Tag Archives: Heaton Electric Palace

The Night Bombs Rained on Heaton

On Friday 25 – Saturday 26 April 1941, Newcastle endured one of its worst nights of the Second World War, with terrible consequences in Heaton. The area had suffered bomb damage before and would again, as the Germans targeted railways, factories and shipyards – but this was a night like no other.

Earlier in the evening, incendiary bombs had fallen around the Heaton Secondary Schools in High Heaton and damaged properties on Stephenson Road, Horsley Road and Weldon Crescent. Two had fallen onto the eaves of the Corner House Hotel, where civilians scaled a drainpipe and threw them to the ground to be extinguished with sand.

The Lyric Cinema (now the People’s Theatre) was also hit. And on Jesmond Park East, two houses ‘Denehurst‘ and ‘Wyncote’ (which was occupied by the military at the time) suffered fire and water damage. There was other minor damage right across the east of Newcastle. But none of these episodes, as terrifying as they were to those in the vicinity, prepared the people of Heaton for what came next.

Devastation

At 10.20pm a high explosive device seriously damaged numbers 20 and 22 Cheltenham Terrace. Two people were seriously injured at number 20 and were taken to First Aid post Number 6. Another ten people were treated at the scene. Simultaneously, incendiary bombs  hit the nearby Heaton Electric cinema.

Ten minutes later, another high explosive completely demolished numbers 4 and 6 Cheltenham Terrace. Two bodies were recovered before rescuers had to give up for the night due to the threat of the gable end collapsing. There was considered to be no chance of any survivors.

And at the same time, a parachute mine fell on the adjoining Guildford Place, demolishing several houses and causing severe damage to many more. Although water was immediately sprayed over the area, a fractured gas main caught fire.

 

Bomb damage on Guildford Place

Bomb damage on Guildford Place

And still the raid continued. A high explosive device made a huge crater at the junction of Algernon and Shields Roads, with three men injured when another gas main exploded. And nearby a gents’ lavatory at the junction of Shields Road and Union Road was completely destroyed. Yet another bomb fell on the main walk of Heaton Park but here only greenhouse windows were broken.

This  detail from a German map of Tyneside, dating from 1941, illustrates how vulnerable Heaton and, in particular Guildford Place and Cheltenham Terrace were, squeezed as they were between key Nazi targets, marked in red, purple and black.

German map of Heaton, 1941

German map of Heaton, 1941

You can see the full map on the Library of Congress website.

Heaton History Group member, Ian Clough, remembers that his father, who even then kept the sweetshop that still bears the family name, was one of the many overstretched emergency workers and volunteers on duty. He was a volunteer fireman and had to pass his own bomb-damaged shop to help others.

When we asked Ian if he could find out more about that awful night, he interviewed three survivors of the Guildford Place / Cheltenham Terrace tragedy. Here are their accounts:

Muriel’s story

‘I was at home with my parents Arthur and Elizabeth and Uncle George Shaw, Dad’s younger brother, at number 14 Cheltenham Terrace, together with two friends. We were having supper when the air raid siren sounded at approximately 9pm.

Muriel Shaw

Muriel Shaw

For some strange reason this was usually a cue for my mother to see that everything was tidy and that the dishes were washed. Father declared ‘That’s close’ and, after donning his black greatcoat, went upstairs to see if he could get sight of anything from the landing window. There was a whoosh sound initially, then a silence accompanied by a tangible pressure and then the force struck home – literally; father was propelled down the stairs without a button remaining on his coat.

The back of our house had been completely blown off. This was in the direction of the explosion so it was mainly through a vacuum effect. Father had erected stout doors to cover our dining room windows to comply with the blackout regulations and they may have offered protection from any flying debris from outside. I first realised that I was a victim in all that was happening when a wavering door in its frame threatened to fall on me but just missed. It gave way to a shower of bricks falling from upstairs which left lasting scars on my legs. Mother and I were showered with plaster dust and it seemed to take many weeks of hair washes to finally remove all of its traces. Strange things had happened; a teapot that was on the table was now on the mantelshelf in one piece. The piano was no longer an upright one as it had somersaulted over the settee and was now upside down and resting on a completely unharmed china cabinet with contents intact.

Dad’s other brothers also lived with us but were out at the time. Thomas was an air raid warden and William was a lay preacher and had been sick visiting. It wasn’t until the next day that we were told that both of them had been killed. At 4 Cheltenham Terrace, the Robson family of four had perished.

Guildford Place, the one-sided street that was back to back with us and overlooked the railway had taken a direct hit. Most of the occupants of numbers 8 through to 15 were killed. The Luftwaffe was targeting the marshalling yards at Heaton Junction but released their payload prematurely while following the line of the railway.

Our house was now uninhabitable but because the resources of the Council were overstretched we had to find temporary accommodation in Osborne Road, Jesmond. This happened immediately and so, what with that and working, I had little chance to witness the horrors that the authorities had to endure in recovering and identifying bodies and demolishing what was left of the houses.

After a year we moved back into our house (which by now was renumbered as 18). A gas pipe had burst in the blast and we were greeted by a bill for all that had leaked. Initially there was still scaffolding inside the house and as compensation was so inadequate we had to clear the mess and clean everything out ourselves. When we asked for wallpaper, which was in short supply, we were given enough to cover one wall. Our property now had become the gable end of one row of surviving terrace houses as the line of neighbouring homes on either side of us were deemed irreparable and pulled down.

On the night of the air raid my brother, Albert ,was away serving in the Army and brother Arthur was on fire watch for his firm on the Quayside. The devastation and annihilation of his neighbours prompted Arthur to join the R.A.F. and become a pilot but that, as they say, is another story.’

Ian discovered that the two friends who were having supper with Muriel and her family were Nell and her mother.

Nell’s story

Mother and I were sitting at the table after being invited to supper by Muriel and her family when suddenly we found ourselves in this nightmare situation. Both of us were being propelled backwards by the blast of an enormous explosion and then the ceiling came down on top of us. There was nothing we could do but lie there until the wardens came and dug us out. It is funny how strange things stick in your mind but as we were assisted out of the house via the hallway a musical jug was happily giving us a rendition of ‘On Ilkley Moor Ba Tat’.

Nell and her mother

Nell and her mother

Skirting around all of the amassed rubble that was once people’s homes we were taken to an air raid shelter in the cellar of Charlie Young, the butcher, on Heaton Road. When the ‘all clear’ was sounded, we discovered, through her covering of ceiling plaster, that mother’s face was covered in blood. Firstly she was taken to a first aid post at Chillingham Road baths and put on a stretcher. Then we both got into an ambulance and were turned back from many a hospital until mother was eventually admitted to the Eye Infirmary.

We asked a local policeman if he would get a message to my Uncle Jack who was also in the police and lived in the west end. Uncle took me in and the following day I realised that our handbags and other belongings had been left behind at Cheltenham Terrace. Walking along Heaton Road to see if I could retrieve them, I cannot recall how many people approached me with the same words; ‘I thought you were dead!’ Mother had lost the use of her left eye and had to wear a patch for the rest of her life and we had suffered a most traumatic experience. Yet we were the fortunate ones as for 45 members of those neighbouring families that night was to be their last.

Footnote 1 I believe that what Mr Shaw, Muriel and Arthur’s father, saw from his vantage point was something that at first looked like a large balloon which, on reflection, was a land mine on a parachute, floating down.

Footnote 2 I went to Heaton High School in the 1930s and one of my subjects was German so we were invited to meet and socialise with a group of German schoolchildren who were on a school visit hosted by Newcastle Council. They were given a list of Newcastle’s favourite tourist attractions and maps of Newcastle and the transport system to help them to get about. Many of us took up the offer of being pen pals and one girl even went on a visit to the home of one of the students and came back full of what she had been told of how Adolf Hitler was going to be such a wonderful leader of the German nation. When my pen pal remarked that he had heard that Newcastle had a large and important railway station and asked to be sent details, my dad told me not to write to him anymore. It was not long after that that we were at war with Germany. We then wondered if there had been something sinister behind the visit and were the children and their school teachers, innocently or otherwise, sent over on more than just a cultural mission.

Arthur’s story

I was on fire watch for my firm of importers at No14 Wharf on the Quayside when the air raid sirens started wailing and we were on full alert. I heard the noise of bombs exploding, repeatedly exploding, and I thought to myself ‘Somebody’s got it.’ I had a rough idea of the direction of the hits but nothing prepared me for the spectacle of devastation I was to see.

It was 9am, and daylight, as I approached Guildford Place; the one-sided terraced street overlooking the railway. Little was left of the houses nearest to Heaton Road and my heart raced as I hurried up to the corner of my own street Cheltenham Terrace. The first thing that greeted me was a ribbon strung across the road at the entrance to my street with a policeman on duty to prevent any looting. He stopped me going any further and I explained that I lived here. Well, I had lived here!

I was in a state of shock – astounded at what was all around me. I’m still vague as to how I found my family but they certainly weren’t there anymore. Muriel worked as secretary to the manager of Bitulac Ltd and he offered us temporary accommodation in his home on Osborne Road. Dad found us a house to rent on Chillingham Road and he borrowed a van to collect some of what was left of our furniture. When loaded up I got in the cab and father said ‘Have you locked the front door, son?’ He had to smile when I said ‘What’s the use of that, man? We’ve got no wall on the back of our house!’ We lived in Chillingham Road until our house was repaired.

Muriel and I were young and felt that we had to fulfil our duty to the nation. Muriel trained as a nurse and, at one time, she worked in a hospital where wounded soldiers were coming back from France. I had made my mind up that I wanted to be a pilot and joined the RAF.

Arthur Shaw

Arthur Shaw

The initial training procedure would astound anyone now. We were introduced to a de Havilland Tiger Moth and, within eight hours, were flying solo. The instructor would watch us from the ground – take off, fly around and then land. If you couldn’t do it you were no longer a pilot.

Then it was off to Canada to gain our proficiency. Why Canada? Well, most of the British airfields were being used for war operations and could not be spared for pilot training. We were taught navigation and how to read approaching weather conditions and understand the various cloud formations. We would normally then fly twin engine planes – Airspeed Oxfords in particular. One of the most difficult things to master was flying in formation and then banking to left or right. The outer pilots had to increase their speed slightly just to keep in line. It was important to be taught ground recognition and the open spaces of Canada did not challenge us enough and we had to come back home over towns and cities to gain experience in that skill.

I served abroad for a while and was then privileged to be asked to train as a flying instructor and was sent just over the Northumbrian border into Scotland for that. It was then my job to pass on my knowledge to the new recruits – young lads who were then sent out on dangerous missions where the mortality rate was so high.

When the war was over we queued up for our civvies (civilian clothes) it was almost a case of one size fits all and it did feel strange to be out of uniform. But we had done our bit and were thankful that we were the lucky ones – lucky to still be alive.

(You can read about Arthur’s later contribution to Heaton’s history here )

Roll of Honour

Bodies were still being recovered five days later. The final death toll was reported to be 46 with several bodies still unidentified. Those which remained unidentified were buried in a common grave in Heaton Cemetery.

As you can see from the following list, the ages of the known victims ranged from 9 weeks to 77 years and in several houses whole families died together.

William Aiken aged 43

Ethel Mary Airey, aged 23

Amy Angus 17

Edna Jane Angus 28

Hannah Angus 49

Ian Angus 13

Maureen Angus 15

Robert Nixon Angus 29

Mary Elizabeth Glass Balmer 17

William Blenkinsop 38

John McKnight Erskine 20

James Falcus 45

Albert George Fuller 37

Gordon W T Gardner 25

Elizabeth Glass 53

Edith Rosina Hagon 8

Joan Thompson Hagon 30

Joyce Hagon 16

Raymond Hagon 7

Isabella Harrison 77

William Henry Hoggett 39

Mary Jane Moffit 62

Archibold Taylor Munro 29

Ethel Mary Park 60

Francis Park 58

Mavis Park 31

Alice Jane Reed 64

Joseph Dixon Reed 68

Joseph Lancelot Reed 9 weeks

Eliza Margaret Robson 70

Ella Mildred Robson 43

Evelyn Robson 38

James Kenneth Robson 19

William Robson 72

Thomas Shaw 48

William Atkinson Shaw 40

Robert Smith 27

Edwin Snowdon 17

Henry Snowdon 12

Nora Snowdon 46

Victor Snowdon 48

Charles Thomas Thompson 62

David Harkus Venus 27

Alexander Henry White 54

Blanche White 43

Thank you

Roy Ripley and Brian Pears, whose website is an amazing resource for anyone researching the WW2 home front in the north east;

Heaton History Group member, Julia McLaren, who drew our attention to the German map of Tyneside.

Can you help?

if you know more about the night of 25-26 April 1941 or have memories, family stories or photographs of Heaton during WW2 to share, we’d love to hear from you. Either write directly to this website, by clicking on the link immediately below the title of this article or email the secretary of Heaton History Group,  chris.Jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

 

Picture Palaces of Heaton (and Byker)

Heaton’s first cinema, the Electric Palace, opened on the corner of North View and Heaton Road on 21 November 1910 in what a local newspaper of the time referred to as ‘a large House near to Heaton Station, and known locally as Temple’s Folly’. The building also housed assembly rooms, a billiard hall and a ballroom, which became a roller-skating rink just a couple of years later. It was said to have cost an eye-watering £30,000 to build.

Heaton Electric Cinema

At the beginning, variety shows and wrestling were also a feature of its programming. The cinema also had an unusually large orchestra of 8 players. A cafe had been added by 1921. Prices were considered high though, from 4d to 1s 3d, but there was clearly a market for the programme of comedies and serials in the relatively prosperous suburb of Heaton: the plush tip up seats and boxes seated 925 in total. The cinema was a feature of Heaton life until June 1961 when it converted to a bingo hall that’s still going strong today.

Scala

The next cinema to open was the Scala on the Chillingham Road site that Tesco occupies now. It opened on 10 March 1913 and so Heaton History Group will shortly be celebrating its 101st anniversary with a talk entitled A Night at the Pictures on the history of Newcastle’s cinemas. (See below for details).

Scala Cinema by night

The Scala had ‘ a spacious tiled entrance, with marble staircases approaching the dress circle’. Its capacity was 1,200 and it cost £7,000 to build. At first it too held variety shows but these were soon abandoned. It eventually closed only a fortnight after the Electric (by now renamed the Heaton) on 1 July 1961.

Lyric

The Lyric on Stephenson Road was a latecomer. It opened on 6 January 1936 as part of ‘Newcastle’s new corner of entertainment‘ that also included the Corner House, which opened two days later. The cinema was designed by the architects of the new St Gabriel’s estate so that it was in keeping with the neighbourhood. The auditorium ceiling and walls were predominantly pink. A dado rail in the stalls consisted of ‘a series of black and silver bands, giving a realistic effect of relief, as if the walls were completely cushioned all round.’ The front of the circle was ‘picked out in pink, gold bronze and bright vermillion’ and the walls ‘enlivened by perpendicular and horizontal lines in brilliant reds and browns.’

lyric cinema by night

The original plans still survive and it’s hoped to put them on display in the People’s Theatre which now, of course, ensures that the building remains a much loved Heaton institution.

Walking distance

And these were just the cinemas in Heaton itself. There were many more nearby: Byker was even better served than Heaton.

The Sun in Long Row, Byker Hill (1909-34) was a family-run business, established by Carl Albert Aarstad, who came to Newcastle with his brother from Norway when a very young man, became a successful merchant and by 1911 was living on Heaton Grove and running his own cinema with his wife, Annie, and son, John.

The Apollo ( Shields Road, 1933-41 and 1956-83) was bombed in World War 2 but eventually rebuilt to the original plan. And Byker was also home to the Bamborough (Union Road, 1913-59), Black’s Regal (later Odeon, Shields Road, 1914-72), the Brinkburn (1910-60), the Grand (1896-1954), the Minerva (later Imperial, 1910-63), the Picturedrome (1910-60), the Raby (1910-59). Amazing!

Much of the above information comes from Frank Manders’ ‘Cinemas of Newcastle‘ (Tyne Bridge Publishing, 2005) where you’ll find much more fascinating information.

Memories

Muriel LaTour (Nee Abernethy) remembers:

There was not a cinema in the area I did not go to on a regular basis. My mother was a movie buff. I did tend to avoid The Imperial on Byker Bank and The Bamboro on Union Road, both of which were known as ‘flea pits’. The Brinkburn was not too far behind them, but as I knew the boy who helped in the projection box and who got me in for free, as they say, beggars can’t be choosers. There was also the Black’s Regal (which became the Odeon). That was a posher one even though it was in Byker! The three main ones actually in Heaton were, The Heaton, known as The Leccy (from The Heaton Electric Palace), The Scala on Chillingham Road and The Lyric on Stephenson Road, all of which I was a frequent patron. My mother’s friend was in the ticket box at The Lyric, so again I would get in for free and sit through the movies twice.

Norman Pretswell remembers:

My grandmother lived on Morley Street. There was an old cinema up there at the top of Shields Road where it curves round towards Walkergate, called, I think, The Sun and you could actually get in there for jam jars. You could take half a dozen with you and you could get in. That was the payment. You’d get cheaper seats… I think it was only a penny or a halfpenny to get in with money… But it was a real what you’d call a flea pit, with wooden floors and not much of a rake to it, so it wasn’t easy to see the screens.

March talk

0n 19 March 2014, Freda Thompson will give a talk on the history of Newcastle’s cinemas, entitled ‘A Night at the Pictures’. Afterwards, we’ll have an informal chat about our local picture houses and hope that some audience members will be able to add to our collective knowledge.

The event will take place at the Corner House Hotel on Heaton Road. As usual, please book for the talk to ensure you’re not disappointed and be in your seat by 7.15 so that we can offer any unclaimed places to people on the waiting list or who come on spec. To reserve your place, contact Maria Graham: maria@heatonhistorygroup.org / 0191 215 0821 / 07763 985656. FREE to members; £2 to non-members.

204 Heaton Road

This photograph shows the fruiterer and florist shop which once stood at 204 / 204A Heaton Road, the premises now occupied by Heaton Property.

Outside 204 Heaton Road 1911

The photograph was taken in 1911. On the right is Florence Webb, the grandmother of Heaton History Group member Les Turnbull. In the middle is her workmate – we only know that she was called ‘Maggie’ – and on the left is ‘Mary’, a shop assistant from Blenkinsop’s, the baker’s next door. And can you see the delivery boy? The notice on the left announces that tickets for Heaton’s Electric Palace cinema can be bought in the shop.

At this time, the fruiterer’s was run by Mrs Sarah Smith, who also had a shop at 205 Shields Road and who lived at 98 Cardigan Terrace. Sarah was born in Bacton, Suffolk in c1852. By 1911, she was a widow, living with her four working sons, Jephtha, Elijah, Bertrand and Charles, plus a lodger. She had moved to Diss in Norfolk, where she met her husband, to work as a servant to a merchant there. Presumably, like many other people at that time, the young couple came to Newcastle because there were greater economic prospects in the industrial North.

Florence’s story

In 1911 Florence was living at 114 Simonside Terrace, with her mother and father and two younger brothers. Before she died, she wrote about her experiences between leaving school in 1908 and leaving work in about 1915 to get married:

1908: I left school in May at age of 14 years and started work in a small general shop wages 4/- per week, hours 9 am to 4 pm. Served in shop and helped with other household duties. My employers were an elderly couple who were very kind to me.

1909: Aged 15 years. Started work at Simpsons, 2 Raby Street, confectioners. Wages 5/- per week, hours 10 am till 10-30 pm. No time for meals and nobody to relieve me. Sunday duty 10-30 am till 10 pm, for which I got a day off during the week. No holidays then. Worked for nearly a year.

1910: Left and was off work six weeks then got work in fruit shop on Shields Road Byker 6/- per week. Hours 9 am till 9 pm (1 hour off for dinner) Monday to Thursday, Friday 10 pm, Saturday 12 pm. Before I got home it was 1 o’clock Sunday morning. People used to do their shopping after 10-30 pm when the theatres closed. Shields Road used to be quite busy then. My brother, twelve years old, was errand boy at weekends, Friday night 5 pm till 10 pm, Saturday 9 am till 12 pm, 1 hour for dinner, wages 1/6 and bag of fruit. He helped in the shop and ran errands and thought himself lucky if he got a penny. One old lady used to give him 2d for taking a heavy order of fruit and vegetables a mile away.

1911: Transferred to Heaton Road branch with girl 14 and errand boy to help wages 7/- per week and half-day on Wednesday. Left this shop and started work in Heaton at tobacconists and confectionary, 1912. Hours 8-30 am to 8-30 pm, 1 hour for lunch, half day on Tuesdays and one weeks annual holiday. Wages 8/- per week rising to 10/- when I had charge of the shop. Interviewed and paid all travellers and ordered all goods. Went to this job for three weeks and stayed four years. Bonus 10/- on the stock each six months. We cooked our own hams (6d per quarter pound) and sold fresh country eggs from Kirkwhelphington 12 a 1/-.

Florence’s working conditions improved a little after the passing of legislation to improve the working condition of shop workers. You can actually see a newspaper board advertising the coming changes in our photograph of Millers Hill Bakery on Chillingham Road, taken at about the same time. The Shops Act 1911 granted shop assistants a half day holiday, set the maximum working week to 60 hours and made it compulsory to provide washing facilities in every shop.

Early days

The block which includes 204 Heaton Road was built at the very end of the nineteenth century. To begin with, 204 was a residential property. It was first occupied by J Davidson, a tinsmith.

The first shop in the premises was opened about 1904. It was from the outset a fruiterer’s, originally owned by Mrs Mary Eden, a Londoner who had married a fruit salesman from Leicester. In the early days, the shop changed hands many times. The following year, the proprietor was a Miss Edith Wright and only a year after that a Mrs J H Evans had taken it over. She lived at 68 Rothbury Terrace and had a second shop in Jesmond. Sarah Smith came next in 1909 but she too only stayed a few years. Around the outbreak of World War 1, the shop belonged to Miss Ellen Buchanan. Five proprietors in just over ten years.

The coming of war

Only a year later, James Lillie became the first male owner of the shop. Sadly his tenure too was short-lived. James was born in South Shields in 1888. By 1911, aged 22 he was working as a grocery shop assistant. By 1915 he had married his girlfriend, Ada, and opened his own shop in a prosperous part of Heaton. His prospects were good. The world was already at war though and James joined the Northumberland Fusiliers and later Duke of Wellington’s West Riding Regiment. He was killed in action on the Somme on 12th October 1916 and is buried in the London Cemetery and Extension in Longueval, Somme, France.

Lost memorial

James was commemorated on a memorial in Leighton Primitive Methodist Church and Sunday School.

Leighton Methodist Church War Memorial

When the church was pulled down, this plaque was apparently removed to Cuthbert Bainbridge Memorial Methodist Church which itself has since been demolished. The North East War Memorials Project is trying to find out what happened to the plaque and to the church’s stained glass windows. Please get in touch via Heaton History Group (chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org) if you can help locate it.

A head for business

After the war there was a change of use. Miss Mary Gibson acquired the shop and her business was destined to last. Mary was born in Amble in 1877. She trained as a dressmaker and lived for much of her the adult life at 106 Meldon Terrace, firstly with her sister and then alone. The shop she opened was a milliner’s. As it didn’t close until the late 1940s, some older readers may have memories of buying a hat there? We’d love to hear more about Miss Gibson and the shop she ran for thirty years.

But by 1950 hats were becoming less universally worn and more people were buying clothes in large department stores. Milliners were already disappearing from places like Heaton Road. Once Miss Gibson retired, it was time for another change of direction.

Eye for business

The next business lasted even longer. In the early 1950s Gerald Walden, an optician, took over the shop. He was still at number 204 in 1995, having in the meantime expanded with shops in Forest Hall and Denton. Who remembers having their eyes tested or buying their glasses there?

Can you help?

As usual, we’re looking for your help? Can you add to what we’ve written? What do you know or remember about 204 Heaton Road? Do you remember the milliner’s or the optician’s? Can you fill in the gap between Walden’s closing and Heaton Property opening? And can you help us track down the missing war memorial? Please contact Chris Jackson (chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org)if you can answer any of the above or if you have any information or photographs which help tell the story of Heaton.

Life and Wartime on Heaton Hall Estate

Heaton History Group member, Keith Fisher, is a keen local and family historian. Here is his account of his grandparents’ move to the Heaton Hall Estate in the 1930s and their wartime experiences:

My Grandad Fisher’s Mother and Grandmother, stalwart refugees from Aberdeen, had lived over their drapery, millinery and hosier’s shop – Carrol & Co – down at the bottom of Raby Street until 1920 when they moved into a flat on Eighth Avenue [#75]. Apart from working in the family shop, my Grandad also played violin and piano in the orchestra at the Heaton Electric dances which is where he met my Gran and they also went to live in Eighth Avenue after getting married [#73]. That’s where my Father was born in 1930; it was also where his younger brother was born, although he was still in the cradle when, in 1933, the Mother and Grandmother – whose business was doing very well – decided to buy a pair of flats on the forthcoming prestigious Heaton Hall Estate.

William Hall & Son of Low Fell were about to turn the Potter estate into what we know today and the flats at 20/22 Tintern Crescent were sold to us for £330.00. They were only ever sold as up and down pairs; in fact, that protocol remained in place until 1984 when #20 – which was then my flat – was sold independent of #22 after a great deal of head-scratching and pencil chewing by our solicitor considering who owned what front garden, who owned the shed, the coal-houses, the driveway down the side etc, etc, etc.

Google image of the estate showing the former position of Heaton Hall and other features (by Keith Fisher)

Google image of the estate showing the former position of Heaton Hall and other features (by Keith Fisher)

Anyway, back to Mother and Grandmother McPherson: they – along with my Grandparents – were convinced at the time of purchase that they would enjoy an unobstructed view across Tintern, out over the park and way beyond to the setting sun. It would have been a good deal less convincing if they had bothered to check the site plans, because not only was it Billy Hall’s intention to build on the opposite side but they had actually all been sold in advance before the end of 1932. My family had already moved-in when they discovered that construction was beginning on the top of the bank (overlooking Shaftsbury) and by then, of course, it was too late. It had seemed inconceivable that a row of houses could be secured on such a precipitous incline; and, in fact, only a few years after construction, two weeks’ worth of concrete was poured into the existing retaining wall in the hope of stopping the almost immediate slippage. Needless to say, it was unsuccessful and they continue to slide down the hill to such an extent that you can’t raise a mortgage on those properties and they must change hands on a cash basis.

By the time the war had started, my family had opened another shop at 108 Heaton Road (the opposite end of the block to Clough’s bar one) so my grandmother could run it and be close-by for her boys who were studying at Chilly Road School.

Because they were not short of a bob-or-two, my Grandparents had a rather sophisticated air-raid shelter constructed in the back-garden – by the same workers who had demolished Heaton Hall and built the new estate as it happens. Sophisticated by Anderson Shelter standards anyway: they dug a 10 foot deep and 8 by 6 foot hole which was lined with six inches of concrete; accessed by stairs past a blast-wall and covered over with 12 inches of reinforced concrete which was further protected by heaping up all the soil they had previously dug out. My Grandfather had money and he was using every penny necessary to protect his wife and kids. They put bunk beds in there, a fireside chair, an electric fire and a light. Luxury! Apart from the rain coming down the stairs of course; sandbagging was all they could do about that.

Friday 25th April 1941, the night of the Guildford Place/Cheltenham Terrace tragedy, my Grandmother stopped briefly at the top of the steps into the shelter because she heard a curious flap, flap, flap sound in the sky that she had never heard before. It was the parachute bringing down the ‘land-mine’. The explosion cracked the back wall of the house behind us (at 87 Heaton Road) from top corner to door lintel and it remained that way because the landlord wouldn’t repair it; I suspect the house was prone to subsidence because it was built on the site of a large tree from the old estate; I further suspect it is still cracked.

When my Grandfather (both he and Mr Clough had been on duty with the Auxiliary Fire Service that night) went to open his Heaton Road business the following morning he found a back-boiler, still glowing red-hot, in the rear of his shop – blown there from Guildford Place by the land-mine. He was subsequently told by neighbours that eight people had been found dead – totally unmarked and still sitting upright – in an air-raid shelter behind Clough’s: their heart’s stopped by the blast of the bomb. This fact was never reported publically and even today doesn’t appear in any of the official accounts of the incident; probably because of the adverse influence it could have had on people using shelters.

In the August of 1945 they brought in the workers again and broke up the roof of our shelter – it took them a week – then dumped the concrete and the soil into the hole, leaving the steps, the walls and the floor intact. My Grandfather built a large garden shed over the site that was subsequently replaced by my Father with the existing version in 1989; so the presence of the walls and stairs and floor of the shelter will remain a buried secret for eternity I suspect. Not exactly Tutankhamen’s tomb of course, but never mind: there’s so much undiscovered history on the site of Heaton Hall estate that it can just be added to the list.

If you would like to contribute to the Heaton History Group website, please contact Chris Jackson