Tag Archives: Bainbridge Memorial Methodist Church

William Brogg Leighton: man of many parts

A few years ago, we published a short article about William Brogg Leighton and his legacy in Heaton and beyond. Recently Heaton History Group’s Michael Proctor has been looking in more detail at his life and achievements, which went far beyond his involvement with the chapel that bore his name:

William Brogg Leighton was born on 27 July 1810 to Thomas and Isabelle Leighton. He was to play a significant role in the civic and religious life of Newcastle throughout his life, not least in Heaton, where the Leighton Memorial Primitive Methodist Chapel on Heaton Road, was named in honour of his extensive contribution to the Primitive Methodist movement.

William Brogg Leighton
William Brogg Leighton

The Primitive Methodist movement was characterised by the relatively plain design of their chapels and their worship, compared to the Wesleyan Methodist Church from which they had split in 1811. Its social base was among the poorer members of society, who appreciated both its content (damnation, salvation, sinners and saints) and its style (direct, spontaneous, and passionate). It was democratic and locally controlled and offered an alternative to the more middle-class Wesleyan Methodists and the establishment-controlled Church of England which were not at all democratic in governance. In Newcastle, John Branfoot was the first Primitive Methodist missionary to preach. On 1 August 1821, he preached at Sandhill, followed later in the year by William Clowes, one of the movement’s founders, who preached in the home of John Wood in Quality Row. That may be significant in the young William Leighton’s involvement in the movement. As the earliest census is 1841, we don’t know where Leighton lived at this time, but his mother, Isabelle, is shown in the 1841 census as a shopkeeper in Quality Row.

A commemorative booklet, marking the 50th anniversary of the Leighton Primitive Methodist Chapel in 1927 describes how the Primitive Methodist movement developed in Newcastle. In the east end, the Ballast Hills Society was established as early as 1822, although it had no home, with public services held in hired rooms on a Sunday evening. It was in August 1829 that a 19 year old William Leighton and some colleagues, after canvassing the neighbourhood, commenced a Sunday School in a single room in Quality Row. There were 74 scholars and 9 teachers when it opened, quickly rising to 250, requiring the addition of a second room. As there was no education and very young children were working 12 hour shifts in the flax mill and potteries of the Ouseburn area, it’s perhaps not surprising that it was so popular.

The church also grew and by 1841 a chapel was built on Byker Bank. The young William continued to be involved in both Sunday Schools and a Mutual Improvement Association, which provided an opportunity for younger men to come together and acted as an incubator for future Sunday School teachers and lay preachers. William appears to have been active in recruiting young men, many of whom became major players in the church as it developed.

Of course the church, whilst undoubtedly a major part of Leighton’s life from an early age, never provided him with an income. On 23 January 1833, William married the 20 year old Mary Singleton. (There is some dispute about this as Norman Moore and Geoff Dickinson in their earlier article on WB Leighton have him marrying Mary Hedley. However, she was 10 years older than him and every census has his wife as being 4-5 years younger than him.)

Printer

The 1841 census has William and Mary living at Garth Heads and William working as a printer. This was to be his main employment throughout his working life, although by no means his only one. At the age of 30, he was already employing a domestic servant.

The printing business was obviously a success, as the 1851 census shows the Leightons living at no 7 Grainger Street, in the block between Neville Street and Westgate Road, directly opposite the Central Station. At the time, the newly built Grainger town would have been one of the most prestigious addresses in Newcastle, so business was obviously good, indeed the family continued to live in Grainger Street, moving two doors along to no 11 around the end of the 1850s, where they stayed for most of William’s working life. It seems likely that the building included both the print shop on the ground floor and the family’s accommodation above. The census describes him as a letterpress printer employing three apprentices and a provisions merchant. Unusually, subsequent censuses also show Mary as being a provisions merchant. The couple by now had three daughters, with the eldest, Elizabeth aged 13, shown as home schooled. William’s mother, Isabelle, was also living with them, having presumably retired from her shopkeeping role.

By 1861 the Leighton’s middle daughter, Isabelle was described as working as an assistant in the butter and eggs trade, which may well have been part of the family provisions business.

Building Society

By now well established in his printing business, William began to diversify. A newspaper advert in 1858 for the Tyneside Benefit Building Society shows him as the principal trustee. The advert was for a first subscription meeting of the society, to be held at the Gray’s Adelphi Temperance Hotel in Clayton Street. At the time, building societies were relatively new. The earliest had been established in Birmingham in the late 1700s, with members paying a monthly subscription to finance the building of houses for members. The early societies were wound up once all of the members had built a house, although this changed in the 1840s when Permanent Building Societies developed. The concept would have appealed greatly to the Primitive Methodist ethos and the location of the first meeting in a temperance hotel rather than a tavern, which is where the early societies tended to meet, suggests that connection.

This is the only reference to this particular society that I’ve found, but a search of the British Newspaper Archive turns up hundreds of references to William Leighton’s involvement with the Northern Counties Permanent Building Society, where he became a trustee and continued in that role throughout most of his life. The Northern Counties was one of the earliest established and largest building societies in Newcastle and continued to exist until 1965, when it merged with the Rock Building Society to form Northern Rock. Sadly, we all know how that story ended.

Public Life

He was also an active member of the Newcastle Temperance Society and papers record his contributions to various meetings. Although it’s not recorded in the papers, his wife Mary was also known to be active in the Temperance Movement. Sadly Mary died in 1866 at the tragically young age of 51.

By the time of the 1871 census, William was still living and working at 11 Grainger Street, with his youngest daughter, Mary Jane, and her husband Alexander Morton, a railway clerk, and their son William as well as a nurse and a housemaid. Alexander would also go on to play a leading role in the life of the Primitive Methodist movement.

1871 was also the year that William went on to become a member of the Newcastle School Board. The Education Act of 1870 had made provisions for compulsory free education for all children aged 5-12. Local Authorities were charged with establishing School Boards to oversee the provision and, in Newcastle, the elections took place on 25 January. The Newcastle Daily Journal of the previous day has half a page of statements from prospective candidates, effectively setting out their manifestos. Many of the candidates were selected by the churches and put forward. Interestingly William Leighton put himself forward as an independent. His statement reads:

Mr W.B.Leighton desires to thank his friends and the electors generally for the liberal support they have promised him, and to inform them that he still continues his canvass as a Liberal and independent candidate, favourable to the reading of the Bible, with only that explanation that will make it intelligible to the young, but opposed to all sectarian teaching, and also favourable to compulsion where seen to be necessary.

Interestingly, there is another statement from Leighton on the same page, which reads:

CAUTION TO THE ELECTORS

I wish to caution you against being misled by the statements of certain unprincipled persons, who, to secure their own, or the friends election, are trying to persuade you, either that I have retired from the contest, or that I have no need of your support. Do not be deceived; but show your abhorrence of such trickery, and also your independence by plumping for me as soon after noon as possible on Wednesday first.

Whatever skulduggery took place, William was duly elected, continuing his lifelong interest in education. The papers report that after the elections, he took some 60 of his supporters to a private dinner at the Temperance Hall, once again demonstrating that he was a man of some means in the town.

He was also a man of some influence within the Primitive Methodist Church in Newcastle. The Newcastle Daily Journal of 5 March 1868 records the laying of the foundation stone for a new chapel and school in St Anthony’s, with William Brogg Leighton laying the foundation stone. He was presented with a commemorative silver trowel, plumb and mallet and a time capsule was laid in the stone containing copies of the local papers, a plan of the circuit, the names of the trustees, the number of local preachers and Sunday school teachers in the district and the name of the foundation stone layer.

This was to be the first foundation stone that he laid, but by no means the last. On 5 May 1869 he laid the foundation stone for a new chapel in Scotswood Road and on 27 August 1874 he laid the stone for a new chapel in Choppington Northumberland. He must have amassed quite a collection of silver trowels! So it’s not at all surprising that when thoughts turned to the need for a chapel in the Heaton area, William would play a major role. The commemorative leaflet for the 50th anniversary of the Leighton Memorial Chapel states: ‘In the early seventies Heaton presented all the appearances of a rural neighbourhood. Soon the scene was to suffer a transformation at the hands of architect and builder. Country lanes have given place to avenues of streets and the green fields are now suburbs.’

Heaton Road

By 1871, the need for a new church was recognised and a meeting was called to consider a site. The preference was for a site on Shields Road and WB Leighton along with Peter Kidman and Thomas Corby were sent to inspect it. The price was prohibitive and in Leighton’s view the site was too small to accommodate a church and schoolrooms, so a site on Heaton Road was selected instead. The site chosen was the first plot on the west side of Heaton Road, very close to the junction with Shields Road and came with a 75 year lease from the local authority.

The Board of Trustees was appointed in 1876, both to raise funds and to oversee the building work. As an experienced valuer and inspector of materials, William Leighton played a major role in the building, as did Thomas Parker, a fellow trustee who was the architect. The church cost £5,174 to build, of which William Leighton contributed £1000. At the opening, £3630 was still owed. By 1892, the debt still stood at £1600. The commemorative booklet from the 50th anniversary describes how in the early years it was a ‘heroic struggle to stave off disaster’ and in particular how it was a great tribute to the women of the church in organising bazaars and fund raising events that the debt was finally paid off.

Leighton Primitive Methodist Chapel c 1910
Leighton Primitive Methodist Chapel c 1910

The church opened on Tuesday 23 October 1877. The Newcastle Courant describes it as follows:

The site, which is on Heaton Road, near to its junction with Shields Road, has a frontage of about 76 feet and extends back 131 feet. On the front portion of the site is erected the chapel, which measures 64 feet by 41 feet affording accommodation for 600 people; and in the rear are four class-rooms and two schools rooms, each measuring 50 feet by 33 feet and accommodating about 600 scholars. The style of architecture is classic, freely treated.

Plan of front of Leighton Primitive Methodist Chapel (Tyne and Wear Archives)
Plan of ground floor of Leighton Primitive Methodist Chapel (Tyne and Wear Archives)

The plans show an elegant and understated building, very much in the Primitive Methodist style. This would have been, when it was built, one of the first buildings on Heaton Road, but other developments followed rapidly. And by 1879, Wards Directory shows William, still accompanied by his daughter and son in law and their growing family living in Rose Villa, Heaton. So far, it’s not been possible to locate this building precisely, but it was certainly on the block of Heaton Road between Shields Road and Tynemouth Road. The Wesleyan Bainbridge Memorial Church was later built on the corner of Heaton Road and Tynemouth Road and maps from the turn of the 20th Century show six large semi detached villas next to it. Nothing now remains of these houses, but they must have been large as Tyne and Wear Archives have planning applications for no 29 and 31 to build stables and coach houses at the rear. It seems likely that Rose Villa was no 31, with James Coltman, a fellow trustee, living next door at no 29.

Bainbridge Memorial Chapel. early 20th century with Rose Villa to the left.

On the above early 20th century picture postcard, we believe that Rose Villa is immediately to the left of the Bainbridge Memorial Chapel. At the time William lived there, there were no buildings between Rose Villa and Heaton Station.

Legacy

It was here that William Brogg Leighton died on 25 April 1884. Interestingly, despite his obvious wealth and position in society, the probate records show that he had assets totalling £172/19/11 and that administration of his will was granted to John Wallace of 1 Second Street, Wallsend, a creditor.

To quote the words of Rev H B Kendall, who knew William well ‘Every organised form of local Christian philanthropy had Mr Leighton’s countenance and co-operation, so that his life was of manifold activity. He was not eloquent by nature, or a skilful debater, but just a constant cheerful worker on behalf of deserving causes’. The 50th anniversary commemorative booklet goes on to say ‘He gave out great love and devotion, without ostentation, but with a passion that the church on which he had set his heart should be a glorious success’.

The church that was to be his memorial stood until 1965, when a rapprochement between the Primitive and Wesleyan Methodist traditions led to a merger with the Bainbridge Memorial Church a short distance down the road. It took some five years to sell the site, not because of lack of interest, but due to the council’s refusal to allow planning permission for retail and office developments. However, when the site was finally sold in 1970, for £9000, that is exactly what was built!

Can you help?

If you know more about William Brogg Leighton or anything mentioned in this article or have photographs 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

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Michael Proctor, Heaton History Group.

Sources

Ancestry.co.uk

British Newspaper Archive

Newcastle City Library: Newcastle trade directories:

Tyne & Wear Archives: building plans

Leighton Primitive Methodist Church Jubilee Souvenir 1927

Ordnance Survey Map Byker & Heaton, 1895

The Redoubtable Mrs Harrison Bell: campaigner and social reformer

This photograph of Florence Nightingale Harrison Bell, who was born and bred in Newcastle and lived on Hotspur Street in Heaton for over 20 years, is held by the National Portrait Gallery.

NPG x47718; Mrs F.N. Harrison Bell by Lafayette (Lafayette Ltd)
Mrs F N Harrison Bell  by Lafayette,  25 May 1929 courtesy of National Portrait Gallery
The gallery’s aim is ‘ to promote through the medium of portraits the appreciation and understanding of the men and women who have made and are making British history and culture’. What then was Mrs Harrison Bell’s contribution to our national life?

Tireless

Florence Nightingale Harrison Bell was one of the country’s leading socialist and feminist reformers in the early part of the 20th Century. She was a member of the Independent Labour Party from its inception in 1893; the ILP’s first Federal Secretary; and the first woman member of the party’s National Administrative Council, replaced in 1908 by the much better remembered Emmeline Pankhurst. She was the first socialist candidate of the Newcastle Board of Guardians in 1893 and a Director of the Newcastle Co-operative Society from 1902.

She was secretary of the Newcastle branch of the Women’s Labour League and member of the National League’s Executive Committee from 1913. She was an elected member of the Labour Party National Executive from 1918-25; represented Labour on the Standing Joint Committee of Industrial Women’s Organisations; was part of the British Labour delegation to the Congress of 2nd Internationale in Geneva in 1920, representing the TUC, Labour Party & the Fabian Society; and from 1921 was Treasurer of the International Federation of Working Women.

Yet none of that impressive CV even begins to describe the huge impact that she made on British social and political life throughout her life. She regularly spoke at local meetings and national conferences the length and breadth of the country, from Dundee to Truro, and was a tireless campaigner on issues including universal suffrage, women’s and child health, housing, unemployment and inequality.

She was born in Newcastle and until 1922 lived at 6 Hotspur Street, Heaton, yet today, despite the lasting impact of some of the changes she was instrumental in achieving and the currency of some of the issues she championed, she remains virtually unknown, without even a Wikipedia entry to her name!

Teacher

Florence Nightingale Harrison, named after Florence Nightingale, who was at the height of her fame, was born in Newcastle in 1865. One biography lists her father as a Dr Thomas Harrison, of whom we’ve been able to find no trace. However he seems to have died young, as by 1881 a 14 year old Florence is identified as the step-daughter of Thomas Thompson, an engine fitter of 87 Walker Rd, Longbenton. She lived with him, his wife Isabella and their two year old son, Alfred.

Florence studied English History & Economics at Armstrong College and in 1891 was still living with her mother and step-father at 30 Belvedere Street, Byker, where she is recorded as being an elementary school teacher.

On 28 July 1896, Florence married Joseph Nicholas Bell at St Augustine’s Church Newcastle, becoming Florence Nightingale Harrison Bell, widely referred to as Mrs Harrison Bell.

Joseph was born in London, but brought up, along with his older sister, May, by his grand-parents on a farm near Brampton in Cumbria, where his grandfather was a shepherd. As an adult, he moved to Newcastle, boarding in Elswick and working at North Eastern Railway’s Forth Banks Goods Yard, where he helped to organise the workforce into the National Amalgamated Union of Labour, of which he became General Secretary in 1896.

Although never as prominent in the life of the city as his wife became, Joseph was very politically active, chairing the Labour Party Conference in 1903 and unsuccessfully contesting a by election in Leith for Labour in 1914. In a rare interview for the Journal in April 1917, he expressed his grave concern about the potential impact that the number of women entering the workforce during the war would have on wages when the war was over. His solution was to ensure that the unskilled workforce would be properly represented, by bringing together the many disparate unions representing them and allowing wage negotiations to take place at a national level. This he achieved in July of that year, when he was elected vice chair of the Federation of General Workers, with a total membership of 500,000.

Activist

It’s difficult to say whether it was Joseph’s political activism that inspired Florence, or whether her own aspirations brought them into the same circle. However we do know that Florence was politically active before their marriage, becoming a member of the Independent Labour Party from its establishment in 1893 and the first socialist candidate for the Newcastle Board of Guardians. Responsible for the administration of the Poor law, Guardians were subject to annual elections.

The 1901 Census shows the Bells living at 6 Hotspur Street, where their son Edward Percy was born in 1902. Being a mother did not seem to slow Florence down. That same year, she became a Director of the Newcastle Co-operative Society and shortly afterwards her name began to appear regularly in the press as a speaker, first at local events – the Women’s Suffrage Committee at Bedlington; a meeting of Socialists at North Seaton Colliery; the Blyth Independent Labour Party, but soon spreading further to places as far flung as Portsmouth and Coventry. The main focus of her early speeches was female emancipation. Under the auspices of the Newcastle and District Women’s Suffrage Committee, she set up regular meetings in Fenwicks’ Drawing Room Cafe, where women would meet to hear speakers and discuss political issues. Among her fellow group leaders was Ethel Bentham, a local doctor who would become one of the first women Labour MPs.

Below is the 1915-16 programme of Heaton’s Bainbridge Memorial Church Ladies Literary Society. which shows Mrs Harrison Bell speaking on ‘The Women’s Movement: its Moral Aspect’.

 

Bainbridge Chapel Programme

Does she appear on this 1909 film of a suffragette demonstration in Newcastle, held by the BFI? We think we may have found her but can’t be sure. Let us know what you think.

However, women’s suffrage was far from her only interest. She spoke movingly about the importance of a home life, contending that neither those living in slums nor the aristocracy had a proper home life and that ‘the only party that showed any desire to deal with the emancipation of women was the Labour Party’. She also showed a keen interest in unemployment, speaking at a right to work rally in Portsmouth in 1908. Unemployment and the right to work were to become a more significant theme in her work during the depression of the 20s and 30s.

What is interesting, in reading the huge amount of press coverage of Mrs Harrison Bell’s political life, is that none of the articles feel the need to explain who she was, suggesting that her name was already well known in an age before today’s mass media. However, her appearance on the national stage, including membership of Labour’s National Executive Committee, Executive Committee member of the Women’s Labour league and membership of the Standing Joint Committee of Industrial Women’s Organisations, didn’t mean that she neglected local social issues. The Journal reported on 12 December 1916 that a meeting of the Newcastle Sanitary Committee received a deputation from the Women’s Helpers’ League, led by Mrs Harrison Bell. They urged the establishment of a municipal clinic for the treatment of infants. In 1917, she was co-opted to the Newcastle Food Control Committee Food Distribution Sub Committee, a wartime Committee established to manage the chronic problem of food shortages caused by the war. In 1918, the Coventry Evening Telegraph listed her among a list of women intimating their intention to stand for parliament, how far her bid progressed is unclear, but it was not successful.

Her husband Joseph, however, was more successful in his bid to become an MP, although his tenure was tragically short-lived.  In 1922, the Bells moved to 90, Friern Park Road, North Finchley, London, in anticipation of Joseph becoming an MP. In the General Election on 15 November, he gained the seat of Newcastle East with a majority of 3,085. Tragically, he died a little over a month later on 17 December, aged 58, at Finchley Cottage Hospital, following two unsuccessful operations for Lymphadenoma, a tumour of the lymph nodes. His obituary noted that he had served on several Home Office committees of inquiry and on the panel of arbitration in industrial disputes and had been predicted to become the first Labour Home Secretary.

The Dundee Evening Telegraph reported several days later that ‘If Mrs Harrison Bell accepts the invitation of Newcastle East Labour to contest the seat so briefly held by her husband, she will stand an excellent chance of election.’ Going on to note that ‘so well known has she been indeed that it became the fashion in Labour circles to speak of the late J.N. Bell as husband of Mrs Harrison Bell.’ Florence clearly chose not to stand, as the seat was successfully contested by Arthur Henderson, General Secretary of the Labour Party.

Ahead of her Time

One might have thought that at the age of 57, having just lost her husband and having achieved her goal of women’s emancipation (women over 30 meeting a minimum requirement for property ownership gained the vote in 1918), Florence may have taken a lower public profile. Not so the redoubtable Mrs Harrison Bell. In fact the 1920s seem to have been the most productive time in her political career.

Just four days after Joseph’s death, the Ministry of Labour announced a ‘committee to inquire into the present conditions as to the supply of female domestic servants’ of which Florence was to be a member and by March 1923, she was back on the public speaking trail. In 1923 alone she was a delegate at the International Federation of Working Women Congress is Vienna; became Chairman of the Standing Joint Committee of Industrial Women’s Organisations and its subcommittee on birth control; represented the Standing Joint Committee on the Overseas Committee and a deputation on housing to the Minister of Health and presided over the Annual Parliament of Labour Women in York, where the Burnley Evening news described her as a ‘lady who combines a unique degree of womanly homeliness with a penetrating insight into the larger affairs of local and national government.’

Amongst the resolutions carried at the Parliament were:

– One condemning London County Council’s decision to dismiss women teachers on marriage as being ‘inimical to the cause of education’;

– A proposal of one person one vote at the age of 21, which came to be in 1929;

– A proposal that elections should take place on Saturday rather than Thursday and that municipal elections should take place in May not October.

The only one of these resolutions that did not come to be was the call for elections to be held on Saturdays. Remarkably, this pattern is followed in many of Mrs Harrison Bell’s other political and social crusades, where she was clearly far ahead of her time and the things she called for ultimately came to be, as the NHS and the welfare state developed over the coming decades. Sadly she did not live to see all of these changes.

The focus of her public speeches during this period was often the home – ‘we stand for a home in which family life can be lived; a home which is fit for children to be born in’ she said at a speech in Truro in March 1923. In that same speech she also called for provision of sickness benefit and nursery school provision for all children. So far ahead of her time was she that she was accused, in calling for universal nursery school provision, of breaking up the home!

Increasingly though, her focus was on unemployment, which became a growing problem throughout the 20s as the Great Depression started to build.  In that same speech at Truro, she said ‘If women ran the home on the same lines as the Government was running the nation, there would be no home at all. An economical Government was paying one million pounds in unemployment benefit to the men in the building trade and had not a single house to show for it.’ She returned to that same theme the following year, when following a snap election, Labour was in power with a minority administration. Supporting calls for a Capital Levy, she said ‘I never realised the vulgarity of wealth until I went to London and saw little shops selling ladies’ handkerchiefs at £20 a dozen…. Those shop owners and the people who buy their goods are the people who will have to pay’. How little has changed!

Royal Commission

In 1924, with Labour in power, albeit briefly, Florence was drawn into two major government inquiries.

The first was an inquiry into child settlement in Canada. In what we’d now regard as a barbaric practice, Dr Barnardos, the Salvation Army and other charities routinely sent child orphans to Canada to live, effectively as slave labour on farms. She sailed to Canada on the Empress of Scotland in September 1924 along with Miss Margaret Bondfield, one of the first female MPs and Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour. They found that while the children were undoubtedly better fed than their counterparts at home, the farmers would prefer to have adults. As a result of their inquiry unaccompanied children being sent to Canada was stopped, although it appears that the practice continued elsewhere as in a speech in Portsmouth in 1930, she spoke of the continuing scheme for emigrating girls to the dominions for domestic work.

The second was a Royal Commission established to inquire into the National Health Insurance Scheme. This was a major piece of work which took two years to take evidence and make recommendations. The conclusion of the Commission, published in 1926, was that with a few minor changes the scheme, which was based heavily on the 19th Century Poor Law, worked satisfactorily.

However, that was not the conclusion of all of the Commission’s members. A minority report was produced by four of the members, including Mrs Harrison Bell. This report called for, amongst other things:

– The abolition of approved societies – insurance companies that managed the scheme, with local authorities taking on their role;

– Recognition that investment in health care would repay itself through improved health of the workforce, rather than simply attempting to contain the scheme within the prescribed resources;

– The provision of a complete remedial and treatment service including access to consultant and specialist care;

– Dental, optical and maternity care;

– Medical benefit for the dependents of injured people;

– An increase in sickness benefit and a new benefit for disabled people;

– Maternity benefit;

– Co-ordination of maternity and child welfare services with local authorities; and

– Re-arrangement and extension of maternity care, in particular, addressing the high maternal death rate.

It would be another 20 years before this vision was realised in the birth of the welfare state

Florence would return repeatedly to the issue of maternal health over the coming years. In 1924, she called, at the National Conference of Labour Women for public health authorities to provide information and advice on birth control, despite being heckled by a mother of 11 who declared that she was against the general teaching of birth control to working women.

In 1928 she spoke at a meeting to discuss maternal mortality at Central Hall Westminster. The resolution, which was carried was – ‘To work in all ways for the reduction in continued high death rates of mothers in childbirth. Steps to include:

– Medical enquiry into each maternal death

– Training of medical students & GPs in midwifery

– Committee on training and employment of midwives

– Provisions of National Health insurance Act adjusted so that medical and midwifery services should be available for mothers ante-natal and after confinement.’

All of which ultimately came to be.

It’s not clear whether Florence continued to work as a teacher alongside her highly public campaigning and political work, but it seems unlikely that she would have had an independent source of income. Although she started her career as an elementary school teacher, she did at some point work in adult education and as a lecturer for the Co-op movement. While living in London, she was the Secretary of the Central London Branch of the Teachers Labour League, so it is possible that she was still in the profession.

A brief biography notes her hobbies as reading, walking and motorcycling.

Public Figure

Florence continued to be a prominent public figure throughout the 1920s and into the early 1930s, continuing to campaign on the issues of inequality, unemployment and maternal and child welfare. In 1927 as Director of London Labour Party’s Summer School for Women at Guildford, she said ‘They don’t send the fool of the family into the diplomatic service, for high qualifications are needed. The great fault with this service is that the upbringing of those in it prevents them from being in touch with the class whom they were sent to serve. They have no knowledge of working class conditions.’ In the early thirties, she also started to call for nationalisation of key industries, pointing out, in particular, the high death rates in coal mining as justification.

In 1929, at the age of 64, she stood unsuccessfully for parliament, in the first election where Labour formed a majority government. Standing for Labour in Luton, she came a poor third behind the Liberals and Unionists. Her son Percy also stood for Parliament in 1929 and again in 1931 for the seat of Wood Green. Both attempts were unsuccessful and he continued as a school teacher. However, in 1964, he become the Labour party member for Newham and later Newham South in the Greater London Council, a seat he held until the age of 79 in 1981, carrying on the family tradition. He died in 1987.

Legacy

Florence herself seems to have taken a lower public profile beyond the mid 1930s, or at least was less reported in the press. That doesn’t mean though that she didn’t continue to take an active interest in politics. In 1946, at the National Conference of Labour Women in Hastings, a gathering she had initiated, there was a call for equal pay for women amongst other things. The Western Daily News reported ‘As the conference ended the oldest delegate, 81 year old Mrs Harrison Bell said: “We get a good deal more space in the press nowadays. We are very grateful for the work they have done’.

Florence Nightingale Harrison Bell died two years later on 8 September 1948 at Whipps Cross Hospital London, having left a huge, and now largely forgotten, legacy to the causes of feminism, inequality, healthcare and her much loved Labour party. She left a total of £190 6s to her son Percy.

Amazingly, given her prominence during her lifetime, we have not, as yet, been able to find a newspaper obituary let alone any permanent local or national memorial. Perhaps now is the time for Heaton History Group to help put that right? We call on the National Portrait Gallery to set the ball rolling by giving her photograph the prominent position on its walls we believe she deserves.

Can you help?

If you have information, anecdotes or photographs of Florence Nightingale Harrison Bell or Joseph or Percy Bell, that you are willing to share or have any comments on this article we’d love to hear from you. Please either write direct to this page by clicking on the link immediately below the article title, or email chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org.

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Michael Proctor, Heaton History Group, as part of our Historic England funded ‘Shakespeare Streets’ project.

 

The Lumleys of Sixth Avenue

The 1911 census has four members of the Lumley family living at number 37 Sixth Avenue. Joseph Smith Lumley, aged 55 was born in Gateshead and was an industrial insurance agent. He married Margaret Rudd from Shiny Row in 1883 in Newcastle and the couple lived in Tanfield and Elswick, before moving to Heaton some time after 1901. The couple had three children, one of whom did not survive infancy. In 1911, their two unmarried children: a daughter, Rosanna, aged 23, working as a telegraphist, and a son William, aged 20, working as a clerk/book-keeper with an electrical manufacturer, lived with them. The family were Methodists and members of the congregation at the Bainbridge Memorial Wesleyan Methodist Church, which formerly stood on the site of Southfields House sheltered accommodation on the corner of Heaton Road and Tynemouth Road.

Cuthbert Bainbridge Memorial Chapel

Cuthbert Bainbridge Memorial Methodist Chapel, c1905

Following their move to Heaton, William completed his education at Chillingham Road School. It is likely that Rosanna had already left school before the family relocated.

Will’s story

At the start of the war, William, known to friends as Will, joined the 1st/6th Battalion of the Northumberland Fusiliers, which was a Territorial Force formed at St George’s Drill Hall Newcastle in August 1914 and stationed on Northumberland Road, opposite the City Hall. Along with the 1st/4th stationed at Hexham and the 1st/5th stationed in Walker, the Battalion were engaged in Tyne defences over the autumn and winter of 1914 and were mobilised for war in April 1915, landing in France to become part of the 149th Brigade of the 50th Division, which were engaged in action on the Western Front.

Will’s army career was, like many others, tragically short lived as he died on 26th April 1915 aged 23 during the Battle of St Julien, part of the second Battle of Ypres. This was an important point in the war as it was the first time that the German Army had successfully used poison gas, to devastating effect, although they failed to fully exploit this as German troops had been re-deployed to the Eastern Front, leaving too few men to fill the gaps that opened in allied lines. Chlorine gas was first deployed in the Battle of Gravenstafel at around 5pm on 22 April near the hamlet of Gravenstafel in Belgium. German troops carried 5,730 gas cylinders weighing 90lb each to the front. These were then opened and lit by hand, relying on the prevailing wind to carry the gas towards allied trenches. The aerial photograph below shows the eerie spectacle.

Gas attack in WW1 Ypres

Yellow-green clouds drifted towards the Allied trenches. The gas had a distinctive smell, like pineapple and pepper. At first the French officers assumed that the German infantry were advancing behind a smoke screen and the troops were alerted. When the gas arrived at the Allied front trenches soldiers began to complain about pains in the chest and a burning sensation in their throats. The French troops in the path of the gas cloud suffered 6,000 casualties, with many dying within 10 minutes and others being left blind or with permanent lung damage. Many more ran for their lives. A four mile gap opened up in the front, which the German troops advanced upon, but the effect of the gas on their own troops and the lack of men meant that advance was contained by Canadian troops.

Dusk was falling when from the German trenches in front of the French line rose that strange green cloud of death. The light north-easterly breeze wafted it toward them, and in a moment death had them by the throat. One cannot blame them that they broke and fled. In the gathering dark of that awful night they fought with the terror, running blindly in the gas-cloud, and dropping with breasts heaving in agony and the slow poison of suffocation mantling their dark faces. Hundreds of them fell and died; others lay helpless, froth upon their agonized lips and their racked bodies powerfully sick, with tearing nausea at short intervals. They too would die later – a slow and lingering death of agony unspeakable. The whole air was tainted with the acrid smell of chlorine that caught at the back of men’s throats and filled their mouths with its metallic taste. The village of St Julien, where Will was posted, had been comfortably behind the Canadian defences until the poison gas attack of 22 April, when it became the front line.

On the morning of 24 April the Germans released another cloud of chlorine, towards the re-formed Canadian line just west of St. Julien. Word was passed among the Canadian troops to urinate on their handkerchiefs and place these over their noses and mouths. The countermeasures were insufficient and German troops took the village. However, the use of urine soaked pads continued to be the only counter-measure against the gas until respirators were provided in July 1915. The ammonia in the urine partly neutralised the chlorine. The picture shows British troops wearing the primitive protection.

WW1 Protection against gas attack St Julien

Next day the York and Durham Brigade units of the Northumberland Division counter-attacked, failed to secure their objectives but established a new line closer to the village. On 26 April the Northumberland Brigade attacked again and gained a foothold in the village but were forced back with the loss of more than 1,940 casualties, among them Sergeant William Lumley, who died in heavy shelling. Field Marshall Sir John French, Commander in Chief of the British Army, reports in his 8th Despatch that ‘the Northumberland Infantry Brigade advanced against St Julien and actually succeeded in entering, and for a time occupying, the southern portion of that village.’ They were, however, eventually driven back, largely owing to gas, and finally occupied a line a short way to the south. Will was reported missing in the ‘Journal’ on 15 May 1915 and his death was confirmed on 18 June in the ‘Evening Chronicle’, where a letter from a friend who had witnessed it praised his heroic actions:

Heroism in an Attack
Sergeant W. Lumley of the 6th Northumberland Fusiliers was killed in action on April 26, and his father, Mr J. Lumley of 37 Sixth Avenue, Heaton, has received from a fellow sergeant the following letter:

I have had a letter from my chum in which he states you are very anxious for any detail of poor Will of whose sad end you have received official intimation from the War Office, I understand. Being an office colleague of mine, we chummed in together out here and went into action together on that fated Monday afternoon, April 26. Unfortunately we were separated in the final rush, but another chum of his was near him when he fell. This is his story. When we were making the final attack on St Julien, he was wounded in the arm and, after having had it bound up hurriedly, insisted on going on. Had he been but that brave fellow he proved himself to be, he would have gone back to dressing station there and then, as nearly every man would have done. He insisted on going on however and shortly afterwards was killed outright by the bursting of a shell. He would be buried where he fell, either by the Seaforths or the Warwicks, who were in the trenches at the time and would send burial parties out after the affair. I have lost many chums in this ***** affair, but I have felt Will’s loss more than any, as he had been associated with me so closely. At any rate you have consolation, however small, that your son died a hero. Had he been any other, he would have probably been alive today.
Transcript of article from Evening Chronicle 18 June 1915

Will’s death is marked on plaques on the Menin Gate in Ypres, his body having been hastily buried and never recovered due to the retreat of the allied forces from St Julien.

Will Lumley's name on the Menin Gate

He is also remembered on war memorials in Chillingham Road School and in the former Bainbridge Memorial Methodist Church where stained glass windows were commissioned to commemorate the loss of members of the congregation. William was awarded three medals: The British War Medal; the Victory Medal; and the 1914-15 star. The three medals were almost always awarded together and were known as Pip (the 1914-15 Star), Squeak (the British War Medal) and Wilfred (the Victory Medal). Entries in the register of soldiers effects show that a War Gratuity of £6 and the sum of £2 7s 7d, cash in his possession when he died were paid to Will’s sister, Miss Rosanna Lumley, on 7 July 1919.

Margaret’s story

On Wednesday 22 March 1916, Will’s bereaved mother, Margaret Lumley, is noted in ‘The Newcastle Daily Journal’ amongst a list of other donors as having donated a muffler, games, two pairs of socks, bedsocks, magazines and stationery to the Northumberland War Hospital on behalf of the North Heaton Branch of the British Women’s Temperance Association.

In the Victorian period, alcohol consumption was massive. It was a way of life. Beer was cheaper than bread; spirits were deemed to have ‘medicinal’ benefits. It was one of the few pastimes that transcended the class structure. Nor was it just men who drank. To many, alcohol offered a temporary escape from their hard lives. Others thrived on the sensory pleasure it seemed to afford. However, it was the women who usually had to suffer and manage the consequences of excessive drinking by their menfolk. It was the women who struggled to keep enough money back from their husbands’ pay to feed the family before it was spent at the pub. It was they who had to shelter the children from aggressive drunken fathers, often taking a beating themselves in the process. And it was they who had to watch as sons grew up to regard beer as the staple drink.

It was against this background that the temperance movement started to grow, almost inevitably led by men, until the BWTA came along. Margaret Bright Lucas was a member of a well known Quaker family and in 1872 joined the Independent Order of the Good Templars, rising by 1875 to the level of ‘grand worthy vice templar, the highest position afforded to a British woman. The IOGT afforded much greater equality for its women members, encouraging them to speak in public.

Margaret Bright Lucas

Margaret Parker BWTA

Along with Margaret Parker from Dundee, she had visited America and been heavily influenced by the thinking of the US women’s temperance leader Eliza Stewart. On their return, they issued a call to arms, bringing together over 150 women from across the country to a meeting as part of a conference of the International Order of Good Templars in April 1876. The British Women’s Temperance Association was born, with Margaret Parker becoming the first president. Margaret Bright Lucas took over the presidency in 1878 until her death in 1890 and oversaw a massive growth of the association. Many organisations with similar goals became affiliated to the movement and in 1884, an organising agent was appointed to add 100 additional branches. It produced its own journal and a non-alcoholic cookery Book. Margaret Bright Lucas also recognised that women’s voice for reform would be stronger if women had the vote and advocated means of influencing men to use their votes in support of women’s issues, thus tying temperance and women’s suffrage issues together very strongly. A tie that would ultimately in 1893 split the organisation into the National British Women’s Temperance Association, then led by Lady Henry Somerset, with a mandate for a full reforming agenda and the Women’s Total Abstinence Union, with a much narrower remit.

The newly reformed NBWTA involved itself in a much wider social reform agenda, including child protection, suffrage and prison and court work. It is this organisation that Margaret Lumley would have been active in. The newspaper article identifies her address as the address for the North Heaton Branch of the association, so she must have played a leading role in the local organisation, possibly branch secretary, which was obviously big enough to warrant its own North Heaton branch. As a member, Margaret would have had to sign a membership pledge and would have worn the organisations white ribbon brooch.

BWTA Pledge Card

What is significant is what Margaret’s role as branch secretary tells us about the changing role of women in society at the time. The early leaders of the BWTA were very much from the upper class philanthropist mould. Ladies who could play no official role in the society of the day, but were able to use their status and connections to exert a growing influence on matters of concern to society, like temperance. But during World War One, Margaret Lumley a lower middle class wife and mother, was leading a local branch of a national organisation with some significant influence nationally.

It is perhaps not a coincidence that the 1915-16 programme of the Ladies Literary Society at the Bainbridge Memorial Church, which the family attended, as well as having needlework and cookery competitions and considering a paper on the ‘potentialities of a handkerchief’ also held debates and had a talk from Mrs Florence Nightingale Harrison-Bell, a leading local figure in the women’s suffrage movement.

Bainbridge Chapel Programme

An article in 14 August 1914’s edition of ‘The Newcastle Daily Journal’ reports that the BWTA was one of a number of local women’s organisations that had met with the Lord Mayor of Newcastle to discuss how they could help the war effort by organising women volunteers. The article notes that a committee had been established under the Lord Mayor’s direction, which would allow the various organisations to coordinate women volunteers to meet various needs as and when they were identified. The article goes on to note that the only immediate requirements were for women qualified to investigate cases of distress and help with sewing. It is possible that a continuation of this work that led to the donations to the Northumberland War Hospital noted in the original article. Nationally, the association funded reading, writing and refreshment rooms for the troops as well as funding the provision of mobile canteens to feed the troops at the front and the North Heaton branch would have been active in raising money for the national effort as well as supporting local initiatives.

Heaton Avenues in Wartime

This article was researched and written by Michael Proctor, with additional input by Caroline Stringer, as part of Heaton History Group’s ‘Heaton Avenues in Wartime’ project, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. We would like to hear your views on anything relating to the article. You can leave them on the website by clicking on the link immediately below the title or email chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org