‘NEWCASTLE DOCTOR ROCKS CHEMICAL WORLD WITH YELLOW POWDER’ screamed ‘The Journal’ headline. It went on to say that the doctor had ‘done something which was thought to be impossible…. As a result, chemical books will have to be rewritten.’ But who was the ‘doctor’ and why have most of us never heard of him?
Neil Bartlett was born on 15 September 1932 at The Gables, Elswick Road, formerly a branch of the Princess Mary but by then an independent maternity hospital. His childhood home, however, was in in the east end of Newcastle.
Norman, Neil’s father, was born in Walker in 1898 of Scottish parents. In his younger days, he worked as a shipwright. He fought and was apparently gassed in the first world war and suffered from ill health for the rest of his comparatively short life. Norman’s military records don’t survive but what does is a shipping record showing that, in September 1922, describing himself as a ‘shipwright’, he set sail for the USA, giving his final destination as Philadelphia. We don’t know how long he stayed but by 1928, he was back in Newcastle and marrying Ann Willins Voak.
Ann was born in Byker in 1901. Her original surname was Vock. The place of birth of her father, William, is recorded on the 1901 census as ‘Heligoland’ and his status ‘British subject’. Between 1807 and 1890, this small island off the coast of Germany, was British owned. It had been captured from Denmark during the Napoloeonic wars and only ceded to Germany as part of a treaty in which Britain secured strategic territory in East Africa. The fact that, despite William being a British subject settled in Newcastle and married to a local woman, life became uncomfortable around the time of World War 1 is evidenced by the fact that Ann changed her surname to Voak, thought to sound less German.
With work as a shipwright on Tyneside difficult for Norman to find during the recession, the Bartletts acquired and ran a grocery and confectioner’s shop, now demolished, in Brinkburn Street. Apart from a brief period during the second world war when Neil and his brother were evacuated, the Bartletts lived in Byker throughout Neil’s childhood.
After her husband died in 1944, aged only 46, Ann continued to run the shop in order to support the family. According to Neil, she was a very determined woman with an excellent head for business who ensured that the family was never in financial difficulties and she encouraged her children also to work hard and be ambitious.
Neil, a bright boy, passed his eleven plus to secure a place at Heaton Secondary School for Boys (renamed Heaton Grammar after the war), which he later described as ‘the most fortunate event in my life’. He remembered that there was a heavy emphasis on the sciences and that, from the outset, he was drawn to chemistry. One of his formative memories was of an experiment conducted in class when he was 12 years old in which he mixed a solution of colourless aqueous ammonia with blue copper sulphate in water to produce ‘beautiful well-formed crystals’. ‘From that moment I was hooked’ he wrote later, and he longed to know why the transformation took place. His future career direction had already been determined.
Neil also recalled that he and his brother made extra pocket money by selling ice cream. With the encouragement of his mother, he spent his share of the proceeds equipping a makeshift laboratory at home. It is interesting to note that fluorine, which is used in refrigeration, was to become the focus of Neil’s research a decade or more later.
His original plan was to become a biochemist and so he obtained a scholarship to study natural products chemistry at Kings College in Newcastle, then part of the University of Durham. While he was there, his mother bought a newly built house at 1 Winchcombe Place in High Heaton, which Neil called home for six years.
He graduated in 1954 but by this time, he had realised that his strengths lay with inorganic chemistry and it was in this field that he obtained his PhD at the same institution in 1958. By the time he obtained his doctorate, he was married to Christina Cross of Guisborough. Neil then spent a brief period teaching at The Duke’s School in Alnwick before accepting a research position in fluorine chemistry at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver.
Not so inert
Scientists had always believed that the so-called noble or inert elements: helium, neon, argon, krypton, xenon and radon, all gases at room temperature, were unable to react with any other substances. Their inertness had become a basic tenet of chemistry, published in textbooks and taught in classrooms and lecture halls throughout the world.
A few had questioned this scientific orthodoxy. They included German physicist, Walter Kossel, and the American Nobel-prize winning chemist, Linus Pauling, who had both predicted that highly reactive atoms such as those of fluorine might form compounds with xenon, the heaviest of the noble elements.
During his early days at UBC, while experimenting with fluorine and platinum, Bartlett had accidentally produced a deep-red solid, the exact chemical composition of which was, at first, a mystery. Eventually, he and his research student, Derek Lohmann, realise that the fluorine and platinum had reacted with oxygen. What was unusual was that the compound contained oxygen in the form of positively charged ions, although usually oxygen has a net negative charge. Bartlett realised that the platinum and fluorine component was a more powerful oxidising agent even than oxygen and theorised that it might also be able to oxidise xenon and so show that this so called inert gas wasn’t necessarily always so.
By March 1962, Bartlett had designed a simple experiment. He set up a glass apparatus containing the platinum fluorine compound, a red gas, in one container and xenon, a colourless gas, in an adjoining container separated by a seal. This is what happened next in his own words:
‘Because my co-workers at that time (23 March 1962) were still not sufficiently experienced to help me with the glass blowing and the preparation and purification of platinum hexafluoride necessary for the experiment, I was not ready to carry it out until about 7.00pm on that Friday. When I broke the seal between the red platinum hexafluoride gas and the colourless xenon gas, there was an immediate interaction, causing an orange-yellow solid to precipitate. At once I tried to find someone with whom to share the exciting finding but it appeared that everyone had left for dinner!’
The reaction took place at room temperature ‘in the twinkling of an eye’ and was, according to Bartlett, ‘extraordinarily exhilarating’. Neil Bartlett was only 29 years old.
It was then that the really hard work began. Bartlett was sure that he had disproved what was then considered to be a fundamental law of nature but the scientific community was sceptical. Nevertheless, the compound was soon formally identified as xenon hexafluoroplatinate, the world’s first noble gas compound. With one simple experiment, an entirely new field, noble gas chemistry, had been launched.
Now, there are many known compounds, for which applications have been found in medicine, including eye-surgery and cancer treatments; mining; space travel and manufacturing.
Early the following year, Neil Bartlett was in the news again. He and his graduate student were injured following a laboratory explosion. According to Bartlett, as they both took off their glasses to get a better look at what they thought might be the first crystals of xenon difluoride, the compound exploded. Both men spent around four weeks in hospital. Bartlett was left with damaged vision and glass was still being removed from his eye 27 years later.
Despite the momentous discovery he made so early in his career, Bartlett’s career certainly didn’t tail off.
He stayed at the UBC for another four years before becoming professor of chemistry at Princeton University, alongside a position as a scientist at Bell Telephone Laboratories. He later said that, in retrospect, the move to the east coast of America was a mistake. He much preferred the lifestyle and climate of the west and, in 1969, he joined the University of California, Berkeley, where he stayed until his retirement. In the UK, he also served as Brotherton professor at the University of Leeds.
Bartlett is also known in the world of chemistry for his work on the stabilisation of unusually high oxidisation states of elements; his contributions towards understanding thermodynamic, structural and bonding considerations of chemical reactions; he developed novel synthetic approaches; and he discovered and characterised many new fluorine compounds and produced many new metallic graphite compounds.
Beyond the Lab
Neil and Christine had three sons and one daughter and they continued to live in California after Neil’s retirement in 1993. Neil became a naturalised US citizen in 2000. His outside interests included water colour painting, gardening and ‘walking in high country’. He died on 5 August 2008.
Professor Neil Bartlett’s contribution to science was recognised all over the world by honorary degrees and prizes. There are too many to list here but they include:
1962 The Corday-Morgan Medal and Prize awarded by the Chemical Society (now Royal Society of Chemistry) for that year’s most meritorious contribution to experimental chemistry;
1965 A Research Corporation for Scientific Advancement’s plaque and prize for his outstanding contribution to science;
1976 The Welch Award in Chemistry, given to encourage and reward chemical research for the benefit of mankind and one of the largest and most prestigious in chemistry;
1981 Honorary Doctor of Science, Newcastle University;
1989 The American Chemical Society Award for Distinguished Service in the Advancement of Inorganic Chemistry;
1989 Linus Pauling Award Medal of the American Chemical Society ‘A nominee shall have made outstanding contributions to chemistry that have merited national and international recognition’;
2002 The Davy Medal awarded by the Royal Society ‘for an outstandingly important recent discovery in any branch of chemistry;
2006 His laboratory at UBC in Vancouver was dedicated an International Historic Chemical Landmark by the American Chemical Society.
In fact almost the only prize missing from Professor Bartlett’s impressive CV was a Nobel Prize. Many people are astounded by his omission.
In his obituary in ‘Nature’, he was described by fellow chemist, Karl O Christe as ‘one of the foremost chemists of the twentieth century’. His obituary writer continued ‘perhaps because of his modesty and lack of interest in lobbying for honours, he did not receive the Nobel Prize in Chemistry – which, in my opinion, and those of many of his peers, was clearly deserved.’
Christe goes on to say ‘…perhaps his most memorable traits were his humbleness, friendliness, loyalty and concern for others: Neil Bartlett was not only a brilliant scholar but a true gentleman.’
Bartlett was nominated for the Nobel prize every year between 1963 and 1970: he received one nomination in 1963, four in 1964, nine in 1965, six in 1966, six in 1967, three in 1968, ten in 1969 and six in 1970, 45 in total.
István Hargittai in a chapter entitled ‘Who did not win?’ in his book ‘The Road to Stockholm’ wrote ‘Significantly, many chemists today assume that Bartlett has won a Nobel Prize.’
He cites ‘the most spectacular misconception’ on the first page of the first chapter of Primo Levi’s ‘The Periodic Table’ (named by the Royal Institution of Great Britain as ‘the best science book ever’ ). It reads as follows:
‘As late as 1962 a diligent chemist after long and ingenious efforts succeeded in forcing the Alien (xenon) to combine fleetingly with extremely avid and lively fluorine, and the feat seemed so extraordinary that he was given the Nobel Prize’.
But it isn’t just the Nobel Prize. The ‘Oxford Dictionary of National Biography’ which is described as ‘the national record of over 60,000 men and women who shaped the history of the British Isles and of Britons worldwide, from the earliest times to the 21st century’ issued a print update including deaths up to December 2008. Professor Neil Bartlett does not appear. And, more mystifyingly still, he still doesn’t appear in the online index.
There is no commemorative plaque at his High Heaton home and he doesn’t appear on NewcastleGatehead’s Local Heroes trail, where physicist, Professor Peter Higgs, and geneticist, Professor John Burn, are the only scientists with a plaque on the Quayside.
But it’s not too late for Heaton History Group to finally give ex Heaton Grammar pupil and former High Heaton resident, Professor Neil Bartlett, a man with noble qualities, if not a Nobel prize, at least the local recognition he deserves.
Can You Help?
If you know more about Neil Bartlett or have photos or memories 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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Researched and written by Chris Jackson with additional material by Karl Cain, both of Heaton History Group.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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* 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’.
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.’
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.
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.
‘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
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 email@example.com
It’s late June 2021 and Team GB for the 2020 Summer Olympics has just been announced. Such are the strange times we’re living through. But amidst ongoing uncertainty about the next games, let’s celebrate Heaton’s distinguished past Olympians.
No 1 Harry Askew
Harry represented Great Britain in the long jump at the 1948 London Summer Olympics.
Born in Barrow-in-Furness on 31 December 1917, he excelled in sports at school, particularly as a sprinter, only moving to long jump while at Cambridge University. Pre-war, he won the 1937 Oxbridge Sports long jump and 2 years later the UAU title and was second in the AAA Championships. The war interrupted Harry’s career. He spent six years in the army with the Royal Corps of Signals, achieving the rank of captain. After the war, he moved to Jersey to teach.
The Olympic champion and world record holder in the long jump was famously the great Jesse Owens, who had won 4 gold medals in Berlin in 1936. Because of World War 2, it was to be 12 years before the next games and so the American didn’t get to defend his title. Harry was one of 21 competitors to take part in the qualifying round on 31 July 1948 and comfortably made the final in 6th place with a jump of 7.14. He was 9th in the final with a jump of 6.935m. The medal winners were all from the USA, the winner, Willie Steele, achieving 7.825.
Harry’s son, Roger, told us that Harry stayed in Hammersmith during the games and travelled to White City, where the athletics took place, by bus, even on the day he was competing.
Askew went on to teach and coach in Essex. He improved his personal best to 7.29m in 1949 and in 1950 won the AAA title, the British championship, aged 32. In 1958, the Askew family moved north in order that Harry could take up a position as head of Heaton Grammar School, which is what makes his name so familiar to many older Heatonians. Despite being a vociferous opponent of comprehensive education, he was appointed head of Heaton School, Heaton’s new coeducational comprehensive in 1967.
Askew achieved more national and even international fame than for his Olympic achievements in 1976 when his controversial response to the newly enacted Equal Opportunities Act was to announce that, henceforward, girls would be subject to corporal punishment on the same basis as boys ie liable to receive it. Parents and pupils organised a protest and alerted the media. There was damage to the school, assaults, expulsions, court cases.
The dust settled, however, and Harry Askew eventually retired in 1979 after 21 years in post. On his retirement he told the ‘Journal’. ‘Do you know, I still have my jumping shoes, my England vest and tracksuit? I couldn’t bear to part with them, although today I can hardly get my feet off the ground unless it’s to put them up in front of the television set!’
Harry Askew and his wife moved south on his retirement to be closer to family. He was looking forward to having more time for his passion for jazz music – he was a talented pianist – and for gardening. He died on 31 October 1986, aged 68.
No 2 Alan Lillington
Alan represented Great Britain in the 100m at the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki.
Born in South Shields on 4 September 1932, Alan grew up in Heaton and attended Heaton Grammar. His mother and father were steward and stewardess of Heaton Liberal Club at 25 Heaton Road, the building with the stone lion above the bay window. He continued to live there until he married local girl, Eileen Murray, in 1955. After their marriage, the couple lived with Eileen’s family at 14 Cloverdale Gardens, High Heaton.
Alan was an all round sportsman and is reported to have played for Newcastle United as a junior as well as rugby for Northern. The first mention we have found of him in the local press, however, was in August 1949 when the ‘Evening Chronicle’ reported that the 16 year old Elswick Harrier, already the champion at 100 yards, had been set to miss competing for the Northumberland and Durham 220 yards title at Cowgate because of plans for a holiday in Portsmouth. He and a friend had seats booked on the night bus departing at 7.15 until his father stepped in with a more costly rail ticket, which left three hours later, allowing him to race earlier in the evening. In the article, Lillington was described as a ‘young sprint star’. The following July he won the All England Schools’ Silver Jubilee Intercounty AA championships in a time of 10 seconds dead and was in the victorious 440 yards relay team too. And in August he won the junior 100 yards at White City, London.
By 1952, Olympic year, Lillington, now a medical student at Durham University, was second only to Trinidad-born Emmanuel McDonald Bailey, the joint 100m world record holder, in the senior AAA Championship and so was deservedly selected for Helsinki, aged 19, as the ‘baby’ of the team.
Helsinki had originally been chosen to replace Tokyo in 1940 after Japan announced two years before that it would be unable to host the games because of the ongoing Second Sino-Japanese War. In the event, of course, the 1940 games were cancelled because of World War 2. London, which had been selected for the also cancelled 1944 event, was awarded the first games after the war with Helsinki getting its turn four years later.
None of the medallists from 1948 were competing in the 100m this time round and so McDonald Bailey, who finished 6th in London was favourite along with American, Art Bragg, and Jamaica’s Herb McKenley.
Young Alan Lillington was drawn in the first heat on 20 July, from which he qualified in second place behind Australia’s John Treloar, but in the quarter finals, he finished in 6th and last place to Lindy Remigino of the USA and so failed to qualify for the semi final or final. It was nevertheless a magnificent feat for a teenager.
The final on 21 July was one of the closest races imaginable with all six runners separated by only 0.12 seconds, hand-timed. A photograph showed Lindy Remigino to have finished first, Herb McKenley second with GB’s McDonald Bailey in bronze medal position.
Much later, Alan said the games brought back fond memories but that he was sorry that Great Britain recorded its lowest medal total with ‘its only gold medal winner a horse!’ (In fact, three horses and their riders in the team show jumping).
After the Olympics, Lillington continued to perform at a high level. He represented England in the 1954 British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Vancouver.
He remembered celebrating his 21st birthday at an event in Stockholm where he was carried around the room on the stroke of midnight by his mentor, Harold Abrahams (1924 Olympic Champion, whose story was told in ‘Chariots of Fire’) and Chris Chataway (5,000m finalist in Helsinki, pacer for Roger Bannister’s 4 minute mile and, later, minister in the Heath government).
But soon, Alan Lillington’s mentions in the press were mainly in connection with his work as a doctor and for charity. He worked at Newcastle’s RVI and General before becoming a consultant paediatrician in Sunderland. He was also a director of St Benedict’s Hospice in Sunderland, as well as a committed Freemason, and he helped set up Sunderland Sports Council.
Lillington was appointed a Deputy Lord Lieutenant for Tyne and Wear and, in 1995, Sheriff. He was awarded the MBE for services to the community in Wearside in 2006.
Alan and Eileen’s son, Peter, played club rugby for Harlequins and toured New Zealand with Scotland in 1981.
No 3 Maurice Benn
Maurice represented Great Britain in the 1500m at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City.
Born in Wallsend on 9 November 1946, Maurice was a member of Heaton Harriers. The first mention of him we have found in the press so far was on 7 January 1966 when the ‘Evening Chronicle’ reported:
‘Heaton’s boys proved their worth by finishing second team on Boxing Day and with Dick Balding, Joe Hawes and Maurice Benn in their senior line up, the ‘East Enders’ if they can find a couple of useful youths, must be among the medals again on Saturday.’
A month later, the future Olympian was referred to as having the best time for a youth over a Team Valley cross-country course and was expected to take his place in Heaton Harriers’ senior team in the race for the Royal Corps of Signals (coincidentally Harry Askew’s old regiment) Trophy over the same course.
But it wasn’t until 3 June 1968 that Maurice came to national attention during the inter-county finals at London’s White City. The Birmingham Post summed up the media’s surprise:
‘Perhaps the biggest shock of all was the entry of 21 year old Maurice Benn into the ranks of Britain’s sub-four-minute milers. An “unknown” from the north east, Benn had a previous best of 04:04.8 and he beat the established international, John Whetton of Nottinghamshire into third place.’
Benn’s time was 03:59.9. He was the first north-east athlete to achieve this feat. It transpired that he had recently teamed up with north-east based national coach, Peter Harper, after being coached for the previous two years by letter by the AAA’s travelling coach, who was based in Glasgow. No Zoom back then!
And so on 5 August 1968, Maurice Benn of Heaton Harriers, received a letter signed by Prince Philip inviting him to compete in the games. With the times he had achieved that summer, Benn’s selection was certainly merited but Maurice himself later said that he had really gone to Mexico for the experience. The Birmingham Post called his selection ‘controversial’.
Maurice struggled in the altitude of Mexico City. As he later recalled ‘I shouldn’t have gone to Mexico. I had a history of anaemia and didn’t acclimatise well… I trained with Ron Hill and I was panting like an old bloke’.
The reigning champion was New Zealander, Peter Snell, who had won in Tokyo four years earlier with a time of 3:38.1, but he wasn’t competing in Mexico. Here, the favourite was the USA’s Jim Ryun, the world record holder. Maurice was drawn in the first heat on 18 October along with Ryun and, although the Heaton Harrier achieved a time of 3:56.43, a personal best, it was well behind the qualifiers. Ryun went onto win his semifinal ahead of Kenyan, Kip Keino, but in the final Keino, who was paced by his compatriot, Ben Jipcho, won gold in an Olympic record time. John Whetton, beaten by Maurice at sea level, just a few months earlier, was a creditable 5th.
After the games, Benn went to study in the USA where, representing the University of Nevada, he won the USA National Collegiate cross-country championship. The university won the team prize as well and they were welcomed home in style with banners, a motor-cavalcade and television interview. It was said to be the first national victory by any Nevada team at any time in any sport – and led by a former Heaton Harrier. But anaemia continued to dog him in the states – Nevada is at altitude too.
By 1970, Benn was back in Britain but had moved away from the north-east. He continued running for Cambridge Harriers. The following year he ‘surprisingly won the Southern Counties 10,000m’ in cold and blustery conditions with a ‘staggering time of 28:53:08, which is top international standard’ but by the time of the 1972 games his training had become spasmodic, his form had dipped and he was out of contention for Olympic selection.
Maurice went on to work as a finance worker for British Rail in London, where he represented Woodford Green athletics club for many years. He has a permanent place in the pantheon of Heaton sport.
No 4 Derek Talbot
Derek Talbot represented Great Britain at badminton at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich.
Born in Newcastle in 1947, Derek grew up on Etherstone Avenue in High Heaton and attended Heaton Grammar, where he first played badminton. He went on to study metallurgy at Newcastle University, where, after doing well with the British Universities’ badminton team, he was spotted by the England selectors. He then moved to London for five years to establish himself in the sport.
Talbot’s first major title was Commonwealth Games mixed doubles gold with Margaret Boxall in Edinburgh in 1970 and in April 1972, he again won mixed gold with Gillian Gilks and bronze with fellow Heatonian, Elliot Stuart, at the European Badminton Championships in Sweden.
Badminton had been chosen as a demonstration sport for the 1972 Olympics so medals did not count in official tables. The intention was to promote to a global audience a sport which was, and is, very big in some parts of the world but unknown, at least as a spectator sport, in others. Some years later, Talbot summed up the different levels of fame top players enjoyed in different countries:
‘In many parts of the far east, we were recognised in the streets and invited to meet presidents in their palaces. But I could always come back to Newcastle and be inconspicuous, which I prefer. So I got the best of both worlds’.
The demonstration sports rules allowed for doubles partners of mixed nationality and the medals awarded were slightly smaller replicas of the official ones. The entire tournament took place on a single day, 4 September.
Derek competed in the men’s doubles, partnered again by fellow Heaton Grammar old boy, Elliot Stuart. They beat a German / Canadian pairing in the1st round before losing to the eventual winners, Indonesians Ade Chandra and Christian Hadanata, in the semi-finals. Thus they were bronze medallists.
In the mixed doubles, he again partnered fellow Britain, Gillian Gilks, one of the most decorated British badminton players of all time. The pair beat Japanese, West German and Danish opponents to win gold.
The Munich Olympics are remembered, of course, for the events of 5-6 September. Eight members of a Palestinian terrorist group, Black September, took nine members of the Israeli Olympic team hostage, killing two of them. Five terrorists and a German police officer were also killed during a rescue attempt.
Speaking some years later, Talbot said that he witnessed the start of the incident first hand:
‘I went out on the town celebrating and came back at 4.00am to what seemed like fireworks just 20 yards away. I walked right past and thought how inconsiderate it was of people to let off fireworks that time of night when many others had important events the next day. It was only later that I realised that I had almost stumbled across the terrorist attack.’
He went on to represent his country 83 times and won a total of four Commonwealth golds, one silver and two bronzes; three European golds, three silvers and two bronzes medals. He also won three All England Open golds and three silvers; a gold with Elliott Stuart in the Indian Open; a silver in the World Championships and a bronze in the World Cup.
Derek retired from international badminton in 1981 and became a successful businessman, running a sports shop and having his own brand of badminton racquets, alongside coaching, commentating and property development. He continued to serve his sport as a selector and an administrator.
He didn’t always speak well of Heaton, however. Having bought a £95,000 house in Jesmond Park East in 1986, he reportedly sold it a matter of months later, allegedly because ‘couldn’t make a right turn at the end of the street.’
‘It was impossible. If I wanted to drive to Newcastle I had to take a two mile detour to get on my way. I also found the neighbourhood lacking in facilities like shops, open space, a library, cinema and swimming pool’.
Perhaps Brian Johnson of AC/DC fame, who is said to have bought the house, found a quicker route west and also realised that High Heaton Library, Biddlestone Road baths and the shops of Heaton and Chillingham Road were just a twelve minute walk away and the open spaces of Jesmond Dene barely six.
After a spell in Jesmond, Talbot, who had had a longstanding interest in alternative medicine, moved to Ibiza in the early 1990s where he practised homeopathy. He later returned to Tyneside. In 2013, he received an MBE for services to badminton.
No 5 Elliot Stuart
Elliot represented Great Britain at badminton at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich.
Like Derek Talbot, Elliot attended Heaton Grammar. He lived with his parents on Kingsley Place and, after leaving school, also like Talbot, he studied metallurgy at Newcastle University because, he said,’dad worked in Vickers and Armstrong shipyards on the Tyne, and he thought it would be interesting – he was wrong.’
Stuart joined Barclays as a computer operator, later becoming a programmer, systems analyst and project manager. He said that he moved to London because he was on the verge of playing international badminton and ‘because it was easier to fly from Heathrow (regional airports barely existed then) to the many badminton tournaments throughout Europe and the world.’ In 1969, after he had been at Barclays for just a year, the company gave him ‘six months a year paid leave, without contractual obligations, except to spread the name of Barclays, whenever appropriate at events across the globe’.
In April 1972, Stuart won bronze with fellow Heatonian, Derek Talbot, at the European Badminton Championships in Sweden before representing Great Britain in the Olympic Games in Munich some four and a half months later. Although, the bronze medal the pair won doesn’t count officially, it was nevertheless a great honour to be chosen to represent their sport in the biggest event on earth.
The Heatonian went on to win gold at the 1973 Indian Open with Derek Talbot, 1974 Commonwealth gold, again with Talbot, and bronze with Susan Whetnall. In 1975, he won the All England mixed doubles title with Nora Gardner. But he says that his biggest badminton success was marrying Swedish World Singles Champion, Eva Twedberg!
In 1996, aged 50, Elliot took early retirement so that he could help top level badminton transition from an amateur to a professional sport. He continued to coach and mentor and became Performance Director for English Badminton. After retirement. he went to live in Portugal.
No 6 Jonathan Edwards
Jonathan represented Great Britain in the triple jump at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta and the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney.
Born in London on 10 May 1966, Jonathan was the son of Jill Edwards and her husband, Andy a clergyman. He was brought up to have a strong Christian faith which included preserving Sundays as a special day. The family didn’t watch television, work or study on the Sabbath. Jonathan remembers watching his mother prepare the vegetables for Sunday lunch on Saturday evenings.
Jonathan went to school in Devon, before coming north to study Physics at Durham University. While a student, he began to be coached by Gateshead-based, Carl Johnson, and, after graduation, decided to remain in the north east so that they could continue to work together.
It was the faith that Jonathan had inherited from his parents that brought him to Heaton. He began to worship at Heaton Baptist Church and took advantage of a book held at the back of the church listing local people with property available for rent.
His biographer writes of Edward’s first impressions of Heaton when a prospective landlord took him to view the King John Street property that became his first Heaton home:
‘Edwards confesses that as the car drove into Heaton his heart missed a beat. As rain drilled against the windows, all he could see was street after street of dreary-looking terraced houses. For a young man spoiled by the wild, rural beauty of the north Devon coast and the quaintness of Durham, this urban landscape was a culture shock. Still, Edwards needed a roof over his head and the accommodation was clean and affordable. He was to discover that his first impressions did not necessarily provide a fair reflection of the area. He found a friendliness and warmth in Heaton and, with his wife Alison, later established their first marital home in the street that had provided him with such an unflattering view of the suburb on the day he came flat-hunting’. They went on to live at several other Heaton addresses including on Heaton Park View.
Edwards recalls his early days, newly unemployed and alone, in Heaton: ‘I cried my eyes out’.
‘I’d never experienced life, real life, like this. After I’d moved into the flat in Heaton, my first attempt at cooking involved making an omelette and putting it on a lettuce leaf. Grotesque.’
Soon, however, Edwards got a job as a maternity cover scientific officer in the cytogenetics laboratory at the RVI. After work, he would go to Gateshead to train and then catch a Metro back into town. From there, he’d catch the Number 1 bus back to Heaton or walk if one didn’t arrive. We’ve all been there!
But soon Heaton and particularly Heaton Baptist Church became the focus of a national media storm. Improving performances meant that Edwards was selected for the 1988 British Olympic trials. The first two in the trials were guaranteed selection for the games and there would be a third wild-card place. Unfortunately for Edwards, the triple jump event was scheduled for a Sunday and so the young, unknown Edwards declared that he could not compete. The media had already besieged the RVI and on the day of the event itself, television crews turned up at the church on Heaton Road hoping to film Edwards going in to worship. However, Edwards’ gamble paid off: he was selected for Seoul anyway. It was never expected that he would achieve a high place but he would gain valuable experience. In fact he finished 23rd in qualifying with a best jump of 15.88. Bulgaria’s Khristo Markov won the final with a new Olympic record of 17.61.
By the time of the Barcelona games, 4 years later, Jonathan Edwards had married Alison Briggs, a physiotherapist at the RVI, at Heaton Baptist Church. Expectations, including his own, were high. His father was in the stadium to watch him qualify and his mother and Alison would be there for the final. Except, for Jonathan, there was to be no final. He fouled his first jump and messed up his next two as well. His position of 35th was worse than Seoul. His best distance of 15.76 almost two metres shorter than that of the eventual winner, USA’s Mike Conley, who achieved a new Olympic record of 17.73. Edwards was distraught.
By the time of the next summer games in Atlanta in 1996, Edwards was a full-time athlete, having been able to give up work at the RVI thanks to a grant from the Great North Run Trust. He had also changed his coach and adopted the jumping style of the Barcelona gold medallist, Mike Conley. And there were new names in the Edwards’ family, Alison having given birth to two sons, Sam and Nathan, in 1993 and 1995 respectively. Most importantly from an athletics point of view, he was now world record holder.
In the European Cup Final in Lille on 25 June 1995, he had jumped a huge but slightly wind-assisted 18.43. A legitimate world record of 17.98 in Salamanca followed, and then on 7 August two more massive world record breaking jumps of 18.16 and 18.29 metres during the World Championships in Gothenburg while his wife Alison was back in Heaton, trying to take her mind off things by gardening. When the media converged on our area again, a home made banner outside the Edwards’ flat read ‘Simply the Best’. That Edwards was now a sporting superstar was confirmed when he won the prestigious BBC Sports Personality of the Year. He went into the 1996 Olympics as hot favourite.
The triple jump event in Atlanta took place on 26 July. In qualifying, Edwards struggled, as he had previously, while reigning champion Mike Conley and former world champion, Kenny Harrison, both on home soil, along with Cuban Queseda, Bermudan Wellman, and Bulgarian Georgiev, all reached the automatic qualifying distance on their first jump. Edwards eventually qualified for the final in sixth place.
In the final, Harrison set a new Olympic record with his first jump and bettered it with his fourth. Edwards struggled with two red flags before managing a legal jump which put him in third place and entitled him to a further three attempts. His fourth effort was the longest jump ever not to win gold but the Briton had to settle for silver. (This was Heaton’s first official Olympic medal!)
Four year’s later in Sydney, the now Gosforth-based Edwards was determined to better that. Harrison wasn’t competing and so when qualifying began on 23 September 2000, the British athlete was favourite again. This time he achieved the required distance with his second jump, although his British team mates, Onochie ‘Larry’ Achike and Phillips Idowu, were in first and second place, both with personal bests, and Edwards in fourth going into the final two days later.
In the final, Achike led after the first round and Russia’s Denis Kapustin after the second but in the third round Edwards jumped 17.71m and took gold (Heaton’s first!) He was awarded a CBE.
Following his Olympic success, Edwards won gold at the 2001 World Championships. At one point he was the reigning champion in the Olympics, World, Commonwealth and European Championships. At the time of writing, he still holds the World Record with his jump of 18.29m on 7 August 1995 in Gothenburg and his wind-assisted 18.43m on 25 June the same year, while not counting in the record books, also remains unsurpassed. He is also Heaton’s most successful Olympian.
No 7 Freya Ross née Murray
Freya represented Great Britain in the marathon at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
Born on 20 September 1983, Freya grew up in Temple, Midlothian and was a successful runner as a schoolgirl, winning the Scottish Schools 3,000m title in 1999 and 2000 and Scottish Cross-Country Champion in 2001.
Her progress continued into senior athletics and she won the Scottish 10,000m in 2009 and the 5,000 national title in 2010. She represented Scotland in both the 5,000m and 10,000m the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, finishing 7th and 5th respectively.
In 2006, after studying structural engineering at Heriot-Watt University, Freya moved to the north east, initially to Sunderland where she ran for Chester le Street. She joined international engineering consultancy Cundall and able to work part time for them, while pursuing her athletics career. She describes how she often ran to and from their Regents Centre office from her home in Tosson Terrace. She has also described how she used to like running at Rising Sun Country Park and along the wagonways. The flexibility of her employer also meant she could train for part of the year in California.
Freya didn’t originally originally make the London Olympics squad. She had been pipped to the final marathon place by Claire Hallissey who had beaten her in that April’s London Marathon and she was picked only when injury forced the withdrawal of Paula Radcliffe, the world record holder and one of the favourites. On 29 July, only a week before the event, Freya was at home in Heaton doing table plans for her wedding when she got the call to pack her bags. Nevertheless, the following day, she went into work as she ‘had a few bits to finish off’. It wasn’t until the Thursday that she flew down to London.
The London Olympics women’s marathon on 5 August 2012 began and finished on the Mall and took in iconic sights such as Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, St Paul’s Cathedral, the Tower of London and the Houses of Parliament. Unfortunately for both athletes and spectators, the race began in heavy rain and so Paula Radcliffe’s world record was never in jeopardy. It was nevertheless a dramatic contest. The eventual winner, Ethiopia’s Tiki Gelana, fell at around halfway, trying to negotiate a water station but fought back to power past the bronze medallist, Russian Tatyana Arkhipova and silver medallist, Kenyan Priscah Jeptoo. Freya was the best placed Briton in 44th place from 118 starters in a personal best of 2 hours 28 minutes 12 seconds.
Following the Olympics, Freya got married as planned, became a full time athlete for a while and moved back to Scotland. She continued to compete, winning the Scottish National Championships 5,000m in 2016. She now has two young children, works as an events coordinator, has written a recipe book ‘Food on the Run’ and coaches at her local running club.
She has a permanent place in Heaton’s history as our first female Olympian.
No 8 Brazil, Spain and Gabon Football Teams, 2012 Summer Olympics in London
The previous athletes all were either born in, lived in, worked in or represented Heaton. But we must also reserve a place for the footballers who trained here before and during the 2012 games.
It was announced a good year before the event that the Brazil and Spain football squads had been allocated training facilities at the Newcastle University sports complex at Cochrane Park. The facilities underwent a half a million pound revamp in preparation for their illustrious visitors, the most famous of whom was to be Neymar, who at that time still played for Santos in his home country but was the hottest property in South American football. There was disappointment as a high fence appeared around the sports ground but excitement as it was discovered that good views of the pitches could be obtained from the first floor café of the High Heaton Sainsbury store across the road. The Geordie public had a chance to watch him properly in the quarter final v Honduras where he scored a penalty and registered an assist in Brazil’s thrilling 3-2 win v Honduras.
On 17 July 2012, Gabon became the first team to train on the university facilities but it was their warm-up match five days later that has gone down in local folklore. Former Newcastle United star Nobby Solano’s agent was drafted in to help the African underdogs find opponents to play in a friendly. He’d tried the Magpie’s Under 21s to no avail so he got in touch with the Heaton Stannington manager requesting a game the very next day. It was July. Some of the squad were on holiday, none were in training but it felt like too good an opportunity to miss, especially as Gabon boasted another of the most promising players in the world, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, then of St Étienne in France but soon to sign for Dortmund and later Arsenal. A team of part-timers was scrambled together, word was put out on social media and the game was on.
But not before the Stan assistant manager had made two mercy dashes to the African team’s base at the Gateshead Hilton, firstly to reunite Aubameyang with the boots he’d left behind and then to pop back for the sort of match balls they’d be playing with in the tournament. Aubameyang was marked by captain Joe Wear who had run the Great North 10K that morning ‘so I was a bit tired’. He scored two first half goals in Gabon’s 4-0 win before being substituted at half time.
The Africans turned down the Stan’s offer of a pie and a pint after the game but hung around to chat and pose for photographs. Their signed shirt still hangs in the clubhouse. Four days later they stepped out against Switzerland at St James Park with Aubameyang scoring their only goal of the tournament in a 1-1 draw. Their next opponents Mexico beat them 2-0 and went on to win the tournament, beating Neymar’s Brazil in the final.
Can you help?
So they’re the Heaton Olympians we have discovered so far. They all deserve a commemorative postbox! Please let us know if you know more about the Heaton connections of any of them. And we hope you can help us discover more Olympians or connections between Heaton and the Olympic Games more generally. You can contact us either through this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Updated on 15 July 2021 with details of a recently rediscovered Heaton Olympian, Alan Lillington. Thank you to Arthur Andrews of Heaton History Group. Updated on 20 July 2021 to include Heaton Park View as a Heaton address for Jonathan Edwards. Thank you, David Faulkner.
British Newspaper Archive
‘The Eastenders: Heaton Harriers 1890-1990’ by William Allen; Heaton Harriers, 1990
‘A Time to Jump: the authorised biography of Jonathan Edwards’ by Malcolm Folley; Harper Collins, 2000
Other online sources
Researched and written by Chris Jackson with additional material supplied by Arthur Andrews. Thank you to Roger Askew for personal information and photos of his father and to Freya Ross and Jonathan Edwards for confirming their Heaton addresses.
The younger lives of older members of our community often remain hidden when they can reveal so much about the person and about the world they have experienced, not least the Heaton of the recent past. It was, then, a pleasure for Heaton History Group’s Fiona Stacey to interview 96 year old Jean Jobbins and discover more about her long life:
Jean (née Thomas), a native of Bristol, was born in 1925. When she left school at the tender age of 14 there were job opportunities in Bristol with Wills, the cigarette manufacturers, at the firm’s Bedminster works. Armed with an excellent letter of recommendation from her headmaster, Jean was offered an interview. Getting a job with Wills was considered a ‘cut above’. As Jean says, they ‘didn’t just take any old rubbish’. The questions she was asked in the interview felt quite hard to Jean: she describes them as ‘unusual’ but she answered as best she could and was offered a position, where she was taken under the wing of her supervisor, a Mr Bryant. Jean remembers him very fondly. ‘He was a very nice and kind gentleman and always very smartly dressed’. Jean was given a sage green uniform with the Wills emblem on it which she says was very smart and she was ready to start work.
Jean’s working day began at 7.30am and her first job was in the stripping room which she hated straightaway. She had to strip the tobacco leaf from the stalk. As soon as she had finished one stalk, she had to start on the next. Jean found that her hands got sore extremely quickly and when Mr Bryant asked how she was enjoying her job, she promptly told him that she hated it. He was surprised by her candour but gave Jean some advice on her technique which was of great help. She found the job a lot easier after that. She says she still hated it but her hands did not hurt so much.
Jean had started work at the factory in 1939 so it was not very long before the second world war broke out. The men left the factory and the women were required to take over their roles. Jean was moved into the baulking room. This was where the leaves were sorted and graded and it was classed as a more skilled job, one that was normally done by men and attracted higher pay. Jean did not class it as skilled at all but the women took great delight in pushing the men out of their jobs. At this time, the atmosphere in the factory changed considerably: the women did not seem to be as much fun as the men had been and there was always an anxiety, over and above that brought on by the war, about what would happen to them once the men returned.
During the war, Jean had a supervisor called Grace. She was no Mr Bryant, and Jean did not like her much at all but she oversaw the women until the men came back. Jean was 20 when the war ended and had no intention of going back to the stripping room.
Sure enough, when the men returned, Jean was asked several times to go back to her old job but she always refused, holding out for something better than the dreaded stripping room. And Jean’s determination and sense of self-worth eventually paid off with a position in the laboratory. This involved taking the temperature of various pieces of equipment and monitoring them. Jean enjoyed this work and made some good friends there.
Wills provided excellent working conditions. Jean says the company pioneered workers’ canteens, free medical care, sports facilities, paid holidays and even a football team. She remembers there were various societies: drama, music and luncheon clubs, along with dances, which she particularly enjoyed.
Once the men were back there was more fun again in the factory. Generally, there was not much mixing of the sexes but the dances were different. Jean had got to know one colleague, Ern, as she would pass him by during her working day.
She laughs that she thought his surname, Jobbins, unusual and found it amusing to change the name a little when she greeted him, partly because he looked so serious. She would say ‘Good morning, Mr Giblet’ one day and ‘Good morning, Mr Goblet’ on another. She came up with a good variety and always with a twinkle in her eye in the hope he’d ask her for a dance at the next social. Ern was a good dancer and not at all shy as he had been in the Royal Marines during the war. He played it cool at first, dancing with some other girls but once he asked Jean, they danced for the rest of the night. Jean says they got on ‘like a house on fire’.
Eventually Jean and Ern were married.
They were ‘living in’ with Jean’s parents when the opportunity came for them to move north with the promise of a house and a manager’s job ‘with prospects’ for Ern at the soon to be opened Wills factory in Newcastle.
Houses were in extremely short supply so it was an at attractive opportunity for a young couple.
Jean’s family, however, were not so keen on her moving so far away so they told her she would never see a cow or sheep ever again, as they didn’t have them in the north-east! But Ern and Jean weren’t to be deterred and, although Jean remembers that she was very frightened, her determination once again came to the fore and, with 12 other couples, they moved to Newcastle. Everyone else chose to live in Kenton but Jean and Ern opted for High Heaton and were given a council house on the High Heaton estate, which Jean loved.
Nevertheless, she missed her family back in Bristol very much. None of them had telephones. Jean recalls that they were for the rich not the ordinary folk so all communication was by letter. Jean would write to her parents on a Sunday; they would receive her letter the next day, write straight back and she would receive their reply by Tuesday. Swift service indeed! Jean wrote to her parents daily and, if for some reason, she missed a day, a stern letter would arrive remonstrating with her but also expressing concern for her wellbeing.
Jean encountered some hostility from local women when she arrived. She overheard some of them talking loudly about her at the bus stop, claiming that the incomers had taken jobs that their sons could have had and jumped the queue for council houses. Jean eventually tackled one of the gossips informing her that she would never be given a job at Wills, even if she wanted one, as they didn’t take people like her. She never had problems with this woman again. The hostility didn’t last long and although Jean felt very lonely at first, she quickly settled into her new life and made friends.
There was some confusion too over the local dialect, knowing what scallions and stotties were, for example. But, in the main, Jean didn’t have problems with Geordie, although Ern never ever fully came to grips with it.
Of course, when they arrived, rationing was still in place and the women would eye each other’s baskets as they came out of Newton Road Co-op to see what they’d managed to get that day. Jean remembers that one of her neighbours struggled to manage her coal rations and would often come to borrow some: a loan which was never repaid, she recalls with some amusement.
For entertainment Jean and Ern would go to the Lyric cinema (now the People’s Theatre) every Monday night. Jean remembers seeing one particularly bad film and, as they were leaving, the manager asked if she’d enjoyed it. She was more than happy to tell him that she had not, much to his surprise. There was no television so Jean and Ern also went to the Flora Robson Theatre weekly, either on a Friday or Saturday night. She also enjoyed night classes at Cragside School, taking up needlework and art. And she joined High Heaton Library.
Eventually Jean and Ern’s daughter, Ruth, was born and their family thoroughly enjoyed their visits from Bristol, usually in August.
They particularly enjoying trips to the coast and discovering that there are cows and sheep in the north-east after all. Jean, Ern and Ruth would spend Christmases in Bristol and, on visits at other times of year, Jean remembers that Ruth was terrified by the intense west country thunderstorms, which often went on for hours.
Jean doesn’t feel it would be any easier today to move so far from family, but feels that her strong character and determination stood her in good stead. Her father had gone to Canada as a very young man before returning to Bristol to work on the railways and she thinks she inherited some of his pioneering spirit.
Throughout her life, Jean has demonstrated a sense of independence that many of us may find surprising in an era when women did not enjoy the same rights as men, and she comes across still as someone who knows her own mind. Her advice to young people today? ‘Stick to what you believe in.’
Jean Jobbins’ story was told to Fiona Stacey of Heaton History Group on 20 February 2020. It has not been published until now because Covid restrictions meant that the content could only recently be checked with Jean. Fiona would like to thank Jean and her daughter, Ruth, for giving her their time and patience whilst recounting this wonderful story. All photographs are published with the kind permission of Jean and Ruth.
The streets of Heaton and High Heaton are familiar to most visitors to this website but have you ever wondered what was here before they were built in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries? Eminent local historian, Mike Greatbatch, has been looking at surviving records to help us find out what Heaton was like 210-225 years ago:
The township of Heaton, like all the townships in Northumberland, owes its existence to the Settlement Act of 1662 which stipulated that the northern counties of Lancashire, Cheshire, Derbyshire, Yorkshire, Northumberland, Durham, Cumberland and Westmorland, `by reason of their largeness of the Parishes within the same’, should henceforth be subdivided into townships for the better administration of the `the Poor, Needy, Impotent and Lame’ (13 and 14 Charles II c12 Settlement).
Whilst the township boundaries may have mirrored those of some major landowners in 1662, it should not be confused with these private estates. Townships were administrative districts created by parliament to levy the poor rate and disburse the available funds to relieve the poor. Consequently the township boundary of 1662 continued to define Heaton as a district for the next two hundred years, well beyond its incorporation into the Town and County of Newcastle in 1835. Only when the population of Heaton and Byker townships began to grow rapidly towards the latter half of the nineteenth century did the old boundaries become indistinct, with ward boundaries based on the changing size and distribution of Newcastle’s municipal electorate becoming the norm.
The Poor Rate
Heaton township was created to better administer the poor rate. This was a tax based on an assessment of the yearly value of property, defined by the annual rental paid by the occupier. Heaton township lay within the parish of All Saints, and surviving records show that the poor rate was supervised by the magistrates and administered by the parish vestry, whose members appointed and employed the overseers of the poor from amongst the ratepayers of the parish, and administered all collections of the rate and its disbursement.
The rate assessments were agreed at regular meetings to cover specific periods and purposes, being recorded in Rate Books along with a list of properties, their occupiers, and their rentals. The rate itself varied from time to time depending on changing levels of demand for poor relief and other associated expenditure, such as overseers expenses.
The number of surviving rate books for Heaton is very limited: the catalogue at Tyne and Wear Archives lists just three volumes between 1860 and 1890. However, within the records of the neighbouring township of Byker there is a detailed assessment that includes Heaton. Recorded in March 1795, this was specifically `a taxation for the purpose of procuring (jointly with the Township of Heaton) a Volunteer, to serve in His Majesty’s Navy during the present War’. A rate of two pence per pound was calculated to raise £20 10s 3d from Byker and £18 11s 8d from Heaton in the following month of April. At the end of the assessment, there are the signatures of the Overseers of the Poor for both townships, which for Heaton was Thomas Holmes, a farmer.
Rate assessment for the township of Heaton, October 1810. TWAS 183/1/102. Reproduced with permission of Tyne & Wear Archives
A similar detailed record also survives within the rate books for the parochial chapelry of Newcastle All Saints. Undertaken in October 1810 for the purpose of raising `the sum of four hundred pounds and upwards’, being the sum required to `reimburse the Church Wardens for the money expended by them for the Bills, Clerks Salary, Bread, Flour, Visitation Charges etc and to enable them to keep the Church thoroughly clean and in repair and other incidental expenses’. A rate of four pence per pound was levied, calculated to raise a total of £503 from the whole parish, of which £93 09s 3d would be raised in Byker and £66 12s 8d raised in Heaton. At the end of the assessment, the signature of Samuel Viner, a magistrate (`his Majesty’s Justices’) and Peter Marsden (a public notary acting on behalf of the church) are recorded, confirming their consent to the agreed rate, together with the date they attached their signatures to this declaration, 23 October 1810.
Taken together, these two detailed records illustrate the nature and changing value of property in Heaton during these years, together with the names of those whose income permitted them to occupy these premises as tenants of the two principle landowners at that time, Matthew Ridley and Sir Matthew White Ridley. The latter lived at Heaton Hall on land owned by the former and ,in 1795, the rental value of the house and grounds was £60, rising to £180 in 1810. Whilst this is the only house identified in the rate assessments, the farmhouses were included in the overall value of the farm rentals, and likewise the cottages occupied by the labourers. The working poor did not own property and thus they are absent from both assessments.
Coal and Iron
The population of Heaton recorded in the first detailed census carried out on 10 March 1801 was just 183 persons. By contrast, the population of neighbouring Byker was 3,254 persons. Byker was far more industrialised than Heaton by 1801 and this is reflected in the rate assessments undertaken in 1795 and 1810. Industrial property was present in Heaton in both years but its share of the total value of property was significantly less than in neighbouring Byker.
Heaton Colliery was the most valuable property in Heaton. In March 1795 it was valued at £1000 annual rental, increasing to £1,750 per annum by October 1810. This one industrial concern accounted for at least 45% of the total value of the property in Heaton recorded in both years.
Other industry in Heaton accounted for a mere 5% of the total value in both 1795 and 1810, despite the significant increase in value of Malin Sorsbie’s iron-works at Busy Cottage, from a rental of £30 per annum in March 1795 to £100 rental in October 1810. In neighbouring Byker the contrast couldn’t be greater. Here industry other than coal mining and associated transport accounted for 15% of the total in 1795 and 41% of the total value in 1810.
The iron-works at Busy Cottage (where Jesmond Dene’s visitor centre and Pets’ Corner are now) had long been a significant industrial settlement in Heaton. When it was advertised for sale in 1764, following the bankruptcy of its then owner, George Laidler the younger, this settlement adjacent to the east bank of the Ouseburn consisted of a dwelling house, three houses for servants and workmen, a stable with two parcels of ground adjoining, an over-shot forge and bellows wheel, a furnace for making iron, and facilities for making German steel. There was also a tilt hammer for making files and other items from thin iron plate, and a grinding mill with up to seven grindstones, a machine for cutting dyes, and a slitting mill for cutting and shaping bars of iron, all powered by over-shot waterwheels or water powered engines.
There were also extensive smiths shops that could employ up to fourteen workmen using three hearths, plus a foundry for casting iron and a steel furnace capable of producing about four tons of steel every nine days. When the premises were advertised again, two years later, there were an additional thirteen smithies, several warehouses, and a `Compting-house’ (counting-house) or office.
From January 1781, Busy Cottage was owned by the owners of the Skinner-Burn Foundry, Thomas Menham and Robert Hodgson, and when they became bankrupt in January 1785, Busy Cottage once again was advertised for sale, being `well adapted to carrying on the nail, hinge, ….file cutting, or any other branch in the smith and cutlery way’. The complex also included a water-powered corn mill at this time.
Although advertised for sale again in the summer of 1790, Thomas Menham is still recorded as living at Busy Cottage in January 1793, so Malin Sorsbie had not long been in possession of the property when he was recorded as occupier in the March 1795 rate assessment.
The Sorsbie family had long been prominent amongst the business and municipal community of Newcastle; a Robert Sorsbie served as mayor in the 1750s and Jonathan Sorsbie later served as Clerk of the Council Chamber. In the 1760s the family business interests included grindstone quarries on Gateshead Fell and a foundry at a site on the south side of the Tyne called the Old Trunk Quay, in addition to their corn merchant business with offices at Sandhill. Malin Sorsbie owned a house and garden in fashionable Shieldfield from at least January 1789 onwards.
Mills: Water & Wind
If Heaton Colliery and Busy Cottage were the highest value industrial property in Heaton, this does not diminish the importance of the other three industrial enterprises active in these years. All three followed the upward trend in value between 1795 and 1810 and were an important feature of the township beyond this period.
The precise location of Robert Yellowley’s flint mill is uncertain, but should not be confused with the similar establishment on the west side of the Ouseburn in Jesmond. The Yellowley family were merchants, and by the 1790s Robert Yellowley was wealthy enough to afford the rent on a house at St Ann’s Row on the New Road, west of Cut Bank. When the Ouseburn Pottery of Backhouse and Hillcoat ran into financial difficulty in 1790, Robert Yellowley acquired the business and is recorded as proprietor from June 1794 onwards. Flint by this time was an essential ingredient in the manufacture of better quality earthenware as it turns white when burnt, and thus provided a bleaching agent when used in firing the ware.
Heaton windmill was in the occupation of William Dodds throughout these years and, like the watermill occupied by Patrick Freeman in October 1810, it was an important adjunct to the eight farms that occupied the greater part of the land in the township. Identifying the precise location of Freeman’s watermill is not easy. In a schedule of land prepared by the surveyor John Bell to accompany a plan of West and East Heaton in December 1800, there are three mills – High, Middle, Low – identified in fields adjacent to the east bank of the Ouseburn. However, in 1810, Freeman’s is the only mill specifically identified as water powered, so it may be that the other two were dormant and unoccupied. In the 1795 rate book, this property appears to be occupied by Richard Young but again little indication is provided as to its location.
Heaton’s Farms, 1795 and 1810
In the October 1810 rate assessment there are eight farms, which together had a combined value of £1,738 or 45% of the total rental value of the township. The families who occupied those farms were the same as in March 1795 with the exception of William Lawson who had died in January 1804. In 1810, Lawson’s farm was occupied by John Watson.
The most valuable farms were High Heaton Farm (the Holmes family), Lawson’s farm, the Newton family farm in Low Heaton, and Thomas Carins’/ Cairns’ (the spelling varies throughout this period) farm. Some indication of their social and economic standing is provided by the fact that Thomas Holmes was the township’s Overseer of the Poor in 1795, and Cairns the treasurer of the local Association (for Prosecuting Felons). This Association combined with similar associations of property owners in neighbouring Gosforth and Jesmond to offer cash rewards to anyone providing information that helped secure a conviction for theft, damage or trespass, and/or the return of stolen property. They also published appeals to their fellow property owners and hunt enthusiasts to avoid damage to crops and `not to ride amongst corn or grass seeds’.
Membership of the Heaton and Jesmond Association for the Prosecution of Felons etc included 6 Heaton farmers and 1 mill owner. Newcastle Advertiser 7 Feb 1807, p1. Reproduced with permission of Newcastle City Library Local Studies & Family History Centre.
All these farms were extensive undertakings, and given the sparse population of Heaton at this time, all were vulnerable to theft. When Lawson’s farm was broken into in 1790, thieves stole hens, geese, and poultry, and made off on a mare that returned to the farm the same night. In the summer of 1795, twenty-three chickens, six hens and two cockerels were stolen from a single hen-house in Heaton; a reward of two guineas was offered by William Pattison of Heaton, with a further reward of three guineas paid by the Gosforth Association on conviction. When Joseph Newton’s garden was broken into in July 1808 and a quantity of fruit stolen, causing injury to the trees, a reward of twenty guineas was offered by the Heaton and Jesmond Association, Newton being one of its members.
If apprehended, those convicted could face severe punishment. In October 1798, Joseph Nicholson, William M’Clarie, Jane Cunningham, and Mary Eddy were all sentenced to six months hard labour for having stolen rope from Heaton Colliery. Given the need to store ropes, screws, bolts and other iron materials, the colliery was a regular target for thieves. As incidents of infringements of property rights increased, so the punitive nature of these associations became more pronounced.
In March 1795, the total value of property assessed for the poor rate in Heaton Township was £2,136. By October 1810 the total value of the same property was £3,878; being an increase of 81.5%. Despite the on-going war with Revolutionary France and its allies throughout this period, the local Heaton economy experienced something of a boom period.
The interdiction by French naval ships or privateers of merchant ships importing grain and other foodstuffs to the Tyne resulted in a food shortage, especially of wheat and rye. In 1799, the resultant scarcity of flour led some local newspapers to recommend rice and potatoes as good substitutes by way of relieving the distress prevalent amongst the town’s poorer inhabitants.
This scarcity also resulted in an increase in the price of grain and locally milled flour. Despite the accumulation of imported grain in temporary wooden stores, soon commonly referred to as Egypt, just west of Saint Ann’s Church in the summer of 1796, the price of wheat, rye, barley, and oats all increased from 1798 onwards. This of course was good news for farmers, millers, and landowners in townships like Heaton where transport costs to the local Newcastle market were negligible.
One might think that as their income and property values increased, the respectable residents of Heaton might relax their attitude to their neighbours in the manufacturing districts of Sandgate and Byker. Sadly, the opposite appears to have occurred. As the wartime economy and interruptions to overseas trade increased the numbers of those without work or on low income, so the property owners of Heaton became increasingly conscious of the vulnerability of their privacy and possessions. Unemployment, food shortages, and widespread human distress made the sparsely populated lanes and fields of Heaton all the more attractive to those desperate for redress and with little to lose.
In June 1805, a blacksmith named Erington was stopped near Heaton Wood by a man dressed in a blue jacket and robbed of a £20 bank note. Such incidents of so-called foot-pads became a recurring feature of Newcastle newspaper reports as the number of homeless seafarers and unemployed workers increased. The response of the local associations of property owners was characteristically harsh, resulting in the following all encompassing resolution by the Gosforth (& Heaton) Association in November 1805 `to prosecute with the utmost rigour, all vagrants, or other disorderly strollers, and those who give them harbor or encouragement’. By the first decade of the nineteenth century, even going for a stroll, in Heaton, had become a dangerous pastime.
Sources & Acknowledgements
Written for Heaton History Group by Mike Greatbatch. Text copyright Mike Greatbatch and Heaton History Group. Image permissions from Tyne and Wear Archives for use on this website only.
The surviving rate assessments for these years are part of the collections at Tyne & Wear Archives, specifically 183/1/577 Byker 1794-1802, and 183/1/102 Newcastle All Saints June-November 1810.
Contemporary trade directories and Newcastle newspapers, specifically the Courant, the Advertiser, and the Tyne Mercury provided details of properties and owners, together with reports on the human impact of wartime food shortages and the response of property owners through the various Associations. Many of the newspaper sources were accessed on-line via the British Library’s invaluable British Newspaper Archive.
The author is grateful to staff at both Tyne & Wear Archives and Newcastle City Library Local Studies & Family History Centre for their help in accessing sources and for permission to reproduce the two images.
This plate or plaque, made by the Maling company to commemorate the North East Coast Exhibition of 1929, depicts some of Tyneside’s most iconic bridges and industries. Unusually, it also bears the signature of the artist. Even more unusually the name is that of someone who, on the football field, scored one of the FA Cup’s biggest ever giantkilling goals. And he was a opera singer of some renown too. And, no, it’s not Colin Veitch!
Maling plaque with Boullemier artwork
But first the plaque. The North East Coast Exhibition, which took place in what is now known as Exhibition Park from May to October 1929, attracted over four million visitors. It succeeded beyond all expectations in its aim to be a showcase for NE industries. For the Maling company, in particular, it was a chance to finally shake off its old image as a mere producer of jam jars. And so the company produced a wide range of souvenirs to be sold at the event both on its own stand (shared with Townsend, a retail company) and for the famous Heaton tea company, Ringtons.
The plaque above is from a private collection but you can see one in the Laing Art Gallery. It was selected for inclusion in ‘A History of the North East in 100 Objects’, a project designed to show important examples of the ‘creativity and innovation which have changed the region and the world.’
Among the other souvenirs at the NE Coast Exhibition were a model of Newcastle’s castle keep and octagonal tea caddies depicting local bridges, cathedrals and castles.
Maling ware with Boullemier artwork
The artwork on all these items was by Lucien Emile Boullemier, who was living in High Heaton, having joined the company from the Soho Pottery in Staffordshire three years earlier.
Lucien’s father, Antonin, had been born in Metz, France, in 1840, himself the son of a prominent decorator at the Sevres National Porcelain Factory. Antonin studied ceramic painting in Paris at various decorating establishments. He was also apprenticed as a figure painter at Sevres where he worked until in 1870 but in 1871 he and his wife, Leonie, fled to England during the short-lived Paris Commune. Antonin went to work at Mintons in Staffordshire, where his work received many royal commissions and was exhibited all over the world.
Antonin Lucien Boullemier (1840-1900) painted on ceramic by Lucien E Boullemier
By 1881, Antonin and Leonie, now living in Stoke, had six children: Blanche (aged 9), George (8), Leon (6), Lucien (4), Henrietta (3) and Alice (10 months). They were later joined by Antonin junior, Henri, Leonie and Jeanne. Another three children died very young.
Self portrait by Lucien Emile Boullemier
Like his father and grandfather before him, Lucien was destined to be a ceramic artist but first he had a general art education, which was to serve him well. In 1895, while a student at Stoke School of Art, he won £2 second prize in the Duchess of Sutherland’s Prize for Design for a ‘design in silk for dress purposes’. His painting of George Howson, owner of a sanitary ware company, now in the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, dates from 1897.
But art wasn’t Lucien’s only talent. Like his older brother Leon, who played in goal with some distinction, mainly for Lincoln City (for whom he played home and away against Newcastle United), Lucien was a talented footballer. He played seven games for Stoke and 153 for Burslem Port Vale, among them a famous cup tie.
In the first round of the 1898 FA Cup, Sheffield United, who were at the time five points clear at the top of England’s top division, were drawn at home to Burslem Port Vale of the Midland League. A comfortable victory for the champions elect was expected but an early goal and spirited display by Vale shocked the home fans and only a controversial penalty awarded by Durham referee, Mr Cooper, allowed the Sheffield side back in the game. For the last half hour, Vale’s defence, which included Lucien Boullemier, had its back to the wall but held firm.
On the day of the replay, a gale was blowing and, at kick off, the low winter sun dazzled the players and many of the 12,000 mainly home fans in the ground. Vale won the toss and sensibly elected to play the first half with the strong wind and sun behind them and when Sheffield United’s huge keeper William Foulke’s first goal kick was blown almost back into his own goal, United knew they were in for a torrid half. Only two minutes into the match, the underdogs went ahead and they were unlucky not to add to their tally.
The second half was bound to be a different story but such was the league leaders’ commitment to attack that a hoofed Vale clearance found 19 year old right half, artist Lucien Emile Boullemier, bearing down on goal with only Foulke to beat. The keeper raced forty yards out of his goal and body checked the oncoming Vale player preventing a certain goal. But mainly the Sheffield team continued to swarm forward and in the eightieth minute, with goalkeeper Foulke continuing to join the attack, they were rewarded with a scrappy equaliser. A groan was heard around the ground as the home fans’ dreams of a famous victory faded.
The winter gloom was starting to descend as the game headed into extra time and many of the supporters, having no choice but to leave to catch their buses, trams and trains home, sadly missed the great moment when, with Foulke once more stranded upfield, young Lucien Boullemier had his second chance of the game. This time, there was no reprieve for Sheffield United, as Boullemier netted the winning goal in one of the biggest cup upsets yet seen.
In fact over 120 years later, the match still appears on a website dedicated to the biggest Cup shocks of all time. Vale lost to Burnley in the next round but were rewarded by a place in an expanded Football League Division 2 the following season. Sheffield United went on to win Division 1 and the following year, with six of the players who had been humiliated by little Port Vale, they actually won the cup.
As for Lucien, in the 1901 census, he described himself as a self employed painter and sculptor but he went on to captain Port Vale until part way through the 1902-3 season, when, aged 25, he suddenly announced his retirement to concentrate on his art: the Eric Cantona of his day! The photograph below shows him during a brief comeback for Northampton Town.
Lucien Boullemier is back row, third from the left. Leon Boullemier is the goalkeeper in the middle of the back row.
A few months later, on 30 January 1903, Lucien set sail from Liverpool to New York aboard the ‘SS Ivernia’. His first destination was Washington DC, where he stayed with his sister in law. (In 1896, he had married Mary Emma Sandland, the dressmaker daughter of Staffordshire pottery owner, William Sandland.) Four months later, he was joined at the home he had found for the family in New Jersey, by his wife and two children, six year old Percy and four year old, Lucien George. The young English ceramic artist must have made an immediate impression or perhaps he had been hired because of his growing reputation because soon afterwards, not only had he found work, but he was responsible for painting four vases ‘considered by some to be the best and most important decorative porcelain pieces ever created in America’.
The Trenton Potteries Company was known for its production of bathroom fixtures, but when the invitation came to create something special for the 1904 Worlds Fair in St Louis, Trenton Potteries submitted four ornamental vases, each standing four feet seven inches tall. The four magnificent vases, all painted and signed by Lucien Emile Boullemier, announced to the 19.7 million people who attended and to the watching world that the American ceramics industry, and especially Trenton, had arrived and were among the best anywhere at making fine porcelain (albeit with the considerable input of a lad from Stoke better known at home for his prowess on the football field). The vases can now be seen in New Jersey State Museum, Newark Museum, Brooklyn Museum and Trenton Museum. (But beware the last link which attributes its vase to Antonin, Lucien’s father, who had died before the vase was made).
Having enhanced his reputation in America, Lucien returned to England on 23 November 1904 and he spent most of the next 20 years working in Staffordshire first for Minton’s, the firm which had employed his father, and then the SoHo Pottery in Cobridge. He returned to football briefly to play alongside his brother at Northampton Town and made one final nostalgic appearance for his beloved Port Vale. But Lucien had lots of other interests too, both sporting and artistic. He swam for Staffordshire and captained their water polo team as well as playing cricket for Trentham. He also had many poems published and appeared in operas at the Theatre Royal, Hanley and elsewhere.
Lucien Boullemier as Squire Weston in ‘Tom Jones’, appropriately holding a ceramic jug.
But then in 1926, aged 49, Lucien made another bold move. He joined C T Maling and Sons ‘to take charge of the decorations department at the Ford Potteries, Newcastle’. The Malings believed they had pulled off something of a coup by enticing Boullemier away from the Staffordshire heart of the UK porcelain industry and when, as we have seen, the commercial opportunities occasioned by the North East Coast Exhibition presented themselves three years later, how lucky were they to be able to turn to the man who had already dazzled the world at an even larger event in St Louis nearly a quarter of a century earlier.
Boullemier’s influence over the next decade was huge. He updated many of the firm’s designs and is said to have introduced a new glamour into its products by printing in gold and using rich, lustrous glazes. You can see the plaque below in a cabinet in the Laing Art Gallery cafeteria, along with other fine examples dating from Boullemier’s time at Maling. It was purchased in 1989 with grant aid from the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Maling ‘Oriental’ Dragon plaque, c 1929
The Boullemier designed plaques below are on display in the reception are at Hoults Yard, the former Maling Ford B works.
Boullemier plaques, Hoults Yard
Among the many other Maling products designed and executed by Lucien Emile Boullemier were large dinner services commisioned by both Prince Philip’s mother, Princess Victoria, and Sam Smith of Ringtons.
During his time in Newcastle, Lucien lived first in lodgings with John and Lily Williams at 54 Simonside Terrace and then moved to a newly built family house at 36 Denewell Avenue in High Heaton. In Newcastle, Boullemier was remembered by co-workers as a ’character’ and ‘nice chap’. He was a ‘large, flamboyant and occasionally eccentric man who often dressed in a trilby and sang operatic arias while he worked.’
Lucien Emile Boullemier
Lucien Boullemier eventually left Newcastle in 1936 to return to the Potteries to work for the New Hall Pottery Company, where he produced a range called ‘Boumier Ware’, each piece of which carried his facsimile signature. He died in the other Newcastle (under Lyme) on 9 January 1949, aged 72.
Lucien Emile’s son, Lucien George, was also a talented artist and sportsman. He won an art scholarship to Italy but was unable to take it up because of WW1. He joined his father at Malings in 1933 (The pair were known as Old Bull and Young Bull) and succeeded his father as art director, working for Maling until, in 1963, the factory finally closed after 200 years.
Lucien G Boullemier, extreme right, at work at Maling.
In 1939, Lucien G and his wife Edith were living at 18 Martello Gardens in Cochrane Park. Their son, Tony, attended Cragside School and RGS before training as a journalist on the ‘Journal’, before joining the ‘Daily Express’ on Fleet Street. In 1975, he and his wife founded their own newspaper, the ‘Northants Post’. He is now a writer living in Northamptonshire.
Researched and written by Arthur Andrews and Chris Jackson of Heaton History Group. Thank you to Tony Boullemier for additional information on and for photographs of the Boullemier family.
American Porcelain 1770-1920 / Alice Cooney Frelinghuysen; Metropolitan Museum Ney York, 1989
British Newspaper Archive
Maling: a Tyneside pottery; 2nd ed; Tyne and Wear County Council Museums, 1985
Maling: the Trademark of Excellence / Steven Moore and Catherine Ross; 3rd ed; Tyne and Wear Museums, 1997
Other online sources including Ancestry and Wikipedia
Can You Help?
If you know any more about Lucien Emile and Lucien George Boullemier, especially their time at Malings and in Heaton, 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 email@example.com
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.
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 layout of the school was said to be reminiscent of a Cambridge college with the design of open loggias around a quadrangle.
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.’
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.’
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.’
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.’
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.
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
‘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.
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
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)
As you push your trolley round Sainsbury’s, have you ever wondered what went on there before the supermarket and nearby car showrooms were built? The photographs below (courtesy of Historic England’s Britain from Above project) show the area on 1 November 1938. The houses to the north, west and south east had been built over the previous decade or so but there was still open country to the east. On the extreme right of both photos, you can see Heaton Cemetery.
A S Wilkin Ltd Cremona Park (on the right) from the west, 1938
Cremona Park Confectionery Works, 1938
Cremona Park, the self-styled ‘ World’s Garden Toffery’ opened on what was then a green field site on Benton Road in 1920. It was founded by Albert Scholick Wilkin, the son of a Westmorland policeman. Wilkin had opened a sweet factory in Sunderland in 1908. It was an immediate success, especially its ‘Wilkin’s Red Boy Toffee’, which featured a detail from Thomas Lawrence’s famous painting, ‘Charles William Lambton’, later known as ‘Red Boy’. By the end of WW1, Cremona had become a national brand.
Cremona’s Red Boy Toffee tin
At about the same time, the old Royal Flying Corps site in High Heaton, Newcastle was no longer needed by the military. It gave Wilkin the space he needed to expand his business. There were many new flavours of toffee in ever more beautiful tins.
In 1939, Albert received a knighthood for ‘political and public services in Newcastle upon Tyne’. He was a Justice of the Peace, Chairman of Newcastle Central Conservative Association, governor of King’s College (now Newcastle University), an honorary freeman of the City of London and a Liveryman of the Feltmakers Company. During the war, he served on committees which oversaw the regulation of the confectionery industry. But in 1943, aged only 60, Albert Wilkin died.
Sons, Gordon and Frank, took over the running of the company and after the war, the export markets returned: Hong Kong, China, Syria, Gibraltar, South Vietnam, Puerto Rico, the West Indies, the USA, among others, all loved High Heaton toffee. But, by the 1960s, larger companies began to dominate and Cremona Park had become part of Rowntrees Mackintosh and soon afterwards, the Benton Road factory closed its doors forever.
Veronica Halliwell (nee Erskine) has vivid memories of Cremona Park in the 1940s. Living what must be every child’s dream, she grew up in the grounds of a toffee factory.
Let Veronica take up the story: ‘I was born in 1940 and lived with my mother and grandparents at ‘The Lodge’, Cremona Park, Benton Rd. Newcastle upon Tyne until I was 8 years old.’
Veronica with her doll’s house and the Cremona chimney behind (not part of the doll’s house!)
Veronica and her mother outside the Cremona Park lodge where they lived
‘My grandfather was a commissionaire who checked transport at the gate of Cremona Park. He was also the office cleaner and a fire warden. My mother also worked in the factory – on the sweet machines. Meanwhile my father was a soldier on active duty with the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers. My grandmother looked after me. I have many very happy memories of this time.’
‘Grandad had a very smart uniform with brass buttons which, as a child, I loved to polish with him. I had a toothbrush to collect the dampened solid block of brass polish and we polished it off when dry with a small duster at the dinner table in front of the black-leaded fireplace which always had a kettle on the boil.’
Veronica and her grandparents with Cremona Park canteen to the right
‘When we had finished and the buttons were gleaming, grandad would toast me some bread on a long handled fork over the open fire. Then the tin bath would be placed in front of this fire and Grandad would have his weekly bath!
Now and again I was allowed to go to the offices while Grandad did his cleaning chores. With hindsight, the high, wooden desks were quite Dickensian in appearance with high stools which I couldn’t reach! I used to play with the black telephones (probably Bakelite) and my Grandad lifted me up and I pretended to ‘clock-in’ at a very large ornate office clock.
The Boss’s office was a different affair altogether with a green leather top, silver ink pots and a wonderful green leather chair which I could swivel away in to my heart’s content. One day, the boss appeared and I am told that he was delighted with me. So much so that for Xmas 1945 or ’46 he gave me my first hard-backed book, ‘The Little Fir-Tree’. It gave me such pleasure that to this day, 70 plus years on , I still retell the story to all manner of children at Christmastime, even though the book has disappeared in the sands of time.
The fire wardens met in the canteen when they were ‘on duty’ but they never seemed to put out any fires, they just played cards and dominoes while I had a few rides on the ’dumb waiter’ as a reward for singing ‘You are my Sunshine.’ No health and safety rules and regulations then!’
‘I can remember being carried into the factory to see my ‘mam’ at her sweet machine. The jewelled coloured wrapping paper seemed magical, as sweets slid down a chute at an alarming rate. When all the machines had shut down for the day I can still recall the hot, clean smell as the thick wooden slabs where the toffee was rolled were sluiced down with boiling water.’
We are lucky enough to have copies of postcards which show what the factory looked like inside, at every stage of the production process. They are undated but the first image suggests they were taken soon after the factory opened in 1920. So before Veronica’s time but perhaps not her grandad’s.
Veronica continues: ‘We mustn’t lose sight that it was wartime and my uncle made me my very own ’Tommy gun’ which was almost as big as me. I played with the two sons of the boiler man at the factory but they were older than me and they were boys so I always had to be a ‘Jap’ and spent most of my time tied up in prison. They had an indoor shelter in their bungalow which was a great den until the siren went off one afternoon and we heard the drone of the German planes overhead. According to the grown-ups they had a different sound to our planes. We were told that the German bombers used the tall chimney of Cremona and the tall chimney next door of the Sylvan jam factory to navigate their way.
There was also a very large brick communal shelter which had slatted wooden benches where the adults sat or slept during an air raid. I slept in my pram, so I am told, but I can very definitely remember my mam running with me in my pram to the shelter and whenever it is a cold, crisp, clear night I swear I can smell the fresh, cold air there as if it were yesterday. The sound of the ‘all clear’ siren still haunts me and gives me goose-bumps.’
Even though it was wartime I was very lucky to have an uncle whose hobby was making toys-hence the doll’s house you see on one of the photographs.’
When I was almost eight, we moved to a prefab in Wallsend but still continued to go to St Teresa’s School in Heaton. When I was 11 years old we moved to a house just up Benton Rd. which was only a stone’s throw from Cremona Park and, in my teens, St George’s Methodist Church Youth Club paved the way to friendships and frequent visits to Paddy Freeman’s Park and Jesmond Dene.’
Lovely memories and photos of what must have been a very exciting place to grow up.
Can you help?
If you know more about Cremona Park Toffee Factory or have memories or photos to share, 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 email@example.com
Thank you to Veronica for her memories and photographs; additional research by Chris Jackson
‘North East Life’, January 2010. Article by Jackie Wilkin, Albert Scholick Wilkin’s great niece.
Heaton High Pit (also known as the Far Pit or E Pit) was part of Heaton Main Colliery and was in High Heaton, opposite where Heaton Manor School is now. The mine lay just to the east of the Thistle Fault where the valuable, thick seam of coal known as the ‘Main Seam’ lay much further underground than in neighbouring areas to the west. Consequently, it was only towards the end of the 18th century that engineers had developed the technology to mine there.
Heaton Main Colliery was technically one of the most advanced collieries in the world, attracting visitors from elsewhere in Britain and further afield, even America. Huge steam pumping engines drained the mine and a steam locomotive hauled coal along the colliery railway to the River Tyne. This was before George Stephenson built his locomotives for Killingworth Colliery.
We now remember Heaton Main Colliery for the 1815 disaster, in which 75 men and boys died. This took place about a mile from Heaton High Pit, approximately below the site of Saint Teresa’s Church. But there were problems at Heaton High pit too; a fire in 1810; and in 1813 ‘creep’, which caused the colliery floors to lift, meaning the pit was abandoned until 1816, one of the things that proves that this was not the site of the 1815 disaster.
What is particularly interesting about High Pit is that, unlike Heaton’s other pits, a small mining community, what we might call a ‘hamlet’, grew up around it. We’ve been researching the ten-yearly census records and newspaper reports relating to this community.
Thank you to Newcastle City Library for permission to use this photograph.
The above photograph of cottages at Heaton High Pit was taken in 1922 just before the present High Heaton estate was developed around the wooded area immediately above the old pit head, which we now know as The Spinney. It gives an idea of what the hamlet might have looked like.
In 1841, there were around 25 households. Almost all the men were coal miners and, although 70 year old William Fenwick was a horse-keeper and 15 year old John Hall an apprentice smith, they too would have worked at the pit. Theirs were important jobs in the mining industry.
The surrounding area was rural: 35 year old John Twizell and 30 year old Alexander Cairns earned their living as agricultural labourers. Only two young women are listed as having a job: 15 year old, Margery Anderson and Elizabeth were servants.
In 1851, a few of the families remained from ten years earlier but many were recent migrants from other mining communities around Newcastle and the immediate area. Most men were still colliers but 18 year old Septimus Widderington was an engineer, 26 year old William Gascoigne a gardener and 40 year old William Taylor an agricultural labourer. Several women and girls are recorded as working: Elizabeth Clarke (18) as a dressmaker and Ann Ayre (14), Sarah Bell (21) and Jane Stephenson (38) as household servants.
Whereas boys as young as seven were among those killed in the 1815 disaster, the Mines Act of 1842 had made it illegal to employ anyone under ten underground, so the youngest miner in 1851 was ten year old James Cross. Nevertheless, siblings Anne, Mary and Christopher Roaby, aged four, five and seven, were the only children, among the many who lived in the hamlet, recorded as going to school .
Heaton High Pit was closed in 1852, the battle with floodwater having finally been lost,but many men of the village continued to work at nearby Benton Colliery. This was situated on what is now Wych Elm Crescent by the tram track across Benton Road from the Newton Park pub. You can see how close they were and how rural the area was on the OS map below.
Detail from 1st edition Ordnance Survey map, surveyed in 1858
In 1861, the village was still a mining community but some of the residents had come from further afield: for example, John Bowes, a cordwainer, had been born in Yorkshire; and Elizabeth Nichol in Cumberland. The recent birth and expansion of railways was a possible factor.
A school is listed in the census and 12 boys and girls, aged between 4 and 12 are recorded as attending. The youngest collier was 15 year old John Burdis. Ann Bell, a 50 year old married woman, recorded as the head of household, was a shopkeeper and her daughter, 24 year old Hannah Ramsay, earned her living as a dressmaker. By this time though, there were also a number of uninhabited dwellings, a sign perhaps that that the housing was now considered substandard and, with the local pit closed, the village had become a less attractive place to live.
In January 1862 miners, George Handy and Robert Minto, both of Heaton High Pit village, were killed in an accident at Benton Colliery.
In April 1864, the auction of the materials of 21 cottages at Heaton High Pit was announced in the local press, although the 1894 Ordnance Survey map below shows a couple of cottages just to the north of the present Spinney. By this time, trees had been planted as was customary over disused pitheads. You can also see that, although Jesmond to the west was beginning to be developed, as was Heaton to the south, High Heaton was still very rural, the sight of Byker and Heaton Cemetery being the most obvious change from 36 years earlier.
Detail from 2nd edition Ordnance Survey Map, 1894
And just before WW1, when the map below was published, not that much seemed to have altered. But after the war, things moved quickly and by the late 1920s, many of the houses we are now familiar with had been built and the Heaton Secondary Schools had opened. But more of them another time!
Detail from 3rd edition Ordnance Survey map, 1913
Can you help?
If you know more about anyone who may have lived or worked at Heaton High Pit, 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 firstname.lastname@example.org
This article was researched and written by Chris Jackson with Les Turnbull and Michael Proctor as part of Heaton History Group’s HLF-funded ‘Heaton Beneath Our Streets’ project.
Our August guided walk has been newly devised by the Ouseburn Park Guides and will be led by Heaton History Group member, Ann Denton, assisted by other park guides.
It will be a chance to find out about the Patrick Freemans, farmers and millers, and the history of Castle Farm and Crag Hall as well as to discover some of the less well known areas of Jesmond Dene.
Places are limited and so this walk is open to Heaton History Group members only in the first instance and booking is essential. Please book your place by contacting email@example.com / 07443 594154. It will be free to Heaton History Group members and £2 to non members. Booking is open to Heaton History Group members only until Thursday 30 June.
Meet at Paddy Freeman’s Park pond at 6.30pm on Wednesday 24 August. The walk will take 1 and a half to 2hrs. There are some fairly steep gradients and uneven paths on the walk so it may be unsuitable for members with walking difficulties.