Tag Archives: Heaton Hall

The Coachman of Heaton Hall

The man in the middle of this photograph is Richard Shannon, coachman at Heaton Hall for more than twenty years around the turn of the last century.

Richard Shannon centre with 2 footmen

His great great granddaughter, Yvonne, and great grandson, Arthur, have researched Richard’s fascinating life and hope that publishing their findings on the Heaton History Group website will lead to more information about life at Heaton Hall and some of Richard’s colleagues. Maybe someone reading this knows the identity of the other men in the photo? Yvonne takes up the story:

According to family oral history, this photo was taken while Richard was working as head coachman for Mary Potter at Heaton Hall. All three men are in livery which shows they work for a wealthy employer, as indeed the Potters of Heaton Hall were. Lord William Armstrong’s own mother was Annie Potter, a member of the same family. The fact that there are three men also indicates wealth, as there was a tax on male servants right up to 1937 so more male servants implies more wealth in the family.

They are wearing box coats and these are fastened right up to the neck. Richard as coachman is wearing a bearskin cape usually about 18 inches long and these superceded the multi ‘caped coats’ which used to be worn. The clothing and the fact that there seem to be leaves on the ground indicate that the time of year may be autumn/winter.

A coachman was expected not to leave the driving seat once the journey had started, his priority was ‘driving and looking to the horses’; hence there were the footmen or groom to assist ladies to alight and carry parcels etc when shopping.

Live in

Richard worked for the Potter family for over 20 years so I think it must have been a mutually happy working relationship. Coachmen were regarded as ‘senior’ servants in the Victorian servant hierarchy and would be given orders only by the butler or the master or mistress. Coachmen were also one of the few servants allowed to live on the premises with their family and indeed this is the case as they lived in the coachman’s house shown so well in Keith Fisher’s book.

The 1901 census gives a small insight into the lives of those people living at Heaton Hall and demonstrates a substantial household. Mary Potter, a widow is 72 years old and is head of the household. Living with her are her son, Charles, and daughter, Hannah. Also listed as living in the Hall, are Hannah Beckworth, the cook, and kitchen maid, Jane Mathewson. Then there is the upper house maid, Frances Clement, and two further housemaids, Mary Coates and Martha Wood. Living in Heaton Hall grounds at the Butler’s House were Francis and Sarah Harrison, the butler and his wife. At the laundry were Agnes Lee, the laundress, and her 85 year old father, Thomas Currie, and finally at the Coachman’s House was my great great granddad, Richard, then aged 61, with his wife Margaret also 61, and their sons Ernest, 25, (my great granddad) and Walter, aged 19. Ernest is working for a dye works and Walter as a gardener. There is no mention of the names of the footmen in the photograph so they may have lived ‘out’.

Greek island

Before ending up at Heaton Hall, Richard appears to have lived an active life. He was born in Argostoli, Cephalonia, one of the Greek Islands, in 1839 (only two years after Queen Victoria came to the throne) and christened there in the parish church by Brother Lawrence Cappucini, who was parson of the parish. The church is still standing to this day. He was in Greece because his father, Thomas Shannon, was a soldier in the 1st Battalion of the 53rd Shropshire Regiment of the Foot and was stationed there with the battalion possibly during the Ionian wars. Richard’s mother, Mary Shannon nee Reed, was born in Sculcoates near Hull.

The battalion and Shannon family returned to England by sailing ship to Plymouth and landed on 9th June 1840. Unfortunately, just a few weeks later on 23rd July, Thomas was sentenced to six months hard labour and incarcerated in Exeter Gaol for stealing goods from a certain Robert Vickers, a victualler and pub landlord. He is said to have stolen a pewter pot valued at 12 pence, a half pint measure valued at 12 pence and a glass tumbler valued at six pence. On his release, Thomas rejoined his battalion in 1841 and was living at Marine Barracks, Mill Bay, Plymouth. In the meantime his wife and child were staying at what appears to be a type of tenement building at Boundary Place, St Andrews also in Plymouth. We know that by 1843 Thomas and his family had moved to Edinburgh with the 53rd who were stationed at Edinburgh Castle. It was whilst here that Thomas died by accidental drowning in the River Forth at Leith. He was only 36 and is buried in Cannongate Churchyard, Edinburgh. His widow Mary, with Richard then a small boy aged 3 or 4 returned to her home at Hull. Little is known about Richard at this point but his mother married again and the family lived in Hartlepool.

Cavalryman

Richard’s eventual position as coachman to Heaton Hall may have begun on the 7th November 1861 when he enlisted in the 12th Lancers, a cavalry regiment which would be where he would gain learning and expertise in horse handling skills over a period of 12 years service. When he was discharged on 15th November 1873, the army records state ‘character very good’ (one might conclude that he did not take after his father) and it might be that this reference helped him to his next immediate job, also in 1873, when he was employed as a groom in Hartlepool. The photograph below shows his pocket watch engraved with his name and regiment, unfortunately this is the only tangible object we have left.

Richard Shannon's watch

Richard Shannon's watch

His career seems to have progressed smoothly and by 1881 he was engaged at Hutton Rudby as a coachman to Thomas English Pyman, a wealthy ship-owner. In 1891 at Layton Hall, Yorkshire, he was coachman to John Proud, a solicitor, but by the next census in 1901, he was at Heaton Hall and coachman to Mary Potter. Richard lived in the coachman’s house with his family and worked until his final illness which lasted just seven days. He died from cerebral thrombosis or a stroke in 1921 at the age of 82.

His widow Margaret moved out soon after to 40 Chillingham Road but died a year later. She is buried in the same plot as her husband. The grave is marked by a small headstone shaped like an open book and one side gives Richard’s details whilst the other side remains blank. I recall my granddad saying that the blank side was to write an inscription to Margaret but the family couldn’t afford it at the time.

Souvenir

The three men with their glasses of beer look happy in the photograph and it would be wonderful if we knew what they were talking about. It may be that the younger ones were conscripted during the First World War and left the service of the Potter family. Richard would be far too old to enlist. Some of the literature on the lives of servants describes how ‘older’ coachmen might be kept on by the family to drive the more mature family members who preferred a sedate pace of travel – this may be what happened in Richard’s case but, we don’t really know. Perhaps by the 1920’s the Potters were using motor vehicles and carriages were becoming a thing of the past. My granddad did mention once that his sister had been ‘in service’ at the Hall and when it was closed she was allowed to take a majolica plant stand as a remembrance. I know that the plant stand which was about 3ft high tan coloured with black tracery in a diamond pattern was left in the backyard of a house in Greystoke Avenue, Sandyford after he died – I’ve often wondered if it was still there.

Arthur Shannon (great grandson)
Yvonne Shannon (great great granddaughter)

Can you help?

If you have any more information or photographs of anyone who lived or worked at Heaton Hall, we’d love to see them. Or maybe you can add to what Yvonne and Arthur already know about other areas of Richard Shannon’s life? You can either leave a comment here (click on the link immediately below the title of the article to leave a comment or to read those of other people) or email chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Castle on the Corner

If you’ve ever wondered where Heaton Hall stood, what it looked like, who lived there and when it was demolished, look no further. Heaton History Group member, Keith Fisher, has produced a gem of a book which is packed with information, painstakingly researched. Among the many fascinating drawings, photographs and maps, Keith’s modern photos, on which he has superimposed the hall, particularly stand out.

Cover of Castle on The Corner

The history of King John’s Palace (or The Camera of Adam of Jesmond as it’s now officially known) is inextricably linked to that of the hall and so the book gives two histories for the price of one.

Back cover of Castle on the Corner

And Keith brings the story up to date with a brief history of Tintern Crescent and Shaftesbury Grove, which now stand on the site of the hall’s grounds, and where Keith was born and grew up.

The 24 page, full colour, spiral-bound book costs £5.00 including postage and packing and is available from Keith Fisher. Email keithfisher@blueyonder.co.uk

It is also available at Newcastle City Library for £3.99.

And copies are on sale at Heaton History Group talks at a specially discounted price of £3.60 with £1 from every sale going to the group.

Life and Wartime on Heaton Hall Estate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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