274 Heaton Road is one of Heaton’s more substantial Victorian villas, also known as Cresta. The first recorded conveyance of the house is 1902 and it seems likely that the first residents were the Stroud family, Professor Dr Henry Stroud, his wife Eva Mary Antoinette Stroud and their three children, Irene Elizabeth, Bessie Vera and Henry Clifford. All fairly unremarkable, except that in one house we have a man who was professor of physics at the age of 26 and a close research collaborator and personal friend of Lord Armstrong; a world war one war hero and early aviator; a Red Cross volunteer in WW1 and a possible member of the peerage.
Henry Stroud was born in Bristol in 1862, the second of three children to John and Mary Stroud. John was a pharmaceutical chemist and as well as his family had two apprentices and a servant living in his home.
On leaving school, Henry had a brilliant academic career at both the University of London, where he gained first class degrees in both Physics and Chemistry and later a Doctorate, and at Cambridge, taking a first class degree in the second part of the Natural Science Tripos.
Henry became a lecturer in physics at Armstrong College, then part of the University of Durham in 1886. In 1887, he married Eva Marie Antoinette Emmett, also from Bristol.
Also in 1887, Henry became Professor of Physics and head of the department, at the ripe old age of 26. The 1891 census shows the family, Henry and Eva, with two daughters, Irene aged two and Bessie, six months, living at 8 Grosvenor Place Jesmond, supported by two servants. By 1911, they were living on Heaton Road, with their three children Irene, 22, Bessie, 20 and Henry Clifford, 17, again with two servants.
Either a Physics Professor earned a great deal more in 1911 than they do today, or one of the families had considerable wealth, as they certainly lived a comfortable lifestyle. There is no doubt that Henry was a great success in his position, growing the department from one professor, one lecturer and 76 students in 1887 to two professors, four lecturers, two demonstrators and 244 students when he retired in 1926.
What perhaps better explains the family’s wealth is Henry’s research interest. Throughout his career, Henry collaborated with Lord Armstrong on research into the nature of electricity. Lord Armstrong conducted early experiments on electrical discharges, which Henry worked with him on. A room, the Electrical Room, was specifically set aside at Cragside, Lord Armstrong’s country home, for their research work. Next door to the Billiard Room, the National Trust has recently opened this room to the public to celebrate their research. At Lord Armstrong’s request, Henry completed this research, which was published in 1899 as a ‘Supplement to Electrical Movement in Air and Water with Theoretical Inferences’ by Lord Armstrong CB, FRS. Essentially, the research led Armstrong to propose the existence of two ‘electric fluids’ in air and water, what we now understand as positively and negatively charged particles.
The photographs of their research showing the effect of negatively and positively charged particles are quite exquisite.
A number of these are available on the Royal Society website. It seems likely that this research and Henry’s academic prowess made him a wealthy and famous man at a time when society revered knowledge. Certainly when he died in 1940, his estate was valued at £23,136/16/5, about £1.4m in today’s money.
The youngest of Henry and Eva’s children, Henry Clifford Stroud was born on 25 July 1893. He certainly followed in his father’s footsteps in terms of academic ability, although his passion was for engineering. He was educated at the Royal Grammar School, then gained his BSc in Engineering at Armstrong College in 1913, followed by a BA at King’s College Cambridge. He was a student of the Institution of Civil Engineers and a graduate of the North East Coast Institution of Engineers and Shipbuilders where, despite his young age, he read a number of papers and was awarded prizes. He was gaining practical experience at Sir William Arrol’s in Glasgow during vacations and had plans to become a civil engineer.
At University, Henry Clifford joined the Officer Training Corps, then the Territorial Force and in June 1912, at the age of 18, was gazetted a Second Lieutenant in the Northumbrian Royal Engineers then promoted to Lieutenant two years later.
When war broke out Henry immediately volunteered for service overseas and embarked for France with the Northumbrian Royal Engineers, First Field Company in January 1915. His career was tragically short-lived as on 8th February he was severely injured in both legs and after immediate treatment in Versailles, he found himself back at Armstrong College, now converted into the No1 Northern General Military Hospital, where he had a long slow recovery.
Sadly his injuries made a return to front line service impossible, so he was posted to Otley as an Instructor in Field Engineering and Bombing, becoming a Captain in June 1916. However, this didn’t satisfy Henry and in July he was passed by the Medical Board to join the Royal Flying Corps, qualifying as a pilot on 22nd August 1916.
In September he was posted to 61st Squadron at Rochford Aerodrome in Kent, engaged in the defence of London from air raids, often under the cover of darkness.
At around 11.30 on the night of 7 March 1918, Henry took off in a Se5a bi-plane to intercept a German plane. It was a moonless night, one of only two occasions when the Germans launched attacks on such nights during the war and there was obviously no radar or radio.
At about the same time, Captain Alexander Bruce Kynoch of 37 Squadron took off from Stoke Maries to intercept the same raider. With no means of communication and next to no light, the two aircraft collided in mid air over Dollyman’s farm in Essex at around midnight, killing both pilots. Henry Clifford was buried at St Andrew’s Church Rochford and a permanent memorial of the accident was placed at the spot where the two planes crashed. The memorial is still there and consists of an aeroplane propeller.
Professor Stroud endowed a physics prize in his son’s honour at the University. Newspapers show that the Henry Clifford Stroud Prize for Physics was still being awarded well into the 1940s.
Henry’s wife had been born Eva Mary Antoinette Emmett in 1862. Like her husband, she was born in Bristol, the eldest daughter and one of six children of Clifford and Laura Emmett. Her father, Clifford, started as an accountant, in 1881 was clerk to an iron merchant and subsequently took over the business.
Eva was well educated. In 1881, aged 19, she was recorded as a ‘scholar’ (and her name is given as Mary E), signs of an independent spirit or just a slip of the pen? Later documents refer to her as Eva Mary once more.
We don’t know much about Eva’s early adulthood other than that she married Henry in 1887 and had three children. But we do know that, soon after Henry Clifford’s death during WW1, she volunteered her services to the Red Cross and Victoria League, following in the footsteps of her daughter, Irene. Records show that they both worked in the ‘moss room‘. During the first world war, sphagnum moss was collected from peat bogs in industrial quantities, as it had mildly antiseptic properties. The moss was transported to depots where it was dried and made into dressings for use in military hospitals.
When Eva died on 3 March 1928, Henry endowed another prize in her memory, the Eva Marie Antoinette Stroud Prize for Physics.
Irene and Bessie
It’s relatively unusual to be able to track down what became of the daughters of a family, particularly post the 1911 census. However in the case of the Stroud family, the probate for Henry Stroud following his death in 1940 shows that his estate was to be divided between William Robert Gerard Whiting and Ralph Oakley Whiting. Further research uncovered that Irene married William in the spring of 1911 and Bessie married his younger brother Ralph in September 1918.
The Whitings were the two sons of William and Marion Whiting. William was the Chief Constructor for the Admiralty. In other words, he was the person overall responsible for the construction of the naval fleet, which clearly influenced the careers of both sons.
William was born on 15th May 1884 and in 1911 was a Naval Architect, boarding at 2 Larkspur Street Jesmond. After marrying Irene, the couple lived at Perivale, Nun’s Moor Crescent. On 26 January 1923 he joined the Institute of Civil Engineers, where the records show that he had an MBE as well as BA. At that time he was working as Personal assistant to the General Manager at Armstrong Naval Yard. He died at the age of 63 on 5th September 1947 in Middlesex Hospital London.
Ralph was born on 16th January 1893, graduating Cambridge Trinity with a BA in Mechanical Sciences in 1914, acquiring an MA in 1918. He immediately joined the Royal Navy, becoming an Instructor Lieutenant in 1921 and Commander (the rank below Captain) in 1949. He was clearly stationed abroad for some of his career as immigration records show Bessie travelling alone to and from Malta, Singapore and Gibraltar in the 1930s, no doubt to be with her husband on his overseas postings.
The couple had at least one son, Anthony Gerald Stroud Whiting, born in 1926 and died in 2008 and he had a daughter Anita Julia Whiting.
What is intriguing about Ralph, Bessie and the family is that they are listed on a website called the Peerage, a genealogical survey of the peerage of Britain. So far I have been unable to determine why exactly. I have however discovered that Anita married the Very Rev. Hon. Dr Richard Crosbie Aitken Henderson, son of Peter Gordon Henderson, Baron Henderson of Brompton in 1985. So at the very least, Bessie and Ralph’s granddaughter is married to the son of a Baron, but there may be more to it. Watch this space.
This article was researched and written by Michael Proctor, Heaton History Group.
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