Tag Archives: George W Waller

Our Shakespeare Streets

On Monday 28 November Chillingham Road Primary School and Hotspur Primary School put on a wonderful performance for family and friends to commemorate the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death and to celebrate some of the many outstanding people who have lived in the Heaton streets named in Shakespeare’s honour – and who they have been learning about in class.

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Hotspur pupils performed Richard II, in which many of the characters we are familiar with from our streetscape (such as Bolingbroke, Mowbray and Hotspur) feature; Chillingham Road performed a new play about the people of ‘Our Shakespeare Streets’. The play was based on research by Heaton History Group and friends and the project was funded by Historic England. Here are a few images taken on the night:

Chillingham Road pupils as historical figures of Heaton’s ‘Shakespeare Streets’

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Colin Veitch

 

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Florence Nightingale Harrison Bell

 

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George Stanley

 

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George Waller

 

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Kate Ogg

Hotspur’s pupils perform Richard II

 

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To find out more

about some of the historical figures who lived on Heaton’s ‘Shakespeare Streets’ and how the streets came to be named, click on the links below:

Colin Veitch

Florence Nightingale Harrison Bell

George Stanley and the naming of the Heaton Streets

George Waller

Kate Ogg

 

Bowlers in bowlers?

This fantastic photograph, showing a group of men in front of the pavilion in Heaton Park, was taken by Edward G Brewis or at least his firm.

Edward lived from about 1895 to 1900 in ‘the photographer’s house’, the double-fronted house just a few doors up from the park, 190 Heaton Park Road. He ran his own photography studio in New Bridge Street, as well as from his Heaton home and he took the last ever photograph of Heaton Park Road champion cyclist, George W Waller.

By 1900, Edward Brewis had moved to Broomley near Bywell but he later returned to Jesmond Park East, High Heaton for a while. He died aged only 44 in 1908. (You can read more about him and the house by clicking on the link in the first line of this paragraph.)

Bowlers

Early 20th Century Heaton Park bowlers?

 

We are hoping that someone will be able to tell us more about the photograph. Who were the men? They are posing with bowls on the bowling green so that could be a clue? Is the man standing at the back and the one sitting on the grass to the left of the bowls a park keeper? They both have badges on their distinctive caps and one has what might be a money bag over his shoulder.

When might it have been taken? Do the array of bowlers, boaters, flat caps, even a top hat (held by the bare-headed man second from the right in the second row from the back) and what looks like a tam o’shanter (three to the left of the man with the top hat) enable anyone to date it with a degree of confidence? Perhaps the collars and neck ties can help us pin it down.

Or does the pavilion itself hold the answer? How long was the large fountain in place? And does the photo pre-date a later clock? When was this part of the park a bowling green? We know it was a croquet lawn at one point. We are sure that readers of this article will have at least some of the answers.

John Whyte

Ian Sanderson recently wrote from Sussex, telling us that he believes the man in the boater on the left of the above photograph to be his grandfather, John Arthur Whyte.

John, born in 1885, lived in Byker and Heaton all his life and in 1911 was presented with two medals by his bowling club, Heaton Victoria. John spent a long career with Newcastle Corporation, rising to the position of town clerk. He continued to bowl in Heaton Park and for the Portland Club into the 1950s. He also represented Northumberland.

Below is a detail from the above photograph and also photos, supplied by Ian, which show his grandfather in 1916 and the medals he won. Ian believes that the above photograph may show members of the Heaton Victoria Club in around 1911.

 

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Detail of photograph of bowlers in Heaton Park

 

 

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John Arthur Whyte, 1916

 

 

 

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Heaton Victoria Bowling Club medal

 

 

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Heaton Victoria Bowling Club medal

 

 

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Heaton Victoria Bowling Club medal

 

 

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Heaton Victoria Bowling Club medal

 

Thank you

Thank you very much to Ian and to Gary Walsh of Whickham, who kindly sent us a copy of the photograph.

Can you help?

If you can give us any leads or have any other information or photos of bowling in Heaton that you’re happy to share, we’d love to hear from you. Please either leave a message on this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or email chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org We’d love to hear from you!

Lords to the Oval via Heaton

Overseas cricket teams’ tours of England are a much loved part of our sporting summer but bet you didn’t know that Newcastle once appeared on the tourists’ itinerary and that Heaton was a venue alongside the likes of Lords, the Oval, Maidstone and Hove. Admittedly we have to go back to 1884 – but it’s not just the local links that’ll surprise you but the identity of the tourists too.

Gentlemen of Philadelphia, 1884

The tourists of 1884

Armstrong’s field

But first of all, when and how did Heaton acquire a cricket ground? For over 40 years, Northumberland Cricket Club had played its home matches at Bath Road (now Northumberland Road), an important sporting centre in the late nineteenth century – you may remember that George Waller competed in cycling events there. However, projected development meant that the club had to find another ground and was delighted when William (Later, Lord) Armstrong offered a six acre field at a nominal rent with a ten year lease. A cricket ground was prepared and a pavilion constructed on the site on the corner of what is now Heaton Road and Cartington Terrace.

Detail from 1890 Ordnance Survey map showing cricket ground

Detail from 1890 Ordnance Survey map

Heaton Medicals Cricket Ground 2014

Cricket (and rugby) are still played there today. The cricket club’s home didn’t meet with everyone’s approval, however. It was considered remote and ill-served by public transport. Remember, there were no buses or trams at this time – and Heaton Station was a fair walk away, through mainly open countryside.

Worldwide appeal

Although, then as now, most matches at the Heaton ground brought together local teams, cricket had long been a worldwide game. Its popularity was spread by English colonists from the 17th century onwards but what is generally considered the inaugural test match between Australia and England didn’t take place until 1877. The Ashes themselves didn’t start until 1882 when the Australians beat England at the Oval.

However, perhaps surprisingly the first international cricket match had taken place decades before when the USA hosted Canada in New York. In fact, America had been an early adopter of cricket. It’s said it had been introduced by English colonists even before it had reached the north of England. It’s in this context that we need to consider the tour of 1884.

Philadelphian pioneers

There’s an engraving of 1800 entitled Back of the State House Philadelphia which depicts a small boy with a curved cricket bat in his hand. Later the first cricket club entirely comprising native-born Americans was said to have been founded at Haverford College in the same state. By 1870, cricket was spoken of in Philadelphia as ‘the national game’. In 1854 Philadelphia Cricket Club was founded and in 1859, 13 Philadelphians were in the 22 to play the visiting All England XI.

The American Civil War stalled the development of the sport as many Philadelphian men responded to Abraham Lincoln’s 1861 call for 75,000 volunteers. Those too young to enlist continued to play the game, however, and when the war was over the Philadelphians were keen to play more overseas opposition. In 1878 its representative team played and beat the Australian tourists and plans were soon hatched to test further their skills against the inventors of the game.

The sum of $8,200 was raised from five local clubs and the help of the MCC was sought in compiling a fixture list. Finally on 17 May 1884, fourteen players set sail from New York on the steamer, The City of Rome. Thousands turned out to wave off the tourists, the docks were ’black with thousands of spectators’ and The City of Romegay with flags and decorations’. Eight days later the ship docked in Liverpool.

Gentlemen of Philadelphia, 1884

Gentlemen of Philadelphia, 1884 as depicted in The Illustrated London News

From there, the team, known as Gentlemen of Philadelphia to indicate its amateur, and therefore respectable, status, travelled to Dublin where they played 2 matches, and Edinburgh where they played The Gentlemen of Scotland. From there they toured English county grounds including MCC at Lords and WG Grace’s Gloucestershire (with Mrs Grace, W G’s mother, in attendance).

Gentlemen of Northumberland

The match in Heaton took place on 11 and 12 July 1884. One of the tourists kept a diary in which he describes some of the matches, venues and off-field hospitality in detail. For example, about 4,000 people attended the Lords match over the two days, the Aigburth ground in Liverpool was ‘the prettiest ground we saw in England’ and, in an interval between matches some of the players went to Wimbledon to watch the tennis. However, frustratingly little information was recorded about their trip to Northumberland.

However, there were lengthy reports in local newspapers in which the fixture was described as ‘the most important match that will be played in this district during the present season’ and the Northumberland team as ‘a thoroughly representative team, having been carefully selected by the County Committee’.

A clue to the conditions can be found in the weekly Newcastle Courant for Friday 11 July, day one of the match. The newspaper reports the heavy thunderstorms of the previous day in which a house in nearby Jesmond was damaged by lightning.

The Journal had more to say about both the attendance and the weather:

Though the weather was tempting enough at the outset, the attendance was small… It appears to us that no matter what exertions are put forth by the many ardent cricketers in the north – and their name is legion – they fail to command the patronage of the general public… there should be a free gate or a smaller amount charged for admission. If this plan were adopted, the working classes could obtain a fair idea of the game and we have no doubt that cricket would be more appreciated in the north than it is at present time… about 5 o’clock a thunderstorm visited the district and necessitated an adjournment for a half an hour after which the wicket was so soft that it was determined to postpone the game for another quarter of an hour and a recommencement wasn’t made until 6 o’clock.

The following day:

In glorious summer weather, this important match was concluded… the wicket wasn’t nearly so treacherous as on the first day. There was considerable improvement in the attendance but still the number present was small when the importance of the match was taken into consideration.

Defeat

Cricket was still evolving at this time. It was less than 3 months earlier that the number of players in a team had been standardised at 11 and there were still only 4 balls in an over. Come what may, the local team was no match for the tourists. One American bowler, W C Lowry took 5 wickets in each innings and another, W C Morgan, was top scorer with 38. The Northumberland team failed to make 100 in either innings with only C F Cumberlege scoring over 30 and, although E B Brutton took five wickets in the second innings, the Philadelphians won comfortably by 96 runs.

It may be that the ground only recently used for pasture on Heaton Town Farm wasn’t of the highest standard and that, together with the weather and the modest opposition, accounts for both the tour diarist’s silence and the low scores. The tourists’ final record that summer read: Played 18 Won 8 Drawn 5 Lost 5.

The players

We don’t know too much about the Philadelphians outside of cricket except that one of their players, J B Thayer, later became the only first class cricketer to die on board The Titanic.

We know a little more about the Gentlemen of Northumberland. The team comprised:

Shallett John Crawford (1858-1922), a shipbroker who was born and lived in North Shields;
Ralph Spencer (1861-1928), Harrow and Cambridge educated, who became chairman of John Spencer and Sons steel works, founded in Newburn by his grandfather;
Charles Farrington Cumberlege (1851-1929), born in India and worked for the Bank of England;
John William Dawson (1861-1921), a railway clerk;
Ernest Bartholomew Brutton (1864-1922), also Cambridge educated, who became a clergyman, latterly in Devon;
Charles Edward Lownds (1863-1922), another Cambridge graduate, born in Walker, who became a surgeon;
William Henry Farmer (1862-1934), a railway inspector, who later emigrated to Vancouver;
Stephenson Dale (1859-1985), an engine fitter who joined the merchant navy and who died at sea less than one year after the match;
James Finlay Ogilvie (1848-1926), a solicitor;
Tom Raine (1859-1929);
Alfred Stephen Reed (1860-1939), born in Newbiggin, a boarder in Northallerton at aged 10, and who , in 1881, was living at The Priors, Church Street, Storrington, Sussex and described as a member of the ‘Northumberland militia’;

There were further tours over the next 3 decades but other sports gained popularity in the USA and the final nail in cricket’s coffin across the Atlantic seemed to be the decision to set up the Imperial Cricket Conference, which specifically excluded countries from outside the British Empire. Nevertheless cricket is still played in the United States and Philadelphia Cricket Club is still going strong, although cricket gave way to other sports, such as golf and tennis, between 1924 and its revival in 1998.

And although it hasn’t featured on an MCC-organised tour for a while, the sport is thriving in Heaton too – the Cartington Terrace Ground (known as the Medicals Ground) is now owned and used by Newcastle University: it would be great to hear from or about anyone who’s played there or who can add to what we know.

Medicals who fell in World War 2 are commemorated by cherry trees around the ground

Medicals who fell in World War 2 are commemorated by this plaque and cherry trees around the ground

Leave a comment here (See the link below the article title) or email chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Main sources
The Tour of the Gentlemen of Philadelphia in Great Britain, 1884 by One of the Committee; published by Red Rose Books, 2002;
Heaton: from farms to foundries by Alan Morgan; Tyne Bridge Publishing, 2012
Cricket Archive (to which we owe most of the biographical information)
Resources of Newcastle City Library including The Journal on microfilm
Ancestry UK

George Waller – life as a champion

The first part of George Waller’s story can be found here.

Having retained (and so won outright) the 6-day Cycling World Championship belt, George William Waller was in great demand. The report below of an appearance later the same month at Burradon, Northumberland describes him entering the arena on the bike on which he had won the championship:

He received a warm greeting which was not lessened when he mounted his machine. Accompanied by a number of bicyclists, he twice made the circuit of the field and while doing so, he was much admired but he very nearly had a serious accident, as, owing to the roughness of the track, he got what is known as a cropper, which might have done him a serious injury.

George Waller on Penny farthing

George Waller

Fortunately he wasn’t badly hurt and appearances on the track came thick and fast. Waller rode mainly in the North but further afield too. For example, on 4 October 1879, he won a 25 mile race in Coventry ‘ on a 15 inch DHF Premier’. His ‘massive championship belt ‘ and the ‘machine’ on which he won it were exhibited at the ground. On 10 November, he competed in a 100 mile race in Birmingham but retired after 82. And on Saturday 13 December, he competed, riding a ‘Dan Rudge’ bicycle , at the same distance in Nottingham.  Closer to home, there were races in places like Sunderland, South Shields, Darlington, Middlesbough and  York.

The champion was also honoured by local fans and patrons.  On 24 March 1880, a ‘testimonial’ was held in his honour  at ‘Mr W Gilroy’s Three Crown’s Inn, Buxton Street, Newcastle’. Waller  was presented with a purse of gold containing upwards of £70, which had been collected by ‘his numerous admirers in the North’.

However, he didn’t join his rivals in March 1880 on the starting line for the following year’s 6 day Championship but instead appeared later the same month in a six-dayer, which he himself had organised, in his home city of Newcastle. It’s interesting to see where the races took place.  An early favourite in Newcastle was Northumberland Cricket Ground on Bath Road.

And increasingly Waller began to make public challenges to other riders. His offer in 1880 to compete in a six day contest ‘ against any man in the world ‘ … ‘for any sum over £200 a side’ was reported at least as far afield as Cornwall. And riders challenged him to take part in shorter distance races, where they had a better chance of winning. There were always considerable sums of money at stake and Waller won more than his fair share. Often in shorter events, he negotiated a start for himself and he’d grant his opponent one over the longer distances.

Waller was clearly aware of his own value to the events he promoted. While he did compete on many occasions, even when he wasn’t fully fit, he would ride a number of exhibition laps or show his bikes and medals. And he usually announced he’d be riding, even when he didn’t in the end appear. Throughout and beyond his career, he was referred to as ‘world champion’ never ‘ former champion’ or ‘one-time champion’ even though he didn’t attempt to to defend his 1879 title. Thus from the outset, he showed a commercial acumen of which today’s agents would be proud. Later, there were many announcements of his ‘farewell ride’ in this town or that. Again, this wouldn’t have done the gate money any harm.

Celebrity

At the Newcastle Race Week six dayer on 25th June 1880, Waller broke his collar bone. This was reported in newspapers throughout the country much as an injury to Sir Bradley Wiggins, Mark Cavendish  or Chris Froome might be ahead of this year’s Tour de France or Wayne Rooney or Luis Suarez in the build-up to football’s World Cup:

 ‘Waller was at once driven to the Infirmary, where he received the necessary treatment, and afterwards he was taken to his own residence. Latest reports last night were that he was doing well. Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette 26 June

After his removal from the Newcastle Infirmary to his home, Waller passed a bad night, and as the collar bone again slipped, it had to be reset on Saturday morning. This having been accomplished satisfactorily, Waller suffered less pain and he expects to be in the saddle again in a short time. York Herald, 30 June

The six days’ bicycle champion, G W Waller, has so far recovered from the injuries he received from the injuries he sustained in the accident which befell him in the latter part of June last as to be able to mount his machine. However, as his arm has not yet become quite strong again, his spins will for a time be of only a gentle character. Edinburgh Evening News, 12 August

He did recover though – and the races, challenges and public appearances continued apace. As with celebrities today, Waller was sometimes the centre of attention even when he wasn’t present at all:

Yesterday, the champion bicyclist Mr G W Waller, accompanied by five friends and a boy, engaged a coble at Tynemouth Haven… when the squall suddenly burst on them, the coble was upset and its occupants thrown into the water. …All the party were picked up… Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette, 25 July 1881

There followed an almost passing reference to an actual victim of the tragedy:

With regard to the boat accident [on Sunday] it appears that it was not Mr G W Waller, the champion cyclist, but his brother T Waller who was in the boat. The body of one of the drowned men, named R Cowl, was recovered last night. Edinburgh Evening News, 26 July 1881

Promoter

Increasingly though, Waller turned his attention to the promotion of cycling. He continued to ride but also arranged races at a variety of venues, mainly in the North East but also the North West, Scotland and  the Midlands. On 23 July 1881 Waller’s own ‘Bicycle and Recreation Ground’ at Dalton Street, Byker, was opened ‘under the most favourable auspices’ . The Journal  on 10 April 1882 referred to  ‘Waller’s Bicycle and Recreation Grounds, Byker’ (Incidentally the same day’ s newspaper carried a report of events at  Heaton Bicycle and Recreation Grounds ‘these popular grounds’). An advert a few months later  for a race between Waller and his rival John Keen ‘of London’ gave the entry fee as 6d or 1 shilling and made play of the fact ‘ Byker tram passes the grounds’.  They would have been horse-drawn trams, a service which had begun in Newcastle just three years earlier. The popularity of the events were indicated by the fact the gates were to open an hour and a half before the race ‘to avoid any unnecessary crush’.

Innovator

Waller’s adverts often stressed technological innovation. While earlier events were lit by candles in the evening, soon there was a:

mammoth tent, illuminated by gas’

Although, on occasion, not everything went according to plan:

A gale of unusual violence broke over South Durham yesterday. At Bishop Auckland last night, a large covered marquee, extensively fitted up with gas mains and pipes for night illuminations and erected for a bicycle riding exhibition promoted by Mr G Waller, came to the ground a complete wreck. The professional bicyclists engaged, along with the crowd inside, made all possible haste outside, and, with the exception of some injury to a woman, no casualty occurred. Damage was also sustained to a refreshment bar and stalls inside the marquee, the canvass of which was to a large extent also reduced to shreds. Shields Daily Gazette, 11 August 1881

The following month, at an event before which, not for the only time, Waller’s farewell appearance was announced, an alternative source of lighting was introduced:

The grounds were illuminated with the electric light, which was under the charge of Mr Spark, electrician, George Street and worked remarkably well. Aberdeen Journal, 12 September 1881

There are rumours to the effect that at night the tent will be illuminated by the electric light. Daily Gazette for Middlesbrough, 15 September 1881 – amazing given that Swan had invented his lightbulb and William Armstrong’s Cragside had become the first house in the world to be lit by electricity only 3 years before. It must have been an amazing site to the average spectator.

But electricity wasn’t without problems of its own. A 26 hour race in September 1882 had to be postponed, ‘the machine which was to have supplied the electric light not having come to hand’

Entertainer

It wasn’t all about the cycling. At the annual gathering of the Ancient Order of Foresters at Crystal Palace in August 1882, the programme, in addition to the cycling in which Waller competed,  included  ‘acrobatic, musical and comical entertainment’, cricket, processions, ‘aquatic fun’ , dancing, and a balloon ascent which ended in near disaster.

Adverts were placed by Waller :

‘Wanted – good brass band’.

And there was an application in July 1881 for a licenceto serve alcohol in booths owned by him ’in a tent to be used for bicycle contests’ opposite the Royal Agricultural showground in Derby.

Novelty races included one in Gateshead between Waller on a bicycle and ‘Blue Peter, a roan trotting horse, driven in a sulky by Mr Rymer of Manchester.’ On this occasion the horse was the victor.

Charitable

However, Waller wasn’t only concerned with making money for himself: proceeds from one event  were donated to Sunderland Infirmary and in South Shields in December 1880

‘The proceeds were for the benefit of orphans and widows left destitute through the loss of the steam trawlers: Wonga (sic), Nation’s Hope and Flying Huntsman in the October gale.’

International

It’s possible that Waller, like a number of his contemporaries, also competed overseas. In November, 1881 a  farewell  ride  in Sunderland ‘before leaving for America’ was reported by Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette. So far, we haven’t found any documentary evidence that Waller rode outside Britain and, if anyone has further information, it would be great to find out more.

Waller with belt

Waller with his 1879 World Championship belt

Retired

In September 1884, Waller was present at the opening of Byker and Heaton Conservative Working Men’s Club and the same November he ‘admirably ‘ replied to the toast of ‘Professional Cyclists’ at Jesmond Amateur Cycling Club’s fourth annual dinner. By this time, he seems to have retired from participation in the sport but continued to officiate.

But when, on April 1889, the new Bull Park bicycle track was completed at what is now Exhibition Park, George did a test run and declared it one of the finest in the kingdom.

Builder

Waller had started his working life as a mason and his prize money had enabled him to start a construction business in Albion Row, Byker, with his brother Henry. It seems to have been extremely successful. Newcastle was expanding rapidly and in July 1896, he advertised far and wide from an 87 Raby Street , Byker address for bricklayers to be paid 10d an hour.

Ironically, however,  the first real evidence we have of Waller’s success in this field came with tragedy. On March 6 1897, the North East Daily Gazette reported that four men had been killed and nine others injured when a public house, called the Green Tree,  on Sandgate ‘ one of the most antique of houses…said to date from the time of Queen Elizabeth’ , which Waller had bought to renovate, collapsed while eighteen of  his men were working on it. By this time, Waller is described in the newspaper not as a cyclist but ‘a well-known builder in the city’. A few months later, the same paper reported a court case in which Mrs Jane Brogden, wife of one of the men killed, sued Waller for damages. She was awarded £225 compensation.

In the late 1880s, the champion  was living in Waller Street. (Did he name it himself or was it an honour bestowed by someone else?) But by 1890, he had moved to Heaton. It was common for builders to move in one of the new houses they had recently completed and so there is circumstantial evidence that Waller’s firm was responsible for building locally. He lived first of all at 78 Heaton Park Road and then at  number 92, a house next door to the photographer, Edward George Brewis. Heaton Park Road has since been  renumbered. Waller’s  old house is now number 188.

But, ever the entrepreneur, Waller continued to diversify. In August 1898 he applied for a licence to sell alcohol at houses in Raby Street (167 and 179), Byker.

Untimely end

On  9 July 1900, aged 45 George Waller was driving in a pony and trap from Jesmond Dene Hall, where he was supervising alteration work, towards his home in Heaton Park Road. Apparently, as the horse approached Jesmond Road, it  reared and turned towards the Armstrong Bridge, throwing Waller from his seat.

A near contemporary view of Armstrong Bridge near the spot where Waller was thrown from his trap

A near contemporary view of Armstrong Bridge near the spot where Waller was thrown from his trap

He was removed to Jesmond Dene House where he died from head injuries the following morning.

Waller had been accompanied by a boy called Joseph Cranston of Byker, who, giving evidence at an inquest the following day in Heaton’s Addison Hotel, said he had looked after the pony since Waller had bought it and that it had no history of bolting.

George Waller left a wife, Isabella, three sons, James, Herbert (who was to die in France during World War 1) and William. His daughter, Georgina, was born just weeks after her father’s death.

The very same day, his death was reported in newspapers right across the country. It was just over 20 years since his most famous sporting triumph. The sport had changed – the reports refer to his success on ‘the old high bicycle’ as if from another age – but he had certainly not been forgotten.

Memorial

And a final indicator of Waller’s ongoing fame and commercial value came just a week after his death and packed funeral service when the equally enterprising businessman, photographer Edward Brewis, rushed, seemingly for the only time in his life, to register copyright on two photographs he’d taken of his next-door neighbour. One of the photos is reproduced below. (The other can be seen in the article about Brewis himself.)

Waller by Brewis

One of the photos of George Waller by Edward Brewis

Wallercopyrightform It was while researching Brewis’ story, interesting in its own right,  that the document and the photographs came to light in the National Archive – and led to the even more fascinating character of George William Waller.

Waller’s grave can still be seen in All Saints Cemetery

George Waller's grave

but appears to be the only memorial to him. It would be fitting, during the year the Tour de France comes to the North of England where Waller did so much to promote cycling, to see his championship belt displayed at The Discovery Museum and perhaps a commemorative plaque at  his Heaton home .

Acknowledgements

Many thanks to to Alex Boyd of Tyne and Wear Museums for information, photographs and arranging access to George Waller’s championship belt, to Brian MacElvogue for information and the loan of material and to Carlton Reid for pointing the author towards Brian. Also this website is a mine of information – http://www.sixday.org.uk/html/the_beginnings.html

If you can add to the story of George William Waller or if you’d like to see his achievements celebrated, we’d love to hear from you (See ‘Leave a reply’ just below the title of the article) or email chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

George Waller – world champion cyclist

Nine of the riders at the starting line of the World Cycling Championships in London on 28 April 1879 knew each other well. They had competed against each other just 5 months before when the winner, Sheffield’s William Cann, had ridden over 1,060 miles in 6 days. Naturally Cann started as favourite again with French champion, Charles Terront, considered to be his closest rival for the fabulous prizes on offer – £105 in cash and a belt said to be worth another £100 (worth many thousands of pounds in today’s money). The contestants could be forgiven for not giving more than a sideways glance to the one newcomer among them, George Waller, a young rider from Newcastle, who had previously won prizes only in minor contests in the north and midlands.

Who was Waller?

George William Waller was born on 12 April 1855 at 11 Back Lane, Gallowgate in Newcastle upon Tyne. His father, James, was a mason from Yorkshire and his mother, Catherine, a local woman. She was 12 years older than her husband and died, aged 58, when George was just 15.

The family lived in Elswick when George was a young boy but the 1871 census shows George and his father both working as masons and living at 13 Miller’s Hill, Byker.

We know that George worked for a time in York on the building of the Foss Islands Railway, which eventually opened in 1880. Apparently it was here that he first had the idea of long distance cycling. It was said that, wishing to visit home at weekends, he bought a ‘boneshaker’. His colleagues reportedly thought it a great joke at first but it was reported that he commuted between York and Newcastle with some ease after a hard week of physical labour and was back at work on time on Mondays. Whether this story is true we can’t be sure but it was certainly told during his lifetime and fits in with what we know about Waller: that he was extremely tough, although a modest 5 foot 8 inches tall and weighing only around 8 stones 11 pounds, a ‘compactly framed well set man with no extraordinary muscular development’.

‘of medium height and fair complexion and has a wiry and hardy appearance.’

Some reports mention that he was also a diver.

George Waller on Penny farthing

George Waller

Racing pedigree

The first reference to Waller racing we have found so far dates from 1871 when, as a 16 year old, he came third and won 10 shillings in a handicap event promoted by Mr T Sutton at Fenham Park Grounds in a ‘poor race’ in a sport ‘only recently introduced to the North.’

In 1874 he finished third in his heat in the Great All-England one mile handicap held in Sheffield. The following year he won a heat in Wolverhampton but it was again described as a very poor race. In 1876, he won a heat again in a one mile race in the same city.

Test of endurance

The six day race at the Agricultural Halls in Islington was covered in detail in newspapers across the country. It lasted from Monday to Saturday with riders permitted to spend up to eighteen hours on the track. The reports describe brief rests during the day to ‘shampoo‘, change and eat and just six hours compulsory rest at night. With Cann, the champion and favourite, having crashed on the first day in a collision with Terront, Waller took an early lead, closely followed by the French rider. The crowd of spectators grew as the week went on, with 8,000 cheering on the riders by Wednesday by which time the leaders were taking few rests. By midnight, when the race adjourned for the night, Waller had ridden 878 miles and Terront just over 840.

Contemporary illustration

Contemporary illustrations

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By five pm on Friday, the fifth day, Waller had ridden 1,020 miles on his Hillman and Herbert DHF Premier and so became the first rider to win the prize of £20 offered to any rider who achieved 1,000 miles over six days. He was attended by his brother Tom, along with a Charley Smith and the one hundred miles champion, Walter Phillips.

On the final evening, the crowd had swelled to around 10,000 and was allowed into the centre of the tight circuit ‘on extra payment, of course‘. The leaders ‘shaking hands, sped away merrily to the inspiring strains of the Marseillaise’. Waller’s final distance was 1,172 miles, 44 miles more then Terrront.

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Waller with his 1879 World Championship belt

Thank you to Tyne and Wear Museums and Archives for permission to reproduce these photographs.

Celebrity

Waller was instantly a sporting hero. He returned to Newcastle via York where ‘admirers gathered round the cab in which he was being conveyed to the station, took out the horse and dragged the vehicle, amid cheers, to the booking office’.

One newspaper expressed wonder at the distances travelled: ‘The bicycle is thus once again shown to be a much speedier means of locomotion than a horse and there is little doubt that an ordinary traveller accustomed to the vehicle could with ease compass 100 miles a day. It seems strange that it cannot be turned to greater practical advantage as a mode of travelling.’

Rematch

The event was clearly considered a success as only a few months later on 1 September, most of the same cyclists took to the track again. There was even more media interest and bigger crowds. Performers, including Terront’s brother, again performed ‘circus tricks of bicycle riding’ in the centre of the track, helping to create a carnival atmosphere.

And this time, after his exploits the previous spring, Waller was hot favourite. There were colourful descriptions of him in the newspapers:

‘He wore a little round straw hat, with a fluttering green ribbon, and beneath it such a crop of bright, crisp yellow hair as his Saxon ancestors must have bequeathed him centuries ago, before the invention of either brush, comb or pomatum pot’ (Freeman’s Journal, Dublin).

The story of an incident in Morpeth while Waller was training for the race was recounted: apparently, a policeman caught the champion cycling on the footpath and, when Waller failed to stop, threw his truncheon at the bike. It caught in the spokes and brought down the rider, knocking him unconscious. The policeman helped Waller at the scene and nothing further was said about the crime.

Waller, as expected, took an early lead but Terront was never far behind. Again there were spills. On the first day, Waller’s ‘machine gave way and he fell heavily though fortunately without hurting himself’. By the second day ‘ this race has assumed an importance far in advance of anything previously known in the bicycle world’ as Waller and Terront had both smashed their previous records.

‘Waller combines speed and endurance in a really wonderful measure and the style in which he rode past opponents was really surprising’.

Again the race came down to a head to head between Terront and Waller, with no quarter given. On day three, it was Terront’s turn to fall, grazing his elbow but almost immediately returning to the saddle. On day four, Terront arrived at the track nine minutes late (at 6.09am!) saying that his attendants had failed to wake him on time. The competition between the two men was described as ‘severe’. Waller was reported to have rested only 4 minutes all day and Terront just 2 minutes and 10 seconds.

‘The Englishman remained cool and dry, betraying his exhaustion only by gradually bending his figure, which he had hitherto maintained stiff and upright, lower and lower towards the saddle’

On 7.45am on day five, Waller passed the 1,000 mile mark, with Terront achieving the same distance at 8.54am. By 9.43pm, Waller had passed his previous record. It was reported that neither man dismounted from his bicycle all day. The Frenchman was gaining on Waller, who was unable even to take food from the hands of his attendants. Each time he attempted to, it was said Terront put on a superhuman spurt and was heard to exclaim: I will prevent him from eating and try to starve him!

There was controversy too. Waller was accused of cutting corners and cautioned that he would forfeit a lap if he repeated the offence. The alleged misdemeanour was covered in many papers but a letter in ‘The Sportsman’ reprinted in the ‘Northern Evening Mail’ (9 September) denied that he had cheated. It said that all the riders were forced to cut corners at the bottom of the course but rode many yards extra elsewhere.

The two men continued their battle on day six and again neither ride stepped from his bike. Finally though, Terront had to admit defeat. In the final session, in front of a crowd of 12-13,000, the two men rode hand in hand, having ridden the incredible distance of 1,404 miles (Waller) and 1,390 (Terront) on penny farthings.

Homecoming

George Waller’s victory was celebrated not only in Newcastle but across the country, especially in places with which he had a connection:

‘His victory was celebrated at the dock extension in Hartlepools where his father and brother are engaged, by a show of flags from the new engine house at Middleton; and it is expected he will make a public appearance in this town shortly’

At Darlington the station was crowded and the carriage which the northern party occupied was quite besieged by an enthusiastic multitude’.

But in Newcastle, where news of Waller’s expected arrival time had been announced in that morning’s newspapers, thousands turned out at Newcastle Central Station. The scenes were amazing: ‘a reception as has never been surpassed even by the enthusiastic Tynesiders’.

‘Lamps were scaled and every accessible elevated point was occupied by people anxious to get the first glimpse of an athlete who has jumped so suddenly into prominence.’

Ringing cheers greeted the champion as he stepped from the carriage and he was at once surrounded by a dense crowd who carried him bodily away. The progress from the platform to the portico was painfully slow. The crowd surged about with such force that the lines of policeman were overpowered and driven away’.

Eventually a distressed Waller was helped into a cab and driven to his home in Gibson Street, Byker, where thousands more awaited him and demanded that he speak. Eventually a representative came to an upstairs window and thanked the crowd but said the world champion was too exhausted and bashful to talk to them and so he ‘had the pleasure of expressing [Waller’s] feeling of pleasure and pride at the noble reception which his townsmen had given him.

Life changing

Immediately Hillman and Herbert, the manufacturers of his bicycle, capitalised on the triumph, placing adverts quoting from a letter said to have been written by Waller, expressing gratitude to the company, and using photographs of him on its posters.

Waller used in advert for bike

Waller’s championship belt is held at Newcastle’s Discovery Museum but is not currently on display. The year the Tour de France is due to come to the north of England would seem like an appropriate time to find a way of celebrating the pioneering achievements of Bradley Wiggins, Mark Cavendish and Chris Froomes’ illustrious predecessor.

To be continued: Waller’s life following his 1879 triumphs – cycling, promotion of the sport, his building company, move to Heaton Park Road and an untimely death can now be found here

Many thanks to to Alex Boyd of Tyne and Wear Museums for information, photographs and arranging access to George Waller’s championship belt, to Brian MacElvogue for information and the loan of material and to Carlton Reid for pointing the author towards Brian. Also this website is a mine of information – http://www.sixday.org.uk/html/the_beginnings.html

The photographer and his house

 

 

190 Heaton Park Road – or 94 as it was until renumbering in 1904 – was a one off. The three-storey double-fronted half-timbered facade still distinguishes it from neighbouring houses. And the balcony and iron railings, as shown in the photograph below, which dates from around 1910, would have left nobody in any doubt about the status of its owner. The photo is reproduced with permission of Newcastle City Library.

190 Heaton Park Road, c1910

190 Heaton Park Road, c1910

Built to order

However, it was the interior which made it unique. As you can see from these beautifully drawn plans, which can be viewed in Tyne and Wear Archives, it was designed for (or even by) Edward G Brewis and from the outset incorporated studios, a dark room and a print room among the usual living space. The exterior looks a little different from the photograph so either it was modified before being built or was altered later.

Plans for Brewis's house

Plans for Brewis's house

Edward George Brewis was born in Gateshead, the youngest child of a publican and his wife. Even at the age of 17, on the family’s 1881 census return, he was described as a ‘photographic artist’.

By 1890, by which time Edward was in his mid 20s, he was already running his own business at 10 New Bridge Street in Newcastle, premises which had previously belonged to the long-standing photography firm of Downey and Carver, the successor of the earlier partnership of W and D Downey. This was one of Newcastle’s oldest photography businesses (going back to the 1850s) so Brewis was continuing in a proud tradition. At this stage he was still living with his widowed mother.

But just five years later, Edward was the proud owner of one of Heaton’s grandest houses and operating his business from newly expanded premises at both 8 and 10 New Bridge Street, which he called ‘Victoria Art Studios’, and the new ‘Victoria House Studio’ in Heaton.

Portraits

Brewis was primarily a portrait photographer although on his fantastic business cards reproduced below, he called himself variously a ‘photographic artist’ and ‘portrait painter’.

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Brewis business card

He advertised that portraits could be enlarged to life size and painted in oil or water colour. Examples of his cabinet cards, which were so popular from the 1870s until well into the 20th century, can often be found on e-bay and in secondhand shops but the sitters are rarely identifiable. Check whether you have any Brewis portraits of family members in your attic – we’d love to see some.

The only Brewis photographs of which we currently know the identity of the sitter are two of Heaton’s world champion cyclist, George Waller, on which Brewis hastily applied for copyright in July 1900. They are, as a result, held by the National Archives. One is reproduced here.

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The reasons for this and other links between Edward George Brewis and George William Waller will be explored in a future article. Both men left their mark on Heaton and its history.

Short life

Amazingly Edward Brewis lived in his fantastic custom-built house for less than 5 years. By 1900, he was married with a daughter and living in Broomley near Bywell in the Tyne Valley. The young family moved house often at this time – from Stocksfield to Jesmond and then in 1906 to a house called ‘The Nook’ on Jesmond Park East in High Heaton. Their address at the time of Edward’s untimely death, in May 1908 at the age of 44, was in Warkworth but his business still operated from New Bridge Street. His success at a relatively young age was shown by the sum of over £12,000 he left in his will.

Postscript

The Edward Brewis photograph below of Eleanor Laverick nee Welford and was sent to us by her great granddaughter, Gillian Flatters.

Gillian told us that it was ‘lovingly watercoloured by my grandmother, Jessie Alexander Laverick. She did this to most of her back and white photos. Thanks to her other habit of keeping records, I can tell you the following about Eleanor:

Daughter of William Welford (Master Shoemaker) and Mary Ann Anderson, Eleanor was born at 5 Stepney Terrace, Newcastle on 05/01/1854. She married George Laverick in Aug 1877. At this time they lived in Ryton. Later moving to Ernest Street, Jarrow and Harvey Street, Hebburn. After Georges death in Nov 1902 she moved to Lyon Street, Hebburn Quay, where she kept a shop until she died there on 30 July 1930.

The only hint I have of a date for this picture is that as she appears to be pregnant in the photo it must have been taken after her marriage in 1877.’
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Eleanor  Laverick

 

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Edward Fordy

Micky Fordy wrote to tell us that the above photograph is of his 2xgt Grandfather Edward Fordy b 1837 Beadnell: ‘He was baptised Edward Scott but his father did a runner before he was born so he was brought up by his mother Elizabeth and her parents. As they were Fordy he took this as his surname.  But from 1851 or earlier Elizabeth was living with William Brewis , b 1810 to parents John Brewis and Mary Willis. John and Mary had other children including John b 1811. I believe this to be the father of Edward G Brewis. As far as I know Elizabeth and William never married (her death was recorded as Elizabeth Brewis in 1866) but Edward Fordy and Edward Brewis would have been regarded as cousins.’

 

Do you have any photographs of local people by Edward Brewis?  If you know something about the subject, we’d love to see them. Email chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org