Tag Archives: Heaton Library

Workers Aid for Bosnia: the Heaton connection

Heaton History Group member, Peter Sagar, has previously described how Smajo Beso and his family came from war-torn Bosnia in the 1990s to find a warm welcome in Heaton.  This was not the only way  Heaton helped the people of  Bosnia in the Balkans conflicts, as Peter explains:

During the year-long 1984/5 strike,  miners, including thousands in the north east, had enjoyed support from many different quarters.  They included the Bosnian town of Tuzla, in what was then the Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia.  When that republic imploded less than ten years later, it was time for grateful people in this country to return the compliment.  So Workers Aid for Bosnia was established and the key organiser in the north east was a man who lived in Heaton: Tony Parker.

The inaugural meeting of Workers’ Aid for Bosnia was held in London in 1993, partly in response to the lack of action from our government to a war in Europe which had been raging for over a year by then. Bob Myers, who was there, reports that ‘about 60 people came to the meeting and for the first time I heard Bosnian people, mostly refugees, talking about the war.  One woman in particular started to make me think. She explained that from 1984-5, when the British miners had been on strike, Tuzla miners, themselves desperately poor, had given a day’s pay every month for their comrades in Britain’.  That was when it was decided that, with the people of Bosnia suffering terrible food shortages and other privations, it was time to repay the debt.

At the time Tony Parker, who had been a shipyard worker at Swan Hunter’s,  lived in Heaton and was the chair of Heaton Labour Party. He worked at Wallsend People’s Centre. Amer Ratkusic reports that Tony attended an important fundraising meeting in Manchester in 1994, where it was decided how aid would be transported to Bosnia.

In the book, TAKING SIDES; against ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, which documents the way that people in Britain and other countries helped Bosnians during their darkest hours, it is noted that in all there were 15 convoys of aid to Tuzla and other places in Bosnia.  It is a great testimony to the work done by Tony that four of these convoys included lorries specifically from Tyneside. That is in addition to lorries and convoys from other parts of the UK which will have included contributions from Tyneside. This way, a lot of food and clothing from places such as Heaton made its way to Tuzla, a place which saw its share of brutal and callous violence.

The worst atrocity took place on 25 May 1995 during commemorations of former President Tito’s birth and Youth Day in the former Yugoslavia.  It was a beautiful spring day and the local basketball team had just won a regional tournament. Although they did not have money like they did in other parts of Europe or for that matter had had in Tuzla a few years earlier, hundreds of young people from different ethnic and religious backgrounds gathered in a square in the centre of the town to enjoy being together and to celebrate. But a single shell from Serbian forces soon shattered this celebratory scene. The shell hit the square, killing 72 young people.

The fear of further shelling meant that the young people were buried under the cover of darkness. Normally they would have been buried in separate cemeteries, for Muslims and Orthodox, for Catholics or atheists.  On this occasion the distraught families decided to send a message to the men of hate.  It is reported that the families and loved ones of the murdered young people, ‘decided to bury them together in a public park to show the world, that knew only ‘ethnic war’, that they had all lived together and died together’.

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Tony Parker wrote the following poem about the tragedy:

May 25th

A spring may day, shattered by death

Gay young voices gasp a last breath

Evil struck from the hiss that day

In Tuzla town on 25th May

 

 72 bodies lie bloody and shattered

Serb, Muslim, Croat – it hardly mattered

To the faceless men, dealers in pain

Clinical death through explosive rain

 

The innocent lie in a sunny town square

Cordite and coffee smells blend in the air

People stand silent, stare in disbelief

The rest of the town united in grief

 

Numbed by shock, they can only shed tears

For a lost generation of such tender years

Hate is the reaper, he gathers his crop

When hate is abandoned, the killing can stop.

It was in response to these kinds of tragedy that Tony Parker and others continued to work hard to put together convoys of aid for the people of multicultural Tuzla.

The convoys which specifically included lorries from Tyneside were the eighth convoy in December 1994, the tenth in August 1995, the eleventh in September 1995 and the twelfth in December 1995. These convoys were often going through the areas were fighting was taking place and people like Tony Parker who joined them were putting their lives at considerable risk.  They also carried hope along with the food and clothing. Some idea of the dangers faced and hope engendered can be seen in this description of the 10th convoy in August 1995, which included a lorry from Tyneside:

‘Lorries from France, Spain, Ireland and Britain converged in Split. During a two day hold up on the Herceg-Bosnia border, the escalation of the war led to nervousness amongst the many ‘first timers’. People listened for news bulletins.  Rumours came and went.  After we crossed into Bosnia the fears vanished.

The following night, in a queue of lorries waiting to be escorted down ‘snipers alley’, with young unshaven Bosnian soldiers outside preparing us for the blackout dash, it was possible to dream that maybe this convoy, with its trade union delegations and the growing protests over Srebrenica, might mark a real change. Maybe at last real allies were appearing on the horizon to support those tired, care worn faces, moving around outside in the dark and rain, defending their multicultural bastion.’ 

Some of the food on the lorries from Tyneside was collected outside the Kwik Save store on Chillingham Road. Tony and a colleague also provided administrative support for the local Bosnian club, based in the old Heaton Library.

Sadly, there was one lorry, which never got to Bosnia.  In fact, it never got out of Wallsend. It was parked in a car park, waiting to be filled with much needed food and clothing, when it was burnt. It was reported that, ‘the lorry was clearly marked as being an aid vehicle, which makes the actions of the arsonists even more difficult to comprehend….. if the aid is allowed to rot in a warehouse it will be a victory for those of sick mind’,  an attempt by one or two people to undo the hard work and kindness of so many more.

It has also been reported that a large number of Bosnians, including some who had been inmates at the notorious Omarska concentration camp, helped with the buying of a lorry in the north east. Others of their compatriots, who had stayed behind and been ethnically cleansed from their homes, joined the 17th Brigade of the Bosnian army to regain their homes.  Heaton’s Tony Parker wrote a poem about one of those in the 17th Brigade:

Man of the 17th

Darkness shrouds you once again

Creeping shadows across the plain

Falling shells make bright of the night

Illuminating faces touched by night

 

Tracers reflected in your eyes

Death dealing fireflies

Searching out a deadly path

Searing pain as aftermath

 

Barrage of death, will it cease?

Will the daylight bring release?

Thoughts of home flood your brain,

They carry you above the pain

 

Omarska camp is your inspiration

And now your thirst for liberation

Some day you will sit in the shade

And never have to be afraid

Peter has fond memories of a barbecue and party with the Bosnian community at Ouseburn City Farm in August 1994:

‘I brought my guitar along and contributed a few songs, while the real musical entertainment came from a Bosnian playing the accordion.  He played a number of tunes from home – and, of course, the obligatory Beatles tune!  One of the Bosnians was a vet and ironically, he was the person who had acquired a lamb and prepared it for the barbecue. I well remember the deceased lamb busily going round on a spit, while other lambs were merrily going about their business in the farm.  Meanwhile there was a sign up on a fence saying, “Barbecue for Bosnian refugees. NOT one of our lambs”!’

‘Tony Parker and others from Heaton  and beyond did a magnificent job of helping people in Tuzla in their darkest hours and repaying a debt from the miners’ strike. The story is a timely reminder of what the best in the human spirit, our generosity, our empathy with those in need and our willingness to put our own personal safety aside in order to help others, can achieve when confronted by the worst of humanity. When other people needed support,  Heaton responded.’

Can you help?

If you know more about anyone or anything mentioned in this article 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 Peter Sagar at peter0462@gmail.com

Sources

TAKING SIDES; against ethnic cleansing in Bosnia

Interview with Amer Ratkusic

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Peter Sagar, Heaton History Group.

The Dewey-Eyed Librarian and his Legacy in Heaton

One of Heaton’s most recognisable buildings and one which contributed to the education and entertainment of generations of Heatonians is 120 years old this autumn. The Victoria Branch Library was opened by Earl Grey on 6 October 1898.

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The library was gifted to the city by Alderman William Haswell Stephenson who, two years earlier, had financed a library for the west end of the city in Elswick. When nobody else responded to the council’s appeal for another local benefactor to ensure that the people of the east end also had access to books, Stephenson put his hand in his pocket a second time, stipulating only that the council should undertake the equipment, management and maintenance of the building.

The position chosen for the library was controversial. Many people had concerns which resonate today about the encroachment of buildings, even a library, onto a public green space, Heaton Park:

‘It might seem a small thing to take 450 yards out of a park but they did not quite know where this nibbling process would end’ reported the ‘Daily Journal’.

Local residents also wanted the Corporation to approve both the site and the design of the building rather than all decisions being made by Alderman Stephenson, again a contemporary concern as private enterprise becomes increasingly involved in what have previously been public sector concerns. However, the site on Heaton Park View and the design by Newcastle architect, John William Dyson, were eventually approved.

Inside, on the ground floor there was a large reading room and a newsroom (where people had access to newspapers), a smoking room and a ladies reading room. Upstairs was the library itself, which measured 70 feet by 36 feet and would be able to house around 25,000 books; a committee room and the janitor’s room. External features included a turret on the roof, the dome of which was covered in copper. Carved panels depicted the royal arms, the city arms and Alderman Stephenson’s arms.

Grand Opening

At the opening,  over 200 of the great and the good enjoyed breakfast and speeches.  Apart from benefactor Alderman Stephenson, guest of honour Earl Grey, and the architect, they included the mayors of Newcastle, Gateshead, Tynemouth and South Shields; the Bishop of Newcastle; the Sheriff of Newcastle; most of the council; industrialists such as shipbuilder, John Wigham Richardson and many many more.

Alderman Stephenson reminded the audience that it was 44 years to the day since the ‘Great Fire of Gateshead’, which he remembered well as a young boy serving his apprenticeship on the Quayside. He regretted the absence of Heaton Councillor James Birkett, a great supporter of the project, who had recently died. And he spoke about the success of the Elswick branch library, including how few books had been lost.

The library was officially opened by the Right Honourable Earl Grey. In his speech, Lord Grey praised Alderman Stephenson’s generosity at a time when ratepayers’ money wasn’t forthcoming and also his modesty in not requiring the library to be named after him (although this may have been because he’d already ensured that the Elswick Library carried his name!), preferring instead to honour the queen. He urged others to follow the alderman’s example perhaps by gifting ‘more pleasure grounds, great and small, bright with flowers; drinking fountains of artistic design; clocks with chimes, for bells are the best music a crowded city could enjoy; nursing homes in every ward; halls in every ward with the best organs money could buy..’

The Bishop of Newcastle gave a vote of thanks, in which he said:

‘Even fiction, if it were rightly chosen, would aid in the development of character and if that aid was found in fiction, it would certainly be found in other books as well.’

Lord Grey was presented with a copy of the library’s initial catalogue of 7,000 volumes. This was a significant document as contemporary newspaper accounts state that the shared catalogue with Elswick Library (To save money, they both carried the same stock) was ‘ the first catalogue published in the Dewey Decimal System in the British Isles’.  The newspaper praised Andrew Keogh, Assistant Librarian at the Central Free Library ‘ who had earned the gratitude of all who have need to consult the catalogues’.

We are used to Heaton being at the forefront of developments in the various branches of engineering, science and mathematics and Heatonians excelling in arts, music, literature and sport but should we also be trumpeting our place in the history of librarianship? And does the library and its innovative catalogue partly explain why Heaton was at the forefront of so much. We carried out a little more research.

Catalogue

Amazingly, copies of that first catalogue survive eg in the Lit and Phil and so we can see exactly what was on the shelves of Heaton’s Victoria  Library when it opened. There was a broad selection, catering for all interests and some written in foreign languages, as you can see from the first page of the author listing below.

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To mention just a few, artist John Wallace  will have watched the library being built at the end of his street, Kingsley Place, and was surely delighted with the selection of books on painting and other arts as, a little later, would  Alfred Kingsley Lawrence of Heaton Road. And suffragist and social campaigner Florence Nightingale Harrison Bell, who married in 1896 and went to live on nearby Hotspur Street, suddenly had access to a wide range of books on politics and sociology including Engels’ ‘Condition of the Working Class in England’ as well as a surprising number of books on the emancipation of women and ‘The Woman’s Manual of Parliamentary Law’. Gerald Stoney of Meldon Terrace then Roxburgh Place, who had helped Sir Charles Parsons develop the record breaking Turbinia the previous year, had many books on engineering and physics from which to choose.

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There were plenty of books for ‘juveniles’ too, marked with a J in the main catalogue, as well as having their own separate listing. The musical Beers children, living on Kingsley Place just yards from the library when it opened,  had access to a vast array of fiction, including many classics still enjoyed today, but also books on music – and photography, a hobby which led to their wrongful arrest years later.

The library was an incredible resource for the people of Heaton, even if the books weren’t on open access. As was normal practice at the time, you made a choice from the catalogue and asked the librarian to bring you the book if it wasn’t on loan. A bit like Argos today. This made the catalogue extra important.

And the catalogue of the Victoria Library in Heaton was groundbreaking. Although the Dewey system had been copyrighted in the USA over 20 years earlier by Melvil Dewey, in the eighteen nineties almost all British libraries, if they were classified at all, used very broad classes, such as ‘Theology and Philosophy’ or ‘ Arts, Sciences, Law, Politics, Commerce’. Readers would have to peruse lists of accessions arranged chronologically under each heading. No further breakdown was considered necessary in Victorian public libraries, although by 1908, the absence of a detailed classification system was described as a weakness by the Library Association. Yet, ten years ahead of his time, the year in which our library opened, an Andrew Keogh (whose name you might remember from the newspaper report mentioned earlier) had written in ‘Library World’  that it was highly desirable that a uniform, detailed classification system be adopted across the country.

Assistant Librarian

Andrew Keogh was born on 14 November 1869  the son of recent Irish immigrants, Bridget and James Keogh, a shoemaker. In 1871, aged 11, Andrew was living with his parents, older sister, May and younger siblings, Bridget, Elizabeth and Edward at ’14 Trafalgar Street (or, as the census form gives as an alternative, 8 1/2 Back Trafalgar Street, All Saints, off New Bridge Street). Did this young man of such humble origins really produce the first published Dewey catalogue in Britain? Luckily we have enough further sources of information to draw on in order to flesh out Andrew’s career and confirm his pioneering work for the people of Elswick and Heaton.

1945.140, 44785

His biography would grace any library shelf.

While Andrew was a student, Newcastle’s first public library opened at the end of his street. It is said that he was never away. The staff got to know this ‘modest, serious, polite young boy’ and, if a staff member was ill or away, they called on him. Two years into his college course, the library offered him a full time job.

His parents were divided and he too was unsure about giving up his education but he accepted the post. He clearly took his work very seriously and researched developments which he could bring to Newcastle.

Keogh became an advocate for Melvil Dewey’s Decimal Classification System and was allowed to try it out on the stock for Stephenson’s new branch libraries. So the people of Heaton were able to easily see in detail what books they could take home on ornithology, plumbing, physics, horticulture, world religions, baking, poetry or whatever else interested them when most of those few libraries in Britain that already used Dewey used it only in their reference libraries. It seems that, at this time, not only was it a first for Britain but no library in Europe had published a catalogue arranged and indexed by Dewey.

What Next?

In July 1897, when Keogh was 27 years old, a big international librarians’ conference was held in London. It was attended by 641 librarians and influencers from all over the world – from Australia, Canada, Ceylon, India, Jamaica, Japan,  New Zealand and South Africa, as well as from right across Europe and the United Kingdom. Newcastle Public Library’s head librarian, Basil Anderton; Councillor Robert Flowers, Vice Chairman of the Books Committee of Newcastle Public Library; Councillor Henry Newton, Chairman of Newcastle Public Library Committee and Robert Peddie of the Lit and Phil were among the many British delegates. But by far the largest foreign delegation was from the United States, including Melvil Dewey himself, who delivered a paper on the relation of the state to the public library.

Afterwards many of the American delegates took a tour of important English libraries, including on Friday 6 August, those in Newcastle. We haven’t been able to discover whether Dewey was among them.

Andrew Keogh was put in charge of their reception and arranged an evening river trip, followed by dinner at the Grand Assembly Rooms and ‘conversazioni’ at the Lit and Phil. One of the delegates was Jessica Sherman Van Vliet, a librarian from the Armour Institute in Chicago. Keogh immediately fell in love and it is said ‘took her home that evening’. He saw her and the rest of the delegates off the following day and the pair started to correspond. His letters often contained poetry, ‘some original, some quoted, always meticulously referenced’. Soon he proposed by letter and, his proposal having been accepted, Keogh set about finding a job in the USA.

Eventually he secured a post in a Chicago bookshop which was looking for someone who knew the Dewey system (the manager no doubt impressed by Keogh’s pioneering catalogue for the Elswick and Heaton libraries) and in January 1899, he sailed for America, reaching Chicago in February. But with his aim a position in a library, Keogh soon made the arduous 720 mile journey to the next annual meeting of the American Library Association in Atlanta, where he reacquainted himself with some of the delegates he had met in Newcastle. He was offered posts in several public libraries but, with his heart set on an academic position, turned them down, a brave move for a foreigner of humble origins and no university education. Eventually though, his persistence paid off with the offer of a post in Yale University library. He began work on 1 August 1900 and on 6th, he married Jessica Sherman Van Vliet.

By 1902, Keogh was teaching bibliography at Yale and he quickly progressed up his chosen career ladder, also becoming a lecturer and professor of bibliography. In 1909, he successfully applied for an American passport, from which we have a description of him as 5 feet 8 inches tall with an oval face, hazel eyes, dark brown hair and a moustache.

On 1 July 1916, despite ‘certain limitations of a middle class Englishman which he will probably never overcome’,  he was appointed Librarian of the University of Yale.

Keogh wrote many papers and books and one of his many career highlights was a term as President of the American Library Association in 1929-30.

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On his retirement in 1938, Andrew Keogh was named Librarian Emeritus of Yale University. He and Jessica were together for over 50 years until her death in 1952 aged 84. Andrew died a few months later on 13 February 1953 at the same age. Not a bad shelf life for the working class Geordie who cut his teeth cataloguing the collections  of Elswick and Heaton branch libraries and whose life was shaped by love at first sight  – and an equally strong passion for books.

Heaton’s Victoria Library, loved and appreciated by generations, closed in 2000. The nearest public libraries are now in High Heaton and Byker.

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Can You Help?

If you have memories or photos of Heaton Library or know more about Andrew Keogh, 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 chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Chris Jackson, Heaton History Group.

Sources

Andrew Keogh: his contribution to Yale / James T Babb; The Yale University Gazette Vol 29 No 2, October 1954

Classification in British Public Libraries: a historical perspective / J H Bowman; Library History Vol 21, November 2005

Heaton: from farms to foundries / Alan Morgan; Tyne Bridge Publishing, 2012

Transactions and Proceedings of the Second International Library Conference held in London July 13-16 1897

The Lit and Phil library

plus Ancestry, British Newpaper Archive and other online sources