Tag Archives: Edgar family

King of Swing: Heaton’s champion golfer

Asked to name the world’s greatest golfers and you’ll probably mention Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus and perhaps, if you know your sporting history, Bobby Jones. But did you know that a young Heaton man coached the latter and, before his untimely death, was known as one of the great golfers of his age? In fact, James Douglas Edgar still has a place in the record books, as a century ago this year, he won the Canadian Open, by a record 16 strokes, a margin of victory still unsurpassed for any PGA Tournament.

Google Edgar’s name and you’ll find plenty of information about this remarkable sportsman but what you won’t read is that he was a Heatonian. Now, thanks to the painstaking research of Heaton History Group’s Arthur Andrews, we can put that right.

Town Farm

The story of the Edgar family of Heaton Town Farm has already been published on this website. In 1871 two nephews, John and Thomas, described as agricultural labourers, were living at the farm. One of them, John, would later become the father of James Douglas Edgar, who was born on 30 September 1885.

In 1891, John Edgar (40), a foreman land drainer on Christopher Laycock’s Estate, his wife, Ann (38) and their four children, Margaret (17) a dressmaker’s apprentice, John (15) a cricket club assistant groundsman, James Douglas (6) a scholar and Edward, recently born, were living in an upstairs flat at 45 Seventh Avenue. All four children had been born at Heaton Town Farm, so the family may have moved to Seventh Avenue soon after Edward’s birth.

EdgarJDE45SeventhAvenue

The Edgar’s Seventh Avenue upstairs flat

James lived in Seventh Avenue until his mid teens when the family moved to Gosforth.

EdgarJD1HeatheryLane_res-1

1 Heathery Lane Cottages, the Edgars’ Gosforth home, 1901

Pro

From a young age Edgar had caddied and played golf on the Town Moor. By the age of 16, he was working at a golf club and a year later was winning competitions with the United Workmen’s Club. He caught the eye of J S Caird, the professional of the City of Newcastle Golf Club, based on the Town Moor. Caird saw potential in Edgar and took him under his wing, inviting him to be his assistant at the ‘City’ club. Part of the job would have been making and repairing the wooden golf clubs of the time.

EdgarCityGolfClubChimneyMills

City of Newcastle Golf Club HQ

In 1907 Northumberland Golf Club were looking for a new professional and J S Caird put forward J Douglas Edgar’s name for the post and so, in his 20th year, he took on this important role. By all accounts Edgar settled in well and was the complete professional – a competent player with a good swing and a powerful drive, a good teacher, golf club maker and golf club repairer. It is said that he was well liked but had a taste for drink – and women.

EdgarNorthumberlandGolfClub

Northumberland Golf Club

Edgar’s first big win as a professional was the 1914 French Open, which he  won in style with a score of 244 after 72 holes, beating some notable players of the time, including six time (still a record) Open winner,  Harry Vardon.

It was reported in The Journal of 10 August 1914 that Northumberland Golf Club presented Edgar with a gold half hunter watch, suitably inscribed and also a cheque from the members. At another presentation by South Gosforth Golf Club, Edgar was presented with another gold watch and a brooch for his wife in appreciation for his great achievement.

 WWI

But by this time, Britain was at war. At first, Edgar’s involvement was confined to playing in charity tournaments to raise money for soldiers but the following year, aged 30, he enlisted as a Private in the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC). He was based locally, attached to No 1 Ambulance section.

Later in the war, Edgar was released to carry out munitions work at William Dobson Ltd, the Walker shipbuilders. However, on 24 January 1918 in reply to a letter from the Regimental Paymaster, Dobson’s stated that, while J D Edgar was still employed at the firm, he had not been seen for over four weeks. Edgar had submitted a medical certificate stating he was unable to work suffering from adhesions of the tissues to his left hip. The doctor’s note also mentioned that he was developing arthritis of the left wrist. The following month, the RAMC enquired as to whether Edgar had been admitted to the military hospital at Newcastle Barracks but he appears not to have been. Finally, in March 1918, Edgar was discharged, having been deemed unfit to serve due to an arthritic left hip. At this time, he was living in Gosforth Park.

EdgarOldschoolHouse

School House, Sandy Lane, J Douglas Edgar’s home in 1918

On discharge, Edgar stated that he was a professional golfer but that his plan was to become a farmer at Brunton, Northumberland. At first, however, he returned to Northumberland Golf Club but after a dispute with members of the club’s committee following complaints about offensive behaviour, Edgar handed in his notice and he took the huge step of emigrating to America with his family.

USA

 J D Edgar, his wife and two children, Rhoda (10) and Douglas (9), emigrated to the United States of America on 16 December 1919. They sailed from Southampton on the SS Adriatic and in 1920 were lodging with the Morse family in Atlantic City, Georgia.

Edgar secured a job at the new Druids Hill Golf Club in Atlanta, where he settled in well, being popular and amenable with the men and women of the club. This was also a time of unprecedented tournament success. He won the Royal Canadian Golf Championship in both 1919 (by 16 strokes, still a PGA tournament record) and 1920 beating the great Bobby Jones. He also won the US Southern Open Championship and was runner-up in the American PGA Championship, losing only by one stroke (Jim Barnes had won in 1916 and 1919 but no Englishman has won it since).

Understandably Edgar was also in great demand as a coach. He was credited by the great Bobby Jones as a key reason for his own success. He was also mentor and coach to Tommy Armour, who later won 3 majors and Alexa Stirling, arguably America’s greatest female amateur golfer.

EdgarCoaching

James Douglas Edgar

And Edgar’s influence went far beyond those he was able to coach in person. His book ‘The Gate to Golf’, privately printed by Edgar & Co in St Albans in 1920,  had a big impact on golf instruction right up to the present day. In particular the abbreviated golf swing Edgar had perfected because he was restricted by his arthritic hip, became the norm.

Ever innovative, Edgar had invented a device that he called the ‘Gate’, consisting of two pieces of shaped wood, placed on the ground, one piece being a modified tee. The idea was to get the golfer’s swing ‘Movement’ to address the golf ball without hitting either side of the ‘Gate’. As the golfer’s swing and accuracy through the ‘Gate’ improved, the two pieces could be moved closer to each other so that the golfer’s swing was finely tuned and perfected.

EdgarGate (1)

Edgar’s ‘Gate’ invention

Unfortunately, despite Edgar’s success, his wife and children did not settle in the USA. After less than a year they returned to Newcastle while he stayed in America.

Early Death

Sadly, within a few weeks of winning his second Canadian championship and before he could have another shot at the PGA he had so narrowly missed out on the previous year, the golfing world was shocked to hear that James Douglas Edgar was dead at the height of his golfing career, aged only 36.

He was found near the steps of his boarding house late one night by his room mate, golf caddie and assistant, Thomas Mark Wilson (also from Newcastle). Edgar had blood gushing from a severed femoral artery in his leg, (probably by a knife wound). He died on 9 August 1921 before reaching hospital. It was reported that Wilson had said that Edgar had tried to tell him something before dying but he could not make out the words.

At first it seemed that the golfer had been involved in a car accident but there was no impact bruising on his body. It was surmised that he had been involved with a woman, possibly married, and some person or persons sought revenge. Nobody was ever charged with the murder.

J Douglas Edgar is buried in Westview Cemetery, Atlanta. His epitaph was quite an accolade from his peers in the world of professional golf.

EdgarGravestone

J Douglas Edgar’s grave, Atlanta

Had he not died in his prime and overseas, J Douglas Edgar would surely have been widely remembered as yet another Newcastle, indeed Heaton, sporting great.

Can you help?

If you know more about James Douglas Edgar or have photographs or anecdotes you’d like 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 Arthur Andrews of Heaton History Group. Thank you too to Jordan Cook, City of Newcastle assistant golf professional, for being so helpful on Arthur’s visit to City of Newcastle Club and arranging a meeting with David Moffat, winner of International and County Honours, as well as being five times Northumberland Champion. Also to the office staff of Northumberland Golf Club.

Sources

  • The Northumberland Golf Club Story’ / George Harbottle, 1978
  • The ‘City’ Centenary 1891-1991’ – 100 years of Golf at the City of Newcastle Golf Club’ / John Sleight,1991.
  • To Win and Die in Dixie: the birth of the modern golf swing and the mysterious death of its creator’ / Steve Eubanks, 2010
  • British Newspaper Archive
  • FindMyPast
  • Ancestry
  • https://archive.org/details/gatetogolf00edgagoog/page/n7

 

 

Heaton Town Farm

The photograph below is the only photograph we are aware of taken outside the farmhouses which once stood just North of Simonside Terrace and East of Heaton Road, from where Heaton Methodist Church stands now up towards Lesbury Road and Coquet Terrace. It portrays members of the last family to manage was one of a number of farms in Heaton in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

9 men outside Heaton Town Farm including members of the Edgar Family

From the 1870s to the 1890s, Heaton Town Farm, as it was then known, was farmed by the Edgar family and the photograph above seems to date from towards the end of that period. Can you help us date it more precisely?

But before we get to the Edgars, we’ve used old estate plans and census returns to give an outline of the farm’s history going back back to before 1800:

18th century

Newcastle City Library holds a map which was copied in 1800 by John Bell. The original can be dated to between 1756 and 1763. We can see what each field looked like, how big it was and what it was called. Heaton was at this time divided into two halves with East Heaton owned by Sir Mattthew White and West Heaton by Matthew Ridley. The land which became Heaton Town Farm was on the border but mainly in East Heaton ‘Grounds’. The Heaton estates were brought together first of all when Richard Ridley married Margaret White and then when, in 1742, Matthew Ridley married Elizabeth White. Field names at this time included Rye Hill, Benton Nook, East Hartley Tacks, East Huney Tacks and Whites Close.

1840s

In the 1841 census, 9 houses, recorded under the heading ‘Heaton’, seems to belong to the farmstead: one resident, George Cairns (or Carins, the spelling varies), is described as a farmer and an Edward Akenside at this time was an agricultural labourer. Other occupations to be found at the small settlement included: a gardener, a clerk, a tailor, a manufacturer (this was Joseph Sewell, who owned a successful pottery business), an agent, a grocer, a joiner, a millwright, a policeman (this was early days in the history of modern police forces following Robert Peel’s establishment of the Metropolitan Police so John Allan’s name is worthy of a special mention – he may well have been Heaton’s first ‘bobby’), 2 colliers, a 14 year old ‘shoe app[rentice?] and servants, mainly female. So not all the residents were engaged in agriculture.

1850s

In 1851, there were still 9 houses in the Heaton Farm complex. As ten years earlier, George Cairns lived in one. He farmed the majority of the land, 125 acres, employing 5 labourers. Edward Akenhead, a labourer 10 years earlier, farmed another 18, employing one labourer of his own.

George was a tenant farmer ie he leased land from the Ridleys and later William Armstrong rather than owned it but, nevertheless, his was a privileged position, demonstrated by the fact that he was entitled to vote.

List of only 17 voters in Heaton in 1851-2

George Carins (or Cairns) one of only 17 voters in Heaton in 1851-2

Poll books have even survived to show which way he voted in general elections – perhaps not surprisingly for the landowner, Matthew Ridley – no secret ballot back then!

The other houses were mainly occupied by the labourers and gardeners. Daughters and widows were employed as laundresses and dressmakers. One resident, Matthew Robinson was described as a ‘corver’ ie he wove ‘corves’, baskets used in coalmining: Heaton Colliery had closed by this time but there were plenty of other pits in the locality. There were also 2 engine fitters ie skilled mechanics, 2 blacksmiths and a joiner.

1860s

Ten years later in 1861, George Cairns was listed as the farmer of slightly more land – 145 acres and the employer of ‘4 men, a boy and women labourers’. He shared his house with four servants, described respectively as housekeeper, ploughman, dairymaid and cow keeper, evidence that Heaton Town Farm was a mixed farm. The cow keeper was a 14 year old boy called John Mains and the dairymaid a 19 year old woman from Ireland, called Martha Dalziel.

The second house was occupied by John Clark, a farm labourer, his wife, Sarah, and their young son. And the third by Jane Akenhead, Edward’s widow, described as farmer of 14 acres, perhaps what we would today term a smallholding. She lived with her 1 year old daughter, Isabella, along with her mother, her father, who was now managing the farm, and a gardener.

Jane had been born in Whitburn, County Durham in 1829 and by the age of 22 was employed as a servant to George Stabler, William Armstrong’s solicitor, who lived at Heaton Dean. Two years later, she married Edward Akenhead, the blacksmith son of an agricultural labourer, who had by this time acquired some land of his own. Sadly Edward died young, leaving Jane as head of household and the small farm. Her parents came from Co Durham to help her.

We know from records held by Northumberland Archives that in 1865 the land on which George Cairns and Jane Akenhead and later the Edgars farmed as tenants was put up for sale by its owners, the Ridley family. We don’t have evidence of an immediate sale but we know that just a few years later William Armstrong was the owner. The documents show how the configuration of the various farms in Heaton had changed over the years. Many of the fields are similar to those on the 18th century map but some have been further divided or their boundaries or names changed. The sales records show the name and size of each field, plus this time brief information about land use. There were pastures such as West and East Great Broom, Little Broom, Little Close and Long Pasture and arable fields with evocative names like Uncle’s Close, Well Hill, Seaman’s Close and East Honey Tacks. By this time, the farm was called Heaton Town Farm. You can see it marked on the plan below.

Map of Heaton
1870s

In 1871, Edward Edgar, who was born in Warkworth in c 1830 managed 27 acres of the land at Heaton. We have found records of just three houses on the farm at that time. One was the home of George Cairns, now retired.

Another house was occupied by John Brewis, his wife Margaret, their baby daughter, Mary, and Margaret’s mother, Sarah Atkinson. John was a plough engine driver. A steam driven ploughing machine was state of the art equipment in the early 1870s and operating one a skilled job.

The Edgars and their seven children along with Edward’s father and two nephews lived in the third and presumably largest house on the farm. In 1875, Elizabeth Edgar, Edward’s daughter, married Thomas Bell Kirsop, the son of a grocer from Heaton Bank.

Elizabeth Kirsop nee Edgar

Elizabeth Kirsop nee Edgar

Joan Cuthbertson, who has researched her family history, says that on the front row of the group outside Heaton Town farm, along with Thomas Kirsop (on the left), are William (b 1862), Edward (b 1860) and Robert Edgar (b 1864).

1880s

In 1881, Edward Edgar, now a widower, continued to live, with his sons, in one of the houses on Heaton Farm, with a house-servant and a dairy maid. He was now described as a contractor and dairy farmer of 27 acres.

Thomas and Elizabeth Kirsop and their children lived in a neighbouring house. Thomas was now a coal fitter ie an intermediary agent between a coal owner and shipowner or merchant – a responsible and respectable job. Next door to them lived David Kennedy, a dairyman, and his family.

There were 3 further houses with a Heaton Farm address, one occupied by a market gardener, a 24 year old widow, called Catherine Laws, along with her baby son and a servant; another by Robert Richardson, who farmed 28 acres and the last one by William Redpath, an agricultural labourer and his family.

By this time the terraced streets, most of which which still stand today, were encroaching ever closer to the farmhouse as William Armstrong sold more and more of his estate, encouraged by the huge demand for housing near the factories and railways of East Newcastle which drove up the price of land.

1890s

We don’t know the precise circumstances but by 1891 houses and other buildings were being built all around and on the former farm and the Edgars had moved out to Longbenton where Robert was still farming 10 years later.

However, John, another member of the extended Edgar family stayed in Heaton. In 1871 he had been living on Heaton Town Farm with his aunt, uncle and cousins. By 1891, he was living at 45 Seventh Avenue with his wife and children. His occupation was a foreman land drainer. His fifteen year old son was an assistant cricket groundsman, perhaps employed at Heaton’s cricket ground, for which William Armstrong had quite recently donated a field at the corner of what is now Cartington Terrace and Heaton Road and on which cricket is still played. The Kirsops were also living in the Avenues (36 Ninth Avenue) in Heaton when Thomas died aged only 43. His occupational status was given as ‘gentleman’. So Heaton Town Farm didn’t survive into the twentieth century. (By the way, watch out for our World War 1 project, Heaton Avenues in Wartime – and contact chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org if you’d like to get involved)

In future articles, we’ll explore the history of Heaton’s other farms and see what became of more of the agricultural land and the people who worked it.

Can you help?

Thank you to Joan Cuthbertson for giving us a copy of the historic photographs and details of her family’s history. If you know more about Heaton Town Farm or any of Heaton’s farms or have any information or photographs relating to Heaton’s past, please get in touch.