Tag Archives: Ebor Street

Sailing South with Shackleton

The parents and grandparents of Heaton History Group member, Valerie Moffit, were residents of Heaton and Byker from the early 1890s through to around 1930: the Browns, on her mother’s side, lived in Chillingham Road and later Ebor Street; her father’s family, the Smeatons, were in Corbridge Street, just the other side of Shields Road. In 1900, her grandfather Jack Smeaton (1875-1955) was not yet married and shared number 121 with his parents Thomas and Catherine, his two brothers, and four of his five sisters.  Another sister, Ellen, had left home some years earlier – on the 1891 census she is living with a family in Bishop Wearmouth as a domestic servant, aged twelve. 

The Smeaton home no longer exists – Corbridge Street was a victim of slum clearance in the 1960s.  The last time Valerie walked along there it was devoid of dwellings, reduced to little more than a service lane behind the Shields Road shops and other commercial buildings. 

Jack Smeaton was a wheelwright by trade, serving his seven-year apprenticeship at Atkinson and Philipson’s carriage works on Pilgrim Street and working there as a loyal employee until the firm closed in 1920.  During his time there he saw the rapid revolution in the transport industry from horse-drawn to mechanised vehicles: on his marriage certificate in 1910 he still described himself as a wheelwright, but by 1914 his declared job title was ‘motor finisher’.

Jack’s working life with Philipson’s was interrupted twice: he volunteered for the Boer War in 1900 and again for the Great War in 1915. 

Jack’s Journal

Just before his 25th birthday, Jack was sworn in with the 1st Newcastle Royal Engineer (RE) Volunteers who were to go to South Africa to support the regular REs, rebuilding bridges, roads and railways destroyed by Boer commandos. He was part of a small section of twenty-five volunteer sappers under the command of Lieutenant Pollard. 

Jack kept a journal of his experiences in the Boer War. It has been passed down as a treasured family possession and Valerie is lucky enough to be the current keeper. 

Page 1 of Jack Smeaton’s journal

Here is how Jack recorded the departure of the volunteers from Newcastle:

Receive orders and are served out with our kit, to leave on Jan 31st [1900] for Chatham.  Before leaving we were entertained to a grand dinner in Officers Mess and afterwards held a grand smoker in Drill Hall.  Fell in at 10.30 p.m. to march to station, and we were treated to a very forcible demonstration of the patriotism of Tyneside. At the station we had to literally fight our way through and on the platform we were swayed to and fro by the crowd and it was a great relief when we were safely seated in the carriage.  At 11.30 p.m. amid deafening cheers of the people on the platforms we steamed out of the station.’

The Newcastle men were stationed at Chatham from 1 February until 10 March, along with twelve more engineer volunteer sections.  They were ‘instructed in different arms of engineering such as bridging, defences, railway construction and demolition.

On 9 March the men were photographed.

Jack Smeaton, 1st Newcastle Royal Engineers, 9 March 1900

Next day, Jack and his comrades were transported by train to Southampton docks where ‘after piling our kit on board the Tintagel Castle we had breakfast at the Absent-Minded Beggar stall which is kept up by the Daily Mail fund.’

The name of the stall was from a poem that Rudyard Kipling wrote to raise money for British families suffering poverty due to the loss of wages by men who, as reservists, had volunteered for the war. 

Sailing South with Shackleton

You might say that Valerie’s grandfather was one of the first men to sail south with Shackleton.  But this was not an expedition to the South Pole: the voyage in question was aboard the ocean liner mentioned in the above quote, the Tintagel Castle, bound for South Africa.  The ship had been commissioned to transport 1,200 reinforcements to the Cape, and Ernest Shackleton was the newly-appointed Third Officer. 

Less than a year later, Shackleton was appointed Third Officer again, this time on board the Discovery on a famous expedition to the Antarctic, led by Robert Falcon Scott. The ship departed London on 31 July 1901. On arrival at the Antarctic coast, Shackleton was chosen to be a member of the party which continued on foot and sledge towards the South Pole. Scott, Shackleton and Edward Wilson arrived at the most southerly latitude hitherto reached by man on 30 December 1902. Just over six years later, Shackleton led his own expedition which got even nearer to the pole. He returned a national hero and famous the world over.

But, for now, Shackleton was an ambitious young officer on the Tintagel Castle, keen to make an impression on any contact who might prove useful in his future career.  Despite being a doctor’s son, he had joined the merchant navy as a boy and worked his way up through the ranks.  

Jack and Ernest were a similar age and must have read the same boys’ adventure stories during their very different childhoods.  Now, they are both aboard the Tintagel Castle as she casts off from Southampton docks and heads for the open sea on 10 March 1900.

It is unlikely that the two men met as individuals.  But Jack cannot fail to have been aware of the energetic Third Officer, who set himself the enjoyable task of organising entertainments for the troops, arranging sports and concerts to stave off boredom on the long voyage.  He was described by an eye-witness as ‘a vision in white and gold’: broad-shouldered and square-jawed, he cut a dashing figure as he strode around the packed ship.

Ernest Shackleton, photographed in 1901

Shackleton wrote a book about the voyage, in collaboration with the ship’s medical officer, Doctor W McLean, consisting of articles and photographs describing daily life at sea.  It is entitled OHMS or How 1200 Soldiers Went to Table Bay and Valerie was able to study the copy held by the National Library of Scotland.  

Several pages are devoted to describing ‘How we were Fed’, detailing the quantities required to provision the Tintagel Castle for her 6,000-mile trip with 1200 troops aboard.   Meat and other perishable foods such as fish and fruit were stored in four refrigerating chambers, capable of holding 160 tons of stores.  The baking of the bread supply fully occupied, night and day, three ship’s bakers and two volunteers from the ranks; some 1200 lbs of flour were used daily.

Jack Smeaton was very impressed with the catering arrangements and in his journal he described his first day at sea:

Reveille on board a troopship is at 5.30, so next morning we had to rise and stow hammocks before 6.0 a.m.  Breakfast was at 7.30, it consisted of porridge, fish, marmalade, bread and butter and coffee.  It being Sunday no work was done.  We entered the Bay of Biscay about noon, had dinner at 12.30 p.m., it being made up of three courses, soup, meat & potatoes, and pudding with stewed fruits.  As we travelled southwards the weather became very fine and summerlike, quite a contrast to what we had it just a day before.  At 4.30 p.m. tea was served with cold meat or fish, pickles, preserves and bread and butter.  There was no stint of any article of food and so it continued throughout the voyage.  A plan of diet was drawn up so that the menu was changed each day, and at 7 p.m. supper was put on the tables for those who cared for it, which consisted of cabin biscuits and cheese, and the canteen was open for an hour at mid-day and again at 7 p.m. for the sale of beer and mineral waters.  Everybody had to retire at 9.30 as lights went out at 10 p.m.’

Two days later Jack records that the members of the section were inoculated by the ship’s doctor and ‘that night and most of the next day was spent in bed in great pain’.  The commanding officer at Chatham had advised all the men to be inoculated against enteric fever (typhoid) and so Dr McLean was kept busy. 

From Scarlet to Khaki

On March 21st the Tintagel Castle crossed the Equator.

A few days later Jack makes a surprising revelation in his journal:

Sunday got orders to parade in red uniforms but most of us had done away with them, having threw them overboard.’

Even though more than 120 years have elapsed, this sentence still has the power to shock.  What can possibly have incited the men – normally responsible and obedient – to commit this act of insubordination?  On a visit to the Royal Engineers Museum, Valerie mentioned it to the librarian.  She was scathing.  ‘Oh well, they were volunteers.  Regular soldiers would not have done that.  It’s a matter of discipline.’ 

It is true that Jack and his fellow Newcastle sappers were volunteers, not professionals; but they have been ‘sworn in to serve twelve months, or as long as the war should last’.  They take their soldiering seriously.  Before leaving Tyneside, they practised bayonet exercises; and while at the Royal Engineers barracks in Chatham they were put through musketry drill as well as being instructed in engineering skills.  They were also given a short explosives course, learning how to make up and set charges.  This is not a jaunt – they know they are going to be involved in deadly warfare: several thousand British troops have already lost their lives in the first few months of the war.  So, what is behind the mad moment of indiscipline when the sappers hurl their dress uniforms into the sea?  Perhaps there is a clue in what happened a few days earlier, when the vessel crossed the equator:

… at 8pm King Neptune came on board with his retinue and fireworks were let off.  And the next day (Thurs. 22nd) the whole ceremony was gone through, shaving and baptizing in the big canvas bath all they got hold of.’ 

For a day, the strict military routine of life on board a troopship is turned on its head.  The men are swept up in the boisterous high jinks of the traditional crossing the equator ceremony, while Neptune reigns as lord of misrule.  The temperature climbs to 90 degrees in the shade that day.    Maybe one of the men stirs up his comrades, saying that their scarlet jackets will make them easy targets for the Boer marksmen.

‘They’ll pick us off like sitting ducks!  We need to be in khaki – it’s proper camouflage.  Let’s chuck this red stuff into the sea.’  

In the heat of the moment, it all makes perfect sense to Jack and his mates. 

Valerie said she likes to imagine the men leaning over the side and cheering as the scarlet tunics, bobbing in the wake of the ship, slowly disappear into the wide blue Atlantic.

The sappers’ fears were not unfounded.  Some of the older troops on board could have told cautionary tales of the Redcoats who were slaughtered in the First Boer War of 1880 to 1881, when their vivid jackets made them all too visible to enemy snipers.  Soon after that campaign, khaki began to be adopted by the British Army.  At first, soldiers experimented with mud and tea leaves on white cotton, but in 1884 an effective dye was developed.  The change was gradual, and traditionalists disapproved of the innovation – for instance, Queen Victoria describing khaki as a ‘café-au-lait shade quite unsuitable for uniform’.  But despite resistance from the Queen and other non-combatants, the benefits were obvious to ordinary soldiers.  The Second Boer War of 1899-1902 – Jack Smeaton’s war – was the first all-khaki campaign, and in 1902 it became standard battledress.

Cape Town Sights

Saturday Mar 31st [1900] we sighted Table Mountain and dropped anchor in the Bay at 7 a.m.  We lay in the bay until noon on the Sunday when we then went into the harbour and disembarked at 3 p.m.

The Tintagel Castle docked at Cape Town

In the afternoon [of Monday 2nd April] we had a march through Cape Town.  A very nice town with electric trams in full working order and lots of hansom cabs, no four wheelers to be seen.  There are also a great many rickshaws drawn by Zulus, who adorn themselves with pairs of horns and feathers round their heads.  It is marvellous the pace these men travel with their fares along the street.  We returned to dock at about 5 p.m., being fairly tired out.  It was a bit strange walking through the streets after having been three weeks on board ship.’

No wonder Jack feels strange walking the streets of Cape Town.  Just a few weeks earlier he’d been in sooty Newcastle, trudging to the carriage works each morning in the January sleet.  Now here he is under a baking African sun, strolling under trees full of exotic blossom.  As he breathes in their strange perfume of sweetness and spice, he must wonder what the coming months hold in store. 

To be continued…

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Valerie Moffit, Heaton History Group.

Sources

Jack Smeaton’s journal (unpublished)

OHMS or How 1200 Soldiers Went to Table Bay / by W McLean and E H Shackleton; Simpkin, Marshall etc, 1900.

Wikipedia and other online sources

Can You Help?

If you know any more about anyone mentioned in this article or anyone else with Heaton connections who sailed on the Tintagel Castle or had connections to Shackleton or to polar exploration, 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

Heaton United 1909-10: the players’ stories

When this rather battered photograph of Heaton United’s 1909-10 squad was taken Newcastle United were the League Champions (and had been in three of the previous five seasons) and were about to win the FA Cup for the first time in their history. You can understand why these Heaton young men would have chosen what appear to be black and white stripes for their own kit.

The photo was found by Jennie McGregor in the Norfolk antique shop where she works. It landed on the Heaton History Group doormat the day that the takeover of Newcastle United by a Saudi Arabian government led consortium was announced and Newcastle fans began to dream of the sort of success the club had enjoyed over a century earlier under the captaincy of Heaton’s Colin Veitch, who would have been a familiar figure to many of the players as he walked about their neighbourhood. Perhaps he sometimes paused to watch Heaton United play. Is the team posing for the photographer in Heaton Park just a stone’s throw from Veitch’s Stratford Villas home ? The fence looks very like that which borders Jesmond Vale Lane now.

The fortunate discovery led us to wonder about the lives of the young men in the picture and how different they were to ours today, let alone to the highly paid global superstars the media were now linking with the Magpies. You could be forgiven for assuming that most of those photographed were Geordies born and bred, that they mainly worked with their hands and that many would have gone to war a few years later, some never to return.

Luckily someone has neatly written the players’ names on the bottom of the photograph, so we could have a go at testing out these theories. There’s some educated guesswork involved as we don’t know anything apart from surnames and initials but, based on the assumption that they would have lived in or around Heaton, this is who we think they might be.

Back row, left to right:

B. HOIT Hoit isn’t a common name in the north east and there’s only one person in the 1911 census who fits the bill: Albert (probably known to his football pals as Bert) James Julian, who in 1911 lived with his father, also called Albert, who worked as an electrical overseer for the admiralty, his mother, Jessie and three siblings at 22 Tenth Avenue. Young Albert was born on 17 July 1891 and so would have been 18 years old when the photo was taken. He was an apprentice electrical fitter at a firm of electrical engineers.

The family weren’t local. They all came from Portsmouth.  Bert was born on Portsea Island, very close to the historic dockyards. They hadn’t been in Newcastle long: even Bert’s youngest brother was Portsmouth-born. And we know that Bert returned to his home town eventually and, in 1938, married a local woman, Constance Day. He died in 1949, aged 58.

R STOBIE We reckon this has to be Henry Robert Stobie.  He was just a few months older than Bert, having been born in Newcastle on 24 April 1891. In 1911, he was living with his widowed mother Margaret and two younger brothers at 89 Seventh Avenue and working as a plumber. By 1924, he had married and was living with his wife at 26 Amble Grove, Sandyford. Eleven years later, at the start of the second world war, the couple were still at the same address and Henry was still a plumber.  When he died, aged 71, in 1963, they were living at 70 Guelder Road, High Heaton.

A HUXHAM Arthur Reeby Huxham was also 18 and, like Bert Hoit, a southerner with a father who worked for the admiralty. He was born in Stonehouse, Devon and had moved to Newcastle with his parents, Samuel and Selina, older brother, Henry, and younger sister, Mabel. His father was described as an ‘admiralty overseer (blacksmith)’.  In 1911, the family was living at 28 Cheltenham Terrace. Arthur was an insurance agent. During the war, he bowled for Heaton Victoria but he died in 1926, aged only 34 years old.

A TURNER Unlike Bert Hoit and Arthur Huxham, Arthur William Turner was born in Newcastle but he wasn’t destined to stay here. Like the other Heaton United players mentioned so far, he was eighteen years old when the photo was taken, having been born on 10 March 1891. His father was from Yorkshire and his mother from Gateshead. In 1911, Arthur was an engineer’s apprentice and living with his parents, at 39 Cardigan Terrace.

Arthur married Cicie, an Essex girl, and in 1926 they had a young child, Audrey, who, was born in Tongshan, Hebei, China, where documents show that the family had been living. This may seem surprising but Cicie’s father, Henry Franklin, was a railway worker who, in 1899, had travelled to China, where he worked as a brake inspector and later, consultant, for the Imperial Railway of North China.  British managers and workers played a major role in the building of this railway, although they endured some turbulent times including the Boxer Rebellion, just as Henry joined, and the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty in 1911.

Cicie herself was born in England in 1901 but soon travelled with her mother to join her father in Tongshan. Both her younger brother, Philip, in 1903 and sister, Winifred, in 1908, were born in China. We can assume, therefore, that Arthur was helped find a job on the railway by his father in law. He certainly described himself at this time as a ‘railway engineer’. We don’t know precisely how long Arthur and Cicie spent in China but in 1927 they travelled to Canada, first of all as tourists, and then later that same year with the stated intention of emigrating. 

Sometime before 1939, however, the family had returned to England. Arthur became the proprietor of a filling station in Clacton on Sea. They were still in Clacton when Cicie died, aged 47, in 1948. Arthur outlived her but we haven’t yet found out any more about his later years.

T RODGER Thomas Rodger came from good footballing pedigree.

His father was one of many Scots who came south to play for East End United and Newcastle United. Thomas Rodger senior, a left back, made his debut against Liverpool on 25 November 1893 and played 24 games for the Magpies before concentrating on his career working as a print compositor for the ‘Journal’, where he was to stay for over 40 years.

Thomas’s mother, Martha, was born in Kamptee, India while her father was serving in the army. By 1911,  the veteran was living with his daughter’s family at 20 Edwin Street, Heaton.

Young Thomas was born in Perth, his father’s home town. He was the eldest of ten children, eight of whom were still alive in 1911. He was employed as an accountant’s clerk and would have been 17 when the team photo was taken. He married Olive M Hart in 1919. At this time, he was living at 71 Malcolm Street.

Thomas went on to have a successful career as an accountant, eventually running his own firm on Ellison Place. By 1939, he, Olive and son, Glen, were living in Monkseaton, where Thomas died in 1958, aged c 66. Glen followed his father into accountancy and the practice he established is still going strong, based at Cragside House on Heaton Road. 

P WHITE

This could be Peter White, eldest son of George, a joiner, and his wife, Margaret, who in 1911, was living with parents and his younger siblings, Jane and Joseph, at 83 Seventh Avenue and employed as a shipyard clerk.  The family had moved from North Northumberland sometime between about 1897 and 1901. Peter was born in Amble in c1894 and so would have been about 16 in the photograph.  But we haven’t been able to find out any more about him.

Middle row, left to right:

D SMART

There was a 16 year old Donald Smart living at 27 Coquet Terrace  in 1911,  with his mother, Amy Lavinia and his step-father, James Gray, a furniture salesman from Killochan, Ayrshire and two older sisters, Norah and Carmen. Donald was, at this time, an apprentice wholesale draper.

Donald and both of the sisters still at home had been born in ‘San Domingo in the West Indies’, which we now know as the Dominican Republic. Amy, his mother, who was born in Birmingham, had married John Smart in Derby in 1886. On their marriage certificate, John described himself simply as a ‘traveller’. We don’t know what took the couple to the Caribbean but it may have been the sugar industry.

By 1901, John had died and Amy and her five children had returned to England, to Moseley in Worcestershire. Amy was described as ‘living on her own means’. A major source of income appears to have been her lodgers. On census night, there were three boarders, one of whom was James Gray, soon to become her second husband.

In World War One, Donald served firstly a private then a sergeant with the Royal Fusiliers, which was known as the City of London or Stockbrokers’ regiment, as it recruited mainly from city workers. We don’t know whether Donald had moved to London, only that he died of wounds on 11 March 1917, aged 22, in Southampton War Hospital. He left his worldly goods amounting to £14 to be divided equally between his mother, two sisters and his brother, Herbert.

A GAULD

This name is difficult to make out but we think it must be that of Alexander Gauld. Alex was born in Gateshead on 6 March 1892 so would have been 17 years old when the photograph was taken.

By 1901, he was living at 12 Balmoral Terrace his mother, Elizabeth, and father, also called Alexander, who was a travelling salesman for a firm of stationers and a talented amateur artist, his older brother, John, and his aunt.

By 1911, with the family still at the same address,  Alexander Junior was employed as a clerk. His older brother, John Richardson Gauld, was now studying at the Royal College of Art in London and he went on to attend the London County School of Lithography. He went on to teach, served as President of the Manchester Academy of Fine Arts and exhibited widely. One of his watercolour landscapes is in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum and there are portraits by him in the Laing, Bolton Museum and Art Gallery and elsewhere.

Unlike his brother, Alexander stayed at home. In 1939, he was still living with his now widowed mother in the same house on Balmoral Terrace. His occupation was now given as a ‘Solicitor’s Managing Clerk.’

When he died in 1966, aged 73, he was, somewhat confusingly, living at 7 Balmoral Avenue in South Gosforth. 

R TROTTER 

This seems to be Richard Trotter, who in 1911, was living with his widowed mother, Jane, and two younger sisters at 12 Addycombe Terrace. He was working as an engineer’s apprentice at ‘Parsons Turbine.’

Richard was born in Bedlington on 11 April 1891. His father, James, a Scot, was a ‘Physician and Surgeon’ who came from  a long line of doctors.  ‘Burke’s Family Records’ traces the medical lineage back to Dr Robert Trotter of Edinburgh, who was one of the founders of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh and its second president in 1689. Another notable ancestor was Robert Trotter (1736-1818), an associate of Robert Burns who, like the poet, planned to emigrate to the West Indies but ‘missed his ship’. Robert’s successful treatment of his patients in Galloway made him famous far beyond the area and he treated patients from all over Scotland.

James and Jane had 14 children, 12 of whom survived beyond infancy.  The two oldest boys trained as doctors, as family tradition suggested they would, but Richard was only 8 years old when his father died. The bereaved family returned to Scotland for a while before Jane and the three youngest children came to Heaton, where Richard completed an apprenticeship at Parsons. 

In 1912, however, Richard was on board SS Waipara when it set sail from London to Brisbane, one of many British people who went to Australia under government assisted immigration schemes. He found work in the Australian government’s railway workshops. On 17 April 1913, aged 22, he married an Australian, Lucinda Sinclair, in Queensland. War broke out the following year.

By the time Richard  joined the Australian armed forces, the couple had two children. The British had asked the Australians to aid the war effort by recruiting battalions of railwaymen to move men and supplies on the Western Front. Now working for Westinghouse as a brake fitter, Richard joined the 4th Australian Broad Gauge Railway Operating Company on 10 February 1917.

From his war records, we know a little more about what Richard looked like. He was 5 foot 10 inches tall, weighed 10 stone 2 lb, had grey eyes and brown hair. He described himself as Presbyterian. He travelled back to England for training and then onto France.

Richard survived the war and returned to Australia to resume his life with Lucy and their children. Lucy died in 1943 and Richard in 1973, aged 82.

W SIMM William Simm would have been 15 when the photo was taken. A year later, he was living with his father, also called William, a manager in a leather and rubber factory, and his mother, Eliza, at 35 Simonside Terrace. William junior was a clerk in a tannery.

By 1939, William was living in Whitley Bay with his mother and brother. His occupation was recorded as a commercial traveller. It was noted that he was incapacitated. He died in Newcastle in 1966.

J TAYLOR There are a couple of possibilities for the identity of this player but the most likely seems to be James Lloyd Taylor, born 30 September 1893,  who, in 1911, was living at 54 Second Avenue with his Birtley-born mother, Ann, and his father, a railway passenger guard. Seventeen year old James was a railway booking clerk.

James stayed on Tyneside. In 1939, he was living in Jesmond with his wife, Frances, and still working as a railway clerk. 

He died in 1968 in Seaton Sluice.

N SKELDON In 1911, Norman (full name, John Norman), an apprentice pattern maker, was living with his father, John, a clerk from Berwickshire, his mother, Emily, and three younger siblings at 27 Ebor Street. Norman had been born in Tyne Dock on 5 October 1891 so he was about 19 years old in the photograph. 

He married Elizabeth in 1914. In 1939, he was still working as a pattern maker and living with Elizabeth and 22 year old daughter, Betty, in Warwick.

He died in 1947, aged 55.

Front row, left to right:

C BILLETOP This name was difficult to make out at first but we eventually realised  that the player on the left of the front row was Torben Christian Billetop who, in 1911, was living at 40 Lesbury Road with his mother, Helen Bell Dixon, a Glaswegian, his father, also called Torben Christian, a younger sister, Gladys and a servant, Annie Sanderson. There was also an older brother, Adolph, who was no longer living at home. Ten years earlier, the family had been at 3 Guildford Place.

Torben Christian Billetop senior, a Dane, had come to Newcastle via Robert Napier, a shipbuilding firm in Glasgow, and Vickers of Barrow to work for Henry Watson and Sons, an old established Newcastle company, which during the 19th century made hydraulic cranes and machines designed by William Armstrong. Billetop joined the company in 1896 and became managing director. During his thirty years there, he patented many improved designs for machinery. By this time, the company was based at Walkergate.

Torben Christian junior (known as Christian) was born in Glasgow on 1 July 1892 and so would have been 17 years old when the team photo was taken. In 1910, he passed exams at Rutherford College in machine construction, drawing and applied mechanics.  In 1911, he was an apprentice engineer and, in 1914, he graduated with a B Sc in Engineering from Durham University. 

When the world war one broke out, we know that there was a great deal of suspicion of foreigners so it is no surprise to discover that in 1916, Torben senior took steps to become a British citizen.

In 1918, Christian married Mary Dixon and the couple lived at 15 Norwood Avenue, where their eldest son, also Torben Christian, was born. They relocated to Leicestershire, where Mary came from and in 1939, the family home was in Barrow upon Soar, Leicestershire, where Christian was described as an engineering works director. He died on 18 May 1980, aged 87.

G JOHNSTON George Collin Johnston, who appears to be the Heaton United goalkeeper,  was born on 6 January 1892. In 1911, he was working as a ship chandler’s apprentice and living with his Scottish parents, Robert and Janet, six siblings and a lodger at 125 Tynemouth Road. On census night, the house was even fuller, as they had a visitor, Harold Battle, a marine engineer, staying with them.

By 1939, George was a dealer manager of a ships’ stores and living at 27 Swaledale Gardens, High Heaton with his wife, Alice, whom he had married in 1928. He died on 10 November 1968, aged 76. 

J BUCK Finally, John Robert Buck, born on 21 February 1893 and so 16 or 17 when the team photo was taken. In 1911, he was living with his mother, five of his siblings, his maternal grandmother, a brother in law and a nephew and a niece,11 people in total, at 19 Spencer Street, where the family had lived for at least 10 years. His father a railwayman from Thranderston in Suffolk, was absent on census night. He was serving a seven year prison sentence at Portland in Dorset. John was working as a butcher’s assistant at this time.

By 1914, John married Sarah Kennon in Willington Quay. Their daughter, Elsie, was born a year later. 

John is one of only three of the footballers for whom we have found war records. On enlistment, he described himself as a ‘horseman’. He served with the Army Cyclist Corps in Egypt and was wounded in action on 19 April 1917. In April 1918, Sarah wrote to his regiment to find out the whereabouts of her husband, from whom she had heard no news since February when he was ill with fever at a convalescent camp in Alexandria. By this time, he had also been diagnosed as suffering from mental illness or ‘monomania’. John’s employers, the Cooperative Society of 10 Newgate Street, had also written to the army. They applied for his discharge so that he ‘could resume his duties’ after being informed by the army that his condition would necessitate his doing outdoor work.

Immediately after the war ended, John  was discharged as ‘no longer fit for active service’. In 1939, he was driving a light lorry and his nineteen year old son, Walter, had followed in his father’s footsteps and was working as a butcher’s assistant, possibly also at the Co-op.

John died in October 1979, aged 86.

What next?

So, although some of our footballers were born in Newcastle and at least one, Robert Stobie, stayed here all his life, many of our footballers experienced places far beyond Heaton, whether that was because they were born in the Caribbean like Donald Smart, worked and brought their families up in China or Australia like Richard Trotter or Arthur Turner or served their country in Egypt like John Buck. Others, like Christian Billetop and Thomas Rodger had parents who were born overseas, Denmark and India respectively.

Their jobs were equally varied: there were engineers, shipyard workers and railway clerks, as you might expect, but also an insurance agent, an accountant, a solicitor’s clerk, a tanner and a butcher’s assistant.

Many moved away from Newcastle permanently to other parts of England like Portsmouth, Essex, Warwickshire and Leicestershire as well as further afield.

We don’t know how many of them served in World War One as many records have been destroyed but at least one, Donald Smart, died on active service and another, John Buck, was incapacitated as a result of the war. Arthur Huxham lived only to the age of 34. But others, like Christian Billetop, lived well into their eighties. 

Colin Veitch is holding the 1910 FA Cup in the centre of this newspaper page.

Heaton United was probably short lived – we haven’t yet found a reference to it in the local press – but I wonder how many of the young men continued to play and watch football. Were some at Goodison Park to see Colin Veitch lift the cup at the end of that season or in the huge crowd that welcomed the team home? And what would the Heaton United players have to say about Newcastle United winning only one more league title since they posed for their own 1909/10 team photo, let alone the way the club is financed today?

Can You Help?

If you know more about Heaton United or any of the players in the photo or have photographs of your own 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

Acknowledgements 

Researched and written by Chris Jackson of Heaton History Group. Thank you very much to Jennie McGregor, for taking the trouble to send us the photograph.

Sources

Ancestry

British Newspaper Archive

‘Newcastle United: the ultimate who’s who 1881-2014’ / by Paul Joannou; N Publishing, 2014

Newcastle United’s Colin Veitch: the man who was superman‘ / by Keith Colvin Smith; AFV Modeller, 2020

Olive with her brother, Rob, outside their house in Ebor Street.

The signalman and his daughter

Little did we think, when we published ‘Dead Man’s Handle’, the story of a railway accident that took place almost ninety years ago, that we’d be put in touch with someone who clearly remembered that night – and so much more besides. Olive Renwick was born in September 1916, so she is now approaching her 99th birthday – and she has lived in Heaton all her life.

Olive as a young child

Olive as a young child

The signalman

Olive is the daughter of Isabella and Francis Walter (Frank) Topping. Frank was the signalman who, on 8 August 1926, saw a passenger train coming towards his box at full speed seconds before it crashed into a goods train near Manors Station. Olive was nine years old at the time and reminded us that nobody had phones back then and so when her father didn’t return from work, the family could only sit and wait. ‘My mother didn’t send my sister and me to bed’ she remembered ‘I think she was worried and wanted company’.

The train hit the box in which her father worked, damaging one of its supporting ‘legs‘ but luckily Frank Topping escaped unscathed. He alerted the emergency services and helped rescue passengers before eventually arriving home to his anxious family. ‘But he thought he was a goner’ said Olive. You can read the full story here: Dead Man’s Handle

Olive told us more about her father: he was Heaton born and bred, growing up on Simonside Terrace.

NorthViewSchool? incFrank Topping

North View School, 1890s?

On this school photo, he is second from the left on the back row. ‘I think it might be North View School but I’m not sure’. (Does anybody know?) Frank had started his career on the railways in 1900, aged 16, as a learner signal lad.  ‘I was always very proud of him. He was trusted with one of the biggest signal boxes, with four lines to look after.’

But he didn’t remain a signalman. Frank became branch secretary of Newcastle Number 2 NUR branch, senior trustee for the Passenger Signalmen’s Provident Society and was, for almost 20 years from 1931, Secretary of the NER Cottage Homes and Benefit Fund. Locally, in 1911 he was ordained an Elder of Heaton Presbyterian Church, then a session clerk from 1946 until shortly before he died. In WW2, he served in the Home Guard.

Frank Topping, Home Guard, 1942

Frank Topping, Home Guard, 1942

Olive showed us photographs and newspaper cuttings relating to her father including an account, with photographs, of him opening railway cottages in Hartlepool on a street named after him.

Frank Topping officially opening railway cottage in Topping Close, Hartlepool

Frank Topping officially opening a railway cottage in Topping Close, Hartlepool

She had also kept a tribute, published in a railway magazine after his death, in which her father was praised for:

‘ his inimitable character, his understanding and judgement, his forthright speaking, his general cheerfulness and his desire to help his fellow man’

Francis Topping died in 1957.

Olive’s childhood

It was fantastic to find out more about Frank Topping and to hear Olive’s memories of her father but we couldn’t pass up on the opportunity to hear more from someone who has lived in Heaton for almost a century. Imagine the changes she has seen.

Olive was born on Warton Terrace but spent most of her childhood on Ebor Street and then Spencer Street, ‘The railway terraces. In those days, you had to be on the railways to live there’.

Olive with her brother, Rob, outside their house in Ebor Street.

Olive with her brother, Rob, outside their house in Ebor Street.

Olive (right) with her sister Sybil, Ebor St c1923

Olive (right) with her sister Sybil, Ebor St c1923

She remember the street traders, who sold all manner of things on the front street and back lanes. And, like Jack Common, a few years earlier, she recalls itinerant musicians: ‘women, they were usually women, in shawls, women who were poorer than us, who came round door to door, singing and collecting money.’

As a child, Olive was allergic to cow’s milk. She remembers that her mother walked to Meldon Terrace everyday with a jug to collect milk from a woman who kept a goat in her back yard.

One of her earliest memories was climbing on the cannons that used to stand in Heaton Park. She cut her leg badly and, because she feared her parents would be annoyed with her, dashed straight to the outside toilet in the hope of stemming the flow of blood. Naturally though she couldn’t hide the injury for long. ‘I was carried off to hospital for stitches. And my father wrote to the council to complain the cannons were dangerous’ Olive told us, ‘And soon after they were removed!’

Olive on the cannon in Heaton Park

Olive on the cannon in Heaton Park

‘And I remember my mother taking me to the Scala for a treat to see “Tarzan” but I ran up and down the aisle, shouting “Tarzan!” and had to be taken home in disgrace’. (This must have been an older version than the famous Johnny Weismuller films of the 1930s and ’40s, perhaps ‘The Adventures of Tarzan‘ (1921), the silent movie version which starred Elmo Lincoln.)

Scala cinema Chillingham Road

Olive attended Chillingham Road School and later Heaton High:

Olive (middle) & friends in Heaton High uniform, late 1920s

Olive (middle) & friends in Heaton High uniform, late 1920s

The original buildings of what became Heaton Manor School

The original buildings of what became Heaton Manor School

‘I was in my first year when the King and Queen came to officially open the school.

King and Queen open Heaton Secondary Schools, 1928

King and Queen open Heaton Secondary Schools, 1928

We were all gathered in the hall and Miss Cooper, the head teacher, told us that the queen would be presented with a “bookie”. What on earth’s a bookie, I wondered. Only later did I realise she meant a bouquet!’

And she remembers, without much fondness, the many rail journeys of her childhood. ‘With my father’s job, the whole family enjoyed subsidised travel.. I say “enjoyed” but I hated it. We went all over, to places like Edinburgh, but trains made me sick: it was the smell. So I wasn’t allowed to sit in the carriage. I was banished to the guard’s van – with a bucket. I can still smell that smell now – and it still makes me feel sick!’

Coincidence

It was as we were leaving that Olive mentioned, in passing, her maternal grandparents: that they were called Wood, came originally from Ayton in Berwickshire, lived in Seventh Avenue and that her mother’s uncle Bob (Walker) grew potatoes on a field near Red Hall Drive. Could they be the same Woods that we’d researched and written about as part of our ‘Heaton Avenues in Wartime’ project. Surely they must? And indeed they were.

Isabella and David Wood

Isabella and David Wood

On a return visit, Olive told us more about her grandparents, David and Isabella Wood. She confirmed that they had an allotment on railway land. She told us about visits to her great aunts in Ayton and she recounted family stories about a visit to her Uncle Robert in hospital, where he was to die from wounds received on the battlefield. Best of all, she was able to show us photographs of both grandparents, more of which we will add to the article ‘The Woods of Seventh Avenue’.

It’s been a pleasure to meet Olive,  pictured here with daughters, Julia and Margaret, in 1953:

Olive with daughters, Julia and Margaret in 1953

Olive with daughters, Julia and Margaret in 1953

And here in 2015:

Margaret, Olive and Julia, 2015

Margaret, Olive and Julia, 2015

We hope that we’ll meet again soon and that she’ll be able to add even more to our knowledge of Heaton’s history.

Can you help?

If you have knowledge, memories or photographs of Heaton you’d like to share, we’d love to hear from you. Either contact us via the website by clicking on the link immediately below the title of this article or email chris.Jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org