Tag Archives: Jack Common

Jack Common: man of literature

In a recent article, Peter Sagar looked at how Jack Common described life in Edwardian Heaton in his famous semi-autobiographical novel ‘Kiddar’s Luck’, here he considers how Commons’ writing been viewed down the years and how we look upon it today:

Jack Common plaque
Jack Common plaque

It has been noted that Common was born in Heaton, in an upstairs flat at 44 Third Avenue. Of this background, the trade unionist and activist, Dave Douglass, ‘drew me to recall just such a Heaton street parallel to the railway (South View West) and a back bedroom in which I was to pass many a night in the formative political years. It was in the upstairs flat which Les Howard shared with his father. Les was a member of the first Tyneside Committee of 100 [an anti war group of the 1960s] and I became secretary of the second Committee. When I first met him Les had a magical aura which surrounded all the early crowd. The ILP Hall on Shields Road was the meeting place of anarchists, pacifists, the old ILP and the exponents of direct action…’  If you can excuse the pun, this kind of identification with Common’s work is not uncommon, among a number of commentators. 

Heaton

Douglass goes on to tell us how from beginning to end you can ‘almost smell Tyneside’ in ‘Kiddar’s Luck‘.  Douglass says how reading ‘Kiddar’s Luck‘ is the ‘next best thing to a visit home’ and capable of bringing on ‘nostalgic homesickness’ in him.  Interestingly, Douglass then goes on to talk of how he felt sympathy for Common in his role as worker-writer. Indeed this sympathy and empathy with Common was so strong in Dave Douglass, that he goes on to say that reading again of Common’s experience had cause him to, ‘man the pumps and set to, with renewed vigour to pull together my mountain of unfinished work which lies upstairs awaiting an injury or illness to provide me with the time to bring it all to life’.  As somebody who knows that feeling well, this would seem to be high praise indeed!

It has also been noted by local writer, Dan Jackson, that, ‘the novelist Jack Common, future friend and correspondent of George Orwell, was …………. smitten with belles-lettres growing up in a Tyneside flat near the railway sheds in Heaton.’ 

It is argued that Common was a well-read man and while his observations of Heaton truly came from the streets, his way of of expressing them were shaped by more exotic influences. It has been further argued that, ‘a love of great literature sharpened the pen of this “Geordie Proust” who was moved by “the birds at dawn, as well as the babble of the lounge bar”, yet as Common himself admitted later in life the life of a working-class writer was not an easy one: “There’s no talking to the lightning struck, the fatally illuminated are always alone.” ‘

If Common was undoubtedly one of those who was fatally illuminated, does that mean that his talent set him apart from his contemporaries in Heaton?  He did leave Tyneside for London. Is that always the curse of the so-called ‘working-class writer?’

Jack Common

We saw in a recent article about ‘Kiddar’s Luck’ and its descriptions of Heaton, that Common had a quite contemptuous view of his education at Chillingham Road School.  However, there is also evidence that the same school nurtured Common’s love of poetry.  It has also been claimed that it was at this school that Common developed a lifelong love of the poetry of Shelley.   

As for Common’s love for the classics, ‘The Chronicle’ in 2015 reported his son, Peter, as saying,  ‘My mother taught me to read and write at an early age because I was confined to bed in a darkened room suffering from mumps, I believe. This gave my dad an opportunity to introduce me to many of the classical authors. His admiration and appreciation of these short stories made a big impression on me and I know that he tried to emulate them in his own short stories’.

This is surely what made Common such a great writer: with one foot in the rough and tumble streets of Edwardian Heaton and the other in the world of some of the greatest writers of all time, Common was able to convey an authentic impression of life in Heaton and the wider Newcastle.

Orwell

This ability meant that Common was able to convey the richness of working-class life in Heaton in a way which still resonates with us today. And it has been argued that this was not only true when considering better known works such as ‘Kiddar’s Luck’. Jack Common’s story, ‘Nineteen’, which was first printed in the 1931 edition of the London-based literary journal ‘Adelphi’ is seen as a case in point. 

Philip Hensher, editor of ‘The Penguin Book of the British Short Story’ , in which ‘Nineteen’ was republished in 2015, said: ‘What I loved about “Nineteen” was its understanding of how broad and varied working class culture could be, and its warm and humane understanding of two young people. It is so beautifully written, and so very special.  Jack Common was a wonderful writer and I hope to give him some circulation again.’ These characteristics of Common’s writing could be said to be the hallmarks of his work and why he was so revered by people like George Orwell. 

George Orwell

Indeed Common developed a strong friendship with Orwell and it has been noted that, ’Common and Orwell became friends, corresponding and occasionally meeting when Common was running the village shop in Datchworth, Hertfordshire, about ten miles from Orwell’s Wallington cottage.’

This was around the time when Common, ‘inspired, prefaced and edited’ the compilation ‘Seven Shifts’ (1938), in which seven working men told of their experience.

Orwell was famously rather envious of Common, stating that Common was the writer he would like to have been.  This was because Common had genuine working-class roots in Heaton, the likes of which Orwell might have yearned for, but could never have claimed. This quality, being a great writer, but being from a genuine working-class background is what set Common apart. It has been said of Common that his writing was, ‘warm, ironic and quirky’. He soon won admirers throughout the 1930s as a writer with a genuine proletarian viewpoint, as distinct from the purveyors of middle-class Marxist fiction. 

Common was invited in 1930 by John Middleton Murry, founder and editor of ‘Adelphi’, who had noticed an essay he had written, to become circulation promoter and later assistant editor of the magazine. For a period in 1936, he was acting editor and a collection of his articles ‘The Freedom of the Streets’ appeared in 1938. 

The writer, V S Pritchett, considered the ‘The Freedom of the Streets’ to have been the most influential in his life, and George Orwell heard in the essays ‘the authentic voice of the ordinary working man, the man who might infuse a new decency into the control of affairs if only he could get there, but who in practice never seems to get much further than the trenches, the sweatshop and the jail.’  

It has also been said Orwell had written of Common: ‘he is of proletarian origin, and much more than most writers of this kind he preserves his proletarian viewpoint’. It is further argued that this, ‘viewpoint was developed by Common with a clear critical intelligence, in a variety of reviews, essays and satirical pieces’ and that he was, as another reviewer put it: ‘a knowing bird, [whose] life appears to be spent with his head on one side forever questioning the quaint ways of the bourgeois, whilst he chuckles down his throat at their dependence upon the proletarians’. In this “knowingness”, however, there is no hint of smugness or self-satisfaction. The perspective he offered was not one of class prejudice or “workerism” (he had little time for middle class socialists who were determined – in dress, manner and speech – to outdo the workers on their own terms!) His concern was with a humanistic analysis of capitalist society. One which saw the proletariat to lie at the heart of an immense economic and social crisis which affected all classes.’  Here again we see Common portrayed as having the ‘authentic voice of the working-man’, or at least the working man from Heaton.

Oppressive

It has also been argued that Common paid the price for being this authentic voice of the working-man. It is said that, ‘Common grew up as a writer when the proletarian novelist, whether from the north-east or south Wales or Clydesdale, was worth a casual aside over dinner in Bloomsbury but was unlikely to be offered a seat at the table or a square meal.’  Like his contemporaries, the Ashington ‘pitmen painters’, Common was to be admired and talked about…from a distance.

Much of Common’s writing can be said to express the nobility of working life in the north-east, but he could also demonstrate some of the less positive aspects of life in the region.  As Dan Jackson notes in ‘Northumbrians’,  ‘The working-class novelist Jack Common wrote of the stifling conformity of suburban Heaton, where the pursuit of respectability, through a clean front-step and spotless rent book, was pursued fanatically and all under the watchful eyes of one’s neighbours’.

 ‘And there by the slight fold of a lifted curtain, he encountered an Eye’, wrote Common in his autobiographical ‘Kiddar’s Luck’.It was Mrs Rowley’s and there was no doubt about it. The woman was a natural overlooker.’ 

The north-east has never really lost that slightly oppressive sense of community and a certain suspicion of individualism. I do wonder, however, if it has begin to lose its sense of community somewhat in recent decades as the forces which bound communities together, such as large employers and their accompanying trade unions have either disappeared or declined drastically in their importance. 

Common himself describes another downside of working-class life in Heaton, when describing how when coming home his mother would more often than not return to ‘an empty house, in a hateful suburb. She loved the town and was happiest in company, with the full household of her childhood. True she was very much in love with her husband.  She’d sit up far into the night waiting for his return, a pleasant enough parcel of pretty wifehood for any man to find at the end of the day’s work. But he didn’t like it.  He was shamed, shamed in his manhood that he was kept like a slave away from her and could only slink back in the late hours when work had done with him and left him too tired and irritable to toss the nice nothings of love towards his waiting fancy. He spoke sharp and hurt her, he didn’t want to hear about the people she had met in town that day..’. 

 Again we see Common describing working-class life in Heaton in all its gritty realism, almost as if he was foreshadowing the northern kitchen sink dramas that were to come on television ten years later. But Common wrote of it with compassion and understanding and an honesty that came from having lived in the same house, the kind of honesty that could never have come from a writer from a more affluent background, the kind of writer who might glorify working-class life, without having experienced it for even a minute.   

Regional v Universal  

The Jack Common who wrote ‘Kiddar’s Luck’ was undoubtedly a north-east writer.  As Jackson says, ‘consider the working-class novelist, Jack Common in “Kiddar’s Luck”, sallying forth eastwards – on foot – from industrial Heaton to the glories of the Riviera:

 “From North Shields on, the air was full of the sea glow, a salt radiance heightened all along the Tynemouth streets. At the end of them, the land fell off at the cliff-edge into a great shining nothingness immense all ways over the lazy crimping of seas on their level floor.”’

Common could write about the harshness of working-class life in Heaton, but as we see here was also more than capable of writing of the glorious setting so much of Tyneside enjoys to this day.  Common was seen in his day by many as a ‘regional writer’.

Was Common a universal writer, or what would be seen as merely a regional writer?  There are numerous arguments that what Common wrote about involved universal themes, about family relationships or the role of working people in society, which pertain to humanity as a whole, but sadly it seems that, like many artists and writers from our region, Common has often been firmly put away in the box marked ‘regional’.  Indeed it has been noted that,

’In 1951 Turnstile Press published Common’s best-known book, the autobiographical “Kiddar’s Luck”, in which he vividly describes his childhood on the streets of  Edwardian Tyneside, as seen through the lens of his adult socialism. There are four chapters on his life before five years old – a feat of detailed memory – while his mother’s alcoholism and the overbearing father whom Jack at length dramatically defies, form the dark background to the vigorous, at times bravura, narrative. The book found praise as a slice of Geordie naturalism, a convincing depiction of “the other England” which so beguiled the imagination of contemporary intellectuals. On the other hand, its irony and subtly bitter  universality went largely unrecognised.’ 

Perhaps the truth is simply that writers such as Common have had things to say which worry establishment elites and worry them to such an extent that it is safer to just put him away in a box which limits his relevance to only the north-east.  If so, that only shows the cowardice of the literary establishment and just how narrow their own thinking really is. Perhaps they simply can’t imagine that the ‘other England’ is as real as their own…

This ‘other England’ would indeed take decades after Common’s best work to even be fully discovered. Alan Plater, the north-east born playwright, has described how when writing for ‘Z Cars’ in the 1960s, he and his fellow writers had to make up the name for a town for the series to be set in and call it ‘Newtown’, near to the large city of ‘Seaport’. Everybody knew it was Kirkby near Liverpool, but those were the rules of the game at the time. Indeed Plater himself has stated that, ‘the setting was an ill-defined, generalised lump of the good earth called “The North” and the writers were categorised as “northern writers”’. 

Hull-born Tom Courtenay starred in ‘Billy Liar’, despite its West Riding setting and Salford-born Albert Finney found his way to Nottingham in ‘Saturday Night and Sunday Morning’, all without comment in the posh newspapers, though there were comments aplenty in the areas listed.  We can also consider the way the north east finally found its voice on television. In the 1960s there was the first series of ‘The Likely Lads’, which is portrayed as being set ‘somewhere in the north-east’, which could, in practice, have been anywhere from Tyneside to Hartlepool. The 1970’s reprise, ‘Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads’ is clearly set more firmly on Tyneside, with the pictures of a changing Newcastle during the intro and outro music and its habitual Whitley Bay jokes, but still one of the two likely lads themselves is played by Bingley-born Rodney Bewes, while another Yorkshire-born actor, Brian Glover has a starring role in perhaps the most famous of all the episodes, when Bob and Terry try to avoid the score of an England match.  It took the 1980s and ‘Auf Wiedersehen, Pet’ for three Geordie actors to be playing the parts of three Geordie characters. 

As it took drama and literature so long for the ‘other England’ to be taken seriously on a national level in the 20th century, it is little wonder that Common’s writing has been put in this regional box. Yet, if the universal themes of the work of the Bronte sisters from Haworth can be acknowledged then perhaps so will Common’s one day.  But then again, the Bronte sisters’ father wasn’t a humble railwayman.

Today   

So how should we look upon the legacy of Common’s work today?  In the last two years, I have had the pleasure of going into seven north-east primary schools to teach them old north-east songs and teach them some north-east history.  Almost without exception the pupils loved it.  They have seen the songs as their songs and the history as their history.  They listen to music from many different cultures in primary schools and rightly so.  Music is there to be enjoyed from whatever background it comes and if pupils can enjoy music from many parts of the world, then that is great.  And it almost goes without saying that music is a great way to break down barriers between people and anything that can do that is surely to be applauded, especially at a time like this. But, I would also say that their musical learning should be based on starting with music form their own heritage.  How can pupils in our region have any real understanding of other musical traditions, if they have no knowledge of their own?  And why should our musical traditions in north-east England be seen as any less important or valid than any others from anywhere else in the world?     

If this is true, then the same can be said about writing like that of Jack Common. Here was an authentic Tyneside voice articulating what it was like to live on the same streets as us a century ago. I would be the last person to say that Heaton school pupils should be deprived the chance to read great literature from around the world during their school days.  After all, we have seen that Common did just that himself.  But it does seem a pity that you will look in vain to find mention of any books by Common in the National Curriculum or in most north-east schools. Common is still seen as not quite important enough. Perhaps it is time for the north in particular to re-find its voice and one of the best starting points would be the writings of Jack Common.

For an example of what could be achieved, one only has to look north of the border to see how Scotland has regained its sense of cultural self-confidence. However, it can easily be forgotten that it has been a century’s long journey to get there.   In the years after the first world war, Scottish culture was embodied in the person of Harry Lauder, who presented to Scotland and the world a kitsch, tartan-clad version of ‘Scottishness’, a million miles away from the offerings on BBC Alba today.  A similar renaissance of northern English literature and culture in general is long overdue and Common could and should be a major part of it. In the hands of writers like Common, the ‘other England’ had much to say which was valid and important.  It still does.

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Peter Sagar.

Sources

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

Kiddar’s Luck / by Jack Common, 1951 

The Northumbrians: North-East England and Its People — A New History / by Dan Jackson; Hurst, 2019

History Workshop Journal, Volume 2, Issue 1, AUTUMN 1976, Pages 206–210

https://doi.org/10.1093/hwj/2.1.206 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_Common

https://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/news/north-east-news/george-orwell-hailed-heaton-author-10505289

Can you help?

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

Kiddar’s Luck and Edwardian Heaton

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

 Physical environment

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

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

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

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

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

Economic life

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

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

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

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

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

immigration

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

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

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

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

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

 School

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

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

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

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

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

Gangs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 To town

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

Sources

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

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

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

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

Acknowledgements

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

 

More on this website about Jack Common

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our home in Eighth Avenue (Heaton in the 40s and 50s Part 1)

We love to hear the memories of older Heatonians, past and present, so were delighted to receive an email from Eric Dale. Eric was born in 1937 and in about 1939 moved with his family from Corbridge Street, Byker to Eighth Avenue in Heaton. He had a career in typography and copywriting in both Newcastle and Edinburgh before becoming graphic design manager for Northumberland National Park in Hexham. He now lives near Kelso in the Scottish Borders but has vivid memories of growing up in Heaton.

We will publish Eric’s memories in a series of articles over the coming months. The first one concerns his childhood home in Eighth Avenue during and immediately following the Second World War. It is interesting to compare Eric’s recollections, not only with our experiences today, but also with those of Jack Common, born just around the corner in Third Avenue 34 years before Eric, and who, in ‘Kiddar’s Luck’, wrote about growing up in the years leading to and during the First World War:

Our house

We lived in a rented downstairs flat on Eighth Avenue.

 

eighthavenue70-rlced

Postcard of Eighth Avenue (looking towards Second Avenue) from the collection of Hilary Bray (nee Bates)

 

From the front door there was a small lobby to a glass door then a short passage to the living room. On the right of the corridor was the front bedroom. In the living room on the left was the ‘gas cupboard’ which was under the stairs leading up to next door’s flat. A door on the right of the living room led to the back bedroom. Continuing straight through the living room led to the scullery with a door on the right giving access to the backyard which housed the toilet (torn up strips of newspaper for ‘toilet paper’) and coal house.

When I was very young, lighting was provided by gas mantles. There was no heating except that provided by the fire in the living-room. Both bedrooms had fireplaces but fires were rarely lit. For many years we took baths in a galvanised metal bath placed in front of the living room fire which was set in the then commonplace black iron surround with a built-in oven and a hob for the kettle. As far as I can remember hot water was provided by means of a back boiler. ‘Mod cons’ that we all take for granted now; central heating, double glazing, fridge, freezer, microwave oven, dishwasher, washing machine, vacuum cleaner, television, telephone and fitted carpets were, in several cases, decades away.

Front and back

The front street and back lane were cobbled. Wheeled traffic at the front was in the main generated by traders such as the milkman and his horse-drawn float and the Ringtons tea salesman or, less often, the knife sharpener with his half-barrow, half-cycle. Occasionally we were visited by the fisher ladies from Cullercoats offering ‘Caller-herrin’ and travelling people selling clothes pegs. I can also clearly remember that a man, presumably from the council or gas company, used to visit each gas lamp in the street at dusk, reach up with a long pole and set them aglow.

Back lane traffic consisted of the coal man’s cart (and later lorry), the dustbin men and rag and bone merchants with their carts who would offer balloons or a goldfish for ‘any old rags or woollens’. The coal man repeatedly mistimed his deliveries by arriving on a Monday, much to the annoyance of the housewives who were obliged to gather in their washing strung out across the width of the lane.

We also had a regular cycle of tramps, one of whom always wore a green-with-mould claw hammer coat and a filthy bowler hat (or was it a topper?). Anyway, it looked posh from a distance. He was fairly local as he rarely carried anything other than a small bag. We followed him a few times to see where he lived but he always shook us off somewhere near Byker tip. We named him Greasy Dutt. The other regular who may well have been a WW2 ex-serviceman carried a large kit bag, from the depths of which he would produce a wind-up gramophone and records for our entertainment. He was very polite and cheerful and, as far as I can remember, only ever asked for hot water for his tea.

In addition to the usual dustbins there were also food waste bins distributed in the back-lanes which were regularly collected and transported to pig farms to aid food production. We just called them ‘pig bins’. Whilst an essential waste reduction measure they were unfortunately also a highly productive breeding ground for flies of all kinds. My friend Brian higher up the street was enthusiastic about catching the back lane pigeons which were also numerous and attracted to food scraps of all kinds. The method was to form a noose with string, scatter breadcrumbs inside it, lead the string to the back door which he then hid behind, leaving it open a crack for observation. Then a quick yank on the string and….! I only saw it work on a couple of occasions. Once caught it was possible to sell the better specimens on at the regular Saturday pigeon fanciers gathering near the Green Market in Newcastle (I believe the asking price was 1/6d.); any others were simply released.

Mealtimes

Meals in the early years were basic and frugal and from ’42 for about ten years were constrained by the limitations imposed by rationing. I don’t remember a great deal about the war years except for spam, dried egg, dried milk, concentrated orange juice and generous gifts of apples from Canada, but once dad had returned and a wage was coming in again things began to look up in food terms.

Main meals were taken at ‘dinner time’ (midday) and dad who worked on Raby Street, Byker would always cycle home for his. Monday was ‘cad warmed up’ as, being washing day, mam had only the time to fry up the leftovers from Sunday which was the most eagerly anticipated meal of the week. Not lavish mind you, but we did stretch to a bottle of Tizer or even ice cream soda if we felt flush!

Even Sunday breakfast was different, with fried bread and black puddin’ being regularly on the menu. Feeling hungry whilst playing out was commonplace and kids would call for a bit of jam and bread to help boost energy levels until the next meal. We also came up with some self-concocted treats such as the following white bread sandwiches: how about condensed milk, sugar and margarine, or brown sauce? Yum!

Many will remember that the most luxurious food item in the early fifties was ‘The Tin Of Salmon’ which wasn’t eaten until we had ‘Company‘ and then it was brought out of hiding to make sandwiches just as if we had them every weekday and twice on Sundays! Just as a footnote: I don’t remember previously having seen a banana when, just after the war, one of the kids in the seniors at Chillingham Road brought a half-ripe one to school; ‘imported‘ by his uncle in the Navy.

 

eighth-avenue-view-east-1984

Eighth Avenue looking towards Chillingham Road (1984) by Eric Dale

 

eighthavenuefrom-google-maps2016

Eighth Avenue looking towards Chillingham Road (Google Maps 2016)

Acknowledgements
Thank you, Eric, for taking the time to write and share your memories and photos (many more of which will be published in the future) and also to Hilary Bray (nee Bates) who gave us permission to digitise and use photographs of Heaton from her collection. It’s fascinating to compare the three photographs. What does anyone remember about the brick structure at the end of the road in Eric’s photo?
Can you help?

If you remember Eric or have any photographs or memories of Eighth Avenue or Heaton more generally that you’d like to share, we’d love to hear from you. You can contact us either through this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or by emailing chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

 

Heaton’s Back Lane Mysteries and Memories

Jack Common wrote of the many traders who called at Third Avenue:

‘Greengrocery and fish and coal came to the back door… Down here came the Cullercoats fishwives crying ‘Caller herrin’ in that season and otherwise “Fresh fish, hinny, straight from the sea”…

Everybody’s washing hung across the lane so that the appearance of a tradesman’s cart meant a rush to tuck sheets and things round the rope and to raise the diminished bunting high over the horse’s head with a prop.’

'Co-al' by Mark James

‘Co-al’ by Mark James

 

Jean Walker of Cardigan Terrace recalled playing out:

‘We called for people at the back door. At first, it was cobblestones. We played races and hide and seek… But then they concreted the lane so we could skate and ride bicycles as well. We played tennis. The concrete was in sections. We used the middle section as the net.’

Olive Renwick told us 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’.

Joan Sweeney remembered ‘a container for ashes attached to the back wall with an aperture so that the ashes could be tipped into the bath which was brought around the back streets’.

Young Joan in her back yard c 19932

Ash box in the wall behind young Joan c 1932

So much of Heaton’s history must have been made out back – and, although admittedly some are more attractive than others these days, back lanes are still very much a part of Heaton life, whether as a short cut to the shops or a place we chat to a neighbour while putting out the bins.

Heaton History Group member Michael Johnston is fascinated by them and wonders what unusual features others have noticed.  To start the ball rolling he’s sent us some photos and asks whether anyone knows the history of these doors.

 

 

The green one is in the lane behind the shops on Chillingham Road and the brown one
leads into the yard of a house in Alexandra Road.

image

And we’d love to hear your thoughts on this one, taken in Back Molyneux Street. Who were these men? And what were they up to?

Over to you

What can you tell us about the doors? What do you think was going on in the Molyneux Street back lane? What other interesting historic features intrigue you as you walk through Heaton? Send us your photos and comment either by clicking on the link immediately below the title of this article or by emailing: chris.Jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

 

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

Leslie Daykin Jeffcoat, a son and great uncle at war

Our HLF-funded ‘Heaton Avenues in Wartime’ project has uncovered many poignant stories. That of Leslie Daykin Jeffcoat of 34 Third Avenue was especially moving for Heaton History Group member Arthur Andrews, not only because Leslie was Arthur’s great-uncle but also because, in the course of his research, he found a letter from the young soldier’s worried father preserved in the National Archives. Arthur takes up the story:

At the time of the 1911 Census, the Jeffcoat family lived at 8 Bolingbroke Street, Heaton. Leslie Daykin (his mother’s maiden name) was the youngest child of Arthur Jeffcoat, a chemist’s assistant, and his wife, Mary. Leslie’s older siblings were Eleanor Lilly (26), Henrietta (24), William Arthur (21) and Florence May (16). Leslie had been born on 2 June 1898 and so was just 12 year’s old at the time of the census. By 1916 the family were living at 34 Third Avenue, just a few doors from Jack Common and his family.

Serving soldier

From family records, it is known that Leslie enlisted in the army aged 18 years, on 3 June 1916. His enlistment papers described him as being 5ft 7 1/4ins, with fair complexion, fair hair and grey eyes. His chest measurement was 35 inches. He is pictured below in his military uniform.

Leslie Daykin Jeffcoat

Leslie Daykin Jeffcoat

Leslie’s occupation is given as an engineer’s clerk, working at the Armstrong Whitworth Naval Yard, Newcastle. He had been employed there for 2 years. Several pages of information exist on the British Army WWI Service Records about Leslie’s service as a gunner in the Royal Field Artillery. His military history sheet says that he spent from 3 June 1916 to 12 September 1917 in the UK, before spending from 13 September 1917 to 4 March 1918 with the British Expeditionary Force in France. While Leslie was away in France, like many thousands of other parents and loved ones, his father and mother were concerned to know their son’s whereabouts and how he was. His father, Arthur Jeffcoat, wrote two letters to his regiment. The first was written on 13 December 1917 and the second, below, was written on 23 December 1917.

Arthur Jeffcoat's letter  about his son

Arthur Jeffcoat’s letter

The transcription is as follows:-

‘Sir,
Further to your Army Form B104, Ref no FJ of the 15th inst. We should be glad if you could tell us if our Son Gnr L.D. Jeffcoat 232642, D Battery, 240 Brigade RFA,
BEF France has been moved to another front or have you any other information, as we are really anxious.
When we last heard from him he was at the 48th Divisional Signal School.

Yours respectfully
A Jeffcoat’

The two letters are logged in the service records and stamped as having been received. The Action Taken column has comments made but they are not readable. There is no record in the family archives of any reply.

Honourable discharge

Leslie returned to the UK on 5 March 1918 and spent time at Fusehill Military Hospital, Carlisle and Auxiliary Military (Primary) Hospital, Penrith until he was discharged as ‘Being no longer fit for war service’. The reason for no longer being fit was given as a ‘paraspinal haematoma’. This could have been caused by a fracture to his spine. Leslie was honourably discharged at the age of 19 years and 11 months. On discharge, he received a certificate

Leslie Jeffcoat's WW1 discharge certificate

Leslie Jeffcoat’s discharge certificate

Leslie also received the WWI British War Medal and the WWI Victory Medal.

Leslie Jeffcoat's medals

Leslie Jeffcoat’s medals

After the war

Leslie must have been known to tobacconist William Castle’s family from 47 Tenth Avenue as, on 2 June 1925, he married William and Elizabeth’s youngest daughter, Ruth. On the wedding certificate, his occupation was given as ‘solicitor’s clerk’. The couple went on to have a daughter, Alison, born on 10 January 1929. During WW2, Leslie served as an honorary lieutenant in the Home Guard in Tynemouth, his adopted home town. At some time he left his job as a solicitor’s clerk and became an insurance agent until his retirement. He died on 24 January 1972.

It was when Leslie’s daughter, Alison died in 2014, that I found Leslie’s medals and more unusually, his spurs (as worn in the above photograph) and leather identity tag with his name and army service number impressed upon it:

Leslie Jeffocat's ID bracelet

Leslie Jeffocat’s ID bracelet

Jeffcoat's spurs

Leslie Jeffcoat’s spurs

These items were previously unknown to me and are very precious. They formed a key part of my continuing family history research. Once I knew Leslie’s army service number, I looked it up on the WW1 Army Service Database. This is by no means complete as a lot of paper records were destroyed by fire during WW2. However, much to my surprise, I found there were 17 pages relating to Leslie. I printed them off and used them as the basis for this contribution to Heaton History Group’s ‘Heaton Avenues in Wartime’ HLF-funded project

Leslie Daykin Jeffcoat: 2 June1898 – 24 January 1972. Regiment No. 232642, Rank:- Gunner R.F.A (Royal Field Artillery) 240 Brigade, D Battery, 48 Division

Arthur Andrews

Can you help?

if you know more about Leslie Jeffcoat or anyone who lived in First to Tenth Avenue during World War One, please either leave a comment on this website (by clicking on the link immediately below this article’s title) or email chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Cardigan Terrace: the memories live on

Jean Walker (nee Pretswell) was born in 1925 and lived at number nine Cardigan Terrace from the age of about four until she got married. Her father Norman’s removal business operated from there for over 80 years and her uncle, Edmund Forbes Pretswell, ran the shop on Heaton Road that now bears his name again.

Pretswell’s signage being uncovered in 2013.

Jean’s vivid memories of growing up on Cardigan Terrace have helped create a portrait of a Heaton street in the years preceding World War Two.

Early days

But the story began some forty years before Jean’s birth. The street appeared for the first time in ‘Ward’s Directory’ of 1888. At that time, it comprised just 12 occupied houses between Heaton Park Road and Heaton Road, with just an ‘Infant’s Home’ (sic), with Mrs M Harvey the matron, on the other side of Heaton Road. The first residents of Cardigan Terrace included Edwin Bowman, an architect who built mainly in the villages around Gateshead, and J Sinclair jun, a ‘tobacconist’. Could he have been a member of the Sinclair family who manufactured cigarettes in Newcastle?

By 1900, the terrace had expanded to almost 150 houses, the occupations of its inhabitants reflecting a broad, though predominantly middle class, social mix as well as the local economy of the time. They included: J Piercy, a blacksmith; W H Robinson, a bookseller; D W Patterson, a surgeon; E Tait, a professor of music; S Lyne, a salvationist; R Jordan, a cart proprietor; J Lowrie, an egg merchant; W Murray, a butler; R Donaldson, a caulker; J Wallace, a ship chandler; and T Richardson, a miller.

In the news

We searched online newspaper archives to see what else we could discover about Cardigan Terrace’s pre-war history.

The first major news story we found dates from 1893 when the terrace became the focal point of a notorious bigamy case. William Breakwell, a commercial traveller from Birmingham, had married Catherine ‘Rachael’ Minto in 1886 but Breakwell later married another woman in Birmingham. He also threatened to kill his first wife’s father, Andrew Storm Minto, a retired ship’s captain, who lived in Cardigan Terrace. The case was reported extensively at the time and must have created quite a stir locally.

Some twenty years later, a Cardigan Terrace boy, Alfred Adamson, was in the news. He and a friend were ‘examining a firearm in Heaton Park‘, when the weapon was accidentally fired, inflicting injuries on young Alfred and necessitating his ‘removal to the Infirmary‘. This was in the early months of World War One, when soldiers in training were billeted nearby.

But not everyone was so lucky in those pre-NHS days. Later the same year, Joseph Metcalfe, aged 80, a retired school attendance officer, who lodged in Cardigan Terrace, was struck by a tramcar near Cheltenham Terrace. He was injured in the head and shoulder and merely ‘removed to his lodgings, where he died the same day’.

At this time, number 27 was occupied by the White family. Alexander Henry White was a schoolmaster but, in the late 1880s and early 1890s, he’d been one of the city’s best known and respected footballers. Alec White had played for and captained Newcastle East End, the Chillingham Road based club. On one occasion he had scored 7, or maybe 9, goals (reports differ) in a 19-0 victory. He also captained East End at cricket.

Article by Paul Joannou in the Newcastle United programme

Article by Paul Joannou in the Newcastle United programme (Thanks also to Chris Goulding who drew our attention to the article.)

At war

We found quite a lot of mentions of Cardigan Terrace in relation to World War One: in 1915, when the shortage of volunteers for the armed forces was becoming acute, there were reports of a number of outdoor recruitment meetings at the corner of Cardigan Terrace and Heaton Road (where St Cuthbert’s Church and Wild Trapeze are now).

Heaton Road Co-op

For example, the band of the 6th Northumberland Fusiliers played at a meeting there on Tuesday 27 April at 7.15pm, having marched ‘by way of Northumberland Road, Camden Street, Shield Street, Copland terrace, Clarence Street, New Bridge Street, Byker Bridge, Shields Road and Heaton Road.’

A few months later, we find a Mrs Dennison of 23 Cardigan Terrace and described as President of the National British Women’s Temperance Association (NBWTA), donating gifts of ‘slippers, towels and magazines’ to the Northumbrian Field Ambulance Hospital. We’ve seen before, in our research into Heaton’s Avenues, that civilian donations and voluntary work to help the war effort were commonplace. The people of Cardigan Terrace, like others in Heaton, wanted to do their bit.

But inevitably there were casualties: on November 14 1916, Corporal Edwin Thirlwell Adamson, aged 19, of 44 Cardigan Terrace, Who served with the Northumberland Fusiliers, was killed in action in France. He was the older brother of Alfred who, two years earlier, had been injured while playing with a gun in the park.

And, in May 1918, Second Lieutenant Arthur Hudspeth of the Durham Light Infantry, who lived at 11 Cardigan Terrace, was presumed dead. He had been missing since the previous September. In the 1911 census, he was a student teacher, living on the terrace with his parents and younger sister, Emma, and brothers, Frank and Henry. He went on to teach at Westgate Hill School. He is commemorated on a number of local war memorials: the Cuthbert Bainbridge Wesleyan Methodist memorial, now held in storage at St Cuthbert’s,

CuthbertBainbridgeWarMem

and its commemorative stained glass windows, still intact in the former Ark building, next to Southfields House on Heaton Road, and also on Heaton Harriers’ 1914-18 Shield, which is still competed for every Remembrance Sunday. Arthur was the Harriers’ Honorary Secretary.

HeatonHarriersShield

Jean Pretswell’s terrace

It was only seven years later that Jean Pretswell was born on Heaton Park Road. A few years later her family had moved around the corner onto Cardigan Terrace. Jean’s memories of her childhood were undimmed when, at the age of 89, she spoke to Heaton History Group’s Jeanie Molyneux. Like Jack Common in ‘Kiddar’s Luck’, Jean had particularly fond memories of the back lane. She told Jeanie about some of the many tradespeople who visited regularly:

‘Up and down the lane came the milkman from Stainthorpe’s Dairy, on a pony and trap with churns on. And there was El Dorado (I’m sure it was called ‘El Dorado’)’s ice cream man, on a bicycle with a cool box. Then there was Bobby, the fish boy. There was no fish shop on Heaton Park Road. After the war, Bobby came back and he couldn’t get round because everyone came out. They said, “Now we KNOW the war is over.” ‘

And Jean recalled playing outside:

‘We played in the street. There was no traffic, no buses on Cardigan Terrace back then. But mostly we played in the back lane. We called for people at the back door. At first, it was cobble stones. We played races and hide and seek… But then they concreted the lane so we could skate and ride bicycles as well. We played tennis. The concrete was in sections. We used the middle section as the net.

‘We never got into any trouble but I remember the policeman who used to come on the beat. There was one gentleman, they called him Mr Tweedie. He must have been a plain-clothed policeman. When he came as well, we all took notice. It was lovely. It was very nice then. We didn’t fight.’

Neighbours

And Jean had very clear memories of her neighbours:

‘The lady at number seven, Miss Birkett, made hats and she also made little leather purses and put them in the window. She would dress the window up a little bit and have a hat stand with perhaps two hats on because she had made them by hand. Lots of people ran little businesses there then.

‘The lady at number five worked at Beavan’s and her husband was a house-husband – very unusual in those days. Opposite was Shepherd’s Commercial College. Mr Shepherd was a cripple in a chair. He taught shorthand and typing and Esperanto. I went to him to learn shorthand typing. This was in the late 30s and early 40s.

‘On the left side, at number 11, was Henner Hudspeth. He had a dance band and used to practise in the house – noise pollution! It wouldn’t be allowed nowadays’

Henner Hudspeth must have been Henry, the younger brother of Arthur, who had died in World War One. Young Jean probably wouldn’t have known about Arthur. But his memory lives on.

Henry and Arthur Hudspeth, Miss Birkett, Bobby the fish boy, Alfred and Edwin Thirwell Adamson, Captain and Rachael Minto, Joseph Metcalfe, Mrs Dennison, Mr Tweedie, Mr Shepherd, the Pretswells, Alec White and the other residents of Cardigan Terrace are part of the rich history of Heaton. Thank you to Jean for helping us bring them back to life.

Can you help?

Can you add to our story of Cardigan Terrace? Can you tell us more about the people and places mentioned? Or add to the story? Not many people will remember back as far as Jean, but we’d like to collect more recent stories too. You can comment here by clicking on the link just below the article title or you can email chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Jack Common’s Avenues in Wartime

Jack Common was born at 44 Third Avenue on 15 August 1903. In his autobiographical novels, ‘Kiddar’s Luck’ and ‘The Ampersand’, he wrote about growing up in Heaton. Although ostensibly fiction, Jack’s writing is clearly based on his own experience and his vivid memories. It tells us about aspects of life in the avenues, before and during World War One, that often we’d have no other way of knowing. Jack describes his milieu, life as a ‘corner boy,’ and gives us a rare (pupil’s) insight into life at Chillingham Road School. He writes with feeling, humour and from the perspective of the socialist he became. While we have to remember the fictional element and the personal viewpoint, Jack Common’s work is an important source for our Heaton Avenues in Wartime research.

The avenues

Some of the places Jack describes have changed, of course, but to anyone familiar with Heaton, the streets (or avenues) of terraced houses and Tyneside flats are instantly recognisable over a hundred years later:

…’ the south side started with a grocer’s shop on the corner, ran straight past some eighty front doors arranged in twos, one for the upstairs flat, one for the down, and each pair separated from the next by the downstairs garden.’

…’when you could crawl and totter, you always made for the street whenever the door was open. Over the rough cement path, down the step onto the wonderfully smooth pavement, perhaps on again to the cobblestones in the middle of the road.’

So far, we’ve traced only one photograph of the Avenues taken during this period. it shows Heaton History Group member, Arthur Andrews’ great aunt, Ruth Castle, outside her home at 47 Tenth Avenue and it chimes with Jack Common’s description of his ‘territory’.

Ruth Castle outside 47 Tenth Avenue

Ruth Castle outside 47 Tenth Avenue, early 1900s


‘These gardens were just narrow fenders of soil laid around the buttress of the bay window but they were magnificently defended from depredation by low brick walls, coped with granite slabs, each sprouting a complicated fence of spiked railings… Between them lay cement aprons in front of the doors.’

Regular visitors

Some of the most evocative descriptions of the avenues are the lively street scenes; the traders and entertainers who passed through: the rag and bone man with his bugle, barrow and paper windmills, ‘made of rough sticks and coloured wallpaper or an umbrella of the same or a fan or a piece of pineapple rock’ which he’d exchange for the jam jars or rags the children brought him.

‘… such a procession of horse-drawn vans, man-pushed barrows, milk chariots, coal-carts and steam wagons… Practically any moment of the day, one or other of these strange craft, ark or pinnacle, was bound to come upon our horizon. The hooves of the faster traffic, doctor’s trap or post office van, shot sparks from our cobbles…’

‘… the slower moving door-to-door tradesmen announced their presence: the milkman with a hand-bell and a high-pitched cry, the firewood seller with a long wail ‘d’ye wa-a-nt any sticks’, the coal-man bluff, solid and low, ‘coal ter wagon, coal ter wagon’, and the hardware merchant, standing on his high cart, with a rapid ringing of plate against plate, produced an insistent tintinabulation which rang across several streets. Very often several of these were around at the same time, plus one or other of varieties of street musician, the tin whistler, the barrel organist or German band….’


‘And that was only the front street…. Though milk and bread were front door deliveries, greengrocery and fish and coal came to the back door…..

'Coo-al' by Mark James

‘Co-al’ by Mark James, Heaton History Group

Down here came the Cullercoats fishwives crying ‘Caller herrin’ in that season and otherwise ‘Fresh fish, hinny, straight from the sea’. They wore their traditional dress of dark blue which so well set off their biscuit tan of arm and face, the salt-white hair and they were like caryatids walking under the great baskets they carried on their heads.’

‘Everbody’s washing hung across the lane so that the appearance of a tradesman’s cart meant a rush to tuck sheets and things round the rope and to raise the diminished bunting high over the horse’s head with a prop.’

Close friends

Common’s descriptions of childhood are equally wonderful and will resonate with many older readers, in particular:

‘… the many games that made their immutable processions across our year. Marbles, tops, hoops and girds, bays, monty-kitty, kick-the-block, up-for-Monday, they came and went in their due seasons.’

‘The marble millionaire gambled untold wealth at the Big Ring, increasing the stakes as the evening wore on until there was a fortune out there on the cement; whole constellations of fat Millies and coloured glass alleys with twinkling spirals down their centres and clear sea-green or whipwater-white pop-alleys winked in the shaky gaslight, nothing less than these high counters allowed in the big game, stonies and chalkies definitely barred. Then in came the bullocker shot from the ringside. The constellation shook and was scrambled; single stars fled or rolled towards the chalk ring. All that went over belonged to the lad that made the shot. Sometimes none did. Right, next player. The winners dropped their captured beauties with a happy plonk into the poke they nearly all carried; losers might fish for a last treasure, a broken pen knife or a watch-compass, to barter for another stake.’

And bonfire night:

‘At the bottom end, on Ninth back lane a mattress in the bonfire had just caught alight, the dervishes around it jumped and yelled from fiery-smudged faces; Eighth were entrenched within their narrow gardens, hurling Chinese crackers and jumping-jacks at all who passed by; Seventh were engaged in a slanging match because the great pyramid of their fire, crowned with a guy sitting in an armchair, had toppled over and was burning against somebody’s back door…. You could even see the near-toddlers solemnly lighting each other’s sparklers from the hot end of the last one to burn out, and there were little girls running wild as they tried to throw London Lights into the air.’

He also describes life in what he refers to as the ‘corner-gangs’. That the camaraderie and solidarity of his gang ‘Sons of the Battle-axe’ meant a lot to Jack can be deduced from his writing and the politics he espoused but also in the fact that, all through his life, he held onto treasured mementos of his Heaton childhood.

The Jack Common Archive is now in the Robinson Library at Newcastle University. Amongst the novel manuscripts, correspondence with publishers and friends, family photographs and cuttings of reviews are the rules, oaths and codes relating to the Sons of the Battle-axe. Examples are displayed here with the permission of the Common family and the university.

Jack Common's 'corner-gang' codes

Jack Common’s ‘corner-gang’ codes

Sons of the Battle-axe oath of allegiance

Sons of the Battle-axe oath of allegiance

Many of Jack Common’s boyhood friends, such as the Ord brothers, appear in ‘Kiddar’s Luck’, with their names unchanged, even if, writing thirty or forty years later, Common appears to have fictionalised some of their back stories.

School

The Chillingham Road School Jack Common attended still stands proudly today, of course. Jack didn’t look back on his schooldays with much affection, believing that working class children like him were being ‘trained for boredom’ as he put it. He conveys his negative feelings in ‘Kiddar’s Luck’:

‘There was a school bell which tolled for some five minutes in the mornings, a peculiarly flat despondent sound, not urgent, not very loud, though it carried over all the Avenues, and it always seemed as if it meant to go on forever.’

although he did have some fond memories:

‘… a class of some fifty children, more than half of them girls, I was disgusted to note. It was a very pleasant classroom though. The morning sun shone in through the wide windows over blue glass vases and painted pottery jugs holding flowers on to the yellow desks.’

But Jack’s daughter, Sally, wrote in a letter to Heaton History Group:

‘I have just looked at their website, and it comes across as such an amazing, vibrant establishment. It makes me want to be a child again and go there! So different from the place my father described that trained children in boredom – in preparation for the boring jobs they would have later’

and Jack would surely have been amazed that today’s pupils learn about and are rightly proud of their somewhat reluctant predecessor.

Winner

For all his later cynicism, Jack (or John as he was known there) Common had some notable successes while at school. He won prizes for at least two of his essays – one a citywide competition on the war-inspired theme of ‘Thrift‘. The essay itself doesn’t survive but he was proud enough of the letter inviting him to collect his prize of Government War Bonds and the newspaper coverage to keep them. They survive in the Jack Common Archive and copies will be displayed at the Chillingham pub from mid-February to mid-April 2015.

The same goes for two compositions about Jesmond Dene for which he also won prizes. Jack later referred to the florid writing style he had adopted in his teenage years and you can judge for yourself from the extracts to be displayed at the Chilli or by visiting the Jack Common Archive.

Jack Common is known for his working class Newcastle upbringing, his strong socialist beliefs and his friendship with George Orwell rather than his love of nature but a lot of his writing and especially the personal diaries in the archive show how much he cared about and knew about the natural world. He may not have acknowledged the influence of his Heaton boyhood or his education at Chillingham Road School but it’s a deep love which began in childhood and which the school log books show was shared by his head teacher, even if neither teacher nor pupil recognised it at the time.

War

Jack was ten years old at the start of the first world war. He refers to it only briefly in ‘Kiddar’s Luck’, writing through a child’s eyes:

‘One Saturday morning a rumour came round that the schools were to be commandeered as temporary barracks; a second report said that the soldiers were already in. Some of us tore round to have a look. Chillingham Road School stood bare and empty, a maw gaping for Monday. We back-pedalled round a corner so as to put it out of sight again, wishing we hadn’t come. But somebody passing on a bike said that North Heaton was taken. We moved off into the territory presided over by that semi-cissy academy, hunching together in case we got raided on the way.

It was true. North Heaton School echoed to the bawls of a couple of sergeants drilling their awkward squads in the boys’ yard….’

But the descriptions of the attitudes of the adults around him are enlightening as well as entertaining. Jack Common is typically unafraid to go against the grain or to offend. He refuses to romanticise and so adds to our understanding of a particular place and an important time:

‘But I had a feeling deep down that war wouldn’t apply to my father. I couldn’t see him waving a flag and leaping over a parapet, as the wild bugles blew, straight into the enemies’ fire; I could see him sitting firmly as ever in his own chair, pointing out that the war was a lot of fat-headedness started by old grannies and bosses-on-the-make and carried on by young fools who believed what they said in the newspapers.’

‘After the customary visit to the boozer, argument waged hot and strong. Uncle George, Boer War veteran, would join up at once – only there was no one to run his greengrocery business if he did. True-blue Uncle Will was hot against the Germans; he would throw in a couple of sons against them right away – the sons, though, did not endorse this generous patriotism. Red Uncle Robin, bachelor, vegetarian and crank, saw the conflict as a power-struggle between rival groups of bosses to be boycotted by all intelligent working men. Sad Uncle Andrew thought it was one of those madnesses good men have to go into because they couldn’t stand being with the crooks and sharpers who’d stayed out. Burly, gentle Uncle Bill knew no rights or wrongs in it, he had the countryman’s view, that it was a super-thunderstorm or tremendously bad weather – ‘Thor’s ne help for it, we’ll hae t’last it oot’. ‘

His presentation of dissident voices is another reason, if we need one, to read, reread, remember and appreciate Heaton’s Jack Common.

Postscript

‘Kiddars Luck’ is currently out of print but can be obtained in a Kindle version and from second-hand bookshops, online and in libraries.

More about Jack Common

This article was written by Chris Jackson, as part of Heaton History Group’s ‘Heaton Avenues in Wartime’ project, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. We would like to hear your views on anything relating to the article. You can leave them on the website by clicking on the link immediately below the title or email chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

A related exhibition will be in the lounge bar of the Chillingham pub from 16 February to mid April 2015. It contains digital copies of documents from the Jack Common Archive at Newcastle University and Tyne & Wear Archives as well as illustrations by local artists.

Heaton Avenues in Wartime

We’re delighted to announce that Heaton History Group has been awarded £8,600 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for a project, Heaton Avenues in Wartime. Awarded through HLF’s First World War: then and now programme, the project will focus on life on ten terraced streets off Chillingham Road, Heaton during World War One.

To mark the centenary of the First World War, the project will enable local people in Heaton to come together to learn more about the lives of the people who lived in First to Tenth Avenue a hundred years ago. Writer, Jack Common, was growing up on Third Avenue and attending Chillingham Road School at that time and he later wrote about his experiences in his autobiographical novel ‘Kiddars Luck’. Local people of all ages, including pupils at Chillingham Road, Jack’s old school, will be able to find out more about him and take his account as a starting point for discovering more about life of ordinary people in the Avenues and Heaton at that time. The money will fund visits to local collections, talks and workshops but also an opportunity for artists to get involved by illustrating some of the stories that are uncovered to bring them to life for a wider audience.

The aim of the project is to learn, not only about the lives of those who fought but also the impact of war on some of those who stayed behind.

Commenting on the award, Heaton History Group chair, Alan Giles, said: “We are thrilled to have received the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund. This project will enable Heaton History Group and the people of Heaton to come together to learn and so enrich our community in the present as well as commemorate a momentous event from the past”.

The group is very keen to hear from anyone interested in getting involved – especially anyone who lives or has lived in the Avenues themselves or knows of any family member who lived or worked there between 1914 and 1918. We’re also interested to hear from anyone locally who has WW1 memorabilia or family stories they’d like to share – they don’t have to relate to the Avenues.

Explaining the importance of the HLF support, the Head of the HLF in the North East, Ivor Crowther, said: “The impact of the First World War was far reaching, touching every corner of the UK. The Heritage Lottery Fund has already invested more than £52 million in projects – large and small – that are marking this global centenary; and with our small grants programme, we are enabling even more communities like those involved in Heaton Avenues in Wartime to explore the continuing legacy of this conflict and help local young people in particular to broaden their understanding of how it has shaped our modern world.”

If you would like to get involved or think you can help, contact Chris Jackson, Secretary: chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Heaton’s parks remembered

Heaton and Armstrong Parks and Jesmond Dene, now known collectively as Ouseburn Parks, are amongst the finest green spaces in the city, or indeed any city, and much loved by locals and visitors alike. But have they changed much over time? We’ve been digging around in the archives and listening to the reminiscences of some older residents.

In the 1870s the population of the East End of Newcastle was growing rapidly and a need for additional recreational space was recognised but, in a comment that resonates today, on 16 May 1879, the Journal wrote:

Owing to the difficulty in obtaining land… and owing also to the jealousies amongst the representatives of the different wards of the town in the Corporation and also to the general unwillingness to expend the funds of the Corporation upon such an object, the movement for a long time made no progress Journal , 16 May 1879

However in 1878, when Addison Potter of Heaton Hall put some land up for sale, the Corporation bought 22.5 acres at a cost of £12,562 and William Armstrong gave a similar amount to enable a 46 acre park to be created.

Opening

Just a year later, the southernmost portion of the new park, that purchased by the corporation, had been landscaped with new ‘walks and drives’ and in a scheme which:

has afforded most acceptable employment to many men who had been thrown out of employment during the very severe winter

a new road was built to allow access to the park from Byker. This still to be named ‘new road’ later became Heaton Park Road.

The new ‘Armstrong or East End Park’ was officially opened on 12 June 1879 on a day locally observed as a holiday. The mayor assured the assembled school children that:

one object which the Parks Committee had in view was to give them as much play-ground as possible, so that they could romp free from the interference of the police or anyone else.

Changes

There have been many alterations to the park over the subsequent 135 years or so, some of which we can see from looking at old photographs like those below: the bear set free from (or more likely died in) its pit by the lake, the lake filled in, the croquet lawn converted to a bowling green (which itself is now no more), the ‘temple’ claimed by its original owners, the Ridley family, and removed to Blagdon, the park-keeper’s cottage demolished, the large pavilion burnt down and a replica subsequently constructed and famously the old bowls pavilion burnt down by suffragettes.

Heaton Park Lake

Heaton Park Lake

Old temple - Heaton Park

Old temple

Bowling green, Heaton Park

Bowling green, Heaton Park

Heaton Park in literature

We can also learn from the writings of Jack Common, a frequent visitor to the park. In his autobiographical novel ‘Kiddar’s Luck’, he wrote about the first and second decade of the twentieth century:

The far side of Heaton Road for a stretch broke into the great rookery of Heaton Hall; and behind Heaton Hall grounds, along one side of the Ouseburn Valley, lay two parks, both public and continuous, except for the slight interruption of a leafy stone-walled lane.

and

The parade wound by two bowling greens, mathematical swards scribbled on by tree-shadows, and watched by a terrace on which stood a huge aviary holding up the dial of a southward facing clock, flower beds of painfully formal calceolaria, scarlet geranium, lobelia, or a sort of clay boil bursting through turf to shatter into certified bush roses.

Memories

But there is much that has never been officially recorded and this is where the recollections of park users are invaluable. We have been interviewing local people to fill in some of these gaps and Heaton Park is almost always a topic which prompts a host of early memories.

Norman Pretswell, who lived at 9 Cardigan Terrace from 1928, recalled the 1930s:

The pavilion, of course, with the pigeons in one side, the old men on the other side. The old fellahs used to sit and play dominos or whatever. It used to stink of tobacco, especially pipes. I don’t remember any exotic birds. I only remember the pigeons. It used to be full of pigeons, roosting and nesting. They could fly in and out whenever they wanted…

We’d play in the bushes where you weren’t supposed to go. There was a park-keeper in those days. He had a whistle and a stick and he’d wave the stick and blow his whistle if he saw you in the bushes. Of course we used to go in the bushes for hide and seek…

In Armstrong Park, we’d play near the windmill and the cannons that were near where the tennis courts are now. We’d play on them…

And when you went through Armstrong Park, there was a little cafe, not far from the entrance where you left Heaton Park and went into Armstrong park, there was a little cafe there. Very dark and dismal. The fellah who served was quite short… he could hardly see over the counter. We’d go in. It was a bit of a thrill. It was just so dark and gloomy. I never seemed to go there when there was a light on. We’d go in for lemonade, sasparilla. Dandelion and burdock was my favourite.

John Dixon who lived at 155 Heaton Park Road in the 1950s and 60s also remembered the park-keepers:

As you go through the Heaton Park Road gates on the left, there was a wooden stand and they used to ring the bell. There were other bells in the park. They used to ring it half an hour before the park closed because they used to lock all the gates…

The park keepers wore a sort of uniform, which was a military style cap, blue serge two-piece suit, a collar and tie, a gabardine coat when it was wet and they had a whistle and a stick and if you transgressed, which it was very easy to upset them, they used to blow their whistle at you.

There were swings, a slide, wooden swings which were lethal. The seats were like inch thick planks… the swing would come back and hit you on the back of head. My mate, we had to take him to the RVI to get his head stitched. It really burst it. Lucky he didn’t fracture his skull.

What do you remember?

We are hoping to collect more memories of Heaton’s parks. If you can add to our knowledge, have any photographs which illustrate the changes or would just like to share your stories, please leave them here (Click on the link just below the article title) or email chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org