Tag Archives: Byker Bridge

Scrannin’ on the Tip

The grandly titled City Stadium is a well-used green space at the south end of Heaton. In all weathers, you’ll find runners, cyclists, walkers, outdoor gymnasts, playing children, allotmenteers and many others enjoying the fresh air and perhaps a coffee.

City Stadium, April 2021 (Copyright: Chris Jackson)
City Stadium, April 2021 (Copyright: Chris Jackson)

But it’s not always been like this. We asked Heaton History Group’s Keith Fisher to delve into the archives and his memory bank to tell its story:

Having friends and associates on both sides of the water, I’ve always been rather impressed with the degree of separation caused by the River Tyne.  Despite the arrival of the tunnel in 1967 and now that I live in North Shields, getting to friends’ homes in South Shields still requires at least thirty minutes of driving (plus tolls) to cover no more than a mile as the crow flies.

What has this got to do with Heaton, you may well ask; well, even today, the Ouseburn valley presents a somewhat similar – albeit less severe – impediment. And 100 years ago it was a distinctly difficult obstacle during journeys east to west and vice versa.  Between the city centre and Heaton there were few options that didn’t require labouring first down and then up a very steep bank.

Uphill Struggle

A typical symptom of the enthusiasm to avoid Byker Bank for example can be seen by the number of people paying the pedestrian toll to cross the Byker Railway Viaduct (yes, folk paid to walk over) which was approximately 72,000 per year.  So the first option was the building of the Byker Road Bridge in 1878 – you had to pay to use that as well, of course.  Admittedly the toll was withdrawn in 1895 when the city corporation bought the bridge and it soon had to be widened because of increased traffic: a very familiar modern-day story. 

The City Road route was relatively level, so you could bypass Byker Bank by crossing over Glasshouse Bridge and cutting across the western edge of Byker and Heaton with only the slope of Albion Row to contend with.  OK, maybe we can consider that as an option, but if you needed to deliver anything by handcart from the town centre to Craigielea on Heaton Road then that was a long way out of your way on a cold and windy day.

I mention pushing heavy laden handcarts because my maternal grandfather, having retired as a lion-tamer in the circus, took to the variety theatre boards and would transport his props on a handcart. His sons, my uncles, were commandeered to labour on his behalf and they complained to me about it until they died.

Fortunately for the waggoneers, in the same year as Byker Road Bridge opened, another improvement arrived, as did so many, from Lord Armstrong: I never stop waxing lyrical regarding his unstinting benevolence, despite his motives being held to doubt in certain quarters.  He had apparently bowed to the demands of Lady Armstrong – who was horrified by the sight of poor old horses dragging carts of coal up Benton Bank – and built Armstrong Bridge at his own expense, before giving it to the city council, insisting it remain toll-free.  

Back in 1900, as far as the council were concerned, a more central route to all the new industries and residencies in Heaton from the town was desirable, but the best that was going to be achieved would still involve a steep bank. 

Shieldfield, like the city centre, is far lower down than the centre of Heaton, and if we think that Warwick Street is steep today, imagine what it must have been like a century ago with a 30 metre deep Ouseburn Valley across its way.  In mitigation, the new route would only be an uphill struggle in one direction; it would create new land for housing development; plus, it would provide a waste disposal facility in the centre of the city for 40 years.

Rubbish

During my youth in the ’50s and ’60s, everyone referred to the City Stadium as ‘The Tip’ because for the previous 40 years it had been the destination of both domestic and commercial refuse while the 100 foot deep valley was brought up to Shieldfield’s level.  We didn’t generate much waste back then, did we?  Couldn’t afford to!

The council’s plan to develop the infilled valley with houses never came to fruition because building regulations stiffened and residential development on infilled land was forbidden.

Concrete

But first, culvert the Ouseburn. And to do that city engineer F J Edge decided that François Hennebique’s system was the method of choice: what we know today as reinforced concrete.  The French Hennebique system was pioneered in this country by L G Mouchel with offices in Jesmond; work was initially executed by engineering firm W T Weir and Co of Howdon.

Actually, my mention of Craigielea on Heaton Road was not without significance.  Its first resident, Joseph Lish, was an early pioneer of reinforced concrete and has many buildings to his name: up here, the best known being the Dove Marine Laboratory in Cullercoats.  As early as 1874, he had exhibited his own invention: ‘Tilo-Concrete’. Lish was prominent in his profession both regionally and nationally. At one stage he was the President of the Society of Architects, whose Gold Medal he was awarded. He died in 1922 at the age of 80.

The Corporation might have saved themselves a great degree of trouble if they had awarded the contract to Lish, and we shall see why as we move on; although I suspect that the real problem was city councillors expecting the impossible by yesterday for no more than the price of a pint of beer and a bag of pork scratchings.

Ouseburn culvert, City Engineers drawing

Looking at the above plan it can be seen that filling up the narrowest portion of the valley came first (‘WORK No.1’). This allowed an extension of Newington Road to link with Starbeck Avenue in Sandyford. It is also apparent that the burn had travelled a good way west before turning towards the Tyne in the south, slowly eroding away the bank and creating the large loop that the engineers by-passed by hugging the steep bank at the end of Stratford Grove.  The shading and black bars are mine.  The following picture shows the original river course in the foreground running left to right.  Also apparent is the height of Newington Road above the valley floor, and it is at the foot of Warwick Street: hard going, even for horses.  

Building the Ouseburn culvert

The tunnel is 2,150 feet long.  Construction used 850 tons of steel and 17,000 cubic yards of concrete.  It is 30 feet wide and 20 feet high; at its apex it is only 8 inches thick, supporting 90 feet – or 2·5 million cubic yards – of compacted waste material.  Started in 1906, it was interrupted by flooding and old colliery workings and became a huge financial embarrassment to the corporation, resulting in a stoppage of work and a change of contractors very early on… sound familiar?

What did they do with the water in the meantime?

There were two pre-existing facilities: one was a large bore sewage pipe heading for the Tyne.  Yes!  Who remembers the smell of the Tyne on hot days before the interceptor sewer was built?  Or what was worse, the smell of the Ouseburn which itself was an open sewer until the middle of the 1970s when a big pipe was buried running from one end of the valley to the other.  It is not always 100% sealed, as many folk will probably be aware when walking past various manholes at certain times, but I still vividly recall, from my early years, the large, open, vertical grills of the outlet pipes choked with unmentionable material that was the norm back then.

The second was a weir and sluice gate in Jesmond Vale – as it happens, mere yards from the beginning of the future culvert – which diverted full-flow water into a mill-race that more or less paralleled the burn, passing alongside the original large lead works, then under the railway bridge where it powered a flint-mill.  That mill does not look big enough to warrant construction of a 3,000 foot long race, so who contributed to the cost? Early maps show nothing definite, even though the race is in existence by 1859.  It’s curious: why take a mill-race all that distance to power a rather insignificant flint-mill that is only yards from the burn itself?  There are many references in old newspaper accounts of ‘washing tubs’ and I suspect they are referring to the mill-race heading for the original lead works before it moved under the railway bridge and straddled the burn itself.  Maps are full of interesting activity around the burn; there are all sorts of mysterious doings – both old and new; and also up the hill a-ways, where we find a huge brick-works I never realised had been there.  The red rectangle on the OS map below indicates the point where the Ouseburn absorbs the Sandyford Burn, coming down the back of Portland Road from Lambert’s Leap on Sandyford Road.  It is now culverted under Grantham Road.

The above picture shows us the sewage pipe (bottom left) carrying its share of the burn while in the distance, top right, can be seen the original route of the burn and mill-race. All of the property visible was compulsorily purchased and demolished; much more, it would turn out, than had been initially anticipated.

The following pictures give us a good idea of the construction process. Reinforcing poured concrete with iron bars is a fairly common sight nowadays but back then it was relatively novel and the entire endeavour was officially photographed for posterity.

The next photo shows tipping activity; and the inset shows ‘scrannin on the tip’ (as it was known) by folks foraging for usable material.  In the background can be seen the slowly submerging parabola of the culvert roof.  Many people will remember the smell of the tip; I can certainly remember the smell of similar activity as they began to widen Lansdowne Gardens at the other end of Jesmond Vale; I believe that was still going on through the ’70s: dreadful!

The Ouseburn tip while the culverting was still underway

All things considered, it was a relatively unsatisfactory project: original cost estimates spiralled out of control; work was halted; suggestions it be abandoned were voiced. The council had been anxious to get cross-roads established as soon as possible: that was achieved in the first six years; and having rapidly built heavily above the Jesmond Vale section, repairs soon became necessary in order to strengthen the walls.  

If you look closely at this aerial photo from 1938 you can see how the extension to Warwick Street was accomplished; it is also apparent why getting an extension from Newington Avenue up to Starbeck Avenue was achieved so quickly as the valley is comparatively narrow at that point. 

The white border on this 1945 photo shows the extent of the area being filled; these two aerial shots indicate the lack of progress during the war years, as it seems it remained untouched; so where was all the rubbish going?

Shelter

Speaking of war: during my youth, many folk told me that the culvert had been an air-raid shelter during the war, as many of them used it – but most of us are completely unaware of the extent of the facilities provided.

Marian Jones describes what must have been the finest public air -raid shelter in existence: a concrete floor was laid across the tunnel sealing off the burn below and thick concrete blast-walls were installed across the entrances. Gangways accessed a space big enough to accommodate up to 3,000 people. As well as lighting, there were benches, bunk-beds, a canteen/shop and a well equipped and manned hospital room.

Susan Bright tells of an office for air raid wardens, a youth club, a religious space, and a staging area for musical performances.  And, in 1943, a library and reading room were added.  Entrances were under the railway bridge and at the foot of Warwick Street, with gangways giving access to the shelter.

 Many people didn’t even wait for the sirens and simply headed down there every night – with blankets, pillows, flasks of tea and cocoa etc – when the bombings were at their worst.  In 1941 this unplanned and intense activity unfortunately led to a crack 100 feet long appearing in the wall of the tunnel and that section had to be cordoned off.  Even so, this was as luxurious an accommodation as was possible during such fearful times; a lot better than those in Anderson Shelters in back gardens or even the Victoria Tunnel.  Better again than the London Underground tunnels, as the culvert shelter was purpose built and exclusive… hence the extraordinary facilities.

Post War

Today’s evidence of the culvert’s existence is decidedly removed from the original construction. When I was a nipper exploring my vast dominion, the entrance to the culvert was mostly unchanged, except for the metal railings preventing access at the Sandyford entrance. You could see the construction but that was all. The exit under Byker Bridge, however looked like this in the early 1960s.

Ouseburn Culvert, 1960s

We little lads can find adventure wherever, along with wet shoes, muddy knees and diphtheria.

Now the picture is very different, most evidence of the entrance and exit has been obliterated, except what you see in my 2021 photos.

The first is the Vale.

Ouseburn Culvert images (Copyright: Keith Fisher)

The south exit is even more inaccessible, which has a lot to do with raves held there around 2017. Ubiquitous graffiti provides further disguise.

Ambitious Plans

With the war over and housebuilding on the tip forbidden, what could be done with the land created by the culverting and levelled by infill? How about a sports stadium? Here’s an ‘Evening Chronicle’ sketch from the 1950s of the plans. 

City Stadium plans from the 1950s

Seating for 86,000 people (Yes, eighty six thousand!) was augmented by a further space for 8,500 standing.  Car parking was to be on three floors below the stands.  Indoor sports, ice rinks (yes, plural), and badminton courts were also planned.  T Dan Smith proposed spending £500,000 to prepare such a stadium for the British Empire Games. (Renamed the British Commonwealth Games by the time 1966, the year he was targeting, came round). ‘The best intentions’ right?  We got a wooden hut and a cinder track, plus the grand name.

Build by Numbers

I passed our – so called – City Stadium on an almost daily basis riding the Number 1 or 2 bus to and from town during the ’60s and early ’70s, and remained mystified by the enormous forest of stone blocks, all numbered in white figures, scattered over the near corner of the unrealised City Stadium.  It turned out they were the Royal Arcade waiting to be resurrected at some future time and place.  I was equally mystified by their disappearance sometime during the ’70s; at least I assume it was then because I was in and out of Newcastle throughout that decade and was gone almost for good by the ’80s: just like the Royal Arcade, the prestigious City Stadium and our Empire!

Now, if you drop by ‘the tip’ you’ll see the unmistakeable signs of gentrification, the most recent phase of the rich history of this patch of Heaton. What went before has almost, but not quite, been forgotten. But should we be making more of our heritage? The Victoria Tunnel has become a tourist attraction. Perhaps I’m biased but I reckon the City Stadium and Ouseburn Culvert has an even more exciting history. Conducted tours anyone?’

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Keith Fisher, Heaton History Group. Thank you to Carlton Reid for information about the washing tubs.’ Photograph of the Victoria Tunnel courtesy of ‘The Evening Chronicle’.

Can You Help?

If you know more this part of Heaton 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

Sources

The author’s personal archives

‘The Ouseburn Culvert and the City Stadium’ by Marian Jones; ‘The Newsletter of the Ouseburn Trust Heritage Group’, Spring 2008.

‘Bridging the Ouseburn’ by Sue Bright; Ancestors Publishing, 2013

Kiddar’s Luck and Edwardian Heaton

Jack Common’s famous semi-autobiographical novel ‘Kiddar’s Luck’ gives us some great insights into life in early 20th century Heaton in the years between the dawn of the 20th century and World War One. In the novel, Common writes as the narrator and as an imaginary character named ‘Kiddar’. It is, however, generally considered that Kiddar is Common himself and the novel is really about his childhood in pre-first world war Heaton. So what can we learn? Heaton History Group’s Peter Sagar has been rereading the novel.There are a number of different categories into which we can place this learning from reading ‘Kiddar’s Luck’.

 Physical environment

The north-east born playwright, Alan Plater, once described the way Jack Common described his birth in ‘Kiddar’s Luck’ as part of a ‘bobby-dazzling opening chapter’ in which Common bemoans his genes missing out on much more genteel places of birth, such as lush Sussex, many a solid Yorkshire village, affluent Mayfair and Surrey soft spots to instead be born into the relative poverty of a railwayman’s family near the East Coast mainline in Heaton.

On page 5 of ‘Kiddar’s Luck’, Common relates how he ‘came upon the frost-rimmed roofs of a working-class suburb in Newcastle-upon-Tyne and in the upstairs flat in a street parallel with the railway line, on which a halted engine whistled to be let through the junction…’  This gives us a clear image of the Avenues around South Heaton at the start of the 20th century.

As the avenues haven’t changed that much in the intervening 100 years or so, it is possible to imagine those frost-rimmed roofs, although with the continuing and dangerous progress of global heating, the winter of 2019/20 has been remarkably short of frosts.

Common, of course, was also describing a Heaton without cars. On page 19, Common states that he, ‘belonged to that street by the same right that I had to belong to one particular family on it….often the lamplighter was on his rounds before all the small fry were safely back in their boxes’. How often do you see children playing on the streets of Heaton today?

Common described trips to nearby Jesmond Dene. On page 26, he says that, ‘we’d walk the hot, red paths of Jesmond Dene, brick-red gravel dust throwing that heat up into my inclined face and the tiresome rich green of full summer seeming to shout at one to look, look up, look around.’ Jesmond Dene is still a beautiful community resource for people in Heaton – sometimes we see that some things haven’t changed much in the last 120 years!

Economic life

The streets might not have been packed with cars, but Heaton’s streets were still busy. Common, on page 17, notes that the ‘street was usually lively enough. These were the days of private enterprise: a mad economic maelstrom drew down every thoroughfare debris of competitive endeavour, such a procession of horse-drawn vans, man-pushed barrows, milk-chariots, coal carts and steam wagons as could have been achieved only by a separate deadly seriousness on the part of each participant blinding him to the comic glory he was collectively included in. Practically any moment of the day, one or another of these strange craft, ark or pinnace, would come upon our horizon’. It certainly seems that the streets of Heaton in the early 20th century were a very interesting place!

Not only did local tradesmen fill the streets of Edwardian Heaton but, on page 18, Common tells us that, ‘behind our houses, as was general in that district, ran the back lane. It was narrower of course, with the same granite cobbles, smaller sidewalks and monotonous brick walls pierced evenly along the whole length with two back-doors, two square openings into the coal-houses, with two back doors and so on. Though milk and bread were front-door deliveries, greengrocery and fish and coal came to the back-door. Sometimes for days on end children would spend all their time in the back lane, in and out of each other’s yards, sitting on the steps or swinging on the lamp posts’. A different world to today! How often do you see children in and out of each other’s yards? What would you do if you did see children going in somebody else’s yards?

With car ownership either tiny or non-existent, there was at least a variety of public transport to help people get around. For people living in Heaton this included one form of transport which has recently been revived in a number of cities across Britain, including Manchester, Sheffield and Edinburgh. On page 25, Common tells of how after a trip to Newcastle City Centre, ‘we came home happily in the shaky old trams which sparked over the wind-clutched Byker Bridge’.

There have been many plans from the likes of NEXUS in recent years looking into the feasibility of bringing back trams to the streets of Tyneside. There was one particularly bold plan hatched back in 2003, by the name of Project Orpheus, which would have seen an ambitious integrated transport system for the north-east, including a new tram line from Walbottle to the East End of Newcastle. These plans look great on paper, but we are still waiting for politicians with enough vision and political will for this kind of project to be made real. This is a pity as, given the ever worsening climate crisis, it would seem sensible to consider bringing trams back as a way of augmenting the Metro system, but I am not sure that I would be keen to travel on a shaky tram over a wind-clutched bridge! Thankfully we have higher standards of health and safety today…

The Edwardian era is often seen as a time of great social serenity before the terrible shock of the first world war, but a deeper study of history reveals the era as one of considerable social conflict as the trade union movement began to really flex its collective muscles in response to harsh working conditions and low wages. Common’s father was a railwayman and so it is no wonder that he recollects a railway strike on page 51. Rather than write about the effects on his family, Common describes what the effect of the strike was on the atmosphere in Heaton. He notes that it was, ‘true, of course, had I noted it, there was a curious stillness over the Avenues. Normally, at any hour of the twenty-four, if you looked along our street, you were bound to see at least one railwayman in work-clothes, his bait-tin under his arm going to or from the junction. They were always about, hurrying along clean-faced towards the sharp dawn paling the signal lamps over the lines, drifting wearily back on an afternoon sun; in groups jolly and joking in the Chillingham Hotel or outside the social club, in pairs coming out of the light of the blue arc lamps at the end of the shift and ready for their bed. Now that traffic was stopped. So was lot of other kinds. The electric trains were silent in the cutting, the sudden blue rainbow they made ceased to flicker on the houses above; there were no puffs of steam or harsh mechanical panting behind the junction wall, no shunting noises like the slow collapse of huge iron playing cards against the buffers.’ It must have made a real difference to the life of Heaton for a young boy to notice it in the way that Common describes. Of course the railway was arguably more important then, at a time when people didn’t own cars.

immigration

Listening to some of the ‘debates’ around the issue of Brexit, it would appear that immigration from Europe began with our accession to what was then the EEC in 1973. Common’s ‘Kiddar’s Luck’ reminds us of what nonsense that is when, on page 21, he mentions ‘…the German pork butcher from Heaton Road…’   (See a previous article to see who he might be referring to). It would be interesting to know more about how he fared as xenophobia and jingoism swept the country?

Certainly racism was unfortunately part of the life of some young people growing up in Heaton at the same time as Common. On page 56, Common talks about the trials that a man from China had to go through due to appalling behaviour from some young people in Heaton. In the middle of a piece about the gang warfare in Heaton at the time. Common relates how Fong Lee, ‘had plenty reason to be annoyed. Oriental patience might withstand the loud chanting of ”Ching, Ching, Chinaman, choppy, choppy, chop” by a choir of twerps around his door, but when that door was frequently flung open, its bell jangling, to enable one of that choir to fling in a couple of damp horse-turds that might land among the parcels of finished washing, then the love of cleanliness, natural to a laundryman, must have been offended beyond the immediate consolation of Chinese philosophy’

I would like to think that even in the darker days we are going through at the present, this type of racist behaviour would not be expected in the Heaton of 2020. As for Chinese philosophy, Confucius did of course preach the importance of patience, when he said, ‘ it does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop’, although another of Confucius’ famous sayings might be more relevant here: ‘Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance’.

It is actually quite surprising that Heaton had a Chinese inhabitant at this time, given the small number of Chinese-born people living in north-east England at the time. Dave Renton (see sources below) has noted that, ‘as late as 1945, the numbers of Chinese-born people living in the region were maybe as few as three dozen. There were several Chinese laundries in the region, including three in Newcastle, as well as one in each of Whitley Bay, Gateshead, Sunderland, Hartlepool and Middlesbrough.’ It is often noted that right up to the present day, the most racist areas in England tend to coincide with those which have the least immigration into them as racism is largely born out of ignorance and a lack of contact with people perceived as ‘different’. Perhaps this was why poor Fong Lee had to endure such appalling behaviour towards him.  

To put all this in context, while the north-east was prone to racism at the beginning of the 20th century, just as anywhere else in the country was, it has traditionally been seen as less racist than many other regions. A few decades after the time about which Common was writing in ‘Kiddar’s Luck’, Oswald Mosely, leader of the British Union of Fascists stated that the north-east with its high unemployment in the 1930’s should become a ‘storm centre’ for his new fascist movement. It didn’t. Indeed it has been noted that Tyneside’s notions of working-class solidarity were an anathema to the bullying tendencies of the racists. Common’s own antipathy towards racist attitudes is hardly surprising given his upbringing. Dave Renton notes that, ‘Common’s mother lit candles for a Jewish family on the Sabbath’ and that Common recorded his mother saying, ‘when I hear how the poor Indians live I’m sorry for them, cos I know what it is.’

 School

We have seen that in some respects little has changed in Heaton since the Edwardian era and this is brought home to us on page 30-1, when Common describes his journey from home to school: ‘The school was only a few streets away, within the Avenues. There were ten of these, of which ours was Third, all built in one plan though not by any civic authority. The First and Third ran parallel to the railway lines, sharing a common back lane; these short ones and back lanes, were set at right angles to the rest, but extended only from Third to Seventh; Seventh, Eighth, Ninth and Tenth were parallel too; and the long Second ran at right-angles to the railway from it as far as Tenth, though where it was not keeping the short avenues company, it was all corner-ends owing to the interruption of the lanes and front streets that ran into it. To make room for the school buildings, half of the north side of  Ninth and the south side of Tenth was missing. Our route that fine morning then was across Third into Fifth, down Seventh as far as the back lane to Chillingham Road (that being the fourth side of the square); along the lane past end of Eighth and into Ninth. Well, there we were.’

Other things about school life have changed. Common describes the different entrances for different aged pupils at Chillingham Road School during his time there. On page 31, Common talks of the ‘sign over the door which said “Infants”… [and]… the Tenth Avenue entrance which said “Boys“..’ I don’t think we would have gendered school entrances in Heaton today!

Chillingham Road Primary School is one of a number of primary schools in the Heaton area with a well-deserved good reputation today, but while the building may have changed little since the early 20th century, it does appear that it the teaching methods today are a little more enlightened.

On pages 31-2, Common describes how, ‘we were given brushes and little porcelain dishes containing water-colour, or else coloured straws which we were supposed to plait – babyish stuff, but not too bad. Then there’d be a lesson. A cracked yellow scroll was unrolled and hung on the blackboard. It showed three-letter words and very fat black letters they were, spaced out and then put together. Teacher took a long pointer, touched each letter in turn and said, “Kuh, Aah,Tuh spells Cat”. The class intoned cheerlessly, “Kuh, Aah, Tuh, spells Cat”‘. From what Common says about this lesson, it appears that this method was not only rather uninspiring, but also on occasions unsuccessful. Common relates that once the class had mastered the spelling of the word ‘cat’, ‘then the teacher got clever.”Ruh, Ahh, Tuh “; she stopped. “What does Ruh, Aah, Tuh spell, Freddy?” Freddy got to his feet and threw a hapless glance down at the girl next to him. “Please, teacher, Ah divn’t knaa”‘. Poor Freddy. Haven’t we all been there at some time of our life, either at a school or in adult life?    

A few pages later on Common tells us of how you had to work through a social hierarchy in Heaton, even as a child. On page 36, he relates how, ‘out of school, I was beginning to graduate to a corner-lad. I was my baby sister now who was the pride and anxious delight of the girls.……According to the incidence of boy-population, about half the corners had their own gangs. I drifted for a time between two of these, Third Avenue, which had its customary headquarters round Daddy Hilton’s grocery at the bottom and Sixth Avenue who congregated at the barber’s window right opposite our house. Second could never call a corner its own; Fifth was too short of boys; Fourth had a gang, but they were weak and swamped with their own girls; Seventh were a numerous and lot of thugs; and the rest were too far away to be my concern yet awhile’. Which brings us neatly to the issue of gang warfare in Edwardian Heaton….

Gangs

Heaton in the years immediately prior to the First World War, could be a dangerous place for a young lad like Jack Common to be growing up in. On page 54, Common wrote about the start of a period of gang warfare: ‘Then a bigger matter blew up one evening. I was on Daddy Hilton’s corner, hanging about hoping to get into a game of Kick-the-Block, when sounds of battle drifted down from the Fourth Avenue entrance. Sticks and stones were flying; war-cries chanted. From nowhere the words “Chapman Street gang” got uttered on the anonymous air. Chapman Street, now, ran from Chillingham Road, but on the other side of the railway bridge, down to Parsons’ Works. The lads from its corners and those on the streets next to it had a long-standing feud with our lot in the Avenues. At long intervals it would boil over into a regular battle. Then they invaded us, or we invaded them; the signal that such an attempt was on being the appearance of large bodies in battle array on the bridge.’   As we shall see this was not an isolated incident…

Indeed Common tells us how the rivals were usually dealt with effectively. Not on this occasion however: On page 54-5, Common states that, ‘often enough the invaders were met and turned back on the bridge itself; this time however, we were caught napping. The invaders seemed to be already overwhelming the weak Fourth Avenue forces. They would soon be in command of the bend going in to Third back lane, which was a strategic point of high value to us since it allowed us a choice of charging over in mid-battle to an attack on the rear of any force which advanced beyond that entry without first capturing it. Too late to get up there, though. We’d be lucky to halt the Chapman mob at Fifth’. It was looking bad for Jack and his mates…

It was time to get better prepared for the coming attack, On page 55, Common relates that, ‘our corner and Sixth rushed off to get hold of weapons. The five Robson brothers could be trusted to hold their own Fifth for a bit. Meanwhile Wilf and I, being young, but not absurdly so, must race off to arouse Seventh and Eighth, if we could.’ Heaton was clearly made up of a myriad of allied groups!

Seventh Avenue were easy to get involved. Common relates that, ‘by luck, we found the surly Seventh in just the right mood. They were all assembled on one corner and talking together gloomily. They’d just had the police after them over a matter of a large parcel of cigarettes knocked off that very afternoon from their own corner shop at the bottom of their street. And none of them had done it! They didn’t know who had. So the air about Seventh was knit up with rankling injustice, heavy with frustrated vengeance and melancholy, because of the mirage of smokes they might have had if they hadn’t been so uselessly honest. Now Wilf and I were rather in the position of a couple of Cherokees appearing unarmed before the war-painted Choctaw tribe. We had to rattle off our message before we were scragged – we did all of that twice over. It was just the news to suit present moods round these parts: Seventh started up as one man – yes, they’d be in any trouble that was going.‘ So far, so good. Would Jack and Wilf fare so well as recruiting sergeants at the Eighth Avenue?

The simple answer to that is, no. Jack and Wilf ended up having a somewhat difficult encounter with members of the opposite gender. Jack Common takes up the story thus: ‘Wilf and I ran on to Eighth. ….A little way down the street their girls were skipping with a big rope, two turning, the rest running in, pair after pair, while all chanted, “Never mind the weather girls,; in and out the fire girls” We asked the girls who were waiting, where the lads were. They at once rushed on us, grabbed our caps and chucked them into the gardens.” Hadaway to your own street,” they yelled.’

 Things looked bleak for Jack and Wilf, but deliverance was at hand, with some useful news. Common states that, ‘;….In one doorway sat wee Alfie Bell, his leg in plaster and a pile of comics by him. He told us. “They’re all down at the Chink’s —- that’s where they are. What d’ye want them for?”He wanted to keep us talking, but we only yelled the news over our shoulders as we pelted on, “Big fight on in Third —Chapman Street out.”‘ As we have already noted these were days when casual racism was more prevalent in Heaton than today.

The mayhem continued through the avenues. On page 55-6, Common relates how, on their mission for support, ‘at the bottom we almost collided with the Eighth Avenue lot who were scattering away before the charge of an infuriated Chinaman brandishing a knife — at least that’s how they would have described it. Really, old Fong Lee was never infuriated. There, he was shuffling back towards the laundry now, his blue shirt tail flapping on his thin behind. He turned at the door to shake a skinny fist, grinned at a couple of passing railwaymen and popped inside.’

 Inevitably all this childhood ‘fun’ had to come to an end once local adults had got wind of what was happening. We are told on pages 56-7 that. ‘the battles came to an end usually when a sufficient number of adults round about had realised the unusual scale of the tumult and began to gather for its suppression… That is how this one finished. Chapman Street army could get no further now that the forces engaged were more nearly equal and were beginning to retreat. They would have to, in any case, because Third Avenue parents were now at their doors and a lot of our lads were being ordered to lay down their arms. It was recognised as not fair to keep on engaging an enemy who had half the fight knocked out of him by having to listen to his mother’s shouts….’ Perhaps the Heaton warriors weren’t quite as hard as they liked to think they were!

 To town

To finish on a more peaceful note, we can also learn about ways in which Common was familiar with paths into ‘town’ at a time when there were few if any cars or buses – and of course the alternative of a shaky tram across a wind-clutched bridge!   The narrator tells us on page 11 how he, ‘lay in a go-cart and travelled along the paths of Heaton Park…’

Meanwhile, on page130, Common tells us about a path, ‘that was probably the oldest path to town. Other nights I took the newest, through the clean air of the parks and crossing the Ouseburn by Armstrong Bridge, that is over the tops of cherry-trees and a cackling of geese at a farmhouse below. Or to avoid people altogether, I dipped down into the darkness of the Vale, over a bridge so small and low it bent to the muttering intimacy of little waters’. So we end with a beautiful description of the Ouseburn valley, which although describing a scene over 100 years old, reminds us of what a lovely part of the city of Newcastle it is.      

Conclusion

There is clearly much we can learn about Heaton in the years immediately after the turn of the 20th century from an examination of ‘Kiddar’s Luck’. We can learn that, while some of the physical environment of Heaton has changed since the 1900s, much of it it seemingly remains the same. We have seen that there were immigrants living in Heaton and we have seen how inappropriately they were sometimes treated by some of the younger people in the area. We have also discovered some more about school life at Chillingham Road and of the tribalism between young lads from different avenues when they were out of school, at at time when the street was also the local playground.

All in all it is hard to disagree with Keith Armstrong, when he says of ‘Kiddar’s Luck’, that Common’s earlier writing was, ‘followed by imaginatively twisted tales of childhood and teenage in Kiddar’s Luck (1951) and The Ampersand (1954), which surely rank among the very best descriptions of growing up working-class ever committed to paper.’ It also begs one more question: who is writing about Heaton today with such compassion, understanding and real insights?

Sources

Geordies / B Lancaster and R Colls; Edinburgh University Press, 1992

Kiddar’s Luck / J Common; Turnstile Press, 1951

Colour Blind? Race and Migration in Northeast England since 1945 / D Renton; University of Sunderland Press, 2007

https://libcom.org/blog/common-words-wandering-star-keith-armstrong-06032010

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Peter Sagar, Heaton History Group. Copyright: the author and Heaton History Group

 

More on this website about Jack Common

‘Jack Commons’ Avenues in Wartime’ https://heatonhistorygroup.org/2015/02/07/jack-commons-avenues/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Royal Opening of Heaton’s Parks

20th August 1884 lived long in the memory of Victorian Heatonians. It was the day that royal visitors to the city processed down Shields Road, North View and Heaton Park Road before driving through Heaton Park, across Benton Bridge and Armstrong Bridge into Jesmond Dene. Once there, the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII) officially opened Armstrong Park and Jesmond Dene, the fine public spaces which, along with Heaton Park (opened a few years earlier in 1879), had been created on land presented to the people of Newcastle by Sir William Armstrong. Almost all of Heaton came out to see the first royal visit to Newcastle in thirty years and the first by the then Prince of Wales. The event was covered extensively in newspapers, not only locally but across the country.

Old Mill, Jesmond Dene

This postcard was written less than two years after Lord Armstrong’s death


Triumphal Arch

In the days before the event, there was speculation (and disappointment) about the route the royal procession would take:

The changing of the route has effected the subscription list considerably but as to make the alteration would lengthen the route, the suggestion of allowing the procession to pass along Heaton Road was not entertained. Newcastle Courant, Friday 1 August 1884

A ‘Decorative Executive Committee’ of the council was formed with a chairman and three vice chairmen and separate committees set up for individual streets down which the royal party would pass on route to Heaton. There would be triumphal arches in Barras Bridge, Northumberland Street, New Bridge Street, Grainger Street and Grey Street (two). The representative of the Byker district:

presented a plan for a triumphal arch to be placed at the old toll gate at the east end of Byker Bridge. The plan is for an imitation of Temple Bar and it will be called ‘Byker Bar’.

With huge crowds expected, there was understandable concern about the arrangements for spectators:

The road from the west end of Benton Bridge to Jesmond Grove is very narrow and barricades will be erected along it, a limited number of people being admitted behind the barricades by tickets…. the distribution of which will be made by Newcastle Town council.
Newcastle Courant, 15 August 1884

Close shave

The day itself almost started disastrously.

As the procession was passing up Grey Street, the horse ridden by Colonel Young of the Newcastle Artillery Volunteers, suddenly grew restive and became entangled with the wheels of the royal carriage and, in the struggle to liberate itself, swung round, bringing the sword of the rider into dangerous proximity to the head of the Prince of Wales, who had to bend down to escape a blow thereof. Nottingham Evening Post, Wednesday 20 August

After this narrow escape, which might have changed the course of history, the royal party headed east:

At Byker, the prince obtained a view of many artisans’ dwellings, in the improvement of which His Highness has evinced a strong practical interest. Newcastle Courant Friday 22 August

Impassable in its beauty

But early near miss aside, the day seems to have gone well, at least if the flowery language of the reporters of the day are to believed:

It was within the grounds of [Heaton] Park that one of the most pleasant sites of the whole day came into unexpected view. On a verdant slope, some thousands of children connected with the various educational schools in the city were congregated. The young faces were all eagerness with the prospect of seeing the royal personages. The majority of them were dressed in gay summer costumes and appeared veritably on the green sward like a ‘bed of daisies’… When the Prince and Princess of Wales came in view of the children, the sweet and fresh voices rose in swelling notes with ‘God bless the Prince of Wales’, the strains of this splendid anthem ringing through the woods and dales of Jesmond with a most charming effect..

Armstrong Park

Carriage drive the royal procession would have taken through Armstrong Park

From there the royal carriage ‘wended its way at a brisk trot to the elegant bridge which spans Jesmond Dene, and which is a magnificent and useful gift of Sir William Armstrong.’

After the prince had planted a commemorative oak tree using a silver spade, the party sat down to a sumptuous meal in the newly renovated and lavishly decorated Banqueting Hall. The parks were praised fulsomely in press reports all over the country, such as this in The Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligence, Thursday 21 August:

… one of the handsomest public grounds in the north of England. The natural scenery is almost impassable in its beauty and where nature has rested and left a spot whereon the eye could not rest with pleasure, art has stepped in to finish off the work.

…the brawling stream, the roaring waterfalls, the song of thrush and blackbird, the winding walks, the precipitous banks and the abundance of trees and shrubs, coupled with the ancient mill house and the ruined water wheel makes that portion of the Dene one of the most charming and attractive spots in the two northern counties.

There are several wells in the Dene and around some of them quaint old legends cluster. From what ‘Ye Old Well of King John’ derives its name, there is no exact information. There is a tradition that there stood a palace in the immediate vicinity which King John for some time inhabited.

King John's Well

The drinking vessels at King John’s Well were still in place within living memory

Legacy

It brings a lump to your throat! We’re lucky enough to still be able to access Heaton and Armstrong Parks and Jesmond Dene today, of course, 130 years after their official opening. Get out and enjoy them but also find a few moments to post your memories of the parks here or email them to chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org