Tag Archives: Grand Theatre

Shakespearean’s Final Curtain

As soon as the train from Carlisle pulled into Newcastle Central Station, concerned travelling companions carried one of their number to a horse drawn cab which sped to his temporary accommodation less than a mile and a half away in Heaton.

Actor

The unfortunate man was George ‘Osmond’ Tearle, a very well known actor of the time.  George was born in Plymouth on 8 March 1852, the son of Susan Tearle (née Treneman) and her husband, George, a Royal Marine. But he grew up in Liverpool, to where his father had retired and where, from childhood, young George developed an interest in the theatre and, particularly, Shakespeare.

Tearle’s professional debut was in 1869 at the Adelphi Theatre in his home city.  He soon established himself on the London stage and in March 1878, made an acclaimed debut at Newcastle’s Tyne Theatre as Hamlet, a role he is said to have played an incredible 800 times.

In September 1880, now under the name ‘Osmond Tearle’, he  performed in New York for the first time, as Jacques in ‘As You Like It’. He went on to tour America to critical acclaim. 

Osmond Tearle as King John

Tearle’s return to Newcastle in 1885 was billed ‘first appearance in England, after his great American success, of the eminent tragedian’ and he was ‘supported by Miss Minnie Conway from the Union Square Theatre, New York’. ‘Minnie’, whose real name was Marianne Levy, was, by now, Tearle’s second wife. She was from a well-known American theatrical family, whose Shakespearian connections went back at least as far as her grandfather, Englishman, William Augustus Conway (1789-1828), who travelled to the United States in 1823 and appeared as Hamlet and in other tragic roles in New York and other American cities. Back in Britain, there were more rave reviews for Osmond on Tyneside.

Tearle further endeared himself to north easterners with his generosity. For example, he made a donation to a fund for the restoration of Blyth’s theatre after it had been destroyed by fire,  along with an offer of his theatre company’s services to perform at the reopening at which he would forego his share of the receipts. And when touring, he often captained a company cricket team in charity matches including in Hebburn and Whitley Bay.

In 1888, Tearle established his own Shakespearean touring company and, in 1890 and 1891,  he was honoured by being selected to direct the annual festival performances at Stratford-upon-Avon, producing in his first year Julius Caesar and Henry VI part 1 and in the second year King John and The Two Gentlemen of Verona. In between these two events, he played Newcastle’s Theatre Royal with productions of Hamlet, Othello, Richard III, King John, Macbeth and Merchant of Venice. In Hamlet, Minnie played Gertrude and Osmond, of course,  Hamlet.

Tearle’s connections with the area were strengthened in August 1896 when Minnie died and was interred in St Paul’s churchyard, Whitley Bay to be with her sister who was already buried there. When he returned to the Tyne Theatre in July 1898 after an absence of two years, it was noted that he had been seriously ill that spring. Audiences flocked back to see him and the reviews were more glowing than ever. He appeared ‘reinvigorated’. Nevertheless, a few months later, it was reported that he had been ordered to rest by his doctors and that he would sail to South Africa to aid his recovery.

Although he had appeared on stage in Carlisle the week before, this was the context in which, on Sunday 1 September 1901, aged 49, Osmond Tearle arrived in Newcastle.

Lodgings

The cab took the sick actor to number 93,  the end property on South View West. The house, like all the others on the street, faced the railway line. It stood at South View West’s junction with Newington Road but, along with all of the properties west of Stratford Road, has since been demolished.

Location of theatrical boarding house at 93 South View West (2021)

Today there are trees where its front door would have been and its back yard would have been in what is now a corner of Hotspur Primary School’s playing fields. The boarding house was just a few hundred metres away via a still well used pedestrian tunnel under the railway, from Byker’s Grand Theatre, where Osmond Tearle’s company had been booked to perform the following week. The Grand had been opened just five years earlier with a Shakespeare festival.

Living at 93 South View West in 1901 were 39 year old Robert Bell, a wood carver, his wife, Bella, and their four children Herbert, Frederick, Robert and Harry. The Bells took in boarders, specifically those from the theatre. We are sure of this because, apart from Osmond, we know the identity of three actors who were there on census night earlier that year: Clifford Mohan, Walter Cranch and Hubert Clarke. And by 1911, the family had moved to the west end, where they lived even closer to the Tyne Theatre. On the night of that year’s census, they were hosting well known opera singers: Graham Marr, ‘America’s foremost operatic baritone’ whose house on Staten Island has been designated a New York City LGBT Historic Site, and Henry Brindle, a successful English performer.

On Call

The newspapers tell us that soon after Tearle’s  arrival at 93 South View West, Dr Russell of Heaton was summoned to attend to him.

Dr Frank Russell, aged 28, ran a medical practice and lived with his wife, Annie, and young children William and Jessie at 41 Heaton Road. Even on foot, it would have taken under ten minutes to reach a patient on South View West. It was reported that Tearle insisted that he would be well enough to go on stage at the Grand that week, as billed, but Dr Russell insisted that he rest.

By Friday, a further doctor’s visit was deemed necessary. This time Dr Oliver (presumably Thomas Oliver of 7 Ellison Place) attended but could do no more. Osmond Tearle died at his lodgings the following morning. In keeping with theatrical tradition, the show went on. The company  performed ‘Richard III’ at the Grand ‘ but it was obvious that the men and women on stage were labouring under the shadow of an irreparable loss, the influence of which also extended to the audience, as was evidenced by its sympathetic demeanour’. It was noted that ‘two members of Mr Tearle’s family are connected with the company and his youngest son, a youth of very tender years, after having spent the holidays with his father, returned to school at Bournemouth so recently as last Wednesday’.

News of Tearle’s death and extensive obituaries were carried not only by all the national and local papers in the UK but in many across the world, including the USA.

Burial

The following Wednesday, after a brief service at the Bells’ home, conducted by the Vicar of St Silas, Rev J H Ison, Tearle’s funeral cortège travelled to Whitley Bay. Along with family and friends and members of the company, Robert and Bella Bell, in whose home he died, travelled in one of the ‘mourning coaches’. At St Paul’s churchyard they were met by representatives of theatres from throughout the north east and further afield, including Weldon Watts of Newcastle’s Grand Theatre, where the company had been playing the previous week, F Sutcliffe of the Tyne Theatre and T D Rowe of the Palace Theatre.

On Osmond’s memorial stone there is an appropriate line from Shakespeare that the actor must have spoken many times: ‘After life’s fitful fever he sleeps well’ (‘Macbeth‘, Act 3 Scene 2).

And on Minnie’s ‘Flights of angels sing thee to thy rest’ (‘Hamlet’, Act 5 Scene 2).

Brick Shakespeare mural on gable end of 47 South View West

It is fitting too that on the gable end of the final house on South View West in Heaton, a huge, brick mural of William Shakespeare now looks down on the spot, just a few metres away, where George Osmond Tearle breathed his last.

Legacy

Out out, brief candle!

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,

And then is heard no more. ‘

Macbeth’, Act 5 Scene 5

But Osmond Tearle’s short life has not been forgotten. His entry in the Dictionary of National Biography states ‘As a Shakespearean actor, Tearle combined the incisive elocution of the old school and the naturalness of the new. A man of commanding physique and dignified presence, he was well equipped for heroic parts. In later life, he subdued his declamatory vigour and played Othello and King Lear with power and restraint’.

Tearle’s most important legacy was that all three of his sons became actors, the most well-known being Godfrey, 16 year old ‘youth of very tender years’ at the time of his father’s death. He too was predominantly a Shakespearean but he also appeared in some prominent screen roles including that of Professor Jordan in Hitchcock’s ’39 Steps’. Godfrey Tearle was knighted for services to drama in 1951.

And Osmond Tearle now takes his place in our growing Shakespeare Hall of Fame, which also includes:

George Stanley and ‘A Road by Any Other Name’

Colin Veitch and the People’s Theatre

Frank Benson and the Grand Theatre

Acknowledgements 

Researched and written by Chris Jackson, Heaton History Group. Thank you to Arthur Andrews for the photographs taken in St Paul’s churchyard.

Sources 

Ancestry

British Newspaper Archive

Dictionary of British Biography

Wikipedia

Can You Help?

If you know more about anyone mentioned in this article or have photographs 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

The Great Peace: a Heaton schoolgirl’s memento

In summer 1919, every schoolchild in Newcastle was given their own, personally inscribed, copy of a booklet commemorating the ‘Signing of the Great Peace’ on 28 June.

GreatPeaceMementoBooklet

Newcastle schoolchildrens’ Great Peace souvenir, 1919

 

The booklet was full of stirring words, such as:

‘This Victory has only been made possible through the heroism of, and the sacrifices made by, your Fathers and Brothers, the splendid men from our Colonies, and our gallant Allies, nobly assisted by the patriotism of our women.

You were too young to take part in the struggle, but your turn has now come – not to fight as your Fathers and Brothers did, but to prove yourselves worthy of the noble men who fought and suffered for you, and to do your share as Citizens of the great British Empire, so that you may be able to preserve and to hand down to the next generation the priceless heritage of Freedom which has been secured for you at so great a cost.’

One recipient was Dorothy Mary Flann who, aged 10 years old, had just started Chillingham Road Senior School. She saw fit to keep this memento until she died in 1983.  Heaton History Group member, Arthur Andrews, recalls, ‘I probably bought her booklet for a small sum at Tynemouth Market several years ago because of my interest in WWI’. He has since looked into Dorothy’s family history and found out more about the ‘Great Peace’ celebrations in Newcastle and Heaton.

The Flann Family

Abraham Flann, Dorothy’s grandfather, an H M Customs Officer, and his wife had lived in St Helier, Jersey, where several of their children were born but by 1871 they had relocated to Willington Quay. By 1881 the family had moved to 6 North View, Heaton and by 1891 they had moved to 36 Heaton Road.

By the turn of the twentieth century, they were living at 45 Heaton Hall Road and, ten years later, Abraham was a 75 year old widower, at 34 Rothbury Terrace, with his single, 29 year old daughter, Caroline Amelia, a domestic servant and 2 sick nurses (who were probably visiting).

George Ernest Flann, a grocer’s manager, one of Abraham’s sons, continued to live at the family’s former home of 45 Heaton Hall Road, with his second wife, Charlotte Mary and children, William Henry, Jessy Emily and Dorothy Mary, whose commemorative booklet Arthur eventually bought.

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Flann family home on Heaton Hall Road

George’s brother, Edgar, who would have been 14, does not appear at home in the 1911 census, which was something of a mystery until Arthur found, in a Chillingham Road School admissions book, that he had been awarded a Flounders Scholarship, named after a Quaker industrialist called Benjamin Flounders. Flounders’ wife and daughter predeceased him so he left his fortune in a trust to help educate poor and needy children with their education in the form of schools and scholarships.

Evidently Edgar was the only scholar in the county to be awarded the scholarship, which was valued at £80, tenable for 4 years at the North East County School in Barnard Castle. When he left school, Edgar joined a bank as an apprentice. In 1916, he joined the Royal Naval Reserve and trained as a signaler, as can be seen from his surviving WWI records below:

GreatPeaceEdgarFlannGBM_ADM339_0146-FITZ_00060

Part of Edgar Flann’s military service record

In 1917, Edgar married Frances Lorna Skelton and they went to live in the west end.

The ‘Great Peace’ celebrations

According to the local papers, the form that the commemoration and celebration of the Great Peace  were to take, was hastily agreed by Newcastle Council and put together, remarkably, within a month or two but it didn’t pass entirely without a hiccup: a travelling historic pageant was put together with the proceeds going to the St Dunstan’s Blinded Soldiers and Sailors charity. Unfortunately, there was a train strike with the result that the wood for the makeshift grandstand and theatrical scenery did not arrive and so the council had to spend its own money to ensure that the pageant took place. In the end the event, at Exhibition Park, made a loss and no monies at all went to the charity. Schoolchildren were also supposed to be given a commemorative mug but not enough could be produced within the short timescale.

GreatPeaceMugAlan2

GreatPeaceMugAlan1

Great Peace commemorative mug as given to the children of Stocksfield, Northumberland

But lots of events did take place. On Saturday 19 July 1919, a ‘victory march‘ was held. Various local regiments left the Town Moor at 11.00am and marched through the city. At 3.00pm there was a choir and band concert at St James’s Park. There was English folk dancing in Jesmond Dene, as well as bands in parks throughout the city. Other parks had dancing until 10pm at night. At 9.30pm, the Tyneside Scottish Pipe Band processed around the city streets and an illuminated tramcar seemed to cover the whole tram network, leaving Byker Depot at 5.30pm for Scotswood Bridge before returning via Barras Bridge, Newton Road, Heaton Junction before finally ending up back at Byker Depot at 11.15pm.

It was reported that children celebrated with ‘gusto’, thoroughly enjoying themselves even if some felt that the Great Peace was more for the grown-ups than themselves. That would have changed when they heard King George V announce that they would get an extra week’s summer holiday from school, making it five weeks in all.

In speeches, it was impressed on the children that the fight had not been for the winning of great lands but to free people from oppression and allow them liberty in their own countries. It was also said that while remembering the heroes who had returned from war, they must not forget those who had died in the fight for civilization. Many of the children were bedecked in red, white and blue ‘favours’ and schools flew flags of not only the United Kingdom but of the Allies as well.

Heaton celebrates

 Over the next few weeks, street parties were held throughout Newcastle. One party in lower Pilgrim Street bedecked with flags, bunting and red and white chalked kerb stones, was painted by local artist, Joseph Potts. And there are reports in the papers of many such parties in Heaton, with each local politician, business and charity seemingly more generous than the last and, no doubt, enjoying the publicity that came with it.

GreatPeaceMayorSutherland1919MementoBooklet_edited-1

Arthur Munro Sutherland opened  a victory tea in Hotspur St back lane

 

On 2nd August, it was reported that ‘a victory tea and fete was in the back lane between Hotspur St and Warwick St. The lane was gaily decorated and tables and chairs set down in the centre’. It was opened by the Lord Mayor, Arthur Munro Sutherland. ‘Games and racing followed arranged by Mrs W Wilson and Mrs D Robson.’

On 11th, ‘About 150 children of Malcolm St and Bolingbroke St were entertained by their parents and friends at a victory tea and treat. Sports and dancing was held and each child received a toy and, through the kindness of Mr George Black of the Grand Theatre, they each received a 3d piece.’

On 12th, the Illustrated Chronicle carried pictures of the above and events in Mowbray St and Heaton Park Road. ‘Coming soon, pictures of Chillingham Road…’

On 22nd, ‘137 children were entertained at a Peace tea in Simonside Terrace. Councillor Arthur Lambert opened proceedings and presented each child with a piece of silver. The children were entertained at the Jesmond Pavilion at the invitation of the manager.’ The organisers even managed to show a profit with ‘the balance of £2-1s-0d presented to St Dunstans’.

On  1 September, ‘children were entertained in one of the fields beyond Heaton Cemetery courtesy of the Manchester Unity of Oddfellows.’

On 9th,  ‘150 children from Simonside and Warton Terraces were entertained at the Bungalow, Armstrong Park. They were afterwards given a free treat at the Scala Theatre.’

And, with that, the five week holiday appeared to be over.

Dorothy

As for Dorothy, proud owner of the Signing of the Great Peace souvenir that has prompted this article, in 1941, with much of  the world embroiled in yet another war, she married Raymond Lancelot Donaldson, a merchant seaman. They lived together at 46 Coquet Terrace for many years.

GreatPeaceMalingSouvenir

Great Peace Celebration commemorative mug made by Maling

Can you help?

If you know more about either the Great Peace celebration or  Dorothy Flann or her family or have photographs or anecdotes you’d like to share, we’d love to hear from you. You can contact us either through this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or by emailing chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Acknowledgement

Researched and written by Arthur Andrews of Heaton History Group, with additional material by Chris Jackson. Thank you also to Alan Giles for the photograph of his Great Peace commemorative mug.

Sources

Ancestry

Findmypast

National Newspaper Archive

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benjamin_Flounders

 

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.

image

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.

image

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