Tag Archives: Heaton Road

Percy Forster: a short life well-remembered

John Percival Forster was born on 12 April 1888, the son of  Londoner, John Forster, who had moved to Newcastle as a young boy and later married Elizabeth Best, a Geordie girl. John Percival (known as Percy) their first child, was born in the west end but soon the family moved to Heaton. In 1901, they were living at 62 Heaton Road and, by 1911, at  37 Heaton Grove, opposite the railway line.

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Forster family home on Heaton Grove

By this time both Percy and his younger brother, Stanley, were working as assistant mercers (ie they were dealers in silk, velvet and other fine fabrics) in their father’s firm on Grainger Street.

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John Percival Forster

The family were churchgoers and worshipped at St Gabriel’s on Heaton Road. Percy had attended Rutherford College and had learned to play the organ.  He became the organist at St Paul’s Church in Whitley Bay and assistant organist at St Andrew’s Church in Newgate Street.

Primrose League

The Forster family were politically active and belonged to the Primrose League (apparently named after the favourite flower of Benjamin Disraeli). Founded in 1883, its aim was to promote Conservative principles. By 1910 there were over 2 million members, organised into 2645 local groups or ‘habitations’. Percy and his brother, Stanley, were secretaries of their local habitation. They attended political and social events, such as whist drives and dances, held in places such as the Assembly Rooms in Heaton. Their sister, May, also took part in these events, as well as being a member of a theatre group associated with the local habitation. The Primrose League closed only  in December 2004, after 121 years, with the £70,000 in its coffers transferring to the Conservative party.

World War 1

At the outbreak of war, Percy joined the Northumberland Fusiliers (Tyneside Scottish) on a temporary commission. He was given a reference by Mr Gaunt, his headmaster at Rutherford College, who vouched for Percy, saying he had ‘attained a good standard of education’. The Reverend Robert Trotter, vicar of St Gabriel’s, in another reference, said that Percy had been of ‘good moral character’ in the 12 years that he had known him.

Military Wedding

It was reported in the ‘Nottingham Evening Post’ on Saturday 7 August 1915, that Miss Sybil Margaret Round had married Captain John Percival Forster at All Saints Church, Nottingham that afternoon in the presence of a large congregation. The officiating clergymen were the bride’s father, Rev W Round, vicar of St Peter’s in Radford, assisted by Rev C R Round and Rev H Lowell Clarke, vicar of All Saints. On leaving  the church the bride and groom walked through an archway of swords, formed by officers of the 3rd Line Unit of the Robin Hood’s, of which the Rev W Round was acting chaplain.

There were two bridesmaids, one of whom was May Forster, Percy’s sister. The best man was Heaton’s Captain Henry Sibbit, soon to be promoted to Major Henry Sibbit. Percy’s new brother in law was William Haldane Round, soon to become a captain in the 7th (Robin Hood’s) Battalion of the Sherwood Foresters.

Battle of the Somme

Less than a year later on 1 July 1916, the first day of at the Battle of the Somme, Percy Forster was killed in battle, aged only 28. His death was confirmed by two comrades:

Private R Roxburgh, 22nd Northumberland Fusiliers, said ‘On 1 July near La Boiselle close to the German second line of trenches I saw Captain Forster killed. I was wounded a yard from him and lay for five hours beside him. I was his signaller.’

Corporal W Willis stated that he was killed just beyond the German second line between La Boiselle and Fricourt. ‘I saw him dead but I do not know how he was killed.’ Second Lieutenant Purdey also saw him dead.

Percy’s father was only informed unofficially, so he wrote to the War Office to say that he had not been officially told of his son’s death and so did not want to believe he had been killed. A gold ring, a writing case, a leather case containing photos and two badges and a leather case containing photographs were returned to Sybil, Percy’s wife. However, his father had difficulty obtaining the death certificate needed to obtain probate and wind up Percy’s financial affairs. There were also several letters to the War Office requesting that his war pension be approved so that Sybil, could manage financially.

Fateful day

On the very same day that Percy lost his life, 1 July 1916, his new brother in law, Captain William Haldane Round also died on the Somme. as did Percy’s best man, Major Henry Sibbit of 21 Rothbury Terrace, formerly of Chillingham Road School and a fellow parishioner of St Gabriel’s, who had been Percy’s close friend in Heaton.

Percy’s brother, however, Stanley McKenzie Forster served in the navy and survived the war.

Remembered

 Percy is commemorated on six separate war memorials

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St Gabriel’s Church, alongside his best man Henry Sibbit and Henry’s brother, Bert.

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St Andrew’s, Newcastle

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St Paul’s Church, Whitley Bay

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Also St Paul’s, Whitley Bay

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Whitley Bay war memorial

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Whitley Bay (detail)

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Percy Forster and Henry Sibbit of Heaton remembered together at Thiepval

Not forgotten.

Can you help?

If you know more about Percy Forster or his family or have photographs or anecdotes you’d like to share, we’d love to hear from you. You can contact us either through this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or by emailing chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Acknowledgements

Written and researched by Arthur Andrews, Heaton History Group. Thank you also to Ian Clough, Heaton History Group, who has researched WW1 Heaton’s church war memorials.

 

Heaton’s ‘Harley Street’

Heading up the left side of Heaton Road from its junction with Shields Road, you’ll soon come to Heaton Road Surgery, a health centre in modern premises at number 15-19. Continuing north, you may remember the doctor’s that until quite recently stood at number 39, now an extension to the dental practice next door. And people with long memories may remember many more surgeries not to mention associated businesses, such as pharmacies, on the stretch of Heaton Road between Shields Road and the railway line: you could call it Heaton’s answer to Harley Street.

We wondered why there was such a concentration in this area and whether we could find out more about some of the surgeons and physicians who practised from the last quarter of the nineteenth century through to the 1920s and beyond. Our research revealed a fascinating array of characters, whose stories stretch far beyond Heaton.

Pioneer

The first doctor to set up on Heaton Road appears to have been Samuel Aaron Welch, who was born in Kiniver, Staffordshire in c1855, the son of a ‘chemist and master druggist’. Samuel trained at Queen’s College, Birmingham, qualifying in 1879 and coming to Heaton after a stint at West Bromwich District Hospital. Like many doctors of his time, his surgery was in his home ‘Lawn Villa’ at 35 Heaton Road, which, at the time of writing, is Bear Natural, a restaurant.

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35 Heaton Road (Lawn Villa)

Dr Welch served the people of Heaton for over 30 years until his early death in 1913, aged 58.

Dynasties

 Another early Heaton doctor was Scot, Frank Russell. By 1891, aged 28, he was living with his wife, Annie, and young children William Kerr and Jessie at 41 Heaton Road, just a few doors down from Dr Welch. By 1901, the family had a lodger, fellow Scot, Dr Archibald Livingston, the son of a Govan grocer. Dr Livingston and his wife had four children, Duncan Cameron and James Campbell, Jean Elizabeth and Alistair. The older brothers eventually followed their father into medicine and into the practice, by now at 2 Rothbury Terrace. Duncan died, aged only 32, in 1938, his father, Archibald, by now living in retirement in Jesmond, three years later.

Frank Russell practised at 41 Heaton Road, also known as ‘Stannington House’, until the mid 1920s and by the time he retired his son, William, and William’s wife, Eleanor, had inherited the practice.

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41 Heaton Road (Stannington House)

Both William and Eleanor qualified from the University of Durham Medical School, William with First Class Honours, and alongside the Heaton Road surgery, they also worked as actinotherapists (treating patients using ultraviolet light) and electrotherapists (using electrical energy in medical treatment) at 50 Jesmond Road. They both wrote extensively on the use of ultra violet light, which was at that time a new therapy, thought to be beneficial for many skin conditions, as well as rickets. Their book ‘Ultra-Violet Radiation and Actinotherapy’, first published in 1926 went into several editions. In 1926, Eleanor also wrote an article ‘The planning and equipment of an ultra-violet clinic’ and, in 1928, William ‘Outline of the use of ultraviolet in dermatology’ for an American journal.

At this time both Eleanor and William were involved with The Sun Ray Clinic on Brinkburn Street in Byker, opened by Lady Parsons on 2 December 1926, with additional foundation stones laid by the wives of local retailers, Herbert Pledger, James Parrish and Fredric Beavan, along with Mrs James Howard. (Can anyone tell us who James Howard or his wife was?)

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Plate from ‘Ultra-Violet Radiation and Actinotherapy’ by the Russells; 2nd ed, 1927

The clinic was among the first of a network of Sun Ray Clinics established all over the country which, until as late as the 1960s, treated children in the belief that exposure to ultraviolet rays would cure all manner of diseases and conditions and generally make weak children stronger. Eleanor was Honorary Physician of the Byker clinic and William Honorary Consultant Actinotherapist.

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Detail from East End Sun Ray Clinic, Brinkburn Street, Byker

Byker’s Sun-Ray Clinic building still stands on Brinkburn Street. Although sun lamp treatment had ceased long before, the clinic itself didn’t close until 1991, with a party for some of those who had been treated there. We’d love to hear from anyone with memories of it.

The couple’s expertise in this growing area of medicine served them well because the couple didn’t stay in Heaton long. They soon operated a practice on Harley Street in London. In 1930, William became a Freeman of London in the Company of Apothecaries. He died in 1941. Eleanor died in 1984 in Victoria, Australia.

Canadian MP

Another of Heaton Road’s doctors, Michael Clark, was born in 1861 in Belford, Northumberland, the son of a grocer. In 1882, while a medical student at the University of Edinburgh, he visited Canada to marry Elizabeth Smith, whom he had known before her family emigrated from Northumberland.

By 1895 he was living and working in Heaton. The 1901 census shows the couple living at 52 Heaton Road, also known as ‘Hawthorn House’, now demolished, with their four sons aged between 18 and three. Michael was also a member of the local School Board. However, the following year, apparently both for health reasons and to access better opportunities for their sons, the couple joined Elizabeth’s family in Canada.

Because his medical qualifications weren’t fully recognised in Canada, Clark turned his hand to farming, buying land in Alberta. Soon afterwards, he sought election to the Canadian parliament as a Liberal candidate. Initially, he was unsuccessful but in 1908, he was elected member for Red Deer, Alberta and he was soon acclaimed as the ‘finest public speaker in Western Canada’.

Clark was a supporter of women’s suffrage and a supporter of free trade. But after the outbreak of WW1, his politics were deemed to have shifted dramatically as he placed loyalty to Britain above all else and, in 1917, he became one of the first Western Canadian Liberals to support conscription. In 1919, Clark notably defended the tradition of hereditary titles and the ‘splendid place’ of the British nobility in the war. In 1921, after disagreements in his local party, Clark stood as a Liberal in the Saskatchewan riding of Mackenzie, but was defeated by a Progressive. He subsequently retired from politics. Predeceased by his wife and two sons, he died at his Belford Glen Ranch in 1926 and was buried in Olds, Alberta. Surprisingly, although he has a Wikipedia page, we haven’t yet tracked down a photograph of him.

Big Game Hunter

John George Ogilby Hugh Lane was born in Bishop’s Castle, Shropshire on 16 January 1872 and educated at Haverfordwest Grammar School before following many members of his family into medicine. His maternal grandfather was a doctor; his paternal grandfather, Alexander Lane, a surgeon in the Royal Navy; his brother also went into medicine and his first cousin was the celebrated surgeon, Sir William Arbuthnot Lane. Another noteworthy aspect of John’s background is that his parents were first cousins, as were his maternal grandparents.

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John completed his medical training Guy’s and St Thomas’s Hospital and the University of Durham. He then spent four years in India ‘shooting big game and travelling’ according to a 1905 publication ‘Northumberland at the Opening of the XX Century: contemporary Biographies’  There he apparently ‘came into contact with some of the principal Indian chiefs, including the Maharajas of Patiala and Faridkot’. He married the Ranee of Sarkarpur, Oudh, daughter of the late Rajah of Sarkarpur.

In British census records, John’s wife’s name is given as Eva Collins. She is recorded as having been born in India in 1869 and the couple married in 1894. Their first daughter, Leila Patricia Sarkan , was born the following year in Kasauli, India, followed in 1896 by Vida Beryl Sarker.

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John Lane with eldest daughter, Leila Patricia, his father Dr John William Lane and paternal grandmother Dorothea ‘Stanley’ Lane

By 1901 the family were living at 43 Heaton Road, next door to Scots, Drs Russell and Livingstone.

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43 Heaton Road

In 1899, a third daughter, Eva Millicent was born in the north east, in Hetton le Hole in 1899 followed by a son, John Stanley Sarker in 1904 and another daughter, Eva W, in 1906. Lane continued to practise in the north east until about 1906. But on 15 July 1907, aged only 35 years old, he died in Sarkarpur, Lucknow Division, India. All we know from his death certificate is that a well collapsed on him. Eva died in 1937 in Kent.

Service

The above were some of the more colourful medics to have graced Heaton Road but many others gave years of service to their Heaton patients, including in the early years:

Joseph James French at 2 Heaton Road before WW1;

John J Bennetts (1862-1922) at 45 Heaton Road (Neshan House) and Park View House. In 1890, he contributed a paper on influenza to ‘The Lancet’;

Robert William Nevin (1878-1945) at 31 Heaton Road;

Frederick Robert Henry Laverick (1882–?) of 41 Heaton Road and Woodbine Villa;

Harry Hyman Goodman (Hawthorne House);

William Thompson Hall ( 1869-1934) of 12 Heaton Road and later 276 (Craigielea);

George Smith Sowden (1883-1929) born in Madras; author of ‘A case of veronal poisoning’ in the British Medical Journal, 1910. Veronal was the brand name of a barbiturate, at first considered safe. Dr Sowden’s was one of the earliest reports indicating its dangers;

Robert Younger

Alfred Herbert Peters (1878-1924) at 44 Heaton Road;

Harry Rochester Smith (1887-1936) at 38 Heaton Road;

James Matthews at 36 Heaton Road

David Grieve at 17 Heaton Road

Colin McCulloch at Woodbine Villa;

Jabez Percival Iredale (1868-1957)

The only reason we can find for so many medical practices being located at the bottom of Heaton Road is that originally Heaton’s largest houses, those which could accommodate both living quarters and surgery space, were situated there. Nowadays general practitioners usually operated in groups from modern purpose-built premises. Heaton Road Surgery is no different but it’s still a reminder of ‘Heaton’s Harley Street’ and its fascinating array of medical practitioner.

Can You Help?

If you know any more about any of the people or places mentioned in this article, or have photographs you’d like to share, we’d love to hear from you. You can contact us either through this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or by emailing chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Chris Jackson of Heaton History Group. Thank you to Ted Lane for photos and additional information about John and family. And to Arthur Andrews for finding ‘Northumberland at the Opening of the XX Century: contemporary Biographies’ . 

Matron Lily Atkinson Royal Red Cross

When Heaton History Group’s Ian Clough was researching the names on Heaton’s many WW1 church war memorials, one name stood out, that of Matron L Atkinson RRC. Few females are listed on first world war memorials but it now appeared that we had another Heaton woman to commemorate alongside that of Kate Ogg, who had grown up on Bolingbroke Street and given up her life in the war effort when she caught influenza from the servicemen she was nursing. But who was Matron L Atkinson and what did RRC stand for?

Matron L Atkinson’s name appears on two WWI memorials associated with Leighton Primitive Methodist Church which then stood on Heaton Road.

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Leighton Primitive Methodist Church war memorial

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Leighton Primitive Methodist Church war memorial (detail)

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Leighton Primitive Methodist Church

A broad search of census information did not bring up any L Atkinson living in the Heaton area and without any idea of her birthdate, there wasn’t much more to go on and Ian had hundreds of names to research so he called on Heaton History Group’s research team for assistance and Arthur Andrews helped unravel the mystery. After some time researching variant spellings of both first name and surname, Arthur managed to get to the nub of the problem: it turned out that although she was always known as Lily, our WW1 hero was officially an Elizabeth.  It helps to be psychic to be a local history researcher!

Nurse

It could now be established that Lily (ie Elizabeth) was born in 1874. For many years the family lived at 24 North View, a terraced house with 7 rooms, in Heaton, overlooking the railway cutting, where the Newcastle to Edinburgh steam trains would rush by. Lily’s father, Ralph, was a butcher, and later an insurance agent. Her mother was called Catherine. The 1911 census tells us that there were ten Atkinson children, two of whom had already died. There were,  at this time, at least five living daughters and three sons.

Nothing more is known of Lily’s childhood or whether she had any other jobs after leaving school but by 1901, aged 26, she was working at Carlisle Infirmary as a probationer nurse. By 1909, the Nursing Register indicates that Lily had become a certified nurse, working at the Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle and by 1911 she had been promoted to hospital sister and moved to Liverpool Infirmary to take up the post of assistant matron. By 1915 she had moved again to take up the post of matron at the historic Northampton General Hospital. Here she became responsible for the nursing of many badly-wounded soldiers and she also had links with the nearby Duston War Hospital.

Royal Warrant

It was for her outstanding WWI nursing work at Northampton that Lily was awarded the Royal Red Cross (RRC). The award, established by Queen Victoria in 1883 and awarded by Royal Warrant, is still made to ‘a fully trained nurse of an officially recognised nursing service, military or civilian, who has shown exceptional devotion and competence in the performance of nursing duties, over a continuous and long period, or who has performed an exceptional act of bravery and devotion at her or his post of duty.‘ The first recipient was Florence Nightingale and the award was so prestigious that it was often presented by the monarch at Buckingham Palace. Sadly, this was not to be the case for Lily.

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Royal Red Cross award

Lily’s Royal Red Cross Register entry, pictured below, does not give the date the award was registered and Lily’s name appeared in The London Gazette only on 9 April 1919, almost 5 months after she died. In the register it is noted that she was ‘deceased 22.11.18’ and that the medal was sent to her mother on 3 March 1920. (In fact, Lily’s mother, Catherine, had died in 1914).

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Royal Red Cross Register

Lily herself passed away in her prime on Friday 22 November 1918, during her tenure as Matron of Northampton General Hospital. She was only 44 years old and the cause of death was registered as breast cancer with other complications. Three of her siblings were with her at the time: Miss Annie Atkinson, Mrs Mary Smallwood and Mrs Margaret Shuler.

Moving scenes

A short obituary appeared in the Northampton Daily Echo on 22 November 1918. Another, more informative, obituary appeared in the Northampton Mercury a week later.

It was reported that as war work increased, Lily’s nursing and organizing abilities and devotion to work not only maintained the efficiency of the hospital but she was ‘rapidly establishing its reputation as one of the leading, provincial institutions in the country’.

It was also reported that ‘deeply moving scenes’ were witnessed when her body was removed to the railway station, for cremation at Leicester. A brief devotional service was performed by the hospital chaplain. Nurses lined the corridor singing ‘On the Resurrection Morning’, as the coffin was carried by Hospital staff. From the main entrance to the gates, an avenue was formed of 24 wounded soldiers and many other staff, who then followed the cortege to the station and lined the platform until the train left with Lily’s coffin and many wreaths.

Other members of her family met the train at Leicester. After the cremation, Lily’s ashes were taken back to Newcastle. They were buried in the family grave at All Saints Cemetery in Jesmond, after another well attended ceremony. This was reported in another obituary in the Newcastle Daily Journal on 29 November 1918.

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We join Lily Atkinson’s contemporaries in celebrating the short life of a highly respected matron from Heaton, whose professionalism and devotion to duty made a great impact during hard times.

Can you help?

If you know more about Lily Atkinson or her family or have photographs or anecdotes you’d like to share, we’d love to hear from you. You can contact us either through this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or by emailing chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Acknowledgements

Written and researched by Arthur Andrews, with additional research by Ian Clough, both of Heaton History Group. Thank you also to Sue Longworth and Julia Corps, Northampton Hospital archivists.

Sources

National Archives, Kew

FindMyPast

Ancestry

National Newspaper Archive

 

 

The Dewey-Eyed Librarian and his Legacy in Heaton

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grand Opening

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Catalogue

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

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

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

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

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

Assistant Librarian

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

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His biography would grace any library shelf.

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

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

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

What Next?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Can You Help?

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

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Chris Jackson, Heaton History Group.

Sources

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

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

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

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

The Lit and Phil library

plus Ancestry, British Newpaper Archive and other online sources

 

Wrong Place, Wrong Time: Heaton WW1 civilian prisoners of war

They say that every picture tells a story, that it’s worth a thousand words even. But, in this case, the few words on the board in the foreground of the photograph enabled us to look past the polished boots and smart suits and ties; beyond the forced smiles and resigned expressions into the sixteen pairs of sunken eyes and imagine what these men and thousands more like them, Heaton men and boys among them, were going through far from home.

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SS Juno

The SS ‘Juno‘ was a 1,311 ton vessel built in 1882 and acquired in 1904 by the Tyne-Tees Steamship Company, newly formed in a merger of the Tyne Steam Shipping Company, the Tees Union Shipping Company, Furness Withy and Co and the Free Trade Wharf Company. The new company’s headquarters were in the building we now know as Hotel du Vin on City Road and it also had an office in King Street, just off the Quayside. You can still see a large advert for it on the wall of Sabatini’s restaurant.

The company operated passenger and cargo services to Dutch, German, French and Belgian ports. SS ‘Juno’ had the misfortune to be in Hamburg on 4 August 1914, the day World War One started.  The crew, almost all from Tyneside, were immediately arrested and interned at first in or around the port. Among them was John Rowe of Heaton.

Donkeyman

John was born in West Hartlepool in 1856, the son of John senior, a sailor, and Mary Ann Rowe of Stockton. In 1874, he married Cicely Jowsey of Hartlepool and by 1881 they had three children: Dorothy, Rose and Maude. By 1891, a further five had been added to the family: Jowsey, Cecily, Daisey, Jessie and John junior. John gave his occupation as stoker on a steamship. In 1901, John was absent and there was a younger daughter, Gladys. By 1911, John and Cicely and three of their younger children plus a grandson  had moved to 5 Addison Street in Heaton. Cicely reported that she had been married for 37 years and had given birth to 11 children, nine of whom were still alive. Again John was away from home, presumably at sea once more.

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In August 1914, John, by this time living at nearby 60 Addison Road, would have been 58 years old. He was the ‘donkeyman‘ on SS Juno. His job would have been to oil and grease moving engine parts and to stoke the boiler. After their capture and a short time under arrest in Hamburg, John and the rest of the crew of SS ‘Juno’ were transferred to Ruhleben prison camp just outside Berlin.

Ruhleben

A prison camp to house Germany’s civilian prisoners was established at the outset of the war on a harness racing track in Ruhleben, 10k to the west of Berlin. As soon as war was declared, nationals of the Allied Powers and anyone suspected of sympathising with them were arrested. Most of the 4-5000 prisoners were British, all were male but they came from all walks of life. There were merchant seamen, like John, but also fishermen, businessmen and sportsmen.

Among the detainees were a number of very famous footballers, including Steve Bloomer, who had starred for Derby County ( 291 goals in 473 appearances)  and Middlesbrough (59 goals in 125 appearances) and had scored 28 goals in 23 appearances for England. He had begun a coaching job in Berlin just weeks earlier.

Composer Edgar Bainton was another famous prisoner. He was piano professor and principal of Newcastle upon Tyne Conservatory of Music and a leading figure in the Tyneside music scene and later nationally and internationally. He had travelled to Germany to the Bayreuth Music Festival, where along with other foreign performers and concert goers, he was arrested. Bainton is credited with introducing Tynesiders to composers such as Holst and Vaughan Williams. He is best remembered for his church music but he composed a wide range, neglected for a long time, but  now increasingly heard.

Although life and conditions in the camp weren’t easy, prisoners were allowed to administer their own affairs and were allowed letters, sports equipment, even a printing press. The prisoners organised their own police service, postal deliveries, magazine, library – even businesses. There were football, rugby, cricket and golf tournaments; concerts, opera and drama performances; lectures; a garden club affiliated to the Royal Horticultural Society and many other diversions. But there were also accounts of a class divide, racial segregation and other social problems.

Most prisoners stayed at Ruhleben, far away from their worried family and friends, for the entire duration of the war but a few were lucky enough to have been released early. Perhaps because of his age, illness or a swap with a German prisoner in Britain, John was freed on 22 December 1915 and so does not appear on the photograph, which was taken in the camp in 1916 or ’17. From research carried out by Marcus Bateman and published on the MT9 Project website, we know the names of the crew members and their home address at the time of capture but not who is who in the photo.

John Rowe was awarded the Mercantile Marine Medal and the British Medal in 1921. He and Cicely continued to live in Heaton. He died in December 1929, aged 73.

Marine Engineer

Another former Heaton resident detained was John Cyril Vasey, a marine engineer on board the SS ‘Indianola‘, a Liverpool registered ship. Records show that he was arrested on 16 October 1914 and, after a short period of confinement on the Hamburg hulks, was sent to Ruhleben.

Vasey was a Freemason: we have membership records from 1913 and he was one of 112 Ruhleben prisoners who signed a message of greeting to Sir Edward Letchworth, Grand Secretary of English Freemasons, postmarked 9 December 1914 and printed in ‘The Times’ on 28 December. He was also a keen footballer: his name appears in the ‘Handbook of the Ruhleben Football Association, Season 1915‘.

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John Cyril Vasey’s merchant navy ID card, 1923

John was born in Newcastle on 28 June 1885. By 1891, aged 11, he was living in Jesmond with his father Henry, a Londoner, part owner of Hawks, Vasey and Ridley, iron and steel merchants; his mother, Louisa, a Yorkshire woman; three older brothers, Henry, Arthur and Thomas and younger siblings, George, Frances and Nora, along with a servant.

In 1901, he was an eighteen year old marine engineering clerk, living at 192 Heaton Road with his mother Louisa, older brothers Henry and Arthur, both students, and younger siblings, George, Frances and Nora, along with a servant, Elizabeth Barnes. By 1911, the family had moved to Leyton in Essex, although John did not appear on that year’s census. Possibly he was at sea.

John returned to the merchant navy after the war. He died in 1936 at Papworth Village Hospital, Cambridgeshire, aged 50.

First Engineer

And Edwin Henry Perry was First Engineer aboard the SS ‘Sheldrake’, a Sunderland built steamer, when it was shelled and sunk on 8 November 1916 by the German U-Boat, ‘U 34’, 20 miles WSW of Marittimo Island in the Straits of Sicily. The crew survived but two senior members, Edwin Perry and the Master, Charles Stanley Johnson, were taken prisoner and transported to a prisoner of war camp at Furstenberg, north of Berlin.

In 1911, Edwin was living with his wife, Leila, and their two young children, John (3) and Henry (2) in Catford, SE London. Edwin gave his occupation as ‘seagoing engineer’. By January 1914, when he was admitted to the freemasons, he was recorded as a ‘chief engineer’.

All the family were born in the London area but they were soon to move north to Heaton. At the time of his capture in 1916, Edwin’s address was given as 18 Third Avenue, Heaton. Leila died in 1917, leaving three young children. Following the war, Edwin was married for a second time to Mary Elizabeth Gwinnett, with whom he had three more children.

Edwin was also awarded medals for service as a merchant seaman during WW2 at the start of which he would have been 60 years old. He died in 1950 in Poole, Dorset.

Apprentice

Our final Heatonian and the youngest, 17 year old William Martin Henry, was detained when the ship on which he was serving his apprenticeship, the ‘French Prince‘, was captured and sunk by the German auxiliary cruiser, ‘Mowe’, off the coast of Brazil on 15 February 1917. This time, the crew were taken to Gustrow prisoner of war camp in Northern Germany, where William was interned for the remainder of the war.

William was born at 49 King John Street, Heaton on 8 July 1899, son of Aberdonian Robert Martin Henry and Banff born Isabella Robertson Henry (nee Farquharson). On census night 1901, aged 1, he was at the home of his widowed grandmother, Annie Henry, originally from Scotland but by now a boarding house keeper  at 62 North View, Heaton. Also in the house on census night were her daughter, Mary, a ‘contralto vocalist‘ and four boarders from around the country.

On census night 1911, aged 11 William was staying with his 16 year old brother, Robert Farquharson, a clerk, who was described as head of household; his 13 year old brother Norman Charles, a ‘scholar’ and a 21 year old servant, Annie Stephenson, at 64 Rothbury Terrace. (We haven’t yet discovered where the brothers were in 1901 or where Isabella, William’s mother was in 1901 or 1911. Please let us know if you can help.)

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William Martin Henry’s 1st Mate’s certificate, 1921

After the war, William returned to the family home on Rothbury Terrace, where his mother and father lived until they died in 1924 and 1932 respectively. He was granted his Second Mate’s Certificate on 29 December 1919 and his First Mate’s Certificate two years later.  (We know from this that he was 5 feet 8 inches with blue eyes, brown hair and a fresh complexion.) On 11 September 1924 William was granted his Master’s Certificate.

We have found records showing that, after his release, he continued to enjoy a life at sea. On 8 July 1932 (aged 33), he sailed from Liverpool to Boston on the SS ‘Nova Scotia‘ as a passenger. On Feb 1935, he was a crew member aboard the SS ‘Javanese Prince‘, which sailed from Halifax in Canada to Boston.

We haven’t found WW2 records relating to William but his older brother, Robert, is honoured on panel 29 of the Merchant Seamen’s Memorial at Tower Hill in London, which commemorates losses in WW2. It names his ship as SS ‘City of Canberra’ (Liverpool) although he didn’t actually die until 28 May 1947 in Withington Hospital, Manchester, aged 52.

William himself died at the former home of his brother, Robert, in Manchester in 1962. Probate was granted to Nellie Grace Henry, named as his widow. She had previously been married to Robert.

So a photograph that, as far as we know, doesn’t include anyone from Heaton has helped uncover an often forgotten aspect of WW1, the detention of civilians by both sides, and the stories of a number of Heaton residents, caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Can you help?

If you know more about any of the people mentioned or in the SS ‘Juno‘ photograph , have photos you are willing to share or can add to our list of Heaton WW1 civilian prisoners of war, 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. Thank you to Colin Green of Water Orton, North Warwickshire, who kindly sent us the photograph along with others from his collection which he believes to be relevant to this area. And also to Marcus Bateman of the MT9 project for additional information about the SS Juno, John Vasey and John Rowe.

Sources

MT9 Project

The Ruhleben Story

Ancestry UK

and other online sources

 

 

 

 

Heaton’s Paper Paradise

Keith Fisher has vivid memories of growing up in Heaton in the 1950s and ’60s. Here he recalls an encounter with an old Heaton business that most of us won’t have been aware of – and brings its story up to date:

Travelling south on Heaton Road there’s a final block of houses and shops on your right just before you cross the railway line.  It used to accommodate the Co-op chemist, barber Peter Darling, Gazzilli’s ice-cream parlour, and finally, at the end, a shop that never attracted much attention who sold ball-bearings if I remember correctly: well, I suppose someone had to.

Heaton Ice Cream Parlour in 1950

Just before that unassuming outlet for little steel balls, there remained a couple of houses; at one time, of course, they may all have been houses, with the possible exception of the pharmacy.  One of these houses – until then quite unregistered in our existence – opened its door to us after our gran had treated my sister and myself to ice-cream on an evening in coldest, darkest December.  We were led into a front room lit by a tired gas mantle plus a fire in the range attended by an old lady sitting in a dark corner.

Val and I were about five or six years old, so it was still the 1950s, and Gran must have been about fifty five – which we thought was terribly old; but that lady in that gloomy room must have been eighty five at least, and, just like our great gran: ancient beyond our conception.

However, not all of this was inconceivable to us, considering the majority of Byker was still without electricity; and Shieldfield folk, where our maternal grandparents and assorted family lived, were still comfortably co-existing with those big old black-leaded ranges that were the forerunner to our Agas.  We’d seen ironing done on the kitchen table with a pair of flat irons heated on the range; and eaten Yorkshire Puddings cooked in a big, square, cast-iron dish from the ‘oven bottom‘ (the finest I’ve ever eaten); we’d heard the whistle of the kettle hanging above the coals; and smelt the overwhelming aroma of kippers cooked on a rack over a glowing wood fire; all just part of the life our father’s parents, then our mother, had left behind to live in new-build semi-detached flats on the Heaton Hall Estate.

Aladdin’s cave

So back in that unfamiliar house the air of mystery was not the anachronistic room, nor the presence of the old lady, but the reason for our presence there, which was very quickly established as we looked around walls lined with trestle tables piled high with cheap cardboard boxes; the open ones on the top revealing Christmas decorations of the streamer, paper globe or bells variety, plus assorted novelties associated with Yuletide occasions like the inevitable glinting silver and gold tinsel, and – obviously – brightly coloured glass baubles shining like treasure in the firelight: an Aladdin’s Cave!

Peering up, we wandered along the rows of boxes while gran handed things down for us to examine, suggesting this one or that, some of these or some of those, and all the while accompanied by the old lady deftly pulling out box upon box of festive magic and stacking them on an empty table; until finally, we were done; brief words were exchanged between gran and herself, and away we went… empty-handed, taking none of the treasure with us… it was all left behind!

Recollecting many years later, I asked my grandfather what it was all about, and he told me it was a company he did business with: The Heaton Paper Company, who sold him his paper bags.  The treasure left behind had all been delivered to his shop of course, and would subsequently materialise at our house and gran’s house a few days later; just in time to decorate the freshly arrived Christmas trees, festoon the living rooms with streamers, and hang the paper ornaments from lights and window bays.

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Now then, fast forward fifteen years to a fine house in Gosforth where two friends lived: Danny and Mark Jacobson.  Remarkably, it turned-out their father owned The Heaton Paper Company, and I learned that the impromptu wholesale showroom in that house on Heaton Road was set up each December to allow local traders to choose stock for the Christmas season; my grandfather, being a wholesale customer, had access to this facility for his own personal consumption of course.

So, fast forward yet again to the present – or at least to the present present, which is 2018 – and let me tell you what I learned recently from Mark Jacobson, who I am happy to say remains a good friend, even though I see very little of him, and even less of Danny:

Their father (an engineer) got out of Poland before the Germans arrived and was in London when an old acquaintance from Warsaw suggested he to come up to Newcastle where he owned a toilet-paper factory and needed the skills of an engineer.  At some point thereafter, this fellow took off for South Africa; the business went down the toilet; and Mr Jacobson found himself unemployed.

Crossing Shieldfield one day, he saw a workman on a building site making a bonfire out of empty cement bags; knowing a thing or two about paper by then he asked the fellow if he could have the bags.  He returned the following day to consult the gaffer and was told he could have all he could take away.  So, from then on, he commandeered all the empty paper sacks he could, because he knew that they were made up of multiple layers of paper that could be separated from the inner and outer contaminated layers, providing him with good clean paper… free.  Starting off in his lodgings, he cut up the sheets, glued the edges with flour paste and produced paper bags which he then sold to local businesses – my Grandfather’s included.  When Danny and Mark retired recently, they sold what had become an enormously successful company manufacturing and distributing a vast array of products.

A remarkable conclusion to a misty memory; and a wonderful success story.

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Keith Fisher, Heaton History Group.

Can you help?

If you know more about The Heaton Paper Company or any historic Heaton business, 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

Sir Vincent Litchfield Raven: railway legend

Even among railway enthusiasts, Sir Vincent Litchfield Raven is one of the less well known names, yet he was hugely influential in shaping the railway system as we know it today. Rising from an apprentice to Chief Mechanical Engineer, he only ever worked for the North Eastern Railway and for a short while, early in his professional career and newly married, he lived on Heaton Road.

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Vincent Litchfield Raven

Early Life

Vincent Litchfield Raven was born on 3 December 1858 in the village of Great Fransham, North Norfolk, the third of 10 children born to Vincent and Anne Raven. His father was the Rector of All Saints church in the village and the family were clearly wealthy middle class, as Vincent and five of his six brothers went to Aldenham Grammar School in Hertfordshire, a small private school, where he would have received a conservative Anglican flavoured education. The 1871 census shows him boarding there as a scholar, aged 12.

He moved straight from school to an engineering apprenticeship with the North Eastern Railway. Such a move may seem odd to our minds, but at the time, with the rapid Victorian growth of industry and commerce, careers in science and engineering were increasingly regarded as acceptable to the middle classes. Clearly, young Vincent’s family supported his move to the North Eastern Railway, as a five year apprenticeship, would typically cost the family around £50 per year, over £4,000 in today’s money.

North Eastern Railway

The NER was established in 1854 from the merger of a number of smaller companies. The early years of the railways had seen numerous companies established, often operating often relatively small routes or branches, each with their own locomotives and rolling stock. The North Eastern Railway was unusual in that it recognised early the benefits of larger scale operations and over the 50 years from its establishment bought numerous smaller companies, so that by the early 1900s, it had a virtual monopoly east of the Pennines from south of Doncaster right up to the Scottish border at Berwick. By the time Raven joined the company, there were around 1,500 miles of track. The NER also owned docks at Hartlepool, Hull, Middlesbrough and Tyne Dock as well as staithes at Blyth and Dunston (still the largest wooden structure in Europe) and hotels in York and Newcastle.

Apprenticeship

In making the long move north, the young Vincent undoubtedly found an employer that was at the leading edge of railway development. Unusually, for someone who was, 35 years later, to take on the post of Chief Mechanical Engineer, he only ever worked for the NER, although it’s obvious that he put considerable effort into furthering his knowledge and education throughout his career, including a number of foreign visits. He retired when legislation forced the merger of railway companies into the big four (LNER, LMS, GWR and Southern) in 1923.

Vincent left school at Easter 1875, taking up his apprenticeship at the North Eastern Railway’s Greenesfield works on the south bank of the Tyne, between the High Level and the modern day Redheugh bridges.

He was apprenticed directly to Edward Fletcher, the Locomotive Supervisor (the most senior engineering position at that time) to whom the apprenticeship fees would have been paid directly.

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NER’s Greenesfield works

As the picture shows, the Greenesfield works were vast and incorporated the original Gateshead station, the northern terminus of the line from London before the building of the High Level Bridge, as well as five turntables and 18 roads of track, as well as massive cranes that could lift a whole locomotive. As an apprentice, Vincent would have gained experience of every aspect of railway engineering, from cleaning, firing, driving and maintaining locomotives, through to making technical drawings of engines, carriages and wagons. He would also have been required to work with the railway’s engineers, labourers and managers at all levels of the organisation, giving him a sound grounding in engineering, before starting work as a junior engineer in 1880.

Throughout his apprenticeship, Vincent seems to have lodged with the Swallow family, George and Isabella and their young daughter Maria in Elswick, which is where the 1881 census shows him living.

The Heaton connection

Having completed his apprenticeship in 1880, Vincent’s first job was as fireman, where he appears to have been based at the Heaton depot. Opened in 1875 to provide extra capacity for the overstretched Greenesfield works, the Heaton Depot was the home base for locomotives and carriages, where they would be stored maintained, serviced and repaired – a role that it still plays today with the modern fleet.

It appears that Vincent was based here in his early working career as it was 30 Heaton Road that Vincent made his first family home on his marriage to Gifford Allan Chrichton on 15 February 1883. Gifford was born on 13 August 1859 and was the eldest daughter of John Taylor Chrichton and his wife Emma of 13 Catherine Terrace, Gateshead. Her father is described as a chemical agent, and Raven’s biographer describes him as working for the Walker Alkali Company. Although the company had closed by the time of the Raven’s marriage, the Walker Ironworks shared the same address and both seem to have been overseen by Isaac Lowthian Bell, a wealthy Ironmaster and Director of the NER. That would no doubt have been a very valuable connection for the young Vincent to make as his career progressed.

The 1884-5 electoral roll for Newcastle shows the family at 30 Heaton Road, a quite substantial terraced house, then relatively newly built. It was there that the couple’s first child Constance Gifford Raven was born later in 1883.  The couple would go on to have a further four children over the next six years, one of whom, Annie, died in infancy.

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30 Heaton Road

Their stay in Heaton though was short-lived, as in 1884, the family moved to Gateshead with Vincent’s first promotion to workshop foreman back at Greenesfield.

Career progression

Vincent’s career progressed rapidly through a number of promotions as he continued his study through the North Eastern Railway’s own Literary Institute, where he quickly became a committee member of the Gateshead branch, as well as attending lectures at the newly established Rutherford College in Arthur’s Hill. It seems likely that this is where he developed his interest in the electrification of railways, which was to become a feature of his career as well as the source of much frustration.

By 1891, Vincent was Assistant Locomotive Superintendent at Greenesfield and the family were employing two resident domestic servants.

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Commemorative plaque near the High Level Bridge, close to the site of the Greenesfield works.

His next promotion was to the post of Chief Assistant Locomotive Superintendant, which saw the family move to Darlington, where the NER’s main locomotive works was sited. The 1901 census shows them employing three resident staff, ‘a hospital sick nurse’, cook and domestic. The nurse was most likely employed for the Raven’s second daughter Guendolin (born 1884), who had suffered from glandular fever and was left with subsequent heart problems. The family stayed in Darlington for the next 30 years, taking on an increasing role in the civic life of the town, even hosting balls in their home.

Vincent’s next promotion was to the post of Assistant Chief Mechanical Engineer in 1902, eventually taking over from his boss, Wilson Worsdell, when he retired in 1910.

Chief Mechanical Engineer

On 1 June 1910, Raven took up his new position, responsible for the design, construction, repair and operation of rolling stock and all outside machinery for the railway. At that time, the railway had 2,000 locomotives, 4,600 coaches and 11,200 wagons as well as the various docks, staithes etc. His salary was £2,500 (about £276,000 in today’s money). In addition, he had his own locomotive and six wheeled carriage, available to take him wherever he wished on the network as well as his own chauffeur driven car. This was a post of the highest status within both the railway and society. He was based, from 1911 in the newly built Palladian style Stoopergate building.

RPMI, Stooperdale Offices, Darlington, Previously the London & N

NER’s Stoopergate, Darlington

 

Part of a wider new development that included boiler shops and a paint-shop that could accommodate 24 locomotives, the new offices had every modern convenience and were described as draught proof, floored with Terrazzo marble Venetian mosaic and oak panelled. The complex included sidings for the delivery of coal and a garage for his car and were equipped with telephones.

The family business

Railway engineering was obviously in the family blood. Both of Raven’s sons went on to work on the railways. Norman Vincent Chrichton Raven, the eldest, was apprenticed to the Great Northern Railway, which was responsible for the section of the east coast mainline between London and Doncaster and would have worked under Nigel Gresley, who became the first Chief Mechanical Engineer of the LNER after grouping in 1923. Ultimately, he moved on to the steel industry.

Frederick Gifford Raven, the youngest of the four surviving Raven children, did his apprenticeship in the UK before working on the railways in Brazil and India before the start of the First World War. With the onset of war, he joined the Royal Engineers Railway Operating Division as 2nd Lieutenant, where he would have been responsible for the railways that moved troops and equipment to and from the front. Badly injured by shell fire on the Somme, he was evacuated to a military hospital in Le Havre, where he sadly died of infection on 24 March 1917.

Even Guen, the second eldest daughter married into railway royalty. She married Edward Thompson, a protégé of her father in 1913. Thompson would go on to become the LNER’s second Chief Mechanical Engineer. Only Connie, the Raven’s eldest daughter moved out of the business, marrying solicitor George Newby Watson in 1910.

Sir Vincent Raven

The First World War saw Raven’s skills as an engineer and leader put to different uses. On 15 September 1915 he was appointed Chief Superintendent to the Royal Ordnance Works at Woolwich, released from his position at the NER for the duration of the war. Sir Frederick Donaldson, the holder of the position had gone to the US and Canada to work increasing their production of weapons and Raven took over. He very quickly had a positive impact on production, which was falling dangerously behind the army’s needs. Lloyd George, Minister of Munitions, reported to the House of commons in December 1915 that he had increased production by 60-80% while staff had only increased by 23%. When Lloyd George became Prime Minister of the wartime coalition government, he rewarded Raven for his efforts with a Knighthood in the 1916 New Year honours.

Civic life

Aside from his professional life, Vincent Raven always played a significant wider role and maintained a particular interest in education. Right from his early days he’d been involved on the committee of the NER Gateshead Literary Institute and remained their honorary president throughout his career. He also became involved in the education committee of Darlington Technical College and was active in both the Institute of Civil Engineers and the Institute of Mechanical Engineers, who elected him Honorary Life Member in 1932. In 1915 Raven was elected Councillor in Darlington and quickly co-opted onto the tramways committee and in 1917 he became a Justice of the Peace.

Raven the innovator

What is apparent from his long and successful career is Vincent’s detailed and methodical approach to improving efficiency, problem solving and, in particular, his passion for electrification of the railways. One of his early tasks as assistant CME was to do a detailed analysis of the steam engine fleet, which he did in meticulous detail, identifying numerous improvements. It was this attention to detail that led to his success in the Royal Ordnance Works and to improving efficiency across the NER network. As Chief Mechanical Engineer, he focused his attention on compounding and superheating as means of improving the efficiency of steam locos and his own designs were elegant and efficient, but he always had his eye on the longer term goal of electrification.

As Assistant Chief Mechanical Engineer, he would have been involved in the 1904 electrification of the North Tyneside commuter network, only the second electrified network in the UK outside of London. In 1905, he electrified the Quayside branch from Manors Station, which was notoriously difficult for steam engines, with a steep incline, 90 degree curves and a 2 mile, poorly ventilated tunnel. In 1911, he gained approval for his most ambitious venture in electrification, the 15 mile mineral line from Shildon to Newport, Middlesbrough. When the line opened in 1916, the Newcastle Journal listed the many advantages of electrification in an article on 26 May. These included much greater efficiency and control as well as a more comfortable environment for the crew. The electric locos were designed by Raven, with the electrification of the route done by Newcastle firm Merz & McLellan. This was the first industrial railway line to be electrified in the world and continued operating until the 1930s, when it reverted to steam operation!

Of course the big prize was to electrify the east coast main line and Raven had plans to do so as early as 1910, although he may well have been ahead of his time, as he himself recognised as the real problem was the transport of electricity from power stations. Before the widespread adoption of alternating current, the direct current supply could only be transported a short distance without a drop in voltage, meaning lots of small local power stations close to the track would have been required.

The war prevented him from further pursuing his plans and when he returned in 1919, the financial position of the railways after four years of diverting all resources to the war effort was too poor to consider investment on this scale. With the approaching grouping of the railways in 1923, Raven set out a clear and detailed case for electrification of the LNER main line, but it was rejected.

Whether because of this or the prospect of being based at Kings Cross, Raven decided not to stand for the post of Chief Mechanical Engineer for LNER, which was taken by Nigel Gresley and when NER became LNER he retired, having started at the bottom and reaching the top of his chosen profession while only ever having worked for the North Eastern Railway.

The final years

Leaving NER didn’t mean the end of Raven’s work with the railways, but gave him the opportunity to pursue his passion for electrification as well as applying his knowledge as an independent expert. In 1923 he was appointed to the board of Metropolitan Vickers, who made electric trains for the London Underground and South East Network and also joined the Institution of Electrical Engineers. He took part in Royal Commissions to report on the railways in New South Wales and New Zealand and was frequently consulted as an expert, particularly on electrification. In 1925, he became president of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

The Ravens moved in 1923 from Darlington, as Grantley, their home in recent years, belonged to LNER. Their new home in Hook, Hampshire was nearer to London, the centre of most of Raven’s work.

While on holiday with Gifford at the Felix Hotel Felixstowe late in 1933, Vincent fell ill, heart problems were suggested and he died there on 14 February 1934.

Probate records show that he left £20,036 14s 6d. His legacy to the railways that were his lifelong passion was incalculable, even if it were to take another 50 years before the east Coast Main Line was finally electrified.

Can you help?

If you know more about Vincent Litchfield Raven, especially his time in Heaton, we’d love to hear from you. Please either leave a reply on this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or email chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Acknowledgements

Written and researched by Michael Proctor, Heaton History Group.

Sources

Everett A (2006) ‘Visionary Pragmatist, Sir Vincent Raven North Eastern Railway Locomotive Engineer’

Ancestry.co.uk

Wikipedia.org