‘NEWCASTLE DOCTOR ROCKS CHEMICAL WORLD WITH YELLOW POWDER’ screamed ‘The Journal’ headline. It went on to say that the doctor had ‘done something which was thought to be impossible…. As a result, chemical books will have to be rewritten.’ But who was the ‘doctor’ and why have most of us never heard of him?
Neil Bartlett was born on 15 September 1932 at The Gables, Elswick Road, formerly a branch of the Princess Mary but by then an independent maternity hospital. His childhood home, however, was in in the east end of Newcastle.
Norman, Neil’s father, was born in Walker in 1898 of Scottish parents. In his younger days, he worked as a shipwright. He fought and was apparently gassed in the first world war and suffered from ill health for the rest of his comparatively short life. Norman’s military records don’t survive but what does is a shipping record showing that, in September 1922, describing himself as a ‘shipwright’, he set sail for the USA, giving his final destination as Philadelphia. We don’t know how long he stayed but by 1928, he was back in Newcastle and marrying Ann Willins Voak.
Ann was born in Byker in 1901. Her original surname was Vock. The place of birth of her father, William, is recorded on the 1901 census as ‘Heligoland’ and his status ‘British subject’. Between 1807 and 1890, this small island off the coast of Germany, was British owned. It had been captured from Denmark during the Napoloeonic wars and only ceded to Germany as part of a treaty in which Britain secured strategic territory in East Africa. The fact that, despite William being a British subject settled in Newcastle and married to a local woman, life became uncomfortable around the time of World War 1 is evidenced by the fact that Ann changed her surname to Voak, thought to sound less German.
With work as a shipwright on Tyneside difficult for Norman to find during the recession, the Bartletts acquired and ran a grocery and confectioner’s shop, now demolished, in Brinkburn Street. Apart from a brief period during the second world war when Neil and his brother were evacuated, the Bartletts lived in Byker throughout Neil’s childhood.
After her husband died in 1944, aged only 46, Ann continued to run the shop in order to support the family. According to Neil, she was a very determined woman with an excellent head for business who ensured that the family was never in financial difficulties and she encouraged her children also to work hard and be ambitious.
Neil, a bright boy, passed his eleven plus to secure a place at Heaton Secondary School for Boys (renamed Heaton Grammar after the war), which he later described as ‘the most fortunate event in my life’. He remembered that there was a heavy emphasis on the sciences and that, from the outset, he was drawn to chemistry. One of his formative memories was of an experiment conducted in class when he was 12 years old in which he mixed a solution of colourless aqueous ammonia with blue copper sulphate in water to produce ‘beautiful well-formed crystals’. ‘From that moment I was hooked’ he wrote later, and he longed to know why the transformation took place. His future career direction had already been determined.
Neil also recalled that he and his brother made extra pocket money by selling ice cream. With the encouragement of his mother, he spent his share of the proceeds equipping a makeshift laboratory at home. It is interesting to note that fluorine, which is used in refrigeration, was to become the focus of Neil’s research a decade or more later.
His original plan was to become a biochemist and so he obtained a scholarship to study natural products chemistry at Kings College in Newcastle, then part of the University of Durham. While he was there, his mother bought a newly built house at 1 Winchcombe Place in High Heaton, which Neil called home for six years.
He graduated in 1954 but by this time, he had realised that his strengths lay with inorganic chemistry and it was in this field that he obtained his PhD at the same institution in 1958. By the time he obtained his doctorate, he was married to Christina Cross of Guisborough. Neil then spent a brief period teaching at The Duke’s School in Alnwick before accepting a research position in fluorine chemistry at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver.
Not so inert
Scientists had always believed that the so-called noble or inert elements: helium, neon, argon, krypton, xenon and radon, all gases at room temperature, were unable to react with any other substances. Their inertness had become a basic tenet of chemistry, published in textbooks and taught in classrooms and lecture halls throughout the world.
A few had questioned this scientific orthodoxy. They included German physicist, Walter Kossel, and the American Nobel-prize winning chemist, Linus Pauling, who had both predicted that highly reactive atoms such as those of fluorine might form compounds with xenon, the heaviest of the noble elements.
During his early days at UBC, while experimenting with fluorine and platinum, Bartlett had accidentally produced a deep-red solid, the exact chemical composition of which was, at first, a mystery. Eventually, he and his research student, Derek Lohmann, realise that the fluorine and platinum had reacted with oxygen. What was unusual was that the compound contained oxygen in the form of positively charged ions, although usually oxygen has a net negative charge. Bartlett realised that the platinum and fluorine component was a more powerful oxidising agent even than oxygen and theorised that it might also be able to oxidise xenon and so show that this so called inert gas wasn’t necessarily always so.
By March 1962, Bartlett had designed a simple experiment. He set up a glass apparatus containing the platinum fluorine compound, a red gas, in one container and xenon, a colourless gas, in an adjoining container separated by a seal. This is what happened next in his own words:
‘Because my co-workers at that time (23 March 1962) were still not sufficiently experienced to help me with the glass blowing and the preparation and purification of platinum hexafluoride necessary for the experiment, I was not ready to carry it out until about 7.00pm on that Friday. When I broke the seal between the red platinum hexafluoride gas and the colourless xenon gas, there was an immediate interaction, causing an orange-yellow solid to precipitate. At once I tried to find someone with whom to share the exciting finding but it appeared that everyone had left for dinner!’
The reaction took place at room temperature ‘in the twinkling of an eye’ and was, according to Bartlett, ‘extraordinarily exhilarating’. Neil Bartlett was only 29 years old.
It was then that the really hard work began. Bartlett was sure that he had disproved what was then considered to be a fundamental law of nature but the scientific community was sceptical. Nevertheless, the compound was soon formally identified as xenon hexafluoroplatinate, the world’s first noble gas compound. With one simple experiment, an entirely new field, noble gas chemistry, had been launched.
Now, there are many known compounds, for which applications have been found in medicine, including eye-surgery and cancer treatments; mining; space travel and manufacturing.
Early the following year, Neil Bartlett was in the news again. He and his graduate student were injured following a laboratory explosion. According to Bartlett, as they both took off their glasses to get a better look at what they thought might be the first crystals of xenon difluoride, the compound exploded. Both men spent around four weeks in hospital. Bartlett was left with damaged vision and glass was still being removed from his eye 27 years later.
Despite the momentous discovery he made so early in his career, Bartlett’s career certainly didn’t tail off.
He stayed at the UBC for another four years before becoming professor of chemistry at Princeton University, alongside a position as a scientist at Bell Telephone Laboratories. He later said that, in retrospect, the move to the east coast of America was a mistake. He much preferred the lifestyle and climate of the west and, in 1969, he joined the University of California, Berkeley, where he stayed until his retirement. In the UK, he also served as Brotherton professor at the University of Leeds.
Bartlett is also known in the world of chemistry for his work on the stabilisation of unusually high oxidisation states of elements; his contributions towards understanding thermodynamic, structural and bonding considerations of chemical reactions; he developed novel synthetic approaches; and he discovered and characterised many new fluorine compounds and produced many new metallic graphite compounds.
Beyond the Lab
Neil and Christine had three sons and one daughter and they continued to live in California after Neil’s retirement in 1993. Neil became a naturalised US citizen in 2000. His outside interests included water colour painting, gardening and ‘walking in high country’. He died on 5 August 2008.
Professor Neil Bartlett’s contribution to science was recognised all over the world by honorary degrees and prizes. There are too many to list here but they include:
1962 The Corday-Morgan Medal and Prize awarded by the Chemical Society (now Royal Society of Chemistry) for that year’s most meritorious contribution to experimental chemistry;
1965 A Research Corporation for Scientific Advancement’s plaque and prize for his outstanding contribution to science;
1976 The Welch Award in Chemistry, given to encourage and reward chemical research for the benefit of mankind and one of the largest and most prestigious in chemistry;
1981 Honorary Doctor of Science, Newcastle University;
1989 The American Chemical Society Award for Distinguished Service in the Advancement of Inorganic Chemistry;
1989 Linus Pauling Award Medal of the American Chemical Society ‘A nominee shall have made outstanding contributions to chemistry that have merited national and international recognition’;
2002 The Davy Medal awarded by the Royal Society ‘for an outstandingly important recent discovery in any branch of chemistry;
2006 His laboratory at UBC in Vancouver was dedicated an International Historic Chemical Landmark by the American Chemical Society.
In fact almost the only prize missing from Professor Bartlett’s impressive CV was a Nobel Prize. Many people are astounded by his omission.
In his obituary in ‘Nature’, he was described by fellow chemist, Karl O Christe as ‘one of the foremost chemists of the twentieth century’. His obituary writer continued ‘perhaps because of his modesty and lack of interest in lobbying for honours, he did not receive the Nobel Prize in Chemistry – which, in my opinion, and those of many of his peers, was clearly deserved.’
Christe goes on to say ‘…perhaps his most memorable traits were his humbleness, friendliness, loyalty and concern for others: Neil Bartlett was not only a brilliant scholar but a true gentleman.’
Bartlett was nominated for the Nobel prize every year between 1963 and 1970: he received one nomination in 1963, four in 1964, nine in 1965, six in 1966, six in 1967, three in 1968, ten in 1969 and six in 1970, 45 in total.
István Hargittai in a chapter entitled ‘Who did not win?’ in his book ‘The Road to Stockholm’ wrote ‘Significantly, many chemists today assume that Bartlett has won a Nobel Prize.’
He cites ‘the most spectacular misconception’ on the first page of the first chapter of Primo Levi’s ‘The Periodic Table’ (named by the Royal Institution of Great Britain as ‘the best science book ever’ ). It reads as follows:
‘As late as 1962 a diligent chemist after long and ingenious efforts succeeded in forcing the Alien (xenon) to combine fleetingly with extremely avid and lively fluorine, and the feat seemed so extraordinary that he was given the Nobel Prize’.
But it isn’t just the Nobel Prize. The ‘Oxford Dictionary of National Biography’ which is described as ‘the national record of over 60,000 men and women who shaped the history of the British Isles and of Britons worldwide, from the earliest times to the 21st century’ issued a print update including deaths up to December 2008. Professor Neil Bartlett does not appear. And, more mystifyingly still, he still doesn’t appear in the online index.
There is no commemorative plaque at his High Heaton home and he doesn’t appear on NewcastleGatehead’s Local Heroes trail, where physicist, Professor Peter Higgs, and geneticist, Professor John Burn, are the only scientists with a plaque on the Quayside.
But it’s not too late for Heaton History Group to finally give ex Heaton Grammar pupil and former High Heaton resident, Professor Neil Bartlett, a man with noble qualities, if not a Nobel prize, at least the local recognition he deserves.
Can You Help?
If you know more about Neil Bartlett or have photos or memories 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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Researched and written by Chris Jackson with additional material by Karl Cain, both of Heaton History Group.
We have written in the past about the opening of the school that was recently renamed Jesmond Park Academy. We mentioned that the first head teacher of Heaton Secondary School for Girls was a Miss W M Cooper and that of the neighbouring boys’ school a Mr F R Barnes.
Frederic Richard Barnes didn’t retire until thirty years later and so Heaton History Group’s Arthur Andrews decided to find out what he could about a man who was an influence on a generation of local boys.
Frederic Barnes was born in 1890, the first son of Richard, a carpenter, and Mary, who had both been born and brought up in Salford, Lancashire, where the family still lived. By 1911, Richard had become a ‘manual instructor’ for Salford Education Committee and Frederic, who had recently graduated from Manchester University with a First Class Honours Degree was a ‘student teacher’. His younger brother, James, was a ‘Civil Service student’.
In 1915, Barnes married Alice Gertrude Holt, an ‘elementary school teacher’, who grew up very close to Frederic’s childhood home in Salford. His first teaching job too was in Salford.
After the war, Barnes was appointed to a teaching post in Coventry before moving back to the north-west to take up the post of headmaster of Barrow in Furness Secondary School for Boys, Lancashire.
Ten years later a prestigious opportunity arose in Newcastle with the building of the Heaton Secondary Schools, which, it has been said, had been designed to resemble an Oxbridge college. The state of the art schools were officially opened to a great fanfare on 18 September 1928 by Viscount Grey, the former foreign secretary, and, just three weeks later, the head teachers, F R Barnes and W M Cooper, were presented to King George V and Queen Mary when the royal couple visited the new school on the day that they opened the Tyne Bridge.
On becoming headmaster of Heaton Secondary School for Boys, Frederic Barnes and his wife and two children, Frederic Cyril and Gertrude, went to live at ‘Bowness’, 55 Jesmond Park West, a newly built semi-detached house overlooking the school and its playing fields. At that time the entrance to the boys school was on Jesmond Park West so Barnes had a very short walk to work. A newspaper article at the time said that F R Barnes named the house ‘Bowness’ because his children had enjoyed excursions to the village on Lake Windermere, close to Barrow in Furness.
One of the concerns we know Barnes had in the early years of his headship was the inadequate amount of sleep that Heaton boys were enjoying. At the school speech day in December 1934, he presented the results of a sleep census, commenting on the ‘alarmingly’ inadequate amount of sleep that many of his charges got each night. Some things don’t change! The research revealed that 74 boys aged 13 years old and younger went to bed at 9:30pm, 79 at 10:00pm and 28 at 10:30pm.
Youth unemployment was another worry. The school’s opening in 1928 had coincided with the start of decline in the heavy industries so important to the north-east’s economy. By 1934, the situation had worsened. Barnes expressed a hope that ‘after negotiations’ more school leavers ‘would obtain a prompt start in industry’. He also appealed to parents not to restrict their sons’ choice of profession or rule out the ‘adventurous careers’. No examples of exactly what he meant by this have been recorded. The armed forces, perhaps?
On the date of the 1939 Register of England and Wales, a snapshot of the civilian population which was used during the war to produce identity cards, issue ration books and administer conscription, Frederic and Alice Barnes were back in the north-west with their daughter, Gertrude. The family was staying with 35 year old ‘householder’ , Dorothy I Field in Whitehaven, Cumberland. Perhaps they were on holiday? But the register was taken on 29 September during school term. In fact, the whole of Heaton Secondary School for Boys, including many of the teachers, had been evacuated by train to Whitehaven in the very early days of the the second world war.
There are a number of vivid accounts of pupils’ experiences in the public domain, including that of Colin Kirkby, who some 56 years later, remembered being given a carrier bag containing a gas mask, an identity card, a tin of corned beef and a tin of condensed milk, then being taken to Newcastle’s cattle market and then the station to be put on a train to Cumberland. Once they were in Whitehaven, he had to sit in a school hall ‘with thousands of other children from Newcastle’ waiting to be chosen by a local host. ‘I and a few others were left till last, and I think it was because we were the scruffiest.’ Luckily, he went to live with ‘a kindly old couple’.‘I moved from a house in Newcastle with no electricity and a toilet in the back yard to a house with everything. It even had a garden.’
In March 1940, the ‘Evening Chronicle’ ran an article, headlined ‘Boys’ Comic Opera – hosts entertained at Whitehaven’. It reported that, members of the Heaton Secondary Boys School Dramatic Society had given two performances of ‘H.M.S. Pinafore’ to crowded audiences in the Whitehaven Secondary School premises, one for those who had been looking after the boys during their time in West Cumberland; the second for the remainder of the school and staff.
F R Barnes introduced the members of the society and gave details of the school’s achievements, including that the boys had won the Whitehaven and District Schools’ Association Football League Championship, with their captain, Cunnell, scoring an average of a goal a match. Like his successor, Harry Askew, Barnes was a very keen sportsman and in particular, a footballer.
In his foreword to issue 32 (summer 1944) of the boys’ school magazine, Frederic lamented that a whole generation had had their education disrupted during the war years. He felt that the revival of the school magazine was one more sign of pre-war normality returning, writing that for five years the achievements of the school’s scholars and athletes had gone unsung.
The 20 page issue give us a feel for the time: the school notes section concentrates on the ‘Old Boys who gave their lives in the cause of freedom’, along with those reported missing and those in prisoner of war camps. The list takes up almost 2 pages.
There were also reports of Literary and Debating Society events (A Miss Mary Robson and a Mr Simpson from the People’s Theatre had given an informal lecture at one meeting); the activities of the Historical Society; achievements in cricket, football and athletics. There were poems and stories about war, the evacuation to Whitehaven and hiking in the Lake District. The editor regretted that, because of the paper shortage, caused by the war, not all contributions could be printed.
The final page has two additions to the killed and missing and also mentions eight former pupils, who had been decorated for bravery. On the copy we have, ticks have been pencilled against two of the names: Arthur Cowie DFM and Arthur Scott DFC. Perhaps they were known to William Hedley, the original owner of the magazine. Colin Kirkby left school that year and joined the Navy, perhaps one of the ‘adventurous careers’ that F R Barnes had urged parents not to rule out ten years earlier.
Barnes retired in 1958, after a 30 year tenure as Headmaster of Heaton Secondary School for Boys which, by this time, was known as Heaton Grammar School.
It was reported in the ‘Newcastle Journal’ on Wednesday 12 March 1958 that the school’s Musical and Dramatic Society were going to perform ‘The Mikado’ by Gilbert and Sullivan as a tribute to him. The choice was Barnes’ as it was his favourite opera and it was the first work ever to be performed by the society ten years earlier.
The account stated that Barnes had been the inspiration and encouragement behind everything the society had ever done and that everyone – the 50 boys in the cast and chorus, as well as the masters producing and managing it, were determined to make this ‘Mikado’ a show Mr Barnes would long remember. A team of pupils under the supervision of Mr Waldron, the woodwork teacher, and Mr Loughton, the scenic artist, had built all the sets.
At his retirement at the end of the summer term, former pupils presented Barnes with a television set, a gramophone and a book. Alumnus, Newcastle solicitor Brian Cato, presented the gifts and spoke with gratitude of Mr Barnes who, he said, had inspired generations of school boys and shaped their future lives.
But Frederic Barnes wasn’t quite finished. In December 1958, it was reported that he was ‘coming out of retirement’ to put the case against comprehensive schools in Newcastle. He had accepted an invitation from Robert William Elliott, the Conservative MP for North Newcastle (later Baron Elliott of Morpeth), to speak at a public meeting at the Connaught Hall. It was emphasised that his speech would not be party political but ‘solely a headmaster’s view of the Newcastle Socialists’ plan’. Barnes had previously said that he was not opposed to experiment in education but he was utterly opposed to the scheme for comprehensive education proposed by Newcastle Education Committee.
Frederic Richard Barnes died at the age of 73, on 3 December 1963.
At the time he was living at 7 Swalwell Close, Prudhoe. His wife Alice outlived him by nine years. The family grave is in Jesmond Old cemetery.
It has been suggested by a number of nonagenarian alumni, that Raymond Barnes, the well known school outfitter of 92 Grey Street, was a brother of Frederic Barnes but our research has found no family relationship between the pair.
Researched and written by Arthur Andrews, Heaton History Group, with additional material by Chris Jackson. Thank you to William Brian Hedley of Heaton History Group for sharing the contents of his father, William’s, copy of ‘The Heatonian’; to Friends of Jesmond Old Cemetery for help with locating the Barnes family grave and to Ralph Fleeting, a Heaton Grammar School ‘Old Boy’ for his memories.
It’s late June 2021 and Team GB for the 2020 Summer Olympics has just been announced. Such are the strange times we’re living through. But amidst ongoing uncertainty about the next games, let’s celebrate Heaton’s distinguished past Olympians.
No 1 Harry Askew
Harry represented Great Britain in the long jump at the 1948 London Summer Olympics.
Born in Barrow-in-Furness on 31 December 1917, he excelled in sports at school, particularly as a sprinter, only moving to long jump while at Cambridge University. Pre-war, he won the 1937 Oxbridge Sports long jump and 2 years later the UAU title and was second in the AAA Championships. The war interrupted Harry’s career. He spent six years in the army with the Royal Corps of Signals, achieving the rank of captain. After the war, he moved to Jersey to teach.
The Olympic champion and world record holder in the long jump was famously the great Jesse Owens, who had won 4 gold medals in Berlin in 1936. Because of World War 2, it was to be 12 years before the next games and so the American didn’t get to defend his title. Harry was one of 21 competitors to take part in the qualifying round on 31 July 1948 and comfortably made the final in 6th place with a jump of 7.14. He was 9th in the final with a jump of 6.935m. The medal winners were all from the USA, the winner, Willie Steele, achieving 7.825.
Harry’s son, Roger, told us that Harry stayed in Hammersmith during the games and travelled to White City, where the athletics took place, by bus, even on the day he was competing.
Askew went on to teach and coach in Essex. He improved his personal best to 7.29m in 1949 and in 1950 won the AAA title, the British championship, aged 32. In 1958, the Askew family moved north in order that Harry could take up a position as head of Heaton Grammar School, which is what makes his name so familiar to many older Heatonians. Despite being a vociferous opponent of comprehensive education, he was appointed head of Heaton School, Heaton’s new coeducational comprehensive in 1967.
Askew achieved more national and even international fame than for his Olympic achievements in 1976 when his controversial response to the newly enacted Equal Opportunities Act was to announce that, henceforward, girls would be subject to corporal punishment on the same basis as boys ie liable to receive it. Parents and pupils organised a protest and alerted the media. There was damage to the school, assaults, expulsions, court cases.
The dust settled, however, and Harry Askew eventually retired in 1979 after 21 years in post. On his retirement he told the ‘Journal’. ‘Do you know, I still have my jumping shoes, my England vest and tracksuit? I couldn’t bear to part with them, although today I can hardly get my feet off the ground unless it’s to put them up in front of the television set!’
Harry Askew and his wife moved south on his retirement to be closer to family. He was looking forward to having more time for his passion for jazz music – he was a talented pianist – and for gardening. He died on 31 October 1986, aged 68.
No 2 Alan Lillington
Alan represented Great Britain in the 100m at the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki.
Born in South Shields on 4 September 1932, Alan grew up in Heaton and attended Heaton Grammar. His mother and father were steward and stewardess of Heaton Liberal Club at 25 Heaton Road, the building with the stone lion above the bay window. He continued to live there until he married local girl, Eileen Murray, in 1955. After their marriage, the couple lived with Eileen’s family at 14 Cloverdale Gardens, High Heaton.
Alan was an all round sportsman and is reported to have played for Newcastle United as a junior as well as rugby for Northern. The first mention we have found of him in the local press, however, was in August 1949 when the ‘Evening Chronicle’ reported that the 16 year old Elswick Harrier, already the champion at 100 yards, had been set to miss competing for the Northumberland and Durham 220 yards title at Cowgate because of plans for a holiday in Portsmouth. He and a friend had seats booked on the night bus departing at 7.15 until his father stepped in with a more costly rail ticket, which left three hours later, allowing him to race earlier in the evening. In the article, Lillington was described as a ‘young sprint star’. The following July he won the All England Schools’ Silver Jubilee Intercounty AA championships in a time of 10 seconds dead and was in the victorious 440 yards relay team too. And in August he won the junior 100 yards at White City, London.
By 1952, Olympic year, Lillington, now a medical student at Durham University, was second only to Trinidad-born Emmanuel McDonald Bailey, the joint 100m world record holder, in the senior AAA Championship and so was deservedly selected for Helsinki, aged 19, as the ‘baby’ of the team.
Helsinki had originally been chosen to replace Tokyo in 1940 after Japan announced two years before that it would be unable to host the games because of the ongoing Second Sino-Japanese War. In the event, of course, the 1940 games were cancelled because of World War 2. London, which had been selected for the also cancelled 1944 event, was awarded the first games after the war with Helsinki getting its turn four years later.
None of the medallists from 1948 were competing in the 100m this time round and so McDonald Bailey, who finished 6th in London was favourite along with American, Art Bragg, and Jamaica’s Herb McKenley.
Young Alan Lillington was drawn in the first heat on 20 July, from which he qualified in second place behind Australia’s John Treloar, but in the quarter finals, he finished in 6th and last place to Lindy Remigino of the USA and so failed to qualify for the semi final or final. It was nevertheless a magnificent feat for a teenager.
The final on 21 July was one of the closest races imaginable with all six runners separated by only 0.12 seconds, hand-timed. A photograph showed Lindy Remigino to have finished first, Herb McKenley second with GB’s McDonald Bailey in bronze medal position.
Much later, Alan said the games brought back fond memories but that he was sorry that Great Britain recorded its lowest medal total with ‘its only gold medal winner a horse!’ (In fact, three horses and their riders in the team show jumping).
After the Olympics, Lillington continued to perform at a high level. He represented England in the 1954 British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Vancouver.
He remembered celebrating his 21st birthday at an event in Stockholm where he was carried around the room on the stroke of midnight by his mentor, Harold Abrahams (1924 Olympic Champion, whose story was told in ‘Chariots of Fire’) and Chris Chataway (5,000m finalist in Helsinki, pacer for Roger Bannister’s 4 minute mile and, later, minister in the Heath government).
But soon, Alan Lillington’s mentions in the press were mainly in connection with his work as a doctor and for charity. He worked at Newcastle’s RVI and General before becoming a consultant paediatrician in Sunderland. He was also a director of St Benedict’s Hospice in Sunderland, as well as a committed Freemason, and he helped set up Sunderland Sports Council.
Lillington was appointed a Deputy Lord Lieutenant for Tyne and Wear and, in 1995, Sheriff. He was awarded the MBE for services to the community in Wearside in 2006.
Alan and Eileen’s son, Peter, played club rugby for Harlequins and toured New Zealand with Scotland in 1981.
No 3 Maurice Benn
Maurice represented Great Britain in the 1500m at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City.
Born in Wallsend on 9 November 1946, Maurice was a member of Heaton Harriers. The first mention of him we have found in the press so far was on 7 January 1966 when the ‘Evening Chronicle’ reported:
‘Heaton’s boys proved their worth by finishing second team on Boxing Day and with Dick Balding, Joe Hawes and Maurice Benn in their senior line up, the ‘East Enders’ if they can find a couple of useful youths, must be among the medals again on Saturday.’
A month later, the future Olympian was referred to as having the best time for a youth over a Team Valley cross-country course and was expected to take his place in Heaton Harriers’ senior team in the race for the Royal Corps of Signals (coincidentally Harry Askew’s old regiment) Trophy over the same course.
But it wasn’t until 3 June 1968 that Maurice came to national attention during the inter-county finals at London’s White City. The Birmingham Post summed up the media’s surprise:
‘Perhaps the biggest shock of all was the entry of 21 year old Maurice Benn into the ranks of Britain’s sub-four-minute milers. An “unknown” from the north east, Benn had a previous best of 04:04.8 and he beat the established international, John Whetton of Nottinghamshire into third place.’
Benn’s time was 03:59.9. He was the first north-east athlete to achieve this feat. It transpired that he had recently teamed up with north-east based national coach, Peter Harper, after being coached for the previous two years by letter by the AAA’s travelling coach, who was based in Glasgow. No Zoom back then!
And so on 5 August 1968, Maurice Benn of Heaton Harriers, received a letter signed by Prince Philip inviting him to compete in the games. With the times he had achieved that summer, Benn’s selection was certainly merited but Maurice himself later said that he had really gone to Mexico for the experience. The Birmingham Post called his selection ‘controversial’.
Maurice struggled in the altitude of Mexico City. As he later recalled ‘I shouldn’t have gone to Mexico. I had a history of anaemia and didn’t acclimatise well… I trained with Ron Hill and I was panting like an old bloke’.
The reigning champion was New Zealander, Peter Snell, who had won in Tokyo four years earlier with a time of 3:38.1, but he wasn’t competing in Mexico. Here, the favourite was the USA’s Jim Ryun, the world record holder. Maurice was drawn in the first heat on 18 October along with Ryun and, although the Heaton Harrier achieved a time of 3:56.43, a personal best, it was well behind the qualifiers. Ryun went onto win his semifinal ahead of Kenyan, Kip Keino, but in the final Keino, who was paced by his compatriot, Ben Jipcho, won gold in an Olympic record time. John Whetton, beaten by Maurice at sea level, just a few months earlier, was a creditable 5th.
After the games, Benn went to study in the USA where, representing the University of Nevada, he won the USA National Collegiate cross-country championship. The university won the team prize as well and they were welcomed home in style with banners, a motor-cavalcade and television interview. It was said to be the first national victory by any Nevada team at any time in any sport – and led by a former Heaton Harrier. But anaemia continued to dog him in the states – Nevada is at altitude too.
By 1970, Benn was back in Britain but had moved away from the north-east. He continued running for Cambridge Harriers. The following year he ‘surprisingly won the Southern Counties 10,000m’ in cold and blustery conditions with a ‘staggering time of 28:53:08, which is top international standard’ but by the time of the 1972 games his training had become spasmodic, his form had dipped and he was out of contention for Olympic selection.
Maurice went on to work as a finance worker for British Rail in London, where he represented Woodford Green athletics club for many years. He has a permanent place in the pantheon of Heaton sport.
No 4 Derek Talbot
Derek Talbot represented Great Britain at badminton at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich.
Born in Newcastle in 1947, Derek grew up on Etherstone Avenue in High Heaton and attended Heaton Grammar, where he first played badminton. He went on to study metallurgy at Newcastle University, where, after doing well with the British Universities’ badminton team, he was spotted by the England selectors. He then moved to London for five years to establish himself in the sport.
Talbot’s first major title was Commonwealth Games mixed doubles gold with Margaret Boxall in Edinburgh in 1970 and in April 1972, he again won mixed gold with Gillian Gilks and bronze with fellow Heatonian, Elliot Stuart, at the European Badminton Championships in Sweden.
Badminton had been chosen as a demonstration sport for the 1972 Olympics so medals did not count in official tables. The intention was to promote to a global audience a sport which was, and is, very big in some parts of the world but unknown, at least as a spectator sport, in others. Some years later, Talbot summed up the different levels of fame top players enjoyed in different countries:
‘In many parts of the far east, we were recognised in the streets and invited to meet presidents in their palaces. But I could always come back to Newcastle and be inconspicuous, which I prefer. So I got the best of both worlds’.
The demonstration sports rules allowed for doubles partners of mixed nationality and the medals awarded were slightly smaller replicas of the official ones. The entire tournament took place on a single day, 4 September.
Derek competed in the men’s doubles, partnered again by fellow Heaton Grammar old boy, Elliot Stuart. They beat a German / Canadian pairing in the1st round before losing to the eventual winners, Indonesians Ade Chandra and Christian Hadanata, in the semi-finals. Thus they were bronze medallists.
In the mixed doubles, he again partnered fellow Britain, Gillian Gilks, one of the most decorated British badminton players of all time. The pair beat Japanese, West German and Danish opponents to win gold.
The Munich Olympics are remembered, of course, for the events of 5-6 September. Eight members of a Palestinian terrorist group, Black September, took nine members of the Israeli Olympic team hostage, killing two of them. Five terrorists and a German police officer were also killed during a rescue attempt.
Speaking some years later, Talbot said that he witnessed the start of the incident first hand:
‘I went out on the town celebrating and came back at 4.00am to what seemed like fireworks just 20 yards away. I walked right past and thought how inconsiderate it was of people to let off fireworks that time of night when many others had important events the next day. It was only later that I realised that I had almost stumbled across the terrorist attack.’
He went on to represent his country 83 times and won a total of four Commonwealth golds, one silver and two bronzes; three European golds, three silvers and two bronzes medals. He also won three All England Open golds and three silvers; a gold with Elliott Stuart in the Indian Open; a silver in the World Championships and a bronze in the World Cup.
Derek retired from international badminton in 1981 and became a successful businessman, running a sports shop and having his own brand of badminton racquets, alongside coaching, commentating and property development. He continued to serve his sport as a selector and an administrator.
He didn’t always speak well of Heaton, however. Having bought a £95,000 house in Jesmond Park East in 1986, he reportedly sold it a matter of months later, allegedly because ‘couldn’t make a right turn at the end of the street.’
‘It was impossible. If I wanted to drive to Newcastle I had to take a two mile detour to get on my way. I also found the neighbourhood lacking in facilities like shops, open space, a library, cinema and swimming pool’.
Perhaps Brian Johnson of AC/DC fame, who is said to have bought the house, found a quicker route west and also realised that High Heaton Library, Biddlestone Road baths and the shops of Heaton and Chillingham Road were just a twelve minute walk away and the open spaces of Jesmond Dene barely six.
After a spell in Jesmond, Talbot, who had had a longstanding interest in alternative medicine, moved to Ibiza in the early 1990s where he practised homeopathy. He later returned to Tyneside. In 2013, he received an MBE for services to badminton.
No 5 Elliot Stuart
Elliot represented Great Britain at badminton at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich.
Like Derek Talbot, Elliot attended Heaton Grammar. He lived with his parents on Kingsley Place and, after leaving school, also like Talbot, he studied metallurgy at Newcastle University because, he said,’dad worked in Vickers and Armstrong shipyards on the Tyne, and he thought it would be interesting – he was wrong.’
Stuart joined Barclays as a computer operator, later becoming a programmer, systems analyst and project manager. He said that he moved to London because he was on the verge of playing international badminton and ‘because it was easier to fly from Heathrow (regional airports barely existed then) to the many badminton tournaments throughout Europe and the world.’ In 1969, after he had been at Barclays for just a year, the company gave him ‘six months a year paid leave, without contractual obligations, except to spread the name of Barclays, whenever appropriate at events across the globe’.
In April 1972, Stuart won bronze with fellow Heatonian, Derek Talbot, at the European Badminton Championships in Sweden before representing Great Britain in the Olympic Games in Munich some four and a half months later. Although, the bronze medal the pair won doesn’t count officially, it was nevertheless a great honour to be chosen to represent their sport in the biggest event on earth.
The Heatonian went on to win gold at the 1973 Indian Open with Derek Talbot, 1974 Commonwealth gold, again with Talbot, and bronze with Susan Whetnall. In 1975, he won the All England mixed doubles title with Nora Gardner. But he says that his biggest badminton success was marrying Swedish World Singles Champion, Eva Twedberg!
In 1996, aged 50, Elliot took early retirement so that he could help top level badminton transition from an amateur to a professional sport. He continued to coach and mentor and became Performance Director for English Badminton. After retirement. he went to live in Portugal.
No 6 Jonathan Edwards
Jonathan represented Great Britain in the triple jump at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta and the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney.
Born in London on 10 May 1966, Jonathan was the son of Jill Edwards and her husband, Andy a clergyman. He was brought up to have a strong Christian faith which included preserving Sundays as a special day. The family didn’t watch television, work or study on the Sabbath. Jonathan remembers watching his mother prepare the vegetables for Sunday lunch on Saturday evenings.
Jonathan went to school in Devon, before coming north to study Physics at Durham University. While a student, he began to be coached by Gateshead-based, Carl Johnson, and, after graduation, decided to remain in the north east so that they could continue to work together.
It was the faith that Jonathan had inherited from his parents that brought him to Heaton. He began to worship at Heaton Baptist Church and took advantage of a book held at the back of the church listing local people with property available for rent.
His biographer writes of Edward’s first impressions of Heaton when a prospective landlord took him to view the King John Street property that became his first Heaton home:
‘Edwards confesses that as the car drove into Heaton his heart missed a beat. As rain drilled against the windows, all he could see was street after street of dreary-looking terraced houses. For a young man spoiled by the wild, rural beauty of the north Devon coast and the quaintness of Durham, this urban landscape was a culture shock. Still, Edwards needed a roof over his head and the accommodation was clean and affordable. He was to discover that his first impressions did not necessarily provide a fair reflection of the area. He found a friendliness and warmth in Heaton and, with his wife Alison, later established their first marital home in the street that had provided him with such an unflattering view of the suburb on the day he came flat-hunting’. They went on to live at several other Heaton addresses including on Heaton Park View.
Edwards recalls his early days, newly unemployed and alone, in Heaton: ‘I cried my eyes out’.
‘I’d never experienced life, real life, like this. After I’d moved into the flat in Heaton, my first attempt at cooking involved making an omelette and putting it on a lettuce leaf. Grotesque.’
Soon, however, Edwards got a job as a maternity cover scientific officer in the cytogenetics laboratory at the RVI. After work, he would go to Gateshead to train and then catch a Metro back into town. From there, he’d catch the Number 1 bus back to Heaton or walk if one didn’t arrive. We’ve all been there!
But soon Heaton and particularly Heaton Baptist Church became the focus of a national media storm. Improving performances meant that Edwards was selected for the 1988 British Olympic trials. The first two in the trials were guaranteed selection for the games and there would be a third wild-card place. Unfortunately for Edwards, the triple jump event was scheduled for a Sunday and so the young, unknown Edwards declared that he could not compete. The media had already besieged the RVI and on the day of the event itself, television crews turned up at the church on Heaton Road hoping to film Edwards going in to worship. However, Edwards’ gamble paid off: he was selected for Seoul anyway. It was never expected that he would achieve a high place but he would gain valuable experience. In fact he finished 23rd in qualifying with a best jump of 15.88. Bulgaria’s Khristo Markov won the final with a new Olympic record of 17.61.
By the time of the Barcelona games, 4 years later, Jonathan Edwards had married Alison Briggs, a physiotherapist at the RVI, at Heaton Baptist Church. Expectations, including his own, were high. His father was in the stadium to watch him qualify and his mother and Alison would be there for the final. Except, for Jonathan, there was to be no final. He fouled his first jump and messed up his next two as well. His position of 35th was worse than Seoul. His best distance of 15.76 almost two metres shorter than that of the eventual winner, USA’s Mike Conley, who achieved a new Olympic record of 17.73. Edwards was distraught.
By the time of the next summer games in Atlanta in 1996, Edwards was a full-time athlete, having been able to give up work at the RVI thanks to a grant from the Great North Run Trust. He had also changed his coach and adopted the jumping style of the Barcelona gold medallist, Mike Conley. And there were new names in the Edwards’ family, Alison having given birth to two sons, Sam and Nathan, in 1993 and 1995 respectively. Most importantly from an athletics point of view, he was now world record holder.
In the European Cup Final in Lille on 25 June 1995, he had jumped a huge but slightly wind-assisted 18.43. A legitimate world record of 17.98 in Salamanca followed, and then on 7 August two more massive world record breaking jumps of 18.16 and 18.29 metres during the World Championships in Gothenburg while his wife Alison was back in Heaton, trying to take her mind off things by gardening. When the media converged on our area again, a home made banner outside the Edwards’ flat read ‘Simply the Best’. That Edwards was now a sporting superstar was confirmed when he won the prestigious BBC Sports Personality of the Year. He went into the 1996 Olympics as hot favourite.
The triple jump event in Atlanta took place on 26 July. In qualifying, Edwards struggled, as he had previously, while reigning champion Mike Conley and former world champion, Kenny Harrison, both on home soil, along with Cuban Queseda, Bermudan Wellman, and Bulgarian Georgiev, all reached the automatic qualifying distance on their first jump. Edwards eventually qualified for the final in sixth place.
In the final, Harrison set a new Olympic record with his first jump and bettered it with his fourth. Edwards struggled with two red flags before managing a legal jump which put him in third place and entitled him to a further three attempts. His fourth effort was the longest jump ever not to win gold but the Briton had to settle for silver. (This was Heaton’s first official Olympic medal!)
Four year’s later in Sydney, the now Gosforth-based Edwards was determined to better that. Harrison wasn’t competing and so when qualifying began on 23 September 2000, the British athlete was favourite again. This time he achieved the required distance with his second jump, although his British team mates, Onochie ‘Larry’ Achike and Phillips Idowu, were in first and second place, both with personal bests, and Edwards in fourth going into the final two days later.
In the final, Achike led after the first round and Russia’s Denis Kapustin after the second but in the third round Edwards jumped 17.71m and took gold (Heaton’s first!) He was awarded a CBE.
Following his Olympic success, Edwards won gold at the 2001 World Championships. At one point he was the reigning champion in the Olympics, World, Commonwealth and European Championships. At the time of writing, he still holds the World Record with his jump of 18.29m on 7 August 1995 in Gothenburg and his wind-assisted 18.43m on 25 June the same year, while not counting in the record books, also remains unsurpassed. He is also Heaton’s most successful Olympian.
No 7 Freya Ross née Murray
Freya represented Great Britain in the marathon at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
Born on 20 September 1983, Freya grew up in Temple, Midlothian and was a successful runner as a schoolgirl, winning the Scottish Schools 3,000m title in 1999 and 2000 and Scottish Cross-Country Champion in 2001.
Her progress continued into senior athletics and she won the Scottish 10,000m in 2009 and the 5,000 national title in 2010. She represented Scotland in both the 5,000m and 10,000m the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, finishing 7th and 5th respectively.
In 2006, after studying structural engineering at Heriot-Watt University, Freya moved to the north east, initially to Sunderland where she ran for Chester le Street. She joined international engineering consultancy Cundall and able to work part time for them, while pursuing her athletics career. She describes how she often ran to and from their Regents Centre office from her home in Tosson Terrace. She has also described how she used to like running at Rising Sun Country Park and along the wagonways. The flexibility of her employer also meant she could train for part of the year in California.
Freya didn’t originally originally make the London Olympics squad. She had been pipped to the final marathon place by Claire Hallissey who had beaten her in that April’s London Marathon and she was picked only when injury forced the withdrawal of Paula Radcliffe, the world record holder and one of the favourites. On 29 July, only a week before the event, Freya was at home in Heaton doing table plans for her wedding when she got the call to pack her bags. Nevertheless, the following day, she went into work as she ‘had a few bits to finish off’. It wasn’t until the Thursday that she flew down to London.
The London Olympics women’s marathon on 5 August 2012 began and finished on the Mall and took in iconic sights such as Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, St Paul’s Cathedral, the Tower of London and the Houses of Parliament. Unfortunately for both athletes and spectators, the race began in heavy rain and so Paula Radcliffe’s world record was never in jeopardy. It was nevertheless a dramatic contest. The eventual winner, Ethiopia’s Tiki Gelana, fell at around halfway, trying to negotiate a water station but fought back to power past the bronze medallist, Russian Tatyana Arkhipova and silver medallist, Kenyan Priscah Jeptoo. Freya was the best placed Briton in 44th place from 118 starters in a personal best of 2 hours 28 minutes 12 seconds.
Following the Olympics, Freya got married as planned, became a full time athlete for a while and moved back to Scotland. She continued to compete, winning the Scottish National Championships 5,000m in 2016. She now has two young children, works as an events coordinator, has written a recipe book ‘Food on the Run’ and coaches at her local running club.
She has a permanent place in Heaton’s history as our first female Olympian.
No 8 Brazil, Spain and Gabon Football Teams, 2012 Summer Olympics in London
The previous athletes all were either born in, lived in, worked in or represented Heaton. But we must also reserve a place for the footballers who trained here before and during the 2012 games.
It was announced a good year before the event that the Brazil and Spain football squads had been allocated training facilities at the Newcastle University sports complex at Cochrane Park. The facilities underwent a half a million pound revamp in preparation for their illustrious visitors, the most famous of whom was to be Neymar, who at that time still played for Santos in his home country but was the hottest property in South American football. There was disappointment as a high fence appeared around the sports ground but excitement as it was discovered that good views of the pitches could be obtained from the first floor café of the High Heaton Sainsbury store across the road. The Geordie public had a chance to watch him properly in the quarter final v Honduras where he scored a penalty and registered an assist in Brazil’s thrilling 3-2 win v Honduras.
On 17 July 2012, Gabon became the first team to train on the university facilities but it was their warm-up match five days later that has gone down in local folklore. Former Newcastle United star Nobby Solano’s agent was drafted in to help the African underdogs find opponents to play in a friendly. He’d tried the Magpie’s Under 21s to no avail so he got in touch with the Heaton Stannington manager requesting a game the very next day. It was July. Some of the squad were on holiday, none were in training but it felt like too good an opportunity to miss, especially as Gabon boasted another of the most promising players in the world, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, then of St Étienne in France but soon to sign for Dortmund and later Arsenal. A team of part-timers was scrambled together, word was put out on social media and the game was on.
But not before the Stan assistant manager had made two mercy dashes to the African team’s base at the Gateshead Hilton, firstly to reunite Aubameyang with the boots he’d left behind and then to pop back for the sort of match balls they’d be playing with in the tournament. Aubameyang was marked by captain Joe Wear who had run the Great North 10K that morning ‘so I was a bit tired’. He scored two first half goals in Gabon’s 4-0 win before being substituted at half time.
The Africans turned down the Stan’s offer of a pie and a pint after the game but hung around to chat and pose for photographs. Their signed shirt still hangs in the clubhouse. Four days later they stepped out against Switzerland at St James Park with Aubameyang scoring their only goal of the tournament in a 1-1 draw. Their next opponents Mexico beat them 2-0 and went on to win the tournament, beating Neymar’s Brazil in the final.
Can you help?
So they’re the Heaton Olympians we have discovered so far. They all deserve a commemorative postbox! Please let us know if you know more about the Heaton connections of any of them. And we hope you can help us discover more Olympians or connections between Heaton and the Olympic Games more generally. You can contact us either through this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or by emailing email@example.com
Updated on 15 July 2021 with details of a recently rediscovered Heaton Olympian, Alan Lillington. Thank you to Arthur Andrews of Heaton History Group. Updated on 20 July 2021 to include Heaton Park View as a Heaton address for Jonathan Edwards. Thank you, David Faulkner.
British Newspaper Archive
‘The Eastenders: Heaton Harriers 1890-1990’ by William Allen; Heaton Harriers, 1990
‘A Time to Jump: the authorised biography of Jonathan Edwards’ by Malcolm Folley; Harper Collins, 2000
Other online sources
Researched and written by Chris Jackson with additional material supplied by Arthur Andrews. Thank you to Roger Askew for personal information and photos of his father and to Freya Ross and Jonathan Edwards for confirming their Heaton addresses.
Bryan ‘Chas’ Chandler is one of the most famous of all Heaton’s sons being notable for not one but three famous musical achievements. He was bass player in one of the groups making up the famous ‘British Invasion’ of the USA in the mid-1960s; he discovered and managed two more of the most famous acts of the 1960s and 70s and he left his mark on his home city with an important venue, which has seen concerts by some of the most famous acts in music, since it opened a quarter of a century ago. Yet life for Chandler began in a humble home in Heaton and he was to return there on numerous occasions.
Chas Chandler was born in Heaton not long before the outbreak of WW2, on 18 December 1938, and grew up at 35 Second Avenue. Chas attended Heaton Grammar School, before he began work as a turner at the Swan Hunter shipyard and Parsons’ engineering works. However, it was music that really interested young Chas – and it was in the music business that he would make his career.
In 1962, Chandler, who had learnt to play the guitar and then bass, whilst working as a turner at Swan Hunter, joined the ‘Alan Price Trio’, a band named after the man who would become keyboard player in ‘The Animals‘.
‘The Animals’ went on to play a major part in the British Invasion of the USA in 1964, after ‘The Beatles’ had opened the door for groups from this country. Indeed ‘The Animals’ were only the second British group to have a USA number one, with their electrified version of the traditional American folk song, ‘House of the Rising Sun’. ‘The Animals’‘ bold interpretation of the song didn’t only earn them number one spot, it is also generally considered to have had a huge influence on Bob Dylan, who had recorded an acoustic version of the song on his 1962 debut album, encouraging him to go electric and effectively invent what was to become folk-rock.
However, despite their success with ‘House of the Rising Sun’, the seeds of the demise of ‘The Animals’ were sown immediately. As it was a traditional song, with no known composer, Alan Price, the keyboard player, persuaded their record company to label the recording ‘Trad arr: Alan Price’, claiming that his keyboard solo was, if you excuse the pun, instrumental in the success of the song. This meant that Price got all the royalties on what was a worldwide hit. This caused enormous bitterness with the other four members of the group and it was also claimed that Hilton Valentine’s guitar arpeggio throughout the recording was at least as distinctive as Price’s keyboard playing.
Whatever the arguments, Price left the band and, despite further hits, most notably ‘We’ve Got to Get Out of this Place’, which became the theme song for many a disgruntled American GI in Vietnam, by 1966 ‘The Animals’ were on their last legs. Chandler himself described his feelings in an interview for the BBC series ‘Dancing in the Streets’, when he said that, ‘ it just wasn’t as much fun any more.’
By the summer of 1966, ‘The Animals‘ were no more and Chandler was in New York, looking to build a new career as a manager within the rock music business. He was also dating the model Linda Keith at the time. One evening Chandler went to listen to the folk artist, Tim Rose, and was particularly struck by one song he sang: ‘Hey Joe’. Chandler made a mental note to remember that song so that, once he had found a suitable artist, they could record it. It was then that fate stepped in as Linda Keith persuaded Chandler to go and see a young guitarist at the Cafe Wha in Greenwich Village. That guitarist was Jimi Hendrix and one of the songs he played that night was ‘Hey Joe’. The rest as they say is history…
Chandler persuaded Hendrix to come back to Britain with him in September 1966, so that he could be launched on his stellar career. Chandler reported years later that one of the few questions Hendrix had asked was whether there were Marshall amps in Britain. Chandler assured him that there were and soon Chandler and Hendrix were on a flight from New York to London. Once in London a band was formed around Hendrix’s prodigious talents, with Noel Redding joining on bass guitar and Mitch Mitchell joining on drums, to form the ‘Jimi Hendrix Experience’.
It was soon after this time that Hendrix made his connection with Heaton. Chandler brought Hendrix to Newcastle in January 1967. However it was not for an official performance, but for a late-night drinking session at Chas Chandler’s house in Heaton. It is reported that Hendrix lived there with Chandler for a short time. It has often been rumoured that Hendrix even took to the streets, busking on Chillingham Road, while another story has Hendrix busking outside the Raby Arms on Shields Road. Sadly neither photographs or recorded evidence of the music he played have ever been found.
Hendrix definitely did play in Newcastle, at both the Club a’Gogo in what was then Handyside Arcade on Percy Street and at the City Hall. Indeed his performance at the Club a’Gogo is marked in a rather unusual way on Front Street in Tynemouth. A commemorative plaque records that ‘Jimi Hendrix ate fish and chips from this shop on a bench overlooking the sea after performing at the Club a-Gogo Nightclub, Percy Street, Newcastle, Friday 10th March’ 1967′. The plaque is on Marshall’s chip shop – the same name as the amps Hendrix wanted assurances about back in New York – and also Hendrix’s middle name.
Hendrix was soon to leave both the nightclubs and chip shops of Tyneside behind him to become one of the biggest stars in an already crowded 1960s musical galaxy. Once Hendrix had wowed the crowds at the Monterey Music Festival near San Francisco in the summer of 1967, he was on his way and headlined the huge festivals at Woodstock in 1969 and the Isle of Wight in August 1970. Sadly the last of these festivals was to be the last major performance by Hendrix; he died on 18 September 1970 after an accidental overdose of sleeping tablets in his London home.
Chas Chandler was to hear the news of this tragedy back in his native Newcastle. Getting off a train from London, Chandler was surprised to find his dad waiting for him at the Central Station. As he later recalled, he asked his father why he was there, noting that he had caught the train back to Newcastle from London on many occasions, without his father being there to meet him. Chandler’s father soon let Chas know the sad reason why he was there.
Chandler continued his management career and soon struck gold again, with a group of four young men from the West Midlands: ‘Ambrose Slade’. Looking for a way to publicise the band, Chandler notoriously decided to get them to get their long hair cut very short and dressed in the boots and braces of the new skinhead cult. It wasn’t a great success. The band’s guitarist Dave Hill later recalled that the skinheads they attracted were less than impressed: expecting to hear their favourite reggae music, they were confronted by a band with a violinist performing a cover version of Paul McCartney’s ballad ‘Martha My Dear’, from ‘The Beatles’’ ‘White Album’.
Soon common sense prevailed: the band regrew their hair, dropped the Ambrose part of their name and, following a minor hit with ‘Get Down and Get With It’, were on the way to massive success, ending the 1970s with six UK number ones, the joint highest number, alongside Swedish superstars ‘Abba’, of any group in that decade.
Just as Hendrix came to Newcastle, so did ‘Slade’. It has been reported that, in 2013, reflecting on his own 50 years in the music business, the band’s frontman, Noddy Holder, said: ‘My manager and producer, Chas Chandler, was from Newcastle and I had a lot of good times in the North East when I went up there…..I can’t remember much about it but I know I had a great time!’
Chandler’s final musical achievement was to leave his native city of Newcastle with a lasting legacy. With his friend and fellow Tyneside-based musician Nigel Stanger, in 1995 he helped to establish the Newcastle Arena (currently the Utilita Arena). Although plans are afoot to replace it with a state of the art venue on Gateshead Quays, the Newcastle Arena has allowed the Tyneside public to see major stars from David Bowie to Bob Dylan and from Neil Young to BB King over the last 25 years. To paraphrase the words of the famous old song from the same blues genre Chandler had started out with back in the late 1950’s, Chandler had ‘brought it all back home’.
Sadly Chas himself was not to see many of these acts come to Tyneside. He passed away from a heart attack in his native Newcastle in July 1996, aged just 57. One of the mourners at his funeral was Al Hendrix, father of Chas’s protege.
A year later Dylan began his set at the Arena Chandler had established with his first rendition of ‘House of the Rising Sun’ in many years in what has been seen as a tribute to Chandler in his home city.
A commemorative plaque adorns the wall of 35 Second Avenue, Heaton which Chandler called home for the first 26 years of his life.
Mike Norton, originally from Hartlepool, lived at Chas’ old flat at 35 Second Avenue from 1992 to 1995. His landlord, John Morton, told Mike a few stories of the days when Chandler owned the property.
John Morton bought the property in the early 1980s with a sitting tenant downstairs, a Mrs Chandler. When Chas used to call and see his mum, she wouldn’t let him smoke in the flat and so he used to enjoy a cigarette on the steps outside. The flat upstairs used to be used by ‘The Animals’ back in the early 1960s.
One of the funnier stories related to when a friend of Mike visited. Knowing the Hendrix connection, he said that he couldn’t leave without using the toilet Jimi had used and so, even though he didn’t really need to, he nipped off to the smallest room before leaving. Mike didn’t have the heart to tell him that a new extension had been built in the 1980s which included the present toilet…
If you know more about Chas Chandler or Jimi Hendrix’s time in Heaton 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 firstname.lastname@example.org
You may be surprised to learn that Heaton Secondary Schools were officially opened by the Right Honourable Grey of Fallodon, Chancellor of the University of Oxford. Surprised because a visit some weeks later by the King and Queen is often mistakenly referred to as the opening. Here’s what actually happened!
The schools. which had provision for 500 boys and 500 girls, were erected at a cost of £140,000 and claimed to be the most up to date and best equipped in the country. The opening ceremony on 18 September 1928 was big news and covered in newspapers from Aberdeen and Belfast to Gloucester and beyond.
The original plan, agreed before World War One, had been to build the school on 25 acres of land adjacent to Ravenswood Road but this project had to be shelved due to the war. Afterwards, a price could not be agreed with the landowner. Compulsory purchase was set in motion but eventually the council decided that this would mean unacceptably long delays so a site of equal size opposite the housing estate being built on the other side of Newton Road was negotiated.
The original buildings of what became Heaton Manor School
The layout of the school was said to be reminiscent of a Cambridge college with the design of open loggias around a quadrangle.
Heaton Secondary Schools West Gateway
The classrooms were ‘of the open air type, with sliding partitions along the sunny side, the north side being used for science laboratories, gymnasiums etc.’
Heaton Secondary Schools’ ‘open-air classrooms’
There were two schools each with their own hall, dining room, library, labs, a commercial room, staff room and classrooms but the two halls were adjacent and so could be ‘thrown into one to form a great hall 80 feet long by 90 feet wide’. There was a craft room in the boys school and needlework and domestic science rooms in the girls’.
The first head teacher of Heaton Secondary School for Boys as it was first known was Mr F R Barnes, formerly of Barrow in Furness Secondary School for Boys. He started with a staff of 17 graduates and five specialists. Miss W M Cooper, formerly of Benwell Secondary School, had 13 graduates and four specialists working for her in the girls’ school, Heaton High School as it became known.
As for pupils, initially there would be 291 boys and 414 girls, 455 of which would be free scholarship holders. The remaining pupils were fee-paying. At the outset, their parents were charged £8 a year. The programme for the opening event announced that ‘Mrs Harrison Bell has very kindly endowed a history prize in memory of her husband, the late My J N Bell, who was elected in 1922 Member of Parliament for the east division of the city. The prize will be awarded in the boys’ and the girls’ school in alternate years.’
At the ceremony, there were prayers and songs including ‘Land of Hope and Glory‘ and Northumbrian folk song ‘The Water of Tyne’ and lots of speeches, not only Viscount Grey’s but also those of numerous local politicians, including the Lord Mayor, and presentations by the architect, H T Wright, and the contractor, Stanley Miller.
Viscount Grey is better known as the politician, Sir Edward Grey, who was Foreign Secretary from 1905 to 1916, the longest tenure ever. He is particularly remembered for the remark he is said to have made as he contemplated the enormity of the imminent World War One: ‘ The lamps are going out all over Europe. We shall not see them lit again in our time.’
In his speech in Heaton, Viscount Grey, a Liberal, said ‘The ideal system would be one in which the highest, most advanced and most expensive education was devoted solely to the youthful material of the country who were most capable by their abilities to profit from it. We have not reached that point today. A great deal of the highest and most expensive education in the country is given…. to <those> whose parents are able to pay for it… but… every school like that at Heaton is bringing higher education within the reach of those whose parents cannot pay for it. This is an advance towards a better system’.
And tackling another topic which has resonance today, the former tennis champion and keen fisherman and ornithologist spoke about the variety of entertainment available to young people, reminding the audience that in his day, there ‘was no electric light, no motor cars, no telephones, no wireless and no moving pictures’. But he reminded his young audience that the things which interested people most through life were those in which they took some active personal part. ‘Take part in games, rather than be mere spectators’ he urged. ‘It will give you more pleasure than all the other entertainments that come to you without trouble.’
For any locals lucky enough to have one, the whole ceremony was actually broadcast on the wireless from 3:00pm until 4:30pm. Radio station 5NO had been broadcasting from Newcastle since 1922 and its signals could reach up to about 20 miles. With broadcasting still in its infancy, many newspaper listings came with detailed technical instructions on what to do if the signal was lost: radio was still far from being a mass medium but it was catching on fast and those early local listings make fascinating reading. You can view them here.
Just over three weeks later, 23,000 pupils from all over Newcastle were invited to Heaton for the visit of King George V and Queen Mary to the school before the royal couple went on to open the new Tyne Bridge. And it’s this historic event which many people assume to have been the official opening. It was certainly a momentous occasion – and an excuse for more speeches!
King and Queen open Heaton Secondary Schools, 1928
‘Their majesties will drive round the school grounds where 23,000 children of the city will be assembled and on entering the school hall, the loyal address from the City of Newcastle will be presented by the Lord Mayor. Numerous public representatives will be presented to their Majesties, who will be asked to receive gifts from scholars.’
There were also displays of physical drills and country dancing by pupils.
Every school pupil present was given a commemorative booklet which included a photograph of the new school at the back but which was mainly about the opening of the new bridge.
‘To the boys and girls for whom these words are written, who have just begun their passage on the bridge of life, and who will go to and fro on the bridges of the Tyne, there is the lofty call to carry forward to future generations the progress which has brought them their own proud inheritance.’
A bouquet was said to have been presented to the Queen by the head girl and a book to the King by the head boy.
This made a lifelong impression on pupil Olive Renwick (nee Topping), who was 12 years old at the time, but at the age of 98 recalled;
We were all gathered in the hall and Miss Cooper, the head teacher, told us that the queen would be presented with a “bookie”. What on earth’s a bookie, I wondered. Only later did I realise she meant a bouquet!’
Olive (middle) & friends in Heaton High uniform, late 1920s
Again the event was broadcast on the wireless. A full day’s programming began at 10:50am with the ‘Arrival of the royal party at Heaton Secondary Schools’. And the excitement of arrival of the king and queen’s carriage pulled by four white ponies in front of thousands of handkerchief waving school children (along with hair raising footage of workers on the still incomplete Tyne Bridge) was captured on film by Pathe News.
And it shows a girl presenting a book (rather than ‘a bookie’) to the royal party. A last minute change of plan or an extra for the cameras?
After World War 2, the boys’ schools was renamed Heaton Grammar School and the girls’ Heaton High School. The two schools merged in September 1967 to form Heaton Comprehensive School. In 1983, this school merged with Manor Park School on Benton Road to form Heaton Manor. And in 2004, after the building of the new school on the Jesmond Park site, the Benton Park site closed to make way for housing.
The next instalment of ninety years of school history will have to wait for another day.
Can You Help?
If you have memories or photos of any of the above schools or know more about notable teachers or pupils, we’d love to hear from you. Please either leave a reply on this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or email email@example.com
Researched and written by Chris Jackson, Heaton History Group. Thank you to Brian Hedley for a copy of the official opening programme and the family of Olive Renwick for the souvenir of the royal visit. Thank you also to Muriel La Tour (nee Abernethy) for correcting the subsequent names of the schools.
British Newspaper Archives
Heaton Secondary Schools: official opening Sept 18th 1928 programme
Visit of their majesties King George V and Queen Mary, October 1928 (souvenir booklet)
There is no central monumental public war memorial in the suburb of Heaton but you may be surprised to hear that there were, in fact, around 50 different memorials dedicated locally to the dead and injured of the two world wars. As elsewhere in the country, most were placed in churches, schools (eg Chillingham Road School and Heaton Grammar), work places (eg Parsons, the Post Office and Locomotive Works) and in the cemetery and took the form of plaques, windows, crosses and books of remembrance. But some are quirkier; there’s Heaton Harrier’s cup, still raced for annually and hearing aids, commemorated on a plaque at Heaton Methodist Church.
Heaton History Group member, Robin Long, has been researching the story behind those in (and outside) St Gabriel’s Church:
World War One
There is an entry in the Chronological History of the Parish Church of St Gabriel, Heaton that reads ‘A decision was made to adopt a design by Mr Hicks for a War Memorial to be placed in the North Aisle, recording the names of all those who gave their lives in the war and had belonged to St Gabriel’s.‘
The above appears in 1919 and in 1920 we read that at the 21st Annual Vestry Meeting held on 8 April it was unanimously agreed to apply for a faculty to erect a war memorial tablet in church.
At evensong on November 27 1921 the new war memorial was dedicated. It had cost £200. ‘The enamelwork with two archangels, St Gabriel and St Michael were exquisitely worked and the alabaster border contains it and the Angel of Peace very well’.
WW1 memorial in St Gabriel’s Church
The memorial was unveiled by Mr Angus who had lost two boys, Andrew and Leslie, in the war. Their names are the first two of the fifty six parishoners listed on the roll of honour. The memorial was then dedicated with prayers by the vicar.
World War Two
We move forward to 1946 where we find a record that George Elliott returned for the forces. As an artist he replaced the typewritten list of the fallen with a more worthy book of remembrance. In it were the names of 75 who belonged to St Gabriel’s before giving their lives for their country.
It was not until 1950 that an application was made for a faculty for the erection of a suitable war memorial to be inscribed with 78 names from World War II, consisting of two parts – one inside church and one outside.
Inside, in front of the existing 1914 – 1918 War Memorial, the lower part of the wall will be panelled, a dais laid down and a lectern placed on top bearing the Book of Remembrance, flanked by two candlesticks – all in oak.
St Gabriel’s Church WW2 war memorial
Memorials to the fallen of both world wars in St Gabriel’s Church
‘Outside to the North West a large lawn will be laid out flanked with paths and backed by a shrubbery.’
ST Gabriel’s Garden of Remembrance
The War Memorial and the Garden of Remembrance were dedicated on 10 February 1951.
More to follow
This article was written by Heaton History Group member, Robin Long, who is now carrying out research into the names on the memorials.
Information taken from Chronological History of the Parish Church of St Gabriel, Heaton, Newcastle upon Tyne. Researched by Mrs Joan Brusey (1890 – 1992) and Denis Wardle (1992-1999). Typed by Mrs Jennifer Dobson and Miss Valerie Smith. Bound by Mr John Dobson.
If you can help with information about those listed on St Gabriel’s memorials or can help us tell the story of other war memorials in Heaton please contact us, either by clicking on the link immediately below the title of this article or by mailing firstname.lastname@example.org
In this, his third piece, Eric Dale, who lived in Eighth Avenue Heaton from 1939, remembers his schooldays:
‘I attended Chillingham Road School from 1942 until 1949. My form teacher was Miss Whitehouse who I mainly remember for wearing a long white warehouse coat and slamming the desk lid whenever she needed to get our attention.
Chillingham Road School (1960s?)
Chillingham Road School, 1994 (Copyright: Eric Dale)
Whilst in the mixed gender juniors, I had a distant schoolboy crush on two girls: Mary Hunter and Pat Dent. The latter lived on Rothbury Terrace. I’m sure that at no time had they any idea of my interest, which wasn’t surprising considering that I was too shy to speak to either of them.
Mr Sturdy was the headmaster of the seniors who remarked when sent a note from my father excluding me from the imposition of homework that ‘well, we’ll certainly know who to blame when you flunk the eleven-plus’!
Chillingham Road School interior (undated)
School-yard games included (for those of us who wore boots protected with metal studs to save shoe leather; and that was most of us) being hauled by a long column of boys around the smooth concrete, sliding at great speed whilst on hunkers. This generated a great many sparks and had the added advantage of warming the feet! In winter we looked forward to snow and ice so that we could create long glassy slides in the yard.
Those were the days of door-to-door milk deliveries and each dairy throughout Britain printed their identity and town of origin onto the cardboard lid or top. We used to collect these and carry them around on long strings. Some of the more exotic ones, for example from the south of England became much sought-after and were used as ‘currency‘ or for swaps. A game developed pitching or skimming them in turns against a wall; the opponents top being lost if overlapped. We also played marbles (three-hole-killer) in the school gardens. Very serious this. Highly prized marbles were lost!
In 1949 I began attending Heaton Grammar School in form 1c and stayed at ‘c’ level until the fourth year when I became a ‘d’, not exclusively due to my own lack of application. My form teacher was Mr Whitehead. F R Barnes was headmaster. Teachers I remember from my time there: Clapperton, Hutton, Nicholson, Rowell, Bambrough, Waldron, Walker, Friend, Taylor, Henderson, (Adolf!), Simpson (Satan!), Quickfall, Tansley, Tunnicliffe, John Healey (a brilliant musician who used to play us out at assembly with Mozart). However, his influence wasn’t strong enough to dissuade us from singing the following at the Christmas service:
‘We three kings of Water-logged Spa are selling toffee threepence a bar; matches tenpence, Fags elevenpence, that’s what the prices are. Ohhhhhoooo…….star of wonder…etc.’
Well, what’s school for if you can’t have fun? We were kept well apart from the girls next door to the absurd extent that when every year we staged a Gilbert and Sullivan musical we were obliged to play all the female roles ourselves. How barmy was that!
Money was received from parents for school dinners, not all of which was spent as intended. Most days we conformed, sat down with everyone else and noshed our way through the usual meat and two veg menu with the likes of frogspawn or concrete ie tapioca and a half-inch thick rectangle about three inches square made from two layers of rock-hard pastry between which a thin layer of an apology for jam resided. So, in search of something more palatable we came up with three taste-bud tickling options from which to choose:
1. Buy and eat a Walls Family Brick (yes, I know!) from the ice-cream van always parked outside the school gates.
2. Run pell-mell up to the baker’s on Newton Road and try to be first there for the best choice of yesterday’s cakes at one penny each.
3. Newton Road again but this time to buy a small loaf, scoop out the middle and eat that, then fill
the cavity with chips, salt and vinegar. Approval rating ‘Edgy!’ or better still ‘Darza!’
I’ve seen our local kids committing the same food crimes at lunch-time and many seem to be quite a bit heavier than we were at the same age. Maybe the crucial difference is that sixty-five years ago we ran around a lot more and burned the extra calories off. Maybe we need to reintroduce food rationing.
Despite a much less than laudable academic record my memories of the school are very fond indeed and I was more than sad when I heard of its demolition. Especially as it was only built as recently as 1928, so wasn’t exactly ancient. Admittedly it was draughty and the wind would regularly sweep the rain across the linking corridors surrounding the quad which must have contributed massively to the heating bills. But it had character and presence, which is more than can be said of many more ‘efficient’ buildings today.’
Thank you to Eric Dale. We’ll be including more of his memories of growing up in Heaton shortly.
Can you help?
If you have memories or photographs of your Heaton schooldays, please either post them directly to this site by clicking on the link underneath the article title or email them to email@example.com
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.
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
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.
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:
‘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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
The writer Michael Chaplin has many credits in TV, radio and the theatre but since he moved back to his native Newcastle in 2006, the North-East has featured in many new pieces of work in both drama and prose. On 30 March 2016 he will outline the results, and the challenges and rewards of writing about his home patch.
The talk will take place at The Corner House, Heaton Road, NE6 5RP on Wednesday 30 March 2016 (Please note change from the originally advertised date) at 7.30pm and is FREE to Heaton History Group members. Non-members pay £2. The doors open at 7.00pm. You are advised to take your seat by 7.15pm. Please book your place by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org /07443 594154. Until Wednesday 13 January, bookings will be accepted from Heaton History Group members only but after that will be open to all-comers.
About our speaker
Michael was born in County Durham but brought up in Newcastle and educated at Heaton Grammar. He followed his father, the renowned novelist Sid Chaplin, into newspaper journalism before a career in television as a current affairs and documentary maker. Since he became a full-time writer 20 years ago, he has written many series and films for the BBC and ITV and plays for Radio 4, as well as establishing a long relationship with Newcastle’s Live Theatre, producing most recently ‘A Walk-On Part’, a dramatisation of the acclaimed diaries of ex-MP Chris Mullin, and the musical play ‘Tyne’ based on his own book ‘Tyne View’. His connection with Heaton continues; he is President of the People’s theatre.
Heaton History Group has been interviewing older Heatonians so that we can capture memories and personal photographs to complement more easily accessed published and archived material. Jeanie Molyneux recently met Joan Sweeney nee Potter, who was born in 1922, lived at 23 Sackville Road until 1951 and then in Rothbury Terrace for a further 8 years.
Young Joan, aged 4, in 1926
We are hoping that Mrs Sweeney’s recollections will interest other longstanding or former residents. Please add your memories to our collection either by leaving a comment on this website (by clicking on the link immediately below the article title) or by emailing email@example.com .
Mrs Sweeney remembers
– the visit of King George V and Queen Mary to Tyneside for the opening of the Tyne Bridge on 10 October 1928. She recalls being taken to the approach Road at Armstrong Bridge by Jesmond Dene and being given a flag to wave and, later, a certificate. Where you there or perhaps at one of the Heaton Secondary Schools which they officially opened the same day?
– playing bat and ball against the wall of the house on the corner of Stanmore Road and Ravenswood Road. She also remembers that in the backyard of her home there was a container for ashes attached to the back wall with an aperture so that the ashes could be tipped into the bath which was brought around the back streets. What did you play in the back lanes? Do you remember ashes being collected?
Young Joan in her backyard with the ash box in the background c1932
– the blacksmith’s shop and Clarendon garage at the top of Chillingham Road (opposite Norwood Avenue). As a child, Mrs Sweeney was sent to the garage to collect batteries for the cat’s whisker (wireless / old radio). Were you sent on errands to local shops?
– the Scala on the corner of Chillingham Road and Tosson Terrace. The First Vets practice premises was Riddells, a photographers. Baobab Bakery was also a bakery in earlier years – the Tynedale Bakery. This photo of the bakery was taken by High Heaton photographer, Laszlo Torday. Thank you to Newcastle City Library for permission to use it.
Next door was the Teesdale Dairy. They also operated a horse and cart which would travel around the area selling milk, pouring the milk from a white container directly into a jug at local residents’ homes. Do Mrs Sweeney’s memories jog yours?
– other local shops, for example, on Rothbury Terrace from the corner of Spencer Street to Chillingham Road included Topliffe hardware store and Tulip’s chemists. She remembers a small general store on the corner of Sackville Road and Stanmore Road which sold food and she recalls helping to serve there on one occasion. Mrs Sweeney also remembers Ochletree’s, a newsagent on Addycombe Terrace on the corner of Tosson Terrace or Trewhitt Road – she is a little uncertain which. Can you help?
– Sainsbury’s on Benton Road was a sweet / toffee factory. Thank you to English Heritage for permission to reproduce the aerial photo below from its Britain from Above website.
A S Wilkins’ Cremona Toffee Works, 1938
Also in that area was the Sylvan Jam factory, with a big chimney with the name Sylvan on the side. Mrs Sweeney remembers being able to smell strawberries when jam was being made. What smells do you remember from your Heaton childhood?
– In the years before World War 2, the last tram along Heaton Road (about 11.00 pm) also had a post box on board. The last tram would drop the box off at the Post Office at the top of Heaton Road. She remembers occasions when she would see her father running up the road with a letter in order to catch the final tram.
She also remembers that a tram (open upstairs) travelled up to Gosforth Park (she thinks possibly only at weekends). She recalls travelling on the tram to Lamb’s Tea Gardens, next to the garden centre. Do you remember taking a trip to Lambs’ or taking a tram in Heaton?
Share your memories
We really appreciate Mrs Sweeney giving up her time and sharing her memories and photographs with us. If you remember ‘bygone’ Heaton, please get in touch. We can meet you for a chat if you still live locally. Or send your memories by email to firstname.lastname@example.org