Tag Archives: Eighth Avenue

Kiddar’s Luck and Edwardian Heaton

Jack Common’s famous semi-autobiographical novel ‘Kiddar’s Luck’ gives us some great insights into life in early 20th century Heaton in the years between the dawn of the 20th century and World War One. In the novel, Common writes as the narrator and as an imaginary character named ‘Kiddar’. It is, however, generally considered that Kiddar is Common himself and the novel is really about his childhood in pre-first world war Heaton. So what can we learn? Heaton History Group’s Peter Sagar has been rereading the novel.There are a number of different categories into which we can place this learning from reading ‘Kiddar’s Luck’.

 Physical environment

The north-east born playwright, Alan Plater, once described the way Jack Common described his birth in ‘Kiddar’s Luck’ as part of a ‘bobby-dazzling opening chapter’ in which Common bemoans his genes missing out on much more genteel places of birth, such as lush Sussex, many a solid Yorkshire village, affluent Mayfair and Surrey soft spots to instead be born into the relative poverty of a railwayman’s family near the East Coast mainline in Heaton.

On page 5 of ‘Kiddar’s Luck’, Common relates how he ‘came upon the frost-rimmed roofs of a working-class suburb in Newcastle-upon-Tyne and in the upstairs flat in a street parallel with the railway line, on which a halted engine whistled to be let through the junction…’  This gives us a clear image of the Avenues around South Heaton at the start of the 20th century.

As the avenues haven’t changed that much in the intervening 100 years or so, it is possible to imagine those frost-rimmed roofs, although with the continuing and dangerous progress of global heating, the winter of 2019/20 has been remarkably short of frosts.

Common, of course, was also describing a Heaton without cars. On page 19, Common states that he, ‘belonged to that street by the same right that I had to belong to one particular family on it….often the lamplighter was on his rounds before all the small fry were safely back in their boxes’. How often do you see children playing on the streets of Heaton today?

Common described trips to nearby Jesmond Dene. On page 26, he says that, ‘we’d walk the hot, red paths of Jesmond Dene, brick-red gravel dust throwing that heat up into my inclined face and the tiresome rich green of full summer seeming to shout at one to look, look up, look around.’ Jesmond Dene is still a beautiful community resource for people in Heaton – sometimes we see that some things haven’t changed much in the last 120 years!

Economic life

The streets might not have been packed with cars, but Heaton’s streets were still busy. Common, on page 17, notes that the ‘street was usually lively enough. These were the days of private enterprise: a mad economic maelstrom drew down every thoroughfare debris of competitive endeavour, such a procession of horse-drawn vans, man-pushed barrows, milk-chariots, coal carts and steam wagons as could have been achieved only by a separate deadly seriousness on the part of each participant blinding him to the comic glory he was collectively included in. Practically any moment of the day, one or another of these strange craft, ark or pinnace, would come upon our horizon’. It certainly seems that the streets of Heaton in the early 20th century were a very interesting place!

Not only did local tradesmen fill the streets of Edwardian Heaton but, on page 18, Common tells us that, ‘behind our houses, as was general in that district, ran the back lane. It was narrower of course, with the same granite cobbles, smaller sidewalks and monotonous brick walls pierced evenly along the whole length with two back-doors, two square openings into the coal-houses, with two back doors and so on. Though milk and bread were front-door deliveries, greengrocery and fish and coal came to the back-door. Sometimes for days on end 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’. A different world to today! How often do you see children in and out of each other’s yards? What would you do if you did see children going in somebody else’s yards?

With car ownership either tiny or non-existent, there was at least a variety of public transport to help people get around. For people living in Heaton this included one form of transport which has recently been revived in a number of cities across Britain, including Manchester, Sheffield and Edinburgh. On page 25, Common tells of how after a trip to Newcastle City Centre, ‘we came home happily in the shaky old trams which sparked over the wind-clutched Byker Bridge’.

There have been many plans from the likes of NEXUS in recent years looking into the feasibility of bringing back trams to the streets of Tyneside. There was one particularly bold plan hatched back in 2003, by the name of Project Orpheus, which would have seen an ambitious integrated transport system for the north-east, including a new tram line from Walbottle to the East End of Newcastle. These plans look great on paper, but we are still waiting for politicians with enough vision and political will for this kind of project to be made real. This is a pity as, given the ever worsening climate crisis, it would seem sensible to consider bringing trams back as a way of augmenting the Metro system, but I am not sure that I would be keen to travel on a shaky tram over a wind-clutched bridge! Thankfully we have higher standards of health and safety today…

The Edwardian era is often seen as a time of great social serenity before the terrible shock of the first world war, but a deeper study of history reveals the era as one of considerable social conflict as the trade union movement began to really flex its collective muscles in response to harsh working conditions and low wages. Common’s father was a railwayman and so it is no wonder that he recollects a railway strike on page 51. Rather than write about the effects on his family, Common describes what the effect of the strike was on the atmosphere in Heaton. He notes that it was, ‘true, of course, had I noted it, there was a curious stillness over the Avenues. Normally, at any hour of the twenty-four, if you looked along our street, you were bound to see at least one railwayman in work-clothes, his bait-tin under his arm going to or from the junction. They were always about, hurrying along clean-faced towards the sharp dawn paling the signal lamps over the lines, drifting wearily back on an afternoon sun; in groups jolly and joking in the Chillingham Hotel or outside the social club, in pairs coming out of the light of the blue arc lamps at the end of the shift and ready for their bed. Now that traffic was stopped. So was lot of other kinds. The electric trains were silent in the cutting, the sudden blue rainbow they made ceased to flicker on the houses above; there were no puffs of steam or harsh mechanical panting behind the junction wall, no shunting noises like the slow collapse of huge iron playing cards against the buffers.’ It must have made a real difference to the life of Heaton for a young boy to notice it in the way that Common describes. Of course the railway was arguably more important then, at a time when people didn’t own cars.

immigration

Listening to some of the ‘debates’ around the issue of Brexit, it would appear that immigration from Europe began with our accession to what was then the EEC in 1973. Common’s ‘Kiddar’s Luck’ reminds us of what nonsense that is when, on page 21, he mentions ‘…the German pork butcher from Heaton Road…’   (See a previous article to see who he might be referring to). It would be interesting to know more about how he fared as xenophobia and jingoism swept the country?

Certainly racism was unfortunately part of the life of some young people growing up in Heaton at the same time as Common. On page 56, Common talks about the trials that a man from China had to go through due to appalling behaviour from some young people in Heaton. In the middle of a piece about the gang warfare in Heaton at the time. Common relates how Fong Lee, ‘had plenty reason to be annoyed. Oriental patience might withstand the loud chanting of ”Ching, Ching, Chinaman, choppy, choppy, chop” by a choir of twerps around his door, but when that door was frequently flung open, its bell jangling, to enable one of that choir to fling in a couple of damp horse-turds that might land among the parcels of finished washing, then the love of cleanliness, natural to a laundryman, must have been offended beyond the immediate consolation of Chinese philosophy’

I would like to think that even in the darker days we are going through at the present, this type of racist behaviour would not be expected in the Heaton of 2020. As for Chinese philosophy, Confucius did of course preach the importance of patience, when he said, ‘ it does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop’, although another of Confucius’ famous sayings might be more relevant here: ‘Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance’.

It is actually quite surprising that Heaton had a Chinese inhabitant at this time, given the small number of Chinese-born people living in north-east England at the time. Dave Renton (see sources below) has noted that, ‘as late as 1945, the numbers of Chinese-born people living in the region were maybe as few as three dozen. There were several Chinese laundries in the region, including three in Newcastle, as well as one in each of Whitley Bay, Gateshead, Sunderland, Hartlepool and Middlesbrough.’ It is often noted that right up to the present day, the most racist areas in England tend to coincide with those which have the least immigration into them as racism is largely born out of ignorance and a lack of contact with people perceived as ‘different’. Perhaps this was why poor Fong Lee had to endure such appalling behaviour towards him.  

To put all this in context, while the north-east was prone to racism at the beginning of the 20th century, just as anywhere else in the country was, it has traditionally been seen as less racist than many other regions. A few decades after the time about which Common was writing in ‘Kiddar’s Luck’, Oswald Mosely, leader of the British Union of Fascists stated that the north-east with its high unemployment in the 1930’s should become a ‘storm centre’ for his new fascist movement. It didn’t. Indeed it has been noted that Tyneside’s notions of working-class solidarity were an anathema to the bullying tendencies of the racists. Common’s own antipathy towards racist attitudes is hardly surprising given his upbringing. Dave Renton notes that, ‘Common’s mother lit candles for a Jewish family on the Sabbath’ and that Common recorded his mother saying, ‘when I hear how the poor Indians live I’m sorry for them, cos I know what it is.’

 School

We have seen that in some respects little has changed in Heaton since the Edwardian era and this is brought home to us on page 30-1, when Common describes his journey from home to school: ‘The school was only a few streets away, within the Avenues. There were ten of these, of which ours was Third, all built in one plan though not by any civic authority. The First and Third ran parallel to the railway lines, sharing a common back lane; these short ones and back lanes, were set at right angles to the rest, but extended only from Third to Seventh; Seventh, Eighth, Ninth and Tenth were parallel too; and the long Second ran at right-angles to the railway from it as far as Tenth, though where it was not keeping the short avenues company, it was all corner-ends owing to the interruption of the lanes and front streets that ran into it. To make room for the school buildings, half of the north side of  Ninth and the south side of Tenth was missing. Our route that fine morning then was across Third into Fifth, down Seventh as far as the back lane to Chillingham Road (that being the fourth side of the square); along the lane past end of Eighth and into Ninth. Well, there we were.’

Other things about school life have changed. Common describes the different entrances for different aged pupils at Chillingham Road School during his time there. On page 31, Common talks of the ‘sign over the door which said “Infants”… [and]… the Tenth Avenue entrance which said “Boys“..’ I don’t think we would have gendered school entrances in Heaton today!

Chillingham Road Primary School is one of a number of primary schools in the Heaton area with a well-deserved good reputation today, but while the building may have changed little since the early 20th century, it does appear that it the teaching methods today are a little more enlightened.

On pages 31-2, Common describes how, ‘we were given brushes and little porcelain dishes containing water-colour, or else coloured straws which we were supposed to plait – babyish stuff, but not too bad. Then there’d be a lesson. A cracked yellow scroll was unrolled and hung on the blackboard. It showed three-letter words and very fat black letters they were, spaced out and then put together. Teacher took a long pointer, touched each letter in turn and said, “Kuh, Aah,Tuh spells Cat”. The class intoned cheerlessly, “Kuh, Aah, Tuh, spells Cat”‘. From what Common says about this lesson, it appears that this method was not only rather uninspiring, but also on occasions unsuccessful. Common relates that once the class had mastered the spelling of the word ‘cat’, ‘then the teacher got clever.”Ruh, Ahh, Tuh “; she stopped. “What does Ruh, Aah, Tuh spell, Freddy?” Freddy got to his feet and threw a hapless glance down at the girl next to him. “Please, teacher, Ah divn’t knaa”‘. Poor Freddy. Haven’t we all been there at some time of our life, either at a school or in adult life?    

A few pages later on Common tells us of how you had to work through a social hierarchy in Heaton, even as a child. On page 36, he relates how, ‘out of school, I was beginning to graduate to a corner-lad. I was my baby sister now who was the pride and anxious delight of the girls.……According to the incidence of boy-population, about half the corners had their own gangs. I drifted for a time between two of these, Third Avenue, which had its customary headquarters round Daddy Hilton’s grocery at the bottom and Sixth Avenue who congregated at the barber’s window right opposite our house. Second could never call a corner its own; Fifth was too short of boys; Fourth had a gang, but they were weak and swamped with their own girls; Seventh were a numerous and lot of thugs; and the rest were too far away to be my concern yet awhile’. Which brings us neatly to the issue of gang warfare in Edwardian Heaton….

Gangs

Heaton in the years immediately prior to the First World War, could be a dangerous place for a young lad like Jack Common to be growing up in. On page 54, Common wrote about the start of a period of gang warfare: ‘Then a bigger matter blew up one evening. I was on Daddy Hilton’s corner, hanging about hoping to get into a game of Kick-the-Block, when sounds of battle drifted down from the Fourth Avenue entrance. Sticks and stones were flying; war-cries chanted. From nowhere the words “Chapman Street gang” got uttered on the anonymous air. Chapman Street, now, ran from Chillingham Road, but on the other side of the railway bridge, down to Parsons’ Works. The lads from its corners and those on the streets next to it had a long-standing feud with our lot in the Avenues. At long intervals it would boil over into a regular battle. Then they invaded us, or we invaded them; the signal that such an attempt was on being the appearance of large bodies in battle array on the bridge.’   As we shall see this was not an isolated incident…

Indeed Common tells us how the rivals were usually dealt with effectively. Not on this occasion however: On page 54-5, Common states that, ‘often enough the invaders were met and turned back on the bridge itself; this time however, we were caught napping. The invaders seemed to be already overwhelming the weak Fourth Avenue forces. They would soon be in command of the bend going in to Third back lane, which was a strategic point of high value to us since it allowed us a choice of charging over in mid-battle to an attack on the rear of any force which advanced beyond that entry without first capturing it. Too late to get up there, though. We’d be lucky to halt the Chapman mob at Fifth’. It was looking bad for Jack and his mates…

It was time to get better prepared for the coming attack, On page 55, Common relates that, ‘our corner and Sixth rushed off to get hold of weapons. The five Robson brothers could be trusted to hold their own Fifth for a bit. Meanwhile Wilf and I, being young, but not absurdly so, must race off to arouse Seventh and Eighth, if we could.’ Heaton was clearly made up of a myriad of allied groups!

Seventh Avenue were easy to get involved. Common relates that, ‘by luck, we found the surly Seventh in just the right mood. They were all assembled on one corner and talking together gloomily. They’d just had the police after them over a matter of a large parcel of cigarettes knocked off that very afternoon from their own corner shop at the bottom of their street. And none of them had done it! They didn’t know who had. So the air about Seventh was knit up with rankling injustice, heavy with frustrated vengeance and melancholy, because of the mirage of smokes they might have had if they hadn’t been so uselessly honest. Now Wilf and I were rather in the position of a couple of Cherokees appearing unarmed before the war-painted Choctaw tribe. We had to rattle off our message before we were scragged – we did all of that twice over. It was just the news to suit present moods round these parts: Seventh started up as one man – yes, they’d be in any trouble that was going.‘ So far, so good. Would Jack and Wilf fare so well as recruiting sergeants at the Eighth Avenue?

The simple answer to that is, no. Jack and Wilf ended up having a somewhat difficult encounter with members of the opposite gender. Jack Common takes up the story thus: ‘Wilf and I ran on to Eighth. ….A little way down the street their girls were skipping with a big rope, two turning, the rest running in, pair after pair, while all chanted, “Never mind the weather girls,; in and out the fire girls” We asked the girls who were waiting, where the lads were. They at once rushed on us, grabbed our caps and chucked them into the gardens.” Hadaway to your own street,” they yelled.’

 Things looked bleak for Jack and Wilf, but deliverance was at hand, with some useful news. Common states that, ‘;….In one doorway sat wee Alfie Bell, his leg in plaster and a pile of comics by him. He told us. “They’re all down at the Chink’s —- that’s where they are. What d’ye want them for?”He wanted to keep us talking, but we only yelled the news over our shoulders as we pelted on, “Big fight on in Third —Chapman Street out.”‘ As we have already noted these were days when casual racism was more prevalent in Heaton than today.

The mayhem continued through the avenues. On page 55-6, Common relates how, on their mission for support, ‘at the bottom we almost collided with the Eighth Avenue lot who were scattering away before the charge of an infuriated Chinaman brandishing a knife — at least that’s how they would have described it. Really, old Fong Lee was never infuriated. There, he was shuffling back towards the laundry now, his blue shirt tail flapping on his thin behind. He turned at the door to shake a skinny fist, grinned at a couple of passing railwaymen and popped inside.’

 Inevitably all this childhood ‘fun’ had to come to an end once local adults had got wind of what was happening. We are told on pages 56-7 that. ‘the battles came to an end usually when a sufficient number of adults round about had realised the unusual scale of the tumult and began to gather for its suppression… That is how this one finished. Chapman Street army could get no further now that the forces engaged were more nearly equal and were beginning to retreat. They would have to, in any case, because Third Avenue parents were now at their doors and a lot of our lads were being ordered to lay down their arms. It was recognised as not fair to keep on engaging an enemy who had half the fight knocked out of him by having to listen to his mother’s shouts….’ Perhaps the Heaton warriors weren’t quite as hard as they liked to think they were!

 To town

To finish on a more peaceful note, we can also learn about ways in which Common was familiar with paths into ‘town’ at a time when there were few if any cars or buses – and of course the alternative of a shaky tram across a wind-clutched bridge!   The narrator tells us on page 11 how he, ‘lay in a go-cart and travelled along the paths of Heaton Park…’

Meanwhile, on page130, Common tells us about a path, ‘that was probably the oldest path to town. Other nights I took the newest, through the clean air of the parks and crossing the Ouseburn by Armstrong Bridge, that is over the tops of cherry-trees and a cackling of geese at a farmhouse below. Or to avoid people altogether, I dipped down into the darkness of the Vale, over a bridge so small and low it bent to the muttering intimacy of little waters’. So we end with a beautiful description of the Ouseburn valley, which although describing a scene over 100 years old, reminds us of what a lovely part of the city of Newcastle it is.      

Conclusion

There is clearly much we can learn about Heaton in the years immediately after the turn of the 20th century from an examination of ‘Kiddar’s Luck’. We can learn that, while some of the physical environment of Heaton has changed since the 1900s, much of it it seemingly remains the same. We have seen that there were immigrants living in Heaton and we have seen how inappropriately they were sometimes treated by some of the younger people in the area. We have also discovered some more about school life at Chillingham Road and of the tribalism between young lads from different avenues when they were out of school, at at time when the street was also the local playground.

All in all it is hard to disagree with Keith Armstrong, when he says of ‘Kiddar’s Luck’, that Common’s earlier writing was, ‘followed by imaginatively twisted tales of childhood and teenage in Kiddar’s Luck (1951) and The Ampersand (1954), which surely rank among the very best descriptions of growing up working-class ever committed to paper.’ It also begs one more question: who is writing about Heaton today with such compassion, understanding and real insights?

Sources

Geordies / B Lancaster and R Colls; Edinburgh University Press, 1992

Kiddar’s Luck / J Common; Turnstile Press, 1951

Colour Blind? Race and Migration in Northeast England since 1945 / D Renton; University of Sunderland Press, 2007

https://libcom.org/blog/common-words-wandering-star-keith-armstrong-06032010

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Peter Sagar, Heaton History Group. Copyright: the author and Heaton History Group

 

More on this website about Jack Common

‘Jack Commons’ Avenues in Wartime’ https://heatonhistorygroup.org/2015/02/07/jack-commons-avenues/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Forgotten Music Makers of Heaton

If you were asked about Heaton’s most important exports, you might well mention great feats of engineering, such as Sir Charles Parsons’ ground-breaking steam turbines, or Grubb Parsons’ telescopes, both of which are still to be found throughout the world. Or perhaps you’d suggest music, with local boy Chas Chandler, inducted into Rock and Roll’s Hall of Fame with ‘The Animals’ in 1994 – the band’s 60s’ songs still played and performed all over the world half a century after they were written. We rightly commemorate such achievements with plaques, books and museum displays.

But hands up if you’ve ever stopped on Grafton Street and given even a passing thought to the local men who married both of the great Heaton industries of engineering and music?  In truth, you might never have had cause to go to Grafton Street at all: since redevelopment of the area, it’s perhaps the shortest street in Heaton (or is it Byker?) comprising little more than four parking bays (usually full) facing Shields Road and a single yellow line. There’s a pawnbroker’s shop on one corner and a council customer service centre on the other.

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Grafton Street

But there’s also a nearby bench on which you can sit and listen. There may still be music in the air.

So let’s rewind.

Apprentice

Charles William Howden was born in All Saints parish, of which Heaton was a part, in 1865 and baptised in St Nicholas’s Cathedral on 28 May of that year. He was the eldest child of Ryton born, Margaret Isabella, and John Howden, a shipping clerk from Wakefield in Yorkshire.

By 1881 at the age of 16 and still living with his parents and now four younger siblings in the west end of Newcastle, Charles was described as an ‘organ builder’s apprentice’. Ten years later, still living in the parental home, he is described on the census as an ’employer’ and ‘organ builder’.

We don’t yet know to whom young Charles Howden was apprenticed but we can trace the development of the organ building firm that bears his name from its foundation c1893  via Forth Street  and Snowdon Street in Newcastle to 65 Grafton Street, Heaton. Howden had joined forces with one William Charlton Blackett, the Bensham-born son of a coal agent, to set up the firm of Blackett and Howden Ltd.

Inventors

Like other more famous engineers operating around Heaton at this time, Blackett and Howden weren’t content to copy what had gone before. They wanted their organs to be better than everyone else’s. We can trace several patent applications: for ‘pallets‘ (1891). ‘pneumatic action’ (1895) and ‘blowing‘ (1904).

According to organ historian, James Ingall Wedgewood, they may have invented what is known as a ‘diaphone‘, the noise-making device best known for its use as a foghorn. While the invention of the diaphone is commonly attributed to Robert Hope-Jones,  it was apparently Blackett and Howden who first experimented with it as early as 1888:

‘It frequently happens in organ building, when the requisite conditions are fortuitously complied with, that a pallet will commence to vibrate rapidly, and it is often within the province of an organist’s or organ builder’s observation that such a “fluttering pallet,” or a Tremulant in a state of rapid vibration, when provided with a resonator in the form of a soundboard or wind trunk, generates tones of considerable power. The safety valves of steamboats constantly act similarly. … The idea must doubtless have occurred to many builders … that such phenomena might systematically be adapted to tonal use.

An experimental attempt at such adaptation was made in 1888 by Messrs. Blackett & Howden, of Newcastle [England]. The bulk of the apparatus employed was enclosed in a box (15 ins. square for the 16 ft. note). Wind passed into a chamber containing a vibrator in the form of a circular disc fixed on to the loose end of a spring, and so arranged as to beat against a hole in the under side of the resonator, being regulated in pitch and intensity by a sliding bridge and set-screw.’

Whether because they were louder or simply because they were of superb quality, Blackett and Howden organs were sold not only across the north east but soon throughout the UK and even overseas.

Some of the earliest church organs for which records exist are in Scotland; the one in the Braid Church in Edinburgh was built in 1898 and there were other early instruments in Glasgow, West Kilbride and Montrose. At one point the firm did so much business in Scotland that it ran a second workshop in Glasgow. Another one followed in Cardiff.

Close to home

According to the British Pipe Organ Register, locally, the firm built the organ for St Gabriel’s (date unknown), Heaton Methodist Church (1910) and Heaton Congregational Church (1920).

The transport costs to Heaton Congregational Church must have been among the lowest for any Blackett and Howden organ: the church (now Heaton Bingo) was only a few hundred yards from the factory. Unfortunately, we don’t know what happened to this organ: it doesn’t appear on the current National Pipe Organ Register.

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Heaton Congregational Church’s Blackett and Howden organ was installed in 1920

 

There is some confusion regarding the St Gabriel’s organ. According to the British Pipe Organ Register, organ N04082 was surveyed in St Gabriel’s in 1944 and described as ‘built by Blackett and Howden (date unknown)’. According to the opening sentence of a report written in 1994 by Paul Ritchie: ‘The builders of St Gabriel’s organ would appear to be modest as there is no name plate on the console, nor do the bellow weights carry their initial letters’. Ritchie goes on to say: ‘Somewhere in the back of my memory is a little voice saying Abbott and Smith’. And indeed there is another entry in the register for St Gabriel’s: organ N12464 ‘built by Abbott and Smith in 1905; surveyed in 1980′. Another unsigned and undated report states that Blackett and Howden installed an exhaust-pneumatic action around 1920 and that, at the same time, tuba and pedal trombone were added ‘and the Great Organ gained a large Open Diapason with leathered upper lips. This latter stop was placed on a separate unit chest and was reported to be rather poor; it was removed by Willis in 1963′.

But there are no such doubts about the instrument in Heaton Methodist Church. It was inaugurated on Wednesday 4 May 1910: ‘there were recitals from 2.30pm, followed by a public tea. Special services took place on the next three Sundays and a concert took place on Monday 23rd May.’ And it’s is still going strong.

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Heaton Methodist Church organ

A celebratory concert was held in 2010 to celebrate the centenary of its installation and the programme included a short history of both the organ and of Blackett and Howden itself.

Organ Centenary Concert - Programme

Heaton Methodist Church organ centenary programme

 

Military march

But perhaps the most famous Blackett and Howden organ still played today is in the Royal Memorial Chapel of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, which was built in 1924. The instrument is described in the history of the organ as ‘for its time, fairly cutting edge technology’ with ‘pioneering use of tubular pneumatic action’. After the war, the architect Sir Hugh Casson designed a new organ case for the instrument above the chapel’s main war memorial. At this point the organ was rebuilt and enlarged but using a lot of the original pipework.

 Rescue

Sadly many Blackett and Howden organs have been destroyed over the years but that originally built for the Prince’s Theatre in North Shields was fortuitously rescued by an Australian enthusiast. Apparently this was the only unit theatre organ ever built by the firm (in 1929) and its console was displayed at the North East Trade Fair Exhibition.

Records show that the flue pipes were ‘voiced’ by Syd Goldsmith and the reeds and strings by Frank ‘Hubbert‘ (although we believe this to be Frank Hubbard who in 1911 was living on Tosson Terrace, Heaton). The skill of manipulating an organ pipe to make it sound is known as voicing: ‘Each pipe must be made to play with the proper onset of sound (known as speech), sustained tone, and volume. When the voicing process is complete, each individual pipe in the organ forms a beautiful musical instrument.’

According to locals, the Prince’s Theatre organ had ‘a beautiful tone with sweet voicing and ample power for the large house.’ Although its console was destroyed in 1969, its chamber contents were bought for £75 by the Organ Society of Australia.  They even obtained the original receipt!

BlackettandHowdenReceiptPrince'sTheatre

Blackett and Howden document

In 1975, it was installed in Cinema North in Reservoir, Victoria. In 1999, it was moved to Coburg Town Hall, also in Victoria. You can read the full story of  this wonderful instrument here:

Eastward ho

We have found a record showing that, on 16 January 1917, William Blackett sailed from London to Hong Kong on the Japanese ship, SS Fushimi Maru. It was a dangerous time to be at sea: over 200 allied ships were lost during January 1917 alone. But it shows that Blackett and Howden’s reputation was worldwide. As you can see below, most of Blackett’s fellow British passengers were missionaries or nurses.

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Fushima Maru passenger list including William Blackett

The organ of St John’s Cathedral in Hong Kong was built by William Blackett ‘an elderly, bearded gentleman’ who ‘had come to the colony to install one of their organs in a church in the colony. Finding the climate congenial, he decided to stay and set up a small organ factory in the city. He recruited a group of Chinese and taught them the trade’.

Full renewal of the existing organ was priced at $14,000 but fundraising was suspended because of what was called ‘troublous times’ in 1925: a strike and anti-British boycott ignited by a deadly shooting during a strike in Shanghai, fuelled to fever pitch by British and French guards killing demonstrators in Canton. Nevetheless the organ was complete by 1927 and services, in which the organ could be heard, broadcast on the radio the same year.

Sale

Meanwhile back home, Blackett and Howden was sold to the London firm of Hill, Norman and Beard in 1924. At this time, John Christie of Glyndebourne became the major shareholder and Charles Howden became general manager with Ralph Walton Blackett, William’s son, sub-manager.

But on 25 September 1927, with William Blackett still in Hong Kong, Charles Howden died at the age of 62 at his home, 35 Rothbury Terrace. He left £1873 3s 3d in his will, a modest sum considering the success of the company he had co-founded more than thirty years earlier.

Blackett and Howden’s name continued to be used, however. It traded from its Grafton Street premises for another half century. The Heaton factory finally closed in 1974, when the remaining part of the business was purchased by N Church & Co.

Team effort

William Blackett and Charles Howden did not, of course, build their organs alone.

Hopefully this article will enable us to trace people employed in the factory in later years. In the meantime, it seems appropriate to pay tribute here to some of the workers listed in the 1911 census whose reputation and, in some cases, expertly crafted musical instruments live on more than a hundred years after they were made.

One of these was Terrot G Myles who, in 1911, was 30 years old. He lived at 149 Molyneux Street.

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Terrot G Myles

Terrot is described in the census as an ‘organ builder‘. Thanks to his granddaughter, Grace, we have  photographs of him and know quite a lot about his life. Terrot was born in Glasgow but moved to Edinburgh as a young boy. After leaving school, he was apprenticed to Ingram & Co, a firm of organ builders, in their Edinburgh factory and progressed to become a journeyman. The firm described him as ‘smart, willing and punctual’ and recommended him to future employers. In 1908, Scovell and Company called him ‘a most conscientious and painstaking worker, perfectly steady and reliable and a good all round man’. His reference made it clear that he was leaving the company only due to ‘depression of trade’ and they expressed a hope that he would return at some future date.

By this time though Terrot had already married Isabella Younger, a bookbinder from Sunderland. Their elder son, Richard, was born in Hampshire in 1908 but by 1911, they were in Newcastle, where, a year later, their younger son, John was born. We can only guess that while in Heaton and working as an organ builder, Terrot was employed by Blackett and Howden but it seems a fair assumption to make.

However, in 1923, the family set sail from Liverpool to New York in search of a better life. Terrot spent the next eight years working for Henry Pilcher’s Sons, an organ builder, in Louisville, Kentucky. He became a naturalised American the following year and spent his career building and installing organs all over the USA. He received and treasured many glowing references, which Grace still has. Terrot and Isabella eventually moved to White Lake, Michigan, where Isabella died in 1954 and Terrot a year later, aged 73 years.

Others listed in the 1911 census include:

William Blackett, aged 52, 13 Brough Street, Heaton Joiner in Organ Factory (We don’t know whether he was related in any way to the firm’s co-founder, William Blackett, who lived in Whitley Bay at this time)

Charles Brassington, aged 31, 26 Heaton Park Road, organ builder

John Wastle Craig, aged 14, 15 Tynemouth Rd, organ builder assistance

William Gill, aged 54, 13 Addison Street, organ builder, voicer, tuner

Thomas Miller Hendry, aged 23, 39 Langhorn St, organ builder

Frank Hubbard, 83 Tosson Terrace, organ voicer (*Almost certainly the Frank ‘Hubbert’ who voiced the North Shields organ. See above.)

James William Jobson, aged 50, 10 North View, organ builder

John Jobson, aged 16, 10 North View, apprentice organ builder

John George Millington, aged 34, 188 Warton Terrace, organ builder (Later lived in King John Terrace until his death in 1962)

John Matthew Mitchell, aged 63, 72 Addycombe Terrace, organ builder

John Henry Reed, aged 22, 80 Eighth Avenue, organ builder

Ernest Routledge, aged 22, 57 Malcolm Street,  organ pipe maker (Ernest died in 1918 aged 29 as did his 2 year old son, Roland)

Whenever you listen to organ music this Christmas, spare a thought for these Heaton master-craftsmen and the lasting joy they have brought to the world.

Can you help?

If you know more about any of the people or organs mentioned in this article or of anyone who worked at Blackett and Howden’s, we’d love to hear from you. We’d also be interested to hear and see photographs of any other Blackett and Howden organs you see on your travels. Please either leave a reply on this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or email   chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Chris Jackson, Heaton History Group. Thank you to HHG member, Joyce Lovell, and to George Cottrell for information about Heaton Methodist Church organ; to Pauline Giles for information about St Gabriel’s organ;  to Grace Myles for photos and information on Terrot Myles.

Sources

Biographical Dictionary of the Organ

Laurence Elvin ‘Family Enterprise: the story of some north country organ builders‘ 1986

Norman F Moore and W Kirby Robinson ‘From Byker to Heaton: the origins and history of Heaton Methodist Church’ Pattinson, 2000

 National Pipe Organ Register list of Blackett and Howden organs 

James Ingall Wedgwood ‘A Comprehensive Dictionary of Organ Stops English and Foreign, Ancient and Modern’ The Vincent Music company, 1905 (via Wikipedia entry for Diaphone)

Stuart Wolfendale ‘Imperial to International: a history of St John’s Cathedral Hong Kong’ Hong Kong University Press, 2013

and online sources eg Ancestry

Through Byker to Baikal – and back

This October marks the centenary of the Russian revolution, so it feels like an appropriate time to explore the two-way links between Russia and Heaton that predate that landmark in world history.

Russianflagresized

Heaton is much changed over the last 150 years, of course, and has experienced two world wars but the account below gives just a hint of how much Eastern Europe has changed and endured during  the same period, with many of Heaton’s ‘Russian’ links being with what we now know as Ukraine, Poland, Latvia and Lithuania and the Soviet Union having come and gone.

 From Russia for Love

In 1911, just three years before the outbreak of WW1 and the subsequent overthrow of the Russian royal family and civil war, there were at least fifteen people in Heaton who were recorded on the census as having been born in what was then Russia. We have already written about Joseph Rose, a Jewish slipper maker, born in what is now Latvia. In 1911, he had already been here for over 30 years, and like many of our other Russian Heatonians, he seems to have integrated quickly: he married Margaret, a local woman, brought up children, at least one of which fought for Britain in WW1, and succeeded in business here. Their children having grown up, the Roses had, by 1911, downsized from their family home on Stratford Grove to a smaller property on Warwick Street. Read more here.

There were other Russian Jews in Heaton who had similar backgrounds and trades to Joseph, such as Cyril Finn ( Many Jewish immigrants to the UK anglicised their names), a widower, who lived with his daughter Golda and son, Israel (known as Frederick), a travelling draper. In 1911, they all lived at 17 First Avenue.

And tailor, Harry Freeman, aged 39, by now a naturalised Briton, living at 19 Eversley Place with his Leeds born wife and Newcastle born children. Henry Beyer, another Russian-born tailor, lived at 4 Mowbray Street. As now, many migrants were prepared to travel great distances to flee persecution or at least the severe economic hardship caused by prejudice and distrust.

In wartime, in particular, foreigners here too were often the object of suspicion and on 29 February 1916, it was reported in the press that  another tailor, Henry Ninian (aged 53) and Esther, his wife, of 86 Meldon Terrace, had pleaded guilty to having, as aliens, resided in a prohibited area of Newcastle and failed to furnish the Chief Constable with particulars of their registration. In his defence, Henry claimed that until three weeks previously, he had believed he had been born in Leeds, at which time a brother in Sunderland told him he originated from Plotkis in Russia. He said his wife had been born in Britain but had acquired his nationality on marriage. He was remanded on bail for a week but stayed in Newcastle until his death ten years later.

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Extract from 1901 census

Over a century later, we have access to evidence not available to the Chief Constable or the press and can reveal that the accused was actually Henry Niman of 86 Meldon Terrace. While in 1911, he wrote on his census form that he’d been born in Leeds, back in 1901 he’d told the enumerator that he was a Russian from Poland. Unless, he’d forgotten this in the intervening decade, we can now proclaim him to be ‘guilty as charged‘!

 Passing through

Some migrants didn’t stay long in Heaton. Perhaps the most successful of Heaton Russian Jews was Joseph Cohen, who with his wife, Henrietta, also born in ‘Russian Poland’ (now Lithuania) was living at Denehurst on Jesmond Park East. The fact that their two elder children were born in Dublin suggests a circuitous route to the North East and the family soon moved on again to London. Joseph was a furniture dealer while in Newcastle and he later founded the Cavendish Woodhouse chain of furniture stores that some readers may remember.

One of the Cohens’ five children, Sybil Elsie, aged five in 1911, went on to become Lady Janner and to have a prominent role in the Jewish community and in British public life generally. Her younger sister, Edith Vera, also had a successful career, as one of Britain’s first female barristers and was also, it seems, a talented sports all-rounder. Read more here  but note that her place of birth is recorded in the census as Newcastle not London. Let’s take some credit now for her formative years!

One of the earliest Russians known  to have lived in Heaton was Theosophillus Horchover, born in Odessa but living here just two years later in 1881. He was a son of  Bernard, a commerce agent from Constantinople, Turkey, and Evelina, his Plymouth-born wife. Theo had an older brother born in Constantinople and a younger one born in Newcastle. We can only speculate about what caused the family to travel so far away from home to rest for a while at 101 Addison Road. But Theo and his family’s journey had still  not ended. By 1891, they were in Leith in Scotland and by 1910,  had emigrated to the USA where they eventually settled, in Washington.

And even before Theosophillus, came Emma Laube, who was born in Kulm in Russia. In 1871, aged 37, she was living at the house known as Heaton Dean, which was actually in what we’d now call Jesmond but we’ll count it because of its name. She was working as a governess to the children of Sir Andrew Noble, the physicist who became Sir William Armstrong’s ballistics expert, and his wife, Marjorie. So Emma is the earliest Russian connection with Heaton we have found – imagine her journey here in the mid nineteenth century. We don’t know what happened to her.  Perhaps someone can help?

East of Heaton

But there was another type of Russian-born Heatonian evident in the 1911 records,  children of British citizens, who happened to be born while their parents were living in Russia. It wasn’t unusual during the nineteenth century and even before that for Tynesiders to be sent abroad by their employers to help with mining, engineering or building projects.

A good example is the completion of the Trans-Siberian Railway, a formidable engineering challenge. A track had been built across Russia and by 1895 the only problem was how to navigate the huge expanse of Lake Baikal in Siberia. The original solution was an icebreaker ferry onto which trains, goods and passengers could be all loaded to meet up with the track on the other side of the lake. Where were the engineering skills to build such a mighty vessel? Why, Newcastle, of course.

The Russian government ordered a steel ship, to be known as SS Baikal, to be built in Walker by Sir W G Armstrong, Mitchell & Company, then to be disassembled and transported to and across Russia in thousands of pieces and rebuilt on the lake shore. Then, of course, they needed Geordie expertise to help put it back together again. In August 1897, Armstrong’s Chief Constructor,  Andrew Douie, travelled by train to Krasnoyarsk and then made the final 700 mile trek by horse-drawn carriage. More Tyneside men followed. You can read more here  The photograph below shows Andrew Moore of Walkergate, a supervisor, but surely there were Heaton men among them too.

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Andrew Moore who travelled to Lake Baikal in Siberia in 1898

Certainly there were many other examples of international travel between Heaton and Russia in the second half of the nineteenth century.

Although of British parentage, Alfred Yates and  sister, Beatrice, were both born in Ekaterinburg, which is across the Urals, over a thousand miles East of Moscow. But by 1911, aged 17 and eight, they were living with their uncle, William Glover, a Congregational minister, and his wife, Annie at 48 Rothbury Terrace.

Ekaterinburg is now  known as Yekaterinburg. It is the city to which, following the October Revolution,  Tsar Nicholas II, his wife, Alexandra and their children were exiled and, on 17 July 1918, executed. At the moment, we can only speculate about what took Alfred and Beatrice’s father, Walter, there and what happened to him and his wife but Yekaterinburg is an industrial city with a heavy engineering base and another important junction on the Trans-Siberian Railway. So maybe therein lies a clue.

Jane Seivwright was the daughter of John Ingram, a Scottish stone dresser and his wife, Margaret, who were briefly in Ukraine around the time of his daughter’s birth in about 1881. The family soon returned to Scotland but, by 1911, Jane, now married, was living at Trewhitt Road, with her 3 young children. Jane’s mother too was by this time living in Heaton – on Eighth Avenue, But on 30 March the following year, Jane and the children boarded the SS Columbia from Glasgow to New York. We know from the ship’s records that Jane was bound for Schenectady in New York State. It’s likely that her husband had gone out before her and had found a job and place for the family to live. Certainly, In 1930, Jane and her husband, Alexander, a plasterer, were still living there.

One Way Ticket

But perhaps the most remarkable link between Heaton and Russia was Elrington Reed Lax. He was born in March 1840, the son of Annie and her husband William Lax, a middle class tenant farmer, then farming at ‘Bird’s Nest‘ in Byker. By 1861, the Laxes were farming at East Heaton and, aged 21, Elrington was living at home with his parents and four sisters, Anne, Isabella, Fanny and Henrietta. The farmhouse was situated across the railway line from Rothbury Terrace, where Walkergate Hospital, Allotments and Benfield Business Park are now but the farm itself straddled the railway line into the area we now know as North Heaton bungalows and Iris Brickfield park. You can see it, as it looked then,  on the right hand side of the map below. Fields 24-40A were part of East Heaton Farm.

Heatonfarms1861

East Heaton and Heaton Town farms, 1861

Ten years later, Elrington had left home to board in Jesmond while working as an iron trader and within a few years was to make a life-changing decision which took him much further from Heaton, never to return.

An opportunity arose to take part in the expansion of a small settlement called Alexandrovka in the Crimea which still celebrates the role of the original settlers, led by Welshman, John Hughes, a Merthyr Tydfil born engineer and entrepreneur, who were instrumental in turning it into a thriving city. In 1869, Hughes was a director of the Millwall Engineering and Shipbuilding Company when it won an order from the Tsar of Russia for the plating of a naval fortress at Kronstadt on the Black Sea. So Hughes set sail with eight shiploads of equipment and specialist workers, mainly from South Wales. They built a metallurgical and rail factory and soon needed more skilled workers, one of whom was Elrington Lax. Hughes made sure his migrant workers felt at home: he built a hospital, schools, bathhouses, tea rooms and a church dedicated to St George and St David.

Elrington, like many of the British migrant workers, stayed. His four children were born there between 1877 and 1889. And the settlement went from strength to strength. It was soon named Yuzovska (or Hughesovska) after its founder. Elrington spent the rest of his life in Crimea, dying in Yalta in 1903. Yuzovska continued to grow, being awarded city status in 1917.

We are lucky to know a little about Elrington’s eldest son, also called Elrington Reed Lax, This obituary in the 1938 Proceedings of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers gives us just a flavour of his eventful life. After being educated in St Petersburg and England, he returned to Russia and then came back to England to gain more work experience in Manchester before returning to Crimea, where he set up his own business. When his property was confiscated following the revolution, he acted as an interpreter and intelligence officer with the rank of Acting Sergeant (Middlesex Regiment) to the North Russian Expeditionary Force in Arctic Russia before returning to Britain. Like most other British settlers and their descendants, his siblings also returned home around this time.

The name of the settlement first known as Alexandrovka and then, as it expanded,  Hughesovska / Yuzovka,  has changed a number of times since, reflecting the complex and difficult history of the region. It was possibly called Trotsk briefly in 1923,  changed to Stalin in 1924 and then became Stalino in 1930-31. The city was almost completely destroyed by the Germans in WW2 and rebuilt afterwards by what we might now call slave labour from Hungary, Romania and Yugoslavia before, in 1961, being renamed Donetsk and in 1991 becoming part of the newly independent Ukraine. Today we often hear about the city being the centre of bitter and violent struggles between Ukrainian and Russian factions as well, more happily, for the exploits of its famous football team, Shaktar Donetsk, who currently have to play far from home in Kharkiv.

Despite its troubled past and present, a statue to John Hughes can still be seen in the city. Here we also remember the role of a Heaton farmer’s son in its development, one of many intrepid voyagers from our neighbourhood to have made epic journeys from east to west or vice versa.

Other Russians known to have lived in Heaton pre WW1

Esther born c1875 and Rebecca GLASS born c 1851 –  162 Mowbray Street (1911 census)

Margaret D HERON born c1868 – 38 Bolingbroke Street (1901 census)

Alexander A JOHNSON, Consulting Marine Engineer born c1860 – 194 Heaton Road (1901 census)

Nicholas MARKIEWICH (?), Fitter born c1888 – 68 Falmouth Road (1911 census)

Norman MARKSON, Tailor  born c1861 – 23 Cheltenham Terrace (1901 census)

Alexander SLIUFKO Draper born c1875 – 46 Chillingham Road (1901 census)

Alfred SMITH, Boiler Plater, born c1873  – 98 Addison Road (1891 census)

Valdemar A TARNKE, Electrical Engineer born c1890 –  82 Rothbury Terrace (1911 census)

George (Painter, born c1846), Jane (born c 1846), Levi (Painter, born c1879) and Annie (born c 1889) TREGON – 10 Stratford Road  (1901 census)

John (Steam Engine Fitter born c 1873) and Vera TULIP (born c1897), 24 Charles Street (1901 census)

Nathan (Draper born c1880) and Leah (born c 1881) WILSON – 34 Eighth Avenue (1901 census)

Can you help?

If you know more about any of the people or events mentioned in this article or have photos to share, we’d love to hear from you. We’d also like to hear about more recent migrants who have travelled in either direction between Heaton and Russia and Eastern Europe. Please get in touch either by clicking on the link immediately below the title of this article or by emailing chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Acknowledgements

This article was written and researched by Chris Jackson, Heaton History Group. Thank you to Brian Moore for the information about SS Baikal and the photograph of Andrew Moore.y

 

 

 

Memories of Eighth Avenue

Reading Eric Dale’s series of articles in growing up in the Heaton’s Avenues was all the motivation one of our readers, Jean Sowrey, needed to put pen to paper. Here are her memories:

I was born Jean Rudd in 1936 In the front room of a two bed roomed flat in  Eighth  Avenue. I think a Dr Bell was in attendance and a midwife called Jean. For years to come we’d see midwife Jean around Heaton,  Mam continually reminding me that she was the reason for my name Jean.  At that time Dad was a postman and I had an elder sister, Margaret, who was 22 months old.

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Eighth Avenue

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Jean and Dorothy Rudd on the front step of their home in Eighth Avenue

Apart from the two bedrooms, our flat had a sitting room with a black leaded fireplace and the scullery with sink, gas cooker and a gas boiler  No hot water so kettle boiled  frequently and gas boiler used on Mondays (wash day) and for filling the tin bath. Latter used placed in front of the fire. Outside was the back yard where the mangle was stored  and also the toilet, no toilet paper only newspaper squares.  Washing was hung on a line  in the  back lane.

I think women had a hard life in the 1940s. Mam having to do all the  house work: black leading the fire place, doing the washing with a poss stick, plus shopping etc.  She also did a lot  of cooking. A pretty regular daily menu, Mondays always being Sunday’s leftovers .Occasionally we had jelly having been left  to set covered outside on a window sill. Having an abundance of relatives, we frequently  had Sunday afternoon callers –  the treasured tin of salmon opened.

Wartime

In 1939 Second World War started a month before my third Birthday. Margaret, my elder sister, was just about to start school. Alas Chillingham Road School had a glass roof  so  children were sent to North Heaton School. (Not sure if it was only the infant school?) .  More work for Mam having to arrange blackout curtains etc.  Dad in a reserved occupation didn’t need to enlist for military service but did so in 1941, joining the army Maritime Service as a Gunner. Previously from a young age,  he’d  served with the Royal  Scots Fusiliers, giving it upon  marriage.

In 1940 my sister Dorothy was born, our maternal grandmother, Frances Stephenson  having died a week before. She was buried in Heaton Cemetery.  The last of one of our grandparents

1941 and Dad went off to do military service. Women being required to work during the war, Mam started work at a chemists on Heaton Road, owners Mr and Mrs Bartle. They were excellent employers allowing Mam to take our younger sister Dorothy. How Dorothy occupied herself goodness knows!

EighthAvenueRudds0001 (2)

Margaret, Dorothy and Jean Rudd with their mother taken at James Riddell, Chillingham Road c1943-4

046772:Chillingham Road Heaton City Engineers 1979

Who remembers Riddell’s, the photographer?

School years

That year I joined Margaret at Chillingham Road  School. Memories are vague now  although I do recall a teacher Mrs Whitehouse  who absolutely terrified me and others.  She used a belt to reprimand pupils. One incident I recall was when she used it on   Cynthia Jackson, a girl  who wore a calliper on her leg. Fortunately it never happened to me, a rather mild child! One memory I have is when we celebrated Empire Day, marching around the Union flag. Another memory is Air Raid Drill. Going to the air raid shelter where we sang  songs:  ‘Ten Green Bottles Hanging On The Wall’ and many more.  If you were clever were top of the class you received a medal. Later my brainy young  sister Dorothy was frequently a recipient. Some pupil names I recall are my best friend Dorothy Rogers who also had a sister, Margaret;  Brenda Parker, Sheila Raine, John and Elisabeth Crowe, Gordon Winn, Dorothy Emily, Olga Hedley and, of course, Eighth Avenue children.

In Eighth Avenue my close playmates were Betty Kibble, Sheila Muir, Kathleen Flanagan, Freda Patterson, Joan Robinson, Eric Dale and  Harold Charlton. Other children in the street were Moira and Brian Law, Teddy Masterson, Alan  & David Hinkley, the Nicholson brothers, Ernest Wray, Lucy Aspinall, Joyce Munster. We played outdoors most of the time, hopscotch etc – and skipping ropes for the girls.

At home we spent a lot of time listening to the radio. Sunday lunch time ardently listening to ‘Two –Way Family Favourites‘ with Jean Metcalfe and Cliff Michelmore –  a programme for families and members of the armed forces – Dad even sent us a message.  Other indoor activities included knitting and letter-writing to Dad. My two sisters and I took piano lessons and the teacher would drop the shilling into a milk bottle: she also gave me dancing and elocution lessons gratis as she liked me. We also went to Heaton Swimming Baths and the library, and did a lot of walking to Jesmond Dene and Heaton Park, where I also played tennis. Occasionally we went to the cinema – The Scala and the Lyric.

Scala cinema Chillingham Road

Scala Cinema, Chillingham Road (where Tesco is now)

During air raids we would go across the road to the Taylor family air raid shelter. The camaraderie of Eighth Avenue neighbours was incredible. I  believe their daughter, Lily, was serving as a  Land Girl. The air raid I still recall was when Guildford Place  was bombed and totally devastated. We felt the blast too, though luckily only windows shattered. That particular night Mam had taken Margaret and myself to the Taylors’ shelter. Baby Dorothy (5 months) sleeping peacefully in her cot, Mam decided  unusually to leave her at home. Fortunately Dorothy survived unscathed even though glass was all around.                                                                                                                         .

At the end of Junior School girls had to go to North Heaton School whereas the boys went into senior school. A bit unfair really as we were about to sit the 11 plus exam which meant some of us were only there one year. Margaret and I passed for Middle Street Commercial School  For Girls. Young sister Dorothy eventually went to Central Newcastle High School For Girls.

Dad didn’t come home in 1945 as he’d been involved in an accident in an army lorry in Greenock and suffered a broken femur. He ended up spending two years  in Hexham General  Hospital. He had been torpedoed twice during the war, luckily rescued and survived. However war finished and he had his accident  whilst awaiting demob.  Finally home in 1947 with a serious limp, he couldn’t go back to his Heaton postman job but was given work at Orchard Street Sorting Office.

Being an ex-Army veteran  and because of Dad’s disability we were given a brand new council house at Longbenton  and in 1948 left Eighth Avenue, but the first 11 years will always remain with me.

Acknowledgements

Thank you, Jean, for taking the trouble to write down some of your Heaton memories. Fascinating both for your contemporaries and for those too young to remember the thirties and forties.

Can you help?

If you know anything else about any of the people mentioned in this article, please get in touch either by clicking on the link immediately below the title of this article or by emailing chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

We are always interested to receive information, memories and photos relevant to the history of Heaton.

Heaton at Play Part 1

In this his fourth piece, Eric Dale, who grew up in Eighth Avenue, Heaton from 1939 describes how Heaton children amused themselves in the 1940s and 50s:

Street games

‘Due to the complete absence of cars we were able to use the streets as playgrounds and there were always lots of of kids around to make up the numbers required for Tuggie, Tuggie-on-High, Hide and Seek and its variation (that we liked to think we’d invented): Kicky-the-tin. Then there was Mr Wolf, Football (and Headers), Cricket, Knocky-nine-doors, Hopscotch, Olympic Games, Mountakitty (known as Harra Levens only a few streets away), Chucks, Marbles and Tops and Whips. If we made too much noise, even during the day, we risked being shouted at. The sash window would slide up, a woman’s head would emerge and it would be ‘why divvent youz lot bugger off  t’the park, me man’s a’bed’ (on nightshift).

Once we graduated to riding bikes we used to organise races around the block without even considering there’d be any traffic hazards; such as buses on Second Avenue. It was certainly only down to good fortune that we escaped any such encounters. A popular hobby was collecting empty cigarette packets and it was quite a craze for a while, there being some quite exotic ones such as Du Maurier, Abdulla, Passing Clouds, Kensitas and State Express. The cardboard these were made from was also useful for jamming against our cycle spokes. To our ears this made a very authentic ‘motorcycle’ sound as the wheel turned so we would then take the machines to rough ground nearby to play speedway.

Our street also claimed to have invented ‘clay boilers’ but the idea was probably handed down. They were about the size and shape of a present-day pack of butter but were hollow and made from slabs of clay dug out from the sand-pit in the park or from the brickyard at the bottom of Rothbury Terrace. There were several variants but the one I remember had a lid covering the top from the back to about two-thirds of the box length. Through the back of the box a half-inch hole was made. The idea was to stuff the box with rags, set them alight then extinguish the flames so that only the glow remained. Then holding it in one hand at about head height the idea was to run so that plumes of dense smoke spilled out from the hole. Innocent fun from our point of view but how come we always had matches?

Speaking of matches the father of one of our number had a painting and decorating business so we were able to make up what we called fire-raiser from all the inflammable odds and ends such as turpentine, linseed oil and paraffin. Our favourite spot for experimenting with this highly volatile mixture was the ‘waste-land’ at the Coast Road/Chillingham Road corner. It was there on more than one occasion that having set the surrounding grassland on fire we almost lost control of the result, only just in time subduing the flames whilst choking on the billowing smoke drifting across the carriageway. Not at any point in the proceeding were we ever warned off by nearby residents or passers-by. And we were never troubled by police. Kids who indulged in that activity today would rightly be branded as arsonists and be up before a magistrate.

A rather more innocent (but rather strange) pastime was to buy lengths of multi-coloured electric cable, strip out the copper then cut the plastic outer into lengths of about half an inch, place one of these on an ordinary pin so that it stopped against the pinhead. The next move was to stick the pin through another pre-cut length of plastic, slide that up to meet the ‘handle’ and voila! you had a miniature sword. These were pinned onto jacket lapels for no other purpose than for decoration.

Hardly qualifying under the heading of ‘Games’ our curiosity about cigarette smoking got the better of a few of us during a short period at the end of the forties. It sounds horrendous now but we trawled around picking up discarded ciggy ends and when enough were collected extracted the usable tobacco and made smoking roll-ups with Rizla papers and a little machine. Thankfully this activity put me right off smoking for ever after.

Armed and Dangerous

We were so lucky as urban kids having access to open spaces just minutes away from our homes, all without even having to resort to the any of the modes of transport mentioned above. And didn’t we take full advantage of them all?

Heaton Park, Armstrong Park, Jesmond Vale, Paddy Freeman’s and Jesmond Dene were our natural habitat all year round. Anyone remember the sandpit at the old windmill? In my day this was a sizeable lake populated by thousands of frogs in the spring.

 

Old Windmill

Heaton Windmill, 1977 (Copyright:Eric Dale)

 

We virtually ran wild in those days and were always being chased by the Parky for some misdemeanour or another.

 

The Parky's House

‘The Parky’s House’, Armstrong Bridge, 1977 (Copyright: Eric Dale)

 

One summer the Parky Wars were stepped up a notch or two when much younger, fitter men wearing sand-shoes (the ultimate in speedy footwear) were employed to run down any miscreants. I am happy to report that we managed always to escape their clutches, though can’t exactly remember what it was we were doing that we ought not to have been. Might it have been hacking y-shaped branches from small trees and shrubs in order to make catapults? Most of us carried a knife of one sort or another; it being commonplace to see boys with a long-bladed edition strapped to their belt in a scabbard. We also went in for water-pistols, pea-shooters, bows and arrows and sometime even spears! We played war games in the more densely wooded areas (‘dadadadadada…got ye, Brian!’) in summer, with pretend guns made from sticks, and in winter it was snowball fights and sledging.’

(To be continued)

Acknowledgements

A big thank you to Eric Dale for his photos and memories. We’ll be featuring more in the near future.

Can you help?

We hope that you will add to what we know about how children played in the Avenues and Heaton generally. Either post your comments direct to this site by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or email chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org. It would be fantastic to find some more old photos.

 

Heaton Schooldays in the 40s and 50s

In this, his third piece, Eric Dale, who lived in Eighth Avenue Heaton from 1939, remembers his schooldays:

Primary School

‘I attended Chillingham Road School from 1942 until 1949. My form teacher was Miss Whitehouse who I mainly remember for wearing a long white warehouse coat and slamming the desk lid whenever she needed to get our attention.

 

Chillingham Road School

Chillingham Road School (1960s?)

 

 

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Chillingham Road School, 1994 (Copyright: Eric Dale)

 

Whilst in the mixed gender juniors, I had a distant schoolboy crush on two girls: Mary Hunter and Pat Dent. The latter lived on Rothbury Terrace. I’m sure that at no time had they any idea of my interest, which wasn’t surprising considering that I was too shy to speak to either of them.

 Mr Sturdy was the headmaster of the seniors who remarked when sent a note from my father excluding me from the imposition of homework that ‘well, we’ll certainly know who to blame when you flunk the eleven-plus’!

 

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Chillingham Road School interior (undated)

 

School-yard games included (for those of us who wore boots protected with metal studs to save shoe leather; and that was most of us) being hauled by a long column of boys around the smooth concrete, sliding at great speed whilst on hunkers. This generated a great many sparks and had the added advantage of warming the feet! In winter we looked forward to snow and ice so that we could create long glassy slides in the yard.

Swaps

Those were the days of door-to-door milk deliveries and each dairy throughout Britain printed their identity and town of origin onto the cardboard lid or top. We used to collect these and carry them around on long strings. Some of the more exotic ones, for example from the south of England became much sought-after and were used as ‘currency‘ or for swaps. A game developed pitching or skimming them in turns against a wall; the opponents top being lost if overlapped. We also played marbles (three-hole-killer) in the school gardens. Very serious this. Highly prized marbles were lost!

The Grammar

In 1949 I began attending Heaton Grammar School in form 1c and stayed at ‘c’ level until the fourth year when I became a ‘d’, not exclusively due to my own lack of application. My form teacher was Mr Whitehead. F R Barnes was headmaster. Teachers I remember from my time there: Clapperton, Hutton, Nicholson, Rowell, Bambrough, Waldron, Walker, Friend, Taylor, Henderson, (Adolf!), Simpson (Satan!), Quickfall, Tansley, Tunnicliffe, John Healey (a brilliant musician who used to play us out at assembly with Mozart). However, his influence wasn’t strong enough to dissuade us from singing the following at the Christmas service:    

‘We three kings of Water-logged Spa are selling toffee threepence a bar; matches tenpence,          Fags elevenpence, that’s what the prices are. Ohhhhhoooo…….star of wonder…etc.’

Well, what’s school for if you can’t have fun? We were kept well apart from the girls next door to the absurd extent that when every year we staged a Gilbert and Sullivan musical we were obliged to play all the female roles ourselves. How barmy was that!

Dinner-time

Money was received from parents for school dinners, not all of which was spent as intended. Most days we conformed, sat down with everyone else and noshed our way through the usual meat and two veg menu with the likes of frogspawn or concrete ie tapioca and a half-inch thick rectangle about three inches square made from two layers of rock-hard pastry between which a thin layer of an apology for jam resided. So, in search of something more palatable we came up with three taste-bud tickling options from which to choose:

1. Buy and eat a Walls Family Brick (yes, I know!) from the ice-cream van always parked outside the school gates.

2. Run pell-mell up to the baker’s on Newton Road and try to be first there for the best choice of yesterday’s cakes at one penny each.

3. Newton Road again but this time to buy a small loaf, scoop out the middle and eat that, then fill
the cavity with chips, salt and vinegar. Approval rating ‘Edgy!’ or better still ‘Darza!’

I’ve seen our local kids committing the same food crimes at lunch-time and many seem to be quite a bit heavier than we were at the same age. Maybe the crucial difference is that sixty-five years ago we ran around a lot more and burned the extra calories off.  Maybe we need to reintroduce food rationing.

Despite a much less than laudable academic record my memories of the school are very fond indeed and I was more than sad when I heard of its demolition. Especially as it was only built as recently as 1928, so wasn’t exactly ancient. Admittedly it was draughty and the wind would regularly sweep the rain across the linking corridors surrounding the quad which must have contributed massively to the heating bills. But it had character and presence, which is more than can be said of many more ‘efficient’ buildings today.’

Acknowledgments

Thank you to Eric Dale. We’ll be including more of his memories of growing up in Heaton shortly.

Can you help?

If you have memories or photographs of your Heaton schooldays, please either post them directly to this site by clicking on the link underneath the article title or email them to chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Our home in Eighth Avenue (Heaton in the 40s and 50s Part 1)

We love to hear the memories of older Heatonians, past and present, so were delighted to receive an email from Eric Dale. Eric was born in 1937 and in about 1939 moved with his family from Corbridge Street, Byker to Eighth Avenue in Heaton. He had a career in typography and copywriting in both Newcastle and Edinburgh before becoming graphic design manager for Northumberland National Park in Hexham. He now lives near Kelso in the Scottish Borders but has vivid memories of growing up in Heaton.

We will publish Eric’s memories in a series of articles over the coming months. The first one concerns his childhood home in Eighth Avenue during and immediately following the Second World War. It is interesting to compare Eric’s recollections, not only with our experiences today, but also with those of Jack Common, born just around the corner in Third Avenue 34 years before Eric, and who, in ‘Kiddar’s Luck’, wrote about growing up in the years leading to and during the First World War:

Our house

We lived in a rented downstairs flat on Eighth Avenue.

 

eighthavenue70-rlced

Postcard of Eighth Avenue (looking towards Second Avenue) from the collection of Hilary Bray (nee Bates)

 

From the front door there was a small lobby to a glass door then a short passage to the living room. On the right of the corridor was the front bedroom. In the living room on the left was the ‘gas cupboard’ which was under the stairs leading up to next door’s flat. A door on the right of the living room led to the back bedroom. Continuing straight through the living room led to the scullery with a door on the right giving access to the backyard which housed the toilet (torn up strips of newspaper for ‘toilet paper’) and coal house.

When I was very young, lighting was provided by gas mantles. There was no heating except that provided by the fire in the living-room. Both bedrooms had fireplaces but fires were rarely lit. For many years we took baths in a galvanised metal bath placed in front of the living room fire which was set in the then commonplace black iron surround with a built-in oven and a hob for the kettle. As far as I can remember hot water was provided by means of a back boiler. ‘Mod cons’ that we all take for granted now; central heating, double glazing, fridge, freezer, microwave oven, dishwasher, washing machine, vacuum cleaner, television, telephone and fitted carpets were, in several cases, decades away.

Front and back

The front street and back lane were cobbled. Wheeled traffic at the front was in the main generated by traders such as the milkman and his horse-drawn float and the Ringtons tea salesman or, less often, the knife sharpener with his half-barrow, half-cycle. Occasionally we were visited by the fisher ladies from Cullercoats offering ‘Caller-herrin’ and travelling people selling clothes pegs. I can also clearly remember that a man, presumably from the council or gas company, used to visit each gas lamp in the street at dusk, reach up with a long pole and set them aglow.

Back lane traffic consisted of the coal man’s cart (and later lorry), the dustbin men and rag and bone merchants with their carts who would offer balloons or a goldfish for ‘any old rags or woollens’. The coal man repeatedly mistimed his deliveries by arriving on a Monday, much to the annoyance of the housewives who were obliged to gather in their washing strung out across the width of the lane.

We also had a regular cycle of tramps, one of whom always wore a green-with-mould claw hammer coat and a filthy bowler hat (or was it a topper?). Anyway, it looked posh from a distance. He was fairly local as he rarely carried anything other than a small bag. We followed him a few times to see where he lived but he always shook us off somewhere near Byker tip. We named him Greasy Dutt. The other regular who may well have been a WW2 ex-serviceman carried a large kit bag, from the depths of which he would produce a wind-up gramophone and records for our entertainment. He was very polite and cheerful and, as far as I can remember, only ever asked for hot water for his tea.

In addition to the usual dustbins there were also food waste bins distributed in the back-lanes which were regularly collected and transported to pig farms to aid food production. We just called them ‘pig bins’. Whilst an essential waste reduction measure they were unfortunately also a highly productive breeding ground for flies of all kinds. My friend Brian higher up the street was enthusiastic about catching the back lane pigeons which were also numerous and attracted to food scraps of all kinds. The method was to form a noose with string, scatter breadcrumbs inside it, lead the string to the back door which he then hid behind, leaving it open a crack for observation. Then a quick yank on the string and….! I only saw it work on a couple of occasions. Once caught it was possible to sell the better specimens on at the regular Saturday pigeon fanciers gathering near the Green Market in Newcastle (I believe the asking price was 1/6d.); any others were simply released.

Mealtimes

Meals in the early years were basic and frugal and from ’42 for about ten years were constrained by the limitations imposed by rationing. I don’t remember a great deal about the war years except for spam, dried egg, dried milk, concentrated orange juice and generous gifts of apples from Canada, but once dad had returned and a wage was coming in again things began to look up in food terms.

Main meals were taken at ‘dinner time’ (midday) and dad who worked on Raby Street, Byker would always cycle home for his. Monday was ‘cad warmed up’ as, being washing day, mam had only the time to fry up the leftovers from Sunday which was the most eagerly anticipated meal of the week. Not lavish mind you, but we did stretch to a bottle of Tizer or even ice cream soda if we felt flush!

Even Sunday breakfast was different, with fried bread and black puddin’ being regularly on the menu. Feeling hungry whilst playing out was commonplace and kids would call for a bit of jam and bread to help boost energy levels until the next meal. We also came up with some self-concocted treats such as the following white bread sandwiches: how about condensed milk, sugar and margarine, or brown sauce? Yum!

Many will remember that the most luxurious food item in the early fifties was ‘The Tin Of Salmon’ which wasn’t eaten until we had ‘Company‘ and then it was brought out of hiding to make sandwiches just as if we had them every weekday and twice on Sundays! Just as a footnote: I don’t remember previously having seen a banana when, just after the war, one of the kids in the seniors at Chillingham Road brought a half-ripe one to school; ‘imported‘ by his uncle in the Navy.

 

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Eighth Avenue looking towards Chillingham Road (1984) by Eric Dale

 

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Eighth Avenue looking towards Chillingham Road (Google Maps 2016)

Acknowledgements
Thank you, Eric, for taking the time to write and share your memories and photos (many more of which will be published in the future) and also to Hilary Bray (nee Bates) who gave us permission to digitise and use photographs of Heaton from her collection. It’s fascinating to compare the three photographs. What does anyone remember about the brick structure at the end of the road in Eric’s photo?
Can you help?

If you remember Eric or have any photographs or memories of Eighth Avenue or Heaton more generally that 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

 

VAD Nurses in Heaton’s Avenues

Following the end of the Boer War, the War Office was concerned that, in the event of another conflict, the medical and nursing services wouldn’t be able to cope sufficiently. The peacetime needs of a standing army, in relation to medical care, were very small and specific, and to find thousands of trained and experienced personnel at very short notice, without the expense of maintaining them in peacetime, was a difficult problem to overcome. On 16 August 1909 the War Office issued its ‘Scheme for the Organisation of Voluntary Aid in England and Wales’, which set up both male and female Voluntary Aid Detachments to fill certain gaps in the Territorial medical services. By early 1914, 1757 female detachments and 519 male detachments had been registered with the War Office.

VAD recruitment poster

VAD recruitment poster

When war came, the Red Cross and Auxiliary hospitals sprung up rapidly in church halls, public buildings and private houses, accommodating anything from ten patients to more than a hundred. The proportion of trained nurses in the units was small, and much of the basic work was the responsibility of the VADs – they cleaned, scrubbed and dusted, set trays, cooked breakfasts; they lit fires and boiled up coppers full of washing. They also helped to dress, undress and wash the men – which was of course a big step for young women who may never have been alone and unchaperoned with a member of the opposite sex before, other than their brothers.

There were about 50,000 women involved in the movement immediately before the war, and it’s thought that in total somewhere between 70,000 and 100,000 women served as VADs at some time during the war, some for very short periods, some for up to five years.

As part of the commemoration of the centenary of World War 1, the Red Cross has been digitising its VAD records, which has allowed us to identify three VAD nurses living in the avenues as well as two male members of voluntary aid detachments, shedding some light on their lives and contributions as well as the role that they played during the war.

The English Family

The English family lived at 30 Third Avenue, Heaton. The 1911 census shows Robert English (55), a plumber, and his wife, Isabella (48), had four children living at home, twins Annie and Mary Jane (28), Isabella (20) and William 18.

In 1911, William was working as a stained glass designer. On 29 October 1915, aged 22, he enlisted in the army. His military record describes him as 5’ 8” in height and weighing 7st 8lbs. His physical development was described as ‘spare’, with a chest measurement of 33 1/2 inches. It was noted that his sight was defective, except when wearing spectacles. He also had slight varicose veins. These were deemed as slight defects that were not significant enough to cause rejection. Given his physical development, it is perhaps not surprising that he was placed into the Royal Army Service Corps rather than a combat roll.

Four days after enlisting, on 1 November 1915, William married Lillian Phillips at St Gabriel’s Church. The next day, he joined his regiment at Aldershot. What is interesting about William, is not his relatively unremarkable military career, but that both his sister, Mary Jane, and his new wife, Lillian, were to go on to become VAD nurses.

Mary Jane English and the Liverpool Merchants’ Hospital

Mary Jane saw service with the VAD from 2 October 1915 to 12 November 1917 and is listed as a sister, although it’s not clear whether this meant she was a qualified nurse. Interestingly, the 1911 census does not show any employment for Mary, although it is possible that she trained as a nurse between then and the start of the war. Mary was posted to the No 6 Hospital of the British Red Cross in Etaples, also known as the Liverpool Merchants Hospital. She was awarded the 1915 star for her service.

The Liverpool Merchants’ Hospital was constructed and equipped from funds raised by members of the Liverpool Chamber of Commerce, making it unique. The hospital opened at the end of July 1915 and treated over 20,000 people during the course of the war at a cost of some £90,000. s a Base Hospital, the hospital had 252 beds and formed part of the casualty evacuation chain, further back from the front line than the Casualty Clearing Stations. In the theatre of war in France and Flanders, the British hospitals were generally located near the coast. They needed to be close to a railway line, in order for casualties to arrive; they also needed to be near a port where men could be evacuated for longer term treatment in Britain.

Staff of the Liverpool Merchants' Hospital

Staff of the Liverpool Merchants’ Hospital where Mary Jane English served

A report from the ‘Liverpool Courier’ in January 1920 gives a description of the facilities: ‘There were eight pavilion wards, each to accommodate 27 patients, with their own nurses’ duty rooms, sink, stores and cupboards, also large linen store; and each ward had attached to it a two-bed ward for special cases. Each large ward had also its own bath and lavatory. The operation block and the kitchen block were situated in the centre of the hospital. The operation block contained also X-ray room with dark room attached, an anaesthetic room, preparation room, operating theatre, dispensary, laboratory, medical store room, splint room, quarter-master’s and matron’s store rooms and ambulance stores.’

The article closes by saying:

‘Let it be recorded to the everlasting glory of Liverpool that the Merchants’ Hospital, the only military hospital which has been “designed, built, equipped, staffed, managed, and financed” entirely by the citizens of a particular city, has never been prevented from the fullest performance of the duties for which it was devised by lack of funds.’

This last fact is particularly interesting, as all of the records show that the hospital was staffed exclusively by the people of Liverpool. It’s not clear what relationship the English family had with Liverpool, or indeed if the necessities of war meant that this particular point was overlooked in the interests of providing a service.

Lillian English and the Australian Hospital

Lillian English married William on 1 November 1915. She was the youngest daughter of Alfred and Sarah Phillips of West Jesmond. The 1911 census shows Alfred as a letterpress machine overseer in the printing industry, with 19 year old Lillian working as an assistant at a music dealer and her older step sister Mary Gregory (28) working as a booksewer in a bookbinder’s. After their marriage, Lillian continued to live at her parents’ home, 34 Mowbray Street, Heaton and William’s military record was amended to show this as his address. The couple continued to live with Lillian’s parents for several years after the war.

Perhaps inspired by the experiences and contribution of her sister-in-law, Mary, Lillian also joined the Voluntary Aid Detachment on 6 March 1918, some four months after Mary returned from Etaples. Lillian’s stay in the service was however somewhat shorter, as she was discharged one month later on 8 April 1918. This initially caused us much speculation. Typically, VAD nurses would have one month probation and it appeared at first that either she was considered unsuited for the work or could not herself cope with it. However, the answer to her hasty departure became apparent when we discovered that William and Lillian’s only daughter, Monica, was born 12 November 1918. Obviously conceived during William’s leave, Lillian must have been about four weeks pregnant when she took up her post, a fact that would have become apparent during her brief placement, leading to her premature return home. Lillian spent her brief assignment with the VAD posted to the Australian Hospital, Harefield.

Some of the buildings at Harefield Park

Some of the buildings at Harefield Park where Lillian English served

In November 1914 Mr and Mrs Charles Billyard-Leake, Australians resident in the UK, offered their home, Harefield Park House and its grounds, to the Minister of Defence in Melbourne for use as a convalescent home for wounded soldiers of the Australian Imperial Forces (AIF). The property became the No. 1 Australian Auxiliary Hospital in December 1914. It was the only purely Australian hospital in England. The Hospital consisted of Harefield Park House, a 3-storey plain brick building, some out-buildings and grounds of some 250 acres. It was proposed that the Hospital would accommodate 60 patients in the winter and 150 in the summer. It would be a rest home for officers and other ranks, and also a depot for collecting invalided soldiers to be sent back to Australia. As Harefield Park House could only accommodate a quarter of the number expected, hutted wards were built on the front lawn, and a mess hall for 120 patients in the courtyard.

As the war progressed the hospital grew rapidly, becoming a general hospital. At the height of its use it accommodated over 1000 patients and the nursing staff had expanded to 74 members. Nearly 50 buildings were in use, including workshops, garages, stores, messes, canteens, a recreation hall (where concerts and film shows were held), a billiards rooms, writing rooms, a library, a cookhouse, a detention room and a mortuary. For entertainment, tours to London were arranged and paid for out of canteen funds, and the ladies of the district made their cars available for country trips, picnics and journeys to and from the railway station, both for patients and visitors. The hospital gradually closed down during January 1919 and the whole site was sold to Middlesex County Council who planned to build a tuberculosis sanatorium. The site is now the site of Harefield Hospital.

Irene Neylon

Mary Irene Neylon was born in 1881 in Ireland. Somewhere around the end of the 19th Century, Irene and her sister Susannah moved to Newcastle, possibly to join their Uncle James, a wine and spirit manager living in Jesmond. Irene lived at 60, Third Avenue, with her sister and her husband John William Carr and their family. She never married and remained at Third Avenue until her death on 16 March 1947, where probate records show that she left effects to the value of £164 3s.

Irene was working as a shop clerk at the time of the 1901 census, but by 1911 had trained as a nurse and was working at the Infirmary of the Newcastle upon Tyne Workhouse (later to become Newcastle General Hospital). Between 27 February 1917 and 20 January 1919 Irene is listed on the Red Cross Records as being a VAD Nurse. Unfortunately, Irene’s record only lists her placement as T.N. dept, so it’s not clear exactly where she was posted. However, we do know that part of the infirmary was taken over by the army to treat venereal diseases, with beds for 48 officers and 552 other ranks, so it is possible that she continued to work at the same location but with a different employer. What sets Irene apart from the other VAD members in the Avenues is that she was, as a qualified nurse, a paid employee, earning £1 1s per week when she joined, rising to £1 4s 10d when she was discharged.

Irene Neylon's VAD record card

Irene Neylon’s VAD record card

Life as a VAD Nurse

‘Do your duty loyally
Fear God
Honour the King

And only the Master shall praise us, and only the Master shall blame.
And no one shall work for money, and no one shall work for fame,
But each for the joy of working, and each in his separate star,
Shall draw the thing as he sees it for the God of things as they are.’

These were the final inspirational comments of a message from the Commander in Chief of the VAD, Katherine Furse. The message was handed to each VAD nurse before they embarked. The message was to be considered by each V.A.D. member as confidential and to be kept in her Pocket Book.

The nurses were subject to full military discipline and required to assist in any way they could, with only minimal training. Given that we know that Harefield, for example, only had 74 nurses for its 1000 beds, it’s safe to assume that VAD nurses would have been carrying out most of the care. They wore a distinctive blue uniform with a white apron and sleeves and a red cross on the apron to distinguish them from other nursing staff.

VAD uniform

VAD uniform

The rules they were expected to work to included detail around personal cleanliness and presentation, including gargling morning and evening, but especially in the evening with carbolic, 1 in 60; listerine, 1 teaspoonful to 5 oz. water; glyco-thymoline and water, ½ and ½. They also advised combing the hair with a fine toothed comb every day!

There are several contemporary accounts of the lives of VAD nurses, including this from Kathleen Marion Barrow, who worked at a base hospital in France, similar to that where Mary Jane English worked:

‘In France, when convoy after convoy poured in, and when one piteous wreck after another, whose bandages were stiff with mud and blood, had been deposited on a clean white bed; the extent of a VAD’s work was bound to be decided far more by the measure of her capacity than by rule of seniority, or red tape. Matron and sisters soon discovered those whose skill, quickness and level-headedness, justified trust. In every new venture there are few who have not to walk for a space some time or other in the Valley of Humiliation, the military hospitals in France were a magnificent school, not only for actual nursing, but for self-control and nerve.’

She also talks of the comradeship and the humour amidst the pain and tragedy: ‘One recalls the dummy – carefully charted and hideously masked – which was tucked into bed for the benefit of the VAD and orderly when they came on night duty, and the stifled laughter under the bedclothes in adjoining beds. One recalls, too, the great occasions when some Royal or notable person came to visit the wards. Then we spent ourselves in table decorations, emptied the market of flowers, or ransacked the woods and meadows for willow or catkins, ox-eyed daisies or giant kingcups. Incidentally, we made the boys’ lives a burden to them by our meticulous care in smoothing out sheets, tucking in corners, and repairing the slightest disorder occasioned by every movement on their part, till the occasion was over. Sometimes the expected visitor did not turn up, and when another rumour of a projected visit was brought into the ward by a VAD, she was hardly surprised to find that her announcement was greeted on all sides by the somewhat blasphemous chorus of “Tell me the old, old story.” ‘

Male VAD members

Interestingly, our search for VAD nurses on the avenues identified two male members of Voluntary Aid Detachments: William Holmes and Richard Farr, both members of the St Peter’s Works Division, allocated to air raids, coast defences and convoys and employed as part of the St John’s Ambulance Brigade’s 6th division.

William Holmes, aged 51 at the start of the war, lived at 25, Eighth Avenue, with his wife Maria and five children, three of them, Harriet, William and Mary being adults.

Richard Farr, aged 32 at the start of the war, lived at 45, Second Avenue, with his wife Mary and nine year old daughter Madge.

Both were marine fitters and joined the detachment on 4 August 1914. William was too old to fight, but it’s not clear whether Richard was subsequently called up, although it is possible, given the nature of their work, that they would have been exempted. Although it was not a naval base as such, Tyneside played a huge role in World War One. A third of all the battleships and more than a quarter of the destroyers completed for the Admiralty were built here. Many other naval vessels were repaired on the Tyne particularly after the Battle of Jutland. There were no fewer than 19 shipyards on the Tyne at the outbreak of war, and five of them were big enough to build warships. Hawthorn Leslie alone built 25 royal navy vessels during the war.

Unlike the VAD nurses, the role that William and Richard would have played is much less clearly documented, although it is clear that they were expected to work on an as required basis, most likely dealing with emergencies and possibly manning coastal monitoring stations such as those at Blyth and Tynemouth.

That we have identified five Voluntary Aid Detachment members just from the ten Heaton Avenues* perhaps gives some indication of scale of the enterprise. What is even more startling is to recognise that the women in particular came from all walks of life and, with very few exceptions, worked, often for a number of years, on a purely voluntary basis, receiving no pay and little recognition for their huge commitment to the war effort.

Heaton Avenues in Wartime

This article was researched and written by Michael Proctor, with additional input from Arthur Andrews, for Heaton History Group’s ‘Heaton Avenues in Wartime’ project, which has been funded by Heritage Lottery Fund.

*Postscript

Since this article was written, the Red Cross has continued to post the names of VAD volunteers and so far we have found four more from Heaton’s avenues:

Annie Maud Monaghan, 90 Second Avenue

Lillian Rankin, 21 First Avenue

Annie Isabella Richardson, 55 Tenth Avenue

William Ernest Statton, 27 Ninth Avenue

Those from elsewhere in Heaton include:

Margaret Dora Burke, 146 Trewhitt Road (who served in France)

Mary Douthwaite, Woodlands, Alexandra Road, who served in France and was mentioned in dispatches (30/12/1918)

Mary Haswell, 7 Stratford Villas (who served in France)

Kate Ogg, originally of 21 Bolingbroke Street, who died of influenza on 23 February 1919 while on active duty

Mary Sharpley, 3 Jesmond Vale Terrace, who served in Egypt and was mentioned in dispatches (5/3/1917)

Plus:

Mollie Allen, 62 Chillingham Road

Thomas Atkinson, Street 150 Hotspur Street

Ralph Boyd 160 Warwick Street

Hannah Buttery, 28 Sefton Avenue

John D Cant, 19 Trewhitt Road

Margaret Clare Checkie, 88 Bolingbroke Street

Mary Cowell, 36 Wandsworth Road

Margaret Annie Douthwaite, 3 Alexandra Road

Ernest Edward England, 99 Rothbury Terrace

Mary P Field, Silverdale, Lesbury Road

Gertrude Fotherby, Silverdale, Lesbury Road

Florence Garvey, 9 Meldon Terrace

Alberta Louise Gerrie, 137 Addycombe Terrace

Robert G Horne, 64 Balmoral Terrace

Gladys Mary Miller, 16 Bolingbroke Street

Hilda Oliver, Bellegrove, Lesbury Road

Jane Ethel Park, Westville, Heaton Road

Mary Isabella Roberts, Heaton Hall

E D Scott, 21 King John Terrace

Eva May Stroud, Cresta, Heaton Road

W Theobold, 39 Cardigan Terrace

Matthew Tulip, 13 King John Street

Elizabeth H Turner, 22 Bolingbroke Street

Jennie Walton, 10 Falmouth Road

Laura Whitford, 17 Guildford Place

Irene Helena Whiting, Cresta, Heaton Road

J Wilson, 101 Warwick Street

Can you help?

If you know more about any of the people mentioned in this article, please get in touch either by posting directly to this site by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or by emailing Chris Jackson, Secretary of Heaton History Group at chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

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

 

 

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.