Tag Archives: Heaton Secondary Schools

Elsie Tu: Geordie champion of the poor

She was awarded the prestigious pan-Asian honour, the Ramon Magsaysay Award,  for ‘Outstanding Contribution in Government Service’  in 1976, one of the very few non-Asians to have been honoured in this way; in 1977, she received a CBE in Britain for her work against corruption; she was voted the most popular politician in Hong Kong in 1994 and, in 1997, was presented with Hong Kong’s highest honour, the Grand Bauhinia Medal in the first year it was awarded.

Elsie Tu née Hume

She campaigned tirelessly against corruption wherever she encountered it and worked with and for the under-privileged for more than five decades. Hong Kong’s three most senior politicians were pall bearers at her funeral and yet, in Newcastle, the city of her birth, and even in Heaton and High Heaton, where she lived and went to school within living memory, hardly anyone recognises her name or her face.

Early years

Elsie Hume was the second child of John and Florence Hume. In 1911, John and Florence, both aged 25 and married for just over a year, were living with John’s two brothers and two sisters at 12 Sutton Street, Walkergate (across Shields Road from where Lidl is now). John had been orphaned aged 11 and his older sister, Janet, brought up her siblings. At this time, John described himself as a grocer’s assistant and he and his young wife already had a young baby girl, Ethel. 

Elsie was born in the house just over two years later on 2 June 1913 but said she had no memory of it because very shortly afterwards, ‘Auntie Janet’ and the extended family moved to 29 Chillingham Road. ‘All my earliest memories centre on that gloomy flat, where for about seven years we occupied the front room.’ Janet Hume lived in the flat until it was demolished in 1975.

Elsie Hume (right) with older sister, Ethel

By the time Elsie was born, her father was working as a tram conductor but the following year, he, like so many of his generation, joined the army. Elsie said that, until she was five years old, she knew nothing of him except his name. But John Hume’s experiences during this period, during which he was gassed, had a profound effect upon him and indirectly upon Elsie. He developed an intense dislike of war and a compassion for all humans.  Elsie said that, in turn, her left-leaning world-view was influenced by him. She recalled much later that when her father was encouraging her to make the most of her opportunities at school, it was not for the advantages that would give her in terms of her own career but rather he emphasised the many more ways to serve the poor that would be open to her. She enjoyed discussing and arguing about politics with her father and brother from an early age and said that her father’s ambition for her was to become an MP and fight for workers’ rights.

Schooldays

The family moved many times when Elsie was young and she attended several different schools including North View School in Heaton, Walkergate and Welbeck Road and, less happily, West Jesmond. Here she felt she was looked down on by both teachers and other pupils because she lived in the poor neighbourhood of Shieldfield at the time. In future years, she remembered how she had felt and said this influenced her behaviour towards others.

On the whole though, Elsie loved learning and was offered a place at Benwell Secondary School, where she spent three years, before her family became the first tenants of 8 Holystone Crescent on the newly built High Heaton council estate and she transferred to the recently opened Heaton Secondary Schools.

King and Queen open Heaton Secondary Schools, 1928
The King and Queen at Heaton Secondary Schools just after they opened in 1928

Elsie was able to shine there and was in the first cohort to matriculate, obtaining the best results in the school, along with a special history prize. This was a prize fittingly donated by Heaton social campaigner, Florence Nightingale Harrison Bell.

The programme for the school opening ceremony had announced that ‘Mrs Harrison Bell has very kindly endowed a history prize in memory of her husband, the late Mr J N Bell, who was elected in 1922 Member of Parliament for the east division of the city. The prize will be awarded in the boys’ and the girls’ school in alternate years.’

Elsie also loved sport. She won ‘school colours in gymnastics, sports, lacrosse, rounders and netball’ and wrote in her autobiography about how her father, brother and herself were ‘mad about football’, and how all her life she was a passionate supporter of Newcastle United. 

Trial 

In January 1930, however, a shocking event took place in the family home, which was witnessed by 16 year old Elsie.  Elsie’s brother in law, Leslie Aynsley, who had been living with the Humes since he married her older sister, Ethel, just a couple of months previously, attacked his young wife with a hammer one breakfast time and when John, her father, tried to intervene, he too was struck. It was Elsie who was next on the scene and summoned help. Aynsley said that he didn’t know what had come over him. Ten days later both Ethel and her father were still in hospital with severe head injuries.

 At Aynsley’s trial, much was made in the press of the fact that the trial judge was Mrs Helena Normanton. She was the first women to take advantage of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 and join an institution of the legal profession and the second woman to be called to the bar. As such, even in the circumstances in which they came face to face, she might have been another inspiration to young Elsie, who gave evidence to the court that Aynsley looked ‘old and grey’.

Ethel Hume refused to testify against her husband and, under Normanton’s guidance, the jury sentenced him to one year’s imprisonment with the proviso that if he became insane during his time in jail, he could be removed to a lunatic asylum. Most of the press coverage, however, centred upon the judge’s appearance and novelty value, something that is alluded to in a recent biography of her.

The Humes continued to live at 8 Holystone Crescent for at least three years after this traumatic event but then moved to various other addresses in Heaton, including, from 1935-37, 64 Balmoral Terrace; 1938, 20 Cheltenham Terrace and, from 1939, 26 Balmoral Terrace.

University

But Elsie was now ready to spread her wings,

She left school with a treasured testimonial from Miss Cooper, headmistress of Heaton Secondary Schools’ girls’ school, which read:

Elsie Hume was always an exceptionally high-principled and conscientious student and was also a very keen athlete. She was Captain of the First Lacrosse and First Rounders Teams, and School Sports Captain in 1932. Elsie was always most public-spirited and energetic.’

Elsie (top left), Armstrong College netball team

Elsie* wrote later that she was inclined to join the civil service so that she could immediately start to earn money and to repay her family for the sacrifices they had made. Miss Cooper had other ideas and had not only decided she was university material but had persuaded Elsie’s parents too. Elsie went to Durham University’s Armstrong College (later Newcastle University), which she walked to every day from Heaton. She studied English and history and trained to be a teacher not, she later said, because she had a burning ambition to work in education but because she believed it was the only profession open to a girl from a poor background like hers, without the means to pay for further study.

It was at university that Elsie, to the surprise and even disappointment of her family, became a ‘born again Christian’ and then joined the Plymouth Brethren. She became clear about her future: she would teach for a few years to pay back her parents and those who had given her an education, then she would become a missionary and ‘spread my new-found happiness to others’.

Despite having to take a year off her studies when she nearly died following an operation for a gynaecological condition which eventually meant that she couldn’t have children, Elsie graduated in 1937 (and was in 1976 to be awarded an honorary doctorate in Civil Law jointly by the universities of Durham and Newcastle).

She had to look beyond Newcastle for a job teaching English and history and found one in an elementary school in Halifax, taking her away from home for the first time. She returned to Newcastle when war broke out.

Wartime

Back home in Heaton, Elsie found a job teaching in Prudhoe and, when not working, she volunteered in civil defence. Her autobiography contains an emotional account of 25-26 April 1941 when 46 people were killed when high explosive devices and a parachute bomb exploded in the area of Heaton around Guildford Place and Cheltenham Terrace. The house (20 Cheltenham Terrace) where the Humes had lived only a couple of years before was badly damaged by the first bomb and two people who lived there were seriously injured.

Less than two weeks before, it had been announced in the newspapers that Elsie had successfully completed a certificate in home nursing and on this night, her newly acquired skills were used to the full. She helped a man who has been hurt by flying debris ‘His head had been split open on one side and his eyes were filled with pieces of glass’ and was about to walk him home.

Elsie spoke of meeting two brothers, fellow air raid wardens. They warned her and the injured man to return to an underground shelter as they believed more bombs would fall. The lenses had been blown out of the glasses of one of the brothers and they told her that their home had been hit. She later discovered that both of them were killed by a second bomb. They were almost certainly the Shaw brothers, Thomas and William, whose story has already been written about on this website by Ian Clough. Elsie also recalled the panic at a nearby dance hall (the one above the Co-op?) where her sister was caught in a stampede down the stairs, after the lights had gone out and the premises had been filled with soot and dust. 

Elsie said that the impact of that night would never leave her and she spoke scathingly about politicians who approved the bombing of foreign parts and the killing of innocent people when they ‘have never known what it’s like to be on the receiving end’.

Later in the war, Elsie took up a post at Todd’s Nook School and then accompanied Newcastle schoolchildren who had been evacuated to Great Corby in Cumberland, a period of her early life which she remembered with great affection. 

Marriage

During this time, Elsie received a surprise marriage proposal from Bill Elliott, one of the Plymouth Brethren she had known in Halifax. He told her that he intended to go to China as a missionary, something he knew she was interested in. Elsie had grave doubts about his fundamentalist religious beliefs and rejected his offer. Two years later, he repeated it, telling her that he would become more liberal and, this time, Elsie, despite knowing that she was not in love with him, accepted his proposal. The couple were married in 1945, after which they lived and worked in Hull.

She soon realised that she had made a mistake. She found that, simply because she was a woman, she wasn’t allowed to take part in decision making or have an independent life outside work and she was restricted to friendships with those of the same faith and attitudes. 

Nevertheless, in December 1947, the couple set off by boat to Shanghai and then travelled on to Nanchang in Jiangxi province where they were to stay for three years.  Elsie soon became disillusioned with the racist and colonialist attitudes she believed the Christian groups in China exhibited but she enjoyed learning Mandarin and became interested in the country and its people.

However, when war broke out in Korea, the political situation in China became tense and missionaries were advised to leave. Elsie and Bill travelled to Hong Kong with the intention of moving on to Borneo. They found temporary accommodation in a small village near the airport called Kai Tek New Village, where their closest neighbours were refugees from Swatow (Shantou, China) living in a squatter village. She saw the many privations suffered by the people there, with skilled women working twelve hours a day doing embroidery for a pittance and their sick, ill-fed children packing matches or biscuits to enable their families to survive. 

She and Bill set up a home clinic, using Elsie’s smattering of Chinese and the basic first aid she’d learnt as an air raid warden in Heaton. She, Bill and a Chinese colleague, Andrew Tu, also set up a school but Elsie was becoming unhappier still in her marriage and disillusioned with missionary life, which she now described as ‘arrogant racism’. She left the church and, when she returned to Hong Kong after a short break in Britain, her husband did not go back with her. 

Elsie rented rooms in another squatter area while running a school for deprived children. At this time, she lived a extremely frugal lifestyle, taking on private teaching to subsidise the school while living in a small hut on the school site, spending and even eating as little as possible to enable the school to survive. It was during this time that she began to encounter corruption among the British police force and government and noted how British residents were treated much more favourably than the Chinese, particularly poor Chinese, and she began to help them in their dealings with the authorities. 

Politics

In 1963, by which time Elsie and Andrew Tu had opened another three non-profit making schools at a time when there was still no universal free education in Hong Kong, Elsie was approached by the Reform Club, a quasi-political party loosely aligned with the British Liberal party, to stand for election to the Urban Council. It campaigned for a more democratic and just system of colonial government, causes close to her heart. This was a time when only rate-payers, property owners and certain professionals had the right to vote and, even then, they had a vote only for the Urban Council, which had comparatively few powers. The Legislative Council, the law-making body ‘offered no elected seats and was dominated by British officials and rich businessmen’. Elsie was elected to the council, fulfilling at the age of 51 her father’s ambition for her to become a politician. 

Although the position on the council did not come with a salary, Elsie gave up her paid teaching. She continued to work at the school she ran with Andrew Tu by organising her timetable around the demands of the council and accepting only the bare minimum salary she needed to survive. It was only in the 1970s when councillors started to receive an allowance and government-subsidised free education was made available to all, that Elsie began to live more comfortably.

 After her first term representing the Reform Club, Elsie successfully stood as an independent for 32 years. She fought the widespread corruption by pointing it out wherever she encountered it, to the departments concerned, the governor, the British government or the press. She later recalled how she wrote her first letter to a newspaper on the subject of free trade while still at school in Heaton. Her first letter to the ‘Guardian’, during her early days in Hong Kong, was about the long hours worked by Chinese people in Hong Kong. It was referred to by a British MP in the House of Commons, although he named the writer as Mr Elliott, and led to new employment legislation on the island. Elsie’s campaigning is also credited with the eventual establishment in Hong Kong of the Independent Commission Against Corruption in 1976.

Elsie held regular surgeries where she tried to help people with their battles against injustice and with all kinds of personal problems. Her brave (particularly because there were close connections between the police and organised crime, the triads) and tireless work on behalf of ordinary people made her increasingly popular. She fought against the exploitation of workers, child labour and for universal suffrage, gay rights, better housing and public transport, along with many other improvements in poor people’s lives.

One of the most famous cases associated with Elsie involved opposition in 1965  to price rises on the Star Ferry on which many working people relied. Via the newspapers, she canvassed public opinion, which was overwhelmingly against the increase both because it broke an agreement between the ferry company and the government and because it came at a time when people were facing particular economic hardship. Protests followed, illegal in Hong Kong at the time, which became known as the ‘Elsie Riots’. A number of young people were arrested for violence and it was alleged that they were acting under Elsie’s instructions,  something she vehemently denied. It emerged later in court that the young people had been beaten up by the police and forced to sign statements saying that Elsie had paid them to throw stones. The following year, in the biggest ever turn out ever in the Urban Council elections, Elsie received over 80% of the vote. 

Love

Elsie worked with Andrew Tu from her earliest days in Hong Kong. He had arrived there fresh from university in Inner Mongolia, as a young, penniless migrant. They co-founded and ran schools for poor and refugee children and he ran her political campaigns, advised her and taught her Chinese. He also became a Samaritan and a campaigner on green issues and, like Elsie, became well known and respected in Hong Kong.

In 1963, when in London on business with the Samaritans, Andrew travelled to Newcastle to Elsie’s sister’s house to meet the Hume family. Despite the language barrier, they are said to have taken to him immediately and constantly asked why the couple weren’t married. Elsie always replied that they felt no need to but they finally did tie the knot on 13 June 1985, when Elsie was 72 years old.

In her autobiography, Elsie described how, after their marriage, the couple first visited Andrew’s family and friends in Inner Mongolia and then came to Newcastle to stay with her sister, Dorothy, and her husband. She describes visiting Whitley Bay in the fog, eating fish and chips on the prom, walking on the Roman Wall and going to Blanchland and Cragside.

Legislative Council

In 1988, aged 76, Elsie was elected by the Urban Council as its representative on Hong Kong’s Legislative Council or parliament. One of the successful battles she fought was for Chinese to be accepted as an official language of Hong Kong: she took on government departments which failed to provide Chinese translations and argued that court cases conducted in English disadvantaged local, Chinese speakers. She became increasingly accused by the establishment of being pro-Chinese and anti-British.  However, she always claimed not to be connected to any political party and not to be a communist or for or against any country, but to be pro-democracy, pro-justice and anti-corruption: ‘I’m not for China, I’m not for Britain. I’ve always been for the people of Hong Kong and for justice’.  

She wasn’t defeated in an election until 1995, aged 83. Even after the handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997, she continued to hold the government to account. In 2013, aged 99, she criticised the widening income disparity in Hong Kong, referring to ‘rich men who have no conscience’. 

Death 

Elsie Tu died on 8 December 2015, aged 102. All three men who had held Hong Kong’s highest office, that of Chief Executive, Tung Chee-Hwa (1997-2005), Donald Tsang (2005-2012) and Leung Chun-Ying ( 2012-2017) were pall-bearers at her funeral. The current incumbent, Carrie Lam, recalls taking part in actions led by Elsie from her university days. She described her as an exemplary champion of social justice, who commanded respect for her valiant words and deeds.

Perhaps the last word on Elsie should come from her obituary writer in the ‘Daily Telegraph’, not a paper known for its empathy with people who threaten the British establishment: ‘In truth, her politics were less coherent, and far less significant, than her burning concern for the poor and her fearlessness in challenging those she accused of exploiting them.’

Elsie Tu

Not only would her father, John, and old headteacher, Miss Cooper, have been proud, but so too would Helena Normanton, the ground-breaking judge before whom Elsie had given evidence as a teenager, and especially that other renowned Heaton campaigner and social reformer, Florence Nightingale Harrison Bell, whose history prize Elsie had been presented with over eighty years before. Like her, Elsie didn’t only study history, she made it.

*We have referred to Elsie by her first name throughout this article to avoid any confusion caused by the three surnames she used at different stages of her life.

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Peter Sagar, Arthur Andrews and Chris Jackson of Heaton History Group. Thank you to Tracey Cross, Elsie’s first cousin once removed, for bringing the achievements of Elsie Tu and her connection with Heaton to our attention; to Heidi Schultz, Executive Office Team Leader, Newcastle University for supplying Elsie’s honorary degree citation; to Ruth Sutherland, Northumbria University, for supplying newspaper articles about her.

Sources

‘Colonial Hong Kong in the Eyes of Elsie Tu’ / Elsie Tu; Hong Kong Press, 2003

‘Crusade for Justice’ / Elsie Elliott; Henemann Asia, 1981

Elsie Elliot Tu, Doctor of Social Sciences honoris causa’, the University of Hong Kong, 1988

‘Elsie Tu, activist – obituary; social campaigner in Hong Kong regarded as a potential troublemaker by the colonial authorities’ in ‘Daily Telegraph’, 15 December 2015

‘Elsie Tu Doctor in Civil Law honorary degree citation’ / Newcastle University, 1996

‘Helena Normanton and the Opening of the Bar to Women’ / Judith Bourne; Waterside Press, 2017

‘Shouting at the Mountain: a Hong Kong story of love and commitment’ / Andrew and Elsie Tu, 2004

Wikipedia

Ancestry

British Newspaper Archives

Other online sources

Can You Help?

If you know more about Elsie Tu, particularly her Heaton connections, or have photographs 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

Doctor Henstock of Heaton High

A recent article about Heaton’s Olympians, which included a profile of the former head of Heaton Grammar, Harry Askew, elicited a number of responses from former pupils, so it seems only fair that we should look into the life of an equally legendary head of Heaton High School for Girls, Doctor Henstock.

Edith Constance Henstock was born on 3 March 1906 in Derby, the third child of four and the only daughter of Walter, a railway cerk and his wife, Rachel.

Edith was a bright girl. She won her first scholarship aged nine and attended Parkfields Cedars Secondary School, Derby, where she was an outstanding pupil, always coming first in her year. She was awarded a scholarship to Nottingham University and left with a first class honours degree in mathematics. She then went on to Cambridge to study for postgraduate qualifications. 

Her first teaching post was at Darlington Girls’ School. After this, she became senior mathematics teacher at Henrietta Barnet Girls’ School in Hampstead Garden Village, London. While working there, she studied part time for a University of London MSc in the History, Principles and Methods of Science, which she completed in 1933. By 1938 she was head of mathematics at the school and had been awarded a University of London PhD in Mathematics, no mean accomplishment while simultaneously holding down such a responsible job. The 1939 Register shows Edith living at 79 Fitzjohn’s Avenue, Hampstead, a ‘private ladies’ club’, along with 12 other residents.

To Heaton

Edith’s next move was to Newcastle. She took up the post of the headmistress of Heaton Secondary School for Girls in autumn 1944, just as 400 evacuees returned to the school from Kendal where they had been sent for their safety early in the war. The school name changed to Heaton High School for Girls a few months later.

A royal visit to Heaton High School shortly after its opening in 1928

In December 1944, Dr Henstock was a member of a council committee investigating the large number of children being killed and injured on Newcastle’s roads (414 between 1941 and 1944. The committee found that most were caused by children running in front of vehicles without looking.)

In 1950, she was living at the Gordon Hotel on Clayton Road, Jesmond, now the Newcastle YWCA. But  by the following year, she had moved to a large, double fronted, terraced house in High West Jesmond, where she lived for the rest of her life. The Electoral Register shows that Ada Lilian Hall, a maths and PE teacher at Heaton High, lived with her there until Miss Hall’s death in 1972.

Travels

Dr Henstock’s scholarship days were not over though. In November 1959, it was reported that she had returned from a four week educational tour of the USA, after having won the coveted, Walter Hines Page travelling scholarship. She had flown to New York  with Icelandic airline, Loftleidir and travelled back to Southampton on the Queen Mary. (Walter Page Hines was USA ambassador to Great Britain during WWI, as well as a journalist and publisher. His educational travelling scholarship still exists.) 

She continued to enjoy travelling the world long into her retirement, later saying that that she owed all of her adventures to the ‘old girls of Heaton’, who had ‘left their front doors open to her, no matter where their homes were’.

Comprehensive

When Newcastle eventually adopted a comprehensive and co-educational system in 1966, the headmaster of Heaton Grammar School for boys, Harry Askew, was appointed as the first head  of the newly formed Heaton Comprehensive School and Dr Henstock, now aged 61, was appointed deputy. 

A newspaper interview in 1982, long after Dr Henstock’s retirement, perhaps gives some insight into her character. The interview was conducted by  Avril Deane of the ‘Journal‘, an ex-pupil of Dr Henstock in Heaton. The journalist speculated that ‘a little bit of the heart was torn out of the woman when the school turned comprehensive in the mid 1960s’ and she elicited from her former head that she had yearned to be a headmistress from the age of seven. Ms Deane recalled that Dr Henstock had been ‘feared and cussed and kept our velour hats on for’ by the girls and was a stickler for tidiness of mind and body.

The interviewee is reported as admitting ‘slightly apologetically that she was quite good at everything’ and, having three brothers, she was ‘not going to ever let them get one up on her’. She believed there was no such word as ‘can’t’ and set out to inspire her girls to think like her.

She was proud that she had never hit a child in over 40 years of teaching and that no pupil of hers had ever failed ‘O’ Level maths. 

During the interview, with ‘clarity and honesty’, she confesses that she would have liked to marry. However, in the 1930s, as a female teacher if you married, you lost your job.

‘I do regret though not having the love and affection of any one man now that I am in my 70’s but I think it would have been impossible to devote the same attention to a husband, as I could to the girls. Each partner has to be prepared to work for the good of the other.’

In addition to travel, she continued to enjoy swimming, dancing, playing bridge and golf as well as keeping up with the progress of hundreds of Old Heatonians.

Pupils remember

There are many references to Dr Henstock on a Heaton High School Alumni website. Here are just a few:

‘Was always terrified of Dr. Henstock, even when having to partner her in tennis and badminton games.    She came to visit me in Calgary in the 70s and I was still in awe of her.’

‘Doc H (awe inspiring and scary)’ 

‘I entertained Dr. Henstock twice in my home and my kids called her Auntie Constance and my husband thought she was lovely!!’

‘School days weren’t my happiest days, at least not at HHS, but I’ve enjoyed my life since leaving so it didn’t do any lasting damage except, to this day, I can’t let anyone link their arm through mine ‘like a common factory girl’ or eat in the street!!   Dear Dr. E. Constance Henstock!!’

Death and Obituary

Dr Henstock died in hospital, aged 84, on 24 December 1990.

A short obituary was published in the ‘Journal’ with a small portrait photograph alongside it. It seems this would have disappointed Dr Henstock as Avril Deane had reported eight years earlier that she said she would like the full length photograph of her dressed in her headmistress’s gown shown above right to accompany her obituary. We have looked high and low for a better copy to set wrongs to right but haven’t so far been able to find one. Please get in touch if you can oblige.

Can You Help?

If you remember Dr Henstock or especially, have 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

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Arthur Andrews of Heaton History Group.

Sources

Ancestry

British Newspaper Archive

FindMyPast

Heaton High School Alumni website

Heaton Secondary Schools: the beginning

You may be surprised to learn that Heaton Secondary Schools were officially opened  by the Right Honourable Grey of Fallodon, Chancellor of the University of Oxford. Surprised because a visit some weeks later by the King and Queen is often mistakenly referred to as the opening. Here’s what actually happened!

The schools. which had provision for 500 boys and 500 girls,  were erected at a cost of £140,000 and claimed to be the most up to date and best equipped in the country. The opening ceremony on 18 September 1928 was big news and covered in newspapers from Aberdeen and Belfast to Gloucester and beyond.

Quadrangle

The original plan, agreed before World War One, had been to build the school on 25 acres of land adjacent to Ravenswood Road but this project had to be shelved due to the war. Afterwards, a price could not be agreed with the landowner. Compulsory purchase was set in motion but eventually the council decided that this would mean unacceptably long delays so a site of equal size opposite the housing estate being built on the other side of Newton Road was negotiated.

The original buildings of what became Heaton Manor School

The original buildings of what became Heaton Manor School

The layout of the school was said to be reminiscent of a Cambridge college with the design of open loggias around a quadrangle.

HeatonsecWestGateway

Heaton Secondary Schools West Gateway

The classrooms were ‘of the open air type, with sliding partitions along the sunny side, the north side being used for science laboratories, gymnasiums etc.’

HeatonSecOpenAirClass

Heaton Secondary Schools’ ‘open-air classrooms’

There were two schools each with their own hall, dining room, library, labs, a commercial room, staff room and classrooms but the two halls were adjacent and so could be ‘thrown into one to form a great hall 80 feet long by 90 feet wide’. There was a craft room in the boys school and needlework and domestic science rooms in the girls’.

The first head teacher of Heaton Secondary School for Boys as it was first known was Mr F R Barnes, formerly of Barrow in Furness Secondary School for Boys. He started with a staff of 17 graduates and five specialists.  Miss W M Cooper, formerly of Benwell Secondary School, had 13 graduates and four specialists working for her in the girls’ school, Heaton High School as it became known.

As for pupils, initially there would be 291 boys and 414 girls, 455 of which would be free scholarship holders. The remaining pupils were fee-paying. At the outset, their parents were charged £8 a year. The programme for the opening event announced that ‘Mrs Harrison Bell has very kindly endowed a history prize in memory of her husband, the late My J N Bell, who was elected in 1922 Member of Parliament for the east division of the city. The prize will be awarded in the boys’ and the girls’ school in alternate years.’

Viscount Grey

At the ceremony, there were prayers and songs including ‘Land of Hope and Glory‘ and Northumbrian folk song  ‘The Water of Tyne’ and lots of speeches, not only Viscount Grey’s but also those of numerous local politicians, including the Lord Mayor, and presentations by the  architect, H T Wright,  and the contractor, Stanley Miller.

Viscount Grey is better known as the politician, Sir Edward Grey, who was Foreign Secretary from 1905 to 1916, the longest tenure ever. He is particularly remembered for the remark he is said to have made as he contemplated the enormity of the imminent World War One: ‘ The lamps are going out all over Europe. We shall not see them lit again in our time.’

ViscountGrey

Viscount Grey

In his speech in Heaton, Viscount Grey, a Liberal, said ‘The ideal system would be one in which the highest, most advanced and most expensive education was devoted solely to the youthful material of the country who were most capable by their abilities to profit from it. We have not reached that point today. A great deal of the highest and most expensive education in the country is given…. to <those> whose parents are able to pay for it… but… every school like that at Heaton is bringing higher education within the reach of those whose parents cannot pay for it. This is an advance towards a better system’.

And tackling another topic which has resonance today, the former tennis champion and keen fisherman and ornithologist spoke about the variety of entertainment available to young people, reminding the audience that  in his day, there ‘was no electric light, no motor cars, no telephones, no wireless and no moving pictures’. But he reminded his young audience that the things which interested people most through life were those in which they took some active personal part. ‘Take part in games, rather than be mere spectators’ he urged. ‘It will give you more pleasure than all the other entertainments that come to you without trouble.’

Live Radio

For any locals lucky enough to have one, the whole ceremony was actually broadcast on the wireless from 3:00pm until 4:30pm. Radio station 5NO had been broadcasting from Newcastle since 1922 and its signals could reach up to about 20 miles. With broadcasting still in its infancy, many newspaper listings came with detailed technical instructions on what to do if the signal was lost: radio was still far from being a mass medium but it was catching on fast and those early local listings make fascinating reading. You can view them here.

Royal Visit

Just over three weeks later, 23,000 pupils from all over Newcastle were invited to Heaton for the visit of King George V and Queen Mary to the school before the royal couple went on to open the new Tyne Bridge. And it’s this historic event which many people assume to have been the official opening. It was certainly a momentous occasion – and an excuse for more speeches!

King and Queen open Heaton Secondary Schools, 1928

King and Queen open Heaton Secondary Schools, 1928

‘Their majesties will drive round the school grounds where 23,000 children of the city will be assembled and on entering the school hall, the loyal address from the City of Newcastle will be presented by the Lord Mayor. Numerous public representatives will be presented to their Majesties, who will be asked to receive gifts from scholars.’

There were also displays of physical drills and country dancing by pupils.

HeatonSecRoyalvisit

Every school pupil present was given a commemorative booklet which included a photograph of the new school at the back but which was mainly about the opening of the new bridge.

‘To the boys and girls for whom these words are written, who have just begun their passage on the bridge of life, and who will go to and fro on the bridges of the Tyne, there is the lofty call to carry forward to future generations the progress which has brought them their own proud inheritance.’

A bouquet was said to have been presented to the Queen by the head girl and a book to the King by the head boy.

This made a lifelong impression on pupil Olive Renwick (nee Topping), who was 12 years old at the time, but at the age of 98 recalled;

We were all gathered in the hall and Miss Cooper, the head teacher, told us that the queen would be presented with a “bookie”. What on earth’s a bookie, I wondered. Only later did I realise she meant a bouquet!’

Olive (middle) & friends in Heaton High uniform, late 1920s

Olive (middle) & friends in Heaton High uniform, late 1920s

Again the event was broadcast on the wireless. A full day’s programming began at 10:50am with the ‘Arrival of the royal party at Heaton Secondary Schools’. And the excitement of arrival of the king and queen’s carriage pulled by four white ponies in front of thousands of handkerchief waving school children (along with hair raising footage of workers on the still incomplete Tyne Bridge) was captured on film by Pathe News.   

And it shows a girl presenting a book (rather than ‘a bookie’) to the royal party. A last minute change of plan or an extra for the cameras?

After World War 2, the boys’ schools was renamed Heaton Grammar School and the girls’ Heaton High School. The two schools merged in September 1967 to form Heaton Comprehensive School. In 1983, this school merged with Manor Park School on Benton Road to form Heaton Manor. And in 2004, after the building of the new school on the Jesmond Park site, the Benton Park site closed to make way for housing.

The next instalment of ninety years of school history will have to wait for another day.

Can You Help?

If you have memories or photos of any of the above schools or know more about notable teachers or pupils, 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 Brian Hedley for a copy of the official opening programme and the family of Olive Renwick for the souvenir of the royal visit. Thank you also to Muriel La Tour (nee Abernethy) for correcting the subsequent names of the schools.

Sources

British Newspaper Archives

Heaton Secondary Schools: official opening Sept 18th 1928 programme

Visit of their majesties King George V and Queen Mary, October 1928 (souvenir booklet)

Miscellaneous online sources

 

The Night Bombs Rained on Heaton

On Friday 25 – Saturday 26 April 1941, Newcastle endured one of its worst nights of the Second World War, with terrible consequences in Heaton. The area had suffered bomb damage before and would again, as the Germans targeted railways, factories and shipyards – but this was a night like no other.

Earlier in the evening, incendiary bombs had fallen around the Heaton Secondary Schools in High Heaton and damaged properties on Stephenson Road, Horsley Road and Weldon Crescent. Two had fallen onto the eaves of the Corner House Hotel, where civilians scaled a drainpipe and threw them to the ground to be extinguished with sand.

The Lyric Cinema (now the People’s Theatre) was also hit. And on Jesmond Park East, two houses ‘Denehurst‘ and ‘Wyncote’ (which was occupied by the military at the time) suffered fire and water damage. There was other minor damage right across the east of Newcastle. But none of these episodes, as terrifying as they were to those in the vicinity, prepared the people of Heaton for what came next.

Devastation

At 10.20pm a high explosive device seriously damaged numbers 20 and 22 Cheltenham Terrace. Two people were seriously injured at number 20 and were taken to First Aid post Number 6. Another ten people were treated at the scene. Simultaneously, incendiary bombs  hit the nearby Heaton Electric cinema.

Ten minutes later, another high explosive completely demolished numbers 4 and 6 Cheltenham Terrace. Two bodies were recovered before rescuers had to give up for the night due to the threat of the gable end collapsing. There was considered to be no chance of any survivors.

And at the same time, a parachute mine fell on the adjoining Guildford Place, demolishing several houses and causing severe damage to many more. Although water was immediately sprayed over the area, a fractured gas main caught fire.

 

Bomb damage on Guildford Place

Bomb damage on Guildford Place

And still the raid continued. A high explosive device made a huge crater at the junction of Algernon and Shields Roads, with three men injured when another gas main exploded. And nearby a gents’ lavatory at the junction of Shields Road and Union Road was completely destroyed. Yet another bomb fell on the main walk of Heaton Park but here only greenhouse windows were broken.

This  detail from a German map of Tyneside, dating from 1941, illustrates how vulnerable Heaton and, in particular Guildford Place and Cheltenham Terrace were, squeezed as they were between key Nazi targets, marked in red, purple and black.

German map of Heaton, 1941

German map of Heaton, 1941

You can see the full map on the Library of Congress website.

Heaton History Group member, Ian Clough, remembers that his father, who even then kept the sweetshop that still bears the family name, was one of the many overstretched emergency workers and volunteers on duty. He was a volunteer fireman and had to pass his own bomb-damaged shop to help others.

When we asked Ian if he could find out more about that awful night, he interviewed three survivors of the Guildford Place / Cheltenham Terrace tragedy. Here are their accounts:

Muriel’s story

‘I was at home with my parents Arthur and Elizabeth and Uncle George Shaw, Dad’s younger brother, at number 14 Cheltenham Terrace, together with two friends. We were having supper when the air raid siren sounded at approximately 9pm.

Muriel Shaw

Muriel Shaw

For some strange reason this was usually a cue for my mother to see that everything was tidy and that the dishes were washed. Father declared ‘That’s close’ and, after donning his black greatcoat, went upstairs to see if he could get sight of anything from the landing window. There was a whoosh sound initially, then a silence accompanied by a tangible pressure and then the force struck home – literally; father was propelled down the stairs without a button remaining on his coat.

The back of our house had been completely blown off. This was in the direction of the explosion so it was mainly through a vacuum effect. Father had erected stout doors to cover our dining room windows to comply with the blackout regulations and they may have offered protection from any flying debris from outside. I first realised that I was a victim in all that was happening when a wavering door in its frame threatened to fall on me but just missed. It gave way to a shower of bricks falling from upstairs which left lasting scars on my legs. Mother and I were showered with plaster dust and it seemed to take many weeks of hair washes to finally remove all of its traces. Strange things had happened; a teapot that was on the table was now on the mantelshelf in one piece. The piano was no longer an upright one as it had somersaulted over the settee and was now upside down and resting on a completely unharmed china cabinet with contents intact.

Dad’s other brothers also lived with us but were out at the time. Thomas was an air raid warden and William was a lay preacher and had been sick visiting. It wasn’t until the next day that we were told that both of them had been killed. At 4 Cheltenham Terrace, the Robson family of four had perished.

Guildford Place, the one-sided street that was back to back with us and overlooked the railway had taken a direct hit. Most of the occupants of numbers 8 through to 15 were killed. The Luftwaffe was targeting the marshalling yards at Heaton Junction but released their payload prematurely while following the line of the railway.

Our house was now uninhabitable but because the resources of the Council were overstretched we had to find temporary accommodation in Osborne Road, Jesmond. This happened immediately and so, what with that and working, I had little chance to witness the horrors that the authorities had to endure in recovering and identifying bodies and demolishing what was left of the houses.

After a year we moved back into our house (which by now was renumbered as 18). A gas pipe had burst in the blast and we were greeted by a bill for all that had leaked. Initially there was still scaffolding inside the house and as compensation was so inadequate we had to clear the mess and clean everything out ourselves. When we asked for wallpaper, which was in short supply, we were given enough to cover one wall. Our property now had become the gable end of one row of surviving terrace houses as the line of neighbouring homes on either side of us were deemed irreparable and pulled down.

On the night of the air raid my brother, Albert ,was away serving in the Army and brother Arthur was on fire watch for his firm on the Quayside. The devastation and annihilation of his neighbours prompted Arthur to join the R.A.F. and become a pilot but that, as they say, is another story.’

Ian discovered that the two friends who were having supper with Muriel and her family were Nell and her mother.

Nell’s story

Mother and I were sitting at the table after being invited to supper by Muriel and her family when suddenly we found ourselves in this nightmare situation. Both of us were being propelled backwards by the blast of an enormous explosion and then the ceiling came down on top of us. There was nothing we could do but lie there until the wardens came and dug us out. It is funny how strange things stick in your mind but as we were assisted out of the house via the hallway a musical jug was happily giving us a rendition of ‘On Ilkley Moor Ba Tat’.

Nell and her mother

Nell and her mother

Skirting around all of the amassed rubble that was once people’s homes we were taken to an air raid shelter in the cellar of Charlie Young, the butcher, on Heaton Road. When the ‘all clear’ was sounded, we discovered, through her covering of ceiling plaster, that mother’s face was covered in blood. Firstly she was taken to a first aid post at Chillingham Road baths and put on a stretcher. Then we both got into an ambulance and were turned back from many a hospital until mother was eventually admitted to the Eye Infirmary.

We asked a local policeman if he would get a message to my Uncle Jack who was also in the police and lived in the west end. Uncle took me in and the following day I realised that our handbags and other belongings had been left behind at Cheltenham Terrace. Walking along Heaton Road to see if I could retrieve them, I cannot recall how many people approached me with the same words; ‘I thought you were dead!’ Mother had lost the use of her left eye and had to wear a patch for the rest of her life and we had suffered a most traumatic experience. Yet we were the fortunate ones as for 45 members of those neighbouring families that night was to be their last.

Footnote 1 I believe that what Mr Shaw, Muriel and Arthur’s father, saw from his vantage point was something that at first looked like a large balloon which, on reflection, was a land mine on a parachute, floating down.

Footnote 2 I went to Heaton High School in the 1930s and one of my subjects was German so we were invited to meet and socialise with a group of German schoolchildren who were on a school visit hosted by Newcastle Council. They were given a list of Newcastle’s favourite tourist attractions and maps of Newcastle and the transport system to help them to get about. Many of us took up the offer of being pen pals and one girl even went on a visit to the home of one of the students and came back full of what she had been told of how Adolf Hitler was going to be such a wonderful leader of the German nation. When my pen pal remarked that he had heard that Newcastle had a large and important railway station and asked to be sent details, my dad told me not to write to him anymore. It was not long after that that we were at war with Germany. We then wondered if there had been something sinister behind the visit and were the children and their school teachers, innocently or otherwise, sent over on more than just a cultural mission.

Arthur’s story

I was on fire watch for my firm of importers at No14 Wharf on the Quayside when the air raid sirens started wailing and we were on full alert. I heard the noise of bombs exploding, repeatedly exploding, and I thought to myself ‘Somebody’s got it.’ I had a rough idea of the direction of the hits but nothing prepared me for the spectacle of devastation I was to see.

It was 9am, and daylight, as I approached Guildford Place; the one-sided terraced street overlooking the railway. Little was left of the houses nearest to Heaton Road and my heart raced as I hurried up to the corner of my own street Cheltenham Terrace. The first thing that greeted me was a ribbon strung across the road at the entrance to my street with a policeman on duty to prevent any looting. He stopped me going any further and I explained that I lived here. Well, I had lived here!

I was in a state of shock – astounded at what was all around me. I’m still vague as to how I found my family but they certainly weren’t there anymore. Muriel worked as secretary to the manager of Bitulac Ltd and he offered us temporary accommodation in his home on Osborne Road. Dad found us a house to rent on Chillingham Road and he borrowed a van to collect some of what was left of our furniture. When loaded up I got in the cab and father said ‘Have you locked the front door, son?’ He had to smile when I said ‘What’s the use of that, man? We’ve got no wall on the back of our house!’ We lived in Chillingham Road until our house was repaired.

Muriel and I were young and felt that we had to fulfil our duty to the nation. Muriel trained as a nurse and, at one time, she worked in a hospital where wounded soldiers were coming back from France. I had made my mind up that I wanted to be a pilot and joined the RAF.

Arthur Shaw

Arthur Shaw

The initial training procedure would astound anyone now. We were introduced to a de Havilland Tiger Moth and, within eight hours, were flying solo. The instructor would watch us from the ground – take off, fly around and then land. If you couldn’t do it you were no longer a pilot.

Then it was off to Canada to gain our proficiency. Why Canada? Well, most of the British airfields were being used for war operations and could not be spared for pilot training. We were taught navigation and how to read approaching weather conditions and understand the various cloud formations. We would normally then fly twin engine planes – Airspeed Oxfords in particular. One of the most difficult things to master was flying in formation and then banking to left or right. The outer pilots had to increase their speed slightly just to keep in line. It was important to be taught ground recognition and the open spaces of Canada did not challenge us enough and we had to come back home over towns and cities to gain experience in that skill.

I served abroad for a while and was then privileged to be asked to train as a flying instructor and was sent just over the Northumbrian border into Scotland for that. It was then my job to pass on my knowledge to the new recruits – young lads who were then sent out on dangerous missions where the mortality rate was so high.

When the war was over we queued up for our civvies (civilian clothes) it was almost a case of one size fits all and it did feel strange to be out of uniform. But we had done our bit and were thankful that we were the lucky ones – lucky to still be alive.

(You can read about Arthur’s later contribution to Heaton’s history here )

Roll of Honour

Bodies were still being recovered five days later. The final death toll was reported to be 46 with several bodies still unidentified. Those which remained unidentified were buried in a common grave in Heaton Cemetery.

As you can see from the following list, the ages of the known victims ranged from 9 weeks to 77 years and in several houses whole families died together.

William Aiken aged 43

Ethel Mary Airey, aged 23

Amy Angus 17

Edna Jane Angus 28

Hannah Angus 49

Ian Angus 13

Maureen Angus 15

Robert Nixon Angus 29

Mary Elizabeth Glass Balmer 17

William Blenkinsop 38

John McKnight Erskine 20

James Falcus 45

Albert George Fuller 37

Gordon W T Gardner 25

Elizabeth Glass 53

Edith Rosina Hagon 8

Joan Thompson Hagon 30

Joyce Hagon 16

Raymond Hagon 7

Isabella Harrison 77

William Henry Hoggett 39

Mary Jane Moffit 62

Archibold Taylor Munro 29

Ethel Mary Park 60

Francis Park 58

Mavis Park 31

Alice Jane Reed 64

Joseph Dixon Reed 68

Joseph Lancelot Reed 9 weeks

Eliza Margaret Robson 70

Ella Mildred Robson 43

Evelyn Robson 38

James Kenneth Robson 19

William Robson 72

Thomas Shaw 48

William Atkinson Shaw 40

Robert Smith 27

Edwin Snowdon 17

Henry Snowdon 12

Nora Snowdon 46

Victor Snowdon 48

Charles Thomas Thompson 62

David Harkus Venus 27

Alexander Henry White 54

Blanche White 43

Thank you

Roy Ripley and Brian Pears, whose website is an amazing resource for anyone researching the WW2 home front in the north east;

Heaton History Group member, Julia McLaren, who drew our attention to the German map of Tyneside.

Can you help?

if you know more about the night of 25-26 April 1941 or have memories, family stories or photographs of Heaton during WW2 to share, we’d love to hear from you. Either write directly to this website, by clicking on the link immediately below the title of this article or email the secretary of Heaton History Group, Chris Jackson