Tag Archives: Heaton Park

Robbie Burns in Heaton: a Scottish mystery

Who remembers a statue of Scottish poet, Robert Burns, in Heaton Park between the mid 1970s and mid ‘80s? It seems that, even among those of us who lived in Heaton back then that not many people do, which is something of a mystery. We are hoping that this story of the statue and how it came to be in Heaton will jog some memories and maybe even unearth a photograph or two.

On Tour

Robert Burns was born in Alloway near Ayr and later lived less than 30 miles from the border in Dumfries, so it’s perhaps surprising that he only visited England, or indeed left his native Scotland, three times, all in the same month, May 1787, while on a tour to collect orders for a collection of his poems. On two occasions, he ventured only a very short distance over the border to Coldstream and Berwick but on the third occasion he came to Newcastle via Wooler, Alnwick, Warkworth and Morpeth.

 To Newcastle

The date of the poet’s visit to Newcastle was Tuesday 29 May but unfortunately, although Burns kept a diary, it doesn’t give us any clue to the route he took through the town, where he stayed or what his impressions were. He recorded only that his party met ’a very agreeable and sensible fellow, a Mr Chatto, who shows us a great many civilities and who dines and sups with us.’

A letter, written during his brief stay, to his friend, Robert Ainslie, who had originally been with the group but had returned home, suggests he wasn’t particularly happy while he was here. Burns wrote, ‘Here am I, a woeful wight on the banks of Tyne. Old Mr Thomas Hood has been persuaded to join our Partie, and Mr Kerr & he do very well, but alas!  I dare not talk nonsense lest I lose all the little dignity I have among the sober sons of wisdom and discretion, and I have had not one hearty mouthful of laughter since that merry-melancholy moment we parted.’

The following day, Burns and companions were on their way again. After breakfasting at Hexham, they continued west.

Although Robert Burns only made a fleeting visit to Newcastle, his younger brother, William, did live and work here. He completed his apprenticeship at Messrs Walker and Robson, saddlers. He then briefly worked in London before his untimely death in 1790.

While William was trying to find work in Newcastle, Robert wrote to him: ‘I need not caution you against guilty amours – they are bad and ruinous everywhere, but in England they are the very devil’.

Commemorations

Robert Burns died in 1796 at the young age of 37, only nine years after his visit to Newcastle. By this time his work was extremely popular in Scotland and the tradition of Burns Night, in effect a second national day, began within a few years of his death. The first ‘Burns supper’ is said to have been held in Scotland in 1802 but it has been claimed that the first Burns club in the world was founded in Sunderland shortly afterwards. A Newcastle club was in existence by 1816. 

Migration of Scots into north-east England grew during the nineteenth century and with it a strong attachment to the national poet of their homeland. Many events were held in January 1859 to commemorate the centenary of Burns’ birth, including a supper for 70 in Low Walker and a festival dinner for 400 in the Newcastle Town Hall. There were further events in 1896, the centenary of Burns’ death.

Walker

It was in this context that Walker Burns Club, which comprised mainly workers in the local shipyards, decided to donate to the people of their district a ‘monumental drinking fountain’. At the unveiling of the ‘Burns Memorial Fountain’ on 13 July 1901 the secretary of the club, John McKay, said that for four or five years (ie from around the time of the centenary of Burns’ death) the members had wanted to do something for the people who had supported them and so had saved the profits of the club’s programme of concerts and lectures. As he formally handed over the  memorial to the chairman of Walker Urban District Council, he said the club members ‘were trying to do what they could to leave the world a better place than they found it and to more fully appreciate the beautiful and humane sentiments contained in nearly all Burns’ poems .’  He made no mention of Burns’ visit to Newcastle.

It was left to Hugh Crawford Smith, Liberal Unionist MP for Tyneside, who unveiled the fountain, to make passing reference to this visit:

‘[Burns] was once very near to Walker. In 1787, he came to Newcastle, slept there a night and then went home by way of Hexham and Carlisle. Burns never really got to Walker – laughter – but he might have done so if he could have foretold that more than a century later a drinking fountain would be erected to his honour’… the memorial would stand for all time as a practical manifestation of what the Burns club had done for Walker (Applause)’. 

The event merited only four and a half lines in the ‘Evening Chronicle’:

‘A Burns memorial fountain, the gift of the Walker Burns Club was unveiled in Walker Park on Saturday by Mr H Crawford Smith MP, who together with Father Berry, chairman of the council, and other speakers, made some interesting remarks about the ploughman poet.’

However, luckily for us there was much more detail in Joseph Cowen’s more radical ‘Newcastle Daily Chronicle’ and other local papers in Northumberland, Durham and Scotland.

From them, we know that the memorial comprised an ornamental, iron drinking fountain topped by a bronze ‘statuette’ of the ‘National Bard’ which stood on a capital on top the fountain, which itself was mounted on a raised platform accessed by four steps and surrounded by flower beds. It must have been an impressive sight. Father Berry, leader of the council, was the first person to point out that the poet had his back to his homeland. This became a recurring theme over the years.

The drinking fountain was cast in Glasgow by Walter Macfarlane’s Saracen Foundry, the most important manufacturer of ornamental ironwork in Scotland. Among its surviving works in Britain are the Alexander Graham Memorial Drinking Fountain in Stromness and the Barton Arcade in Manchester. Overseas works included gates in India and Argentina, fountains in Tasmania, Malaysia and Cyprus and verandas in South Africa and Singapore (at the Raffles Hotel). The Walker Burns Club chose their fountain from a pattern book. It was designed in a way that a statue of choice could be added.

The statue, which depicted Burns with right arm outstretched in the act of reciting his song ‘A Man’s a man for A ‘That’, was sculpted by David Watson Stephenson of Edinburgh whose many well-known works include a bronze statue of William Wallace on the National Wallace Monument in Stirling and the figures of Mary Queen of Scots, Halbert Glendinning and James VI on the Sir Walter Scott Monument in Edinburgh. The Scots of Walker chose the very best craftsmen to make their memorial. 

A shield attached to the capital between the fountain and the statue bore the inscription ‘Presented to the District Council by the Burns Cub, Walker on Tyne 1901’. 

The capital also bore the final lines from Burns’ well-known song A Man’s a Man for A ‘That’ :

‘It’s Coming Yet for A’ That

That Man To Man, the Warld O’er

Shall Brithers be for A’ That.’

The full song asserts that a man’s value lies not in his wealth, position or social class but in his mind and character. Of course, these sentiments still resonate today and the song is still performed in Scotland on major occasions, memorably at the opening of the Scottish Parliament and the funeral  of Donald Dewar, the inaugural minister for Scotland. The Walker Burns Club’s choice of inscription has stood the test of time.

Fresh Water

So, it is very clear from accounts of the unveiling that the drinking fountain was considered at least as important a part of the gift as the statue. 

Installation of free public drinking fountains, the first of which appeared in Liverpool in 1854, was often linked to the Temperance Movement, who wanted to give people a safe and easily available alternative to alcohol, although the irony of this in relation to Robert Burns was not lost at the unveiling. Expressing an expectation that the memorial would ‘stand for all time [dispensing] pure water’, Crawford Smith joked that Burns would probably have liked something stronger in it.

The Walker fountain had tin cups suspended on chains at the base to allow passers by to drink the water but even in 1901 the public health dangers of many people sharing unwashed vessels was recognised and safer designs were being introduced elsewhere. (But there were still similar cups at Armstrong Park’s ‘King John’s Well’, the postcard below also dating from 1901).

King John’s Well, Armstrong Park c 1901 with drinking cups

Interestingly, although they seemed to have had their day, there has been a revival of public drinking fountains in recent years in response to concerns about the use of plastic bottles, increasing summer temperatures and as an alternative to unhealthy sugary drinks. A 2019 campaign for the installation and restoration of drinking fountains in Newcastle seems to have stalled due to the current pandemic but the reasoning behind it is still strong.

Restoration

The first mention we have found of repairs to the monument was in 1956 when the council noted that the fountain was ‘now disused’. The plan was to point the masonry part of the base, remove the steps and clean and paint the statue. It would not be turned around to face Scotland! 

Today painting a bronze statue sounds like an unusual piece of restoration work. Nevertheless, we know that the work was done and afterwards it was returned to Walker Park, where it stood until the mid 1970s at which time ‘vandals’ and ‘the passage of time’ had reportedly left it without a head and arms. In 1975, the North East Federation of Burns Societies, rather than the city council, commissioned another restoration by a Hatfield firm of welders where a Mr Bill Fraser, himself a Scot, led the work to pin the arms and head back onto the statue and recreate fingers missing from the the right hand with glass fibre.

This time, at least in the reports we have read, there was no mention at all of the fountain.

Heaton

The next newspaper report we have found dates from 24 February 1984. It was reported in ‘The Journal’ that the statue of Robert Burns  had been ‘stolen from its home of five years in Heaton Park , and smashed to pieces by vandals’

Mr Max McGregor, president of the Ouseburn Burns Society, is reported as saying ‘The statue was donated to the city by a Burns society and was to have been used for our celebrations on Burns Night this January. This year’s visit had to be cancelled because of this affair’.

Mr Roger Neville, spokesman for Newcastle City Council, said: ‘The statue was stolen by youngsters and as they were rolling it away, it toppled down the hill and broke into pieces. It is now in our Jesmond Dene depot’.

So still no mention of the fountain and no photograph but, based on this report, we can apparently date the statue’s sojourn in Heaton Park from 1979 to 1984. There is at least one inaccuracy in the account though. As we know, the donation was to the Urban District of Walker, not the neighbouring City of Newcastle. And, as we’ll soon see, doubt has been cast on the date.

Forgotten

All went quiet for a decade when, in response to an enquiry from Newcastle United historian, Paul Joannou, ‘The Journal’ ran two articles which showed that collective memory can be very short. On 15 March, it asked ‘Was there ever a statue of Robert Burns on Tyneside?’ 

Joannou was enquiring as he was aware of a series of football matches in the 1920s, staged for the purpose of raising money for a statue to Burns in Newcastle. He said that large crowds watched legends such as Hughie Gallagher and Alex James and that players who took part were presented with a medal, one of which was on display in the Newcastle United museum. He had put an appeal in the club programme but nobody had come forward to say they knew of the statue.

At this stage ‘The Journal’ knew nothing about the statue either, with journalist Tony Jones writing ‘I reckon the nearest one to Newcastle is 90 miles away in Dumfries.’ However, the following day, it revealed to its readers that the statue had been found in storage ‘at a council depot’ (presumably Jesmond Dene where it had lain in pieces since 1984).

The Journal’ had ‘learnt ‘that the statue had been removed from Walker in 1979’, which fits in with the 1984 account in the same paper (so perhaps its own archive is where it learnt it from). Again, there was no mention of the fountain nor the 1975 restoration, only the temporary removal for repair in 1956. A photograph, showing the statue on a graffiti covered cylindrical column carrying a plaque, was labelled ‘Heaton Park, 1983’ but it is very difficult to see the surroundings.

Journal 16 March 1994 and the only photograph we have found so far of Burns in Heaton Park (far right), sadly almost impossible to see in this digitised copy.

The paper had by now been contacted by a reader who remembered walking past the memorial in Walker Park every day on his way to school in the 1950s but still no such memories had come to light of its much more recent time in Heaton Park. We are hoping that 26 years on, we will have more luck.

Football Fundraisers

The Journal’ was naturally bemused as to why fundraising football matches would be played to raise money for a statue particularly if there had been one all along. They wondered if the statue had originally stood somewhere else and only came to Walker after the 1920s.

We now know that the statue fund was for one in Newcastle, as opposed to Walker, and that the fundraising through popular and high profile football matches was extremely successful.

However, a spanner was thrown in the works by the Burns Federation, which at its annual conference in September 1926, passed a resolution to say that there should be no more statues and instead affiliated clubs should be encouraged to honour the poet’s memory by donating to local hospitals. An opinion piece in the ‘Dundee Telegraph’ didn’t mince words:

‘Few of the Burns statues are good, many are bad and a considerable number are very bad.’ Too generally they make the subject look like a moon-stricken idiot’.

We don’t know what the writer thought of the Walker statue but you can make up your own mind about its quality.

Walker Park’s replica statue on a new plinth and Alexander Nasmyth’s 1787 portrait on which the likeness was based

A number of contemporary portraits of Burns exist.

The honorary president of Newcastle Burns Club at this time was  Sir Thomas Oliver who, though born in Ayrshire just like Robert Burns, was now a world famous professor of medicine at Durham University. He specialised in industrial diseases such as lead poisoning and had also been instrumental in raising the Tyneside Scottish Battalions during WW1. Former shipyard worker and trades unionist, Alexander Wilkie, once of Cardigan Terrace and Third Avenue and by this time of 36 Lesbury Road in Heaton, who had been Scotland’s first Labour MP,  was an honorary vice president.

These were not men to mess with! In May 1927, in apparent defiance of the federation, the club reported that over £2,500 had already been raised and ‘with another £100 they could go ahead with the scheme and procure the site.’

Details thereafter are sketchy but the statue was never erected and we know that the Newcastle Burns Club donated considerable funds to local hospitals.

New Plaque

So by the second decade of the 21st century, all we had was one broken statue lying in pieces in Jesmond Dene council depot. The next document we have dates from around 2011 and confuses things further.

An entry in Tyne and Wear’s Historic Environment Record is headed ‘Robert Burns Memorial Fountain’ but states: 

In 1901 a statue commemorating Rabbie Burns was erected in Walker Park by the local Burns Club supported by the numerous ship builders who moved to Walker from Clydesdale.The plaque reads ‘THIS STATUE WAS ERECTED IN WALKER PARK BY THE WALKER ON TYNE BURNS CLUB ON 13TH JULY 1901 TO MARK THE VISIT TO NEWCASTLE BY ROBERT BURNS ON THE 29TH MAY 1797. REMOVED TO THIS SITE BY THE CITY OF NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE ON THE 27TH SEPTEMBER 1975’. It is a bronze cast and is in very poor condition. It is presently stored at Jesmond Dene Nursery. The Walker Park lottery bid [2010] has plans to recast the statue and put it back into the park.’

So the fountain is mentioned in the heading but nowhere in the text and there is no mention of either of the original plaques but we find that a new plaque had been created at some point – it might well be the one in the 1983 photograph – and the date it gives for its removal to a new site is four years earlier that the dates we have seen so far. But does ‘this site’ even refer to Heaton Park or did it stand somewhere else after Walker but before Heaton? Confused? You bet! And that’s why we need you to wrack your brains and sift through your old photos.

Here, for the first time, we read the claim that the statue was erected to commemorate Burns’ visit to Newcastle and this might be a suitable point to question whether Burns really was a worthy recipient of such a memorial.

Slavery

It is 36 years since the Burns statue was ‘stolen by youngsters and as they were rolling it away, it toppled down the hill and broke into pieces’  but that sentence surely brought to mind recent scenes in Bristol and elsewhere. Thanks, in part, to the Black Lives Matter movement, we are much more aware of the flaws of historical figures once revered – by some.

Burns was honoured by the people of Walker and people like Heaton’s Alexander Wilkie because he was a poet who spoke for ordinary workers and their families.  It may come as surprise then that the year before his visit to Newcastle, Burns had accepted a position as overseer at a friend’s sugar plantation in Jamaica, a plantation which was, of course, worked by slave labour.

In 1786, Burns faced financial ruin as his father’s death combined with the poor soil on the farm he worked with his brother had reduced both of them to near starvation.  To compound matters, his love life was even more troubled than usual. It has been noted that Burns, ‘had been nearly married to his first love Jean (to the horror of her parents and the Church) but they had agreed to separate (without knowing that Jean was pregnant with twins); then Robert had fallen in love with another, ‘Highland Mary’ who died suddenly while waiting for him to come to her. Jean’s vindictive father sought court proceedings to arrest him so, like a fox with the hounds snapping at his heels, Robert needed to escape.’

He accepted Patrick Douglas’s offer of a post on a small team of overseers on his plantation. There are some who argue that this wasn’t such a bad decision as Burns was only to be a ‘bookkeeper’.   But others have claimed that Burns would, ‘have a daily interface with the truth of slavery – from assisting in purchases, through recording punishments and deaths’. Burns himself described his role as ‘a poor Negro driver’, not a good look for a poet who revered as a champion of freedom and who came to Newcastle, shortly before 3,000 of its residents made their way to the Guildhall to sign a petition against the slave trade. 

Fortunately both for Burns and his legions of fans down the centuries, in a last act of defiance before taking this huge step, he decided to publish his ‘Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect’. They were instantly acclaimed and so Burns was able to turn back from his journey west into the dark world of slavery administration and instead turn east to a brighter future in Edinburgh and fame and marriage to Jean. The next year he was able to do his literary tour and come south to Newcastle. 

There is of course a great irony in the fact that Burns almost ended up playing a part in the  deeply destructive and dehumanising slave trade and it is one that arguably cuts right to the heart of Scottish society today.  Many of Burns’ poems spoke out strongly about freedom and against forms of human slavery. His national poem Scots Wha Hae’, has its title taken from words attributed to Robert the Bruce before the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, where Bruce’s army won the national freedom of the Scots against a larger English army.  But this is the rub; as has been pointed out on a recent BBC Scotland series, many Scots who are today advocating national freedom again, through a second independence referendum forget the major role Scotland played in the transatlantic slave trade. It was this trade that Burns himself nearly played a role in.

Burns’ only poem which is directly relevant to the issue of slavery is The Slave’s Lament’ from 1792. This is clearly an abolitionist poem.   It does beg the question then of just how was it that Burns so nearly became part of the trade he later seemed to abhor. There has been much speculation but we will never know.

But we do know that a young Abraham Lincoln came to the settlement of New Salem and craving books found  a ready made library in the home of a Scottish neighbour Jack or Jock Kelso who, unsurprisingly given his name, was a Scotsman. It is said that Lincoln was heavily influenced by the poetry of Burns that Kelso had in his collection and this would help him on the road to becoming the US president who freed the slaves.

Another American who was to read Burns’ poems and be heavily influenced by themes of liberty and the brotherhood of men found among them, was escaped slave, Frederick Douglass.  When Douglass visited Britain, he made a point of visiting Burns’ birthplace in Alloway. Like Burns, he visited Newcastle, and he became a freed slave due to the fund set up by two sisters-in-law from Jesmond.  Douglass went on to become known as the ‘Father of the American Civil Rights Movement’ and a close adviser to President Lincoln. Perhaps we should leave the last words on the matter to Douglass. Speaking of Burns, he said ‘we may condemn his faults, but only as we condemn our own’ and he argued that Burns was ‘far more faultless than many who have come down to us on the pages of history as saints’, words which might serve as a warning to anyone planning to erect a statue to any historical figure in future.

Replica

Nevertheless in 2016, Burns’ statue was returned to Walker Park. A  Heritage Lottery Fund grant was obtained for a revamp of the park as a whole and as part of that, a replica of the Burns statue was installed exactly where the original had stood – but this time facing Burns’ birthplace. At the same time, repairs were made to the original and it was placed in a new cafe in the park. There are now just three full length statues of Robert Burns in England, one in London’s Victoria Embankment Gardens – and two in Walker Park!

Talking in 2016, park ranger, Katharine Knox, noted that, ‘The statue was a prominent feature of the park and a lot of local people have memories of it’.

Newcastle City Council cabinet member for culture and communities, Kim McGuinness, added: ‘It’s really pleasing to see this statue, a prominent historical feature in the park, restored to its former glory and taking pride of place.’

It’s unfortunate that it was only the ‘statuette’ that was ‘restored to its former glory’. Somewhere along the line, the magnificent fountain, the quote from Burns and the plaque which explained who gave the statue to whom all became separated and, as far as we know, lost and there is nothing on the monument to tell passers by who the replica Walker Park statue depicts. There is brief information on information panels around the park which direct those interested into the cafe where the heavily restored original stand proudly along with detailed and well-presented information about Burns and the words of ‘A Man’s a man for A ‘That’, as well as a summary of the statue’s story.

Burns in the YMCA Walker Park Cafe, a community hub

At present, however, you can’t see the exhibition because, due to coronavirus, the cafe is offering a takeaway service only, alongside other community activities. Nevertheless, it’s easy to imagine that both Burns and Walker Burns Club would be satisfied at the current resting place of the the original statue, in a community hub, and they would understand why the display of a statue had to take second place to the incredible work YMCA staff and volunteers are doing to helping local people hit hard by the current pandemic.

Can You Help?

So, as you can see, there is much in the story of the Burns’ memorial which gives food for thought and much that has been forgotten or misremembered over the years. We would especially like to find out more about the statue’s stay in Heaton, which was well within living memory. Why Heaton? When was it here? Where did it stand? What became of the original fountain? Which way did Robbie face? Did you know who he was?

 If you can help in any way, please get in touch. 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

STOP PRESS

Before the ink was dry on our article, we had received the photographs below which, if you look carefully, show the statue in Heaton Park, on the far side of the pavilion before it was restored. It’s clear that the statue is mounted on a pedestal but there is no fountain. A big thanks to Ann Denton of Heaton History Group and Friends of Heaton Park. Do they stir any memories? Do you have a photo?

Acknowledgments

Researched and written by Peter Sagar of Heaton History Group, with additional material by Chris Jackson. Thank you also to Kevin Mochrie of Heaton History Group for sharing his library factsheet, to the staff and volunteers of YMCA Walker Park Cafe and Centre, who kindly gave us access to the cafe to photograph the Burns’ statue and to Ann Denton of Heaton History Group and Friends of Heaton and Armstrong Parks for supplying the photographs of the pavilion.

Sources

Burns: a biography of Robert Burns’ / James Mackay; Alloway Publlshing, 2004

Burns in the USA’, BBC Scotland

Myers’ Literary Guide: The North East’ / Alan Myers; 2nd Edition, 1997

‘Robert Burns: his connections to Newcastle and the North East’ / Kevin Mochrie. Newcastle City Library Factsheet, revised, January 2020.

Slavery: Scotland’s Hidden Shame’, BBC Scotland (TV programme)

burnswalkerstatue.wordpress.com

https://memorialdrinkingfountains.wordpress.com/2015/07/22/robert-burns-memorial-drinking-fountain/

https://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/whats-on/arts-culture-news/burns-night-statue-newcastle-walker-15729980  11:54, 25 JAN 2019 

https://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/news/north-east-news/statue-great-rabbie-burns-returns-11778972

https://www.twsitelines.info/smr/13508

Shields Daily Gazette 15 July 1901

Evening Chronicle 15 July 1901 p2

Newcastle Daily Chronicle 15 July 1901 p 5

Journal and North Star 7 May 1927 p8 

Journal 13 June 1956 p 5

Evening Chronicle 27 September 1963 p12

Journal 24 February 1984 p 5

Journal 15 March 1994 p

Journal 16 March 1994 p 17 

Heaton Park’s Forgotten House

A house that is shrouded in mystery…..  a house that seems to have all but dropped out of living memory, yet Nursery House certainly existed and Sue, who lived there as a child, shared with Heaton History Group’s Ann Denton her memories of living right in the heart of one of Newcastle’s most popular parks. Ann explains:

As an Ouseburn Parks volunteer guide, I am accustomed to many of the people who join us on our guided walks sharing stories and giving us additional snippets of local history.

However, during one recent guided tour of Heaton Park, I was really surprised to be asked ‘What about Nursery House?’ Despite having researched the history of the park, I had never heard of it. Yet, from the descriptions Sue shared with me about the house and her dad, the gardener, it clearly did exist. This called for some further research.

At first, I drew blanks – even some of our most eminent local historians hadn’t heard of Nursery House. My first task was to establish exactly where it was sited in the park. After poring over several maps, I identified the outline of a possible building. The location looked right, next to some large glasshouses but it wasn’t named as Nursery House. Then we had a break-through, one of my fellow guides found a map from 1950 that had the house clearly marked and named.

Ordnance Survey map, 1950 showing Nursery House in Heaton Park

Gardener’s cottage

Nursery House was a gardener’s cottage situated just below King John’s Palace (Adam of Jesmond’s Camera). It probably occupied what is now the upper tarmacked car parking area which has a straight line of trees separating it from the Grade II-listed ruin.

The house had a garden with a fence around it dividing it from the public park. The orientation of the house was that it looked out towards Heaton Park Lodge.

These are the memories Sue shared with me over coffee:

Her dad was Edward Seymour who was a gardener/park keeper at Walker and then Heaton Park. The park superintendent was a Mr Hall who lived in Heaton Park Lodge (now the park rangers’ offices). Every day Sue’s dad would go off to work in the nearby glasshouses, cultivating the flowers and plants which would grace the many formal flowerbeds in the park. Remember those?

Sue has been researching her family tree and found that her dad and most of her half-brothers and half-sisters moved from Walker to Nursery House on 3 April 1944. She was born in 1956.

Sue in front of Nursery House

‘One of my sisters remembered going to see the house, with a close friend of hers. Upstairs they started “ballroom dancing” as the rooms were so huge and Dad told them off!

Upstairs there were three rooms: two large bedrooms and a third smaller one. Downstairs there was a room which was rarely used, also a living room, a kitchen with a bath under a bench – I remember my brother once closed the bench down when I was in the bath! There was a large walk-in larder, an outside toilet, a coalhouse and a shed. The garden was quite a size. It contained a statue called the ‘one-armed fiddler’ : the blue tits used to fly through its arm! Dad gardened weekdays and, one day in four, he was the park keeper. 

Sue in the garden with ‘one armed fiddler’ statue behind and glasshouses in the background.

I remember there was a clock on the pavilion that had a very tinny chime on the hour. And Mam used to help out at the ice cream hut at weekends. The people from the ice cream parlour on Heaton Road used to come down with supplies.  They sometimes gave me the broken cones!

As no papers were delivered on Sundays, Charlie and Joey (other gardeners) would bring the Sunday papers and mam would make a bacon sandwich for them.

Sue with her mum and dad.

Mr Hall, the park superintendent, lived in the house near the pavilion. There used to be an aviary there and a grapevine along the wall near the steps. The flowerbeds down there had dahlias which Dad dug up and re-planted every year. We left Nursery House in 1962, as dad retired.

Sue and her uncle Harry by Nursery House.

Sue also recalls finding tennis balls in her garden which had come over from the single tennis court below King John’s Palace. (This court was still there in the 1980s because I remember playing on it.)

Apart from a reference in Fiona Green’s extensive research on the Ouseburn Parks (carried out for Newcastle City Council prior to a Heritage Lottery Fund project}, there is very little trace of Nursery House. The reference she cited is to council minutes where ‘permission was sought to demolish Nursery House in 1963’.

So, we are very grateful to Sue for sharing her family history with us and drawing attention to a ‘lost house’.

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Ann Denton, Heaton History Group. Thank you to Sue Barrett for sharing her memories and her photographs.

Can You Help?

If you know more about Nursery House 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

Flying Visits to Jesmond Dene

If, like so many other people, you’ve been enjoying exercising in the green haven that is Jesmond Dene this spring, perhaps you’ve wondered about those in whose footsteps you’re walking: people like William and Margaret (later Lord and Lady) Armstrong, of course, who, in 1835, were given 16 acres of land in the Dene by Margaret’s parents as a wedding present and, who, in turn, later gifted the landscaped park he developed there to us, the people of Newcastle; but also Jane and Isabella, artist daughters of engraver Thomas Bewick, who loved to walk there as elderly ladies (They both lived into their 90s); eminent naturalists John and Albany Hancock, who lived nearby, and the family of Armstrong’s trusted lieutenant, ballistics expert Sir Andrew Noble, lucky enough to live in the Dene itself, first of all in Deep Dene House on the High Heaton side of the Ouseburn, now sadly a semi ruin but most recently known as Fisherman’s Lodge, and latterly in Jesmond Dene House, now a boutique hotel. What all of these people have in common (and also in common with, reportedly, a growing number of us today) is that they took a great interest in the natural world, especially that of their own locality.

It is Andrew and Margery Noble’s son, George, who we have to thank for a fascinating  book called ‘Birds of Jesmond Dene’ published in 1931. In it, he lists and comments on ‘merely those birds which I and one or two relatives and intimate friends have observed. My memory, alas! goes back over sixty years so I have taken that period roughly as a time limit.’

Thus the book is a valuable document which gives us a feel of how the bird life of the Dene has changed over a long period, from the late 1860s to 2020, as well as giving us little glimpses into life in the Dene during the period Noble writes about. This article is not a scientific study but, just as Noble did, we have enlisted the help of a small number of fellow Heatonians and local birdwatchers to get a better understanding of the range of birds that have been seen in recent years and allow rough comparisons with the period Noble covered. And we have the added advantage of being able to scour Twitter for those birds thought worthy of special mention by today’s 140 character chroniclers. It’s certainly not an exhaustive or official list though. We have also expanded the area covered to the whole of Heaton, although most of the birds listed have been seen in Heaton’s various parks.

Woodland

Jesmond Dene is, of course, essentially a wooded valley and so many of the birds seen there could be described as ‘woodland birds’. Apologies to ornithologists as it’s certainly not a scientific classification and many of the birds listed will often be seen in other habitats too but most build their nests, and are often seen, in and around trees. Many of our common garden birds would fit into that category.

Here are the woodland birds of Jesmond Dene as mentioned by Noble in 1930 in approximate order of how common he considered them to be, along with some contemporary observations:

Robin (or ‘Redbreast’, as Noble calls it) ‘Very common and breeds’ It’s perhaps surprising that he says no more about this perennial favourite, which has such a close relationship with man. Nowadays: Still resident in and beyond the Ouseburn parks. in In  2011 Peter Candler, Managing Director of Jesmond Dene House, Noble’s old home, posted a photograph on Twitter of one in the garden there. Lovely to be able to start with that direct link with the past.

Dunnock (‘Hedge Sparrow’, as Noble calls it) ‘Very common and breeds regularly.’ Nowadays: Still a common, if often overlooked bird, in the Dene and elsewhere in Heaton. Mike Cook says it’s ‘best seen having a free lunch in Pets’ Corner’.

Song Thrush ‘Very common and breeds’ . Noble includes his own painting of one in the book. Nowadays: Although according to the RSPB ‘in serious decline’, we’re lucky to still have them in and around the Dene. In January 2020, James Common tweeted that he’d seen good numbers in Heaton Park.

Painting of a song thrush by Sir George Noble

Chaffinch ‘Very common and breeds.’ Nowadays: Still resident in the Dene and other Heaton parks and gardens, but, again, is said to be in decline, possibly because of disease.

House Sparrow ‘Very common. A pair of pure white sparrows, which had evidently just left the nest, once appeared on the lawn of Jesmond Dene House. The family was away at the time, but one of our maids, in some mysterious way, managed to capture them. She amused us afterwards by saying they looked like angels amongst their darker brethren. Poor little things! They paid the penalty of their beauty by dying a martyr’s death.’ Nowadays: While still a common sight in the author’s north Heaton garden, Mike Cook reports that, although a common resident until 2005, they are now only occasionally recorded on the periphery of the Ouseburn parks.

Starling ‘Very common and increasing species. Nests every year. It is curious to think that sixty years ago it was, comparatively speaking rare.’ Nowadays: More common in the streets and gardens of Heaton than in the Ouseburn parks themselves.

Blackbird ‘Common and breeds. I have found many nests of this species placed on the ground on the banks of the burn in the grounds of Jesmond Dene House.’ Nowadays:  Very common, of course, in the Dene and in other parks and gardens.

Blue Tit ‘Common and breeds’. Nowadays: A beautiful bird but such a common sight at feeders and in nest boxes that only artist, Sophie Foster, has mentioned them on Twitter in the context of Jesmond Dene. She found an abandoned nest, which she took home to photograph and study to understand how it was constructed and the materials used.

Great Tit ‘Common and breeds’. Nowadays: Again very common but neither the majority of our birders nor the Twitter community thought it notable enough to mention specifically.

Wren ‘Common and breeds’. Nowadays:  It’s a secretive bird which tends to lurk in the undergrowth and so perhaps more common in and around the Dene than many people realise.

Rook ‘Common resident. There was a rookery near the Banqueting Hall till quite lately but I fancy this has been deserted. A small one was started some years ago in the grounds of Jesmond Dene House but as it was just above the chicken pen it was discouraged.’ Nowadays: Only recorded very occasionally flying over.

Redwing ‘Arrives in large numbers in the autumn.’ Nowadays: Still seen in winter. In March 2017, Gareth Kane tweeted ‘Flock of redwing in a beautifully sunlit Heaton Park this morning.’ Mike Cook suggests checking out yew trees with berries in autumn.

Fieldfare ‘As above.’ Nowadays: Another winter visitor to be seen in and around Heaton occasionally, especially during harsh weather. Marek Bidwell photographed one on a crab apple tree during Beast from the East in March 2018. Mike Cook says they’re most likely to be seen around the edges of Paddy Freeman’s playing fields.

Hooded Crow ‘Regular winter visitant.’ Nowadays: Not recorded by our birders – in the UK, breeding birds are confined to the far north and west, although apparently migratory birds can occasionally be spotted on the east coast of England. Interesting that they were once more common.

Coal Tit: ‘Quite common, though I don’t think we have seen a nest’. Nowadays: Still resident in the Dene and the wider area, although only visiting birder, Sam Porter, thought to mention a sighting on Twitter last October.

Jackdaw ‘Still fairly common’. Nowadays: Resident in the Ouseburn parks and seen regularly around Heaton.

Cuckoo ‘Regularly heard each year. In 1915 they appeared to be very plentiful, being heard and seen almost daily during the season. One was caught in the nets set to protect the gooseberries…’ Nowadays: No reported sightings in and around the Dene but the author heard one this May in Rising Sun Country Park, which isn’t too far away so listen carefully while there’s less traffic noise.

Spotted Flycatcher ‘Regular summer visitant. EC: I was walking along a path by the burn when I saw in an oak tree a shabby old blackbird’s nest… when I went to examine it, a flycatcher flew off and I found a neat new nest had been built inside the blackbird’s, like the lining of an entrée dish.’ 2020: Bred in the Dene up to about 2003 but not recorded since then.

Linnet ‘Common. Much commoner in past years when the Dene was less formally laid out and there were more patches of gorse and bramble.’ Nowadays: No recent reports even though the RSPB says, ‘There are concentrations along the east coast from Kent to Aberdeen’ including in parks and gardens. The linnet is, however, another bird in long term decline.

Greenfinch ‘Common though not quite so much as formerly when it used to breed very plentifully.’ Nowadays: Perhaps the same could be said today. They are seen in Heaton’s parks and gardens but they’re another species which has declined, partly because of disease.

Goldcrest (‘Golden Crested Wren’, as Noble calls it) ‘Seen every winter as recently as January 1928.’ Nowadays: Although tiny and difficult to spot, resident in and around the Dene. James Common posted a photograph on Twitter during snowy weather in March 2018:  ‘This Goldcrest spent a good quarter-hour feeding in the lower branches of Holly in Heaton Park this afternoon. One of the species hardest hit by bad weather, it was promising to see it nab a few morsels’.

Goldcrest, Jesmond Dene Copyright: Marek Bidwell

Willow Warbler (‘Willow Wren’, Noble calls it) ‘Still nests regularly. Miss Adamson: I saw such a pretty sight the other day. I was watering my begonias with a hosepipe… when a little willow wren came and bathed in the spray. It flew onto the apple tree nearby and sang its thanks and then came back and finished its bath.‘ Nowadays: A summer migrant which bred in the Dene until the turn of the century but now just recorded on migration. James Common reported one in Heaton Park on 10 April 2020.

Garden Warbler ‘Not uncommon. We found a nest of this species many years ago.’ Nowadays: No recent records although, as they sound like blackcaps and are difficult to spot, they may go unreported.

Woodpigeon ‘Fairly common’ is all Noble had to say. Nowadays: Most of our contemporary birders didn’t think to mention it at all and nobody has excitedly posted a sighting on Twitter but if they had they may have simply said ‘ubiquitous’. The woodpigeon has increased in numbers by some 87% in the last thirty years or so. In the countryside, it’s said to have benefited from the cultivation of oil seed rape but here in Heaton, it’s one of the birds that has gained most from our increasing provision of food on bird tables.

Bullfinch ‘ Not uncommon. Nested within the last few years and seen in 1917.’ Nowadays: A few resident pairs in the Dene. James Common photographed one in Heaton Park during the harsh early spring of 2018 ‘Bullfinch from Heaton Park this afternoon – appeared grateful for the sunflower seeds placed out by a kind local. Who wouldn’t be in this weather?’ They also love the plum trees in Iris Brickfield, especially in early spring.

Tawny owl, Armstrong Park Copyright: Michael Burney

Tawny Owl ‘This bird is, I think, more plentiful in the Dene than formerly. From the fact it can be heard all year round, I fancy it may still be considered a breeding species… When I was a boy, this bird always came under the disgusting denomination of vermin and was ruthlessly destroyed. [It] does occasionally take birds but makes up for this by the enormous quantity of rats and mice it destroys.’ Nowadays: More often heard than seen but Gareth Kane reported seeing one by the Ouseburn in November 2012 and Marek Bidwell has had one in his Heaton backyard, although he says they’re more often to be seen or heard in the tall trees at the bottom of Jesmond Vale Lane.

Woodcock ‘There are generally one or two seen every year on autumn migration. Some years ago, I saw one quite unconcernedly feeding on the lawn of Jesmond Dene House’. Nowadays: A rare winter visitor but Anthea James reports seeing one in her North Heaton garden  and Gavin Dudley has seen one on Shields Road!

Wood Warbler (‘Wood wren’j ‘Occasionally seen.’ Nowadays: Rarely recorded on migration. Mike Cook saw one in May 2002.

Kestrel ‘Still occasionally seen. Some years ago we had high hopes that it might breed in the quarry of Jesmond Dene House.’ Nowadays: Mike Cook says that they bred in a ruin at Castles Farm until 1996 but now only occasionally sighted. In November 2015, birdwatcher ‘Lophophanes’ tweeted that he’d seen a kestrel with a rat in the Dene, his first sighting of one there ‘for ages’.

Redstart ‘We used to see the redstart every year and a pair nested in our garden more than once’. Nowadays: Gavin Dudley saw one in his High Heaton garden in the 1990s.

Sedge Warbler ‘Some thirty five years ago I remember finding no less than three nests in one afternoon.’ Nowadays: No recent reports.

Chiffchaff ‘Have not heard or seen it for some years but I heard its note constantly in the sixties.’ Nowadays: It appears that chiffchaff is a success story over recent years as the distinctive onomatopoeic call of this summer visitor is regularly heard in all of Heaton’s parks from March onwards. Tom Middleton photographed one in Iris Brickfield in April 2015 and they have been heard by all our correspondents in and around the Dene this spring.

Grasshopper Warbler ‘I remember this bird’s curious note as one of my earliest recollections. It must have bred regularly during the sixties as we heard it year after year.’ Nowadays: Mike Cook recorded one in Jesmond Vale in July 2007.

Whitethroat ‘Used to nest fairly frequently in the Dene but I have not myself seen a nest or bird here for some years.’ Nowadays: The last one recorded by Mike Cook was in June 1996.

Magpie ‘Often seen in the late sixties. I remember a nest in a clump of high trees at a spot not far from the east end of Armstrong Bridge.’ Nowadays: Amazing to think it was still uncommon in Heaton even thirty to forty years ago but a success story over the last few decades and one of the easiest to spot birds in the Dene and throughout Heaton.

Brambling (‘Mountain Finch‘ as Noble referred to it) ‘One roosted regularly all through the winter in a shrub outside the library window of Jesmond Dene House.’ Nowadays: A sporadic winter visitor. Gavin Dudley recalls seeing a flock in Heaton Park in the 1990s.

Nightjar ‘This bird was not uncommon years ago, I remember that my father shot one within yards of the fence on the east side of the Dene.’ Nowadays : A nocturnal summer visitor to Britain not reported in Heaton in recent years. They are normally found on heathlands, moorlands, in open woodland with clearings and in recently felled conifer plantations.

Treecreeper (Simply ‘Creeper’ Noble calls it) ‘Not very common.’ Nowadays: Resident in the Dene and Heaton and Armstrong Parks. Dick Gilhespy posted a photograph on Twitter in March 2017.

Goldfinch  ‘Seen in the grounds of Jesmond Dene House a few years ago. Nested two years in succession in a pear tree at Craghall, 1911 and 1912. The nest… was given by me to the Hancock Museum’. Nowadays: Now commonly seen and heard in the parks and gardens of Heaton, they are a bird that has done well in towns and cities during recent years, spotted at just 8% of feeders in 1972 but by 2012 were seen at 87% of them.

Marsh Tit ‘Somewhat rare. Seen in the quarry of Jesmond Dene House in 1916’. Nowadays: A one off sighting for Noble and in recent years neither marsh nor willow tits, which look very similar, have been seen locally by our birders.  Despite their name, marsh tits are most often found in broad leaf woodland, and also copses, parks and gardens so, in theory, the Dene would suit them, although they are said to be more common in southern England.

Sparrowhawk ‘I have not seen this bird for some years’. Nowadays: Another 21st century success story! Resident in the Ouseburn parks and often seen around Heaton. In January 2013, Gareth Kane tweeted ‘Saw female sparrowhawk hunting long tailed tits in Heaton Park this morning.’ And in October 2017, James Common noted ‘ Sparrowhawk twisting and turning through the chimney pots of central Heaton just now in pursuit of a pigeon. Awesome to see!’

Tree Pipit ‘I have not seen this bird for many years. In 1869, I found a nest with 5 eggs in it above the Flint Mill.’ Nowadays: Not reported by our present day ornithologists but, as the RSPB describes its habitat as newly planted conifers or open heath in western UK, that’s perhaps not surprising. Again, Armstrong’s young plantations may have briefly suited it in the 1860s.

Blackcap  ‘This bird was pointed out to me by John Hancock when I was a very small boy. Nest seen by LA and EC for several years.’ Nowadays: Although, blackcap is historically a summer visitor, increasing numbers overwinter in Britain.  In January 2015, Marek Bidwell noted: ‘Female #blackcap on my feeders in #heaton #newcastle; last sighting on 12th Jan 2014 almost exactly a year ago’ but also in April 2016, ‘Lophophanes’ tweeted ‘ Male blackcap singing Jesmond Dene, first of the spring.’

Hawfinch ‘Seen by me two or three times and always when the yew berries were ripe.’ Nowadays: Hawfinch are now among Britain’s rarest / most difficult to spot resident birds and haven’t been reported in Jesmond Dene since the 1980s.

Icterine Warbler ‘Shot in the garden of Crag Hall about twenty five years ago by the gardener. This specimen… [was] presented to the Hancock Museum.’ Nowadays: No recent reports but clearly rare back in the day too –  and made rarer by the shooting!

But there are also woodland birds seen nowadays that George Noble and friends didn’t mention seeing at all between the 1860s and 1930:

Collared Dove: Even if you don’t know what they look like, you’ll be familiar with their call which sounds like ‘U-NIIII-TED’! Not recorded as breeding in Britain until the 1950s, they are now common throughout Heaton but have declined in the parks, now being more likely to be spotted on roofs and in gardens.

Long-tailed Tit: Numbers have risen nationally since the 1980s and that certainly seems to be the case in Heaton, where acrobatic flocks are a fairly common sight in our parks and increasingly gardens.

Jay: Rare before 2003 but now breeding. All our present day birders and many Twitter users report seeing jays in the Dene and local parks.

Nuthatch: Resident in the Ouseburn parks. Marek Bidwell says they especially like pecking at the old walls on Jesmond Vale Lane.

Great Spotted Woodpecker: Its distinctive drumming is often heard, particularly in Armstrong Park. Geoff Forrester managed to photograph this bird at its nest near Pets’ Corner.

Great Spotted Woodpecker, Jesmond Dene Copyright: Geoff Forrester

Ring-necked Parakeet: Britain’s only naturalised parrot, despite many having escaped from private collections, only began to breed in the UK in the late 1960s. They spread north from the south east and, having been first recorded in 2014, they have probably been breeding in Heaton Park for the last couple of years.

Waxwings: These beautiful winter visitors tend to be seen in larger numbers in Britain, especially the east side, when harsh winter weather affects their native Scandinavia. Marek Bidwell says they are occasionally seen around the bowling green near Heaton Road. They’re also quite often seen around the Coast Road around the junction with Benfield Road. A  large flock settled on telephone wires on Huntcliffe Gardens a few years ago.

Siskin: Gavin Dudley reports them being fairly regularly winter visitors to his High Heaton garden bird feeders in the 1990s. Mike Cook saw one in the Ouseburn parks in January 2019.

Red Kite: Introduced successfully to Gateshead in the early years of the twenty first century, they are occasionally seen over Heaton. Birder, Jack Bucknall, reported seeing one circling over Shields Road in June 2018.

Redpoll: A rare visitor, Mike Cook saw one in March 1997 and visiting birder, Sam Porter, tweeted about seeing one fly over Heaton and Armstrong parks in October 2019.

Harris Hawk: an escapee from captivity of this American species was first spotted in Jesmond Dene in late 2014 and often in 2015. Since then a number of escapees have been spotted, most recently in April this year.

Lesser Whitethroat: A single migrating bird seen by Mike Cook over Paddy Freeman’s lake in May 2002.

Peacock: Marek Bidwell was astonished when walking along Park Head Road a few years ago to hear ‘ the most unusual call high in a tree that made me think of a jungle. I looked up and saw a peacock.’ It turns out it had escaped from Pets’ Corner!

Buzzard: A number of our birdwatchers have reported seeng their first buzzards flying high over Heaton during 2020’s lockdown, whether that is a coincidence or a result of increased prey or birdwatchers enjoying more time staring at the sky from their yards and gardens, it’s difficult to know.

Water

What about birds associated with the Ouseburn itself? Here are the ‘water birds’ Noble mentions, again roughly in order of how common they were.

Moorhen (‘Water Hen‘, as Noble called it)  ‘Common and breeds. Although we constantly had two or three nests on stumps or stones in the burn… they seemed hardly ever to get more than one young away… I have no doubt they were taken by pike, of which there were a good many in the water or possibly rats may have been the culprits.’ Nowadays: Still common and easy to spot in and around the Ouseburn and in recent years at Iris Brickfield in North Heaton.

Pied Wagtail ‘Still quite common. Old and young birds seen together every year about the burnside.’ Nowadays: Although included in the ‘water birds’ section, they are perhaps more commonly spotted in Heaton’s streets. Gareth Kane tweeted about one on Stratford Road in snowy weather in March 2018, the ‘Beast from the East’.  There’s often one around Chillingham Road and the author saw one in May 2020 on Rothbury Terrace.

Grey Wagtail ‘Fairly common. Still seen about the burnside. Used to breed regularly above the Flint Mill’. Nowadays: Often seen along the Ouseburn. Gareth Kane reported seeing one while out running in March 2013. Marek Bidwell recommends the burn near Pets’ Corner as a good place to spot one. The author saw one on the Ouseburn in May 2020 near the newish metal footbridge by the flyover.

Grey Wagtail, Jesmond Dene Copyright: Marek Bidwell

Common Sandpiper ‘A tolerably regular summer visitant. Has bred within the last few years’. Nowadays: Gavin Dudley has seen one under the bridge by the flyover ‘but it was a long time ago’. Let us know if you’ve seen one.

Sand Martin ‘Up to about eight or ten years ago, this bird bred above the sandstone quarry at Crag Hall.’ Nowadays: Rare but Mike Cook has two records of sightings from 2003 and 2004.

Mallard (‘Wild Duck’ is the name Noble uses) ‘Used to be seen fairly frequently in hard weather, being no doubt attracted by the food for the tame ducks that my father kept’. Nowadays: Mallards are so common on and around  the Ouseburn and in Paddy Freeman’s pond, that it’s hardly ever mentioned by local birders.  Has definitely done well over the last century or so.

Kingfisher ‘We once saw five of these birds, three young and two old ones. Still occasionally seen… one seen at Crag Hall on 22nd November 1927. Also seen in 1929 and 1930.’ Nowadays: Regularly seen but possibly no longer breeding. In December 2019, Gareth Kane tweeted  ‘Nothing like watching a kingfisher fly along the Ouseburn to lift my spirits on a Monday morning!’ and they lifted many a spirit during this year’s lockdown too. Perhaps more surprisingly, in winter 2015/16, one spent several weeks around the pond in Iris Brickfield.

Dipper ‘ I fear that this bird is perhaps not as often seen owing to the pollution of the stream from Gosforth village and the consequent destruction of the larvae upon which it fed… although ‘Miss Adamson informs me that it certainly did breed here. The nest was under the waterfall, and when she was little, her old nurse used to take her there daily to watch the birds flying out and in…’ Nowadays: There have been regular sightings since 2006. In July 2019. Marek Bidwell wrote on Twitter: ‘I spotted a #Dipper at the top of @JesmondDeneOrg this morning – it had retreated into a rocky crevice to escape the torrent of steaming water cascading down the Ouseburn, creating humidity that I would more typically associate with a tropical rain forest rather than #Newcastle.’ Earlier, in 2016, he managed to photograph a nesting pair ‘under the bridge at Cradlewell’. He has not seen them there since and says there may have been a problem with rats or vandalism.

Dippers, Jesmond Dene Copyright: Marek Bidwell

Grey Heron ‘Seen flying so low that it can said to have been seen actually in the Dene’(Ethel Cochrane, Noble’s sister)‘ Nowadays: The occasional, mainly young, heron can still be seen in Jesmond Dene in an around the burn. Gareth Kane photographed one in November 2018. Marek Bidwell has seen one fishing near Castle Farm Road. There are also occasional sightings on Iris Brickfield.

(Red breasted) Merganser ‘Mr Alfred Cochrane tells me that in February 1929, during the very hard weather, he saw a merganser in the burn, most of which was frozen over at the time. The stream has not been frozen over more than twice in the last 40 years, at least solid enough for people to walk on the ice. The other occasion was in January 1895.’ Nowadays:  More recently, Gavin Dudley has seen a pair in the Dene.

Water Rail ‘Seen in the burn at Craghall in 1910 or 1911’ (Colonel Adamson). Nowadays: A rarity just as in Noble’s time but in February 2013, a ranger posted ‘First ever film of a Water Rail in Jesmond Dene! I was really lucky to see this (only 4th ever record in the Dene) and even luckier to catch some nice feeding behaviour on film.’

Snipe ‘In February 1929 Mr Alfred Cochrane saw a snipe near the bridge in the grounds of Jesmond Dene House. Doubtless it was driven to the burnside by the extremely cold weather.’ Nowadays: A single record in August 1995.

Green Sandpiper ‘I have included this bird… although the two occurrences come somewhat outside my time limit. John Hancock in “Birds of Northumberland and Durham” stated a specimen… was killed in Jesmond Dene on the 26th July 1843 and adds … a fine specimen… found dead [at Craghall] in August 1855.’ Nowadays: No recent reports.

Little Grebe ‘Seen in the burn just above the bridge at Crag Hall in late summer of 1910 or 1911’ (Colonel Adamson). Nowadays: Still a very rare visitor but Mike Cook recorded one in December 2008.

But there are also so called ‘water birds’ that George Noble and friends didn’t see at all between the 1860s and 1930 but which have been recorded in more recent years:

Mute Swan: Occasionally sighted but this year, for the first time anyone can remember, they built a nest on Paddy Freeman’s pond, perhaps partly because council cuts and lockdown have meant more debris than usual to use for nesting material. They even made an appearance with ranger, Sarah Capes, on ‘Look North’!

Common Gull: Occasionally spotted among flocks of black-headed gulls, Mike Cook’s last record was in January this year.

Reed Bunting: They were a common sight on the reeds of the Iris Brickfield pond, certainly up to a few years ago and one year, a pair were regular visitor to garden bird feeders in the North Heaton bungalows, including the author’s.

Canada Goose: The author photographed and tweeted about seeing one in the Iris Brickfield in March 2015. It was facing down a pair of magpies. They are also occasionally seen in Paddy Freeman’s.

Coot: The author saw a coot on the pond on Iris Brickfield a few years ago. Mike Cook last saw one in the Ouseburn parks in April 2012.

Cormorant: Gareth Kane’s report in January 2020 was the latest of a number of sightings of this coastal bird.

Goosander: Marek Bidwell has seen a female at the top of the Dene near Castles Farm Road. Mike Cook’s most recent record was in January 2020.

Tufted Duck:  Also seen from time to time in Paddy Freeman’s, most recently by Mike Cook this March.

Goldeneye: Gavin Dudley has seen them in Paddy Freeman’s pond. Mike Cook has recorded two in November 1991 and December 2011.

Mandarin Duck: Mike Cook reports regular sightings between November 2002 and September 2003 and sporadically until 2013.

Wood Duck: Mike Cook reports that one was a regular in the winter of 1995 and another from April 2002 to 2003.

Teal: a single report from Mike Cook in September 2011.

Curlew: Gareth Kane saw two among the beech trees in Heaton Park in the winter of 2010.

Redshank: Recorded by Mike Cook close to the stepping stones on the Ouseburn in November 2004.

Great Crested Grebe: Gavin Dudley reports seeing one in recent years.

Common Tern: A single sighting over Paddy Freeman’s lake by Mike Cook in July 2007.

Farmland (and cliff)

Noble lists a number of birds as being common on the fields on the east side of the Dene ie inHigh Heaton. From the Coast Road to Castles Farm Road, even in 1930, the only buildings shown on a map are a couple of farm houses and High Heaton Cottages on what we now call The Spinney. 

Mistle (‘Missel’) Thrush ‘This bird bred year after year in the grounds of Jesmond Dene House in a tree close to the road and in full view of passers-by’. Nowadays: Still commonly found in the Dene and around Heaton, it is more a bird of open spaces than its cousin, the song thrush. In May 2020, Gareth Kane photographed a parent and young in a nest in a tree on the banks of the Ouseburn.

Swallow ‘Common and breeds’. Nowadays: The most recent records from Paddy Freeman’s are September 2015 and around that time they also used to sometimes be seen flying low over Iris Brickfield field and pond.

House Martin ‘Used to breed every year at Crag Hall.’ Nowadays: Good numbers nest in some of Heaton’s terraces and at Heaton Community Centre. They can occasionally be seen hunting insects over the trees in the parks.

Swift ‘Occasionally seen. I fancy these have become much more common over the Dene since St George’s Tower was built.’ Nowadays: Although the numbers are much smaller than even a few years ago, small numbers of swifts still return to Heaton skies and roof spaces every May.

Skylark ‘This bird was very common in all the fields on the east side of the Dene. I found a nest with three eggs on 3 May 1870. These eggs are still in my collection… the ground where they used to breed so plentifully is now covered with villas and tennis courts’ (Presumably Jesmond Park East and West and Melbury Road. Ed). Nowadays: You’d have to go to the Town Moor or Rising Sun to hear skylarks today.

Partridge ‘My father had the shooting of the fields on the east of the Dene and occasionally he got quite a good bag’. 2020: Again, you might spot them at Rising Sun or the Town Moor.

Corncrake ‘I have not heard its note for some time but it was common and bred regularly in the fields east of the Dene. I remember being told that six nests were found in one field alone when it was being mown’. Nowadays: Sadly now confined to Western Scotland and Ireland, except perhaps on migration.

Lapwing (‘Green Plover’) ‘Used to breed regularly in the fields east of the Dene. I had some eggs in my collection taken in April 1877 and marked with the words ‘taken within 10 minutes walk of Jesmond Dene House’. Nowadays: The nearest lapwing to Heaton the author has seen is by the pond behind the Wills Building, visible through a fence just before the Newcastle United training ground.

Yellowhammer ‘I found a nest on the east side of the Dene containing two eggs, many years ago but it was a very common bird in the sixties.’ Nowadays: Not reported by any of our birders in the Dene or Heaton.

Pheasant ‘Occasionally seen in former years, no doubt having strayed down from Gosforth Park, where they used to be reared in large quantities. One seen early in 1930.‘ Nowadays: Anthea James reports seeing one once in her North Heaton garden. Mike Cook has recorded two, in April 1994 and June 2015.

Quail ‘My father shot one in the sixties, the skin of which I had for a long time in my possession. This bird was killed within a few yards of the Dene fence.’ Nowadays: No reports.

Black-headed Gull; Herring Gull; Lesser Black-backed Gull. Noble lists these three birds together and comments ‘I do not know how far these birds may be considered as birds of the Dene. They are seen in great quantities every winter flying close over the Dene and I think they occasionally alight in the field opposite the old Flint Mill. When the Dene was in the country, they often pitched in the surrounding fields’. Nowadays: Gulls are a common sight all year round throughout Heaton. Large flocks of black-headed gulls can be seen on Paddy Freeman’s playing fields and Iris Brickfield in winter; herring gulls can be seen year round in both parks and around Heaton roof tops; lesser black-backed is now a summer visitor and becoming more common.

However, there are also ‘farmland’ (and ‘cliff’) birds that George Noble and friends didn’t see at all between the 1860s and 1930:

Feral Pigeon: Descended from the rock dove, a farmland bird, which have been bred in captivity for many years and been very successful in their return to the wild, creating a new habitat in city streets as well as parks and gardens. The white ones are descendants of the occupants of a dovecote that used to be in Pets’ Corner. Did George Noble really not see any up until 1930 or did he not think they really counted?

Stock Dove: Distinguished from feral pigeons in flight by their lack of a white rump and from wood pigeons by their lack of a white patch on the side of their neck and white band on their wings. Their songs differ too. Resident throughout the Ouseburn parks.

Carrion Crow Only fairly recently separated as a species from the closely related Hooded Crow, which Noble did see, but, unlike its cousin, now ubiquitous all year round.

Greylag Goose: Mike Cook recorded one in January 2000.

Peregrine Falcon: Local naturalist, James Common, has reported several sightings from his home in Heaton’s terraces, including via this tweet in December 2018: ‘Peregrine silhouetted overhead at first light, Herring Gulls going beserk. My second record this Winter on my street in Heaton…’

Conclusion

Sir George Noble and friends recorded 74 different species in the almost 60 years between the 1860s and 1930, 58 of which were reported by our local birders in the 30 or so years between 1990 and 2020. Of those species not recorded in more recent times, 11 were considered by Noble to be common at some point during his recording period.

In addition, our birders recorded some 35 species that Noble and friends didn’t see, around 10 of which we could classify as very or relatively common and 25 rare.

So somewhat surprisingly, the final score is Noble 76 Nowadays 93. We have a number of advantages, not least of high speed communications to report sightings and social media on which those sightings can be permanently recorded. We also stretched the geographical area covered a little more than Noble did. But on the other hand, Noble and his friends and relatives had the advantage of actually living in the Dene itself.

We can argue all day about the numbers but what is clear is that Jesmond Dene and the other parks of Heaton are a precious historic and environmental resource, which we should both enjoy and do our very best to conserve for future generations.

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Chris Jackson of Heaton History Group with huge and much appreciated input from our local birders, Marek Bidwell, Michael Burnie, Mike Cook, Gavin Dudley, Geoff Forrester, Anthea James and Gareth Kane, along with additional assistance from David Noble-Rollin and Northumberland and Tyneside Bird Club and the many Twitter users mentioned in the text.

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Kiddar’s Luck and Edwardian Heaton

Jack Common’s famous semi-autobiographical novel ‘Kiddar’s Luck’ gives us some great insights into life in early 20th century Heaton in the years between the dawn of the 20th century and World War One. In the novel, Common writes as the narrator and as an imaginary character named ‘Kiddar’. It is, however, generally considered that Kiddar is Common himself and the novel is really about his childhood in pre-first world war Heaton. So what can we learn? Heaton History Group’s Peter Sagar has been rereading the novel.There are a number of different categories into which we can place this learning from reading ‘Kiddar’s Luck’.

 Physical environment

The north-east born playwright, Alan Plater, once described the way Jack Common described his birth in ‘Kiddar’s Luck’ as part of a ‘bobby-dazzling opening chapter’ in which Common bemoans his genes missing out on much more genteel places of birth, such as lush Sussex, many a solid Yorkshire village, affluent Mayfair and Surrey soft spots to instead be born into the relative poverty of a railwayman’s family near the East Coast mainline in Heaton.

On page 5 of ‘Kiddar’s Luck’, Common relates how he ‘came upon the frost-rimmed roofs of a working-class suburb in Newcastle-upon-Tyne and in the upstairs flat in a street parallel with the railway line, on which a halted engine whistled to be let through the junction…’  This gives us a clear image of the Avenues around South Heaton at the start of the 20th century.

As the avenues haven’t changed that much in the intervening 100 years or so, it is possible to imagine those frost-rimmed roofs, although with the continuing and dangerous progress of global heating, the winter of 2019/20 has been remarkably short of frosts.

Common, of course, was also describing a Heaton without cars. On page 19, Common states that he, ‘belonged to that street by the same right that I had to belong to one particular family on it….often the lamplighter was on his rounds before all the small fry were safely back in their boxes’. How often do you see children playing on the streets of Heaton today?

Common described trips to nearby Jesmond Dene. On page 26, he says that, ‘we’d walk the hot, red paths of Jesmond Dene, brick-red gravel dust throwing that heat up into my inclined face and the tiresome rich green of full summer seeming to shout at one to look, look up, look around.’ Jesmond Dene is still a beautiful community resource for people in Heaton – sometimes we see that some things haven’t changed much in the last 120 years!

Economic life

The streets might not have been packed with cars, but Heaton’s streets were still busy. Common, on page 17, notes that the ‘street was usually lively enough. These were the days of private enterprise: a mad economic maelstrom drew down every thoroughfare debris of competitive endeavour, such a procession of horse-drawn vans, man-pushed barrows, milk-chariots, coal carts and steam wagons as could have been achieved only by a separate deadly seriousness on the part of each participant blinding him to the comic glory he was collectively included in. Practically any moment of the day, one or another of these strange craft, ark or pinnace, would come upon our horizon’. It certainly seems that the streets of Heaton in the early 20th century were a very interesting place!

Not only did local tradesmen fill the streets of Edwardian Heaton but, on page 18, Common tells us that, ‘behind our houses, as was general in that district, ran the back lane. It was narrower of course, with the same granite cobbles, smaller sidewalks and monotonous brick walls pierced evenly along the whole length with two back-doors, two square openings into the coal-houses, with two back doors and so on. Though milk and bread were front-door deliveries, greengrocery and fish and coal came to the back-door. Sometimes for days on end children would spend all their time in the back lane, in and out of each other’s yards, sitting on the steps or swinging on the lamp posts’. A different world to today! How often do you see children in and out of each other’s yards? What would you do if you did see children going in somebody else’s yards?

With car ownership either tiny or non-existent, there was at least a variety of public transport to help people get around. For people living in Heaton this included one form of transport which has recently been revived in a number of cities across Britain, including Manchester, Sheffield and Edinburgh. On page 25, Common tells of how after a trip to Newcastle City Centre, ‘we came home happily in the shaky old trams which sparked over the wind-clutched Byker Bridge’.

There have been many plans from the likes of NEXUS in recent years looking into the feasibility of bringing back trams to the streets of Tyneside. There was one particularly bold plan hatched back in 2003, by the name of Project Orpheus, which would have seen an ambitious integrated transport system for the north-east, including a new tram line from Walbottle to the East End of Newcastle. These plans look great on paper, but we are still waiting for politicians with enough vision and political will for this kind of project to be made real. This is a pity as, given the ever worsening climate crisis, it would seem sensible to consider bringing trams back as a way of augmenting the Metro system, but I am not sure that I would be keen to travel on a shaky tram over a wind-clutched bridge! Thankfully we have higher standards of health and safety today…

The Edwardian era is often seen as a time of great social serenity before the terrible shock of the first world war, but a deeper study of history reveals the era as one of considerable social conflict as the trade union movement began to really flex its collective muscles in response to harsh working conditions and low wages. Common’s father was a railwayman and so it is no wonder that he recollects a railway strike on page 51. Rather than write about the effects on his family, Common describes what the effect of the strike was on the atmosphere in Heaton. He notes that it was, ‘true, of course, had I noted it, there was a curious stillness over the Avenues. Normally, at any hour of the twenty-four, if you looked along our street, you were bound to see at least one railwayman in work-clothes, his bait-tin under his arm going to or from the junction. They were always about, hurrying along clean-faced towards the sharp dawn paling the signal lamps over the lines, drifting wearily back on an afternoon sun; in groups jolly and joking in the Chillingham Hotel or outside the social club, in pairs coming out of the light of the blue arc lamps at the end of the shift and ready for their bed. Now that traffic was stopped. So was lot of other kinds. The electric trains were silent in the cutting, the sudden blue rainbow they made ceased to flicker on the houses above; there were no puffs of steam or harsh mechanical panting behind the junction wall, no shunting noises like the slow collapse of huge iron playing cards against the buffers.’ It must have made a real difference to the life of Heaton for a young boy to notice it in the way that Common describes. Of course the railway was arguably more important then, at a time when people didn’t own cars.

immigration

Listening to some of the ‘debates’ around the issue of Brexit, it would appear that immigration from Europe began with our accession to what was then the EEC in 1973. Common’s ‘Kiddar’s Luck’ reminds us of what nonsense that is when, on page 21, he mentions ‘…the German pork butcher from Heaton Road…’   (See a previous article to see who he might be referring to). It would be interesting to know more about how he fared as xenophobia and jingoism swept the country?

Certainly racism was unfortunately part of the life of some young people growing up in Heaton at the same time as Common. On page 56, Common talks about the trials that a man from China had to go through due to appalling behaviour from some young people in Heaton. In the middle of a piece about the gang warfare in Heaton at the time. Common relates how Fong Lee, ‘had plenty reason to be annoyed. Oriental patience might withstand the loud chanting of ”Ching, Ching, Chinaman, choppy, choppy, chop” by a choir of twerps around his door, but when that door was frequently flung open, its bell jangling, to enable one of that choir to fling in a couple of damp horse-turds that might land among the parcels of finished washing, then the love of cleanliness, natural to a laundryman, must have been offended beyond the immediate consolation of Chinese philosophy’

I would like to think that even in the darker days we are going through at the present, this type of racist behaviour would not be expected in the Heaton of 2020. As for Chinese philosophy, Confucius did of course preach the importance of patience, when he said, ‘ it does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop’, although another of Confucius’ famous sayings might be more relevant here: ‘Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance’.

It is actually quite surprising that Heaton had a Chinese inhabitant at this time, given the small number of Chinese-born people living in north-east England at the time. Dave Renton (see sources below) has noted that, ‘as late as 1945, the numbers of Chinese-born people living in the region were maybe as few as three dozen. There were several Chinese laundries in the region, including three in Newcastle, as well as one in each of Whitley Bay, Gateshead, Sunderland, Hartlepool and Middlesbrough.’ It is often noted that right up to the present day, the most racist areas in England tend to coincide with those which have the least immigration into them as racism is largely born out of ignorance and a lack of contact with people perceived as ‘different’. Perhaps this was why poor Fong Lee had to endure such appalling behaviour towards him.  

To put all this in context, while the north-east was prone to racism at the beginning of the 20th century, just as anywhere else in the country was, it has traditionally been seen as less racist than many other regions. A few decades after the time about which Common was writing in ‘Kiddar’s Luck’, Oswald Mosely, leader of the British Union of Fascists stated that the north-east with its high unemployment in the 1930’s should become a ‘storm centre’ for his new fascist movement. It didn’t. Indeed it has been noted that Tyneside’s notions of working-class solidarity were an anathema to the bullying tendencies of the racists. Common’s own antipathy towards racist attitudes is hardly surprising given his upbringing. Dave Renton notes that, ‘Common’s mother lit candles for a Jewish family on the Sabbath’ and that Common recorded his mother saying, ‘when I hear how the poor Indians live I’m sorry for them, cos I know what it is.’

 School

We have seen that in some respects little has changed in Heaton since the Edwardian era and this is brought home to us on page 30-1, when Common describes his journey from home to school: ‘The school was only a few streets away, within the Avenues. There were ten of these, of which ours was Third, all built in one plan though not by any civic authority. The First and Third ran parallel to the railway lines, sharing a common back lane; these short ones and back lanes, were set at right angles to the rest, but extended only from Third to Seventh; Seventh, Eighth, Ninth and Tenth were parallel too; and the long Second ran at right-angles to the railway from it as far as Tenth, though where it was not keeping the short avenues company, it was all corner-ends owing to the interruption of the lanes and front streets that ran into it. To make room for the school buildings, half of the north side of  Ninth and the south side of Tenth was missing. Our route that fine morning then was across Third into Fifth, down Seventh as far as the back lane to Chillingham Road (that being the fourth side of the square); along the lane past end of Eighth and into Ninth. Well, there we were.’

Other things about school life have changed. Common describes the different entrances for different aged pupils at Chillingham Road School during his time there. On page 31, Common talks of the ‘sign over the door which said “Infants”… [and]… the Tenth Avenue entrance which said “Boys“..’ I don’t think we would have gendered school entrances in Heaton today!

Chillingham Road Primary School is one of a number of primary schools in the Heaton area with a well-deserved good reputation today, but while the building may have changed little since the early 20th century, it does appear that it the teaching methods today are a little more enlightened.

On pages 31-2, Common describes how, ‘we were given brushes and little porcelain dishes containing water-colour, or else coloured straws which we were supposed to plait – babyish stuff, but not too bad. Then there’d be a lesson. A cracked yellow scroll was unrolled and hung on the blackboard. It showed three-letter words and very fat black letters they were, spaced out and then put together. Teacher took a long pointer, touched each letter in turn and said, “Kuh, Aah,Tuh spells Cat”. The class intoned cheerlessly, “Kuh, Aah, Tuh, spells Cat”‘. From what Common says about this lesson, it appears that this method was not only rather uninspiring, but also on occasions unsuccessful. Common relates that once the class had mastered the spelling of the word ‘cat’, ‘then the teacher got clever.”Ruh, Ahh, Tuh “; she stopped. “What does Ruh, Aah, Tuh spell, Freddy?” Freddy got to his feet and threw a hapless glance down at the girl next to him. “Please, teacher, Ah divn’t knaa”‘. Poor Freddy. Haven’t we all been there at some time of our life, either at a school or in adult life?    

A few pages later on Common tells us of how you had to work through a social hierarchy in Heaton, even as a child. On page 36, he relates how, ‘out of school, I was beginning to graduate to a corner-lad. I was my baby sister now who was the pride and anxious delight of the girls.……According to the incidence of boy-population, about half the corners had their own gangs. I drifted for a time between two of these, Third Avenue, which had its customary headquarters round Daddy Hilton’s grocery at the bottom and Sixth Avenue who congregated at the barber’s window right opposite our house. Second could never call a corner its own; Fifth was too short of boys; Fourth had a gang, but they were weak and swamped with their own girls; Seventh were a numerous and lot of thugs; and the rest were too far away to be my concern yet awhile’. Which brings us neatly to the issue of gang warfare in Edwardian Heaton….

Gangs

Heaton in the years immediately prior to the First World War, could be a dangerous place for a young lad like Jack Common to be growing up in. On page 54, Common wrote about the start of a period of gang warfare: ‘Then a bigger matter blew up one evening. I was on Daddy Hilton’s corner, hanging about hoping to get into a game of Kick-the-Block, when sounds of battle drifted down from the Fourth Avenue entrance. Sticks and stones were flying; war-cries chanted. From nowhere the words “Chapman Street gang” got uttered on the anonymous air. Chapman Street, now, ran from Chillingham Road, but on the other side of the railway bridge, down to Parsons’ Works. The lads from its corners and those on the streets next to it had a long-standing feud with our lot in the Avenues. At long intervals it would boil over into a regular battle. Then they invaded us, or we invaded them; the signal that such an attempt was on being the appearance of large bodies in battle array on the bridge.’   As we shall see this was not an isolated incident…

Indeed Common tells us how the rivals were usually dealt with effectively. Not on this occasion however: On page 54-5, Common states that, ‘often enough the invaders were met and turned back on the bridge itself; this time however, we were caught napping. The invaders seemed to be already overwhelming the weak Fourth Avenue forces. They would soon be in command of the bend going in to Third back lane, which was a strategic point of high value to us since it allowed us a choice of charging over in mid-battle to an attack on the rear of any force which advanced beyond that entry without first capturing it. Too late to get up there, though. We’d be lucky to halt the Chapman mob at Fifth’. It was looking bad for Jack and his mates…

It was time to get better prepared for the coming attack, On page 55, Common relates that, ‘our corner and Sixth rushed off to get hold of weapons. The five Robson brothers could be trusted to hold their own Fifth for a bit. Meanwhile Wilf and I, being young, but not absurdly so, must race off to arouse Seventh and Eighth, if we could.’ Heaton was clearly made up of a myriad of allied groups!

Seventh Avenue were easy to get involved. Common relates that, ‘by luck, we found the surly Seventh in just the right mood. They were all assembled on one corner and talking together gloomily. They’d just had the police after them over a matter of a large parcel of cigarettes knocked off that very afternoon from their own corner shop at the bottom of their street. And none of them had done it! They didn’t know who had. So the air about Seventh was knit up with rankling injustice, heavy with frustrated vengeance and melancholy, because of the mirage of smokes they might have had if they hadn’t been so uselessly honest. Now Wilf and I were rather in the position of a couple of Cherokees appearing unarmed before the war-painted Choctaw tribe. We had to rattle off our message before we were scragged – we did all of that twice over. It was just the news to suit present moods round these parts: Seventh started up as one man – yes, they’d be in any trouble that was going.‘ So far, so good. Would Jack and Wilf fare so well as recruiting sergeants at the Eighth Avenue?

The simple answer to that is, no. Jack and Wilf ended up having a somewhat difficult encounter with members of the opposite gender. Jack Common takes up the story thus: ‘Wilf and I ran on to Eighth. ….A little way down the street their girls were skipping with a big rope, two turning, the rest running in, pair after pair, while all chanted, “Never mind the weather girls,; in and out the fire girls” We asked the girls who were waiting, where the lads were. They at once rushed on us, grabbed our caps and chucked them into the gardens.” Hadaway to your own street,” they yelled.’

 Things looked bleak for Jack and Wilf, but deliverance was at hand, with some useful news. Common states that, ‘;….In one doorway sat wee Alfie Bell, his leg in plaster and a pile of comics by him. He told us. “They’re all down at the Chink’s —- that’s where they are. What d’ye want them for?”He wanted to keep us talking, but we only yelled the news over our shoulders as we pelted on, “Big fight on in Third —Chapman Street out.”‘ As we have already noted these were days when casual racism was more prevalent in Heaton than today.

The mayhem continued through the avenues. On page 55-6, Common relates how, on their mission for support, ‘at the bottom we almost collided with the Eighth Avenue lot who were scattering away before the charge of an infuriated Chinaman brandishing a knife — at least that’s how they would have described it. Really, old Fong Lee was never infuriated. There, he was shuffling back towards the laundry now, his blue shirt tail flapping on his thin behind. He turned at the door to shake a skinny fist, grinned at a couple of passing railwaymen and popped inside.’

 Inevitably all this childhood ‘fun’ had to come to an end once local adults had got wind of what was happening. We are told on pages 56-7 that. ‘the battles came to an end usually when a sufficient number of adults round about had realised the unusual scale of the tumult and began to gather for its suppression… That is how this one finished. Chapman Street army could get no further now that the forces engaged were more nearly equal and were beginning to retreat. They would have to, in any case, because Third Avenue parents were now at their doors and a lot of our lads were being ordered to lay down their arms. It was recognised as not fair to keep on engaging an enemy who had half the fight knocked out of him by having to listen to his mother’s shouts….’ Perhaps the Heaton warriors weren’t quite as hard as they liked to think they were!

 To town

To finish on a more peaceful note, we can also learn about ways in which Common was familiar with paths into ‘town’ at a time when there were few if any cars or buses – and of course the alternative of a shaky tram across a wind-clutched bridge!   The narrator tells us on page 11 how he, ‘lay in a go-cart and travelled along the paths of Heaton Park…’

Meanwhile, on page130, Common tells us about a path, ‘that was probably the oldest path to town. Other nights I took the newest, through the clean air of the parks and crossing the Ouseburn by Armstrong Bridge, that is over the tops of cherry-trees and a cackling of geese at a farmhouse below. Or to avoid people altogether, I dipped down into the darkness of the Vale, over a bridge so small and low it bent to the muttering intimacy of little waters’. So we end with a beautiful description of the Ouseburn valley, which although describing a scene over 100 years old, reminds us of what a lovely part of the city of Newcastle it is.      

Conclusion

There is clearly much we can learn about Heaton in the years immediately after the turn of the 20th century from an examination of ‘Kiddar’s Luck’. We can learn that, while some of the physical environment of Heaton has changed since the 1900s, much of it it seemingly remains the same. We have seen that there were immigrants living in Heaton and we have seen how inappropriately they were sometimes treated by some of the younger people in the area. We have also discovered some more about school life at Chillingham Road and of the tribalism between young lads from different avenues when they were out of school, at at time when the street was also the local playground.

All in all it is hard to disagree with Keith Armstrong, when he says of ‘Kiddar’s Luck’, that Common’s earlier writing was, ‘followed by imaginatively twisted tales of childhood and teenage in Kiddar’s Luck (1951) and The Ampersand (1954), which surely rank among the very best descriptions of growing up working-class ever committed to paper.’ It also begs one more question: who is writing about Heaton today with such compassion, understanding and real insights?

Sources

Geordies / B Lancaster and R Colls; Edinburgh University Press, 1992

Kiddar’s Luck / J Common; Turnstile Press, 1951

Colour Blind? Race and Migration in Northeast England since 1945 / D Renton; University of Sunderland Press, 2007

https://libcom.org/blog/common-words-wandering-star-keith-armstrong-06032010

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Peter Sagar, Heaton History Group. Copyright: the author and Heaton History Group

 

More on this website about Jack Common

‘Jack Commons’ Avenues in Wartime’ https://heatonhistorygroup.org/2015/02/07/jack-commons-avenues/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Dewey-Eyed Librarian and his Legacy in Heaton

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

Library108 RLCres

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

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

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

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

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

Grand Opening

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Catalogue

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

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

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

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

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

Assistant Librarian

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

1945.140, 44785

His biography would grace any library shelf.

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

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

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

What Next?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keoghpaper_IMG_2812res

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

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

Librarypc

Can You Help?

If you have memories or photos of Heaton Library or know more about Andrew Keogh, we’d love to hear from you. Please either leave a reply on this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or email chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Chris Jackson, Heaton History Group.

Sources

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

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

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

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

The Lit and Phil library

plus Ancestry, British Newpaper Archive and other online sources

 

Memories of Eighth Avenue

Reading Eric Dale’s series of articles in growing up in the Heaton’s Avenues was all the motivation one of our readers, Jean Sowrey, needed to put pen to paper. Here are her memories:

I was born Jean Rudd in 1936 In the front room of a two bed roomed flat in  Eighth  Avenue. I think a Dr Bell was in attendance and a midwife called Jean. For years to come we’d see midwife Jean around Heaton,  Mam continually reminding me that she was the reason for my name Jean.  At that time Dad was a postman and I had an elder sister, Margaret, who was 22 months old.

EighthAvenue70 RLCedresize

Eighth Avenue

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Jean and Dorothy Rudd on the front step of their home in Eighth Avenue

Apart from the two bedrooms, our flat had a sitting room with a black leaded fireplace and the scullery with sink, gas cooker and a gas boiler  No hot water so kettle boiled  frequently and gas boiler used on Mondays (wash day) and for filling the tin bath. Latter used placed in front of the fire. Outside was the back yard where the mangle was stored  and also the toilet, no toilet paper only newspaper squares.  Washing was hung on a line  in the  back lane.

I think women had a hard life in the 1940s. Mam having to do all the  house work: black leading the fire place, doing the washing with a poss stick, plus shopping etc.  She also did a lot  of cooking. A pretty regular daily menu, Mondays always being Sunday’s leftovers .Occasionally we had jelly having been left  to set covered outside on a window sill. Having an abundance of relatives, we frequently  had Sunday afternoon callers –  the treasured tin of salmon opened.

Wartime

In 1939 Second World War started a month before my third Birthday. Margaret, my elder sister, was just about to start school. Alas Chillingham Road School had a glass roof  so  children were sent to North Heaton School. (Not sure if it was only the infant school?) .  More work for Mam having to arrange blackout curtains etc.  Dad in a reserved occupation didn’t need to enlist for military service but did so in 1941, joining the army Maritime Service as a Gunner. Previously from a young age,  he’d  served with the Royal  Scots Fusiliers, giving it upon  marriage.

In 1940 my sister Dorothy was born, our maternal grandmother, Frances Stephenson  having died a week before. She was buried in Heaton Cemetery.  The last of one of our grandparents

1941 and Dad went off to do military service. Women being required to work during the war, Mam started work at a chemists on Heaton Road, owners Mr and Mrs Bartle. They were excellent employers allowing Mam to take our younger sister Dorothy. How Dorothy occupied herself goodness knows!

EighthAvenueRudds0001 (2)

Margaret, Dorothy and Jean Rudd with their mother taken at James Riddell, Chillingham Road c1943-4

046772:Chillingham Road Heaton City Engineers 1979

Who remembers Riddell’s, the photographer?

School years

That year I joined Margaret at Chillingham Road  School. Memories are vague now  although I do recall a teacher Mrs Whitehouse  who absolutely terrified me and others.  She used a belt to reprimand pupils. One incident I recall was when she used it on   Cynthia Jackson, a girl  who wore a calliper on her leg. Fortunately it never happened to me, a rather mild child! One memory I have is when we celebrated Empire Day, marching around the Union flag. Another memory is Air Raid Drill. Going to the air raid shelter where we sang  songs:  ‘Ten Green Bottles Hanging On The Wall’ and many more.  If you were clever were top of the class you received a medal. Later my brainy young  sister Dorothy was frequently a recipient. Some pupil names I recall are my best friend Dorothy Rogers who also had a sister, Margaret;  Brenda Parker, Sheila Raine, John and Elisabeth Crowe, Gordon Winn, Dorothy Emily, Olga Hedley and, of course, Eighth Avenue children.

In Eighth Avenue my close playmates were Betty Kibble, Sheila Muir, Kathleen Flanagan, Freda Patterson, Joan Robinson, Eric Dale and  Harold Charlton. Other children in the street were Moira and Brian Law, Teddy Masterson, Alan  & David Hinkley, the Nicholson brothers, Ernest Wray, Lucy Aspinall, Joyce Munster. We played outdoors most of the time, hopscotch etc – and skipping ropes for the girls.

At home we spent a lot of time listening to the radio. Sunday lunch time ardently listening to ‘Two –Way Family Favourites‘ with Jean Metcalfe and Cliff Michelmore –  a programme for families and members of the armed forces – Dad even sent us a message.  Other indoor activities included knitting and letter-writing to Dad. My two sisters and I took piano lessons and the teacher would drop the shilling into a milk bottle: she also gave me dancing and elocution lessons gratis as she liked me. We also went to Heaton Swimming Baths and the library, and did a lot of walking to Jesmond Dene and Heaton Park, where I also played tennis. Occasionally we went to the cinema – The Scala and the Lyric.

Scala cinema Chillingham Road

Scala Cinema, Chillingham Road (where Tesco is now)

During air raids we would go across the road to the Taylor family air raid shelter. The camaraderie of Eighth Avenue neighbours was incredible. I  believe their daughter, Lily, was serving as a  Land Girl. The air raid I still recall was when Guildford Place  was bombed and totally devastated. We felt the blast too, though luckily only windows shattered. That particular night Mam had taken Margaret and myself to the Taylors’ shelter. Baby Dorothy (5 months) sleeping peacefully in her cot, Mam decided  unusually to leave her at home. Fortunately Dorothy survived unscathed even though glass was all around.                                                                                                                         .

At the end of Junior School girls had to go to North Heaton School whereas the boys went into senior school. A bit unfair really as we were about to sit the 11 plus exam which meant some of us were only there one year. Margaret and I passed for Middle Street Commercial School  For Girls. Young sister Dorothy eventually went to Central Newcastle High School For Girls.

Dad didn’t come home in 1945 as he’d been involved in an accident in an army lorry in Greenock and suffered a broken femur. He ended up spending two years  in Hexham General  Hospital. He had been torpedoed twice during the war, luckily rescued and survived. However war finished and he had his accident  whilst awaiting demob.  Finally home in 1947 with a serious limp, he couldn’t go back to his Heaton postman job but was given work at Orchard Street Sorting Office.

Being an ex-Army veteran  and because of Dad’s disability we were given a brand new council house at Longbenton  and in 1948 left Eighth Avenue, but the first 11 years will always remain with me.

Acknowledgements

Thank you, Jean, for taking the trouble to write down some of your Heaton memories. Fascinating both for your contemporaries and for those too young to remember the thirties and forties.

Can you help?

If you know anything else about any of the people mentioned in this article, please get in touch either by clicking on the link immediately below the title of this article or by emailing chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

We are always interested to receive information, memories and photos relevant to the history of Heaton.

Heaton at Play Part 1

In this his fourth piece, Eric Dale, who grew up in Eighth Avenue, Heaton from 1939 describes how Heaton children amused themselves in the 1940s and 50s:

Street games

‘Due to the complete absence of cars we were able to use the streets as playgrounds and there were always lots of of kids around to make up the numbers required for Tuggie, Tuggie-on-High, Hide and Seek and its variation (that we liked to think we’d invented): Kicky-the-tin. Then there was Mr Wolf, Football (and Headers), Cricket, Knocky-nine-doors, Hopscotch, Olympic Games, Mountakitty (known as Harra Levens only a few streets away), Chucks, Marbles and Tops and Whips. If we made too much noise, even during the day, we risked being shouted at. The sash window would slide up, a woman’s head would emerge and it would be ‘why divvent youz lot bugger off  t’the park, me man’s a’bed’ (on nightshift).

Once we graduated to riding bikes we used to organise races around the block without even considering there’d be any traffic hazards; such as buses on Second Avenue. It was certainly only down to good fortune that we escaped any such encounters. A popular hobby was collecting empty cigarette packets and it was quite a craze for a while, there being some quite exotic ones such as Du Maurier, Abdulla, Passing Clouds, Kensitas and State Express. The cardboard these were made from was also useful for jamming against our cycle spokes. To our ears this made a very authentic ‘motorcycle’ sound as the wheel turned so we would then take the machines to rough ground nearby to play speedway.

Our street also claimed to have invented ‘clay boilers’ but the idea was probably handed down. They were about the size and shape of a present-day pack of butter but were hollow and made from slabs of clay dug out from the sand-pit in the park or from the brickyard at the bottom of Rothbury Terrace. There were several variants but the one I remember had a lid covering the top from the back to about two-thirds of the box length. Through the back of the box a half-inch hole was made. The idea was to stuff the box with rags, set them alight then extinguish the flames so that only the glow remained. Then holding it in one hand at about head height the idea was to run so that plumes of dense smoke spilled out from the hole. Innocent fun from our point of view but how come we always had matches?

Speaking of matches the father of one of our number had a painting and decorating business so we were able to make up what we called fire-raiser from all the inflammable odds and ends such as turpentine, linseed oil and paraffin. Our favourite spot for experimenting with this highly volatile mixture was the ‘waste-land’ at the Coast Road/Chillingham Road corner. It was there on more than one occasion that having set the surrounding grassland on fire we almost lost control of the result, only just in time subduing the flames whilst choking on the billowing smoke drifting across the carriageway. Not at any point in the proceeding were we ever warned off by nearby residents or passers-by. And we were never troubled by police. Kids who indulged in that activity today would rightly be branded as arsonists and be up before a magistrate.

A rather more innocent (but rather strange) pastime was to buy lengths of multi-coloured electric cable, strip out the copper then cut the plastic outer into lengths of about half an inch, place one of these on an ordinary pin so that it stopped against the pinhead. The next move was to stick the pin through another pre-cut length of plastic, slide that up to meet the ‘handle’ and voila! you had a miniature sword. These were pinned onto jacket lapels for no other purpose than for decoration.

Hardly qualifying under the heading of ‘Games’ our curiosity about cigarette smoking got the better of a few of us during a short period at the end of the forties. It sounds horrendous now but we trawled around picking up discarded ciggy ends and when enough were collected extracted the usable tobacco and made smoking roll-ups with Rizla papers and a little machine. Thankfully this activity put me right off smoking for ever after.

Armed and Dangerous

We were so lucky as urban kids having access to open spaces just minutes away from our homes, all without even having to resort to the any of the modes of transport mentioned above. And didn’t we take full advantage of them all?

Heaton Park, Armstrong Park, Jesmond Vale, Paddy Freeman’s and Jesmond Dene were our natural habitat all year round. Anyone remember the sandpit at the old windmill? In my day this was a sizeable lake populated by thousands of frogs in the spring.

 

Old Windmill

Heaton Windmill, 1977 (Copyright:Eric Dale)

 

We virtually ran wild in those days and were always being chased by the Parky for some misdemeanour or another.

 

The Parky's House

‘The Parky’s House’, Armstrong Bridge, 1977 (Copyright: Eric Dale)

 

One summer the Parky Wars were stepped up a notch or two when much younger, fitter men wearing sand-shoes (the ultimate in speedy footwear) were employed to run down any miscreants. I am happy to report that we managed always to escape their clutches, though can’t exactly remember what it was we were doing that we ought not to have been. Might it have been hacking y-shaped branches from small trees and shrubs in order to make catapults? Most of us carried a knife of one sort or another; it being commonplace to see boys with a long-bladed edition strapped to their belt in a scabbard. We also went in for water-pistols, pea-shooters, bows and arrows and sometime even spears! We played war games in the more densely wooded areas (‘dadadadadada…got ye, Brian!’) in summer, with pretend guns made from sticks, and in winter it was snowball fights and sledging.’

(To be continued)

Acknowledgements

A big thank you to Eric Dale for his photos and memories. We’ll be featuring more in the near future.

Can you help?

We hope that you will add to what we know about how children played in the Avenues and Heaton generally. Either post your comments direct to this site by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or email chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org. It would be fantastic to find some more old photos.

 

A Hundred Years of Heaton Sprouts

A hundred years ago today (ie 22 December 1916), Newcastle Corporation announced that it would be making land available across the city for individuals to cultivate in order to grow food. Seed, manure and implements would be provided at cost price. The intention was that the council-owned  land would only be made available for the duration of the war. The Corporation was also negotiating with private landowners to make more plots available in the future.

sprouts

In Heaton, the sites to be made available by the Corporation included: between Heaton and Armstrong Parks and Ouseburn; between Ouseburn and Armstrong Park; Jesmond Park; Stephenson Road; North end of Chillingham Road; Biddlestone Road; Warton Terrace; after no 134 Heaton Road; north end of Heaton Road. A few of these sites still exist today, of course. (If you have any old photos or information about any of those mentioned, please get in touch).

The first applications on Christmas Day would have preference. And so, it seems appropriate for Heaton History Group to commemorate the centenary of  allotments in Heaton – and at the same time wish everyone ‘A Very Merry Christmas’. Enjoy your parsnips, Brussels sprouts and other veg, especially if they’re allotment grown!

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.

HeatonParkRoadSouth

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. 

HeatonParkRoadgandad pickering

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.

An exile remembers: Part 5 – Heaton Park 2015

Heaton History Group is often contacted by people who used to live in the neighbourhood and have vivid and usually fond recollections. We love to hear their memories. ‘RS’ still returns to Heaton from time to time. Here is the fifth instalments of his thoughts.

‘So, it’s time to leave Armstrong Park and make the brief walk to its nearby neighbour. At this point I know what you may be thinking: there’s rather more to Armstrong Park than that which I have described. Too true. There’s the large area behind the old windmill, for example, which I must have explored at some time or other back in the sixties, but of which no particular memory is retained today. Described in Part 4 were simply the features of Armstrong Park with which I was, and remain, most familiar – the bowling green, the tennis courts, the large grassy area in front of the windmill, the windmill itself.

I walk from the windmill’s information board towards King John’s Palace, crossing, on my way, the narrow winding path which leads down to the park exit – much more foliage in this area than there used to be – then carefully negotiate my way down the grassy bank before  walking across Jesmond Vale Lane.

King Johns Palace

King John’s Palace also known as The House (or ‘Camera’) of Adam of Jesmond

Now on the other side of that road, with the ‘palace’ in front of me, several changes are clearly visible. Nevertheless, while standing here, it is another set of images from another experience, existing as a vivid memory from fifty years ago, which briefly dominates my consciousness. It happened like this.

And it’s a bit of a boys’ thing. Back in those days, it was fairly normal for young lads to be carrying a knife when out and about. (Yes, please feel free to read that sentence again.) No harm was obviously intended in doing so, or certainly not among my circle of primary school-age friends, but … well, back then a lad just did. Trust me on this. We even took them to school, where admittedly it probably wouldn’t have been a wise move to brandish them in lessons, even when overcome with the excitement frequently experienced when ploughing through the latest adventures of ‘Janet and John’, but when otherwise I can’t recall there being any particular problem, say at playtime. It could be a small or large penknife. Perhaps it might be a Swiss Army-type knife, incorporating a clever little tool for removing stones from horses’ hooves, always handy in the – admittedly unlikely, but I lived in hope – event that I might eventually stumble across a suitably distressed horse limping somewhere around Heaton. (It’s always best to be prepared – just in case.)

Ah yes: ‘Be Prepared’, the motto of the Cub Scouts, the youthful members of which organisation seemed to be routinely issued with sheath knives as a standard feature of their equipment, and which were worn freely and openly, hanging from their belts, even when not in uniform, with plenty of non-Cubs owning and publicly displaying their own examples, too.

I’m digressing now but, come to think of it, youthful ‘firearms‘ were in plentiful supply, as well. How many lads in those days didn’t own a cowboy-type cap-gun revolver? Or rifle? Not many. Or if so, it was only because they were impatiently waiting for Santa to get his act together the next time Christmas came around. Secret agent-type pistols were very common as well, in the style of James Bond or The Man From Uncle. Best of all was the legendary ‘Johnny Seven – One Man Army’. (We’re talking serious weaponry here. No messing.)

Want to get an idea of the genuine Johnny Seven experience? I can only recommend you click on the following YouTube link:  http://youtu.be/w-tz-9c-g4A

That’s a bit what it was like for a lad on the mean streets of central Heaton, about fifty years ago, although more often in short trousers and, unsurprisingly, without a random unseen American shouting orders in the background. (Come to think of it, like that advert, we may even have played in black and white, but it was rather a long time ago so I can’t be certain on that point.)

Interested? Well come over to my place and have a turn with mine. No, really – I’ve still got my own Johnny Seven. Some bits have gone missing over the decades and some now malfunction – I’m currently having problems with the grenade launcher – so it’s probably more accurate to call it a ‘Johnny Four And A Half’, but it certainly still exists.

You’re going to want a photo to believe me on that one, so here you are:

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(And don’t get me started on the joys of the catapult.)

Anyway, so there we were, roaming around central Heaton, openly carrying our fearsome assortment of knives, revolvers, pistols, rifles and Johnny Sevens – veritable armed militias of 8-10 year olds – perhaps, on reflection, rather as if ‘Crackerjack’ had decided to broadcast a special one-off edition from Vietnam. Can you imagine children playing like that today? Some horrified onlooker would get out their mobile phone, and within five minutes you’d be deafened by the sound of approaching squad cars, before the whole of Heaton would be put in ‘lockdown’ for the rest of the day, while Social Services implemented the politically correct provisions of their latest ‘children at risk’ intervention strategy.

Which takes me back to where I was. No, not in Vietnam – back to standing on Jesmond Vale Lane, just by the ‘palace’, sometime in the mid-sixties.

Standing with a friend, as it happens, name now long forgotten. There I was, holding my pearl-handled, multi-function, Swiss Army knife, no doubt still optimistically on the lookout for that perpetually elusive limping horse. In the meantime, as we’d been walking up the lane, on the way home, I had been amusing myself by aimlessly hacking away at random twigs, overhanging leaves and the like, as I went – fair enough, not ideal behaviour, but essentially harmless. The trouble was, he’d obviously been watching and following us for the last few minutes. And ‘he’ was … the ‘parky’!

Or should that be the ‘parkie’? No matter – it was going to take more than correct spelling to get us out of this one. This was serious. Appearing from seemingly nowhere was the man more officially known as the Park Keeper, and who seemed to operate in both Armstrong and Heaton parks. A smallish, perhaps fortyish gentleman, he very much resembled a typical bus inspector of the day – remember them? – with dark gabardine overcoat  and black peaked cap, an impression reinforced by the fact that he carried some sort of silver-coloured ticket machine slung over his shoulder, and which dangled by his waist, in his case for the purpose of issuing tickets in exchange for the sixpence needed for the use of the tennis courts.

And he wasn’t happy. Curtly he demanded that I hand over my knife. On reflection, I could have simply refused. If matters then became difficult, I suppose I could have sent my anonymous friend to my house in Simonside Terrace to get some back-up firepower. I’m sure Mr Parky would have thought twice about the wisdom of his demands – or at least considered entering into negotiations – when confronted with a fully loaded Johnny Seven: the anti-tank rocket, in particular, is some serious piece of plastic.

But of course, I did none of those things. I might ‘talk the talk’ now, but back then I didn’t ‘walk the walk’. Or rather, I did. All the way back home, in fact. Somewhat sheepishly, if the truth be told. Without my knife. Which, of course, I had meekly handed over to the ‘parky’. In those days, to defy an adult was often not such an easy thing to do, but to defy an adult in a uniform was close to unthinkable. So I didn’t think it, and didn’t do it.

And would you believe this? Just as we turned into Rothbury Terrace, there it finally came, hobbling uncomfortably towards us … clipetty, clop (painful whinny) clipetty, clop … (No, I didn’t think you would, and you’d be right not to.)

But in any case, the welfare of the infrequently encountered limping horses of Heaton were from that day on someone else’s responsibility.

And yes, Mr Parky – that person was you.