large kit bag, from the depths of which he would produce a wind-up gramophone and records for our entertainment. He was very polite and cheerful and, as far as I can remember, only ever asked for hot water for his tea.

In addition to the usual dustbins there were also food waste bins distributed in the back-lanes which were regularly collected and transported to pig farms to aid food production. We just called them ‘pig bins’. Whilst an essential waste reduction measure they were unfortunately also a highly productive breeding ground for flies of all kinds. My friend Brian higher up the street was enthusiastic about catching the back lane pigeons which were also numerous and attracted to food scraps of all kinds. The method was to form a noose with string, scatter breadcrumbs inside it, lead the string to the back door which he then hid behind, leaving it open a crack for observation. Then a quick yank on the string and….! I only saw it work on a couple of occasions. Once caught it was possible to sell the better specimens on at the regular Saturday pigeon fanciers gathering near the Green Market in Newcastle (I believe the asking price was 1/6d.); any others were simply released.

Mealtimes

Meals in the early years were basic and frugal and from ’42 for about ten years were constrained by the limitations imposed by rationing. I don’t remember a great deal about the war years except for spam, dried egg, dried milk, concentrated orange juice and generous gifts of apples from Canada, but once dad had returned and a wage was coming in again things began to look up in food terms.

Main meals were taken at ‘dinner time’ (midday) and dad who worked on Raby Street, Byker would always cycle home for his. Monday was ‘cad warmed up’ as, being washing day, mam had only the time to fry up the leftovers from Sunday which was the most eagerly anticipated meal of the week. Not lavish mind you, but we did stretch to a bottle of Tizer or even ice cream soda if we felt flush!

Even Sunday breakfast was different, with fried bread and black puddin’ being regularly on the menu. Feeling hungry whilst playing out was commonplace and kids would call for a bit of jam and bread to help boost energy levels until the next meal. We also came up with some self-concocted treats such as the following white bread sandwiches: how about condensed milk, sugar and margarine, or brown sauce? Yum!

Many will remember that the most luxurious food item in the early fifties was ‘The Tin Of Salmon’ which wasn’t eaten until we had ‘Company‘ and then it was brought out of hiding to make sandwiches just as if we had them every weekday and twice on Sundays! Just as a footnote: I don’t remember previously having seen a banana when, just after the war, one of the kids in the seniors at Chillingham Road brought a half-ripe one to school; ‘imported‘ by his uncle in the Navy.

 

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Eighth Avenue looking towards Chillingham Road (1984) by Eric Dale

 

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Eighth Avenue looking towards Chillingham Road (Google Maps 2016)

Acknowledgements
Thank you, Eric, for taking the time to write and share your memories and photos (many more of which will be published in the future) and also to Hilary Bray (nee Bates) who gave us permission to digitise and use photographs of Heaton from her collection. It’s fascinating to compare the three photographs. What does anyone remember about the brick structure at the end of the road in Eric’s photo?
Can you help?

If you remember Eric or have any photographs or memories of Eighth Avenue or Heaton more generally that 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

 

Heaton’s Back Lane Mysteries and Memories

Jack Common wrote of the many traders who called at Third Avenue:

‘Greengrocery and fish and coal came to the back door… Down here came the Cullercoats fishwives crying ‘Caller herrin’ in that season and otherwise “Fresh fish, hinny, straight from the sea”…

Everybody’s washing hung across the lane so that the appearance of a tradesman’s cart meant a rush to tuck sheets and things round the rope and to raise the diminished bunting high over the horse’s head with a prop.’

'Co-al' by Mark James

‘Co-al’ by Mark James

 

Jean Walker of Cardigan Terrace recalled playing out:

‘We called for people at the back door. At first, it was cobblestones. We played races and hide and seek… But then they concreted the lane so we could skate and ride bicycles as well. We played tennis. The concrete was in sections. We used the middle section as the net.’

Olive Renwick told us that her mother ‘walked to Meldon Terrace everyday with a jug to collect milk from a woman who kept a goat in her back yard’.

Joan Sweeney remembered ‘a container for ashes attached to the back wall with an aperture so that the ashes could be tipped into the bath which was brought around the back streets’.

Young Joan in her back yard c 19932

Ash box in the wall behind young Joan c 1932

So much of Heaton’s history must have been made out back – and, although admittedly some are more attractive than others these days, back lanes are still very much a part of Heaton life, whether as a short cut to the shops or a place we chat to a neighbour while putting out the bins.

Heaton History Group member Michael Johnston is fascinated by them and wonders what unusual features others have noticed.  To start the ball rolling he’s sent us some photos and asks whether anyone knows the history of these doors.

 

 

The green one is in the lane behind the shops on Chillingham Road and the brown one
leads into the yard of a house in Alexandra Road.

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And we’d love to hear your thoughts on this one, taken in Back Molyneux Street. Who were these men? And what were they up to?

Over to you

What can you tell us about the doors? What do you think was going on in the Molyneux Street back lane? What other interesting historic features intrigue you as you walk through Heaton? Send us your photos and comment either by clicking on the link immediately below the title of this article or by emailing: chris.Jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

 

VAD Nurses in Heaton’s Avenues

Following the end of the Boer War, the War Office was concerned that, in the event of another conflict, the medical and nursing services wouldn’t be able to cope sufficiently. The peacetime needs of a standing army, in relation to medical care, were very small and specific, and to find thousands of trained and experienced personnel at very short notice, without the expense of maintaining them in peacetime, was a difficult problem to overcome. On 16 August 1909 the War Office issued its ‘Scheme for the Organisation of Voluntary Aid in England and Wales’, which set up both male and female Voluntary Aid Detachments to fill certain gaps in the Territorial medical services. By early 1914, 1757 female detachments and 519 male detachments had been registered with the War Office.

VAD recruitment poster

VAD recruitment poster

When war came, the Red Cross and Auxiliary hospitals sprung up rapidly in church halls, public buildings and private houses, accommodating anything from ten patients to more than a hundred. The proportion of trained nurses in the units was small, and much of the basic work was the responsibility of the VADs – they cleaned, scrubbed and dusted, set trays, cooked breakfasts; they lit fires and boiled up coppers full of washing. They also helped to dress, undress and wash the men – which was of course a big step for young women who may never have been alone and unchaperoned with a member of the opposite sex before, other than their brothers.

There were about 50,000 women involved in the movement immediately before the war, and it’s thought that in total somewhere between 70,000 and 100,000 women served as VADs at some time during the war, some for very short periods, some for up to five years.

As part of the commemoration of the centenary of World War 1, the Red Cross has been digitising its VAD records, which has allowed us to identify three VAD nurses living in the avenues as well as two male members of voluntary aid detachments, shedding some light on their lives and contributions as well as the role that they played during the war.

The English Family

The English family lived at 30 Third Avenue, Heaton. The 1911 census shows Robert English (55), a plumber, and his wife, Isabella (48), had four children living at home, twins Annie and Mary Jane (28), Isabella (20) and William 18.

In 1911, William was working as a stained glass designer. On 29 October 1915, aged 22, he enlisted in the army. His military record describes him as 5’ 8” in height and weighing 7st 8lbs. His physical development was described as ‘spare’, with a chest measurement of 33 1/2 inches. It was noted that his sight was defective, except when wearing spectacles. He also had slight varicose veins. These were deemed as slight defects that were not significant enough to cause rejection. Given his physical development, it is perhaps not surprising that he was placed into the Royal Army Service Corps rather than a combat roll.

Four days after enlisting, on 1 November 1915, William married Lillian Phillips at St Gabriel’s Church. The next day, he joined his regiment at Aldershot. What is interesting about William, is not his relatively unremarkable military career, but that both his sister, Mary Jane, and his new wife, Lillian, were to go on to become VAD nurses.

Mary Jane English and the Liverpool Merchants’ Hospital

Mary Jane saw service with the VAD from 2 October 1915 to 12 November 1917 and is listed as a sister, although it’s not clear whether this meant she was a qualified nurse. Interestingly, the 1911 census does not show any employment for Mary, although it is possible that she trained as a nurse between then and the start of the war. Mary was posted to the No 6 Hospital of the British Red Cross in Etaples, also known as the Liverpool Merchants Hospital. She was awarded the 1915 star for her service.

The Liverpool Merchants’ Hospital was constructed and equipped from funds raised by members of the Liverpool Chamber of Commerce, making it unique. The hospital opened at the end of July 1915 and treated over 20,000 people during the course of the war at a cost of some £90,000. s a Base Hospital, the hospital had 252 beds and formed part of the casualty evacuation chain, further back from the front line than the Casualty Clearing Stations. In the theatre of war in France and Flanders, the British hospitals were generally located near the coast. They needed to be close to a railway line, in order for casualties to arrive; they also needed to be near a port where men could be evacuated for longer term treatment in Britain.

Staff of the Liverpool Merchants' Hospital

Staff of the Liverpool Merchants’ Hospital where Mary Jane English served

A report from the ‘Liverpool Courier’ in January 1920 gives a description of the facilities: ‘There were eight pavilion wards, each to accommodate 27 patients, with their own nurses’ duty rooms, sink, stores and cupboards, also large linen store; and each ward had attached to it a two-bed ward for special cases. Each large ward had also its own bath and lavatory. The operation block and the kitchen block were situated in the centre of the hospital. The operation block contained also X-ray room with dark room attached, an anaesthetic room, preparation room, operating theatre, dispensary, laboratory, medical store room, splint room, quarter-master’s and matron’s store rooms and ambulance stores.’

The article closes by saying:

‘Let it be recorded to the everlasting glory of Liverpool that the Merchants’ Hospital, the only military hospital which has been “designed, built, equipped, staffed, managed, and financed” entirely by the citizens of a particular city, has never been prevented from the fullest performance of the duties for which it was devised by lack of funds.’

This last fact is particularly interesting, as all of the records show that the hospital was staffed exclusively by the people of Liverpool. It’s not clear what relationship the English family had with Liverpool, or indeed if the necessities of war meant that this particular point was overlooked in the interests of providing a service.

Lillian English and the Australian Hospital

Lillian English married William on 1 November 1915. She was the youngest daughter of Alfred and Sarah Phillips of West Jesmond. The 1911 census shows Alfred as a letterpress machine overseer in the printing industry, with 19 year old Lillian working as an assistant at a music dealer and her older step sister Mary Gregory (28) working as a booksewer in a bookbinder’s. After their marriage, Lillian continued to live at her parents’ home, 34 Mowbray Street, Heaton and William’s military record was amended to show this as his address. The couple continued to live with Lillian’s parents for several years after the war.

Perhaps inspired by the experiences and contribution of her sister-in-law, Mary, Lillian also joined the Voluntary Aid Detachment on 6 March 1918, some four months after Mary returned from Etaples. Lillian’s stay in the service was however somewhat shorter, as she was discharged one month later on 8 April 1918. This initially caused us much speculation. Typically, VAD nurses would have one month probation and it appeared at first that either she was considered unsuited for the work or could not herself cope with it. However, the answer to her hasty departure became apparent when we discovered that William and Lillian’s only daughter, Monica, was born 12 November 1918. Obviously conceived during William’s leave, Lillian must have been about four weeks pregnant when she took up her post, a fact that would have become apparent during her brief placement, leading to her premature return home. Lillian spent her brief assignment with the VAD posted to the Australian Hospital, Harefield.

Some of the buildings at Harefield Park

Some of the buildings at Harefield Park where Lillian English served

In November 1914 Mr and Mrs Charles Billyard-Leake, Australians resident in the UK, offered their home, Harefield Park House and its grounds, to the Minister of Defence in Melbourne for use as a convalescent home for wounded soldiers of the Australian Imperial Forces (AIF). The property became the No. 1 Australian Auxiliary Hospital in December 1914. It was the only purely Australian hospital in England. The Hospital consisted of Harefield Park House, a 3-storey plain brick building, some out-buildings and grounds of some 250 acres. It was proposed that the Hospital would accommodate 60 patients in the winter and 150 in the summer. It would be a rest home for officers and other ranks, and also a depot for collecting invalided soldiers to be sent back to Australia. As Harefield Park House could only accommodate a quarter of the number expected, hutted wards were built on the front lawn, and a mess hall for 120 patients in the courtyard.

As the war progressed the hospital grew rapidly, becoming a general hospital. At the height of its use it accommodated over 1000 patients and the nursing staff had expanded to 74 members. Nearly 50 buildings were in use, including workshops, garages, stores, messes, canteens, a recreation hall (where concerts and film shows were held), a billiards rooms, writing rooms, a library, a cookhouse, a detention room and a mortuary. For entertainment, tours to London were arranged and paid for out of canteen funds, and the ladies of the district made their cars available for country trips, picnics and journeys to and from the railway station, both for patients and visitors. The hospital gradually closed down during January 1919 and the whole site was sold to Middlesex County Council who planned to build a tuberculosis sanatorium. The site is now the site of Harefield Hospital.

Irene Neylon

Mary Irene Neylon was born in 1881 in Ireland. Somewhere around the end of the 19th Century, Irene and her sister Susannah moved to Newcastle, possibly to join their Uncle James, a wine and spirit manager living in Jesmond. Irene lived at 60, Third Avenue, with her sister and her husband John William Carr and their family. She never married and remained at Third Avenue until her death on 16 March 1947, where probate records show that she left effects to the value of £164 3s.

Irene was working as a shop clerk at the time of the 1901 census, but by 1911 had trained as a nurse and was working at the Infirmary of the Newcastle upon Tyne Workhouse (later to become Newcastle General Hospital). Between 27 February 1917 and 20 January 1919 Irene is listed on the Red Cross Records as being a VAD Nurse. Unfortunately, Irene’s record only lists her placement as T.N. dept, so it’s not clear exactly where she was posted. However, we do know that part of the infirmary was taken over by the army to treat venereal diseases, with beds for 48 officers and 552 other ranks, so it is possible that she continued to work at the same location but with a different employer. What sets Irene apart from the other VAD members in the Avenues is that she was, as a qualified nurse, a paid employee, earning £1 1s per week when she joined, rising to £1 4s 10d when she was discharged.

Irene Neylon's VAD record card

Irene Neylon’s VAD record card

Life as a VAD Nurse

‘Do your duty loyally
Fear God
Honour the King

And only the Master shall praise us, and only the Master shall blame.
And no one shall work for money, and no one shall work for fame,
But each for the joy of working, and each in his separate star,
Shall draw the thing as he sees it for the God of things as they are.’

These were the final inspirational comments of a message from the Commander in Chief of the VAD, Katherine Furse. The message was handed to each VAD nurse before they embarked. The message was to be considered by each V.A.D. member as confidential and to be kept in her Pocket Book.

The nurses were subject to full military discipline and required to assist in any way they could, with only minimal training. Given that we know that Harefield, for example, only had 74 nurses for its 1000 beds, it’s safe to assume that VAD nurses would have been carrying out most of the care. They wore a distinctive blue uniform with a white apron and sleeves and a red cross on the apron to distinguish them from other nursing staff.

VAD uniform

VAD uniform

The rules they were expected to work to included detail around personal cleanliness and presentation, including gargling morning and evening, but especially in the evening with carbolic, 1 in 60; listerine, 1 teaspoonful to 5 oz. water; glyco-thymoline and water, ½ and ½. They also advised combing the hair with a fine toothed comb every day!

There are several contemporary accounts of the lives of VAD nurses, including this from Kathleen Marion Barrow, who worked at a base hospital in France, similar to that where Mary Jane English worked:

‘In France, when convoy after convoy poured in, and when one piteous wreck after another, whose bandages were stiff with mud and blood, had been deposited on a clean white bed; the extent of a VAD’s work was bound to be decided far more by the measure of her capacity than by rule of seniority, or red tape. Matron and sisters soon discovered those whose skill, quickness and level-headedness, justified trust. In every new venture there are few who have not to walk for a space some time or other in the Valley of Humiliation, the military hospitals in France were a magnificent school, not only for actual nursing, but for self-control and nerve.’

She also talks of the comradeship and the humour amidst the pain and tragedy: ‘One recalls the dummy – carefully charted and hideously masked – which was tucked into bed for the benefit of the VAD and orderly when they came on night duty, and the stifled laughter under the bedclothes in adjoining beds. One recalls, too, the great occasions when some Royal or notable person came to visit the wards. Then we spent ourselves in table decorations, emptied the market of flowers, or ransacked the woods and meadows for willow or catkins, ox-eyed daisies or giant kingcups. Incidentally, we made the boys’ lives a burden to them by our meticulous care in smoothing out sheets, tucking in corners, and repairing the slightest disorder occasioned by every movement on their part, till the occasion was over. Sometimes the expected visitor did not turn up, and when another rumour of a projected visit was brought into the ward by a VAD, she was hardly surprised to find that her announcement was greeted on all sides by the somewhat blasphemous chorus of “Tell me the old, old story.” ‘

Male VAD members

Interestingly, our search for VAD nurses on the avenues identified two male members of Voluntary Aid Detachments: William Holmes and Richard Farr, both members of the St Peter’s Works Division, allocated to air raids, coast defences and convoys and employed as part of the St John’s Ambulance Brigade’s 6th division.

William Holmes, aged 51 at the start of the war, lived at 25, Eighth Avenue, with his wife Maria and five children, three of them, Harriet, William and Mary being adults.

Richard Farr, aged 32 at the start of the war, lived at 45, Second Avenue, with his wife Mary and nine year old daughter Madge.

Both were marine fitters and joined the detachment on 4 August 1914. William was too old to fight, but it’s not clear whether Richard was subsequently called up, although it is possible, given the nature of their work, that they would have been exempted. Although it was not a naval base as such, Tyneside played a huge role in World War One. A third of all the battleships and more than a quarter of the destroyers completed for the Admiralty were built here. Many other naval vessels were repaired on the Tyne particularly after the Battle of Jutland. There were no fewer than 19 shipyards on the Tyne at the outbreak of war, and five of them were big enough to build warships. Hawthorn Leslie alone built 25 royal navy vessels during the war.

Unlike the VAD nurses, the role that William and Richard would have played is much less clearly documented, although it is clear that they were expected to work on an as required basis, most likely dealing with emergencies and possibly manning coastal monitoring stations such as those at Blyth and Tynemouth.

That we have identified five Voluntary Aid Detachment members just from the ten Heaton Avenues* perhaps gives some indication of scale of the enterprise. What is even more startling is to recognise that the women in particular came from all walks of life and, with very few exceptions, worked, often for a number of years, on a purely voluntary basis, receiving no pay and little recognition for their huge commitment to the war effort.

Heaton Avenues in Wartime

This article was researched and written by Michael Proctor, with additional input from Arthur Andrews, for Heaton History Group’s ‘Heaton Avenues in Wartime’ project, which has been funded by Heritage Lottery Fund.

*Postscript

Since this article was written, the Red Cross has continued to post the names of VAD volunteers and so far we have found four more from Heaton’s avenues:

Annie Maud Monaghan, 90 Second Avenue

Lillian Rankin, 21 First Avenue

Annie Isabella Richardson, 55 Tenth Avenue

William Ernest Statton, 27 Ninth Avenue

Those from elsewhere in Heaton include:

Margaret Dora Burke, 146 Trewhitt Road (who served in France)

Mary Douthwaite, Woodlands, Alexandra Road, who served in France and was mentioned in dispatches (30/12/1918)

Mary Haswell, 7 Stratford Villas (who served in France)

Kate Ogg, originally of 21 Bolingbroke Street, who died of influenza on 23 February 1919 while on active duty

Mary Sharpley, 3 Jesmond Vale Terrace, who served in Egypt and was mentioned in dispatches (5/3/1917)

Plus:

Mollie Allen, 62 Chillingham Road

Thomas Atkinson, Street 150 Hotspur Street

Ralph Boyd 160 Warwick Street

Hannah Buttery, 28 Sefton Avenue

John D Cant, 19 Trewhitt Road

Margaret Clare Checkie, 88 Bolingbroke Street

Mary Cowell, 36 Wandsworth Road

Margaret Annie Douthwaite, 3 Alexandra Road

Ernest Edward England, 99 Rothbury Terrace

Mary P Field, Silverdale, Lesbury Road

Gertrude Fotherby, Silverdale, Lesbury Road

Florence Garvey, 9 Meldon Terrace

Alberta Louise Gerrie, 137 Addycombe Terrace

Robert G Horne, 64 Balmoral Terrace

Gladys Mary Miller, 16 Bolingbroke Street

Hilda Oliver, Bellegrove, Lesbury Road

Jane Ethel Park, Westville, Heaton Road

Mary Isabella Roberts, Heaton Hall

E D Scott, 21 King John Terrace

Eva May Stroud, Cresta, Heaton Road

W Theobold, 39 Cardigan Terrace

Matthew Tulip, 13 King John Street

Elizabeth H Turner, 22 Bolingbroke Street

Jennie Walton, 10 Falmouth Road

Laura Whitford, 17 Guildford Place

Irene Helena Whiting, Cresta, Heaton Road

J Wilson, 101 Warwick Street

Can you help?

If you know more about any of the people mentioned in this article, please get in touch either by posting directly to this site by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or by emailing Chris Jackson, Secretary of Heaton History Group at chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

The Gilhomes of Heaton

Gwen Usher of Gosforth has kindly shared with us the history of her family, who lived, worked and went to school in Heaton. And she told us about the parts various members played during the First World War.

Isaac

Isaac, the third of four children of  William and Sarah Elliott Gilhome, was born in 1860 in Embleton, where his father had a butcher’s shop. After leaving school, Isaac went on to become a butcher himself and the 1881 census records him, aged 20, working in his father’s shop. By 1891, the family’s circumstances had changed completely. Sarah Gilhome had died, leaving William as a widower, aged 64. He had moved to Jesmond, where he was living in a toll-house and working as toll collector. By this time, Isaac had met and married Mary Isabella Porter, which is when the family’s connection with Heaton began.

Isaac Gilhome

Isaac Gilhome

To Heaton

Mary Isabella Gilhome nee Porter was born in Newcastle on 29 November 1857, daughter of a mariner, but she grew up with her paternal grandmother, Mary A Porter, in Cley, Norfolk. But by 1881, aged 23, she had returned to Newcastle and was living in Jesmond as nursemaid to the children of the Sopwith family.

Mary Isabella Gilhome in later life

Mary Isabella Gilhome in later life

Isaac and Mary Isabella married in 1887 and lived in Bensham before, some time around 1891, moving to 35 Tenth Avenue, with their two eldest children Dorothy and Sarah Elizabeth.

Sisters Dora, Lizzie and Mary Gilhome

Sisters Dora, Lizzie and Mary Gilhome

The family continued to grow, with John Porter, Mary Isabella and William born in the 1890s. At some point before 1911, the expanding family moved to a bigger house at 31 Cheltenham Terrace. Isaac eventually opened his own shop. By the time of the First World War, he had three shops in Dalton Street, Gibson Street and Shields Road. Isaac died in 1924 and Mary Isabella in 1930. This is the story of their children, all of whom grew up in Heaton.

Dora

Dorothy, known as Dora, the oldest of the Gilhome children, was born in 1888 and in 1894 was in the first intake of children to the new Chillingham Road School. When she left school, aged 14, Dora stayed at home to help her mother with the family home and care for the younger children. She married Jack Denmead in 1923 and the couple eventually settled in Romford, Essex. Dora died of cancer tragically young in 1942.

Lizzie

Sarah Elizabeth, known as Lizzie, was born in 1890. When Lizzie left school in 1904, she trained as an upholstress, working for Robson’s furniture store, on Northumberland Street, where she was joined, four years later, by her younger sister Mary. Lizzie married Robert Davidson from Berwick, a plumber who worked for the gas company, before opening a sweetshop next to one of Isaac’s butcher’s shops. Their only daughter, Mary Isabella, was born in July 1918. Gwen clearly remembers being allowed to play in the sweet shop when it was closed. Lizzie died in 1976.

John

John Porter was born on 7th January 1892. Like his father before him he worked in the family butcher’s shops in the evenings and weekends from the age of 8. At the outbreak of war, John joined the Navy and in May 1916 was involved in the Battle of Jutland, the only major naval battle of World War One. It’s not clear whether John Porter’s ship was one of those lost in the Battle of Jutland. We do know, however, that in 1917, he joined HMS Caledon, when it was commissioned on 6 March 1917. The Caledon saw action in the second battle of the Heligoland Bight. It was struck by a 12” shell, but fortunately not seriously damaged.

John Porter Gilhome (front right)

John Porter Gilhome (front right)

After the war, John married Edith Wilkinson. He died in June 1947 in Hexham of TB.

Mary

Mary Isabella was born in 1894, leaving school in 1908 to work as an upholstress with her sister. At the start of the war, when John signed up for the Navy, Mary was also keen to do something to help the war effort. There was a particular call for young women to train as nurses and Mary responded, starting her two year probation period at Lemington Infectious diseases hospital.

Mary Gilhome

Mary Gilhome

Whilst at the hospital Mary set up the Newburn Isolation Hospital War Savings Association. The War Savings Movement was established in March 1916 as a way to bring in much needed revenue to fund the war effort. The National Savings Committee was supplemented by volunteer local committees and paid civil servants. Posters encouraged workers to invest in the National Savings Scheme and would buy stamps for 6d, with a promise that each 15/6 saved would be repaid as £1 in six years time. Interestingly, the movement used the swastika as its logo, although this was subsequently abandoned by the government.

War Savings Association membership card

War Savings Association membership card

The National Savings Movement continued to thrive after the war and was instrumental in providing funds in World War 2. It continued until 1978, before becoming National Savings and Investments, which still operates today and runs, amongst other things the Premium Bond scheme. Mary’s role as Honorary Secretary of the association was recognised in a letter from Lloyd George after the war.

Letter from Lloyd George to Mary Gilhome

Letter from Lloyd George to Mary Gilhome

After the war, Mary briefly gave up her nursing career to nurse her father. She then studied midwifery, qualifying in 1928, and she continued her career as a nurse, moving to the West Riding of Yorkshire, where she worked as a district nurse, until she retired in 1959 (some five years later than she should have) when she returned to Newcastle to live. Because of the isolated nature of her caseload, Mary replaced the district nurse’s bike for a motorbike. Mary died in November 1992.

William

William, the youngest child of the family, was born on 29 June 1898 and like all of his siblings went to Chillingham Road School. Unlike his siblings, he was in the first cohort not to have to make a contribution to the school board, receiving free education. At the age of 8, William had a severe bout of diphtheria and was nursed at home, in part by Mary, which may have helped spark her interest in both nursing and working with infectious diseases.

Like his brother, William helped out in the shop and was keen to join the war effort. The family legend is that he joined the Northumberland Fusiliers at the age of 16 and was sent straight to fight in Italy, along with a battalion of the Royal Muster Fusiliers from Ireland. However this story raises some questions. Firstly, the army only recruited young men aged 18 or over and didn’t send them to the front until they were 19.

Secondly, Italy was not a major focus for fighting in World War 1. The 10th and 11th service battalions of the Northumberland Fusiliers were deployed to Northern Italy to strengthen local resistance, but not until November 1917, when the first garrison battalion of the Royal Munster Fusiliers were also deployed to the area to defend lines of communication. It seems likely that this was when William was deployed, although he never spoke to the family about his wartime experiences. There is a photo of him in Italy with his Lance Corporal and his medal records show him as having fought in both the Northumberland and Royal Muster Fusiliers, which supports this position.

William Gilhome

William Gilhome

William would have been involved in the battle of Vittorio Veneto, which was instrumental in the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the end of the war.

After the war, John and William completed their training as butchers and after their father’s death in 1924, jointly took over the family shops. This proved not to be a successful arrangement and John subsequently bought William out of his share. William then went on to manage a shop in Gateshead before opening his own store in Low Fell. He married Ann Armstrong at St Silas’ Church, Byker in 1928 and the couple settled in Gateshead. Their daughter Gwen was born in Gateshead in June 1936. During World War 2, William served in the Home Guard as a Private in E Company of the 8th Cumberland Battalion. William died on of a heart attack in 1964, having suffered from heart disease since 1945, thought to be as a result of his childhood diphtheria.

Thank you

Thank you to Gwen Usher for sharing the Gilhomes’story with Heaton History Group member, Michael Proctor, who carried out additional research. If you have information, memories or photographs of Heaton to share, please contact Chris Jackson

Joseph Fagg Story – Food Prices and Impact on Wages

On 6 February 1916, an open letter appeared in the Newcastle ‘Daily Journal’ from Joseph Fagg, of 27 Third Avenue in his capacity as Branch Secretary of the National Union of Clerks. In the letter, he protests about the alarming advances in the price of foodstuffs.

Joseph Fagg's letter to the press

Joseph Fagg’s letter to the press

In the letter he reports that ‘Clerks, like the rest of their fellow workers have nobly responded to their country’s call and this heartless fleecing of dependents of our patriotic comrades is a matter calling for immediate and drastic treatment on the part of the Government.’

It’s not clear whether the original letter was addressed to national or local government, or indeed whether it was addressed purely to the press in order to gain public support. However it does appear to have been part of a coordinated local campaign to persuade employers to recognise the impact of food price increases through increased wages.

Resolution

The city council minutes of February 1915 record the receipt of a letter to the Lord Mayor from a Mr J Wilkinson, Secretary of the Newcastle, Gateshead and District Trades and Labour Council, urging the council to adopt the following resolution:

That this council views with indignation and alarm the present and rapidly increasing prices of the people’s food, due in our opinion, not to shortage, but to the operation of greedy speculators and ship owners. 

We strongly urge upon the government the absolute necessity of at once instituting an inquiry thereon, and, if necessary, that they control the purchase, transport and distribution of food during the present war.

 He concludes by pointing out that other countries are already doing this.

Co-ordinated campaign

It’s not clear what the council’s response to the letter was, however we do know that within a month, Joseph Fagg’s letter had appeared in the ‘Daily Journal’ and the council had received simultaneous letters from Mr J M Gibson, North East Regional Secretary of the Municipal Employees Association and Mr H Goodhead, Secretary of the Amalgamated Association of Tramway and Vehicle Workers, seeking pay increases to recognise the impact of rising food prices.

The Municipal Employees Association letter went to all councils in the region. In it, Mr Gibson points out that his association had initially ‘instructed its officers to refrain from making applications for increased wages which would in any way tend to hamper or hinder the work necessary to enable the government to carry the present regrettable conflict to a successful issue’. However he goes on to say that the enormous increase in the price of foodstuffs had ‘made it imperative that the workers’ wages should be increased if they are to maintain themselves and families in a state of efficiency’.

Further evidence of a coordinated campaign comes in both unions seeking an increase of five shillings per week.

The council referred consideration to a special committee, which met on 19 March 1915 and which representatives of both unions attended. The arguments rehearsed by the committee are remarkably similar to current day discussions about public sector pay rises under a policy of austerity:

-If the application is granted, then the applicants and their families will be appreciably better off than before the war, and they will be relieved of the burden of increased expense which should be borne by all, including the applicants;

-In many communities, if carried out, would be disastrous to those ratepayers, who, out of limited incomes, would have to bear not only their own share of the burden, but also that which should be borne by the applicants;

-Where war bonuses have already been granted to workpeople other than municipal employees, it has been to men particularly affected by prevailing conditions: eg to those who have to work more assiduously consequent on excessive shortage of labour by means of the war, or to those who are called on to work long periods of overtime in work directly connected with the production of materials of war and the like. This is not the case as regards the present applicants.

War bonus

Despite these misgivings the Council made an offer of a war bonus of:

-2s per week to people earning less than 30s per week

-1s per week to those earning between 30s and 40s per week

-1s per week to boys under 18.

After further representations this was increased by a further 6d per week for all but boys under 18, to be reviewed in six months.

This was to be the first war bonus paid to the council’s employees, with further successful applications made in 1916, twice in 1917 and 1918.

A Special Committee report dated 23 December 1918 recorded the total annual cost of war bonuses to municipal employees (excluding tramway staff and attendance officers and nurses employed by the education committee) to be £10,285.

The total value of war bonuses for municipal employees at that point were:

25s per week for unskilled men

28/4 per week for labourers to skilled men; and

30/9 to 39/3 per week for skilled men

This represents almost a doubling of salary.

Price rises and shortages

Of course, the increases in food prices and food shortages were very real and badly affected the whole population. It is estimated that a pint of milk that cost 1d before the war cost 6d by the end of the war.

The reasons for the rising food prices were mainly linked to food shortages caused in part by the loss of skilled farm labourers, going off to war, but also of horses. Farms in the early 20th century were still heavily dependent on horse power, as was the army and many farm horses were requisitioned by the government

To add to the already escalating food prices and shortages, the 1916 potato harvest suffered severe blight, leading to the city council to send a telegram in February 1917 to the Ministry of Food expressing concern about severe shortages and that local farmers may be holding back supplies to keep prices even higher.

A response from the Controller of Food states that investigation of the matter by a local inspector indicated that the situation in Newcastle was not worse than in other parts of the country and reflected an abnormal shortage of potatoes due to failures in the harvest, not only in the UK but across the world. The response ends by stating that ‘it cannot be expected that persons in Great Britain will be able to obtain more than a small proportion of their normal requirements’.

Recipes

This would have been a particularly heavy blow as potatoes had been widely used as a substitute for other foodstuffs that were in short supply. A Ministry of Food leaflet titled Thirty Four Ways of Using Potatoes (other than as a vegetable) claimed that Britain had an unprecedented surplus of potatoes – over 2 million tons and encouraged people to use them as a replacement for grains, already in short supply.

Recipes included Treacle Potato Pudding:

1 lb. mashed potatoes,

1 egg,

half an ounce of sugar,

1 ounce of ground rice,

1 ounce of cooking fat,

flavouring essence or other flavouring,

3 tablespoons full treacle,

1/2 teaspoon full of baking powder.

Coat a plain charlotte mould whilst warm with a layer of thick treacle. Mix the potato, egg, sugar and melted butter together and add a few drops of flavouring essence. Stir in, lastly, the baking powder. Put the mixture into the prepared tin and cover with a greased paper. Steam the pudding slowly in a pan containing boiling water in a moderate oven or in a steamer for about 1 and a half hours. When cooked, turn out carefully on to a hot dish and serve.

Submarine warfare

The situation deteriorated even further when, on 9 January 1917, Germany announced unrestricted submarine warfare. This meant that British merchant ships transporting food from overseas would be at risk of being sunk, worsening the shortages.

On 2 May 1917, the city council considered the urgent need for food economy. The lord mayor stated that the ‘proclamation of the king as to economy in food would be publicly read by the town clerk the following day and he suggested that copies of the leaflet be distrusted to scholars in each of the public and private schools in the city; that the proclamation be reprinted and exhibited inside the tramcars and that posters calling attention to the need for economy in the use of food be placarded on the outside of cars; and asked the members of council to arrange open air meetings in their various wards for the purpose of impressing the need for economy among their constituents.’

King George V’s proclamation

WE, being persuaded that the abstention from all unnecessary consumption of grain will furnish the surest and most effectual means of defeating the devices of our enemies, and thereby bringing the war to a speedy and successful termination, and out of our resolve to leave nothing undone which can contribute to these ends or to the welfare of our people in these times of grave stress and anxiety, have thought fit by and with the advice of our Privy Council to issue this our Royal Proclamation, most earnestly exhorting and charging all those of our loving subjects, the men and women of our Realm who have the means to procure articles of food other than wheat and corn, as they tender their immediate interests and feel for the want of others, especially to practise the greatest economy and frugality in the use of every species of grain and wheat.

AND we do for this purpose more particularly exhort and charge all heads of households to reduce the consumption of bread in their respective families by at least one-fourth of the quantity consumed in ordinary times, to abstain from the use of flour in pastry, and, moreover, carefully to restrict, or wherever possible to abandon, the use thereof in all other articles than bread.

AND we do also in like manner exhort and charge all persons who keep horses to abandon the practice of feeding the same with oats or other grain, unless they shall have received from our Food Controller a licence to feed horses on oats or other grain to be given only in cases where it is necessary to do so with a view to maintain the breed of horses in the national interest.

AND we do hereby further charge and enjoin all ministers of religion in their respective churches and chapels within Our United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland to read or cause to be read this Our Proclamation on the Lord’s Day for four successive weeks after the issue thereof.

Given at Our Court of Buckingham Palace this second day of May in the year of Our Lord 1917, and in the seventh year of our reign.

GOD SAVE THE KING.

Purple ribbon

On the day of the publication of this historic document Sir Derek Keppel, Master of the Royal Household, said: ” The king would never ask and has never asked his people to make sacrifices in which he is unprepared to share. He will do consistently what he asks the general public to do, and, what is more to the point, he has already done and is still doing it. We are all on strict rations here and have been since the beginning of February.”

People showed their commitment to the King’s appeal by wearing a purple ribbon. Lord Davenport, the Food Controller strongly believed that the solution to shortages was a voluntary approach and he echoed the King’s proclamation with his own circular on 29 May appealing to the public’s patriotism. However, it soon became clear that a firmer policy was necessary as a Board of Trade report showed a 98% increase in the price of food since the start of the War. Lord Davenport and his replacement, Lord Rhondda acted quickly, enforcing a wide range of restrictions under the Local Authorities Food Control Order 1917, which fixed the prices of some foodstuffs including:

  • Brewer’s sugar;
  • Sugar;
  • Milk;
  • Swedes;
  • Potatoes.

And it applied controls to the use of others, particularly, bread, flour, cakes and pastries, as well as limiting the use of grain to feed livestock and preventing its use in feeding game birds.

WW1 Ration Card

WW1 Ration Card

Detail from a WW1 ration card

Detail from a WW1 ration card

Heaton Avenues in Wartime

This article was researched and written by Michael Proctor for Heaton History Group’s ‘Heaton Avenues in Wartime’ project, which has been funded by Heritage Lottery Fund. An exhibition, ‘Feeding the Avenues’, will be on display at the Chillingham pub from early August until late October 2015.

S in Ringtons, Tea in Heaton

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

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

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

In fact the story starts much earlier than that.

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

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

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

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

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

Sam Smith, founder of Ringtons

Sam Smith, founder of Ringtons

Tea to Newcastle

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

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

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

On the other hand:

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

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

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

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

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

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

RingtonsShieldsRdc1910ed

Ringtons, Shields Rd c1912

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

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

Struggle for survival

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Loyal servant

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

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

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

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

The Somme

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

Bravery award

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

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

Newcastle Journal 18 November 1916

Newcastle Journal 18 November 1916

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

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

Post-war

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

Ringtons, Algernon Road c1930

Ringtons, Algernon Road c1930

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

Heaton Avenues in Wartime

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

Find out more

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

Can you help?

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