Tag Archives: Bulman’s Wood

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

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

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

Armstrong Park interpretation panel, 2010

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

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

Bullshi…

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

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

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

Plan from Lord Armstrong’s Deed of Gift, 1879

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

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

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

Remarks on a cutting

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

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

Armstrong Park ‘cattle run’

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

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

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

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

Eastern end of the ‘cattle run’

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

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

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

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

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

Landscape artist

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

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

Kraal rangers

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

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

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

Don’t have a cow, man

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pedestrian pleasures

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

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

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

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

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

The 1880 writer continued:

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

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

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

Bridge over the ‘cattle run’, Armstrong Park

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

Water surprise

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

Site of former waterfall, Armstrong Park

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

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

The 1880 newspaper report has a vivid description:

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

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

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

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

Water on the brain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Detail from 1864 Ist edition OS map

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Armstrong Allotments, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Archaeologist Steyne agreed:

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

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

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

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

‘Land for housing’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

White elephant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes and Sources can be found here.

Acknowledgements

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

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

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

Where the Shoe Tree Grows

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

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

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

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

Pottery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sewell, the man

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

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

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

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

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

Tearoom

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

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

Armstrong Park tea rooms, early 20th century

Runners’ retreat

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

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

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

Colin Hagan’s designs

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

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

Acknowledgements

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

Sources

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

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

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

Ancestry

Archaeologia Aelinae

British Newspaper Archive and newspaper cuttings

Ordnance Survey maps 1st and 2nd edition

Ridley collection, Northumberland Archives

Can You Help?

If you know more about the Shoe Tree, Joseph Sewell, The Armstrong Park refreshment rooms or have memories or photos to share, we’d love to hear from you. You can contact us either through this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or by emailing chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Notes for: For People Not Cows

These are the notes for the article ‘For People Not Cows: Armstrong Park’s cattle run’ by Carlton Reid, published separately to aid readability. To locate references use the key words taken from the beginning of the relevant sentences.

The livestock, goes … Who built in ‘railway style’ in 1880s Newcastle? Robert Hodgson did, brother in law of Thomas Elliot Harrison, engineer in chief for the North Eastern Railway. Hodgson was engineer on the Byker Bridge over the Ouseburn, opened to foot traffic on 14 October, 1878.

Hodgson had ‘adopted the standard brick viaduct, of which ten or a dozen at least were built by … Thomas Harrison on the North Eastern Railway … without sign of a failure,’ says Proceedings of the Council of the Borough of Newcastle upon Tyne, 3 April, 1901.

Using archive materials …Thanks to coronavirus restrictions the research for this article was conducted without access to physical archives. Once archives reopen to the public I would like to see the correspondence between Frank W Rich and Lord Armstrong including ‘F W Rich, Newcastle; Concerning land at Lord Armstrong’s Heaton Estate, 1884.’ I would also like to find out what is said at ‘Concerning the purchase of cows’ of 1862, part of Lord Armstrong’s archives. Also worth exploring will be the Thomas Sopwith diaries and Newcastle Corporation records for ‘Bridges, 1772 – 1924,’ and ‘Water, Sewage and land improvement, c1860 – c1900’. ‘Ouseburn Drainage District, from Haddricks Mill to River Tyne’ of the late 1900s shows sewers and pipes. I would also like to see what was said in the council minutes for 7 October 1880 when the ‘cattle run’ was discussed. The minutes should nail down  the building date of the feature and may also have other pertinent details.

The moss-covered panel … The panels were installed in 2010. The illustration was by Mark Oldroyd of Battle.

In the 19th Century this lozenge of land … Could the Bulman of Bulman’s Wood be Job Bulman (1746-1818) who built Coxlodge Hall in Gosforth? Bulman returned to Tyneside after a successful medical career in India. He <a rel=”noreferrer noopener” href=”http://<a href=”https://www.twsitelines.info/SMR/13396&#8243; data-type=”URL” data-id=”bought land at Gosforth. The High Street became known as Bulman Village. He built Coxlodge Hall in 1796. His son Job James lost the family money and had to sell the land off for development.

Bulman’s village was the name for a group of houses just off today’s Gosforth High Street. Bulman was a ‘gentleman highly respected,’ stated the ‘Durham County Advertiser’ on 7 February 1818, reporting on Bulman’s death at the age of 74.

Wetherspoon’s named its pub in the former Post Office sorting office off Gosforth High Street, ‘The Job Bulman’.

There’s a linear east-west … The Deed of Gift map from 1879 uses the OS map of 1864.

The feature was constructed not … A 1997 book states that the feature was built in 1880. Author Fiona Green didn’t state the linear feature was called the ‘cattle run‘ but she did state it was built by Lord Armstrong to herd cows. Like a 1942 OS map, she called the feature a ‘subway‘. She wrote: ‘A subway was under construction in 1880. This is likely to be the stone faced underpass which bisects [Armstrong Park] from east to west. The underpass is thought to have been constructed in order that cattle could be moved without causing a nuisance to Sir William Armstrong. However it was not built until the park belonged to Newcastle Council and the reason for the construction is not in the council minutes 7.10.1880.’ See: ‘Heaton and Armstrong Parks and Jesmond Vale’, F Green, Newcastle upon Tyne, 1997.

Armstrong may have handed … Extract from Sir William Armstrong’s Deed of Gift, 1878:

A Conveyance of the land tinted pink on the title plan dated 15 January 1879 made between (1) George Christian Wilkinson Atkinson and Others (2) Sir William George Armstrong (3) Benjamin Chapman Browne (4) Addison Potter and (5) The Mayor Aldermen And Burgesses Of The Borough Of Newcastle Upon Tyne contains the following covenants

There is reserved to the donor and his heirs and assigns power to make through and underneath the said hereditaments [a piece of property that can be left to someone after its owner has died] and from time to time to repair all such drains and sewers as he or they may consider necessary for the drainage of the donors other lands in the township of Heaton and of any buildings which may hereafter be erected thereon and to use for such drainage any drains or sewers made or to be made by the grantees in the said hereditaments the donor, his heirs or assigns doing as little damage as reasonable may be in the exercise of the said reserved powers.’

On several period Ordnance Survey maps … It is odd that the Ordnance Survey maps of the 1890s don’t label the ‘cattle run’ because Lord Armstrong made sure other features were labelled correctly, including St Mary’s Chapel. On the Ordnance Survey map of Newcastle and Gateshead 1896, for instance, ‘the Director General of the Ordnance Survey states it was so marked “on the authority of William Armstrong, Esq. (afterwards the first Lord Armstrong), and others.”‘

It’s likely that the masonry … ‘Newcastle Daily Chronicle‘ 21 August, 1884.

Five years after handing … Armstrong Park was created in 1878 when Colonel Addison Potter, Sir William Armstrong’s cousin, sold 23 acres to the Corporation of Newcastle. Soon afterwards Armstrong gave 29 acres of his land to form the park. Sir William Armstrong wrote to the Mayor: ‘It is my intention to make a gift to the town … for the purpose of enlarging the proposed public park in Heaton dene. The land which I offers consists of — first, the house and grounds now occupied by Mr Glover, as annual tenant, including Bulman’s wood, second, the hill on which the old windmill stands; third, the grass land and banks adjoining the burn; fourth, the plot of ground on which the ruin called King John’s Palace stands; and an additional portion of Heaton Wood, which, together with the close containing the ruin, I have agreed to purchase for the present purpose from Mr Potter.’ ‘Newcastle Courant’, 4 October, 1878.

At a meeting of the town council on 2 October, 1878, the Mayor called this a ‘very princely gift’ adding that ‘in the future the name of the East End Park be “the Armstrong Park.’”

According to an 18th Century field-name …  Map by John Bell, 1800, copied from an original dated to between 1756 and 1763.

belonging to Low Heaton Farm … Plan of Heaton, undated and unsigned, but believed to be by Quaker printer Isaac Thompson, c 1800. North and South Cow Close seem to have had different names at different times. They were part of Low Heaton Farm in the 1760s according to Bell’s copy of an estate plan of that period, Castle Farm in the 1780s according to a Ridley account book, and Mr Lawson’s Farm according to an estate map of c 1800.

Benton Bridge Farm was …The 1881 census lists 62-year-old Robert Oliver as a ‘farmer’ but doesn’t mention what kind of farm. In the 1891 census, Benton Bridge Farm is listed as a ‘farm’ only but the 1901 census shows that the Ferguson family who ran it had by now moved to a dairy farm in Benwell so it’s likely they were already dairy farmers in 1891. The 1901 census lists 26-year-old George Dickinson as the tenant farmer and describes him as a ‘cow keeper.’ There are no other dairy workers mentioned. His wife Margaret lives with him along with two domestic servants. In the 1911 census a widowed 69-year-old Irish ‘cow keeper’ called Catherine McStay was head of the family, helped by her single 40-year-old son John Owen and also his single 30-year-old brother James who was described as a ‘milk deliver[er].’

There’s no path marked at this point ...  It’s indistinct, but Oliver’s map also possibly shows the ‘J’ shaped turn in the water channel.

…before their seat was removed to Blagdon in Northumberland … Another thing removed, in 1933, was the Temple that once adorned Heaton Hall’s stately ground, the hill for which is at the top of Heaton Park, just down from the former Victoria Library. See photos on Flickr here and here.

.. family estate at Blagdon … The estate is still noted for its prize cattle, including the ancient breed of White Park cattle. The Ridley family emblem is a bull. Sir Matthew White Ridley ‘had a thorough liking for agricultural pursuits, and took a deep interest in all matters relating to the farm. As a breeder of cattle he was known throughout the whole of the North of England …‘ ‘Morpeth Herald‘, 29 September, 1877.

Also living in one of the farm’s houses … The dairy farm was not Edgar’s sole source of income, nor was it likely to be his main source. His contracting work included installing drains — in 1890, while still living at Heaton Town Farm, Edgar installed the drainage for the then new Byker and Heaton cemetery and a ‘large sewer down Benton Road … for £1,350.’ ‘Newcastle Daily Chronicle’, 11 April, 1890.

Clearly, there were cows in this part … In today’s transport terminology such separation of transport modes is known as ‘grade separation’. This is where roads or rail lines are carried at different heights, or grades, so that they do not disrupt the traffic flow on the other routes when they cross each other. A subway is a form of grade separation, keeping pedestrians apart from motor vehicles.

Armstrong, who was elevated …  ‘The outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease at Benton.‘ ‘Morpeth Herald’, 17 November, 1883.

By 1916, Benton Bridge Farm … Cow keeper John Owen McStay was fined 20 shillings for ‘having omitted to supply sufficient food for three dairy cows — everything pointed to a long and continued period of starvation.’ The cows were two young shorthorns and ‘an aged cow, suffering from tuberculosis.’ ‘Newcastle Journal’, 21 April, 1916.

The “new park is rapidly progressing … ‘The Armstrong Park,’ ‘Newcastle Daily Chronicle’, 16 June, 1880.

For instance, across the valley underneath … The <a rel=”noreferrer noopener” href=”http://Devil’s Burn — also known as Mill Burn for the wheel it powered in Jesmond Vale — rises in former ponds close to the Kenton Road and Grandstand Road junction in Gosforth, and empties into the Ouseburn at Springbank Road in Jesmond Vale.

According to a report in the ‘Newcastle Daily Chronicle’ of October 1878 … ‘Newcastle Daily Chronicle’, 7 October, 1878:

‘The ground [in Bulman’s Wood] forms a natural basin and a spring rises just above it, and runs evenly the whole year through, it is soft and swampy. The water, which is now carried away to form a small cascade in Mr Potter’s grounds, is quite sufficient in quantity to replenish a lake, which might be made with a very small amount of labour, and would be in a splendid situation.’

This lake was proposed for the area which is now the Greenwater Pool allotments — it was never filled.

The Mr. Potter in question was …‘ There are two Addison Potter’s — Addison Langhorn Potter (1784-1853) was the father of Colonel Addison Potter (1821-1894). Addison Langhorn Potter was a ‘maltster’ who ran a brewery at Forth Banks from 1787 (HER 4895). The Melbourne Street Maltings were said to be the finest of its kind, housed in an imposing seven storey building.

He also owned a fire brick and cement factory at Willington Quay and was one of the leading partners in the Stella Coal Company.

Colonel Addison Potter inherited his father’s colliery interests, brickworks, cement works and brewing firm; he employed nearly 1,000 people. By the 1871 census, he had moved into Heaton Hall with his wife, four daughters, a nursery-maid and governess, five domestic servants, a butler and two cooks. In 1863, Colonel Potter became the first chairman of the local school board in Willington Quay — a school was later named after him.

The hall, marked as … ‘Castle on the Corner’, Keith Fisher, 2013.

Victorian Tyneside’s industrial and …

Armstrong Senior and Donkin were … Armstrong Senior’s father, John, was a Carlisle shoemaker who become a yeoman farmer in the nearby village of Wreay. The father of Sir William, also called William, born in 1778, came to Newcastle as a junior clerk in a corn merchant’s office, Losh, Lubbon & Co. He ended up owning the firm (it was then called William Armstrong & Co), married into a well established local family (the Potter’s of Walbottle Hall) and became a member of Newcastle Town Council. His brother-in-law Addison Langhorn Potter was Mayor, and in 1850, aged 74, he became the holder of that office. William George Armstrong was born in 1810 in a terraced house, 9 Pleasant Row, Shieldfield. This large house had a garden leading down to the scenic Pandon Dene and its stream.

… and thick as thieves …  After the passing of the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835, Newcastle was governed by a council consisting of the mayor, the sheriff, 14 aldermen and 42 councillors.

In the 1820s and 1830s, the … While he had relations in Rothbury — members of the extensive and long-lived Donkin family were prominent in Rothbury and Great Tosson from the late 1600s — Armorer Donkin was born in North Shields in 1779, the son of a timber merchant, also with the unusual first name of Armorer. He was articled to William Harrison, of Dockwray Square, North Shields, and like William Armstrong Junior later, he moved to London. Donkin was a friend of corn merchant William Armstrong, corn merchant. In 1824 the pair were on a committee appointed to inquire whether a railway or a canal was the most desirable means of effecting communication between Newcastle and Carlisle. (Armstrong favoured a canal.) Donkin was elected a member of Newcastle’s Common Council in the mid-1834s. He was one of the twelve old members who were returned by the extended electorate, in 1836, to the new Town Council. He was later appointed an alderman. He was, like Armstrong Senior, a Liberal of the Whig school.

In 1826 Donkin bought a small property and over some years created a ‘spacious domain’ by erecting the mansion known as Jesmond Park.

‘Being a bachelor, he was able to exercise a generous hospitality without derangement of his domestic affairs, and the entertainments which he gave to members of his social circle every Saturday were appreciated far and wide. Few strangers of eminence came to Newcastle without partaking of the hospitalities of Jesmond Park. Among them was that burly politician, William Cobbett, who in his ‘Tour in Scotland and the Four Northern Counties of England in the Autumn of the Year 1832‘, penned a characteristic note of what he saw: —

‘This morning [October 4th, 1832] I left North Shields in a post-chaise in order to come hither through Newcastle and Gateshead, this affording me the only opportunity that I was likely to have of seeing a plantation of Armorer Donkin, close in the neighbourhood of Newcastle; which plantation had been made according to the method prescribed in my book called the ‘Woodlands’, and to see which plantation I previously communicated a wish to Mr. Donkin. The plantation is most advantageously circumstanced to furnish proof of the excellence of my instructions as to planting. The predecessor of Mr. Donkin also made plantations upon the same spot; and consisting precisely of the same sort of trees. Those of the predecessor have been made six-and-twenty years; those of Mr. Donkin six years; and incredible as it may appear, the trees in the latter are full as lofty as those in the former, and besides the equal loftiness, are vastly superior in point of shape, and, which is very curious, retain all their freshness at this season of the year, while the old plantations are brownish, and have many of the leaves falling off the trees, though the sort of trees is precisely the same.’

Donkin retired in 1847, and died on 14 October, 1851. He was buried in Jesmond Cemetery, and six years later he was joined, in a similar looking next-door tomb, by his friend William Armstrong Senior.’

From: ‘Men of Mark Twixt Tyne and Tweed’ Richard Welford, Walter Scott Ltd. 1895.

Young William developed a …Armstrong bought some moorland near Rothbury in Northumberland in 1863. He transformed it into a beautiful park and gothic house, Cragside. He created a hydraulic system that pumped all the estate’s water and drove its farm machinery. The house — now a National Trust property — had hydro-electric light, and even a hydraulic kitchen spit.

From a young age, he … ‘Lord Armstrong,’ A. Cochrane, ‘Northern Counties Magazine’, Vol. 1. 1900 – 1901

After leaving school, Armstrong took … The law firm of Donkin, Stable and Armstrong was headquartered in offices in the a Royal Arcade on Pilgrim Street. Designed by John Dobson and built between June 1831 and May 1832 by Richard Grainger the classical building was demolished in 1963 to make way for the Central Motorway and Swan House.

Portions of some of the columns from the Royal Arcade can be found scattered throughout Armstrong and Heaton Parks, including by the Shoe Tree. The numbered pieces were stored at Warwick Street until the 1970s.

Still, his real vocation was … In an 1893 magazine interview, Lord Armstrong said: ‘The law was not, of course, of my choosing; my vocation was chosen for me, and for a good many years I stuck to the law, while all my leisure was given to mechanics. But the circumstances were peculiar. A great friend of my family’s, Mr Donkin, had a very prosperous attorney’s business. He was childless. When I entered his office, I was practically adopted by him; I was to be his heir. Such an opening in life was, of course, most attractive; here, it seemed, was a career ready made for me. As it turned out, of course, it meant the waste of some ten or eleven of the best years of my life – and yet not an entire waste, perhaps, for my legal training and knowledge have been of help to me in many ways in business. And at the time, although I had no idea of abandoning the law and regularly attended to my professional duties, I was an amateur scientist, constantly experimenting and studying in my leisure time.’

From ‘Notable Men and Their Work. Lord Armstrong, C.B., and Newcastle upon Tyne,‘ F. Dolman, ‘Ludgate Monthly’, October 1893.

William Armstrong founded W.G. Armstrong and Company in January 1847. Among the board members and investors in this new business were his mentor Armorer Donkin and his uncle Addison Langhorn Potter. Both had earlier been board members of the Whittle Dean Water Company for which Armstrong was a co-founder and secretary.

While Armstrong started his manufacturing career by fabricating the clever hydraulic cranes he had invented, it was the manufacture of weapons of war which secured the greater part of his fame and, of course, his fabulous wealth. Armstrong was said to have sold guns to both sides of the American Civil War. He was mocked in 1862 by the satirical magazine Punch as ‘Lord Bomb.’

Jesmond Park was famous among … In the parlance of the time, an ‘ordinary’ was a portion of food available for a fixed price and later became the place — such as a tavern or an inn — where such meals were served.

For more on Donkin see, ‘William Armstrong: Magician of the North‘, Henrietta Heald, Northumbria Press, 2010.

Jesmond Park was famous among … Brunel was likely invited by Thomas Sopwith, a land-surveyor and engineer, seven years older than Armstrong. Sopwith and Armstrong were friends and business associates. As a surveyor, Sopwith was involved with the planning for the reservoirs of the Whittle Dean Water Company. He left in 1845 to become chief manager of the Beaumont lead mines at Allenheads in the North Pennines. Sopwith corresponded with or otherwise knew many of the leading engineers and scientists of the day, including George and Robert Stephenson, Michael Faraday, and Charles Babbage.

Starting in 1822 and continuing until his death 57 years later, Sopwith kept a journal written in copperplate, which survives today as 168 leather-bound volumes. These contain his sketches, details of his personal life and note of the activities of his friends and neighbours, including Sir William Armstrong and his wife, Margaret.

There’s a linear feature … OS first edition 31 August 1864<. OS Six-inch Northumberland XCVII Surveyed: 1858. Published: 1864

… little stream which runs … ‘Newcastle Daily Chronicle’, 21 August, 1884.

Could the channel on Donkin’s land …  Armstrong’s first hydraulic device — which converted a column of water into motive power by means of an automatic hydraulic wheel acted upon by discs made to enter a curved tube — was first tested in Skinner’s Burn next to the brewery of Armstrong’s uncle, Addison Langhorn Potter.

The transient produce of useless … Newcastle’s Literary and Philosophical Society was founded in 1793 to promote a wider interest in literary and scientific subjects. William Armstrong Senior joined the Society in 1799, and took an active part in its management, while his son, whose membership dated from 1836, was its President for almost 40 years, succeeding Robert Stephenson. The Lit and Phil’s present building dates from 1825.

permanent source of mechanical power. William Armstrong experimented with improvements to overshot waterwheels from about 1835 and had a paper on the subject published in ‘Mechanics’ Magazine’, December, 1838.

A report of the meeting in …‘Newcastle Daily Chronicle‘, 4 December, 1845.

‘Suppose,” posited Armstrong to …  ‘On the employment of a column of water as a motive power for propelling machinery,’ by W.G. Armstrong read before the Literary and Philosophical Society of Newcastle upon Tyne, 3 December 1845, reported in ‘Newcastle Daily Chronicle’, 4 December, 1845.

‘I do not mean to contend that in a locality like this, where the expense of fuel and consequently of steam power are, relatively speaking, extremely small, that it would be expedient so to deal with the stream I have mentioned,’ continued Armstrong at the Lit & Phil meeting, ‘but there are multitudes of situations where streams are to be found possessing far greater capabilities than the Ouseburn, and where, if I mistake not, important manufacturing towns will eventually spring up, when the mechanical agency of water collected and supplied in the manner I have described shall be sufficiently appreciated.’

At the end of same year he gave this presentation he became one of the founding partners in a water company that would dam the Whittle Burn, a tributary of the Tyne, to construct high reservoirs 15 miles west of Newcastle beside the Military Road south of Matfen. The Whittle Dean Water Company supplied fresh drinking water to Newcastle (and later, and not coincidentally, water to power Armstrong’s hydraulic cranes on the Quayside). It became, in time, the Newcastle and Gateshead Water Company and is now Northumbrian Water.

‘The stream of water,’ reported the … ‘Newcastle Daily Chronicle’, 24 July, 1880.

‘Ingenious drainage [in Armstrong Park] has in …’ ‘Newcastle Daily Chronicle’,16 June 1880.

‘Smith o’ Deanston’s the man!’ exclaimed … Surtees was the second son of Anthony Surtees of Hamsterley Hall, Rowlands Gill. Much like William Armstrong in the following decade Surtees was articled in 1822 to a Newcastle solicitor. Hillingdon Hall is reminiscent of Hamsterley Hall.

‘Who ever ‘heard o’ drainin’ afore … The adventures of Jorrocks were first published in serial form in an early 1830s magazine and were the inspiration for publisher Chapman & Hall to commission illustrator Robert Seymour to produce a rival series — this became ‘The Pickwick Papers’.

After going ‘boldly at the Government loan’ another …Major Yammerton in ‘Ask Mama’ Robert Smith Surtees, 1858.

Between 1809 and 1879, 88 percent …  ‘The Decline and Fall of the British Aristocracy’, David Cannadine, Pan, 1992.

Heaton landowners such as Colonel Addison Potter, Sir … In the 1880s and 1890s this was a different Sir Matthew White Ridley to the farming one. Since the White and Ridley families had joined together in marriage some generations earlier, the eldest sons were called Matthew — so, there are lots of Sir Matthew White Ridleys down the years! Today’s incarnation is the columnist and science writer.

‘The more he bestows, the … ‘The Monthly Chronicle’, January 1889.

In 1878, Armstrong instructed his …  ‘It is in contemplation to lay out villa residences upon the land to the eastward of the park … ‘Newcastle Courant’, 4 October, 1878.

Rich — the designer of Armstrong Bridge — had … Frank West Rich designed St. Gabriels’ Church, Heaton; the pagoda-style Ouseburn School; the Real Tennis Court on Matthew Bank; and, in 1876, also designed some alterations to Millfield House. He frequently worked for Lord Armstrong and did so soon after he set up his office in Grainger Street in 1872.

Solution: “The water … is now ...’Newcastle Daily Chronicle’, 7 October, 1878.

perhaps to be used as hidden-from-view passageway for servants or tradespeople … There are several other examples of “servant tunnels” in the UK and Ireland. Usually they were built for large houses and stately homes and were to keep “family” members separate from servants. Cromarty House in Scotland has a 200-foot-long tunnel leading from the road to the house. It was built in the 19th Century. Other examples include a tunnel at Uppark House in West Sussex, also built in the 19th Century, and the so-called Snobs’ tunnel at Hanbury Hall in Worcestershire. In Ireland, there’s a tunnel at Emo Court in County Laois. In his 1942 novel set at Emo Court, Fr. M. Bodkin, a Jesuit priest, described the servants’ tunnel:

On the east side of the house there was a basement out of which an underground tunnel led to the gardens…though its first forty or fifty yards were completely covered, the roof then disappeared and the tunnel changed into a trench which grew shallower and shallower as it approached the garden…[I]ts purpose was simply to prevent the lawns and terraces of the gentry being polluted by the print of a peasant foot, or the eyes of real ladies from resting on the unpleasant sight of one of the tradespeople who supplied their needs. As the family and their guests sat upon the marble benches under the yews or walked down the paths that led to the pleasure grounds or stepped into their carriage at the front door they were blissfully unconscious of the helots who, laden with fruit and flowers, the fish and game for their table, entered their house through the arched tunnel, groping in the narrow darkness like animals in a burrow.’ Borrowed Days, Fr. M. Bodkin, Browne and Nolan, 1942.

‘Other parts of the would-be development lay fallow …’ These are the houses clustered around the Peoples’ Theatre on Broxholm Road, Ivymount Road, Beatrice Road, Holderness Road and Crompton Road. When he died in 1900, Lord Armstrong’s fortune was inherited not by his nephew John William Watson (1827-1909) who did not want either the estates or the responsibilities of Lord Armstrong but by his son, William Henry Fitzpatrick Watson, who had adopted the name Watson-Armstrong in 1889.

In 1903 Lord Armstrong’s great nephew was raised to the peerage as the First Lord Armstrong of Bamburgh and Cragside.

Watson-Armstrong’s second wife was Beatrice Elizabeth Cowx and she was perhaps the inspiration for Beatrice Road?

‘Heaton Park Estate never made the …’ ‘Newcastle Daily Chronicle’, 1 August, 1894. It’s likely that Rich was acting as a sales agent for Lord Armstrong.

‘When Lord Armstrong presented the beautiful …’ See: ‘The Enigmatic Architect’, John Penn FRIBA, ‘Archaeologia Aeliana’, Fifth Series, Volume XXXVIII, The Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne.

The Heaton Road Millionaires’ Row That Never Was

In 1868, while Lord Armstrong was enthusiastically buying Ridley land in Heaton, he acquired a plot north of Heaton Hall as far as Benton Bank: it included areas then known as Bulman’s Wood and Low Heaton Farm (the farmhouse was by the junction of Benton Bank and the Ouseburn Road: see map) plus three abandoned coal mine sites – the Thistle, the Knob and the infamous Chance Pit up by the windmill. This entire plot was bordered along its western edge by the Ouseburn Road, its southern boundary by Jesmond Vale Lane and the eastern side by Heaton Lane (now Road). After giving Armstrong Park to the people of Heaton, two new roads were planned through the remainder of the land which had been divided up and offered for sale as thirteen residential plots of between two and four acres each. This extravagant development would be named The Heaton Park Villa Estate: millionaire mansions by the baker’s dozen. There goes the neighbourhood!

HeatonRoadvillasmap

The following illustration shows the plots in relation to today’s developments.

Heaton Road lost estate 3

This last illustration indicates how little more than half of the estate was ever developed (more on this is to follow) while the remainder was given over to an allotment complex of two halves: the small northern section called St Gabriel’s Allotments and the larger southern portion known as the Armstrong Allotments.

Heaton Road lost estate outline

Back at the ranch

A letter dated 1884 to Sir William from his Newcastle architect Frank W. Rich of Eldon Square (who was later to design St Gabriel’s Church) explains how the original 13 large plots have been abandoned in favour of 41 plots of between one-third and one acre-and-a-half. He indicates that these smaller sizes are what buyers are looking for and that anyone needing more may simply buy multiple plots. One such gentleman for example – Mr Thomas H. Henderson of Framlington Place (behind the Dental Hospital) – asks for a particular 1.5 acre plot at an offered rate of £500 per acre when Sir William is looking for £600. This tells us what a four acre plot would have actually cost and why there were obviously no takers for such sizes, especially when you consider that the largest residential plots anywhere in Newcastle were an acre and a half.

The layout for the forty-one plots was never lodged with the planning department and it seems likely that the outlined houses shown on the original thirteen plot plan were simply random or figurative, and that each house would have been designed (hopefully by Mr Rich) to the specifications of the buyer. There were certainly no house designs lodged with the planning department for either the thirteen plot estate or the forty-one plot version.

Mr Rich further explains to Sir William that the roads were run by necessity according to the gradient of the land. Looking at the terrain today indicates that the largest sites – those bordering the park – would have been on relatively flat ground down at low level, but with no prospect beyond their own boundaries; while the smaller Heaton Road sites would have occupied the high ground looking out across the park. I don’t think anyone buying a four acre plot down below would have been greatly enamoured of their neighbours in the cheap seats lording it over them; would you?

However, thirteen or forty-one soon became immaterial because it didn’t take long for surveys to reveal that much of this land was actually one giant sand-hill and totally unsuitable for house building purposes, unless it was to mix with cement. Mr Rich does inform Sir William at a later date that they now have sand, stone and brick immediately to hand on their land in Heaton (where was the stone quarry?) and that builders could buy it all directly on site. Oh, how the rich get richer! But…

Ever the benefactor to us hoi-polloi, Lord Armstrong’s will said that the entire area be reserved as allotments for those tenants of his Heaton development lacking gardens of their own – which was a lot of them. Sir William’s heir was forced to apply for an act of Parliament in order to overturn the will and develop such areas deemed suitable for construction – but not until the nineteen-twenties when housing shortages had become a government issue.

Keith Fisher, Heaton History Group

House Histories

If you own a house in Heaton and have the deeds and other documents and would like to know more about its history, get in touch via chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org and we’ll try to help. If enough people are interested, we might be able to arrange a course in researching your house – and could even help with the research depending on demand.