Tag Archives: Heaton Manor

Alexander Wilkie: Scotland’s first Labour MP

Alexander Wilkie was born in 1850 in Leven in Fife, Scotland, where he became an apprentice to a firm of shipbuilders in Alloa. Although he spent his formative years and early adulthood in Scotland, it was on Tyneside, while living in Heaton, that he was to make his name, after he became the first General Secretary of the Associated Society of Shipwrights in 1882. This was an early national shipbuilders’ trade union and was based initially on the shipyards of Glasgow and Tyneside, reflecting the large number of ships being built on the Rivers Clyde and Tyne in the later years of the nineteenth century.

WilkieAlexanderresized

By 1897, Wilkie was also the Chairman of the Trades Unions Parliamentary Commitee and one of the founders and trustees of the General Federation of Trade Unions. He was a member of the Council of Federated Trades. He was also politically active in the nascent Labour Party and contested Sunderland for Labour (unsuccessfully) in 1900.

According to the census, Wilkie lived at 56 Cardigan Terrace, Heaton in 1891, before living at 84 Third Avenue in 1901 and then at 36 Lesbury Road (below) in 1911.

WilkieALevenHouse

Leven House on Lesbury Road, home of Alexander Wilkie

He named this last address ‘Leven House’ in recognition of his birthplace. In his personal life, Wilkie married Mary Smillie, daughter of James Smillie in 1872.

Wilkie was always involved in local affairs, wherever he lived. He was a delegate to the Trades Council in Glasgow when he worked there for the Glasgow Shipwrights. When he moved to Newcastle, Wilkie served for a number of years on the School Board and then on the Education Committee which replaced it. His interest in education was further developed, after he became a councillor in Newcastle in 1904.

MP

Wilkie was finally elected to parliament in 1906 as an MP for Dundee. He has the distinction of being the first Labour M.P. in Scotland. Hansard records his first speech to parliament being on 28 February that year, in an intervention during a debate about the Poor Law Commission. He spoke, he said as Scotland’s first Labour MP ‘to voice the keen disappointment of the Scottish workers that so far their claims to representation on this Commission had been disregarded.’

Labour then won 40 seats across Britain in the January 1910 general election including Wilkie himself, who was elected again in Dundee and was becoming something of a national political figure. He represented Dundee, in a two-seat constituency, alongside the victorious Liberal candidate, a certain Winston Churchill. Wilkie retained his seat in December 1910 as Labour won a further two seats nationally. He was to remain as an MP for Dundee until 1922.

However Wilkie retained close links with the city of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. In 1910, he was made a magistrate here, while in 1917 he became a Companion of Honour. When he retired from national politics in 1922, Alexander Wilkie returned to his Heaton home and became an alderman.

It was surely very appropriate that on Mayday, 1 May 1914, the ‘Newcastle Daily Journal’ reported that Alexander Wilkie had been the honoured guest at a large gathering at the Cooperative Hall, Darn Crook. It was further reported that Wilkie was presented with a gold watch and a cheque, whilst his wife was given a silver salver. All this was in recognition of what the ‘Newcastle Daily Journal’ described as his ‘thirty three years service as Secretary of the Ship Constructors and Shipwrights Association, and in acknowledgement also of his work on behalf of trade unions generally’.

The Lord Mayor paid a special tribute to Wilkie saying that he had come back specially from London for the ceremony and that he had come not only as Lord Mayor, but as a personal friend of Wilkie. The ‘Newcastle Daily Journal’ went on to report that, ‘the gathering had been arranged in order that they might show that they recognised the services which Mr Wilkie had rendered to the community and to the labour world, particularly the shipwrights. They deserved also to show their affections to Mr Wilkie as a man of the world.’

Wilkie was a very active member of the House Commons and spoke on many issues. Despite these interventions including a wide range of topics, he never forgot his commitment to the shipyard workers in places like the east end of Newcastle and Wallsend. In 1918 for example, Wilkie spoke about naval shipwrights pay and skilled labour in shipyards, while the following year he spoke about increases to dockyard workers’ pensions and national shipyards.

Wilkie died on 2nd September 1928, at his home, 36, Lesbury Road, Heaton, and was subsequently laid to rest at Heaton Cemetery 5 days later His effects were valued at £11 302, which today would be about £675 000. From this Wilkie left his housekeeper £104 a year for life.

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Alexander Wilkie’s grave, Heaton Cemetery

The Fife Free Press reported on 8 September 1928 that, ‘the universal esteem in which he was held was evidenced by the large attendance (at Wilkie’s funeral)’ and that, ‘the hearse was proceeded by two open landaus heaped high with beautiful wreaths – tributes of esteem and affection from all sections of the community.’ The last rites were then performed as the band played ‘Abide With Me’.

Legacy

Wilkie left a huge legacy of trade unionism on Tyneside, with the shipyards at the forefront of this movement. Indeed by the end of the 19th century, north east England was the most unionised region of England, having already had unions formed in the mining and engineering industries, before the Associated Society of Shipwrights was formed in 1882. Wilkie’s work helped to build this tradition further. His political legacy can be seen in Labour’s dominance for many years in Scotland, particularly from the 1960’s onwards, until the landslide by the Scottish National Party in 2015.

Can you help?

If you know more about Alexander Wilkie, especially his time in Heaton, 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

Sources

Jamieson, Northumberland at Opening of XXth Century, Pike, 1905

Newcastle-upon-Tyne Official Blue Book 1920

Newcastle Daily Journal 1 May 1914

The Fife Free Press, Saturday 8th September 1928

 

Acknowledgements

Written and researched by Peter Sagar, Heaton History Group, with assistance from Arthur Andrews.

 

 

 

King John’s Heaton

2015 is the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta, which led us to wonder about the many references to King John in these parts. Did the illustrious King John actually visit Heaton? Why would he? There are no real clues in the street names, King John Terrace and King John Street. You can ascribe them to Victorian and Edwardian romanticism: it used to be common to name all manner of things after King John to give an allusion of antiquity. There are many examples all over England but there again, why here and not in Jesmond, Byker or Benton? Did a long-held folk memory come into play?

King John by Unknown artist

King John by unknown artist, oil on panel, 1590-1610 (by kind permission of the National Portrait Gallery).

The same explanation could be used to account for ‘Ye Well of King John’ in Heaton Park. Although the spring is natural and so presumably known to a few locals and passers-by back when the Magna Carta was signed, the structure and inscription we see today are the work of Lord Armstrong’s nineteenth century landscapers and we don’t know for sure whether the association with King John predates them. But did the Armstrongs have specific reasons for cementing the association? Most of the family archives were destroyed so we don’t know.

King John's Well, Armstrong Park

King John’s Well, Armstrong Park

As an aside, note the drinking cups in the photograph above. Who remembers them?

King John’s Palace

But the so-called King John’s Palace, also known as the ‘Camera of Adam of Jesmond’ was built much nearer to the reign of the king known as John Lackland.

Nineteenth century engraving of King John's Palace

Nineteenth century engraving of King John’s Palace

Photograph of King John's palace, 1929

Photograph of King John’s palace, 1929

There is documentary evidence that it was in existence by 1267 and there were apparently other buildings including a medieval manor house in the vicinity even earlier, so we asked Heaton History Group member and author of ‘Castle on the Corner’, Keith Fisher, to dig a little deeper. Over to Keith:

It was during my determined attempt to establish the existence of Heaton Hall as a medieval baronial manor-house, that I came face to face with our illustrious King John – a man vehemently but, in my view, wrongly maligned in the minds of a public familiar only with Shakespeare and the Robin Hood myth – and it was only then that I realised that Heaton really had been associated with King John back in the 13th century, when we had a fortified baronial manor-house on the doorstep.

John was crowned on the 26 May 1199 and reigned until his death on 19 October 1216. He was another example of our peripatetic monarchs; but unlike his predecessors, every letter that he ever sent (and obviously there were many: see the link below) was diligently and publicly recorded by the Chancery, and still exists to this day – so we know exactly where he was, and when. While in England, and not fighting in France (he spent about five years over there during his brief reign – but then he was French after all), he rarely sojourned for too long. Principally, because powerful barons, countrywide, needed to be constantly kept in check and paying their taxes: never popular with the locals. Up here John was yet another foreigner; we’d already had enough trouble with Vikings and Scottish kings, then William the Conqueror who sent his prissy son Curt-hose to build a castle and try to subdue us unruly elements; stuck between the Geordies and the Scots he wouldn’t stand a chance nowadays: one sad fop of a Frenchman would be found in the gutter on his first Friday night up here.

I did find medieval mention of Heaton Manor: in 1135 Henry 1st gave it [as part of the Barony of Ellingham] to Nicholas Grenville (a trusted Yorkshireman, by all accounts; quite probably related to Ralph de Glanville, who was Sheriff of Yorkshire and scourge of William the Lion of Scotland) and he passed it to his nephew William; they appear to have lived in Jesmond – presumably at Jesmond Manor. Both those Grenvilles died without issue, so after William Grenville it descended via the marriage of his sister Mabel into the hands of Ralph de Gaugi. Ralph’s old man, Sire de Gaugi, allegedly fought alongside William the Conqueror at the battle of Hastings. I say allegedly, because the original Battle Abbey Rolls were lost (before and after lists of participants) so copies had to be made by monks – after the fact – when it is said that many noblemen ‘persuaded’ these monks to include their names on the list in order to reap the considerable rewards.

Because the seignory of a barony was not partible, but the manors were, Ralph’s eldest son, Ralph II, became baron and took the manor of Heaton, while his brother Adam got Jesmond Manor. Ralph II had a son, Robert, who inherited the title from his father and lived in the manor of Heaton. It is at all events certain that this Robert de Gaugy had special trust reposed in him by his sovereign John, who made him Constable of the castles of Lafford in Lincolnshire, and Newark in Nottinghamshire, and obtained for him the hand of an heiress, Isold Lovel, who brought him a considerable estate in the Bishopric of Durham.

There is no doubt that King John was up in Newcastle some of the time. A visit to the spectacular website: http://neolography.com/timelines/JohnItinerary.html (a truly exemplary reference work of the 21st century) shows him to be north of Yorkshire for a total of 84 days: in 1201 he spent two weeks moving between Hexham, Newcastle and Bamborough. In 1208 he was in Newcastle for a week. 1209 he was a week in Alnwick, a week in Newcastle, and a week up on the borders. 1213 he spent two weeks on the borders. Finally, in 1216, he spent the entire month of January fighting his way up from Durham into Scotland and back again; brave soul – it’s a wonder the weather didn’t see him off.

Of the issues that brought him up here, it was generally war with the kings of Scotland; but rebellious Northern barons demanded an endless assertion of his position of power, which meant supporting those men who were loyal to him and harassing those who weren’t; so, while constantly raising money for his ongoing war with France, much of his malevolence towards rebel barons was in the form of punitive taxation.

Kings of Scotland

The two kings maintained a friendly relationship until it was rumoured in 1209 that William (The Lion of Scotland) was intending to ally himself with Philip II of France. John invaded Scotland and forced William to sign the Treaty of Norham. This effectively crippled William’s power north of the border and, by 1213, John had to intervene militarily to support the Scottish king against his internal rivals.

In January 1216, John marched against William’s son Alexander II of Scotland who had allied himself with the rebel cause. John took back Alexander’s recent possessions in northern England in a rapid campaign that pushed him back as far north as Dunbar over a ten-day period; definitely saw him off – though-but!

The Northern Barons

The barons had seen their local powers much hindered through laws put in place by Henry II, then strengthened by Richard the Lionheart, that made everyone (except the crown – of course) subject to an independent justice which utilised local bailiffs, coroners and judges – and ultimately, the crown – rather than a judicial system administered by themselves. As I said: ultimately, the King could deal out justice – but was himself immune to it. A system of ‘Ira et malevolentia’ or ‘anger and ill will’ was a trend much used by John to punish those who did not wholeheartedly support him. Consequently, many accusations made against John during the baronial revolts are now generally considered to have been invented for the purpose of justifying said revolts; but there was no doubt that many of the barons rightly felt that if they had to come under the jurisdiction of the law – then so should the crown, which gave rise to one of the more crucial aspects of the Magna Carta.

However, John had his very strong and loyal ally in the North, and he lived in Heaton manor-house – when he was at home. It has been stated by historians in the past, and there is no doubt in my mind, that the king would have stayed at Heaton Manor when he was up here. The Keep in Newcastle was both uncomfortable and unsafe – he was constantly surrounded by English or Scottish enemies – and there is also the fact that his retinue and army was enormous, and could not possibly have camped within the city perimeter, so his marra’s gaff in Heaton was a perfect choice. It wasn’t the building we call King John’s Palace today – that was built between 1255 and 1265, 50-60 years later – but the manor house was a stone’s throw away. It was later incorporated into Heaton Hall by the Ridleys. The Hall, of course, as you can read in ‘Castle on the Corner’ stood approximately where Tintern Crescent is now.

In return for John’s trust and generosity, Robert de Gaugy remained faithful to his king right till the end – and beyond: King John died of dysentery at Newark Castle: protected by ‘Heatonian‘ Constable Robert de Gaugy. Very soon, ex-rebels and native loyalists were working easily together and finding a common interest and a common bond in unseating John’s foreigners: namely, breaking the grip which Robert de Gaugy, William de Fors, and Faulkes de Breauté still had on the sovereign’s administration. As Henry III tried to bring order to the country, Robert de Gaugy refused to yield Newark Castle to the Bishop of Lincoln, its rightful owner, leading to the Dauphin of France laying an eight day siege on behalf of the king in 1218. The siege was finally ended by an agreement to pay de Gaugy £100 to leave… and go back home with this booty; a true Geordie to the last!

Footnote:

Considering that the remains of a medieval manor-house were incorporated into Nicholas Ridley’s rebuild in 1713, I think it is telling that when, in 1778, Matthew Ridley decided to embellish this recent but distinctly unprepossessing squat, brick house – to give an appearance of feudal heritage – he ended-up with what looked exactly like a medieval, fortified, baronial manor-house.

Heaton Hall, illustrated in 1795

Heaton Hall, illustrated in 1795

Heaton Hall c1907

Heaton Hall c1907

Can you help?

if you know any more about the topic of this article, please get in touch either by leaving a comment on this website (Click on the link immediately below the article title) or by emailing chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org