Tag Archives: Heaton Park Road

Where the Shoe Tree Grows

In August 2020 the Woodland Trust shortlisted a sycamore in Armstrong Park, known as the ‘Shoe Tree’, for its English ‘Tree of the Year’. Our representative in the competition certainly isn’t as ancient as many of the other contenders, although that didn’t stop an anonymous wit constructing a fictional history for it, as this panel, which mysteriously appeared one night in 2012, shows. 

Definitely not true but the tree is certainly growing in an area of the park with a very interesting actual history, some of which may provide an alternative narrative for why it now sprouts footwear.

Estate plans, estimated to date from around 1800, shows this particular part of Heaton, which was owned by the Ridley family, covered in trees and described as ‘plantations’. On the 1st edition Ordnance Survey map, the area is labelled ‘Bulman’s Wood’. We know that by the first half of the 19th century, it was owned by Armorer Donkin, the solicitor who in the 1830s employed William Armstrong as a clerk and became almost a father figure to him. On Donkin’s death in 1851, Armstrong inherited much of the land that he in turn gifted to the citizens of Newcastle, including the park which bears his name and houses the Shoe Tree.

But from the 1830s there was a house in the wooded area adjacent  to where the Shoe Tree stands. It can be seen on the first edition OS map below, the square just below the old windmill. A very substantial stone-built single storey house, some 20 metres squared, stood here. This house was occupied for over twenty years by Joseph Sewell, a man who deserves to be much better known in Heaton than he is.

Pottery

Joseph’s early life remain something of a mystery but we do know he was born c1777 in Northumberland. By 1804 he had become the owner of the already substantial St Anthony’s Pottery less than three miles from Heaton. The road now known as Pottery Bank led from the factory to the works’ own staithes on the River Tyne.

According to a modern reference book, ‘Although in recent years, Maling has received more attention than [other north-east potteries], the highest quality ware was made by the St Peter’s and St Anthony’s potteries.’ 

Sewell and Donkin Pineapple inkwell, c 1920 in the Laing Art Gallery

Under Sewell’s stewardship, the pottery went from strength to strength. It did not, for the most part, compete in the English market with the Staffordshire firms, which had advantages in terms of transport links by road. Instead, it took advantage of its position on the Tyne, with links to Europe, particularly Northern Europe.

Mr T T Stephenson, former works manager at St Anthony’s, interviewed by C T Maling in 1864, said:

‘I cannot go back to when it first began as a small white and common brown ware works but about 1803 or 1804, it was taken over by the Sewells and gradually extended by them for home trade until 1814 or 1815, when a considerable addition was made to manufacture entirely for exportation, chiefly CC or cream coloured, painted or blue printed [wares] and when I came to the works in 1819, the description of works then produced [was] say about five glost ovens and two or three enamel kilns per week, say CC and best cream colour to imitate Wedgwood’s tableware, then made in considerable quantities for Holland and other continental countries.’

As well as in local collections, there seem to be particularly large numbers of Sewell pieces in museums in Denmark which suggests this was a big market for Sewell’s pottery.

From 1819, the firm was known as Sewell and Donkin. Armorer Donkin, Jesmond and Heaton landowner, solicitor and businessman and soon to be Joseph Sewell’s landlord, had become a partner in the firm. 

We know that there were ‘dwelling houses’ on the site of the factory and a newspaper of 9 June 1834 reported that ‘The lightning struck the house of Mr Sewell at St. Anthonys and broke a quantity of glass’.  Whether this event was a factor, we don’t know but the following year, Sewell moved to a new house on Donkin’s land in Heaton.

Ironically, the advent of the railways from the 1830s, pioneered in the north-east, made things more difficult for Tyneside potteries as they enabled fashionable Staffordshire names to access the local market directly rather than have to transport goods by road and sea via London. Consequently their ceramics became relatively cheaper and more popular in this part of England.

The north-east firms were also affected by changes in shipping. Until this point, they had enjoyed access to cheap raw materials that were used as ballast on wooden collier ships making return journeys from Europe and London. But from the 1830s larger iron-clad ships came into use. They made fewer journeys and increasingly used water as ballast. The result was that as Staffordshire pottery became more affordable, local ware became comparatively expensive. Nevertheless St Anthony’s pottery continued to thrive by concentrating on cheaper mass-produced items. This plan is from the 1850s.

In 1851, the year in which Armorer Donkin died,  the pottery name reverted and became Sewell and Company. 

Sewell, the man

We know that Sewell diversified. He was manager and shareholder for a time at the Newcastle Broad and Crown Glass Company, the shareholder who recommended him being Armorer Donkin. 

That Joseph had some philanthropic leanings is shown by charitable donations including one from ‘Messrs Sewell and Donkin’ in 1815 to a relief fund set up after the Heaton Colliery disaster and in 1848 to another following a tragedy at Cullercoats when seven fishermen drowned. 

There are also references in the press to scholars such as those of the Ballast Hills and St Lawrence Sunday schools being taken up the Ouseburn to the ‘plantation of Joseph Sewell Esq’ including some mentions of tea and spice buns!  

His gardener also gets several mentions for having won prizes for horticultural prowess.

Joseph died on 10 June 1858 at his home in Heaton at the age of 81. 

Tearoom

At the time Sir William Armstrong gifted the land now known as Armstrong Park to the people of Newcastle in 1879, the tenant of the house was a Mr Glover. He may well have been the last occupant. Joseph Sewell’s house was soon used as a tearoom or refreshment rooms.  Later, possibly about 1882, a kiosk seems to have been built onto the side. 

Yvonne Shannon’s dad, who is 85, remembers going to the refreshment rooms for ice cream but he can’t recall anything about the big house.  Heaton History Group member, Ken Stainton, remembers it too. He told us that an elderly man ‘quite a nice guy’ called Mr Salkeld ran the refreshment rooms when he was young. Ken remembers the name because he went to school with Norman Salkeld, one of the proprietor’s grandsons. But Ken’s memories are from the second world war: ‘Sweets were rationed. I don’t think they had cake. I just remember orange juice.’ The identity of the writer of the letter accompanying the first photo below would seem to confirm Ken’s recollections.

Armstrong Park tea rooms, early 20th century

Runners’ retreat

What Ken remembers most vividly, however, is the ‘dark, dingy room at the back’ that was used as changing facilities for another great Heaton institution, Heaton Harriers. Again this was during world war two, in which many of the Harriers served and some lost their lives.

It’s fitting that Heaton’s athletes were among the last known users of the space before, in 1955, the refreshment rooms were demolished. Is it a coincidence that a tree close to the site has, for the last thirty or more years, been the final resting place for worn trainers and other footwear belonging to Heaton residents past and present?

And although a number of truly historic buildings, such as  ‘King John’s Palace’ and Heaton Windmill, survive just metres away, it’s the Shoe Tree, which particularly seems to capture the imagination of local people. It’s that which has a Heaton Park Road cafe named in its honour and has inspired local designers and artists.

Colin Hagan’s designs

But next time you pass, look up at the trainers and think about all the runners who set off from that spot, some of which were to lose their lives soon afterwards, and give a thought also to the entrepreneur, industrialist and philanthropist, Joseph Sewell, whose house footprint is beneath your feet. 

Cast your vote for the Woodland Trust’s Tree of the Year here.

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Yvonne Shannon of Friends of Heaton and Armstrong Park and Friends of Jesmond Dene, with additional material by Chris Jackson, Heaton History Group. Shoe Tree designs depicted by Colin Hagan.

Sources

‘St Anthony’s Pottery, Newcastle upon Tyne: Joseph Sewell’s book of designs’ / edited by Clarice and Harold Blakey on behalf of the Northern Ceramic Society and Tyne & Wear Museums, 1993

‘The Development of the Glass Industry on the Rivers Tyne and Wear 1700-1900’ / by Catherine Ross; Newcastle University thesis, 1982

‘William Armstrong: magician of the north’ / by Henrietta Heald; Northumbria Press, 2010.

Ancestry

Archaeologia Aelinae

British Newspaper Archive and newspaper cuttings

Ordnance Survey maps 1st and 2nd edition

Ridley collection, Northumberland Archives

Can You Help?

If you know more about the Shoe Tree, Joseph Sewell, The Armstrong Park refreshment rooms or have memories or photos 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 chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Torn from Home: from Bosnia to Heaton

On 4 May 1980 a major news story broke. For all its importance, it probably didn’t have a huge resonance in Heaton, but it would nevertheless go on to have an impact on the life of that part of Newcastle.  It was on that day that President Tito of Yugoslavia died.  Tito and his authoritarian rule had helped to keep the former Yugoslavia together after the nightmares of WW2, yet in little over ten years after Tito’s death, Yugoslavia would be torn apart by ethnic conflict and Smajo Beso and his family would be torn from home only to find a safe place of refuge in Heaton. This is the story of Smajo and his family….and other Bosnians who fled the deadly war and horrific concentration camps of Bosnia and came to the sanctuary of Tyneside will have similar tales to tell.

Smajo Beso was born on 29 March 1985 in a little town in Bosnia called Stolac.  Although born in Stolac, which is a town of 18,000 people, he actually grew up in a small village called Barane. Smajo’s early childhood was pretty idyllic, living under a beautiful mountain, surrounded by nature. In the village there were only 44 homes and as a young boy this gave Smajo a great sense of freedom and adventure.

Smajo 5

Smajo is the little blond boy being held on the left

 

 

Smajo makes it clear now that while the conflict in Bosnia is often explained by using the argument that there were ancient hatreds, which just exploded like a deadly human volcano and there was an inevitability about it all, he doesn’t doesn’t agree.  He says that this is an outsiders’ explanation and simply not true. On the contrary, Bosnia was a country where people of different religions co-existed very peacefully. Jews, for example, were made to feel welcome in Bosnia when they were not welcome in other parts of Europe.

Smajo was brought up not to differentiate in anyway between people of different religions. Although from a Muslim family, he remembers going to a neighbouring Catholic family’s home at Christmas, while they bought Smajo’s family presents at Eid.  Smajo was raised to know that people celebrate different holidays at different times, but they were not different as people. In Bosnia the outward appearance of religion was not obvious, particularly from a child’s perspective; there were a lot of mixed marriages and people were not treated differently.

Signs of change

When asked how he noticed as a young boy that things were going wrong, Smajo replied that it was ‘not overnight’. However, he does remember one incident vividly.  Smajo was six years old and was living in a new home his family had just built. Smajo was playing outside but when he ran back in, he saw his mother crying, while watching television.

Looking back it was 1991 and Smajo thinks it was probably something bad happening around the area of Croatia and northern Bosnia. Smajo also remembers that,  ‘our Croatian friends disappeared overnight’.  They were worried about the Second World War and that some Croatians, working in tandem with the Nazis, had been involved in massacres of Serbs.  In the end only a few elderly Croatians stayed and then eventually only Smajo’s family was left in the village surrounded by the Serb army.

Smajo’s grandad and his brothers had helped to save Serb villages in the Second World War. Consequently, local people went into the street to say Smajo’s family should be protected. They were friends and still coming round – but now in uniforms. They were still friendly and Smajo’s dad knew the commander and he was able to reassure Smajo’s family that even though they were Muslim they would be alright.  However, local friendly soldiers started being replaced by others from further away, from Monetengro and Serbia and some locals changed. One person, who had been friendly, came round sharpening knives, saying that he was going to kill Smajo’s family.  He had been friendly just a week earlier.

Concentration camps

However. it was notable that other Serbs still came at night to bring food to Smajo and his family at great risk to their own lives, even when it came to really bad times.  There was still one local hospital open but when Smajo had to be taken there because he was ill, soldiers at roadblocks wouldn’t let Smajo and his father back in to the village.  The soldiers told them to go a nearby concentration camp.  Fortunately one soldier recognised the family and got into the car with them, so they were able to go to another house. The son of another friend got into his uniform and also got into the car.  Smajo and his family got back to safety. Smajo’s dad’s cousin not so lucky. He was taken to a camp and died a few days later after coming back. It was said to be a heart attack. Whatever the truth, it was surely brought on by torture.

Inevitably, there was a lot of propaganda, with rumours of massacres. By now Smajo and his family were completely cut off. Smajo’s dad  felt compelled to patrol with an old gun. His own father had fought with the Partisans against the Nazis in WW2 , but now Smajo’s dad was up against what was still then the Yugoslav army, then the fourth biggest in Europe. At one point a truck of Serbs came to torture and kill Smajo and his family, but were stopped by a Serbian friend.

Smajo’s family escaped from the isolated village of Barane and made it to Stolac, where there were other Muslims and there would be safety in numbers. Smajo’s dad joined with the Croatian army to fight against the Serbs but after a year all the Muslim men in Stolac were sent to a concentration camp – by the Croatians. Still a small child, Smajo escaped through a place of happy childhood memories from just a few years earlier. How different it all was now.  His first taste of war was playing behind his house and hearing shells. Smajo has noted that even when young you know when danger is around you. He understood then the panic he had seen earlier in the adults around him and what they had been talking about.

Smajo’s father and other men were arrested in July 1993 and put in a concentration camp by the name of Dretelj, which was to become known as the Camp of Death. Smajo’s father lost 27kg in his first few weeks there. He had been fighting the common enemy for the ideal of a multicultural Bosnia. Around the same time, Smajo and his friend had been outside playing in the town of Stolac, when they saw many trucks coming down the road. One of Smajo’s friends saw an uncle of his in the trucks. The men were being taken to be interrogated. Smajo’s dad went back to the front line to wait for inevitable capture while Smajo and the rest of the family remained at his uncle’s house in Stolac for over a month. The uncle was taken a few days later and they saw it happening. He had not been on the front line due to having an injury. One man who came to take him was his daughter’s boyfriend. He didn’t care who he took from Stolac. On 4 August, Smajo’s family were expelled from their old home and taken to a metal factory (Smajo’s uncle had been expelled from his home a month earlier and taken to the same metal factory to be searched and interrogated.) Smajo’s mother was forced to sign something to give away her earrings for ‘safe-keeping’.

Smajo 8

Document on which Smajo’s mum had to sign away her earrings ‘for safe keeping’

From there Smajo and his family were loaded onto trucks and driven until they were near Bosnian-controlled territory and then forced to march to safety. It was very hot and at one point Smajo stepped over a dead body. The elderly died on the side of the street and they were all shelled and shot at.

Escape to the UK

From August 1993 until July 1994 the family stayed in Mostar with Smajo’s mum’s sister. His dad was writing to the family through the Red Cross so they knew that at least he was alive. They had found out just before they left Stolac and then heard nothing for months. The camp he was in was eventually discovered by the Red Cross but by then Smajo’s dad had been there for four months, with nothing to eat but watery stew served in a tiny pot. The boiling hot stew was often so hot he passed it on without having any as it burnt his insides, so on many days he simply didn’t eat anything. In four months he lost 27 kg.  The Red Cross took out the 500 men in the worst condition to an island off Croatia where they were fed and treated. From there, Smajo’s father came to the UK, arriving on 19 January 1994. He was told he could go anywhere except Asia, Africa – or back to Bosnia.

Smajo’s father had to take a ferry, then a bus to Zagreb, walking on enemy territory, when he could have been killed any time. Indeed at one point he had to move away from Muslim haters on the ferry. He was then taken to a meeting point in Zagreb and then flew to the UK on a charter flight for refugees. Eventually, he reached Newcastle.

While all this was going on what happened to the town of Stolac?  Stolac had for long been known as the ‘Bosnia Museum in the open’. It had the best conserved historic core of any town in Bosnia, with wonderful archives and museums. The Croatian troops who went there in August 1993 torched every sign of Muslim existence – with even the local mosque foundations dug up and archives burnt.

This was the dreadful situation Smajo and his family were fleeing from when they were torn from home to land in the Heaton area of Newcastle.  Smajo himself had just turned nine and on hearing that he was coming to the UK  he found it on a map. He says now that,  ‘it looked small!’ He was however excited to get out. A peace agreement with Croatians had been signed, but no agreement had been concluded with the Serbs and the nightmare of the genocide at Srebrenica was still to come a year later. However Smajo was also sad at leaving grandparents, family and friends behind.  It was particularly difficult for his mother; she was leaving her parents behind to see her husband in Newcastle. Thankfully they did survive.  But around the same time the dangers of staying were sadly brought home only too clearly, when Smajo’s aunt (his mother’s sister), was killed by Croatian bombs well away from the front line. It was a senseless killing.

Refugees in Newcastle

In June the Red Cross picked up Smajo and his immediate family  so that they could join Smajo’s father. On route, they were regularly stopped by Croatians at road blocks before reaching a refugee camp in northern Croatia. They were then driven to Zagreb, before flying to London and a short stay in a refugee centre there – all part of the agreement signed by John Major’s government – before finally flying north to Newcastle. Newcastle Central MP Jim Cousins was among those who helped them get to Newcastle.

 

Smajo 1

Smajo, his brother and father, Gosforth, 1994

Smajo 2

Smajo, his brother and sister, 1994

Smajo 3

Family photo, 1994

At first Smajo’s family lived in a refugee centre in Gosforth before moving to a house in Heaton, just off Heaton Park Road.  Coming from a war zone Smajo found Heaton very peaceful – there was no sound of shooting. At night however he found himself having nightmares about Bosnia as he began to process what had happened. One particular recurring dream was of waiting in line for food. On one occasion when doing this for real back in Bosnia, Smajo and his family had been shelled, but until now, he had blocked this from his memory.

Chillingham Road schooldays

Soon it was time for Smajo’s first day at Chilingham Road Primary School. He remembers that he was taken there with a Croatian interpreter.  However, the school had not been told that he was from a war zone. What with the bad memories and no English language, Smajo was very quiet in his early days at Chillingham Road.  Consequently, the school requested a meeting with his parents to discover why he wasn’t talking and subsequently things improved.

At this point the deputy head of Chillingham Road Primary School at the time, Claire Webster Saaramets takes up the story.  Claire remembers going to the school gates that first morning and that she had no real knowledge of what Smajo and other children from Bosnia had gone through. She had seen the news from Bosnia on the television, but that was all. Chillingham Road Primary School was already a mixed community and very integrated. However Smajo was so quiet, not saying very much at all and this lack of English language left teachers unaware of the trauma he had gone through.

After the horrors of Bosnia, living in Heaton and attending Chillingham Road Primary School was a very positive experience for Smajo and others. They were able to feel a sense that they could just come and be who they were.  Music was important and was one thing that could be shared. After Smajo’s parents went back in to school there was lot of additional help.

There was often a song at the end of class and Claire taught the children how to sing it in Bosnian.  So it was that a year 5 class in Heaton learnt to sing in Bosnian, their class song with the title of ‘Goodbye my Friends’, a poignant song about leaving friends behind at the end of the school day. Smajo remembers this as, ‘just the most incredible and biggest act of kindness ever.’  He goes on to comment that, ‘this was something so simple but something so incredibly huge for me. It was a piece of home. I remember that first day walking home from school with a smile on my face. That’s no exaggeration. It was incredible how welcomed I felt, how human and real I felt. What Claire did I will never forget for the rest of my life and we can all learn so much for that one act.’

Smajo also remembers drawing two soldiers with a flag of peace and as his English improved was able to produce an autobiography with a picture.

Schools in Heaton did a lot to help the Bosnian community and others fleeing the war in the former Yugoslavia. Chiilingham Road Primary School held a mini project around peace, helping pupils to feel safe. Meanwhile nearby Ravenswood Primary School initiated a campaign to try and stop the deportation of a pupil and their family back to Croatia. The project at Chillingham Road was about making sure it was safe place, while the school was also used a community centre for several years with the Bosnian flag in on the wall of the dining hall. Members of the Bosnian community met every Friday and they also received great help from the caretakers at the school.

Smajo faced a number of initial problems at school at Chillingham Road Primary.   Most obviously there was the language barrier.  Consequently, at Chillingham Road it took quite a long time for him to make friends. He would stand forlornly looking and watching on the playground.  In his early days at Chillingham Road, Smajo would wait outside every morning, until it was time to come in. Fortunately it was a good Year 5 group and the teachers encouraged the playing of games, which Smajo could join in with. Ultimately it was the international language of football which helped, as playing football was the way he got friendly with people; Smajo had also played football in Bosnia.

At home in Heaton

As Smajo settled into his new life in Heaton, he found both good and bad things about it. On the down side, nearly all his family and friends were still in Bosnia and Smajo found himself feeling homesick. He and his family had a home, but it didn’t feel like a home at first. Happily, all that has changed and Heaton and Newcastle are very much home now.

Smajo  says that people in Heaton and the north east of England share a lot of similarities with Bosnians – they are friendly, with a lot of time for people, just like people in Bosnia. The Bosnian community helped each other, but there were so many other people who helped them. Consequently, they have integrated well, with many Bosnians becoming doctors or working in other professions. Smajo is proud to be Bosnian, but also proud that Newcastle is his home. Heaton is very much their home and most Bosnians in Newcastle live in Heaton and High Heaton.

Smajo sometimes thinks of what might have happened if he and his family hadn’t come to Heaton.   He states that they had no option but to flee. They escaped because of the agreement signed by the British government and that was what brought them here. They never knew how long they would stay here but are now glad that they did.

In terms of what people in Heaton and Newcastle can do to help those torn from home at time of war or other crisis, Smajo simply says to give them a warm welcome. It is a great credit to the people of Heaton and Newcastle that Smajo thinks that they should do whatever was done in the 1990s for the Bosnian community. Smajo notes that people here did that extra bit for them, acts of kindness from people in Heaton, such as having the class song translated into Bosnian.

And what is Smajo doing now?  He is busy completing his Phd in Architecture and teaching at Newcastle University.  He also spends a lot of time telling others of the experiences of himself and others in Bosnia in those dark days in the 1990s and helping people to understand what happened and how we must always be aware of the signs of impending genocide. The struggle against hatred and prejudice goes on.

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Peter Sagar of Heaton History Group. Interviews with Smajo Beso and Claire Webster-Saaramets, Newcastle-upon-Tyne,  21 March 2019 with further comments from Smajo, April 2019.

Additional Source

Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Josip_Broz_Tito

 

 

Forgotten Music Makers of Heaton

If you were asked about Heaton’s most important exports, you might well mention great feats of engineering, such as Sir Charles Parsons’ ground-breaking steam turbines, or Grubb Parsons’ telescopes, both of which are still to be found throughout the world. Or perhaps you’d suggest music, with local boy Chas Chandler, inducted into Rock and Roll’s Hall of Fame with ‘The Animals’ in 1994 – the band’s 60s’ songs still played and performed all over the world half a century after they were written. We rightly commemorate such achievements with plaques, books and museum displays.

But hands up if you’ve ever stopped on Grafton Street and given even a passing thought to the local men who married both of the great Heaton industries of engineering and music?  In truth, you might never have had cause to go to Grafton Street at all: since redevelopment of the area, it’s perhaps the shortest street in Heaton (or is it Byker?) comprising little more than four parking bays (usually full) facing Shields Road and a single yellow line. There’s a pawnbroker’s shop on one corner and a council customer service centre on the other.

GraftonSt_IMG_3807resized

Grafton Street

But there’s also a nearby bench on which you can sit and listen. There may still be music in the air.

So let’s rewind.

Apprentice

Charles William Howden was born in All Saints parish, of which Heaton was a part, in 1865 and baptised in St Nicholas’s Cathedral on 28 May of that year. He was the eldest child of Ryton born, Margaret Isabella, and John Howden, a shipping clerk from Wakefield in Yorkshire.

By 1881 at the age of 16 and still living with his parents and now four younger siblings in the west end of Newcastle, Charles was described as an ‘organ builder’s apprentice’. Ten years later, still living in the parental home, he is described on the census as an ’employer’ and ‘organ builder’.

We don’t yet know to whom young Charles Howden was apprenticed but we can trace the development of the organ building firm that bears his name from its foundation c1893  via Forth Street  and Snowdon Street in Newcastle to 65 Grafton Street, Heaton. Howden had joined forces with one William Charlton Blackett, the Bensham-born son of a coal agent, to set up the firm of Blackett and Howden Ltd.

Inventors

Like other more famous engineers operating around Heaton at this time, Blackett and Howden weren’t content to copy what had gone before. They wanted their organs to be better than everyone else’s. We can trace several patent applications: for ‘pallets‘ (1891). ‘pneumatic action’ (1895) and ‘blowing‘ (1904).

According to organ historian, James Ingall Wedgewood, they may have invented what is known as a ‘diaphone‘, the noise-making device best known for its use as a foghorn. While the invention of the diaphone is commonly attributed to Robert Hope-Jones,  it was apparently Blackett and Howden who first experimented with it as early as 1888:

‘It frequently happens in organ building, when the requisite conditions are fortuitously complied with, that a pallet will commence to vibrate rapidly, and it is often within the province of an organist’s or organ builder’s observation that such a “fluttering pallet,” or a Tremulant in a state of rapid vibration, when provided with a resonator in the form of a soundboard or wind trunk, generates tones of considerable power. The safety valves of steamboats constantly act similarly. … The idea must doubtless have occurred to many builders … that such phenomena might systematically be adapted to tonal use.

An experimental attempt at such adaptation was made in 1888 by Messrs. Blackett & Howden, of Newcastle [England]. The bulk of the apparatus employed was enclosed in a box (15 ins. square for the 16 ft. note). Wind passed into a chamber containing a vibrator in the form of a circular disc fixed on to the loose end of a spring, and so arranged as to beat against a hole in the under side of the resonator, being regulated in pitch and intensity by a sliding bridge and set-screw.’

Whether because they were louder or simply because they were of superb quality, Blackett and Howden organs were sold not only across the north east but soon throughout the UK and even overseas.

Some of the earliest church organs for which records exist are in Scotland; the one in the Braid Church in Edinburgh was built in 1898 and there were other early instruments in Glasgow, West Kilbride and Montrose. At one point the firm did so much business in Scotland that it ran a second workshop in Glasgow. Another one followed in Cardiff.

Close to home

According to the British Pipe Organ Register, locally, the firm built the organ for St Gabriel’s (date unknown), Heaton Methodist Church (1910) and Heaton Congregational Church (1920).

The transport costs to Heaton Congregational Church must have been among the lowest for any Blackett and Howden organ: the church (now Heaton Bingo) was only a few hundred yards from the factory. Unfortunately, we don’t know what happened to this organ: it doesn’t appear on the current National Pipe Organ Register.

HeatonRoadCongregationalChurchresized

Heaton Congregational Church’s Blackett and Howden organ was installed in 1920

 

There is some confusion regarding the St Gabriel’s organ. According to the British Pipe Organ Register, organ N04082 was surveyed in St Gabriel’s in 1944 and described as ‘built by Blackett and Howden (date unknown)’. According to the opening sentence of a report written in 1994 by Paul Ritchie: ‘The builders of St Gabriel’s organ would appear to be modest as there is no name plate on the console, nor do the bellow weights carry their initial letters’. Ritchie goes on to say: ‘Somewhere in the back of my memory is a little voice saying Abbott and Smith’. And indeed there is another entry in the register for St Gabriel’s: organ N12464 ‘built by Abbott and Smith in 1905; surveyed in 1980′. Another unsigned and undated report states that Blackett and Howden installed an exhaust-pneumatic action around 1920 and that, at the same time, tuba and pedal trombone were added ‘and the Great Organ gained a large Open Diapason with leathered upper lips. This latter stop was placed on a separate unit chest and was reported to be rather poor; it was removed by Willis in 1963′.

But there are no such doubts about the instrument in Heaton Methodist Church. It was inaugurated on Wednesday 4 May 1910: ‘there were recitals from 2.30pm, followed by a public tea. Special services took place on the next three Sundays and a concert took place on Monday 23rd May.’ And it’s is still going strong.

BlackettandHowdenHeatonMethChurchIMGP1538a

Heaton Methodist Church organ

A celebratory concert was held in 2010 to celebrate the centenary of its installation and the programme included a short history of both the organ and of Blackett and Howden itself.

Organ Centenary Concert - Programme

Heaton Methodist Church organ centenary programme

 

Military march

But perhaps the most famous Blackett and Howden organ still played today is in the Royal Memorial Chapel of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, which was built in 1924. The instrument is described in the history of the organ as ‘for its time, fairly cutting edge technology’ with ‘pioneering use of tubular pneumatic action’. After the war, the architect Sir Hugh Casson designed a new organ case for the instrument above the chapel’s main war memorial. At this point the organ was rebuilt and enlarged but using a lot of the original pipework.

 Rescue

Sadly many Blackett and Howden organs have been destroyed over the years but that originally built for the Prince’s Theatre in North Shields was fortuitously rescued by an Australian enthusiast. Apparently this was the only unit theatre organ ever built by the firm (in 1929) and its console was displayed at the North East Trade Fair Exhibition.

Records show that the flue pipes were ‘voiced’ by Syd Goldsmith and the reeds and strings by Frank ‘Hubbert‘ (although we believe this to be Frank Hubbard who in 1911 was living on Tosson Terrace, Heaton). The skill of manipulating an organ pipe to make it sound is known as voicing: ‘Each pipe must be made to play with the proper onset of sound (known as speech), sustained tone, and volume. When the voicing process is complete, each individual pipe in the organ forms a beautiful musical instrument.’

According to locals, the Prince’s Theatre organ had ‘a beautiful tone with sweet voicing and ample power for the large house.’ Although its console was destroyed in 1969, its chamber contents were bought for £75 by the Organ Society of Australia.  They even obtained the original receipt!

BlackettandHowdenReceiptPrince'sTheatre

Blackett and Howden document

In 1975, it was installed in Cinema North in Reservoir, Victoria. In 1999, it was moved to Coburg Town Hall, also in Victoria. You can read the full story of  this wonderful instrument here:

Eastward ho

We have found a record showing that, on 16 January 1917, William Blackett sailed from London to Hong Kong on the Japanese ship, SS Fushimi Maru. It was a dangerous time to be at sea: over 200 allied ships were lost during January 1917 alone. But it shows that Blackett and Howden’s reputation was worldwide. As you can see below, most of Blackett’s fellow British passengers were missionaries or nurses.

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Fushima Maru passenger list including William Blackett

The organ of St John’s Cathedral in Hong Kong was built by William Blackett ‘an elderly, bearded gentleman’ who ‘had come to the colony to install one of their organs in a church in the colony. Finding the climate congenial, he decided to stay and set up a small organ factory in the city. He recruited a group of Chinese and taught them the trade’.

Full renewal of the existing organ was priced at $14,000 but fundraising was suspended because of what was called ‘troublous times’ in 1925: a strike and anti-British boycott ignited by a deadly shooting during a strike in Shanghai, fuelled to fever pitch by British and French guards killing demonstrators in Canton. Nevetheless the organ was complete by 1927 and services, in which the organ could be heard, broadcast on the radio the same year.

Sale

Meanwhile back home, Blackett and Howden was sold to the London firm of Hill, Norman and Beard in 1924. At this time, John Christie of Glyndebourne became the major shareholder and Charles Howden became general manager with Ralph Walton Blackett, William’s son, sub-manager.

But on 25 September 1927, with William Blackett still in Hong Kong, Charles Howden died at the age of 62 at his home, 35 Rothbury Terrace. He left £1873 3s 3d in his will, a modest sum considering the success of the company he had co-founded more than thirty years earlier.

Blackett and Howden’s name continued to be used, however. It traded from its Grafton Street premises for another half century. The Heaton factory finally closed in 1974, when the remaining part of the business was purchased by N Church & Co.

Team effort

William Blackett and Charles Howden did not, of course, build their organs alone.

Hopefully this article will enable us to trace people employed in the factory in later years. In the meantime, it seems appropriate to pay tribute here to some of the workers listed in the 1911 census whose reputation and, in some cases, expertly crafted musical instruments live on more than a hundred years after they were made.

One of these was Terrot G Myles who, in 1911, was 30 years old. He lived at 149 Molyneux Street.

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Terrot G Myles

Terrot is described in the census as an ‘organ builder‘. Thanks to his granddaughter, Grace, we have  photographs of him and know quite a lot about his life. Terrot was born in Glasgow but moved to Edinburgh as a young boy. After leaving school, he was apprenticed to Ingram & Co, a firm of organ builders, in their Edinburgh factory and progressed to become a journeyman. The firm described him as ‘smart, willing and punctual’ and recommended him to future employers. In 1908, Scovell and Company called him ‘a most conscientious and painstaking worker, perfectly steady and reliable and a good all round man’. His reference made it clear that he was leaving the company only due to ‘depression of trade’ and they expressed a hope that he would return at some future date.

By this time though Terrot had already married Isabella Younger, a bookbinder from Sunderland. Their elder son, Richard, was born in Hampshire in 1908 but by 1911, they were in Newcastle, where, a year later, their younger son, John was born. We can only guess that while in Heaton and working as an organ builder, Terrot was employed by Blackett and Howden but it seems a fair assumption to make.

However, in 1923, the family set sail from Liverpool to New York in search of a better life. Terrot spent the next eight years working for Henry Pilcher’s Sons, an organ builder, in Louisville, Kentucky. He became a naturalised American the following year and spent his career building and installing organs all over the USA. He received and treasured many glowing references, which Grace still has. Terrot and Isabella eventually moved to White Lake, Michigan, where Isabella died in 1954 and Terrot a year later, aged 73 years.

Others listed in the 1911 census include:

William Blackett, aged 52, 13 Brough Street, Heaton Joiner in Organ Factory (We don’t know whether he was related in any way to the firm’s co-founder, William Blackett, who lived in Whitley Bay at this time)

Charles Brassington, aged 31, 26 Heaton Park Road, organ builder

John Wastle Craig, aged 14, 15 Tynemouth Rd, organ builder assistance

William Gill, aged 54, 13 Addison Street, organ builder, voicer, tuner

Thomas Miller Hendry, aged 23, 39 Langhorn St, organ builder

Frank Hubbard, 83 Tosson Terrace, organ voicer (*Almost certainly the Frank ‘Hubbert’ who voiced the North Shields organ. See above.)

James William Jobson, aged 50, 10 North View, organ builder

John Jobson, aged 16, 10 North View, apprentice organ builder

John George Millington, aged 34, 188 Warton Terrace, organ builder (Later lived in King John Terrace until his death in 1962)

John Matthew Mitchell, aged 63, 72 Addycombe Terrace, organ builder

John Henry Reed, aged 22, 80 Eighth Avenue, organ builder

Ernest Routledge, aged 22, 57 Malcolm Street,  organ pipe maker (Ernest died in 1918 aged 29 as did his 2 year old son, Roland)

Whenever you listen to organ music this Christmas, spare a thought for these Heaton master-craftsmen and the lasting joy they have brought to the world.

Can you help?

If you know more about any of the people or organs mentioned in this article or of anyone who worked at Blackett and Howden’s, we’d love to hear from you. We’d also be interested to hear and see photographs of any other Blackett and Howden organs you see on your travels. 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. Thank you to HHG member, Joyce Lovell, and to George Cottrell for information about Heaton Methodist Church organ; to Pauline Giles for information about St Gabriel’s organ;  to Grace Myles for photos and information on Terrot Myles.

Sources

Biographical Dictionary of the Organ

Laurence Elvin ‘Family Enterprise: the story of some north country organ builders‘ 1986

Norman F Moore and W Kirby Robinson ‘From Byker to Heaton: the origins and history of Heaton Methodist Church’ Pattinson, 2000

 National Pipe Organ Register list of Blackett and Howden organs 

James Ingall Wedgwood ‘A Comprehensive Dictionary of Organ Stops English and Foreign, Ancient and Modern’ The Vincent Music company, 1905 (via Wikipedia entry for Diaphone)

Stuart Wolfendale ‘Imperial to International: a history of St John’s Cathedral Hong Kong’ Hong Kong University Press, 2013

and online sources eg Ancestry

Kate Elizabeth Ogg Remembered

On 21 April  1919, the day before what would have been his daughter Kate’s 32nd birthday,  Newcastle’s John Ogg replied to a request from the Imperial War Museum in London for a photograph of her. Kate had died just eight weeks earlier.

In his letter, John apologised for the late response and promised that he would find something suitable and ‘forward it on with as little delay as possible’.  Below is the photograph he eventually sent. It can now be seen on the IWM website along with his letters.

 

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Kate Ogg’s photo held by Imperial War Museums

 © IWM (WWC H2-164)

But why would the Imperial War Museum want a photo of Kate and what does it have to do with Heaton? We’ve been finding out.

Bolingbroke Street

Kate Elizabeth Ogg, the first child of John (a brass finisher) and Catherine Ogg  was born in the west end of Newcastle on 22 April 1887. But by the time she was four, she and her younger sister, Maggie, had moved with their parents to 31 Bolingbroke Street in Heaton. Kate started at the nearby Heaton Park Road School in 1894.

By 1901, the family had grown (The now fourteen year old Kate had a younger sister, Edith, and a brother, John) and they had moved across the road to number 46 Bolingbroke Street.

Teacher

Kate was obviously an able scholar because after leaving school, she was employed as a teaching assistant and by 1911 was  employed at Welbeck Road School in Walker. By this time, her father had set up in business as a newsagent and, still single, Kate had moved back to Elswick with her family.

Perhaps to make her journey to work easier, the following year Kate changed school too. The Wingrove Council School log book, now held by Tyne and Wear Archives, records that she began work there as a ‘certified assistant’ on 27 August 1912. And there, but for events hundreds of miles away and totally outside her control, she may well have stayed and so contributed  to the learning of hundreds, if not thousands, of Newcastle schoolchildren for years to come.

Serving in World War One

But, in August 1914, World War One broke out and immediately millions of men volunteered for and later were conscripted into the armed forces. Schools were often short staffed and there were greater opportunities for women like Kate than ever before.

Indeed we know that Wingrove School was under pressure even in subjects traditionally taught by women.  On 10 January 1916, it was recorded in the log book that there were ‘only two ladies on the staff at present – Misses Bone and Ogg have the whole of needlework between them – and accordingly the classes for needlework have been rearranged’.

But sometime before, in 1914, Kate had started training with St John Ambulance and on Saturday 5 June 1915 ‘The Newcastle Daily Journal’ reported examination results in which Kate’s name appears among those successful members of the Novocastria Nursing Division who had been awarded vouchers as prizes.

And the following year, Kate made the momentous decision not merely to contribute to the war effort outside her working hours but to give up her promising teaching career completely for the duration of the conflict. We know that Kate’s brother, John, had joined the Merchant Navy as a wireless operator. He was, for example, on board the SS Lapland, which sailed to New York on 23 June 1915. Whether his dangerous job was a factor in her wanting to devote herself full time to hospital work, we can’t be sure but on 16 April 1916, it was noted in the school log book that ‘ Miss Kate E Ogg ceases duty today (pro tem) to take Military (Hospital) Duty on May 1st’.

She was missed. When, on 1 May,  the school reopened after the Easter holiday, the head wrote in the log book:

‘The vacancy caused by Miss Ogg’s departure has not been filled. This is awkward for it is thus impossible to assist at 1a where the ST (student teacher?) is in charge and is very weak in discipline’

As for Kate, Red Cross records show that on 28 April, eight days after leaving her teaching post, she was engaged as a VAD (Volunteer Aid Detachment) nurse, serving firstly in Fulham Military Hospital, London; then from 1 December 1916 to 31 January 1917 at Liverpool Military Hospital before returning to Newcastle to serve at the 1st Northern General Military Hospital from 10 March 1917.

Pandemic

The war officially ended, of course, on 11 November 1918 but many of those serving couldn’t immediately return to normal life. In the hospitals, there were still injured military personnel  to care for and in fact the need for nurses became greater than ever when troops travelling home from theatres of war brought with them the deadly strain of influenza  in which some 25 to 40 million people are estimated to have died worldwide. The virus spread quickly in cities like Newcastle and young adults such as the returning soldiers and the nurses like Kate who looked after them were worst affected.

Later that winter, on 23 February 1919, Kate Elizabeth Ogg died on active service. Her death was attributed to pneumonia, which was often the result of a serious bout of this deadly strain of influenza. She is buried in St John’s Cemetery, Elswick in a simple grave in which her parents were eventually laid to rest with her.

 

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Detail of Kate Ogg’s grave

 

Kate is commemorated on Wingrove School’s war memorial

 

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Wingrove School war memorial

 

and  is among the 17 Newcastle teachers who lost their lives and are named in ‘The National Union of Teachers War Record: a short account of duty and work accomplished during the war’ published by Hamilton House in 1920.

She is also remembered on the St John Ambulance Brigade Number VI Northern District war memorial, which covers divisions from Northumberland as far south as Whitby, Bridlington and Hull. It is currently stored at Trimdon Station Community Centre in County Durham. You’ll find Kate’s name in the middle of the third column of the centre panel.

 

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With permission of Derek Bradley and Trimdon Station Community Centre

And her name can be seen on page 44 of the St John Ambulance Roll of Honour.

Women in WW1

But why the letter to Kate’s father? The Imperial War Museum had been founded in 1917 and almost immediately put in place plans to ensure that the role of women in war would be recognised and recorded. By the end of the first world war, almost 700 women were known to have died and it is thanks to the diligence of the Women’s Work Subcommittee, even after Armistice day, that we have Kate’s photograph and read her father’s letters. Volunteers have recently digitised them so that they can be viewed online. Many, including Kate, have been researched as part of the Lives of the First World War project.

Finally, in the 1920s, money was raised for the restoration of a window in York Minster as a memorial to all the women of the empire who lost their lives as a result of the war. The Five Sisters window and oak panels list 1,400 women, including  Kate. They were officially opened on 24 June 1925 by the Duchess of York in the presence of family members of many of the women commemorated.

Kate Elizabeth Ogg will never be forgotten.

 

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Kate Ogg,  commemorated in St Nicholas’ Chapel, York Minster

 

Postscript

Kate’s brother, John, happily survived the war and married Margaret W Hunter in 1918. In 1939, the couple were living in Newburn.  John died in 1957, with probate granted to a Robert William Ogg (perhaps his son) who died in 1976.

In 1917, her sister, Maggie, had married William Robert Appleby who is buried in the family grave, though Maggie does not appear to be. And sister Edith married Robert T Hunter in 1918.

We hope eventually to make contact with descendants of the Ogg family.

Can you help?

If you know more about Kate Ogg or her family 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 chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Acknowledgements

This article was researched by Arthur Andrews and John Hulme, who drew our attention to Kate Ogg’s story, with additional input from Chris Jackson. Thank you also to Keith Fisher for his photo-editing. The research forms part of our Historic England funded ‘Shakespeare Streets’ project in which we are working with Hotspur and Chillingham Road Primary Schools to explore both Heaton’s theatrical heritage and the people of the streets named in William Shakespeare’s honour.

Harry, Heaton Park Road Hairdresser

Although life in the east end of Newcastle is very different now to that of a hundred or even fifty years ago, most of our streets and terraces would be instantly recognisable to any of our forebears from back then who had happened upon the secrets of time travel. An exception is the southern end of Heaton Park Road, especially the section from the railway to Shields Road, so we were especially delighted when Yvonne Shannon wrote to tell us about her grandad, who had a barber’s shop at number 60 in the 1930s.

New Road

Originally the road north towards, but not extending all the way to, Heaton Hall was called Cook Street but after the opening of Heaton Park, the road was completed to allow access to the park from Byker, with the new section called Heaton Park Road (though originally it had been intended to call it Shakespeare Road) and the original Byker end renamed Heaton Park Road South.

Below is a photograph of this older section which extends from the High Main pub, beyond Molyneux Court to the railway. You can just see the railway bridge in the background. The photograph was taken in 1962 just before these houses and shops were demolished and replaced by one of Heaton’s few tower blocks. Number 60 would have been immediately next to the shop on the extreme right and just off the photograph.

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Heaton Park Road, 1962 (courtesy of Newcastle City Library)

 

First occupants

The first occupant of number 60 Heaton Park Road South that we know of was Robert Gristwood, who ran a grocery there round about 1890. This may well have been the same Robert Gristwood who emigrated to Canada in 1911 and served with the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force in WW1.

Robert was succeeded by 1900 by Mrs Jessie Eadie, who continued to run the shop as a grocery, while her husband worked as an insurance agent. The 1901 census records their grown up daughters’ occupations as ‘girl in confectionary shop’, so presumably they helped run the family business too.

Jessie had been born in Carluke, Lanarkshire but by 1881 was living on Cook Street with her husband, William Algernon Eadie, who was at this time a ‘potter (bowl maker)’ and their two young daughters, Susan (aged 4) and baby Elizabeth. After William died in 1908, leaving the then quite substantial sum of £2305 14 shillings in his will, Jessie and her daughters moved to 221 Chillingham Road, later to become a bank, now Lloyd’s.

After World War 1, the confectioner’s was run first by Miss Mary Tabrah and Elizabeth, her sister, two of nine children born to John Henry Tabrah, a boilermaker, originally from Scotland, and his wife, Mary, a Liverpudlian. In 1901 Mary was nine and Edith ten years old and the family lived in Byker

Barber’s shop

The shop then became a hosiery briefly, run by Mrs Sarah Scott, and then in the late 1920s a men’s hairdresser’s, with the first proprietor A R Humphrey, before Yvonne’s grandad took over around 1930. Yvonne takes up the story:

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Harry, Willie and Joseph Pickering outside 60 Heaton Park Road, c1930

 

‘Henry Robson Pickering (known as Harry, who was my Grandad) is the man standing to the left of the photograph, next to him is his younger brother Willie and to the right of the photograph is their father and my great granddad, Joseph Pickering.  The address is 60 Heaton Park Road, and in the window to the right you can read the notice ‘This shop is now open under new management’.

Joseph’s story

Harry’s dad, Joseph, my great grandad, was the original hairdresser or barber of the family. He learned the trade either in Cumbria, where he was born, or in Gateshead, which was the first place he lived when he moved to the North East, and taught the skill to Harry and Willie.  

He had fought in WW1 enlisting with one of the four Tyneside Scottish units (not sure which one but he did wear a kilt in uniform). He came through the war unscathed but never talked about his experiences.

The conditions for working people between the wars were very hard, and Joseph eked out a living for his family by getting his sons Harry and Willie to find wood, chop it into sticks then try to sell the bundles around the neighbourhood. Joseph himself used his barbering experience to cut neighbours hair for a few pennies, and, often worked at the RVI to shave and cut the hair of male patients. His other duties at the hospital were a bit macabre: he used to ‘dress’ the hair of people who had died.  So, I think being proprietors of a shop would have been a real step up for the whole family.

In the late ‘30’s Joseph was the marching instructor of a juvenile jazz band, The Byker Imperials and was very proud to march with them in the parades.  There is a wonderful old photo first printed in the Evening Chronicle of the jazz band including Joseph posing on the steps of Heaton Park.

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Byker Imperial Juvenile Jazz Band in Heaton Park

 

Joseph is pictured on the far right directly under the letter J. Also on the photo, in the front row, fourth from the right (just above small cross under photo), is Jimmy Pickering, the youngest child of Joseph, and brother of Harry and Willie.            

Joseph was too old to enlist for WW2 but he went to work in the shipyards at Walker and he didn’t retire until the age of seventy.

Harry’s story

Joseph’s son, Harry, was about to get married at the time of taking on the barber’s shop and I’m sure it meant a great deal to him, i.e. a new start and a reliable means of supporting his wife at their new home which was to be in Albion Row, Byker.

But, by 1932 they had given up the tenancy which would,  I think , have been a big loss to them. Harry’s daughter (Doreen, my mother) thinks the short tenancy was due to the terrible recession of the 1930s when thousands of men were out of work and was the time of the famous ‘Jarrow March’. The Wall Street Crash happened in 1929 so in a way it was the worst possible time at which to try and set up a new business.  People, ie customers, just couldn’t afford the luxury of paying for a haircut so they couldn’t earn enough to pay the rental for the shop. 

Throughout the recession Harry found it very hard to make ends meet and during winter he would volunteer (along with other men) to work for the corporation (council) to clear the snow from the streets using only shovels and was probably paid a pittance.   He kept the barbershop chair from the shop though and did the odd haircut from his house to earn a bit of money to keep them going.

World War Two   

To make a little extra Harry and Willie both joined the Territorial Army – The Royal Engineers – therefore, when war was declared in 1939 they were called up immediately and their first posting was to France.  Harry had four children by this time and it was left to their mother, Martha, to bring them up.  On his call-up papers, dated September 1939, he gives his ‘trade on enlistment’ as ‘hairdresser’ so he obviously still saw this as his main occupation.

Both Willie and Harry survived the Dunkirk evacuation and we are really sorry that we didn’t ask them about how they were brought out and on which boat they were rescued. 

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Harry Pickering (right) with topi hat on his knee

 

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Five of Harry’s WW2 medals – one was lost!

 

By 1942 both brothers embarked in Southampton and were sent to Burma. At the same time Harry’s fifth child was born but he didn’t see her until 1946 when he was demobbed.

The brothers were amongst the last to be demobbed, Both survived unhurt except for bouts of malaria contracted in Burma. They continued to have periodic episodes of this debilitating disease throughout the remainder of their lives.  Harry was also hospitalised because of Dengue fever in 1942 but recovered well.

Post war

In 1947 Harry’s family were allocated a council house   The Homes fit for Heroes’ initiative was instigated after WW1 in 1919 but there was still a lot of appalling housing in Newcastle.   All the family thought it was fantastic, it enabled them to move from what had been slum housing in Byker to a new house in Walker where the street was planted with trees and it is here where their sixth and last child was born in 1951.  They regularly visited Heaton Park and Jesmond Dene for leisure outings throughout their lives and this continues with Harry’s great grandchildren today.

Jobs were plentiful after the war and Harry’s final job was at the George Angus Factory where he was a semi-skilled machinist until he retired at the age of 65.  He still did the odd hair cut though including one memorable time when his daughter (Doreen) asked him to style hers, she requested a ‘tapering cut ‘ into the sides and neck.  Unfortunately his idea of ‘tapering’ was not quite the same as hers and ‘I nearly died when I saw it’ and ‘burst into tears’.

The photograph of 60 Heaton Park Road depicts a snapshot in time not just in the photographic sense but in the way individuals were and are swept up in much bigger events taking place around them and over which they have no control i.e. Joseph sent to the trenches in WW1, followed by the recession which led to giving up their shop in Heaton, and also their hopes for a financially secure future as a small business.  Poverty led Harry and Willie to join the Territorial Army which in turn meant they were among the first to be called up in WW2 – another event over which they had no control.’

After Harry

Another barber, George Gunn, succeeded Harry but the property seems to have been mainly empty after the war and eventually most of the block was demolished. The last few properties, once part of Beavan’s drapery, which occupied the corner site, are now part of Wetherspoon’s High Main pub.

Beavans on site of High Main pub

Edwardian photograph of  Beavan’s, showing the now partly demolished terrace on Heaton Park Road (South)

 

The rest of the block was redeveloped from the mid 60s. A modern tower block, Molyneux Court, was built on the site and alongside it there is now also a NHS walk-in centre.

Can you help?

If you can provide further information about anyone or anything mentioned in this article please contact us, either by clicking on the link immediately below the title of this article or by emailing chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org .

Acknowledgements

This article was researched and written by Yvonne and Doreen Shannon, Harry’s granddaughter and daughter and Chris Jackson, Heaton History Group. It forms part of Heaton History Group’s ‘Shakespeare Streets’ project, funded by Historic England.

Shields Road Landmarks and Legends

On Wednesday 27 July, Heaton History Group members are invited to join Mike Greatbatch for a walking tour of Shields Road in which old photos, maps and plans will be used to reveal the colourful history of this busy thoroughfare.

Beavans

The old Beavan’s shop on the corner of Shields Road and Heaton Park Road, (now the High Main pub)

Places are limited and so this walk is open to Heaton History Group members only in the first instance and booking is essential. Please book your place by contacting maria@heatonhistorygroup.org / 07443 594154.
The walk will start outside St Silas Church at 7.30pm and  finish at the East End Library and Pool.

185 Shields Road

185 Shields Road

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Ringtons used to be on Shields Road (where the retail park is now) before it moved to Algernon Road

Bowlers in bowlers?

This fantastic photograph, showing a group of men in front of the pavilion in Heaton Park, was taken by Edward G Brewis or at least his firm.

Edward lived from about 1895 to 1900 in ‘the photographer’s house’, the double-fronted house just a few doors up from the park, 190 Heaton Park Road. He ran his own photography studio in New Bridge Street, as well as from his Heaton home and he took the last ever photograph of Heaton Park Road champion cyclist, George W Waller.

By 1900, Edward Brewis had moved to Broomley near Bywell but he later returned to Jesmond Park East, High Heaton for a while. He died aged only 44 in 1908. (You can read more about him and the house by clicking on the link in the first line of this paragraph.)

Bowlers

Early 20th Century Heaton Park bowlers?

 

We are hoping that someone will be able to tell us more about the photograph. Who were the men? They are posing with bowls on the bowling green so that could be a clue? Is the man standing at the back and the one sitting on the grass to the left of the bowls a park keeper? They both have badges on their distinctive caps and one has what might be a money bag over his shoulder.

When might it have been taken? Do the array of bowlers, boaters, flat caps, even a top hat (held by the bare-headed man second from the right in the second row from the back) and what looks like a tam o’shanter (three to the left of the man with the top hat) enable anyone to date it with a degree of confidence? Perhaps the collars and neck ties can help us pin it down.

Or does the pavilion itself hold the answer? How long was the large fountain in place? And does the photo pre-date a later clock? When was this part of the park a bowling green? We know it was a croquet lawn at one point. We are sure that readers of this article will have at least some of the answers.

John Whyte

Ian Sanderson recently wrote from Sussex, telling us that he believes the man in the boater on the left of the above photograph to be his grandfather, John Arthur Whyte.

John, born in 1885, lived in Byker and Heaton all his life and in 1911 was presented with two medals by his bowling club, Heaton Victoria. John spent a long career with Newcastle Corporation, rising to the position of town clerk. He continued to bowl in Heaton Park and for the Portland Club into the 1950s. He also represented Northumberland.

Below is a detail from the above photograph and also photos, supplied by Ian, which show his grandfather in 1916 and the medals he won. Ian believes that the above photograph may show members of the Heaton Victoria Club in around 1911.

 

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Detail of photograph of bowlers in Heaton Park

 

 

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John Arthur Whyte, 1916

 

 

 

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Heaton Victoria Bowling Club medal

 

 

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Heaton Victoria Bowling Club medal

 

 

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Heaton Victoria Bowling Club medal

 

 

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Heaton Victoria Bowling Club medal

 

Thank you

Thank you very much to Ian and to Gary Walsh of Whickham, who kindly sent us a copy of the photograph.

Can you help?

If you can give us any leads or have any other information or photos of bowling in Heaton that you’re happy to share, we’d love to hear from you. Please either leave a message on this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or email chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org We’d love to hear from you!

A Road by Any Other Name

On 20th June 2016 in Stratford upon Avon, amateur actors from The People’s Theatre, Heaton will appear in a production of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ alongside professionals from the Royal Shakespeare Company. That performance, a reprise the following night and five nights at Northern Stage in March, will form part of the national commemoration of the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death and is a great honour for our local and much loved theatre company.

The People’s Theatre has links with the RSC going back many years. The Stratford company made Newcastle its third home back in the 1970s and the People’s has come to the rescue three times (1987, 1988 and 2004) when an extra venue was needed for one reason or another. But these are far from Heaton’s earliest connections with the ‘immortal bard’ and we’ve decided to explore some of them as part of our own contribution to ‘Shakespeare 400’.

 The Name of the Roads

The most obvious references to Shakespeare in the locality are a group of streets in the extreme south and west of Heaton: Bolingbroke, Hotspur, Malcolm and Mowbray are all Shakespeare characters, as well as historical figures. And immediately north of them are Warwick Street and the Stratfords (Road, Grove, Grove Terrace, Grove West, Villas). But could the literary references be coincidental? Perhaps it was the real life, mainly northern, noblemen that were immortalised? Why would a housing estate, built from the early 1880s for Newcastle workers and their families, pay homage to a long-dead playwright. It’s fair to say our research team was surprised and delighted at what we found.

Two documents, one in Tyne and Wear Archives (V273) and one in the City Library, provided the key. Firstly, in the archives, we found a planning application from Alderman Addison Potter of Heaton Hall and his architect, F W Rich (who later designed St Gabriel’s Church). Their plans show Bolingbroke, Hotspur, Malcolm and Mowbray Streets, pretty much as they look now, but bordering them to the south is Shakespeare Road! No doubt now about the references. (Thank you to Tyne and Wear Archives for permission to use the images below.)

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Plan of roads near Bolingbroke Street showing Shakespeare Road

Not only that but Lennox, Siward, and Umfreville Terraces also appear. You’d be forgiven for not immediately getting the Shakespearian references there but Siward is the leader of the English army in Macbeth; Lennox, a Scottish nobleman in the same play and Umfreville, we’ve discovered, has a line which appears only in the first edition of Henry IV Part II but, like many of the others, the real person on which he was based has strong north east connections. Clearly the inspiration for the street names came from one or more people who knew their literature and their history.

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But two sets of plans were rejected by the council for reasons that aren’t clear and, within a year, Addison Potter seems to have sold at least the leasehold of the land to a builder and local councillor called William Temple. Temple submitted new, if broadly similar, proposals. Building work soon started on the side streets but the previous year, Lord Armstrong had gifted Heaton Park to the people of Newcastle and the road to the new public space took its name. And nobody lives on Lennox, Siward or Umfreville Terraces either: they became Heaton Park View, Wandsworth Terrace and Cardigan Terrace.

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Bricks stamped with Temple’s name can still be found in the area. This one is displayed in his former brickyard on the banks of the Ouseburn.

But why Shakespeare? Whose idea was it? A newspaper article, dated 21 May 1898, in Newcastle City Library provided our next clue. A former councillor, James Birkett, was interviewed: ‘Mr Birkett himself occupied a cottage on the land which is now known as South View. There were another cottage or two near his, but they had nearly the whole of the district to themselves’. It continues ‘In front of them was the railway line, and behind was the farmhouse of a Mr Robinson. This house stood on the site now forming the corner of Heaton Park Road and Bolingbroke Street, and one of its occupants was Mr Stanley, who for many years was the lessee of the Tyne Theatre’.

The Tragedian

Further research showed that George William Stanley had a deep love not only of drama but of William Shakespeare in particular.  He was born c 1824 in Marylebone, London. By 1851, Stanley described himself as a ‘tragedian‘ (ie an actor who specialised in tragic roles).

By 1860, he was in the north east. The first mention we have found of him dates from 28 July of that year, when he is reported to have obtained a licence to open a temporary theatre in East Street, Gateshead. A similar licence in South Shields soon followed. Later, we know that he opened theatres in Tynemouth and Blyth.

In 1861, he was staying in a ‘temperance hotel’ in Co Durham with his wife (Emily nee Bache) and four children: George S who is 8, Alfred W, 4, Emily F, 3, and Rose Edith Anderson, 1. He now called himself a ‘tragedian / theatre manager’.  And he had turned his attention to Newcastle, where attempts to obtain theatre licences were anything but straightforward.

In June 1861, Stanley applied for a six month licence for theatrical performances in the Circus in Neville Street. He argued that one theatre (the Theatre Royal) in Newcastle to serve 109,000 people was inadequate; he promised that the type of performances (‘operatic and amphitheatre’) he would put on would not directly compete with existing provision; he produced testimonials and support from local rate payers; he gave guarantees that alcohol would not be served or prostitutes be on the premises. But all to no avail. The Theatre Royal strongly objected; an editorial in the ‘Newcastle Guardian’ supported the refusal. Appeal after appeal was unsuccessful. Stanley continued to use the wooden building as a concert hall and appealed against the decision almost monthly.

In October 1863,  George Stanley made another impassioned speech, in which he begged to be allowed to practice his own art in his own building. He concluded: ‘I will not trouble your worships with any further remarks in support of my application, but trust that the year that witnesses the tercentenary of Shakespeare’s birth, will also witness the removal of any limitation against the performances of the plays of that greatest of Englishmen in Newcastle’.  The Bench retired for thirty five minutes but finally returned with the same verdict as before.

GeorgeStanley

George Stanley, tragedian and theatre manager

Tercentenary

Despite his latest setback, George Stanley started 1864 determined to mark Shakespeare’s big anniversary. In the first week of January, he played Iago alongside another actor’s Othello in his own concert hall. ‘Both gentlemen have nightly been called before the curtain’.

The following week, a preliminary public meeting was held to hear a dramatic oration ‘On the Tercentenary of Shakespeare’ by G Linnaeus Banks of London, Honorary Secretary to the National Shakespeare Committee, and to appoint a local committee to arrange the celebrations in Newcastle. Joseph Cowen took the chair and George Stanley was, of course, on the platform. And it was he who moved the vote of thanks to Mr Banks for his eloquent address.

Unfortunately the festivities were somewhat muted and overshadowed by Garibaldi’s visit to England. (He had been expected to visit Newcastle that week, although in the event he left the country somewhat abruptly just beforehand). There was a half day holiday in Newcastle on Monday 25 April ‘but the day was raw and cold and the holiday was not so much enjoyed as it might otherwise have been’ and  a celebration dinner in the Assembly Rooms, ‘attended by about 210 gentlemen’, was the main event. A toast ‘In Memory of Shakespeare’ was proposed, followed by one to ‘The Dramatic Profession’. George Stanley gave thanks on behalf of the acting profession.

Stanley continued to pay his own respects to the playwright. He engaged the ‘celebrated tragedian, Mr John Pritchard’ to perform some celebrated Shakespearian roles, with he himself playing Othello and Jago on alternate nights.

Tyne Theatre

In October 1865, Stanley’s wooden concert hall was damaged and narrowly escaped destruction in a huge fire that started in a neighbouring building. His determination to open a permanent theatre intensified and he had found powerful allies. On 19 January 1866, it was announced that an anonymous ‘party of capitalists’ had purchased land on ‘the Westgate’ for the erection of a ‘theatre on a very large scale’. They had gone to London to study the layout and facilities of theatres there. It was said that George Stanley would be the new manager.

In May of that year, in a sign that relations between Stanley and the Theatre Royal had at last thawed, Stanley performed there ‘for the first time in years’. And soon details of the new Tyne Theatre and Opera House began to emerge.  Joseph Cowen, with whom Stanley had served on the Shakespeare Tercentenary Committee, was among the ‘capitalists’.

Cowen was a great supporter of the arts and an advocate for opportunities for ordinary working people to access them. He was incensed at the council’s continued blocking of Stanley’s various theatrical ventures and offered to fund the building of a theatre in which Stanley’s ‘stock‘ ( ie repertory) company could be based.

The opening been set for September 1867 but a licence was still required. Stanley applied again on 31 August. The hearing was held on Friday 13 September before a panel of magistrates which included Alderman Addison Potter of Heaton Hall – and this time Stanley and his influential backers were in luck. Just as well as it was due to open ten days later. And it did, with an inaugural address by George Stanley himself.

Despite his earlier claims that the Tyne Theatre wouldn’t compete with the Theatre Royal, Shakespeare was very much part of the programme in the early years: ‘As you Like It’, ‘The Merchant of Venice’, ‘King Lear’… But it was soon acknowledged that there was room for two theatres in Newcastle. Stanley soon found the time and the good will to play the role of Petruchio  (‘The Taming of the Shrew’ ) at the Theatre Royal. He continued to manage the Tyne Theatre until 1881.

Heaton House

It was while still manager of the Tyne Theatre that Stanley moved to Heaton. His first wife had died in the early ’60s. He had remarried and with his second wife, Fanny, still had young children.

Heaton House, as we have heard, stood on what is now the corner of Heaton Park Road and Bolingbroke Street and the Stanley family were living there from about 1878.

The map below is from some years earlier (Sorry it’s such a low resolution. We will replace it with a better version asap) but gives a good impression of the rural character of Heaton at this time. In the top right hand corner of the map, is Heaton Hall, home of Alderman Addison Potter, one of Stanley’s few neighbours and the owner of the farmland on which Stanley’s house stood. Remember too that Potter had been a member of the panel that finally approved Stanley’s theatre in Newcastle.

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Memorial

Potter and Stanley would surely have discussed matters of mutual interest. So while we might not know exactly how the naming of the streets on the east bank of the Ouseburn came about, we can surely assume that George William Stanley, actor, tragedian, Shakespearean, passionate promoter of theatre and neighbour of Potter at the time, played a part. It might have taken almost another twenty years and the name ‘Shakespeare Road’ didn’t make the final cut but Newcastle finally had the long-lasting tribute that George Stanley had wanted for the Shakespeare’s tercentenary.

By the early 1880s the area looked very different. William Temple had developed the fields to the south and west of Heaton Hall;  Heaton House had been demolished and Bolingbroke Street and Heaton Park Road stood in its place; George Stanley had moved back to London.

Stanley would probably be surprised to know that his Tyne Theatre is about to celebrate its 150th anniversary; proud of the People’s Theatre‘s participation in the national commemorations a hundred and fifty two years after his own involvement and delighted that Shakespeare lives on in Heaton.

Can you help?

If you can provide further information about anything mentioned in this article please,contact us, either by clicking on the link immediately below the title of this article or by emailing chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Shakespeare 400

This article was written by Chris Jackson and  researched by Chris Jackson, Caroline Stringer and Ruth Sutherland, as part of Heaton History Group’s project to commemorate the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death.

We are interested in connections between Heaton and Shakespeare through its theatres, past and present; writers, actors – and of course, the famous brick Shakespeare on South View West.

We are also researching and writing about some of the people who have lived in the ‘Shakespeare Streets’: initially, we are looking at Bolingbroke, Hotspur, Malcolm, Mowbray and Warwick Streets plus Stratford Grove, Stratford Grove Terrace, Stratford Grove West, Stratford Road,  and Stratford Villas.

If you would like to join our small friendly research group or have information, photos or memories to share, please contact us, either by clicking on the link immediately below the title of this article or by emailing chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

 

Photography in the blood

This rare photograph, of the visit to Newcastle in August 1884 of the Prince and Princess of Wales, was taken by Thomas Maitland Laws. This was the visit on which, after passing down Shields Road, North View and Heaton Park Road then through Heaton Park, they officially opened Armstrong Park and Jesmond Dene.

Almost all the images you will see of this famous event are drawings and engravings because to take documentary photographs of moving subjects was still a big challenge at that time. Thomas clearly understood the photograph’s commercial value because within a week of taking it, he had registered the copyright. It is, as a result, held in the National Archives,  where we found it.

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Prince and Princess of Wales, Newcastle August 1884. Perhaps you can help us identify where it was taken.

Although Thomas was living in the centre of Newcastle at this time, he later lived in Heaton. During this period, he owned a photography business based on Shields Road West.

Early life

Thomas was born in Paddington on 2 July 1855 to Isabella and Peter Maitland Laws. Although both Thomas’s parents were northerners (Peter, Durham born, and Isabella from Cumberland), at this time they were living in London where Peter worked as a carpenter.

However by 1861, the Laws had moved back north with children Henry, Thomas, Sarah and Peter. The family lived in Grainger Street in the centre of Newcastle and Peter was now earning his living as a photographer.

Thomas was thus exposed (forgive the pun) to photography from a very early age at a time when some of his neighbours and indeed his own father were at the forefront of the development and popularisation of a still new medium.

The first mention we have found of Thomas in the press is in July 1867 when, aged 12, he was announced as the winner of the not inconsiderable sum of five shillings, having achieved second place in the ‘Triple Kites’ category of a kite-flying contest on the Town Moor. The previous year a photograph to be taken by his father had been announced as the prize for the various winners.

Pioneering father

Thomas’s father, Peter Maitland Laws, had been a professional photographer for at least eight years at this point. He was listed in the trade directories of 1859-60 as a ‘photographic artist’, living in Pilgrim St and operating from Northumberland Court (which still exists between Waterstones and Jamie’s Italian on Blackett Street), at a time when, although there were a number of ‘photographic artists’ practising in Newcastle, the occupation did not yet appear as a category in the classified listings. (1839 is generally considered the year in which commercial photography was born and it was the year the term ‘photography’ was coined by ‘father of photography’, the astronomer and chemist, John Herschel. But the medium took off slowly at first due to significant technical constraints.)

It was two years later after Laws’ first listing in the trade directories, in  1861, that the Newcastle and North of England Photographic Society was formed. Peter was a member of its original ‘council’ and later became treasurer. At the society’s first meeting, he presented ‘two proofs of his very beautiful views of the ruins of Tynemouth Priory’.

Important technical developments to the art form were still to take place: here in Newcastle in 1864, Joseph Wilson Swan, who owned a ‘chemical and photographic establishment’ on Mosley Street with his brother in law, John Mawson, perfected and patented the carbon process, an early method of producing permanently fixed photographs. It wasn’t for another 13 years, in 1877, that the same inventor perfected dry gelatine-bromide plates which made enlargements possible.

But in the meantime, photography was booming, with small photographic visiting cards becoming hugely popular.  Laws’ business, by now based in Blackett Street, must have been doing well because, by 1871, Peter and Isabella’s elder son, Henry, had followed his father into the firm, while 16 year old Thomas worked as a lithographer. This photograph of Thomas Laws’ grandparents, William (born in Wolsingham, Co Durham in 1793) and Sarah (born in Paisley, Scotland in 1790) dates from this time.

William and Sarah Laws c 1871F76

William and Sarah Laws, grandparents of Thomas Maitland Laws, 1871

Peter Maitland Laws didn’t rest on his laurels. He was said to be one of the first photographers to take portraits using artificial light when he introduced gas lighting into his studio.  In 1879, he advertised ‘Portraits in Dull Weather and at NIGHT with Laws’ “light irradiator”‘ and ‘Portraits in winter equal to summer: gas nights, Tuesday, Friday and Saturday 6-8’. And in February 1880, he made history when he used gaslight to take the first ever photograph of a performance at the Theatre Royal.

He was experimenting with ‘colour photographs’ at around the same time.

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Hand colouring, late 1870s

Peter’s ability to innovate as well as his photographic skill meant that, not only did his business continue to thrive, but he continued to be awarded personal accolades and prizes. In 1887 two of his award-winning photographs were included in the Newcastle Royal Jubilee Exhibition.

Peter Maitland Laws died in 1906.

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Peter Maitland Laws

Developing talent

By 1881, aged 26, Thomas had followed his father into photography.  He was by now married and living in St Thomas Square with his wife Elizabeth, who hailed from the Isle of Bute. The couple were well enough off to employ a live-in servant.

It was around this time of his photograph of the royal visit that Thomas formally became a partner in the family business, which was retitled ‘P M Laws and Son’. In 1887, P M Laws and Son claimed to be ‘the largest and oldest established gallery of photography in the North’.

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Reverse of a P M Laws and Son photograph

However, whether because Thomas wanted to move out of his father’s shadow or for some other reason, Thomas and Elizabeth didn’t stay in Newcastle. By 1891, they were living in Staffordshire with their young family: Amelia, aged 9; Maitland, 7, and Angus, 3. Thomas’s business was in Darlington Street, Wolverhampton. A number of his photographs from this time are in the National Archives, notably two of Wolverhampton Wanderers 1893 cup winning team.

Return to Heaton

The family returned north, however, first to Cumberland, where Thomas ran a photographic and art supplies shop, and then, perhaps because Thomas’s father, Peter, had died in 1906, to 24 Addycombe Terrace in Heaton, where Thomas was a self-employed photographer once more, with a studio at 42 Shields Road West. One of his neighbours at no 55 Addycombe Terrace was his younger half-brother, Albert Heath Laws, also a photographer.

By 1911 Thomas and Elizabeth’s 23 year old son, Angus Ferguson Laws, worked as his assistant, the third generation of the family to become a photographer. But sadly Angus, a Private in the Grenadier Guards, was killed in France on 27 September 1918, aged 30, just weeks before the end of WW1. He is remembered at the Grand Ravine British  Cemetery, Havrincourt.

Thomas had moved from Addycombe Terrace to 7 Warwick Street a few years earlier but by 1921 the Shields Road West business had closed and Thomas had moved back to the midlands. He died in  1928 in Warwickshire.

Postscript

June Howard, a great great granddaughter of Peter Maitland Laws, who now lives in Australia, kindly sent us some family photographs, including those seen here, and told us that photography ran in her family: ‘My understanding is a few of PM Laws children took up photography. My grandfather, Percy Maitland Laws, certainly did all his own developing. I remember we couldn’t use the bath room as it was his dark room.’

Sources

‘One Hundred Years of Photography in the North’, J Arnold Little, 1960

‘Sun Pictures: the Lit and Phil and the history of British photography’,Anthony Flowers and Alison Gunning; Lit and Phil, 2014

Catalogue of the Newcastle Jubilee exhibition (at the Lit and Phil)

Ancestry, British Newspaper Archives and other online resources

Shakespeare Streets

This article was researched and written by Chris Jackson as part of Heaton History Group’s project to commemorate the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death.

There are a number of streets in the west of Heaton which have names associated with Shakespeare: Bolingbroke, Hotspur, Malcolm, Mowbray and Warwick Streets plus Stratford Grove, Stratford Road, Stratford Grove Terrace, Stratford Grove West and Stratford Villas. We would love to discover why they were so named and we will research and write about some of the people who, like Thomas Maitland Laws, have lived or worked there.

We are also interested in other connections between Heaton and Shakespeare through its theatres, past and present; writers, actors – and of course, the famous brick Shakespeare on South View West.

Shakespeare

If you would like to get involved or have any information or memories that you think might be of interest, please contact us, either by clicking on the link immediately below the title of this article or by emailing chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

You might also like to read

The Photographer and his House

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dead Man’s Handle

It is late evening on a Saturday in early August 1926. The sun set an hour ago, but the sky in the west is still bright. The gaslamps of Heaton railway station dimly illuminate the expanse of the glass canopy above. The two platforms of the station are virtually deserted, and its signal box is closed for the night. The station foreman is in his small wooden office, catching up with the paperwork now that the trains are less frequent. The last of the birds are singing their songs in the trees above the cutting walls before they settle down for the night.

From the east comes a distant whistle, high pitched and short, and then the puffing and wheezing of a steam locomotive. Round the bend from Heaton Yard appears an engine, small and black but kept clean and shiny by its crew, starting up its short train. It is a ‘Special Goods’ for Blaydon made up of 13 wagons from railway companies far and wide. Slowly the engine clanks by, its crew exchanging a wave with the station foreman whose head pokes out from his office door to watch its passing.

A procession of wooden goods wagons goes rumbling and squealing through the platforms, the noise echoing off the walls that surround Heaton station in its cutting. The first wagon has ‘GW’ painted on its side, an indication that it belongs to the mighty Great Western Railway. Then comes one with ‘L&Y’ indicating that until the 1923 ‘Grouping’ of the railway companies it had belonged to the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway. The next wagon is brand new grain wagon, probably filled with the products of a farm somewhere in Northumberland. It has the letters LNER on the side, a company formed only three years ago, and one which took over the running of Heaton station and its trains from the old North Eastern Railway.

The train clanks its way along the up main line; the driver has no worries about holding up fast express trains at this time of night and has a clear run at least as far as Manors. That’s the next station towards Newcastle to the west, after the cutting in which Heaton station stands opens out for the junction at Riverside, and then the great viaduct over the Ouseburn. The red glow from the tail lamp on the guards van slowly disappears off down the line as the steam, trapped under the huge glass canopy above, slowly starts to drift away through the trees and into the darkening sky.

Ten minutes later a different sound drifts in from the east. This time it’s the swishing and clackety-clack of a much faster train running in on the line from Tynemouth and the coast. It’s one of the old North Eastern Railway’s electric trains, built in 1904 but still performing a sterling service over 20 years later. It’s possible to tell from the roofs that the second two carriages in the train are much newer, built only six years ago to replace the trains lost in the fire at Heaton Car Sheds. Some of the cars are still painted in the old North Eastern Railway crimson lake, but others have already acquired the new drab teak colour favoured by the LNER. The lights from the carriages illuminate the cutting walls as the train speeds into the station, displaying ‘CENTRAL’ on the front.

Experienced driver

At first it appears it’s not going to stop in time, but the driver, William Skinner of Felton Street, Byker, applies the brakes firmly and the train squeals to a halt in the platform. The sliding door of the van section of the first carriage rumbles open and out steps Skinner onto the platform, standing about two feet from his train. The train is made of wood, with matchboard on the lower half, and large windows above. Inside it looks comfortable but functional, and only one young couple can be seen inside the first class compartment of the first vehicle. There is a large parcels compartment in this first coach, one of the motor luggage composite carriages built at the opening of electric services, to carry fish from the coast and the prams of toddlers on their way to the beach.

The type of passenger train William Skinner was driving in 1926

The type of passenger train William Skinner drove through Heaton  in 1926

Skinner is 35 years old and has worked on the railway for 18 years, starting off as a cleaner and being promoted to a driver six years ago. He has been mainly been driving goods trains of late, but passed for driving these electric trains four years ago. This is a nice change for him, running out to the coast on a clean electric service instead of the heat, smoke, and grime of a goods train. He has enjoyed his ride so far, fast out to Monkseaton and then stopping at all stations on the return to Newcastle Central station. After this stop he only has Manors to go before his arrival back at the Central. His wife and five children will be waiting for him at his home, which is only a mile away from where his train currently waits.

Last trip

The station foreman emerges from the gloom and stands on the platform to watch the passengers disembark. They’re mainly day-trippers who’ve enjoyed an evening at the coast, with few people getting on at this time of night. He notices Skinner on the platform, which seems a bit odd to him, and shouts hello. “Is this your last trip?” he asks, to which Skinner replies “Yes!” The train’s guard, George Patterson, closes the metal gates on the old carriages, and the doors on the new ones, and gives a blast on his whistle. Skinner gets back into his van and re-enters his cab, but doesn’t take the time to slide the door closed. The train’s Westinghouse brakes hiss as they’re released and with a whirr and a whine the train accelerates quickly off towards Newcastle, blue flashes of electricity lighting up the station as the current arcs from the conductor rail beside the tracks.

The train now gathers speed, getting up to its full pace as it rattles over the pointwork at Riverside Junction, where the line to the shipyards of Walker and Wallsend peels off to the left. Over the huge iron structure of the Ouseburn viaduct it roars, the lights of the factories and warehouses dimly twinkling in the gloom below. In his van at the rear of the train, Patterson is engaged in making notes for his next trip as the train clickety-clicks its way through the darkness towards Newcastle. Into the cutting it goes, towards Manors station and its complex junction of lines. It rattles past Argyle Street signal box, its signalman hard at work in his little illuminated world, and into the bend at Manors. But as Patterson looks up from his work and out of the window his heart skips a beat; he sees that they’re already pulling into the platforms but still going full speed. He hadn’t noticed, so engaged was he in his work, that Skinner hadn’t tested the brakes at Argyle Street as he should have done. Up he jumps, and makes for the door to the driver’s compartment at the back of the train to apply the Westinghouse brake.

The signalman at Manors, Francis Topping, had it all planned out. The goods train that had passed Heaton fifteen minutes ago had arrived at his signal box ten minutes later. It had stood at his Up Home Main Line signal for a minute or two whilst he let traffic clear the junction but when he was ready for her to move he’d set the signal for the train and with a toot and a hiss it was already underway. His intention was to let it clear the junction whilst, as the rules stated, he brought the passenger train almost to a stop on approach to the platforms before allowing it to pull in. As soon as he’d heard the bell in his box that signalled the entrance of the passenger into his section he’d set the ‘calling-on’ signal to allow it into the station.

But now Topping turns to look out of his window and up the line towards Heaton and his face freezes in terror. He immediately realises that the train is going far too fast to stop at the signal as he’d intended. He watches it race at full speed towards his signal box, which straddles the tracks to the west of the station and affords a grandstand view of the drama playing out below. The passenger train heads inexorably towards the special goods that is now across the junction in front of it and leaving nowhere to go. In the cabin at the back of the train George Patterson is frantically applying the Westinghouse brake to slow the train down, but it’s too late. It ploughs into the third vehicle of the goods train, a loaded grain wagon, with a glancing blow. Splinters of wood and metal fly into the air. The electric train lurches to the left, rips the steps from Topping’s signal cabin, and jams itself against the parapet wall of the railway viaduct, balancing above the street some 60 feet below, bricks and rubble falling down onto the road. The other vehicles are derailed too but stay upright, crashing into the back of the first, and a cloud of dust and smoke fills the air.

Signalman Topping regains his senses, and springs into action. He knows his duty in an emergency like this, and immediately protects all of the lines leading to and from his signalbox and summons ambulances and the police. Thankfully the automatic circuit-breaker for the electrical system has worked as intended and there is no fire amongst the wooden coaches and wagons. He watches as passengers warily make their way out of the carriages, and the driver and fireman of the goods train run back to help them. He looks down on the wreckage below and knows this is going to take some time to sort out. “Just what was that driver doing?” he wonders to himself, almost in disbelief.

Within minutes Inspector Gill from the Northumberland Constabulary is running up the ramp onto the platform at Manors station from the street below with a number of his constables. He clambers down onto the tracks and makes his way towards the half-demolished first carriage of the passenger train. Carefully picking his way through shattered wood planks and broken glass, he reaches what is left of the driver’s cabin. With the help of his men, he begins to clear the wreckage in expectation of finding the driver’s body. He moves aside twisted metal and wood, grains of wheat falling down onto the tracks below from the destroyed wagon which had borne the brunt of the impact. But search as they might, they find no sign of Skinner’s body.

Dead man’s handle

Eventually the inspector reaches the control unit of the electric train. He finds the controller, which limits the power to the train and thus its speed. The handle is in the ‘Full Power’ position, with the reversing key in ‘Forward’. Skinner hadn’t even made any attempt to stop accelerating the train. The controller has an important safety feature, the ‘Dead Man’s Handle’. This is actually a button on the top of the controller which must be pressed down at all times by the driver or the power to the train is automatically cut-out. The dead man’s control on Skinner’s train could never do its job, however, because he’d seen to it himself that it would not work.

Inspector Gill finds the button on the controller cleverly tied down by two handkerchiefs, which together exert enough pressure on the button to ensure it is kept constantly pressed. A red handkerchief is looped around the controller handle and over the control button and knotted in place with a triple-knot. Over this the second hanky, a white one, is tied even tighter around the first adding to the pressure on the button. This is secured with a double knot. The arrangement of the hankies evidently saved Skinner from having to constantly press the dead man’s control, something which became wearisome after a while, and leave the controller with the train still under power.

Inspector Murray arrives at around 12:50am and examines the handkerchiefs. He finds no identifying marks on either, and removes them for safe keeping. For the next two hours a search of the wreckage continues. Thankfully there were only two passengers travelling in the first vehicle of the train, a young couple from Durham, who miraculously only suffered leg injuries and shock. The other 150 or so passengers in the remaining five coaches of the train walked away relatively unscathed. What the constables and inspectors are searching for is Skinner, and he is nowhere to be seen. Some firemen are asked to search the roofs of the houses in the street below in case his body had been catapulted from the train, but to no avail. Eventually Murray calls over Sergeant Sandels and tells him to start walking back up the line towards Heaton to see if he can see any sign of Skinner, or anything untoward.

So Sandels sets off walking, back past the silent and dark carriages of the now-empty 9:47pm Newcastle to Newcastle (via Monkseaton), down the ramp at the end of Manors station platform, and into the cutting towards Argyle Street signal box. The crunch of the ballast is loud beneath his feet as he walks up through the damp cutting, scanning the darkness below with his eyes for the sight of anything strange. He passes the entrance to the Quayside railway, its foreboding tunnel disappearing to his right and down to the river where ships unload their wares into waiting railway wagons. He passes under the short tunnel where New Bridge Street passes overhead, and then under Ingham Place and Stoddart Street. The lights of the signals are all on red as far as he can see along the straight line ahead, their beams glinting off the shiny railtops of the many sidings and running lines. Out across the Ouseburn Viaduct he strides, with the smells of industry and animals drifting up from below, the sky lightening to the east ahead of him. He hears a ship’s hooter echo mournfully from the River Tyne to his right as he presses on past Riverside Junction signal box and the little station at Byker.

Eventually, after walking over a mile, he comes to the bridge carrying Heaton Park Road over the railway. There he sees something on the tracks; a dark shape lying beside the electrified rail on the left-hand side of the lines as he faces east. Sandels runs towards this object and bends down to look more closely; it is Skinner, lying on his back with his feet facing away towards Heaton station, his right arm outstretched below the conductor rail and his eyes staring lifelessly up. Sandels checks for a pulse, not expecting to find one. He doesn’t. Skinner is dead and already quite cold.

Sandels runs to Heaton station and asks them to call for a local doctor. Dr Blench arrives after half an hour, during which Sandels has been standing guard over Skinner, trying to comprehend what has happened that night. The doctor examines the body, and finds that the back of his head is badly injured and his skull fractured. There are also bruises down his neck and back. The two men then get up and walk over to the row of iron columns supporting the road above. On the nearest column to the body they find a patch of blood. Then on the next another patch, higher than the first, and the same on the third column higher still. On the first of the bridge’s columns that Skinner’s train would have reached they find a patch of blood, quite high up, but about the height at which Skinner’s head would have been whilst leaning from the train. Sandels sits down on the rail with a sigh and waits for his inspector to arrive. “The damn fool!” he whispers to himself.

Epilogue

Nobody will ever know what went through Skinner’s mind that night. It was clear that tying down the ‘dead man’s control’ was a common practice for him. But why did he set his train in motion then go to the door of his van to look back along the train? Why did he forget about the bridge, under which he’d passed many times before? That accident at Manors thankfully claimed no further lives, and Skinner was the only victim of his own misfortune. His widow and five children were left to ponder his actions, and given his implication in the accident it is unlikely that the railway company were particularly generous towards them. Whilst there was quite a stir in the area at the time of the accident, it was soon forgotten and the electric trains went back to running their busy service for the next 35 years.

Postscript

Since this article was written, the author and Chris Jackson, Secretary of Heaton History Group, were privileged to meet Olive Renwick, daughter of Francis Topping, the signalman on duty at Manors on the night of the accident. See the article ‘The Signalman and his Daughter’ for more about them both.

Francis Topping (left)had a road in Hartlepool named after him

Francis Topping (left)had a road in Hartlepool named after him

Author

Researched and written by Alistair Ford. Alistair has lived in Heaton for 10 years. He is a researcher into sustainable transport and climate change at Newcastle University with a ‘passing interest in railways’. 

 Sources

Newspaper report of the incident: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=2507&dat=19260809&id=Y51AAAAAIBAJ&sjid=SKUMAAAAIBAJ&pg=2327,4806101&hl=en

Newspaper report of the inquiry: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=2507&dat=19260819&id=bJ1AAAAAIBAJ&sjid=SKUMAAAAIBAJ&pg=6455,6064739&hl=en

Accident report: http://www.railwaysarchive.co.uk/documents/MoT_ManorsJunction1926.pdf

Can you help?

If you have further information about this incident or any of the people mentioned or have  knowledge, memories or photographs of railways in Heaton more generally that you’d like to share, please either leave a comment on this website by clicking on the link immediately below this article title or email Chris Jackson, Secretary, Heaton History Group (chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org).