Tag Archives: Chillingham Road School

Fred Blenkinsop Robinson: teenage soldier who died of flu

Frederick Blenkinsop Robinson was born on 19 March 1900 and lived his entire life on Sixth Avenue, Heaton. He was the third of four children born to Joseph and Margaret Robinson. Joseph was a commercial traveller, born in York. He married Margaret Jane Blenkinsop of Newcastle in 1895 and the couple lived at no 13 Sixth Avenue. The 1911 census shows Joseph, aged 39 and Margaret, aged 41, living with their four children: Margaret May, aged 15; Joseph, aged 13; Frederick Blenkinsop, aged 11; and Thomas, aged 9. The family also had a lodger, William Blenkinsop, a 26 year old railway porter, who must have been a relative of Margaret.

Young life

Fred would have been only 14 at the start of the war and, like his siblings, was a pupil at Chillingham Road School. After leaving school, he became an apprentice fitter at Henry Watson and Sons Engineering Works in High Bridge, Walkergate. The company made cylinder blocks for commercial and marine engines as well as specialist pumps. An article in Commercial Motor on 5 September 1912, notes that the London General Omnibus Company were using cylinder blocks and pistons from Henry Watson and Sons exclusively for their B-type buses. The article particularly praises the quality of the work produced at the Walkergate factory in a new foundry specially built to produce commercial vehicle engines components.

Fred was almost too young to have been involved in the war and certainly too young to have fought at the front (young men could join up at 18, but weren’t posted to the front until they reached 19). Yet he died on 1 March 1919, 18 days short of his 19th birthday, some four months after the end of the war and is listed as a casualty of war, buried in a Commonwealth War Grave at Byker and Heaton Cemetery. 

Fred Robinson's gravestone

Fred Robinson’s gravestone


His is a particularly sad story among many such stories from the war.

Military service

It is likely that Fred’s older brother, Joseph, had joined the forces when he was 18, two years before although no record of his military service survives. We know that he survived the war and is mentioned in a list of family in Fred’s military record. Fred was obviously keen to sign up to do his military service, as he attended his initial medical assessment on 26 March 1918, one week after his 18th birthday. He passed this and was enlisted on 19 April. On 19 August, 102540, Private Frederick Robinson of the 5th Reserve Battalion of The Durham Light Infantry was called up and posted to Sutton on Hull in East Yorkshire for his initial training.

Fred was in hospital – the St John’s VAD Hospital in Hull – when the armistice was signed, having fallen ill with diarrhoea on 10 October, which he took 35 days to recover from. He might reasonably have expected that his time in the army would either be short or would at least involve less risk of death or serious injury. In Fred’s case, his discharge was rather shorter than he might have expected. By December, a process of discharge on the grounds of disability had started. On 13 December in a personal statement, Fred records that he has chronic discharge from both ears and resultant deafness. This had started about a month before he had joined up, but had got worse since.

When he examined Fred on 30 January, Lieutenant JD Evans of the Royal Army Medical Corps recorded that ‘there is a high degree of deafness and discharge from both ears. He says that this is worse since joining the army and he has certainly become more deaf since joining the unit. He is utterly unable to hear any commands unless they are shouted close to his ears and he is quite unfit for camp life.’ He recommended discharge on the grounds that he was permanently unfit. Today, we would think little of an ear infection which would be quickly and effectively treated with a course of antibiotics, but in 1918 it could be a permanent disability, leaving lasting damage even if and when the infection cleared up.

On 2 February, Fred was transferred to the OC Discharge Centre at Ripon to prepare for discharge. Six days later, he was admitted to the Military hospital at Ripon with influenza. The medical record notes that he was admitted unconscious, before going on to develop bronchopneumonia and late emphysema. On 26 February, an attempt was made to relieve the emphysema surgically, but to no avail. Fred died on 1st March, with his family with next of kin with him.

Pandemic

The 1918 flu pandemic ran from January 1918 to December 1920 and was unusually deadly It infected 500 million people across the world, including remote Pacific islands and the Arctic, and killed 50 to 100 million of them: three to five per cent of the world’s population. Two factors made it particularly deadly. Firstly, the unique conditions of the war. While the location of the first cases is disputed, the crowded and unsanitary conditions at the front made an ideal breeding ground. What is more, cases of flu are often limited by having sufferers stay at home. During the war, the opposite happened, with those affected transferred away from the front to hospitals both locally and in the soldiers’ home country, spreading the disease around the world. Secondly, flu most often affects the weakest, killing the young and old and those with existing medical conditions. The 1918 pandemic killed mainly healthy adults. Modern research has concluded that the virus killed through a cytokine storm (overreaction of the body’s immune system). The strong immune reactions of young adults ravaged the body, whereas the weaker immune systems of children and middle-aged adults resulted in fewer deaths among those groups.

To maintain morale, wartime censors minimized early reports of illness and mortality in Germany, Britain, France, and the United States; but papers were free to report the epidemic’s effects in neutral Spain (such as the grave illness of King Alfonso XIII), creating a false impression of Spain as especially hard hit, thus the pandemic’s nickname Spanish flu.

 Commemoration

In his report of Fred’s death, Major PW Hampton noted that ‘in my opinion death was attributable to service during the present war, viz exposure and infection on Home Service’. By doing so, he ensured that Fred could be buried in a Commonwealth War Grave and that his family would be entitled to a memorial scroll and plaque as well as service medals. This must have been of some comfort to his grieving family. Fred’s service record includes a copy of the slip that accompanied the memorial scroll to confirm receipt. This notes that the plaque will be issued directly from the Government plaque factory.

After the end of the war in 1918, Britain began the long process of commemorating the service of those who had lost their lives during its course. As part of this, the government issued to their next-of-kin (in addition to any of the standard campaign medals an individual might have been entitled to had they lived) what was known as the Memorial Plaque and the Memorial Scroll. The plaque was a bronze disc, about 5 inches in diameter, and depicted Britannia holding a trident whilst standing with a lion, holding an oak wreath above a rectangular tablet bearing the deceased’s name cast in raised letters. Rank and regiment was not included, since there was to be no distinction between sacrifices made by different individuals.

WW1 memorial plaque

WW1 memorial plaque

This was complimented by the Memorial Scroll, which provided additional information as to rank, branch of service or any decorations awarded.The scroll itself was a little smaller than a modern A4 sheet of paper, printed on thick card, and came in three main varieties. Those to the Army had a large blue H in the main text, with the rank/name/regiment hand-written at the bottom in red ink. Those to the Navy had a large red H, with the hand-written naming at the bottom in blue ink. Finally, those to the RAF had a large black H in the main text, with the hand-written naming at the bottom in both red and blue ink.

WW1 memorial scroll

WW1 memorial scroll

Clearly there was some delay in the issuing of plaques as a letter from Fred’s mother, Margaret, dated 13 November 1921 enquires about a memorial plaque and medals.

Margaret Robinson's letter requesting a plaque and Victory Medal for her son

Margaret Robinson’s letter requesting a plaque and Victory Medal for her son

.

Fred was also commemorated on war memorials at Chillingham Road School and St Gabriel’s Church in Heaton.

Chillingham Road School War Memorial

Chillingham Road School War Memorial

St Gabriel's Church War Memorial

St Gabriel’s Church War Memorial

Postscript

Fred wasn’t the only young person from the Avenues or from Heaton known to have died of flu (or as the result an unnamed disease thought likely to be influenza) during the 1918-19 pandemic. They include:

Able Seaman John James Hedley of 12 Eighth Avenue, husband of Corrie Hedley and formerly a boot salesman, who died on 16 October 1918 and is buried at Saint Andrew and Jesmond Cemetery.

This list will be updated as our ‘Heaton Avenues in Wartime’ research progresses.

Heaton Avenues in Wartime

This article was researched and written by Michael Proctor, with additional input by members of our ‘Heaton Avenues in Wartime’ research team. The project is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. If you have further information about anything relating to the article, please get in touch either via this website (by clicking on the link immediately below the article title) or by emailing: chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

 

 

Castles of Heaton

Heaton History Group member, Arthur Andrews, has been researching his family tree. Luckily for us, although Arthur lives in Whitley Bay, a number of his family members lived in Heaton, including during World War One, the period we’re researching for our ‘Heaton Avenues in Wartime’ project. Here is Arthur’s poignant account of the life of William Castle and his family.

‘My great-grandfather, William Castle was born in London on 24 July 1858.  He was the third of the six children of John and Susan Castle. Susan came from Southborough in Kent and John from Letcombe in Berkshire. We know that by 1861, when William was two, his father was a domestic servant/valet and the family were living in Lillington Place, London. Ten years later, with William still a schoolboy, they were in Paddington.

William Castle

William Castle

Country estate

‘However by 1878, for reasons I haven’t yet discovered, 19 year old William had moved to the other end of the country. He had followed his father into domestic service and was, at the age of 19, employed as a footman to a wealthy Northumberland couple, Watson Askew Esquire and the Honourable Sarah Askew. His new home was what can only be described as a stately home, Pallinsburn, near the Scottish border. A bit different from Paddington!

Pallinsburn, Northumberland

Pallinsburn, Northumberland

‘I managed to find records relating to William’s time at Pallinsburn in the Northumberland Archives at Woodhorn and so know that his starting wage was £26 a year but that within a year, he’d been promoted to the role of First Footman and earned an extra £2pa. The Askew family’s expenditure books show that he received an advance on his wages occasionally.

‘While at Pallinsburn, William was presented with a small, personally inscribed, leather bound bible, which I still have. The bible has gilt edging on all the pages and a decorative metal clasp and ornate metal corner protectors, which make it quite special. Expenditure records suggest it cost £3 to purchase, quite a lot of money at that time. The inscription says “William Castle, from honourable Sarah Askew March 10th 1880“. We can only speculate as to what prompted the gift.

Bible presented to William Castle

Bible presented to William Castle

Inscription in William Castle's Bible

The 1881 census shows that William was still living and working at Pallinsburn but the final reference to him in the family expenditure records is in May of that year, when his annual pay of £30 is recorded.

Heaton home

‘The next I know of William, he was working as a tobacconist on Shields Road and living above the shop at number 145. On 31 July 1884, he married 22 year old Elizabeth Stanners, a shepherd’s daughter from the small hamlet of New Etal in North Northumberland. The wedding took place in a Primitive Methodist chapel in Milfield, a few miles north of Wooler, which is still used for worship today. The newly-weds seem to have immediately come to live in Heaton, which must have been as big a shock for Elizabeth as the move from London to rural North Northumberland had been for William.

‘Between 1886 and 1900, Elizabeth and William had four children, John, Eleanor Susan (known as Nellie), Winifred (‘Winnie’) and Ruth. During this period, the family lived at various addresses not too far from the Shields Road shop, including 172 Tynemouth Road and 5 Charles Street, before moving, by 1900, to 47 Tenth Avenue. William kept his tobacconist’s shop until  September 1915, when he retired, receiving a silver fruit bowl from his staff. I still have the bowl.

William Castle's fruit bowl

Just before then we have found a reference to him in the local newspaper: On 25 March 1915, his gift of cigarettes to the sick and wounded of Armstrong College Hospital was publicly acknowledged.

John

‘The Castle children all attended Chillingham Road School, newly opened in 1893 to accommodate the growing number of children in the rapidly expanding suburbs of Heaton and Byker. Eldest boy John was among its first cohort. He was registered as pupil number 91 on 17 November 1893. He went on to the secondary school, which he left on 21 July 1899 to join his father’s business as a ‘tobacconist’s assistant’. I have at home, a lovely memento of John. In 1904, he was given a fine wooden smoking cabinet, with a small engraved plaque, which reads “Presented to J Castle for meritorious work, by the proprietors of The British Advertiser, Dec 1904″.

John Castle's smoking cabinet

Sadly, less than two years later, John died at home in Tenth Avenue, aged only 20, of appendicitis, not a disease we normally think of as fatal today.

Nellie

‘Nellie also went to work in her father’s shop until, in 1912, she married a young Irishman, Arthur James Andrews, in St Mark’s Byker.

Nellie and Arthur Andrews on their wedding day

Nellie and Arthur on their wedding day

Her husband was a dentist who, at the time of their marriage, worked and lodged in Wallsend. They went on to have five children: Dorothy, Ronald William, Marjorie, Nellie and another Arthur, Arthur James. In 1931, however, seven year old Dorothy and her father died of meningitis within days of each other. Nellie, widowed with four children at the age of 31, left the family home at 137 Heaton Park Road to live in Whitley Bay. Youngest son, Arthur, who you might have guessed was my father, was brought up by his grandparents to ease the burden on his mother.

Winnie

‘Winnie married Frederick Justus Hurdle, a Canadian engine fitter, on 18 October 1916. Within three months, they left for Canada, perhaps to get away from the war, which was causing such distress and hardship at home. Perhaps Winnie found it hard to settle or maybe because the war was over, she and Frederick returned in June 1919 but, in yet another tragedy to hit the family, Winnie died of meningitis just three months later.

Winnie Castle

Winnie Castle outside her Toronto home

Her widowed husband returned to Canada. As I write this, we’re reminded that meningitis is still a killer, with a new vaccine for all babies having just been authorised.

Ruth

‘Youngest daughter, Ruth, is pictured here outside the family home at 47 Tenth Avenue,  in the earliest photograph Heaton History Group has seen of the avenues.

Ruth Castle outside 47 Tenth Avenue

Young Ruth Castle outside 47 Tenth Avenue

Ruth married Leslie Daykin Jeffcoat of 34 Third Avenue in 1925, if not quite the boy next door, then not far off. But theirs is a ‘Heaton Avenues in Wartime’ story which I’ll tell on another occasion.

 Heaton resting place

‘After William’s retirement and with two of their four children having died prematurely, he and Elizabeth continued living on Tenth Avenue for another ten years, before moving in 1920 with youngest daughter, Ruth, to a much larger house in Shotley Bridge. Elizabeth died on 28 February 1929, aged 69 years and William a little over a year later on 5 May 1930, aged 72. William’s estate amounted to almost £10,000, showing how far the footman and the shepherd’s daughter had come.They returned to the area in which they’d spent most of their married life to be buried together in the family grave in Heaton and Byker Cemetery with John, the son, and Winifred, the daughter, who had pre-deceased them.  It was to be less than a year before a son-in-law and granddaughter were to join them.’

Can you help?

This article was researched by Arthur Andrews.

Heaton History Group member, Arthur Andrews

Heaton History Group member, Arthur Andrews

It forms part of our HLF-funded, Heaton Avenues in Wartime project. If you have a story to tell about your family or would like to help us research the history of Heaton, please contact: chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org Arthur would especially like to hear from anyone who has a photograph of William Castle’s tobacconist shop on Shields Road or has any information about the British Advertiser.

The Lumleys of Sixth Avenue

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

Cuthbert Bainbridge Memorial Chapel

Cuthbert Bainbridge Memorial Methodist Chapel, c1905

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

Will’s story

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

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

Gas attack in WW1 Ypres

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

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

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

WW1 Protection against gas attack St Julien

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

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

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

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

Will Lumley's name on the Menin Gate

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

Margaret’s story

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

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

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

Margaret Bright Lucas

Margaret Parker BWTA

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

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

BWTA Pledge Card

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

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

Bainbridge Chapel Programme

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

Heaton Avenues in Wartime

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

Jack Common’s Avenues in Wartime

Jack Common was born at 44 Third Avenue on 15 August 1903. In his autobiographical novels, ‘Kiddar’s Luck’ and ‘The Ampersand’, he wrote about growing up in Heaton. Although ostensibly fiction, Jack’s writing is clearly based on his own experience and his vivid memories. It tells us about aspects of life in the avenues, before and during World War One, that often we’d have no other way of knowing. Jack describes his milieu, life as a ‘corner boy,’ and gives us a rare (pupil’s) insight into life at Chillingham Road School. He writes with feeling, humour and from the perspective of the socialist he became. While we have to remember the fictional element and the personal viewpoint, Jack Common’s work is an important source for our Heaton Avenues in Wartime research.

The avenues

Some of the places Jack describes have changed, of course, but to anyone familiar with Heaton, the streets (or avenues) of terraced houses and Tyneside flats are instantly recognisable over a hundred years later:

…’ the south side started with a grocer’s shop on the corner, ran straight past some eighty front doors arranged in twos, one for the upstairs flat, one for the down, and each pair separated from the next by the downstairs garden.’

…’when you could crawl and totter, you always made for the street whenever the door was open. Over the rough cement path, down the step onto the wonderfully smooth pavement, perhaps on again to the cobblestones in the middle of the road.’

So far, we’ve traced only one photograph of the Avenues taken during this period. it shows Heaton History Group member, Arthur Andrews’ great aunt, Ruth Castle, outside her home at 47 Tenth Avenue and it chimes with Jack Common’s description of his ‘territory’.

Ruth Castle outside 47 Tenth Avenue

Ruth Castle outside 47 Tenth Avenue, early 1900s


‘These gardens were just narrow fenders of soil laid around the buttress of the bay window but they were magnificently defended from depredation by low brick walls, coped with granite slabs, each sprouting a complicated fence of spiked railings… Between them lay cement aprons in front of the doors.’

Regular visitors

Some of the most evocative descriptions of the avenues are the lively street scenes; the traders and entertainers who passed through: the rag and bone man with his bugle, barrow and paper windmills, ‘made of rough sticks and coloured wallpaper or an umbrella of the same or a fan or a piece of pineapple rock’ which he’d exchange for the jam jars or rags the children brought him.

‘… such a procession of horse-drawn vans, man-pushed barrows, milk chariots, coal-carts and steam wagons… Practically any moment of the day, one or other of these strange craft, ark or pinnacle, was bound to come upon our horizon. The hooves of the faster traffic, doctor’s trap or post office van, shot sparks from our cobbles…’

‘… the slower moving door-to-door tradesmen announced their presence: the milkman with a hand-bell and a high-pitched cry, the firewood seller with a long wail ‘d’ye wa-a-nt any sticks’, the coal-man bluff, solid and low, ‘coal ter wagon, coal ter wagon’, and the hardware merchant, standing on his high cart, with a rapid ringing of plate against plate, produced an insistent tintinabulation which rang across several streets. Very often several of these were around at the same time, plus one or other of varieties of street musician, the tin whistler, the barrel organist or German band….’


‘And that was only the front street…. Though milk and bread were front door deliveries, greengrocery and fish and coal came to the back door…..

'Coo-al' by Mark James

‘Co-al’ by Mark James, Heaton History Group

Down here came the Cullercoats fishwives crying ‘Caller herrin’ in that season and otherwise ‘Fresh fish, hinny, straight from the sea’. They wore their traditional dress of dark blue which so well set off their biscuit tan of arm and face, the salt-white hair and they were like caryatids walking under the great baskets they carried on their heads.’

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

Close friends

Common’s descriptions of childhood are equally wonderful and will resonate with many older readers, in particular:

‘… the many games that made their immutable processions across our year. Marbles, tops, hoops and girds, bays, monty-kitty, kick-the-block, up-for-Monday, they came and went in their due seasons.’

‘The marble millionaire gambled untold wealth at the Big Ring, increasing the stakes as the evening wore on until there was a fortune out there on the cement; whole constellations of fat Millies and coloured glass alleys with twinkling spirals down their centres and clear sea-green or whipwater-white pop-alleys winked in the shaky gaslight, nothing less than these high counters allowed in the big game, stonies and chalkies definitely barred. Then in came the bullocker shot from the ringside. The constellation shook and was scrambled; single stars fled or rolled towards the chalk ring. All that went over belonged to the lad that made the shot. Sometimes none did. Right, next player. The winners dropped their captured beauties with a happy plonk into the poke they nearly all carried; losers might fish for a last treasure, a broken pen knife or a watch-compass, to barter for another stake.’

And bonfire night:

‘At the bottom end, on Ninth back lane a mattress in the bonfire had just caught alight, the dervishes around it jumped and yelled from fiery-smudged faces; Eighth were entrenched within their narrow gardens, hurling Chinese crackers and jumping-jacks at all who passed by; Seventh were engaged in a slanging match because the great pyramid of their fire, crowned with a guy sitting in an armchair, had toppled over and was burning against somebody’s back door…. You could even see the near-toddlers solemnly lighting each other’s sparklers from the hot end of the last one to burn out, and there were little girls running wild as they tried to throw London Lights into the air.’

He also describes life in what he refers to as the ‘corner-gangs’. That the camaraderie and solidarity of his gang ‘Sons of the Battle-axe’ meant a lot to Jack can be deduced from his writing and the politics he espoused but also in the fact that, all through his life, he held onto treasured mementos of his Heaton childhood.

The Jack Common Archive is now in the Robinson Library at Newcastle University. Amongst the novel manuscripts, correspondence with publishers and friends, family photographs and cuttings of reviews are the rules, oaths and codes relating to the Sons of the Battle-axe. Examples are displayed here with the permission of the Common family and the university.

Jack Common's 'corner-gang' codes

Jack Common’s ‘corner-gang’ codes

Sons of the Battle-axe oath of allegiance

Sons of the Battle-axe oath of allegiance

Many of Jack Common’s boyhood friends, such as the Ord brothers, appear in ‘Kiddar’s Luck’, with their names unchanged, even if, writing thirty or forty years later, Common appears to have fictionalised some of their back stories.

School

The Chillingham Road School Jack Common attended still stands proudly today, of course. Jack didn’t look back on his schooldays with much affection, believing that working class children like him were being ‘trained for boredom’ as he put it. He conveys his negative feelings in ‘Kiddar’s Luck’:

‘There was a school bell which tolled for some five minutes in the mornings, a peculiarly flat despondent sound, not urgent, not very loud, though it carried over all the Avenues, and it always seemed as if it meant to go on forever.’

although he did have some fond memories:

‘… a class of some fifty children, more than half of them girls, I was disgusted to note. It was a very pleasant classroom though. The morning sun shone in through the wide windows over blue glass vases and painted pottery jugs holding flowers on to the yellow desks.’

But Jack’s daughter, Sally, wrote in a letter to Heaton History Group:

‘I have just looked at their website, and it comes across as such an amazing, vibrant establishment. It makes me want to be a child again and go there! So different from the place my father described that trained children in boredom – in preparation for the boring jobs they would have later’

and Jack would surely have been amazed that today’s pupils learn about and are rightly proud of their somewhat reluctant predecessor.

Winner

For all his later cynicism, Jack (or John as he was known there) Common had some notable successes while at school. He won prizes for at least two of his essays – one a citywide competition on the war-inspired theme of ‘Thrift‘. The essay itself doesn’t survive but he was proud enough of the letter inviting him to collect his prize of Government War Bonds and the newspaper coverage to keep them. They survive in the Jack Common Archive and copies will be displayed at the Chillingham pub from mid-February to mid-April 2015.

The same goes for two compositions about Jesmond Dene for which he also won prizes. Jack later referred to the florid writing style he had adopted in his teenage years and you can judge for yourself from the extracts to be displayed at the Chilli or by visiting the Jack Common Archive.

Jack Common is known for his working class Newcastle upbringing, his strong socialist beliefs and his friendship with George Orwell rather than his love of nature but a lot of his writing and especially the personal diaries in the archive show how much he cared about and knew about the natural world. He may not have acknowledged the influence of his Heaton boyhood or his education at Chillingham Road School but it’s a deep love which began in childhood and which the school log books show was shared by his head teacher, even if neither teacher nor pupil recognised it at the time.

War

Jack was ten years old at the start of the first world war. He refers to it only briefly in ‘Kiddar’s Luck’, writing through a child’s eyes:

‘One Saturday morning a rumour came round that the schools were to be commandeered as temporary barracks; a second report said that the soldiers were already in. Some of us tore round to have a look. Chillingham Road School stood bare and empty, a maw gaping for Monday. We back-pedalled round a corner so as to put it out of sight again, wishing we hadn’t come. But somebody passing on a bike said that North Heaton was taken. We moved off into the territory presided over by that semi-cissy academy, hunching together in case we got raided on the way.

It was true. North Heaton School echoed to the bawls of a couple of sergeants drilling their awkward squads in the boys’ yard….’

But the descriptions of the attitudes of the adults around him are enlightening as well as entertaining. Jack Common is typically unafraid to go against the grain or to offend. He refuses to romanticise and so adds to our understanding of a particular place and an important time:

‘But I had a feeling deep down that war wouldn’t apply to my father. I couldn’t see him waving a flag and leaping over a parapet, as the wild bugles blew, straight into the enemies’ fire; I could see him sitting firmly as ever in his own chair, pointing out that the war was a lot of fat-headedness started by old grannies and bosses-on-the-make and carried on by young fools who believed what they said in the newspapers.’

‘After the customary visit to the boozer, argument waged hot and strong. Uncle George, Boer War veteran, would join up at once – only there was no one to run his greengrocery business if he did. True-blue Uncle Will was hot against the Germans; he would throw in a couple of sons against them right away – the sons, though, did not endorse this generous patriotism. Red Uncle Robin, bachelor, vegetarian and crank, saw the conflict as a power-struggle between rival groups of bosses to be boycotted by all intelligent working men. Sad Uncle Andrew thought it was one of those madnesses good men have to go into because they couldn’t stand being with the crooks and sharpers who’d stayed out. Burly, gentle Uncle Bill knew no rights or wrongs in it, he had the countryman’s view, that it was a super-thunderstorm or tremendously bad weather – ‘Thor’s ne help for it, we’ll hae t’last it oot’. ‘

His presentation of dissident voices is another reason, if we need one, to read, reread, remember and appreciate Heaton’s Jack Common.

Postscript

‘Kiddars Luck’ is currently out of print but can be obtained in a Kindle version and from second-hand bookshops, online and in libraries.

More about Jack Common

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

A related exhibition will be in the lounge bar of the Chillingham pub from 16 February to mid April 2015. It contains digital copies of documents from the Jack Common Archive at Newcastle University and Tyne & Wear Archives as well as illustrations by local artists.

Heaton Avenues in Wartime

We’re delighted to announce that Heaton History Group has been awarded £8,600 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for a project, Heaton Avenues in Wartime. Awarded through HLF’s First World War: then and now programme, the project will focus on life on ten terraced streets off Chillingham Road, Heaton during World War One.

To mark the centenary of the First World War, the project will enable local people in Heaton to come together to learn more about the lives of the people who lived in First to Tenth Avenue a hundred years ago. Writer, Jack Common, was growing up on Third Avenue and attending Chillingham Road School at that time and he later wrote about his experiences in his autobiographical novel ‘Kiddars Luck’. Local people of all ages, including pupils at Chillingham Road, Jack’s old school, will be able to find out more about him and take his account as a starting point for discovering more about life of ordinary people in the Avenues and Heaton at that time. The money will fund visits to local collections, talks and workshops but also an opportunity for artists to get involved by illustrating some of the stories that are uncovered to bring them to life for a wider audience.

The aim of the project is to learn, not only about the lives of those who fought but also the impact of war on some of those who stayed behind.

Commenting on the award, Heaton History Group chair, Alan Giles, said: “We are thrilled to have received the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund. This project will enable Heaton History Group and the people of Heaton to come together to learn and so enrich our community in the present as well as commemorate a momentous event from the past”.

The group is very keen to hear from anyone interested in getting involved – especially anyone who lives or has lived in the Avenues themselves or knows of any family member who lived or worked there between 1914 and 1918. We’re also interested to hear from anyone locally who has WW1 memorabilia or family stories they’d like to share – they don’t have to relate to the Avenues.

Explaining the importance of the HLF support, the Head of the HLF in the North East, Ivor Crowther, said: “The impact of the First World War was far reaching, touching every corner of the UK. The Heritage Lottery Fund has already invested more than £52 million in projects – large and small – that are marking this global centenary; and with our small grants programme, we are enabling even more communities like those involved in Heaton Avenues in Wartime to explore the continuing legacy of this conflict and help local young people in particular to broaden their understanding of how it has shaped our modern world.”

If you would like to get involved or think you can help, contact Chris Jackson, Secretary: chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Will Ye Buy Ma Fresh Fish?

On Wednesday 11 December, Hazel Graham and Hilary East will give a visual talk on the life of the Cullercoats fishwife with traditional live music, a demonstration of Northumberland and Durham clog dancing and a display of traditional costumes and creels. If you’re wondering whether this is relevant to Heaton, here’s an extract from Jack Common’s Kiddar’s Luck:

Though milk and bread were front door deliveries, greengrocery and fish and coal came to the back door. Sometimes for days on end, the 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. Down here came the Cullercoats fishwives crying ‘Caller Herrin’ in that season and otherwise ‘Fresh fish, hinny, straight from the sea’. They wore their traditional dress of dark blue which so well set off the biscuit tan of arm and face, the salt-white hair, and they were like caryatids walking under the great baskets they carried on the heads.

And this postcard was published by Alexander Denholm Brash, who between 1905 and 1910 kept a bookshop, stationer’s and circulating library at 92 Heaton Road. It was posted in October 1913. Jack Common was born in 1903 in nearby Third Avenue. Kiddar’s Luck covers the period from his birth until he left Chillingham Road School in 1917.

Postcard of Cullercoats fishergirls, published by Alexander Brash

The event will take place at the Corner House Hotel on Heaton Road. As usual, please book for the talk to ensure you’re not disappointed. We’ll restrict numbers so that we have room for tables to contribute to a social atmosphere – as befits the time of year! But as usual, please be in your seat by 7.15 so that we can offer any unclaimed places to anyone on the waiting list or who comes on spec. To book, contact Maria Graham: maria@heatonhistorygroup.org/ 0191 2150821 / 07763 985656

Jack Common

Writer Jack Common was born on 15 August 1903 at 44 Third Avenue, Heaton, Newcastle upon Tyne. He attended Chillingham Road School. He is best remembered for his autobiographical novel, Kiddar’s Luck, which describes growing up in Edwardian Tyneside, and for the fact that his likeness was used by sculptor, Lawrence Bradshaw, for the bust on Karl Marx’s tomb in Highgate Cemetery, London. Jack Common died on 20 January 1968. He is commemorated by a plaque on the house where he was born.

Jack Common's birthplace

Jack Common’s birthplace

Jack Common plaque

Jack Common plaque

Chillingham Road School (1966)

Chillingham Road School (1966)

Karl Marx headstone

Karl Marx headstone

Reources on Jack Common

Jack Common archives
John Mapplebeck’s film Common’s Luck (1974)
Bloodaxe Books page
Wikipedia page

Talk about Jack Common

On 23 October 2013, Heaton History Group presented a talk on Jack Common by Keith Armstrong at Jack’s old school, Chillingham Road, to commemorate the 110th anniversary of his birth and the 120th anniversary of the school.

From 16 February – mid April 2015 there will be an exhibition about Jack Common in the Chillingham pub, as part of our Heritage Lottery Fund project ‘Heaton Avenues in Wartime’

Thank you to Newcastle City Library for the photograph of Chillingham Road School.