Tag Archives: Isabella Wood

The signalman and his daughter

Little did we think, when we published ‘Dead Man’s Handle’, the story of a railway accident that took place almost ninety years ago, that we’d be put in touch with someone who clearly remembered that night – and so much more besides. Olive Renwick was born in September 1916, so she is now approaching her 99th birthday – and she has lived in Heaton all her life.

Olive as a young child

Olive as a young child

The signalman

Olive is the daughter of Isabella and Francis Walter (Frank) Topping. Frank was the signalman who, on 8 August 1926, saw a passenger train coming towards his box at full speed seconds before it crashed into a goods train near Manors Station. Olive was nine years old at the time and reminded us that nobody had phones back then and so when her father didn’t return from work, the family could only sit and wait. ‘My mother didn’t send my sister and me to bed’ she remembered ‘I think she was worried and wanted company’.

The train hit the box in which her father worked, damaging one of its supporting ‘legs‘ but luckily Frank Topping escaped unscathed. He alerted the emergency services and helped rescue passengers before eventually arriving home to his anxious family. ‘But he thought he was a goner’ said Olive. You can read the full story here: Dead Man’s Handle

Olive told us more about her father: he was Heaton born and bred, growing up on Simonside Terrace.

NorthViewSchool? incFrank Topping

North View School, 1890s?

On this school photo, he is second from the left on the back row. ‘I think it might be North View School but I’m not sure’. (Does anybody know?) Frank had started his career on the railways in 1900, aged 16, as a learner signal lad.  ‘I was always very proud of him. He was trusted with one of the biggest signal boxes, with four lines to look after.’

But he didn’t remain a signalman. Frank became branch secretary of Newcastle Number 2 NUR branch, senior trustee for the Passenger Signalmen’s Provident Society and was, for almost 20 years from 1931, Secretary of the NER Cottage Homes and Benefit Fund. Locally, in 1911 he was ordained an Elder of Heaton Presbyterian Church, then a session clerk from 1946 until shortly before he died. In WW2, he served in the Home Guard.

Frank Topping, Home Guard, 1942

Frank Topping, Home Guard, 1942

Olive showed us photographs and newspaper cuttings relating to her father including an account, with photographs, of him opening railway cottages in Hartlepool on a street named after him.

Frank Topping officially opening railway cottage in Topping Close, Hartlepool

Frank Topping officially opening a railway cottage in Topping Close, Hartlepool

She had also kept a tribute, published in a railway magazine after his death, in which her father was praised for:

‘ his inimitable character, his understanding and judgement, his forthright speaking, his general cheerfulness and his desire to help his fellow man’

Francis Topping died in 1957.

Olive’s childhood

It was fantastic to find out more about Frank Topping and to hear Olive’s memories of her father but we couldn’t pass up on the opportunity to hear more from someone who has lived in Heaton for almost a century. Imagine the changes she has seen.

Olive was born on Warton Terrace but spent most of her childhood on Ebor Street and then Spencer Street, ‘The railway terraces. In those days, you had to be on the railways to live there’.

Olive with her brother, Rob, outside their house in Ebor Street.

Olive with her brother, Rob, outside their house in Ebor Street.

Olive (right) with her sister Sybil, Ebor St c1923

Olive (right) with her sister Sybil, Ebor St c1923

She remember the street traders, who sold all manner of things on the front street and back lanes. And, like Jack Common, a few years earlier, she recalls itinerant musicians: ‘women, they were usually women, in shawls, women who were poorer than us, who came round door to door, singing and collecting money.’

As a child, Olive was allergic to cow’s milk. She remembers that her mother walked to Meldon Terrace everyday with a jug to collect milk from a woman who kept a goat in her back yard.

One of her earliest memories was climbing on the cannons that used to stand in Heaton Park. She cut her leg badly and, because she feared her parents would be annoyed with her, dashed straight to the outside toilet in the hope of stemming the flow of blood. Naturally though she couldn’t hide the injury for long. ‘I was carried off to hospital for stitches. And my father wrote to the council to complain the cannons were dangerous’ Olive told us, ‘And soon after they were removed!’

Olive on the cannon in Heaton Park

Olive on the cannon in Heaton Park

‘And I remember my mother taking me to the Scala for a treat to see “Tarzan” but I ran up and down the aisle, shouting “Tarzan!” and had to be taken home in disgrace’. (This must have been an older version than the famous Johnny Weismuller films of the 1930s and ’40s, perhaps ‘The Adventures of Tarzan‘ (1921), the silent movie version which starred Elmo Lincoln.)

Scala cinema Chillingham Road

Olive attended Chillingham Road School and later Heaton High:

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

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

The original buildings of what became Heaton Manor School

The original buildings of what became Heaton Manor School

‘I was in my first year when the King and Queen came to officially open the school.

King and Queen open Heaton Secondary Schools, 1928

King and Queen open Heaton Secondary Schools, 1928

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!’

And she remembers, without much fondness, the many rail journeys of her childhood. ‘With my father’s job, the whole family enjoyed subsidised travel.. I say “enjoyed” but I hated it. We went all over, to places like Edinburgh, but trains made me sick: it was the smell. So I wasn’t allowed to sit in the carriage. I was banished to the guard’s van – with a bucket. I can still smell that smell now – and it still makes me feel sick!’

Coincidence

It was as we were leaving that Olive mentioned, in passing, her maternal grandparents: that they were called Wood, came originally from Ayton in Berwickshire, lived in Seventh Avenue and that her mother’s uncle Bob (Walker) grew potatoes on a field near Red Hall Drive. Could they be the same Woods that we’d researched and written about as part of our ‘Heaton Avenues in Wartime’ project. Surely they must? And indeed they were.

Isabella and David Wood

Isabella and David Wood

On a return visit, Olive told us more about her grandparents, David and Isabella Wood. She confirmed that they had an allotment on railway land. She told us about visits to her great aunts in Ayton and she recounted family stories about a visit to her Uncle Robert in hospital, where he was to die from wounds received on the battlefield. Best of all, she was able to show us photographs of both grandparents, more of which we will add to the article ‘The Woods of Seventh Avenue’.

It’s been a pleasure to meet Olive,  pictured here with daughters, Julia and Margaret, in 1953:

Olive with daughters, Julia and Margaret in 1953

Olive with daughters, Julia and Margaret in 1953

And here in 2015:

Margaret, Olive and Julia, 2015

Margaret, Olive and Julia, 2015

We hope that we’ll meet again soon and that she’ll be able to add even more to our knowledge of Heaton’s history.

Can you help?

If you have knowledge, memories or photographs of Heaton you’d like to share, we’d love to hear from you. Either contact us via the website by clicking on the link immediately below the title of this article or email chris.Jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Feeding the Avenues

From the outbreak of WW1, getting food onto the table became increasingly difficult. We have been researching how the people of the Avenues were affected and responded.

The mother Isabella Wood grew up on a farm in Berwickshire. In 1881, aged 20, her occupation is given as a ‘farm servant’ but, by WW1, she was living at 57 Seventh Avenue with six children and her three sons in the forces. We know that Isabella donated gifts to the Tyneside Scottish (January 1915) and lettuce and flowers to Northern General Hospital (August 1916). She wanted to do her bit. It may well be that she and her husband took advantage of the council’s provision of allotments at St Gabriel’s and elsewhere and utilised skills she’d acquired growing up in the Scottish countryside. Sadly, on 18 April 1917, her son, Robert, died of wounds received in France. He is buried, with his parents, in Byker and Heaton Cemetery.

Robert Wood's grave

Robert Wood’s grave

The union officials Joseph Fagg of 27 Third Avenue was Secretary of the Newcastle branch of the National Union of Clerks. On 6 February 1915, his letter of protest against rising food prices was published in the ‘Daily Journal’:

Joseph Fagg's letter to Daily Journal

‘Clerks, like the rest of their fellow workers, have nobly responded to their country’s call, and this heartless fleecing of dependents of our patriotic comrades is a matter calling for immediate and drastic treatment on the part of the Government.’

Meanwhile, Amos Watson of 63 Second Avenue (a fitter) and W J Adamson (a joiner) of 36 Sixth Avenue served on the General Purposes Sub-Committee of the Newcastle Food Vigilance Committee, set up by the labour movement to protect the interests of workers and their families from shortages, profiteering and poor quality food, in response to what were seen as the vested interests of many members of the official Food Committee.

The shopkeepers Life was difficult for food wholesalers and retailers too. Not only did they have to cope with shortages and rising prices, just like their customers, but concerns over air-strikes and coal shortages led to restrictions on lighting and opening hours. The press reported that Elizabeth Maughan (possibly Florence Elizabeth Monaghan), of 90 Second Avenue, was fined 5 shillings for not shading her lights in 1916. Those who contravened the new laws were named and shamed in the press, although sometimes they elicited sympathy even from the authorities.

Mary Dawson, who kept a shop at 16 Second Avenue, was fined for serving bread after 9.00pm. The Chairman of Newcastle Police Court, Alderman Cail, said:

‘It is a frightful thing to see crowds of women clustering around drapers’ shops, which are ablaze with light in the evenings. If economy is wanted in light or coal, the Home Office should have turned their attention to these establishments, instead of the little shop burning only one light or perhaps a tallow candle.’

The Bench found Mary technically guilty but they let her off with only payment of costs.

Article about Mary Dawson selling bread after 9.00pm

Heaton Avenues in Wartime

This article was researched and written by members of Heaton History Group for our ‘Heaton Avenues in Wartime’ project, which has been funded by Heritage Lottery Fund. An exhibition, ‘Feeding the Avenues’ , which includes illustrations by local artists, will be on display at the Chillingham pub from early August until late September 2015.

The Woods of Seventh Avenue

Mrs Wood of 57 Seventh Avenue is listed in the local press as having donated lettuce and flowers between 21 August and 26 August 1916 to Northern General Hospital where casualties of WWI were being treated. Apart from the same desire as many of the general public to contribute to the war effort, she had the additional motivation of having two of her three sons already serving in the Royal Field Artillery with the youngest to follow a little later.

Back story

Isabella was born Isabella Walker on 19 May 1861 in Ayton, Berwickshire to Robert and Isabella Walker (nee Gourlay). The 1881 Scottish Census shows her still living in Ayton with her mother Isabella, now widowed, and her brothers John, Robert, James and Thomas. Her occupation is recorded as ‘farm servant’ so she is likely to have been familiar with growing vegetables which may be relevant to her later gifts to the wounded soldiers.

By the 1891 Census she was married to David Simpson Wood, 29, a railway porter, who was also born in Ayton, Berwickshire on 13 June 1861, the son of John and Helen Wood (nee Simpson). They were now living at Bishopwearmouth, Sunderland with their 2 daughters, Isabella Gourlay Wood, age three, and Helen Simpson Wood, age eight months, and Isabella’s brother Robert Walker, age 35, a corporation carter.

Ten years later the 1901 Census shows the family living at 33 Elvet Street, Heaton (parish of St. Michael) with four more children: John David, age eight, Robert Thomas, age six, Margaret Cleghorn, age four, and Stanley Alexander, age one. David is now a railway guard and Robert Walker is still living with them and is now a general labourer.

In 1911 all the children are still at home and the family is now living at 57 Seventh Avenue. David is now a railway passenger guard and Robert Walker a builders labourer. Of the children, Isabella at 23 is a confectionery shop assistant; Helen, 21, is a clerkess in a laundry; John, 19, is an electric wireman and Robert, 17, is a butcher with the Co-operative Society. Margaret, 14, is ‘at home’ and Stanley, 11, is at school.

Died from wounds

When the First World War started in 1914, life must have changed suddenly for the Wood family. John, Robert and subsequently Stanley joined up and served in the Royal Field Artillery. No military record has been found for John, but all three brothers are recorded on the Roll of Honour 1914-18 in Heaton Presbyterian Church (now United Reform Church). Robert served as a driver with 1st/3rd Northumbrian Brigade, Royal Field Artillery, Service No. 750395, as later did Stanley, Service No. 262357. Stanley was awarded the British War Medal and Victory Medal and it is likely that John would also have received these as a surviving serviceman.

Robert served in France from 18 April 1915, where he was wounded, brought back to England and died from his wounds in St. George’s Hospital, London on 20 April 1917. He was buried in Byker and Heaton Cemetery (Grave reference xviii.v.3). Like many servicemen, he carried a handwritten informal will which left ‘the whole of my property and effects to my mother Mrs Wood, 57 Seventh Avenue, Heaton, Newcastle upon Tyne’. This was enacted by the War Office and Isabella received the sum of £8 12s together with his War Gratuity of £11 10s.

Robert Thomas Wood's will

Robert Thomas Wood’s will

Robert Wood's grave

Robert Wood’s grave

David Simpson Wood died on 18 March 1934 aged 72 and was buried in the same grave as Robert, as was Isabella when she died on 7 July 1937, aged 76.

Allotments

Isabella Wood’s gifts to the Northern General Hospital suggest that she may have been able to grow her own flowers and vegetables. It is possible that there was some vacant land near the Avenues which residents were able to cultivate or perhaps David Wood’s connection to the Railways gave his family access to railway land. It is also possible that the family had an allotment somewhere nearby.

As food supplies became more restricted with an increase in U-boat attacks on supply ships, the Cultivation of Lands Order of 1916 required councils to provide more land for cultivation for food production, and the minutes of Newcastle City Council show that ’55 separate groups of allotments have been formed and about 200 acres of land in the city put into cultivation, representing 2,900 allotments.’ Seed potatoes and manure were acquired and distributed at cost price to allotment holders, who could spread the cost over two or even three years.

Things did not always run smoothly for allotment holders, however. Minutes of 8 May 1917 report:

‘Armstrong Allotments Association – Damage by rabbits

The Town Clerk reported that representatives of the AAA had made a complaint to him that rabbits from Armstrong Park entered upon the allotments and ate up the cabbage plants and other vegetables. They had endeavoured to prevent the nuisance but were unable to do so and appealed to the corporation to assist them.

It was agreed to suggest to the allotment holders that they should endeavour to kill the rabbits and, failing this, the committee agreed to consider the question of wiring the park fence.’

Hints for allotment holders were regular features in local newspapers – the Newcastle Courant of 19 May 1917 promises ‘Advice about Brussels Sprouts and the Best Way to Sow Beet in next week’s edition.’

Growing your own was now essential and it seems likely that Isabella’s farming experience as a young woman in Berwickshire may have proved extremely useful to her and her large family.

Postscript

Since this article was written, we’ve been lucky enough to meet Olive Renwick, Isabella and David’s grand-daughter – Olive’s mother was Isabella, the Woods’ eldest daughter. Olive was able to tell us more about her grandparents, mother and aunts and uncles. She gave us permission to publish the photographs below.

She confirmed that her grandparents had an allotment on railway land near Heaton Station but also that her Great Uncle Robert cultivated a field near Red Hall Drive. She remembers him carrying heavy bags of potatoes and stopping off at her house for a rest en route home to Seventh Avenue. She also recalled that her father, who worked on the railways, used to buy leeks from Dobbies in Edinburgh and sold them on to work colleagues and neighbours.

She was also able to add to what we knew from the 1911 census where it is recorded that Olive’s mother, the younger Isabella was a ‘confectionary shop assistant’. Olive said the shop was on Chillingham Road between Simonside and Warton Terraces ‘opposite Martha and Mary’s’. Her father used to call in and buy something every day on his way home from work, leading his mother to wonder why he’d suddenly acquired such a sweet tooth. Only later did she realised that the shop assistant was the attraction rather than the cakes!

David and Isabella Wood with eldest children, Isabella, Helen & John, c1893

David and Isabella Wood with eldest children, Isabella, Helen & John, c1893

David and Isabella Wood in the backyard of their home in Seventh Avenue

David and Isabella Wood in the backyard of their home in Seventh Avenue

Isabella Wood at her front door in Seventh Avenue, still tending plants

Isabella Wood at her front door in Seventh Avenue, still tending plants

 

Robert Walker, Isabella Wood's brother, who grew potatoes in a field of Red Hall Drive

Robert Walker, Isabella Wood’s brother, who grew potatoes in a field of Red Hall Drive

Finally, Olive’s daughter Margaret took this photograph of the war memorial in Heaton Presbyterian Church  on which her great uncles are remembered.

Heaton Presbyterian Church War Memorial where the contributions of Robert, John and Stanley Wood are commemorated.

Heaton Presbyterian Church War Memorial where the contributions of Robert, John and Stanley Wood are commemorated.

The Wood brothers' names on the Heaton Presbyterian Church war memorial

The Wood brothers’ names on the Heaton Presbyterian Church war memorial

Heaton Avenues in Wartime

This article was researched and written by Caroline Stringer for Heaton History Group’s ‘Heaton Avenues in Wartime’ projected, which has been funded by Heritage Lottery Fund. An exhibition, ‘Feeding the Avenues’, will be on display at the Chillingham pub from late July until late September 2015.

Many thanks to Olive Renwick, Margaret Coulson and Julia Bjornerud for all their help and for permission to publish photographs from the family archives.

Can you help?

If you know any more about the history of allotments in Heaton or any of the people featured in this article – or have relevant photographs – please contact Chris Jackson, Secretary, Heaton History Group (chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org)