We have written in the past about the opening of the school that was recently renamed Jesmond Park Academy. We mentioned that the first head teacher of Heaton Secondary School for Girls was a Miss W M Cooper and that of the neighbouring boys’ school a Mr F R Barnes.
Frederic Richard Barnes didn’t retire until thirty years later and so Heaton History Group’s Arthur Andrews decided to find out what he could about a man who was an influence on a generation of local boys.
Frederic Barnes was born in 1890, the first son of Richard, a carpenter, and Mary, who had both been born and brought up in Salford, Lancashire, where the family still lived. By 1911, Richard had become a ‘manual instructor’ for Salford Education Committee and Frederic, who had recently graduated from Manchester University with a First Class Honours Degree was a ‘student teacher’. His younger brother, James, was a ‘Civil Service student’.
In 1915, Barnes married Alice Gertrude Holt, an ‘elementary school teacher’, who grew up very close to Frederic’s childhood home in Salford. His first teaching job too was in Salford.
Barnes was a historian. His article on taxation on wool in the 14th century, published in 1918, can still be read on line.
After the war, Barnes was appointed to a teaching post in Coventry before moving back to the north-west to take up the post of headmaster of Barrow in Furness Secondary School for Boys, Lancashire.
Ten years later a prestigious opportunity arose in Newcastle with the building of the Heaton Secondary Schools, which, it has been said, had been designed to resemble an Oxbridge college. The state of the art schools were officially opened to a great fanfare on 18 September 1928 by Viscount Grey, the former foreign secretary, and, just three weeks later, the head teachers, F R Barnes and W M Cooper, were presented to King George V and Queen Mary when the royal couple visited the new school on the day that they opened the Tyne Bridge.
On becoming headmaster of Heaton Secondary School for Boys, Frederic Barnes and his wife and two children, Frederic Cyril and Gertrude, went to live at ‘Bowness’, 55 Jesmond Park West, a newly built semi-detached house overlooking the school and its playing fields. At that time the entrance to the boys school was on Jesmond Park West so Barnes had a very short walk to work. A newspaper article at the time said that F R Barnes named the house ‘Bowness’ because his children had enjoyed excursions to the village on Lake Windermere, close to Barrow in Furness.
One of the concerns we know Barnes had in the early years of his headship was the inadequate amount of sleep that Heaton boys were enjoying. At the school speech day in December 1934, he presented the results of a sleep census, commenting on the ‘alarmingly’ inadequate amount of sleep that many of his charges got each night. Some things don’t change! The research revealed that 74 boys aged 13 years old and younger went to bed at 9:30pm, 79 at 10:00pm and 28 at 10:30pm.
Youth unemployment was another worry. The school’s opening in 1928 had coincided with the start of decline in the heavy industries so important to the north-east’s economy. By 1934, the situation had worsened. Barnes expressed a hope that ‘after negotiations’ more school leavers ‘would obtain a prompt start in industry’. He also appealed to parents not to restrict their sons’ choice of profession or rule out the ‘adventurous careers’. No examples of exactly what he meant by this have been recorded. The armed forces, perhaps?
On the date of the 1939 Register of England and Wales, a snapshot of the civilian population which was used during the war to produce identity cards, issue ration books and administer conscription, Frederic and Alice Barnes were back in the north-west with their daughter, Gertrude. The family was staying with 35 year old ‘householder’ , Dorothy I Field in Whitehaven, Cumberland. Perhaps they were on holiday? But the register was taken on 29 September during school term. In fact, the whole of Heaton Secondary School for Boys, including many of the teachers, had been evacuated by train to Whitehaven in the very early days of the the second world war.
There are a number of vivid accounts of pupils’ experiences in the public domain, including that of Colin Kirkby, who some 56 years later, remembered being given a carrier bag containing a gas mask, an identity card, a tin of corned beef and a tin of condensed milk, then being taken to Newcastle’s cattle market and then the station to be put on a train to Cumberland. Once they were in Whitehaven, he had to sit in a school hall ‘with thousands of other children from Newcastle’ waiting to be chosen by a local host. ‘I and a few others were left till last, and I think it was because we were the scruffiest.’ Luckily, he went to live with ‘a kindly old couple’. ‘I moved from a house in Newcastle with no electricity and a toilet in the back yard to a house with everything. It even had a garden.’
In March 1940, the ‘Evening Chronicle’ ran an article, headlined ‘Boys’ Comic Opera – hosts entertained at Whitehaven’. It reported that, members of the Heaton Secondary Boys School Dramatic Society had given two performances of ‘H.M.S. Pinafore’ to crowded audiences in the Whitehaven Secondary School premises, one for those who had been looking after the boys during their time in West Cumberland; the second for the remainder of the school and staff.
F R Barnes introduced the members of the society and gave details of the school’s achievements, including that the boys had won the Whitehaven and District Schools’ Association Football League Championship, with their captain, Cunnell, scoring an average of a goal a match. Like his successor, Harry Askew, Barnes was a very keen sportsman and in particular, a footballer.
In his foreword to issue 32 (summer 1944) of the boys’ school magazine, Frederic lamented that a whole generation had had their education disrupted during the war years. He felt that the revival of the school magazine was one more sign of pre-war normality returning, writing that for five years the achievements of the school’s scholars and athletes had gone unsung.
The 20 page issue give us a feel for the time: the school notes section concentrates on the ‘Old Boys who gave their lives in the cause of freedom’, along with those reported missing and those in prisoner of war camps. The list takes up almost 2 pages.
There were also reports of Literary and Debating Society events (A Miss Mary Robson and a Mr Simpson from the People’s Theatre had given an informal lecture at one meeting); the activities of the Historical Society; achievements in cricket, football and athletics. There were poems and stories about war, the evacuation to Whitehaven and hiking in the Lake District. The editor regretted that, because of the paper shortage, caused by the war, not all contributions could be printed.
The final page has two additions to the killed and missing and also mentions eight former pupils, who had been decorated for bravery. On the copy we have, ticks have been pencilled against two of the names: Arthur Cowie DFM and Arthur Scott DFC. Perhaps they were known to William Hedley, the original owner of the magazine. Colin Kirkby left school that year and joined the Navy, perhaps one of the ‘adventurous careers’ that F R Barnes had urged parents not to rule out ten years earlier.
Barnes retired in 1958, after a 30 year tenure as Headmaster of Heaton Secondary School for Boys which, by this time, was known as Heaton Grammar School.
It was reported in the ‘Newcastle Journal’ on Wednesday 12 March 1958 that the school’s Musical and Dramatic Society were going to perform ‘The Mikado’ by Gilbert and Sullivan as a tribute to him. The choice was Barnes’ as it was his favourite opera and it was the first work ever to be performed by the society ten years earlier.
The account stated that Barnes had been the inspiration and encouragement behind everything the society had ever done and that everyone – the 50 boys in the cast and chorus, as well as the masters producing and managing it, were determined to make this ‘Mikado’ a show Mr Barnes would long remember. A team of pupils under the supervision of Mr Waldron, the woodwork teacher, and Mr Loughton, the scenic artist, had built all the sets.
At his retirement at the end of the summer term, former pupils presented Barnes with a television set, a gramophone and a book. Alumnus, Newcastle solicitor Brian Cato, presented the gifts and spoke with gratitude of Mr Barnes who, he said, had inspired generations of school boys and shaped their future lives.
But Frederic Barnes wasn’t quite finished. In December 1958, it was reported that he was ‘coming out of retirement’ to put the case against comprehensive schools in Newcastle. He had accepted an invitation from Robert William Elliott, the Conservative MP for North Newcastle (later Baron Elliott of Morpeth), to speak at a public meeting at the Connaught Hall. It was emphasised that his speech would not be party political but ‘solely a headmaster’s view of the Newcastle Socialists’ plan’. Barnes had previously said that he was not opposed to experiment in education but he was utterly opposed to the scheme for comprehensive education proposed by Newcastle Education Committee.
Frederic Richard Barnes died at the age of 73, on 3 December 1963.
At the time he was living at 7 Swalwell Close, Prudhoe. His wife Alice outlived him by nine years. The family grave is in Jesmond Old cemetery.
It has been suggested by a number of nonagenarian alumni, that Raymond Barnes, the well known school outfitter of 92 Grey Street, was a brother of Frederic Barnes but our research has found no family relationship between the pair.
Researched and written by Arthur Andrews, Heaton History Group, with additional material by Chris Jackson. Thank you to William Brian Hedley of Heaton History Group for sharing the contents of his father, William’s, copy of ‘The Heatonian’; to Friends of Jesmond Old Cemetery for help with locating the Barnes family grave and to Ralph Fleeting, a Heaton Grammar School ‘Old Boy’ for his memories.
British Newspaper Archive
‘The Heatonian’ Issue 32 (summer 1944)