Tag Archives: Jesmond Dene

Flying Visits to Jesmond Dene

If, like so many other people, you’ve been enjoying exercising in the green haven that is Jesmond Dene this spring, perhaps you’ve wondered about those in whose footsteps you’re walking: people like William and Margaret (later Lord and Lady) Armstrong, of course, who, in 1835, were given 16 acres of land in the Dene by Margaret’s parents as a wedding present and, who, in turn, later gifted the landscaped park he developed there to us, the people of Newcastle; but also Jane and Isabella, artist daughters of engraver Thomas Bewick, who loved to walk there as elderly ladies (They both lived into their 90s); eminent naturalists John and Albany Hancock, who lived nearby, and the family of Armstrong’s trusted lieutenant, ballistics expert Sir Andrew Noble, lucky enough to live in the Dene itself, first of all in Deep Dene House on the High Heaton side of the Ouseburn, now sadly a semi ruin but most recently known as Fisherman’s Lodge, and latterly in Jesmond Dene House, now a boutique hotel. What all of these people have in common (and also in common with, reportedly, a growing number of us today) is that they took a great interest in the natural world, especially that of their own locality.

It is Andrew and Margery Noble’s son, George, who we have to thank for a fascinating  book called ‘Birds of Jesmond Dene’ published in 1931. In it, he lists and comments on ‘merely those birds which I and one or two relatives and intimate friends have observed. My memory, alas! goes back over sixty years so I have taken that period roughly as a time limit.’

Thus the book is a valuable document which gives us a feel of how the bird life of the Dene has changed over a long period, from the late 1860s to 2020, as well as giving us little glimpses into life in the Dene during the period Noble writes about. This article is not a scientific study but, just as Noble did, we have enlisted the help of a small number of fellow Heatonians and local birdwatchers to get a better understanding of the range of birds that have been seen in recent years and allow rough comparisons with the period Noble covered. And we have the added advantage of being able to scour Twitter for those birds thought worthy of special mention by today’s 140 character chroniclers. It’s certainly not an exhaustive or official list though. We have also expanded the area covered to the whole of Heaton, although most of the birds listed have been seen in Heaton’s various parks.

Woodland

Jesmond Dene is, of course, essentially a wooded valley and so many of the birds seen there could be described as ‘woodland birds’. Apologies to ornithologists as it’s certainly not a scientific classification and many of the birds listed will often be seen in other habitats too but most build their nests, and are often seen, in and around trees. Many of our common garden birds would fit into that category.

Here are the woodland birds of Jesmond Dene as mentioned by Noble in 1930 in approximate order of how common he considered them to be, along with some contemporary observations:

Robin (or ‘Redbreast’, as Noble calls it) ‘Very common and breeds’ It’s perhaps surprising that he says no more about this perennial favourite, which has such a close relationship with man. Nowadays: Still resident in and beyond the Ouseburn parks. in In  2011 Peter Candler, Managing Director of Jesmond Dene House, Noble’s old home, posted a photograph on Twitter of one in the garden there. Lovely to be able to start with that direct link with the past.

Dunnock (‘Hedge Sparrow’, as Noble calls it) ‘Very common and breeds regularly.’ Nowadays: Still a common, if often overlooked bird, in the Dene and elsewhere in Heaton. Mike Cook says it’s ‘best seen having a free lunch in Pets’ Corner’.

Song Thrush ‘Very common and breeds’ . Noble includes his own painting of one in the book. Nowadays: Although according to the RSPB ‘in serious decline’, we’re lucky to still have them in and around the Dene. In January 2020, James Common tweeted that he’d seen good numbers in Heaton Park.

Painting of a song thrush by Sir George Noble

Chaffinch ‘Very common and breeds.’ Nowadays: Still resident in the Dene and other Heaton parks and gardens, but, again, is said to be in decline, possibly because of disease.

House Sparrow ‘Very common. A pair of pure white sparrows, which had evidently just left the nest, once appeared on the lawn of Jesmond Dene House. The family was away at the time, but one of our maids, in some mysterious way, managed to capture them. She amused us afterwards by saying they looked like angels amongst their darker brethren. Poor little things! They paid the penalty of their beauty by dying a martyr’s death.’ Nowadays: While still a common sight in the author’s north Heaton garden, Mike Cook reports that, although a common resident until 2005, they are now only occasionally recorded on the periphery of the Ouseburn parks.

Starling ‘Very common and increasing species. Nests every year. It is curious to think that sixty years ago it was, comparatively speaking rare.’ Nowadays: More common in the streets and gardens of Heaton than in the Ouseburn parks themselves.

Blackbird ‘Common and breeds. I have found many nests of this species placed on the ground on the banks of the burn in the grounds of Jesmond Dene House.’ Nowadays:  Very common, of course, in the Dene and in other parks and gardens.

Blue Tit ‘Common and breeds’. Nowadays: A beautiful bird but such a common sight at feeders and in nest boxes that only artist, Sophie Foster, has mentioned them on Twitter in the context of Jesmond Dene. She found an abandoned nest, which she took home to photograph and study to understand how it was constructed and the materials used.

Great Tit ‘Common and breeds’. Nowadays: Again very common but neither the majority of our birders nor the Twitter community thought it notable enough to mention specifically.

Wren ‘Common and breeds’. Nowadays:  It’s a secretive bird which tends to lurk in the undergrowth and so perhaps more common in and around the Dene than many people realise.

Rook ‘Common resident. There was a rookery near the Banqueting Hall till quite lately but I fancy this has been deserted. A small one was started some years ago in the grounds of Jesmond Dene House but as it was just above the chicken pen it was discouraged.’ Nowadays: Only recorded very occasionally flying over.

Redwing ‘Arrives in large numbers in the autumn.’ Nowadays: Still seen in winter. In March 2017, Gareth Kane tweeted ‘Flock of redwing in a beautifully sunlit Heaton Park this morning.’ Mike Cook suggests checking out yew trees with berries in autumn.

Fieldfare ‘As above.’ Nowadays: Another winter visitor to be seen in and around Heaton occasionally, especially during harsh weather. Marek Bidwell photographed one on a crab apple tree during Beast from the East in March 2018. Mike Cook says they’re most likely to be seen around the edges of Paddy Freeman’s playing fields.

Hooded Crow ‘Regular winter visitant.’ Nowadays: Not recorded by our birders – in the UK, breeding birds are confined to the far north and west, although apparently migratory birds can occasionally be spotted on the east coast of England. Interesting that they were once more common.

Coal Tit: ‘Quite common, though I don’t think we have seen a nest’. Nowadays: Still resident in the Dene and the wider area, although only visiting birder, Sam Porter, thought to mention a sighting on Twitter last October.

Jackdaw ‘Still fairly common’. Nowadays: Resident in the Ouseburn parks and seen regularly around Heaton.

Cuckoo ‘Regularly heard each year. In 1915 they appeared to be very plentiful, being heard and seen almost daily during the season. One was caught in the nets set to protect the gooseberries…’ Nowadays: No reported sightings in and around the Dene but the author heard one this May in Rising Sun Country Park, which isn’t too far away so listen carefully while there’s less traffic noise.

Spotted Flycatcher ‘Regular summer visitant. EC: I was walking along a path by the burn when I saw in an oak tree a shabby old blackbird’s nest… when I went to examine it, a flycatcher flew off and I found a neat new nest had been built inside the blackbird’s, like the lining of an entrée dish.’ 2020: Bred in the Dene up to about 2003 but not recorded since then.

Linnet ‘Common. Much commoner in past years when the Dene was less formally laid out and there were more patches of gorse and bramble.’ Nowadays: No recent reports even though the RSPB says, ‘There are concentrations along the east coast from Kent to Aberdeen’ including in parks and gardens. The linnet is, however, another bird in long term decline.

Greenfinch ‘Common though not quite so much as formerly when it used to breed very plentifully.’ Nowadays: Perhaps the same could be said today. They are seen in Heaton’s parks and gardens but they’re another species which has declined, partly because of disease.

Goldcrest (‘Golden Crested Wren’, as Noble calls it) ‘Seen every winter as recently as January 1928.’ Nowadays: Although tiny and difficult to spot, resident in and around the Dene. James Common posted a photograph on Twitter during snowy weather in March 2018:  ‘This Goldcrest spent a good quarter-hour feeding in the lower branches of Holly in Heaton Park this afternoon. One of the species hardest hit by bad weather, it was promising to see it nab a few morsels’.

Goldcrest, Jesmond Dene Copyright: Marek Bidwell

Willow Warbler (‘Willow Wren’, Noble calls it) ‘Still nests regularly. Miss Adamson: I saw such a pretty sight the other day. I was watering my begonias with a hosepipe… when a little willow wren came and bathed in the spray. It flew onto the apple tree nearby and sang its thanks and then came back and finished its bath.‘ Nowadays: A summer migrant which bred in the Dene until the turn of the century but now just recorded on migration. James Common reported one in Heaton Park on 10 April 2020.

Garden Warbler ‘Not uncommon. We found a nest of this species many years ago.’ Nowadays: No recent records although, as they sound like blackcaps and are difficult to spot, they may go unreported.

Woodpigeon ‘Fairly common’ is all Noble had to say. Nowadays: Most of our contemporary birders didn’t think to mention it at all and nobody has excitedly posted a sighting on Twitter but if they had they may have simply said ‘ubiquitous’. The woodpigeon has increased in numbers by some 87% in the last thirty years or so. In the countryside, it’s said to have benefited from the cultivation of oil seed rape but here in Heaton, it’s one of the birds that has gained most from our increasing provision of food on bird tables.

Bullfinch ‘ Not uncommon. Nested within the last few years and seen in 1917.’ Nowadays: A few resident pairs in the Dene. James Common photographed one in Heaton Park during the harsh early spring of 2018 ‘Bullfinch from Heaton Park this afternoon – appeared grateful for the sunflower seeds placed out by a kind local. Who wouldn’t be in this weather?’ They also love the plum trees in Iris Brickfield, especially in early spring.

Tawny owl, Armstrong Park Copyright: Michael Burney

Tawny Owl ‘This bird is, I think, more plentiful in the Dene than formerly. From the fact it can be heard all year round, I fancy it may still be considered a breeding species… When I was a boy, this bird always came under the disgusting denomination of vermin and was ruthlessly destroyed. [It] does occasionally take birds but makes up for this by the enormous quantity of rats and mice it destroys.’ Nowadays: More often heard than seen but Gareth Kane reported seeing one by the Ouseburn in November 2012 and Marek Bidwell has had one in his Heaton backyard, although he says they’re more often to be seen or heard in the tall trees at the bottom of Jesmond Vale Lane.

Woodcock ‘There are generally one or two seen every year on autumn migration. Some years ago, I saw one quite unconcernedly feeding on the lawn of Jesmond Dene House’. Nowadays: A rare winter visitor but Anthea James reports seeing one in her North Heaton garden  and Gavin Dudley has seen one on Shields Road!

Wood Warbler (‘Wood wren’j ‘Occasionally seen.’ Nowadays: Rarely recorded on migration. Mike Cook saw one in May 2002.

Kestrel ‘Still occasionally seen. Some years ago we had high hopes that it might breed in the quarry of Jesmond Dene House.’ Nowadays: Mike Cook says that they bred in a ruin at Castles Farm until 1996 but now only occasionally sighted. In November 2015, birdwatcher ‘Lophophanes’ tweeted that he’d seen a kestrel with a rat in the Dene, his first sighting of one there ‘for ages’.

Redstart ‘We used to see the redstart every year and a pair nested in our garden more than once’. Nowadays: Gavin Dudley saw one in his High Heaton garden in the 1990s.

Sedge Warbler ‘Some thirty five years ago I remember finding no less than three nests in one afternoon.’ Nowadays: No recent reports.

Chiffchaff ‘Have not heard or seen it for some years but I heard its note constantly in the sixties.’ Nowadays: It appears that chiffchaff is a success story over recent years as the distinctive onomatopoeic call of this summer visitor is regularly heard in all of Heaton’s parks from March onwards. Tom Middleton photographed one in Iris Brickfield in April 2015 and they have been heard by all our correspondents in and around the Dene this spring.

Grasshopper Warbler ‘I remember this bird’s curious note as one of my earliest recollections. It must have bred regularly during the sixties as we heard it year after year.’ Nowadays: Mike Cook recorded one in Jesmond Vale in July 2007.

Whitethroat ‘Used to nest fairly frequently in the Dene but I have not myself seen a nest or bird here for some years.’ Nowadays: The last one recorded by Mike Cook was in June 1996.

Magpie ‘Often seen in the late sixties. I remember a nest in a clump of high trees at a spot not far from the east end of Armstrong Bridge.’ Nowadays: Amazing to think it was still uncommon in Heaton even thirty to forty years ago but a success story over the last few decades and one of the easiest to spot birds in the Dene and throughout Heaton.

Brambling (‘Mountain Finch‘ as Noble referred to it) ‘One roosted regularly all through the winter in a shrub outside the library window of Jesmond Dene House.’ Nowadays: A sporadic winter visitor. Gavin Dudley recalls seeing a flock in Heaton Park in the 1990s.

Nightjar ‘This bird was not uncommon years ago, I remember that my father shot one within yards of the fence on the east side of the Dene.’ Nowadays : A nocturnal summer visitor to Britain not reported in Heaton in recent years. They are normally found on heathlands, moorlands, in open woodland with clearings and in recently felled conifer plantations.

Treecreeper (Simply ‘Creeper’ Noble calls it) ‘Not very common.’ Nowadays: Resident in the Dene and Heaton and Armstrong Parks. Dick Gilhespy posted a photograph on Twitter in March 2017.

Goldfinch  ‘Seen in the grounds of Jesmond Dene House a few years ago. Nested two years in succession in a pear tree at Craghall, 1911 and 1912. The nest… was given by me to the Hancock Museum’. Nowadays: Now commonly seen and heard in the parks and gardens of Heaton, they are a bird that has done well in towns and cities during recent years, spotted at just 8% of feeders in 1972 but by 2012 were seen at 87% of them.

Marsh Tit ‘Somewhat rare. Seen in the quarry of Jesmond Dene House in 1916’. Nowadays: A one off sighting for Noble and in recent years neither marsh nor willow tits, which look very similar, have been seen locally by our birders.  Despite their name, marsh tits are most often found in broad leaf woodland, and also copses, parks and gardens so, in theory, the Dene would suit them, although they are said to be more common in southern England.

Sparrowhawk ‘I have not seen this bird for some years’. Nowadays: Another 21st century success story! Resident in the Ouseburn parks and often seen around Heaton. In January 2013, Gareth Kane tweeted ‘Saw female sparrowhawk hunting long tailed tits in Heaton Park this morning.’ And in October 2017, James Common noted ‘ Sparrowhawk twisting and turning through the chimney pots of central Heaton just now in pursuit of a pigeon. Awesome to see!’

Tree Pipit ‘I have not seen this bird for many years. In 1869, I found a nest with 5 eggs in it above the Flint Mill.’ Nowadays: Not reported by our present day ornithologists but, as the RSPB describes its habitat as newly planted conifers or open heath in western UK, that’s perhaps not surprising. Again, Armstrong’s young plantations may have briefly suited it in the 1860s.

Blackcap  ‘This bird was pointed out to me by John Hancock when I was a very small boy. Nest seen by LA and EC for several years.’ Nowadays: Although, blackcap is historically a summer visitor, increasing numbers overwinter in Britain.  In January 2015, Marek Bidwell noted: ‘Female #blackcap on my feeders in #heaton #newcastle; last sighting on 12th Jan 2014 almost exactly a year ago’ but also in April 2016, ‘Lophophanes’ tweeted ‘ Male blackcap singing Jesmond Dene, first of the spring.’

Hawfinch ‘Seen by me two or three times and always when the yew berries were ripe.’ Nowadays: Hawfinch are now among Britain’s rarest / most difficult to spot resident birds and haven’t been reported in Jesmond Dene since the 1980s.

Icterine Warbler ‘Shot in the garden of Crag Hall about twenty five years ago by the gardener. This specimen… [was] presented to the Hancock Museum.’ Nowadays: No recent reports but clearly rare back in the day too –  and made rarer by the shooting!

But there are also woodland birds seen nowadays that George Noble and friends didn’t mention seeing at all between the 1860s and 1930:

Collared Dove: Even if you don’t know what they look like, you’ll be familiar with their call which sounds like ‘U-NIIII-TED’! Not recorded as breeding in Britain until the 1950s, they are now common throughout Heaton but have declined in the parks, now being more likely to be spotted on roofs and in gardens.

Long-tailed Tit: Numbers have risen nationally since the 1980s and that certainly seems to be the case in Heaton, where acrobatic flocks are a fairly common sight in our parks and increasingly gardens.

Jay: Rare before 2003 but now breeding. All our present day birders and many Twitter users report seeing jays in the Dene and local parks.

Nuthatch: Resident in the Ouseburn parks. Marek Bidwell says they especially like pecking at the old walls on Jesmond Vale Lane.

Great Spotted Woodpecker: Its distinctive drumming is often heard, particularly in Armstrong Park. Geoff Forrester managed to photograph this bird at its nest near Pets’ Corner.

Great Spotted Woodpecker, Jesmond Dene Copyright: Geoff Forrester

Ring-necked Parakeet: Britain’s only naturalised parrot, despite many having escaped from private collections, only began to breed in the UK in the late 1960s. They spread north from the south east and, having been first recorded in 2014, they have probably been breeding in Heaton Park for the last couple of years.

Waxwings: These beautiful winter visitors tend to be seen in larger numbers in Britain, especially the east side, when harsh winter weather affects their native Scandinavia. Marek Bidwell says they are occasionally seen around the bowling green near Heaton Road. They’re also quite often seen around the Coast Road around the junction with Benfield Road. A  large flock settled on telephone wires on Huntcliffe Gardens a few years ago.

Siskin: Gavin Dudley reports them being fairly regularly winter visitors to his High Heaton garden bird feeders in the 1990s. Mike Cook saw one in the Ouseburn parks in January 2019.

Red Kite: Introduced successfully to Gateshead in the early years of the twenty first century, they are occasionally seen over Heaton. Birder, Jack Bucknall, reported seeing one circling over Shields Road in June 2018.

Redpoll: A rare visitor, Mike Cook saw one in March 1997 and visiting birder, Sam Porter, tweeted about seeing one fly over Heaton and Armstrong parks in October 2019.

Harris Hawk: an escapee from captivity of this American species was first spotted in Jesmond Dene in late 2014 and often in 2015. Since then a number of escapees have been spotted, most recently in April this year.

Lesser Whitethroat: A single migrating bird seen by Mike Cook over Paddy Freeman’s lake in May 2002.

Peacock: Marek Bidwell was astonished when walking along Park Head Road a few years ago to hear ‘ the most unusual call high in a tree that made me think of a jungle. I looked up and saw a peacock.’ It turns out it had escaped from Pets’ Corner!

Buzzard: A number of our birdwatchers have reported seeng their first buzzards flying high over Heaton during 2020’s lockdown, whether that is a coincidence or a result of increased prey or birdwatchers enjoying more time staring at the sky from their yards and gardens, it’s difficult to know.

Water

What about birds associated with the Ouseburn itself? Here are the ‘water birds’ Noble mentions, again roughly in order of how common they were.

Moorhen (‘Water Hen‘, as Noble called it)  ‘Common and breeds. Although we constantly had two or three nests on stumps or stones in the burn… they seemed hardly ever to get more than one young away… I have no doubt they were taken by pike, of which there were a good many in the water or possibly rats may have been the culprits.’ Nowadays: Still common and easy to spot in and around the Ouseburn and in recent years at Iris Brickfield in North Heaton.

Pied Wagtail ‘Still quite common. Old and young birds seen together every year about the burnside.’ Nowadays: Although included in the ‘water birds’ section, they are perhaps more commonly spotted in Heaton’s streets. Gareth Kane tweeted about one on Stratford Road in snowy weather in March 2018, the ‘Beast from the East’.  There’s often one around Chillingham Road and the author saw one in May 2020 on Rothbury Terrace.

Grey Wagtail ‘Fairly common. Still seen about the burnside. Used to breed regularly above the Flint Mill’. Nowadays: Often seen along the Ouseburn. Gareth Kane reported seeing one while out running in March 2013. Marek Bidwell recommends the burn near Pets’ Corner as a good place to spot one. The author saw one on the Ouseburn in May 2020 near the newish metal footbridge by the flyover.

Grey Wagtail, Jesmond Dene Copyright: Marek Bidwell

Common Sandpiper ‘A tolerably regular summer visitant. Has bred within the last few years’. Nowadays: Gavin Dudley has seen one under the bridge by the flyover ‘but it was a long time ago’. Let us know if you’ve seen one.

Sand Martin ‘Up to about eight or ten years ago, this bird bred above the sandstone quarry at Crag Hall.’ Nowadays: Rare but Mike Cook has two records of sightings from 2003 and 2004.

Mallard (‘Wild Duck’ is the name Noble uses) ‘Used to be seen fairly frequently in hard weather, being no doubt attracted by the food for the tame ducks that my father kept’. Nowadays: Mallards are so common on and around  the Ouseburn and in Paddy Freeman’s pond, that it’s hardly ever mentioned by local birders.  Has definitely done well over the last century or so.

Kingfisher ‘We once saw five of these birds, three young and two old ones. Still occasionally seen… one seen at Crag Hall on 22nd November 1927. Also seen in 1929 and 1930.’ Nowadays: Regularly seen but possibly no longer breeding. In December 2019, Gareth Kane tweeted  ‘Nothing like watching a kingfisher fly along the Ouseburn to lift my spirits on a Monday morning!’ and they lifted many a spirit during this year’s lockdown too. Perhaps more surprisingly, in winter 2015/16, one spent several weeks around the pond in Iris Brickfield.

Dipper ‘ I fear that this bird is perhaps not as often seen owing to the pollution of the stream from Gosforth village and the consequent destruction of the larvae upon which it fed… although ‘Miss Adamson informs me that it certainly did breed here. The nest was under the waterfall, and when she was little, her old nurse used to take her there daily to watch the birds flying out and in…’ Nowadays: There have been regular sightings since 2006. In July 2019. Marek Bidwell wrote on Twitter: ‘I spotted a #Dipper at the top of @JesmondDeneOrg this morning – it had retreated into a rocky crevice to escape the torrent of steaming water cascading down the Ouseburn, creating humidity that I would more typically associate with a tropical rain forest rather than #Newcastle.’ Earlier, in 2016, he managed to photograph a nesting pair ‘under the bridge at Cradlewell’. He has not seen them there since and says there may have been a problem with rats or vandalism.

Dippers, Jesmond Dene Copyright: Marek Bidwell

Grey Heron ‘Seen flying so low that it can said to have been seen actually in the Dene’(Ethel Cochrane, Noble’s sister)‘ Nowadays: The occasional, mainly young, heron can still be seen in Jesmond Dene in an around the burn. Gareth Kane photographed one in November 2018. Marek Bidwell has seen one fishing near Castle Farm Road. There are also occasional sightings on Iris Brickfield.

(Red breasted) Merganser ‘Mr Alfred Cochrane tells me that in February 1929, during the very hard weather, he saw a merganser in the burn, most of which was frozen over at the time. The stream has not been frozen over more than twice in the last 40 years, at least solid enough for people to walk on the ice. The other occasion was in January 1895.’ Nowadays:  More recently, Gavin Dudley has seen a pair in the Dene.

Water Rail ‘Seen in the burn at Craghall in 1910 or 1911’ (Colonel Adamson). Nowadays: A rarity just as in Noble’s time but in February 2013, a ranger posted ‘First ever film of a Water Rail in Jesmond Dene! I was really lucky to see this (only 4th ever record in the Dene) and even luckier to catch some nice feeding behaviour on film.’

Snipe ‘In February 1929 Mr Alfred Cochrane saw a snipe near the bridge in the grounds of Jesmond Dene House. Doubtless it was driven to the burnside by the extremely cold weather.’ Nowadays: A single record in August 1995.

Green Sandpiper ‘I have included this bird… although the two occurrences come somewhat outside my time limit. John Hancock in “Birds of Northumberland and Durham” stated a specimen… was killed in Jesmond Dene on the 26th July 1843 and adds … a fine specimen… found dead [at Craghall] in August 1855.’ Nowadays: No recent reports.

Little Grebe ‘Seen in the burn just above the bridge at Crag Hall in late summer of 1910 or 1911’ (Colonel Adamson). Nowadays: Still a very rare visitor but Mike Cook recorded one in December 2008.

But there are also so called ‘water birds’ that George Noble and friends didn’t see at all between the 1860s and 1930 but which have been recorded in more recent years:

Mute Swan: Occasionally sighted but this year, for the first time anyone can remember, they built a nest on Paddy Freeman’s pond, perhaps partly because council cuts and lockdown have meant more debris than usual to use for nesting material. They even made an appearance with ranger, Sarah Capes, on ‘Look North’!

Common Gull: Occasionally spotted among flocks of black-headed gulls, Mike Cook’s last record was in January this year.

Reed Bunting: They were a common sight on the reeds of the Iris Brickfield pond, certainly up to a few years ago and one year, a pair were regular visitor to garden bird feeders in the North Heaton bungalows, including the author’s.

Canada Goose: The author photographed and tweeted about seeing one in the Iris Brickfield in March 2015. It was facing down a pair of magpies. They are also occasionally seen in Paddy Freeman’s.

Coot: The author saw a coot on the pond on Iris Brickfield a few years ago. Mike Cook last saw one in the Ouseburn parks in April 2012.

Cormorant: Gareth Kane’s report in January 2020 was the latest of a number of sightings of this coastal bird.

Goosander: Marek Bidwell has seen a female at the top of the Dene near Castles Farm Road. Mike Cook’s most recent record was in January 2020.

Tufted Duck:  Also seen from time to time in Paddy Freeman’s, most recently by Mike Cook this March.

Goldeneye: Gavin Dudley has seen them in Paddy Freeman’s pond. Mike Cook has recorded two in November 1991 and December 2011.

Mandarin Duck: Mike Cook reports regular sightings between November 2002 and September 2003 and sporadically until 2013.

Wood Duck: Mike Cook reports that one was a regular in the winter of 1995 and another from April 2002 to 2003.

Teal: a single report from Mike Cook in September 2011.

Curlew: Gareth Kane saw two among the beech trees in Heaton Park in the winter of 2010.

Redshank: Recorded by Mike Cook close to the stepping stones on the Ouseburn in November 2004.

Great Crested Grebe: Gavin Dudley reports seeing one in recent years.

Common Tern: A single sighting over Paddy Freeman’s lake by Mike Cook in July 2007.

Farmland (and cliff)

Noble lists a number of birds as being common on the fields on the east side of the Dene ie inHigh Heaton. From the Coast Road to Castles Farm Road, even in 1930, the only buildings shown on a map are a couple of farm houses and High Heaton Cottages on what we now call The Spinney. 

Mistle (‘Missel’) Thrush ‘This bird bred year after year in the grounds of Jesmond Dene House in a tree close to the road and in full view of passers-by’. Nowadays: Still commonly found in the Dene and around Heaton, it is more a bird of open spaces than its cousin, the song thrush. In May 2020, Gareth Kane photographed a parent and young in a nest in a tree on the banks of the Ouseburn.

Swallow ‘Common and breeds’. Nowadays: The most recent records from Paddy Freeman’s are September 2015 and around that time they also used to sometimes be seen flying low over Iris Brickfield field and pond.

House Martin ‘Used to breed every year at Crag Hall.’ Nowadays: Good numbers nest in some of Heaton’s terraces and at Heaton Community Centre. They can occasionally be seen hunting insects over the trees in the parks.

Swift ‘Occasionally seen. I fancy these have become much more common over the Dene since St George’s Tower was built.’ Nowadays: Although the numbers are much smaller than even a few years ago, small numbers of swifts still return to Heaton skies and roof spaces every May.

Skylark ‘This bird was very common in all the fields on the east side of the Dene. I found a nest with three eggs on 3 May 1870. These eggs are still in my collection… the ground where they used to breed so plentifully is now covered with villas and tennis courts’ (Presumably Jesmond Park East and West and Melbury Road. Ed). Nowadays: You’d have to go to the Town Moor or Rising Sun to hear skylarks today.

Partridge ‘My father had the shooting of the fields on the east of the Dene and occasionally he got quite a good bag’. 2020: Again, you might spot them at Rising Sun or the Town Moor.

Corncrake ‘I have not heard its note for some time but it was common and bred regularly in the fields east of the Dene. I remember being told that six nests were found in one field alone when it was being mown’. Nowadays: Sadly now confined to Western Scotland and Ireland, except perhaps on migration.

Lapwing (‘Green Plover’) ‘Used to breed regularly in the fields east of the Dene. I had some eggs in my collection taken in April 1877 and marked with the words ‘taken within 10 minutes walk of Jesmond Dene House’. Nowadays: The nearest lapwing to Heaton the author has seen is by the pond behind the Wills Building, visible through a fence just before the Newcastle United training ground.

Yellowhammer ‘I found a nest on the east side of the Dene containing two eggs, many years ago but it was a very common bird in the sixties.’ Nowadays: Not reported by any of our birders in the Dene or Heaton.

Pheasant ‘Occasionally seen in former years, no doubt having strayed down from Gosforth Park, where they used to be reared in large quantities. One seen early in 1930.‘ Nowadays: Anthea James reports seeing one once in her North Heaton garden. Mike Cook has recorded two, in April 1994 and June 2015.

Quail ‘My father shot one in the sixties, the skin of which I had for a long time in my possession. This bird was killed within a few yards of the Dene fence.’ Nowadays: No reports.

Black-headed Gull; Herring Gull; Lesser Black-backed Gull. Noble lists these three birds together and comments ‘I do not know how far these birds may be considered as birds of the Dene. They are seen in great quantities every winter flying close over the Dene and I think they occasionally alight in the field opposite the old Flint Mill. When the Dene was in the country, they often pitched in the surrounding fields’. Nowadays: Gulls are a common sight all year round throughout Heaton. Large flocks of black-headed gulls can be seen on Paddy Freeman’s playing fields and Iris Brickfield in winter; herring gulls can be seen year round in both parks and around Heaton roof tops; lesser black-backed is now a summer visitor and becoming more common.

However, there are also ‘farmland’ (and ‘cliff’) birds that George Noble and friends didn’t see at all between the 1860s and 1930:

Feral Pigeon: Descended from the rock dove, a farmland bird, which have been bred in captivity for many years and been very successful in their return to the wild, creating a new habitat in city streets as well as parks and gardens. The white ones are descendants of the occupants of a dovecote that used to be in Pets’ Corner. Did George Noble really not see any up until 1930 or did he not think they really counted?

Stock Dove: Distinguished from feral pigeons in flight by their lack of a white rump and from wood pigeons by their lack of a white patch on the side of their neck and white band on their wings. Their songs differ too. Resident throughout the Ouseburn parks.

Carrion Crow Only fairly recently separated as a species from the closely related Hooded Crow, which Noble did see, but, unlike its cousin, now ubiquitous all year round.

Greylag Goose: Mike Cook recorded one in January 2000.

Peregrine Falcon: Local naturalist, James Common, has reported several sightings from his home in Heaton’s terraces, including via this tweet in December 2018: ‘Peregrine silhouetted overhead at first light, Herring Gulls going beserk. My second record this Winter on my street in Heaton…’

Conclusion

Sir George Noble and friends recorded 74 different species in the almost 60 years between the 1860s and 1930, 58 of which were reported by our local birders in the 30 or so years between 1990 and 2020. Of those species not recorded in more recent times, 11 were considered by Noble to be common at some point during his recording period.

In addition, our birders recorded some 35 species that Noble and friends didn’t see, around 10 of which we could classify as very or relatively common and 25 rare.

So somewhat surprisingly, the final score is Noble 76 Nowadays 93. We have a number of advantages, not least of high speed communications to report sightings and social media on which those sightings can be permanently recorded. We also stretched the geographical area covered a little more than Noble did. But on the other hand, Noble and his friends and relatives had the advantage of actually living in the Dene itself.

We can argue all day about the numbers but what is clear is that Jesmond Dene and the other parks of Heaton are a precious historic and environmental resource, which we should both enjoy and do our very best to conserve for future generations.

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Chris Jackson of Heaton History Group with huge and much appreciated input from our local birders, Marek Bidwell, Michael Burnie, Mike Cook, Gavin Dudley, Geoff Forrester, Anthea James and Gareth Kane, along with additional assistance from David Noble-Rollin and Northumberland and Tyneside Bird Club and the many Twitter users mentioned in the text.

Can You Help?

Please fee free to add your sightings and other observations to the Comments section by clicking on the link below the title of this article.


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/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Great Peace: a Heaton schoolgirl’s memento

In summer 1919, every schoolchild in Newcastle was given their own, personally inscribed, copy of a booklet commemorating the ‘Signing of the Great Peace’ on 28 June.

GreatPeaceMementoBooklet

Newcastle schoolchildrens’ Great Peace souvenir, 1919

 

The booklet was full of stirring words, such as:

‘This Victory has only been made possible through the heroism of, and the sacrifices made by, your Fathers and Brothers, the splendid men from our Colonies, and our gallant Allies, nobly assisted by the patriotism of our women.

You were too young to take part in the struggle, but your turn has now come – not to fight as your Fathers and Brothers did, but to prove yourselves worthy of the noble men who fought and suffered for you, and to do your share as Citizens of the great British Empire, so that you may be able to preserve and to hand down to the next generation the priceless heritage of Freedom which has been secured for you at so great a cost.’

One recipient was Dorothy Mary Flann who, aged 10 years old, had just started Chillingham Road Senior School. She saw fit to keep this memento until she died in 1983.  Heaton History Group member, Arthur Andrews, recalls, ‘I probably bought her booklet for a small sum at Tynemouth Market several years ago because of my interest in WWI’. He has since looked into Dorothy’s family history and found out more about the ‘Great Peace’ celebrations in Newcastle and Heaton.

The Flann Family

Abraham Flann, Dorothy’s grandfather, an H M Customs Officer, and his wife had lived in St Helier, Jersey, where several of their children were born but by 1871 they had relocated to Willington Quay. By 1881 the family had moved to 6 North View, Heaton and by 1891 they had moved to 36 Heaton Road.

By the turn of the twentieth century, they were living at 45 Heaton Hall Road and, ten years later, Abraham was a 75 year old widower, at 34 Rothbury Terrace, with his single, 29 year old daughter, Caroline Amelia, a domestic servant and 2 sick nurses (who were probably visiting).

George Ernest Flann, a grocer’s manager, one of Abraham’s sons, continued to live at the family’s former home of 45 Heaton Hall Road, with his second wife, Charlotte Mary and children, William Henry, Jessy Emily and Dorothy Mary, whose commemorative booklet Arthur eventually bought.

GreatPeace45HeatonHallRoadwithStreetName

Flann family home on Heaton Hall Road

George’s brother, Edgar, who would have been 14, does not appear at home in the 1911 census, which was something of a mystery until Arthur found, in a Chillingham Road School admissions book, that he had been awarded a Flounders Scholarship, named after a Quaker industrialist called Benjamin Flounders. Flounders’ wife and daughter predeceased him so he left his fortune in a trust to help educate poor and needy children with their education in the form of schools and scholarships.

Evidently Edgar was the only scholar in the county to be awarded the scholarship, which was valued at £80, tenable for 4 years at the North East County School in Barnard Castle. When he left school, Edgar joined a bank as an apprentice. In 1916, he joined the Royal Naval Reserve and trained as a signaler, as can be seen from his surviving WWI records below:

GreatPeaceEdgarFlannGBM_ADM339_0146-FITZ_00060

Part of Edgar Flann’s military service record

In 1917, Edgar married Frances Lorna Skelton and they went to live in the west end.

The ‘Great Peace’ celebrations

According to the local papers, the form that the commemoration and celebration of the Great Peace  were to take, was hastily agreed by Newcastle Council and put together, remarkably, within a month or two but it didn’t pass entirely without a hiccup: a travelling historic pageant was put together with the proceeds going to the St Dunstan’s Blinded Soldiers and Sailors charity. Unfortunately, there was a train strike with the result that the wood for the makeshift grandstand and theatrical scenery did not arrive and so the council had to spend its own money to ensure that the pageant took place. In the end the event, at Exhibition Park, made a loss and no monies at all went to the charity. Schoolchildren were also supposed to be given a commemorative mug but not enough could be produced within the short timescale.

GreatPeaceMugAlan2

GreatPeaceMugAlan1

Great Peace commemorative mug as given to the children of Stocksfield, Northumberland

But lots of events did take place. On Saturday 19 July 1919, a ‘victory march‘ was held. Various local regiments left the Town Moor at 11.00am and marched through the city. At 3.00pm there was a choir and band concert at St James’s Park. There was English folk dancing in Jesmond Dene, as well as bands in parks throughout the city. Other parks had dancing until 10pm at night. At 9.30pm, the Tyneside Scottish Pipe Band processed around the city streets and an illuminated tramcar seemed to cover the whole tram network, leaving Byker Depot at 5.30pm for Scotswood Bridge before returning via Barras Bridge, Newton Road, Heaton Junction before finally ending up back at Byker Depot at 11.15pm.

It was reported that children celebrated with ‘gusto’, thoroughly enjoying themselves even if some felt that the Great Peace was more for the grown-ups than themselves. That would have changed when they heard King George V announce that they would get an extra week’s summer holiday from school, making it five weeks in all.

In speeches, it was impressed on the children that the fight had not been for the winning of great lands but to free people from oppression and allow them liberty in their own countries. It was also said that while remembering the heroes who had returned from war, they must not forget those who had died in the fight for civilization. Many of the children were bedecked in red, white and blue ‘favours’ and schools flew flags of not only the United Kingdom but of the Allies as well.

Heaton celebrates

 Over the next few weeks, street parties were held throughout Newcastle. One party in lower Pilgrim Street bedecked with flags, bunting and red and white chalked kerb stones, was painted by local artist, Joseph Potts. And there are reports in the papers of many such parties in Heaton, with each local politician, business and charity seemingly more generous than the last and, no doubt, enjoying the publicity that came with it.

GreatPeaceMayorSutherland1919MementoBooklet_edited-1

Arthur Munro Sutherland opened  a victory tea in Hotspur St back lane

 

On 2nd August, it was reported that ‘a victory tea and fete was in the back lane between Hotspur St and Warwick St. The lane was gaily decorated and tables and chairs set down in the centre’. It was opened by the Lord Mayor, Arthur Munro Sutherland. ‘Games and racing followed arranged by Mrs W Wilson and Mrs D Robson.’

On 11th, ‘About 150 children of Malcolm St and Bolingbroke St were entertained by their parents and friends at a victory tea and treat. Sports and dancing was held and each child received a toy and, through the kindness of Mr George Black of the Grand Theatre, they each received a 3d piece.’

On 12th, the Illustrated Chronicle carried pictures of the above and events in Mowbray St and Heaton Park Road. ‘Coming soon, pictures of Chillingham Road…’

On 22nd, ‘137 children were entertained at a Peace tea in Simonside Terrace. Councillor Arthur Lambert opened proceedings and presented each child with a piece of silver. The children were entertained at the Jesmond Pavilion at the invitation of the manager.’ The organisers even managed to show a profit with ‘the balance of £2-1s-0d presented to St Dunstans’.

On  1 September, ‘children were entertained in one of the fields beyond Heaton Cemetery courtesy of the Manchester Unity of Oddfellows.’

On 9th,  ‘150 children from Simonside and Warton Terraces were entertained at the Bungalow, Armstrong Park. They were afterwards given a free treat at the Scala Theatre.’

And, with that, the five week holiday appeared to be over.

Dorothy

As for Dorothy, proud owner of the Signing of the Great Peace souvenir that has prompted this article, in 1941, with much of  the world embroiled in yet another war, she married Raymond Lancelot Donaldson, a merchant seaman. They lived together at 46 Coquet Terrace for many years.

GreatPeaceMalingSouvenir

Great Peace Celebration commemorative mug made by Maling

Can you help?

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

Acknowledgement

Researched and written by Arthur Andrews of Heaton History Group, with additional material by Chris Jackson. Thank you also to Alan Giles for the photograph of his Great Peace commemorative mug.

Sources

Ancestry

Findmypast

National Newspaper Archive

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

 

Home Sweet Home

As you push your trolley round Sainsbury’s, have you ever wondered what went on there before the supermarket and nearby car showrooms were built? The photographs below (courtesy of Historic England’s Britain from Above project) show the area on 1 November 1938. The houses to the north, west and south east had been built over the previous decade or so but there was still open country to the east. On the extreme right of both photos, you can see Heaton Cemetery.

CremonaEPW060135

A S Wilkin Ltd Cremona Park (on the right) from the west, 1938

Cremona3EPW059900

Cremona Park Confectionery Works, 1938

Cremona Park, the self-styled ‘ World’s Garden Toffery’  opened on what was then a green field site on Benton Road in 1920. It was founded by Albert Scholick Wilkin, the son of a Westmorland policeman. Wilkin had opened a sweet factory in Sunderland in 1908. It was an immediate success, especially its ‘Wilkin’s Red Boy Toffee’, which featured a detail from Thomas Lawrence’s famous painting, ‘Charles William Lambton’, later known as ‘Red Boy’. By the end of WW1, Cremona had become a national brand.

CremonaRedBoythumbnail_IMG_3869

Cremona’s Red Boy Toffee tin

At about the same time, the old Royal Flying Corps site in High Heaton, Newcastle was no longer needed by the military. It gave Wilkin the space he needed to expand his business. There were many new flavours of toffee in ever more beautiful tins.

In 1939, Albert received a knighthood for ‘political and public services in Newcastle upon Tyne’. He was a Justice of the Peace, Chairman of Newcastle Central Conservative Association, governor of King’s College (now Newcastle University), an honorary freeman of the City of London and a Liveryman of the Feltmakers Company. During the war, he served on committees which oversaw the regulation of the confectionery industry. But in 1943, aged only 60, Albert Wilkin died.

Sons, Gordon and Frank, took over the running of the company and after the war, the export markets returned: Hong Kong, China, Syria, Gibraltar, South Vietnam, Puerto Rico, the West Indies, the USA, among others, all loved High Heaton toffee. But, by the 1960s, larger companies began to dominate and Cremona Park had become part of Rowntrees Mackintosh and soon afterwards, the Benton Road factory closed its doors forever.

Home 

Veronica Halliwell (nee Erskine) has vivid memories of Cremona Park in the 1940s. Living what must be every child’s dream, she grew up in the grounds of a toffee factory.

Let Veronica take up the story: ‘I was born in 1940 and lived with my mother and grandparents at ‘The Lodge’, Cremona Park, Benton Rd. Newcastle upon Tyne until I was 8 years old.’ 

CremonaHalliwell9resized

Veronica with her doll’s house and the Cremona chimney behind (not part of the doll’s house!)

CremonaHalliwell10resized

Veronica and her mother outside the Cremona Park lodge where they lived

‘My grandfather was a commissionaire who checked transport at the gate of Cremona Park. He was also the office cleaner and a fire warden. My mother also worked in the factory – on the sweet machines. Meanwhile my father was a soldier on active duty with the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers. My grandmother looked after me.  I have many very happy memories of this time.’

Grandad

‘Grandad had a very smart uniform with brass buttons which, as a child, I loved to polish with him.  I had a toothbrush to collect the dampened solid block of brass polish and we polished it off when dry with a small duster at the dinner table in front of the black-leaded fireplace which always had a kettle on the boil.’ 

CremonaHalliwell4resized

Veronica and her grandparents with Cremona Park canteen to the right

‘When we had finished and the buttons were gleaming, grandad would toast me some bread on a long handled fork over the open fire. Then the tin bath would be placed in front of this fire and Grandad would have his weekly bath!

Now and again I was allowed to go to the offices while Grandad did his cleaning chores. With hindsight, the high, wooden desks were quite Dickensian in appearance with high stools which I couldn’t reach!  I used to play with the black telephones (probably Bakelite) and my Grandad lifted me up and I pretended to ‘clock-in’ at a very large ornate office clock.

The Boss’s office was a different affair altogether with a green leather top, silver ink pots and a wonderful green leather  chair which I could swivel away in to my heart’s content. One day, the boss appeared and I am told that he was delighted with me. So much so that for Xmas 1945 or ’46  he gave me my first hard-backed book, ‘The Little Fir-Tree’. It gave me such pleasure that to this day, 70 plus years on , I still retell the story to all manner of children at Christmastime, even though the book has disappeared in the sands of time.

The fire wardens met in the canteen when they were ‘on duty’ but they never seemed to put out any fires, they just played cards and dominoes while I had a few rides on the ’dumb waiter’ as a reward for singing ‘You are my Sunshine.’ No health and safety rules and regulations then!’

Sweet machine

‘I can remember being carried into the factory to see my ‘mam’ at her sweet machine. The jewelled coloured wrapping paper seemed magical, as sweets slid down a chute at an alarming rate. When all the machines had shut down for the day I can still recall the hot, clean smell as the thick wooden slabs where the  toffee was rolled  were sluiced down with boiling water.’

We are lucky enough to have copies of postcards which show what the factory looked like inside, at every stage of the production process. They are undated but the first image suggests they were taken soon after the factory opened in 1920. So before Veronica’s time but perhaps not her grandad’s.

CremonaToffee1131 RLC

CremonaToffee2134 RLC

CremonaToffee3132 RLC

CremonaToffee4135 RLC

CremonaToffee5133 RLC

CremonaToffee6136 RLC

Wartime

Veronica continues: ‘We mustn’t lose sight that it was wartime and my uncle made me my very own ’Tommy gun’ which was almost as big as me.  I played with the two sons of the boiler man at the factory but they were older than me and they were boys so I always had to be a ‘Jap’ and spent most of my time tied up in prison. They had an indoor shelter in their bungalow which was a great den until the siren went off one afternoon and we heard the drone of the German planes overhead. According to the grown-ups they had a different sound to our planes.  We were told that the German bombers used the tall chimney of Cremona and the tall chimney next door of the Sylvan jam factory to navigate their way.

There was also a very large brick communal shelter which had slatted wooden benches  where the adults sat or slept during an air raid. I slept in my pram, so I am told, but I can very definitely remember my mam running with me in my pram to the shelter and whenever it is a cold, crisp, clear night I swear I can smell the fresh, cold air there as if it were yesterday. The sound of the ‘all clear’ siren still haunts me and gives me goose-bumps.’

Even though it was wartime I was very lucky to have an uncle whose hobby was making toys-hence the doll’s house you see on one of the photographs.’

When I was almost eight, we moved to a prefab in Wallsend but still continued to go to St Teresa’s School in Heaton.  When I was 11 years old we moved to a house just up Benton Rd. which was only a stone’s throw from Cremona Park and, in my teens, St George’s Methodist Church Youth Club paved the way to friendships and frequent visits to Paddy Freeman’s Park and Jesmond Dene.’

Lovely memories and photos of what must have been a very exciting place to grow up.

Can you help?

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

Acknowledgements

Thank you to Veronica for her memories and photographs; additional research by Chris Jackson

Sources include:

‘North East Life’, January 2010. Article by Jackie Wilkin, Albert Scholick Wilkin’s great niece.

Memories of Eighth Avenue

Reading Eric Dale’s series of articles in growing up in the Heaton’s Avenues was all the motivation one of our readers, Jean Sowrey, needed to put pen to paper. Here are her memories:

I was born Jean Rudd in 1936 In the front room of a two bed roomed flat in  Eighth  Avenue. I think a Dr Bell was in attendance and a midwife called Jean. For years to come we’d see midwife Jean around Heaton,  Mam continually reminding me that she was the reason for my name Jean.  At that time Dad was a postman and I had an elder sister, Margaret, who was 22 months old.

EighthAvenue70 RLCedresize

Eighth Avenue

EighthAvenueRudd

Jean and Dorothy Rudd on the front step of their home in Eighth Avenue

Apart from the two bedrooms, our flat had a sitting room with a black leaded fireplace and the scullery with sink, gas cooker and a gas boiler  No hot water so kettle boiled  frequently and gas boiler used on Mondays (wash day) and for filling the tin bath. Latter used placed in front of the fire. Outside was the back yard where the mangle was stored  and also the toilet, no toilet paper only newspaper squares.  Washing was hung on a line  in the  back lane.

I think women had a hard life in the 1940s. Mam having to do all the  house work: black leading the fire place, doing the washing with a poss stick, plus shopping etc.  She also did a lot  of cooking. A pretty regular daily menu, Mondays always being Sunday’s leftovers .Occasionally we had jelly having been left  to set covered outside on a window sill. Having an abundance of relatives, we frequently  had Sunday afternoon callers –  the treasured tin of salmon opened.

Wartime

In 1939 Second World War started a month before my third Birthday. Margaret, my elder sister, was just about to start school. Alas Chillingham Road School had a glass roof  so  children were sent to North Heaton School. (Not sure if it was only the infant school?) .  More work for Mam having to arrange blackout curtains etc.  Dad in a reserved occupation didn’t need to enlist for military service but did so in 1941, joining the army Maritime Service as a Gunner. Previously from a young age,  he’d  served with the Royal  Scots Fusiliers, giving it upon  marriage.

In 1940 my sister Dorothy was born, our maternal grandmother, Frances Stephenson  having died a week before. She was buried in Heaton Cemetery.  The last of one of our grandparents

1941 and Dad went off to do military service. Women being required to work during the war, Mam started work at a chemists on Heaton Road, owners Mr and Mrs Bartle. They were excellent employers allowing Mam to take our younger sister Dorothy. How Dorothy occupied herself goodness knows!

EighthAvenueRudds0001 (2)

Margaret, Dorothy and Jean Rudd with their mother taken at James Riddell, Chillingham Road c1943-4

046772:Chillingham Road Heaton City Engineers 1979

Who remembers Riddell’s, the photographer?

School years

That year I joined Margaret at Chillingham Road  School. Memories are vague now  although I do recall a teacher Mrs Whitehouse  who absolutely terrified me and others.  She used a belt to reprimand pupils. One incident I recall was when she used it on   Cynthia Jackson, a girl  who wore a calliper on her leg. Fortunately it never happened to me, a rather mild child! One memory I have is when we celebrated Empire Day, marching around the Union flag. Another memory is Air Raid Drill. Going to the air raid shelter where we sang  songs:  ‘Ten Green Bottles Hanging On The Wall’ and many more.  If you were clever were top of the class you received a medal. Later my brainy young  sister Dorothy was frequently a recipient. Some pupil names I recall are my best friend Dorothy Rogers who also had a sister, Margaret;  Brenda Parker, Sheila Raine, John and Elisabeth Crowe, Gordon Winn, Dorothy Emily, Olga Hedley and, of course, Eighth Avenue children.

In Eighth Avenue my close playmates were Betty Kibble, Sheila Muir, Kathleen Flanagan, Freda Patterson, Joan Robinson, Eric Dale and  Harold Charlton. Other children in the street were Moira and Brian Law, Teddy Masterson, Alan  & David Hinkley, the Nicholson brothers, Ernest Wray, Lucy Aspinall, Joyce Munster. We played outdoors most of the time, hopscotch etc – and skipping ropes for the girls.

At home we spent a lot of time listening to the radio. Sunday lunch time ardently listening to ‘Two –Way Family Favourites‘ with Jean Metcalfe and Cliff Michelmore –  a programme for families and members of the armed forces – Dad even sent us a message.  Other indoor activities included knitting and letter-writing to Dad. My two sisters and I took piano lessons and the teacher would drop the shilling into a milk bottle: she also gave me dancing and elocution lessons gratis as she liked me. We also went to Heaton Swimming Baths and the library, and did a lot of walking to Jesmond Dene and Heaton Park, where I also played tennis. Occasionally we went to the cinema – The Scala and the Lyric.

Scala cinema Chillingham Road

Scala Cinema, Chillingham Road (where Tesco is now)

During air raids we would go across the road to the Taylor family air raid shelter. The camaraderie of Eighth Avenue neighbours was incredible. I  believe their daughter, Lily, was serving as a  Land Girl. The air raid I still recall was when Guildford Place  was bombed and totally devastated. We felt the blast too, though luckily only windows shattered. That particular night Mam had taken Margaret and myself to the Taylors’ shelter. Baby Dorothy (5 months) sleeping peacefully in her cot, Mam decided  unusually to leave her at home. Fortunately Dorothy survived unscathed even though glass was all around.                                                                                                                         .

At the end of Junior School girls had to go to North Heaton School whereas the boys went into senior school. A bit unfair really as we were about to sit the 11 plus exam which meant some of us were only there one year. Margaret and I passed for Middle Street Commercial School  For Girls. Young sister Dorothy eventually went to Central Newcastle High School For Girls.

Dad didn’t come home in 1945 as he’d been involved in an accident in an army lorry in Greenock and suffered a broken femur. He ended up spending two years  in Hexham General  Hospital. He had been torpedoed twice during the war, luckily rescued and survived. However war finished and he had his accident  whilst awaiting demob.  Finally home in 1947 with a serious limp, he couldn’t go back to his Heaton postman job but was given work at Orchard Street Sorting Office.

Being an ex-Army veteran  and because of Dad’s disability we were given a brand new council house at Longbenton  and in 1948 left Eighth Avenue, but the first 11 years will always remain with me.

Acknowledgements

Thank you, Jean, for taking the trouble to write down some of your Heaton memories. Fascinating both for your contemporaries and for those too young to remember the thirties and forties.

Can you help?

If you know anything else about any of the people mentioned in this article, please get in touch either by clicking on the link immediately below the title of this article or by emailing chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

We are always interested to receive information, memories and photos relevant to the history of Heaton.

Jesmond Dene: past, present and future

Our August guided walk will take us to Jesmond Dene. The Ouseburn Parks Volunteer Guides will help participants explore this much-loved park – its history, its buildings and the families connected with it.

Brash Jesmond Dene

Jesmond Dene

We will meet at 6.30pm (Please note the earlier start time) on Wednesday 23 August at the Ouseburn Parks’ Visitor Centre in Jesmond Dene. Booking is essential and until Thursday 25 May is open to Heaton History Group members only.

Heaton at Play Part 1

In this his fourth piece, Eric Dale, who grew up in Eighth Avenue, Heaton from 1939 describes how Heaton children amused themselves in the 1940s and 50s:

Street games

‘Due to the complete absence of cars we were able to use the streets as playgrounds and there were always lots of of kids around to make up the numbers required for Tuggie, Tuggie-on-High, Hide and Seek and its variation (that we liked to think we’d invented): Kicky-the-tin. Then there was Mr Wolf, Football (and Headers), Cricket, Knocky-nine-doors, Hopscotch, Olympic Games, Mountakitty (known as Harra Levens only a few streets away), Chucks, Marbles and Tops and Whips. If we made too much noise, even during the day, we risked being shouted at. The sash window would slide up, a woman’s head would emerge and it would be ‘why divvent youz lot bugger off  t’the park, me man’s a’bed’ (on nightshift).

Once we graduated to riding bikes we used to organise races around the block without even considering there’d be any traffic hazards; such as buses on Second Avenue. It was certainly only down to good fortune that we escaped any such encounters. A popular hobby was collecting empty cigarette packets and it was quite a craze for a while, there being some quite exotic ones such as Du Maurier, Abdulla, Passing Clouds, Kensitas and State Express. The cardboard these were made from was also useful for jamming against our cycle spokes. To our ears this made a very authentic ‘motorcycle’ sound as the wheel turned so we would then take the machines to rough ground nearby to play speedway.

Our street also claimed to have invented ‘clay boilers’ but the idea was probably handed down. They were about the size and shape of a present-day pack of butter but were hollow and made from slabs of clay dug out from the sand-pit in the park or from the brickyard at the bottom of Rothbury Terrace. There were several variants but the one I remember had a lid covering the top from the back to about two-thirds of the box length. Through the back of the box a half-inch hole was made. The idea was to stuff the box with rags, set them alight then extinguish the flames so that only the glow remained. Then holding it in one hand at about head height the idea was to run so that plumes of dense smoke spilled out from the hole. Innocent fun from our point of view but how come we always had matches?

Speaking of matches the father of one of our number had a painting and decorating business so we were able to make up what we called fire-raiser from all the inflammable odds and ends such as turpentine, linseed oil and paraffin. Our favourite spot for experimenting with this highly volatile mixture was the ‘waste-land’ at the Coast Road/Chillingham Road corner. It was there on more than one occasion that having set the surrounding grassland on fire we almost lost control of the result, only just in time subduing the flames whilst choking on the billowing smoke drifting across the carriageway. Not at any point in the proceeding were we ever warned off by nearby residents or passers-by. And we were never troubled by police. Kids who indulged in that activity today would rightly be branded as arsonists and be up before a magistrate.

A rather more innocent (but rather strange) pastime was to buy lengths of multi-coloured electric cable, strip out the copper then cut the plastic outer into lengths of about half an inch, place one of these on an ordinary pin so that it stopped against the pinhead. The next move was to stick the pin through another pre-cut length of plastic, slide that up to meet the ‘handle’ and voila! you had a miniature sword. These were pinned onto jacket lapels for no other purpose than for decoration.

Hardly qualifying under the heading of ‘Games’ our curiosity about cigarette smoking got the better of a few of us during a short period at the end of the forties. It sounds horrendous now but we trawled around picking up discarded ciggy ends and when enough were collected extracted the usable tobacco and made smoking roll-ups with Rizla papers and a little machine. Thankfully this activity put me right off smoking for ever after.

Armed and Dangerous

We were so lucky as urban kids having access to open spaces just minutes away from our homes, all without even having to resort to the any of the modes of transport mentioned above. And didn’t we take full advantage of them all?

Heaton Park, Armstrong Park, Jesmond Vale, Paddy Freeman’s and Jesmond Dene were our natural habitat all year round. Anyone remember the sandpit at the old windmill? In my day this was a sizeable lake populated by thousands of frogs in the spring.

 

Old Windmill

Heaton Windmill, 1977 (Copyright:Eric Dale)

 

We virtually ran wild in those days and were always being chased by the Parky for some misdemeanour or another.

 

The Parky's House

‘The Parky’s House’, Armstrong Bridge, 1977 (Copyright: Eric Dale)

 

One summer the Parky Wars were stepped up a notch or two when much younger, fitter men wearing sand-shoes (the ultimate in speedy footwear) were employed to run down any miscreants. I am happy to report that we managed always to escape their clutches, though can’t exactly remember what it was we were doing that we ought not to have been. Might it have been hacking y-shaped branches from small trees and shrubs in order to make catapults? Most of us carried a knife of one sort or another; it being commonplace to see boys with a long-bladed edition strapped to their belt in a scabbard. We also went in for water-pistols, pea-shooters, bows and arrows and sometime even spears! We played war games in the more densely wooded areas (‘dadadadadada…got ye, Brian!’) in summer, with pretend guns made from sticks, and in winter it was snowball fights and sledging.’

(To be continued)

Acknowledgements

A big thank you to Eric Dale for his photos and memories. We’ll be featuring more in the near future.

Can you help?

We hope that you will add to what we know about how children played in the Avenues and Heaton generally. Either post your comments direct to this site by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or email chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org. It would be fantastic to find some more old photos.

 

John Wallace: landscape painter in oils

This evocative detail of ‘Newcastle upon Tyne from the South West’ is available on a greetings card, sold by Tyne and Wear Museums.

 

johnwallacedetailimg_0001

From John Wallace’s painting ‘Newcastle upon Tyne from the South West’

 

The original painting hangs in the Laing Art Gallery. It is the work of John Wallace who, for more than 20 years, lived at 28 Kingsley Place in Heaton.

Journeyman joiner

John Wallace was born in Ryton, Co Durham in 1841, the son of Henry, a cartwright, and his wife, Mary. On leaving school, young John joined his father’s firm as an apprentice and progressed to become a journeyman joiner. In his late twenties, he branched out into building and property development in Ryton and, by 1871, aged 27, was a successful businessman, married with a family. On census night, in addition to his one year old daughter, Jane, there were two ‘nephews’, Henry and William, in the household. The family was by now living in the west end of Newcastle.

Eventually though, during a period of recession affecting the building trade, John abandoned his livelihood to devote himself to art. According to a contemporary profile, it was only now that he took up painting, initially taking lessons from a local teacher. He progressed quickly, however, and, in 1880 and 1881, he exhibited works at the Arts Association  in Newcastle.

By 1881, he was still living in Elswick with his expanding family: Henry (17) and William (15)  were now described as ‘sons’ and were an architect and draughtsman respectively and there were three school-age daughters, Jane (11), Mary (7) and Alice (2). John now considered himself to be a professional painter and was described on the census form as  ‘artist – painting’.

johnwallaceimg_0002

Wallace was a prominent and early, maybe even founding, member of the Bewick Club, which was established by local artists in 1884. It is from one of its catalogues, held by Newcastle City Library, that this portrait was taken. The club’s primary function was to promote the needs of professional artists and to encourage not only the patronage of rich individuals but also that of the less wealthy. The club’s headquarters were in Lovaine Hall, St. Mary’s Place, where Northumbria University is now. Wallace remained a member until his death. We know that some of his exhibits at the club were bought by collectors and patrons such as Dr Charles Mitchell and Lady Armstrong. 

Kingsley Place

By 1891

, John, now a successful artist, and Mary, his wife, had moved with their three daughters to a newly built house in Kingsley Place, a quiet, pedestrianised street in a prime location overlooking the recently opened and picturesque Heaton Park. Soon a fine public library would open at the end of the street.

Their next door neighbours at 30 Kingsley Place were the musical Beers family from Holland, who we have written about on this site previously. Conveniently, a couple of doors the other way lived an Italian picture framer. Another soon to be well known painter and illustrator, John Gilroy, grew up across the road at number 25. He was a young child at the turn of the 20th century as John Wallace approached the end of his life. And, at the same time, a photographer, William Thomas, and more musicians, including Mary W Parkinson, who described herself as a ‘music teacher and vocalist’  moved into the street. It’s intriguing to imagine that the man in the photograph below could have been John Wallace and the little boy on the right a young John Gilroy.

 

kingsleyplacel109-rlced

Kingsley Place looking towards the Victoria Library from the collection of Hilary Bray (nee Bates)

Little wonder that, like their brothers, Henry and William, the Wallace girls also were drawn towards creative occupations: Jane and Mary were both dressmakers and, perhaps more unusually for the time, youngest daughter, Alice, was a photographer. Could she have even taken the above photograph?

You won’t be surprised to hear that John Wallace stayed in Kingsley Place for the rest of his life and that he thrived as an artist here.

Wallace painted many scenes around North East England especially in the Tyne valley. But he also travelled apparently and, for example, painted locations around Stratford upon Avon, including Anne Hathaway’s cottage, to increasing acclaim. So far though we know of only one painting of the area immediately around his home, even though Jesmond Dene, in particular, would seem to provide the perfect subject matter for him.

Royal Academy

In 1892, Wallace’s painting ‘Butter Washing’ was selected for inclusion at London’s Royal Academy annual exhibition. Wallace exhibited at the Royal Academy on two further occasions, with ‘A Northumberland Dairy’ selected in 1896 and ‘Derwent Vale’ in 1902.

In 1901, 59 year old John was described on the census form as ‘a landscape painter in oils’. He also produced black and white drawings for use in printed publications.

A number of Wallace’s works were selected for the newly opened Laing Art Gallery’s first ever ‘Artists of the Northern Counties’ exhibition in 1905. They included the one familiar local scene we know of, ‘Jesmond Falls’ , dated 1901. He died on 4 November 1905.

You can see John Wallace paintings at the Laing and Shipley Art Galleries and at George Stephenson’s birthplace in Wylam. They are reproduced here. His works also appear regularly at auction. ‘ Waterfall – Jesmond Dene’ was sold in 2013. You can see it here.

And perhaps you have a John Wallace on a wall at home? Although we are not art experts and cannot help with identification or valuation, it would be lovely to discover more John Wallace works, perhaps even more local scenes. We are sure he must have painted many more. Do let us know.

Postscript

This John Wallace shouldn’t be confused with his contemporary, the Scottish artist John Wallace who died in September 1903 and who, under the pseudonym George Pipeshank, did artwork for Cope’s Tobacco Company in Liverpool.

Aside from his work for Cope’s, John Wallace was primarily a watercolourist, who exhibited at the Scottish Academy. The two, their works and their dates are often confused but death notices for each can be found in the Newcastle and Edinburgh press respectively. There is also a self portrait of the Scottish John Wallace in the Liverpool University Special Collections and Archives John Fraser Collection.

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Chris Jackson of Heaton History Group. Sources included: ‘The Artists of Northumbria ‘by Marshall Hall, 1973.

Can you help?

If you know more about John Wallace or his work,  please either leave a comment by clicking on the link immediately below the title of this article or email chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

 

Paddy Freeman’s Park and Wild Jesmond Dene

Our August guided walk has been newly devised by the Ouseburn Park Guides and will be led by Heaton History Group member, Ann Denton, assisted by other park guides.

It will be a chance to find out about the Patrick Freemans, farmers and millers, and the history of Castle Farm and Crag Hall as well as to discover some of the less well known areas of Jesmond Dene.

CastlesFarm

Places are limited and so this walk is open to Heaton History Group members only in the first instance and booking is essential. Please book your place by contacting maria@heatonhistorygroup.org / 07443 594154. It will be free to Heaton History Group members and £2 to non members. Booking is open to Heaton History Group members only until Thursday 30 June.

Meet at Paddy Freeman’s Park pond at 6.30pm on Wednesday 24 August. The walk will take 1 and a half to 2hrs. There are some fairly steep gradients and uneven paths on the walk so it may be unsuitable for members with walking difficulties.

Photography in the blood

This rare photograph, of the visit to Newcastle in August 1884 of the Prince and Princess of Wales, was taken by Thomas Maitland Laws. This was the visit on which, after passing down Shields Road, North View and Heaton Park Road then through Heaton Park, they officially opened Armstrong Park and Jesmond Dene.

Almost all the images you will see of this famous event are drawings and engravings because to take documentary photographs of moving subjects was still a big challenge at that time. Thomas clearly understood the photograph’s commercial value because within a week of taking it, he had registered the copyright. It is, as a result, held in the National Archives,  where we found it.

LawsPrinceandPrincessWales Keith

Prince and Princess of Wales, Newcastle August 1884. Perhaps you can help us identify where it was taken.

Although Thomas was living in the centre of Newcastle at this time, he later lived in Heaton. During this period, he owned a photography business based on Shields Road West.

Early life

Thomas was born in Paddington on 2 July 1855 to Isabella and Peter Maitland Laws. Although both Thomas’s parents were northerners (Peter, Durham born, and Isabella from Cumberland), at this time they were living in London where Peter worked as a carpenter.

However by 1861, the Laws had moved back north with children Henry, Thomas, Sarah and Peter. The family lived in Grainger Street in the centre of Newcastle and Peter was now earning his living as a photographer.

Thomas was thus exposed (forgive the pun) to photography from a very early age at a time when some of his neighbours and indeed his own father were at the forefront of the development and popularisation of a still new medium.

The first mention we have found of Thomas in the press is in July 1867 when, aged 12, he was announced as the winner of the not inconsiderable sum of five shillings, having achieved second place in the ‘Triple Kites’ category of a kite-flying contest on the Town Moor. The previous year a photograph to be taken by his father had been announced as the prize for the various winners.

Pioneering father

Thomas’s father, Peter Maitland Laws, had been a professional photographer for at least eight years at this point. He was listed in the trade directories of 1859-60 as a ‘photographic artist’, living in Pilgrim St and operating from Northumberland Court (which still exists between Waterstones and Jamie’s Italian on Blackett Street), at a time when, although there were a number of ‘photographic artists’ practising in Newcastle, the occupation did not yet appear as a category in the classified listings. (1839 is generally considered the year in which commercial photography was born and it was the year the term ‘photography’ was coined by ‘father of photography’, the astronomer and chemist, John Herschel. But the medium took off slowly at first due to significant technical constraints.)

It was two years later after Laws’ first listing in the trade directories, in  1861, that the Newcastle and North of England Photographic Society was formed. Peter was a member of its original ‘council’ and later became treasurer. At the society’s first meeting, he presented ‘two proofs of his very beautiful views of the ruins of Tynemouth Priory’.

Important technical developments to the art form were still to take place: here in Newcastle in 1864, Joseph Wilson Swan, who owned a ‘chemical and photographic establishment’ on Mosley Street with his brother in law, John Mawson, perfected and patented the carbon process, an early method of producing permanently fixed photographs. It wasn’t for another 13 years, in 1877, that the same inventor perfected dry gelatine-bromide plates which made enlargements possible.

But in the meantime, photography was booming, with small photographic visiting cards becoming hugely popular.  Laws’ business, by now based in Blackett Street, must have been doing well because, by 1871, Peter and Isabella’s elder son, Henry, had followed his father into the firm, while 16 year old Thomas worked as a lithographer. This photograph of Thomas Laws’ grandparents, William (born in Wolsingham, Co Durham in 1793) and Sarah (born in Paisley, Scotland in 1790) dates from this time.

William and Sarah Laws c 1871F76

William and Sarah Laws, grandparents of Thomas Maitland Laws, 1871

Peter Maitland Laws didn’t rest on his laurels. He was said to be one of the first photographers to take portraits using artificial light when he introduced gas lighting into his studio.  In 1879, he advertised ‘Portraits in Dull Weather and at NIGHT with Laws’ “light irradiator”‘ and ‘Portraits in winter equal to summer: gas nights, Tuesday, Friday and Saturday 6-8’. And in February 1880, he made history when he used gaslight to take the first ever photograph of a performance at the Theatre Royal.

He was experimenting with ‘colour photographs’ at around the same time.

LawsphotocolourCCI27016_0001ed

Hand colouring, late 1870s

Peter’s ability to innovate as well as his photographic skill meant that, not only did his business continue to thrive, but he continued to be awarded personal accolades and prizes. In 1887 two of his award-winning photographs were included in the Newcastle Royal Jubilee Exhibition.

Peter Maitland Laws died in 1906.

Lawsphotos

Peter Maitland Laws

Developing talent

By 1881, aged 26, Thomas had followed his father into photography.  He was by now married and living in St Thomas Square with his wife Elizabeth, who hailed from the Isle of Bute. The couple were well enough off to employ a live-in servant.

It was around this time of his photograph of the royal visit that Thomas formally became a partner in the family business, which was retitled ‘P M Laws and Son’. In 1887, P M Laws and Son claimed to be ‘the largest and oldest established gallery of photography in the North’.

LawsphotocardCCI27016_0004ed

Reverse of a P M Laws and Son photograph

However, whether because Thomas wanted to move out of his father’s shadow or for some other reason, Thomas and Elizabeth didn’t stay in Newcastle. By 1891, they were living in Staffordshire with their young family: Amelia, aged 9; Maitland, 7, and Angus, 3. Thomas’s business was in Darlington Street, Wolverhampton. A number of his photographs from this time are in the National Archives, notably two of Wolverhampton Wanderers 1893 cup winning team.

Return to Heaton

The family returned north, however, first to Cumberland, where Thomas ran a photographic and art supplies shop, and then, perhaps because Thomas’s father, Peter, had died in 1906, to 24 Addycombe Terrace in Heaton, where Thomas was a self-employed photographer once more, with a studio at 42 Shields Road West. One of his neighbours at no 55 Addycombe Terrace was his younger half-brother, Albert Heath Laws, also a photographer.

By 1911 Thomas and Elizabeth’s 23 year old son, Angus Ferguson Laws, worked as his assistant, the third generation of the family to become a photographer. But sadly Angus, a Private in the Grenadier Guards, was killed in France on 27 September 1918, aged 30, just weeks before the end of WW1. He is remembered at the Grand Ravine British  Cemetery, Havrincourt.

Thomas had moved from Addycombe Terrace to 7 Warwick Street a few years earlier but by 1921 the Shields Road West business had closed and Thomas had moved back to the midlands. He died in  1928 in Warwickshire.

Postscript

June Howard, a great great granddaughter of Peter Maitland Laws, who now lives in Australia, kindly sent us some family photographs, including those seen here, and told us that photography ran in her family: ‘My understanding is a few of PM Laws children took up photography. My grandfather, Percy Maitland Laws, certainly did all his own developing. I remember we couldn’t use the bath room as it was his dark room.’

Sources

‘One Hundred Years of Photography in the North’, J Arnold Little, 1960

‘Sun Pictures: the Lit and Phil and the history of British photography’,Anthony Flowers and Alison Gunning; Lit and Phil, 2014

Catalogue of the Newcastle Jubilee exhibition (at the Lit and Phil)

Ancestry, British Newspaper Archives and other online resources

Shakespeare Streets

This article was researched and written by Chris Jackson as part of Heaton History Group’s project to commemorate the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death.

There are a number of streets in the west of Heaton which have names associated with Shakespeare: Bolingbroke, Hotspur, Malcolm, Mowbray and Warwick Streets plus Stratford Grove, Stratford Road, Stratford Grove Terrace, Stratford Grove West and Stratford Villas. We would love to discover why they were so named and we will research and write about some of the people who, like Thomas Maitland Laws, have lived or worked there.

We are also interested in other connections between Heaton and Shakespeare through its theatres, past and present; writers, actors – and of course, the famous brick Shakespeare on South View West.

Shakespeare

If you would like to get involved or have any information or memories that you think might be of interest, please contact us, either by clicking on the link immediately below the title of this article or by emailing chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

You might also like to read

The Photographer and his House