Tag Archives: Falmouth Road

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.

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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.

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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

 

 

 

The Grand Opening

In our previous article about Heaton’s Shakespearean heritage, we showed that, in the late 1870s, Heaton was home to an important local theatrical figure at the time when a number of streets in the area were given names connected with the bard. But we also claimed that this part of Newcastle’s connections with the Royal Shakespeare Company itself go back much further than the 1970s when the RSC’s made Newcastle its third home and its actors began to stay in digs in the east of the city. Here’s why:

On Saturday 21 December 1895, it was announced in the ‘Newcastle Courant‘ that the ‘accomplished and popular Shakespearian actor, F R Benson‘, had laid the foundation stone of a new theatre in Heaton the previous Tuesday.

NPG x96407; Sir Francis Robert ('Frank') Benson as 'Romeo' in 'Romeo and Juliet' by Alexander Bassano

Frank Benson as Romeo by Alexander Bassano, half-plate glass negative, 1886, courtesy of National Portrait Gallery

Francis Robert Benson wasn’t local. He was born in Tunbridge Wells in 1858 and after studying at New College, Oxford, he immediately took to the stage. Benson’s first recorded appearance at the Theatre Royal was in 1881, before he had officially turned professional, when he performed with the company of Charles Bernard and Miss Alleyn. Soon afterwards, Benson started his own company. From the outset, he concentrated on Shakespeare.

Stratford remembers

Surprisingly it seems that until 1864 (the year in which, you may remember, George Stanley our ‘tragedian‘ had served on the Newcastle Shakespeare Tercentenary Committee, made an impassioned plea to be allowed to practice his own art in his own building and put on his own tribute to the bard) there was little interest in putting on Shakespeare’s plays in the town of his birth. Stratford did, however, put on a successful festival that year, promoted and bankrolled by Edward Flower of the brewing family, who happened to be mayor at the time. The success of the commemoration gave momentum to attempts to raise money to build a theatre in the town specifically to put on the plays of its famous son, an appeal that was scoffed at by influential commentators in London, but officially supported by many in Newcastle including the council itself.

The Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, Stratford upon Avon opened its doors and launched its first Shakespeare Festival on 23rd April 1879, the year, you may remember, in which the plans for Heaton’s own memorial to Shakespeare, our ‘Shakespeare streets’ were first submitted.

In 1886, Frank Benson became the director of the Stratford Festival, which was effectively the forerunner of the Royal Shakespeare Company. Nevertheless he continued with a gruelling touring schedule.

Early in 1893, Benson played Richard III at the Theatre Royal with a temperature of 104 and what turned out to be typhoid. After the show, he collapsed on the train back to Stratford and was seriously ill for several weeks, missing that year’s Stratford Festival.

Grand opening

The Grand Theatre, where Benson laid the foundation stone, was, by the time of its opening, recognised by the press as being in Byker, although, on the north side of Wilfred Street (just west of where Morrison’s is today), it was only a couple of hundred yards away from the boundary with Heaton. It was designed by William Hope of North Shields and built by the firm of Samuel Ferguson Davidson. Both men were Freemasons, who specialised in theatre work, often in partnership, not only in the north east but much further afield.

Samuel Ferguson Davidson was from Heaton. We know that, in 1895, he was living at 53 Falmouth Road. Samuel was a Temperance campaigner as well as a Freemason. He worked on theatres as far away as Birmingham and Margate and, locally, perhaps most notably on Spanish City in Whitley Bay. He died on 12 February 1964, aged 97.

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The Grand Theatre, Byker, was described as a very fine building, which could seat 2,500 people. The principal entrance was surmounted by an imposing turret, which you can see above. Inside the main entrance was a spacious vestibule. There was a large handsome marble staircase to the circle. The tip-up chairs were upholstered in ‘terracotta plush’.

The stage was large and could accommodate the largest shows, hence its suitability for Benson’s Shakespearean productions. It also had ‘a commodious suite of dressing rooms on each side fitted with every convenience for the comfort of the artistes’ which would no doubt also appeal.

The Grand was established, owned and managed by Weldon Watts, an Irishman who had previously managed the Theatre Royal in Sheffield and the Queens Theatre in Gateshead

Seven months after laying the foundation stone of the Grand, Fred Benson, brought his production of ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ to its opening night, which took place on 27 July 1896. Below is a silk VIP programme for that performance for which we are indebted to John Moreels of Photo Memories Organisation.

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Programme from the Grand Theatre, Byker’s opening performance

Local critics were rather sniffy about the liberties Benson took with the text but conceded that the comedy had been well received by the audience, which must have comprised many people from Heaton, including from our Shakespeare streets, from which it was only a couple of hundred yards or so via the Elizabeth Street underpass below the railway.

The performance was just the first of Byker’s own Shakespearian festival that week. Benson’s company also put on ‘The Merchant of Venice’, ‘Hamlet’ and ‘As You Like It‘, with ‘Richard III‘ played al fresco at the Sandyford Park home of a Dr Gibb (See the Comments to this article for more on the interesting Dr Gibb).

Benson was back at the Grand in December 1899. His company had been at the Theatre Royal performing ‘Macbeth‘, the play famously considered by actors to be unlucky, when a disastrous fire destroyed the interior of the theatre and with it most of the company’s costumes, props and scenery as well as personal effects. They say in the theatre that the show must go on. So Frank Benson dashed to London to source replacements and the management of the Grand Theatre, Byker offered it as an alternative venue, not the last time Newcastle’s East End was to help out the Stratford company.

Services to Shakespeare

Benson’s contribution to the cause of Shakespeare can hardly be overestimated and was formally recognised a hundred years ago during the commemorations for the Tercentenary of Shakespeare’s death. He was playing Julius Caesar in front of an audience of nearly three thousand people, which included King George V and Queen Mary, when a telegram finally reached Benson informing him that he was to be honoured with a knighthood. A royal aid was informed that the message had just been received, a sword was sent for and Frank Benson was knighted on stage still wearing the blood-stained robes and ashen make-up of the dead Caesar.

Postscript

The Royal Shakespeare Company evolved out of the Shakespeare Festival that Benson ran in Stratford between 1888 and 1916. The debt that the company owes to him is acknowledged by a set of stained glass windows in the original Shakespeare Memorial Theatre.

The Grand, after struggling for many years to be profitable as either as a theatre or a cinema, finally closed its doors on August 1954. But Heaton got its own theatre in 1960, when The People’s moved here.

In 1961, the RSC itself was formed. The story of Shakespeare at the People’s and its ongoing links with the RSC is another story!

Can you help?

If you have memories of the Grand or can provide further information about anything mentioned in this piece, please contact us, either by clicking on the link immediately below the title of this article or by emailing chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Shakespeare 400

This article was written by Chris Jackson and researched by Chris Jackson, and Peter Walker, as part of Heaton History Group’s project to commemorate the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death.

We are interested in connections between Heaton and Shakespeare through its theatres, past and present; writers, actors – and of course, the famous brick Shakespeare on South View West.

We are also researching and writing about some of the people who have lived in the ‘Shakespeare Streets’: initially, we are looking at Bolingbroke, Hotspur, Malcolm, Mowbray and Warwick Streets plus Stratford Grove, Stratford Grove Terrace, Stratford Grove West, Stratford Road, and Stratford Villas.

If you would like to join our small friendly research group or have information, photos or memories to share, please contact us, either by clicking on the link immediately below the title of this article 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