Tag Archives: Joseph Bell

‘Town with No Cheer’*: 1890s’ Heaton

Why has Shields Road got so many public houses and Chillingham Road so few? Is it merely because of the limitations and restrictions stemming from the nature of land ownership, most notably that of Lord Armstrong, which then became part of property deeds and covenants? Or is the truth much less certain but more interesting in that it encompasses wider themes and controversies of late nineteenth century Heaton, Newcastle and beyond?

This article will concentrate on the granting of licensed status to the East End Hotel (the earlier name of the Chillingham Hotel) in 1892 which became the first public house in Heaton proper but the story will also involve the burgeoning temperance movement, religious passions and educational ambitions within the general context of rapid urbanisation. This became known in the local press as The Heaton Question

Chillingham Hotel in 1966

Licences

From 1552 local Justices of the Peace had been given the power to decide who should be given a licence to run a ‘common alehouse’.  Partly in order to tackle the increasing popularity of wine and spirits, especially gin, and what was considered to be their more pernicious effects on family life and employment, the government of the Duke of Wellington decided to encourage the drinking of beer. The 1830 Beerhouse Act meant that any ratepayer could brew and sell beer on their premises without the need for a magistrate’s permission as long as they purchased a licence costing two guineas. Unsurprisingly this era of ‘free licensing’ led to a steep and rapid rise in the number of ‘beerhouses’ but would have been restricted in those areas where landowners prohibited this via the property deeds. The low population together with the existence of alehouses nearby may be enough to explain the lack of facilities in Heaton itself before the 1880s, rather than the importance of any land ownership covenants. 

Heaton’s expansion in the 1890s started from the south and west (OS Second Edition, 1894)

The popularity of ‘beershops’ attracted some criticisms from magistrates and religious groups especially those with links to the growing temperance movement.

The 1869 Wine and Beerhouse Act reimposed the necessity for the possession of a magistrate’s licence for any type of property selling alcoholic drinks either ‘on’ or ‘off’ the premises. Thus, by 1870, the justices had the power to refuse to grant or renew licences for all types of retail outlet. The magistrates’ decision making was arrived at via the public occasions known as Brewster Sessions which were also opportunities for interested parties to make their voice heard.  

Changing Heaton 

The growth of housing centred upon Chillingham Road was of course neither even nor instantaneous. Initially the area bordering Byker was seen as being part of that district rather than belonging to Heaton which stretched further away north and west. As Alan Morgan points out inHeaton from Farms to Foundries’ the rise in population and associated need for housing only began in the last two decades of the nineteenth century. There were 257 people living in Heaton in 1871 but by 1901 the number had soared to 22,913. Previously urbanisation and industrialisation had been features of areas closer to the Tyne than in Heaton itself. The opening of the North Shields railway in 1839 with a passenger station near Heaton Road and the concomitant marshalling yard at Heaton Junction created employment and demand for housing. The area along Heaton Road had of course already been the scene of some house building though this was for a more up market clientele with views across the parks and easy access to the local churches that had also sprang up. In 1878 Byker Road Bridge saw a massive increase in traffic in comparison to the earlier toll footpath along the railway viaduct. It is interesting to note that the impact of the railways on the movement from farming to residential use also became a significant factor in the opposition to, and the need for, licensed premises within the district.    

William Turnbull

It is worth noting that before William Turnbull began the quest to gain a licence for a new institution to be called the East End Hotel he had already embarked upon a range of initiatives and entrepreneurial activities.  Although born into a farming family in Northumberland, by 1871 he was living in All Saints parish and was described in the census as being a wine and spirit merchant. Ten years later he is the licensee of the Trafalgar Inn, 84 New Bridge Street. By the late 1880’s he was the occupant of Meadowfield House (now social club) which is immediately behind what is now the Chillingham Hotel.

There had been some attempts to gain permission for licensed properties in Heaton prior to the involvement of William Turnbull but these had been sporadic and relatively small scale. The Brewster Sessions of 1 September 1886 were attended by deputations from the United Temperance Societies as well as Byker and Heaton Ratepayers. A provisional (i.e., subject to later confirmation) beer and wine licence was asked for a house which was about to be constructed at 5 North View (the property of John Wilson). The application was refused and it is worth noting that one aspect of more successful bids in both the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was that the premises would be hotels rather than mere ‘beershops’ or off licences. Part of the more specific opposition to this application was the existence of a School of Science and Art nearby on Heaton Road which had been established as part of Dr Rutherford’s educational expansion from his College on Bath Lane. 

The strength of feeling within the city but with a particular emphasis on Byker and Heaton is demonstrated by the meeting of temperance inclined ratepayers on 8 September 1886 which took place in the Primitive Methodist Chapel on Heaton Road. Councillor James Birkett occupied the chair.

He began by congratulating the recent Brewster Sessions in their decision to refuse any new appeals for licences in Heaton. It was reported in the Daily Chronicle that Councillor Birkett ‘condemned the idea of granting a licence to a public-house on the main road to a Board School, and on a road which the majority of their workmen traversed to and from their work’.  He noted that any drinking establishments would be close to ‘one of the most beautiful parks in the kingdom’ the approaches to which needed to be protected ‘as a duty to our fellow citizens’. The plea to assess the strength of local feeling amongst ratepayers and other inhabitants was also strongly expressed and, as we will see, did soon play a part in further appeals. Whilst the general aspects of concern and opposition can be well understood today what makes these protestors more particular is their adherence to the notion of ‘temperance’ itself. Birkett did look forward to a time when the ‘legislature passed a bill abolishing public houses altogether’. Other contributors to the meeting included Rev May and Rev Dr Rutherford who observed that ‘Newcastle was still a city largely given up to intemperance. They were worse than Liverpool.’ (sic) 

Drunkenness

Did Newcastle have a particular problem with alcohol abuse? Brian Bennison in his 1994 article ‘Drunkenness in turn of the century Newcastle’ noted the number of criminal proceedings for drunkenness in the period 1896 – 1900 with England recording 62 convictions per 10,000 inhabitants and Newcastle upon Tyne standing at 207. A report from Rowntree and Shadwell in 1899 found that Newcastle had one public house for every 43 dwelling houses or 307 persons.  

The growth in the number of ‘beershops’ had however helped to occasion a rise in the opposition to licensed premises more generally. In 1858 the North of England Temperance League was founded under the slogan ‘Total Abstinence for the Individual and Prohibition for the Nation’. The local strength of feeling against the growth of licensed premises is exemplified by the origin and popularity of the North of England Temperance festival which began on the Town Moor in 1882, the first year that saw Newcastle Races decamp to Gosforth. The estimated attendance over the three days was at 150,000 much more than other similar events in England. It is interesting though unsurprising that some of those who became involved in The Heaton Question were also participants in what became an annual celebration and promotion of temperance.  

Opposition 

The Brewster Sessions of 4 September 1888 saw a licence application from James Mackey for a house to be constructed and called Station Hotel at the corner of Heaton Grove and Heaton Hall Road as well as from William Turnbull for a new house at the south end of Chillingham Road. It is interesting to note that the seeking of licences was often for premises which had not yet been built.  

The Temperance party objected to both East End applications with Mr Edward Elliott, a handrail manufacturer of 20 Stratford Grove, presenting a petition which was 23 feet in length and contained 700 names. There was also a record of the formal objection of Hawthorn, Leslie and Co, engineering works. The opposition of local employers as well as religious groups is a feature of these occasions. After 15 minutes the magistrates returned and refused both Heaton applications. No explanation or justifications needed to be given. 

On 7 August 1891 Temperance Federation meetings were held at Jesmond, Elswick, Shieldfield, and Heaton. Arthur’s Hill, Heaton and Jesmond were remarked upon as being ‘free or nearly free from licensed premises’ till now. Reference was made to Sharp versus Wakefield in the House of Lords as being evidence of the legal possibility of reducing the number of licences by their withdrawal over time.  

In 1891 Joseph Bell, a key figure in the foundation of Newcastle United and later the club’s chairman, made an application for a ‘beer shop’ off licence for 41 Rothbury Terrace and this led to some interesting debate regarding the nature of the covenant within the property deeds. It was observed that Lord Armstrong had given his approval for this application though without the presentation of any evidence. A Mr Robinson, in his opposition to the plea, inferred that the covenant would be broken on payment of some pecuniary reward to Lord Armstrong. This brought a rebuke from the Chair of the Bench who said that the transgression of the covenant may bring some financial cost but that Lord Armstrong was not the beneficiary of this. After a short discussion the application was granted. At this point Margaret Bagnall from 6 Rothbury Terrace withdrew her application.  

Declined 

Early September 1891 also saw an application by Turnbull for an ‘alehouse’ at 7 and 9 Chillingham Road. This was granted by Sir Benjamin Browne, the Chair of the Bench, despite the opposition of Thomas Barker, a temperance missionary. Discussion had been relatively brief with an observation that otherwise the nearest licensed premises was 600 yards away. This decision was however reversed on the 9 September 1891. Speaking for the application were J K Joel, barrister, and Mr E Clark on behalf of householders in the vicinity. Opposing the confirmation of the provisional licence was F J Greywell, barrister, acting for Mr Thomas Barker, a temperance missionary. 

Mr Joel noted that on the previous occasion there was little determined opposition and that if, as Sir Benjamin Browne stated, each case should be judged on its merits (outside of the temperance question more generally) then the licence should be confirmed due to population pressures and the suitability of the premises which Mr Turnbull believed would be used for ‘concerts and entertainments’. Mr Clark spoke in favour of the application stating that on the Meadowfield estate and several streets adjoining it there were 280 houses with 270 occupied. A petition signed by 206 occupants was presented again to the Bench with the remark that some of those who signed signifying their support for the licence were teetotallers themselves. There was then some seemingly good-natured laughter in court when Mr Clark somewhat ironically observed that Mr Barker was a ‘very worthy man who wore his badge of office quite visibly’ but as an advocate of local opinion would do well to accept the popularity of this licence being granted.  

Mr Greenwell acting on behalf of Mr Barker declared that a counter petition had been assembled and that he would like to present this to the court. This petition contained 613 names, 310 of whom were householders. Mr Clark made the accusation that Mr Barker had sought the names of servants and children to add to his list with the Chair adding, to some laughter in court, that he could discern some names on both petitions. After retiring for a time, the Bench returned to declare that the provisional licence was not being confirmed.  

31 August 1892 saw an application from John Harper Graham (at the time the licensee of a public house at 4 Burden Terrace, Jesmond) regarding a proposed hotel at the corner of Heaton Road and North View. Graham’s proposal was criticised in terms of reducing property prices as well as it being a ‘source of annoyance and temptation’ to attendees at Sunday School and associated meetings of young men at the nearby Primitive Methodist Chapel. The application was refused. 

Board School 

It was announced that Mr Turnbull had delivered an application for a licence for 5, 7 and 9 Chillingham Road. It was pointed out that Mr Turnbull owned the land where the Board School was to be built and although his original plan was to build houses there, he would give the plot for nothing if his application was accepted. Turnbull’s Assembly Rooms already existed on the site and had eighty members who paid an annual subscription. The application was opposed by Newcastle School Board, Bath Lane Science and Arts schools, and Councillor Flowers on behalf of young people more generally.  Mr Dunnell of the North Eastern Railway Company as a local employer added to the voices against by remarking that the nearby sidings were to be extended and 400 men employed (with the signal cabin being right opposite the proposed venture). 

The licence was granted as long as the large hall was separated from the licensed premises. As Brian Bennison says in Heavy Nights ‘The opening of the East End Hotel was an exceptional occurrence’ . 

East End Hotel shown on Newcastle upon Tyne, Gateshead and Environs OS Town Plan 1:500, 1896

William Turnbull became ill after inspecting some building works and died in 1897. His son, Adam, a builder had died in 1894 with his other son, Robert, only outliving William by a few months.

Turnbull family grave, All Saints Cemetery

The Heaton Question resolved? 

Apart from a veiled threat to refuse the building of a Board School on his land there are other aspects to Mr. Turnbull’s eventual success. East End FC, who played on land owned by William Turnbull, had held a public event at his Assembly Rooms in 1892 as well as taking part in the Temperance Festival in June 1883 where the junior team won a trophy. This continued after the establishment of the East End Hotel with a Rural Fete to support the move of St Gabriel’s ‘Iron Mission Chapel’ from Chillingham Road to Heaton Road as well as hosting the Byker and Heaton Conservative Club Ball. 

Beyond the 19th Century?

In 1897 the Heaton Anti Licencing Council declared that any new public house would ‘destroy the character Heaton had had in the past for moral perfection and purity’. It is worth noting that similar debates and disagreements were features of twentieth century applications for licensed premises though that may be a tale for another day.  

*The title of this article was inspired by the Tom Waits song ‘Town with No Cheer’ which is ostensibly about Serviceton, a town in the Australian outback that lost its railway station and, as a result, its only bar.

Can you help?

If you know any more about anyone mentioned in this article or the history of the Chillingham Hotel or other public houses in Heaton, we’d love to hear from you. You can contact us either through this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or by emailing chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Karl Cain, Heaton History Group

Sources 

Ancestry 

British Newspaper Archive 

Drunkenness in turn of the century Newcastle / B Bennison; Local Population Studies (52), 1994  

From Byker to Heaton – the origins and history of Heaton Methodist Church / N F Moore and W K Robinson; 2000 

Heaton from farms to foundries / A Morgan, Newcastle City Libraries, 2012  

Heavy Nights A history of Newcastle’s Public Houses Vol 2 The North and East / B Bennison; Newcastle City Libraries, 1997  

Methodism in Newcastle upon Tyne 1742 – 2010 / G Fisher and Rev T Hurst; North East Methodist History Society, 2010 

‘The Town Moor Hoppings’ Newcastle’s Temperance Festival 1882 – 1982 / F Baron; Lovell Baines, 1984 

The Hoppings Newcastle’s Town Moor Fair / P Lanagan; Books of the North, 2010 

Trade Directories 

Rothbury Terrace: the Magpies’ nest

Rothbury Terrace is one of the oldest streets in Heaton, although on the First Ordnance Survey Map, surveyed in 1858, it boasted only a couple of buildings and no name. The groups of buildings either side are the farmhouses of two of Heaton’s farms.

First edition Ordnance Survey map, surveyed in 1858, showing what was to become Rothbury Terrace

Even by 1886, there were only 8 heads of household listed and the houses were not named or numbered. The residents were John Glover of Rothbury House; Thomas Hudson, a schoolmaster; Ralph Henry Probert, a grocer; Edward Fulton, a draper; Jordan Evens, a brewer’s traveller; William G Wodson, a brick manufacturer; John L Miller, a builder and contractor and Jacob Hume, whose occupation was not given.

Just four years later, half of these remained: Jacob Hume, now a carpet buyer, was at number 5; Ralph Probert, the grocer, at no 7; Thomas Hudson, still a schoolmaster, at no 9; William Wodson, the brick manufacturer was much further down at number 65.

Neighbours

But they now had many neighbours and it is on this newly developed residential street of the early 1890s that this article focuses.

The occupations of the 1891 ‘heads of households’ give us a flavour of the diverse social make up of the street as well as of the Tyneside economy at that time. Residents included Mrs Isabella Bunton, a fishmonger who had a shop on Shields Road;  Christopher Harborn, an iron merchant, whose business was on Dispensary Lane; John Nichol Rowell, a master mariner, and Andrew Tilston Dudgeon, a naval architect with offices on The Side.

There was also, at number 25, Benjamin Moody, a primitive methodist minister. A former miner from County Durham who performed his ministry throughout the north east, we learn from a contemporary obituary that he was a ‘man of well-built physique, had a good voice and [was] musical’  and ‘behind his somewhat brusque exterior was a kindly heart.’  From his own diary, we know that during his short time living on Rothbury Terrace, Moody suffered ill health.  On 1 January 1892, he wrote:

‘I am glad I am still alive and considerably improved in my physical frame; though seemingly not fully free from the effects of influenza I had in Heaton a year and nine months ago’. The Reverend Moody died just six month’s later.

Artistic Dynasty

George Blackie Sticks at number 67 was a painter. George was born in Newcastle in 1843 into a distinguished family of artists. His father, James, was one of the top designers at William Wailes’ stained glass studio. George also served an apprenticeship there, studying under William Bell Scott at the Government School of Design in Newcastle. But on qualification, perhaps inspired by Scott, he turned to painting, establishing his own studio. 

Sticks was a landscape painter and, as well as finding inspiration close to home, for example on the Northumberland and Durham coast, he travelled extensively on sketching tours of Scotland and the Lake District. His work was exhibited by the Royal Academy and Royal Scottish Academy. Locally it can still be seen in the Laing, Shipley, Hatton and South Shields art galleries, as well as in Newcastle’s Mansion House.

The Cliffs at Marsden Bay by George Blackie Sticks (South Shields Museum and Art Gallery)

In 1862, Sticks married Christine née Thorn and they had three children. Christina died in 1879. At the time of the 1891 census, George was living on Rothbury Terrace with his elder son, Christian, also an artist. George Blackie Sticks is reported to have died c 1900, though we haven’t yet located official records. Perhaps you can help.

Also living on the newly developed Rothbury Terrace next door to naval architect Andrew Tilston Dudgeon and artist George Blackie Sticks respectively were two men whose occupations did not define them but whose love of sport and business acumen led to the foundation of one of Newcastle’s greatest institutions.

Uncle Joe

Joseph Bell was born and bred in Newcastle. In 1891, aged 29, he lived, with his wife, Mary Alice, and three young children, along with a servant and a fourteen year old grocer’s assistant, at 43 Rothbury Terrace above the corner shop he ran. 

We know that he had been there for at least a couple of years before that and probably since the houses were first built as, in 1889, he applied for a licence to sell alcohol, an application which was approved despite a petition signed by 119 people and reported concerns about Lord Armstrong”s views on the matter.

The family was still in Heaton in 1901 but, by this time, Joseph was no longer a grocer but a self-employed builder and they lived at 2 Cheltenham Terrace. Apparently Bell retired from business early but served on the Newcastle Board of Guardians. He was described as a courteous and kindly man and politically a Liberal. 

Joseph Bell

Joseph Bell was, above all, a lover of football and, in 1890, one of the original shareholders and directors of East End FC.

Historic Summit

It is especially noteworthy in terms of the history of Heaton, and Rothbury Terrace in particular, that it was at Joseph Bell’s upstairs flat that, in May 1892, a meeting was held between the directors of East End and those of the recently folded West End.

43 Rothbury Terrace, where the meeting was held at which
the decision for East End FC to relocate to St James Park was taken.

It was at this meeting that a decision was made for East End to move to St James’ Park. The North East Railway Company had just increased the rent on its Chillingham Road ground to £50 a year, a sum the directors believed the club couldn’t afford. The prospect of a more central location, along with the opportunity to attract some of West End’s fan base, was an attractive one.

Detail of 2nd ed OS Map, surveyed in 1895, showing the proximity of Rothbury Terrace (top) to East End’s former ground

The East End directors at that historic meeting all had strong Heaton connections and would have been been reluctant to move their beloved club away from their own neighbourhood but they had the vision to see that it was the way to secure its future. Most continued to be instrumental in the success of Newcastle United, as it soon became, right through its Edwardian hey-day. The East End representatives were: Joseph Bell, the host; Alex Turnbull, his neighbour; T Carmichael; John Cameron and James Neylon.

Bell became treasurer of Newcastle United in 1893. He was then vice chairman from about 1904-8 before becoming  chairman of the club in 1908. During these very successful years, he was very close to the players, who called him ‘Uncle Joe’.

Bell died while still chairman of Newcastle United on 22 March 1909, aged only 47. Newcastle United directors, staff and players, local councillors, football men he’d known since East End days, Freemasons, friends and neighbours attended his funeral. The great Billy Hogg, who also lived in Heaton, represented Sunderland’s players. Joseph Bell is buried in All Saints cemetery.

First NUFC Chairman

Alexander (Alex) Turnbull was born in Scotland c 1858 but by 1881 had married Mary Ann Maun, a Geordie, and was working as a commercial clerk in the coal trade. In 1891, the couple lived at 69 Rothbury Terrace with their seven children, next door to George Blackie Sticks and up the road from Joseph Bell. In 1891, they were still there, now with nine children. Early on, he was was co-owner of the Byker and Heaton Coal Co until the partnership was dissolved. He was a property developer until, in 1901, his brick company at Byker Hill was declared bankrupt.

Turnbull served two spells as East End and Newcastle United chairman, during those formative years from 1891 until 1893 and and so, naturally, was at the May 1892 meeting at Joseph Bell’s at which the move to St James Park was approved. He also presided over the public meeting on 9 December of that that year at which another historic decision to change the club’s name to Newcastle United was made.

Alex Turnbull is on the extreme right of this photograph of East End, wearing a bowler hat. It was taken in front of the stand at the club’s Heaton Junction ground, just off Chillingham Road.

Turnbull served a second spell as chairman from May to August 1895 and was a director for 11 years in total, from 1890 to 1901.

Unlike Bell, Turnbull was an active Conservative. In fact, at one point he stood for the city council only to withdraw before the election took place. In 1895, he stood as a candidate for Newcastle School Board as ‘an advocate of sound education, close economy and generous recognition of the rights of private schools’.

Colin Veitch, in his autobiography, describes how he was approached at home just after Christmas 1898, when he was just seventeen years old. He was asked if he would like a game with Newcastle United and was told that two directors were available to meet him if he went immediately to the Conservative HQ at the corner of Wilfred Street and Shields Road ‘within a hundred yards of my home’. (It’s a little further than that!) The directors hadn’t had far to travel either. They were Joseph Bell and Alex Turnbull, both of Rothbury Terrace. Veitch played a number of friendlies for the club before signing permanently and becoming the captain and inspiration of its finest ever team.

The rest is history – and Rothbury Terrace’s place in the story of the city and in the birth and success of its football club secure!

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Chris Jackson, Heaton History Group. With special thanks to John Allen, who always generously shared the results of his Heaton related football discoveries with HHG.

Sources

‘All with Smiling Faces: how Newcastle became United’ / Paul Brown; Goal-Post, 2014

‘The Artists of Northumbria’ / Marshall Hall; Marshall Hall Associates; 2nd ed, 1882

‘Newcastle United: the ultimate who’s who’ 1881-2014 / Paul Joannou; N Publishing, 2014

‘Newcastle United’s Colin Veitch: the man who was superman’ / Keith Colvin Smith, AFV Modeller Publications, 2020

‘Pioneers of the North: the birth of Newcastle United FC’ / Paul Joannou and Alan Candlish; D B Publishing, 2009

Ancestry

British Newspaper Archive

myprimitivemethodists.org.uk

National Library of Scotland

Royal visit to Heaton Sec Schools

Heaton Secondary Schools: the beginning

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

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

Quadrangle

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

The original buildings of what became Heaton Manor School

The original buildings of what became Heaton Manor School

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

HeatonsecWestGateway

Heaton Secondary Schools West Gateway

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

HeatonSecOpenAirClass

Heaton Secondary Schools’ ‘open-air classrooms’

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

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

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

Viscount Grey

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

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

ViscountGrey

Viscount Grey

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

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

Live Radio

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

Royal Visit

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

King and Queen open Heaton Secondary Schools, 1928

King and Queen open Heaton Secondary Schools, 1928

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

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

HeatonSecRoyalvisit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can You Help?

If you have memories or photos of any of the above schools or know more about notable teachers or pupils, we’d love to hear from you. Please either leave a reply on this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or email chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Chris Jackson, Heaton History Group. Thank you to Brian Hedley for a copy of the official opening programme and the family of Olive Renwick for the souvenir of the royal visit. Thank you also to Muriel La Tour (nee Abernethy) for correcting the subsequent names of the schools.

Sources

British Newspaper Archives

Heaton Secondary Schools: official opening Sept 18th 1928 programme

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

Miscellaneous online sources

 

The Redoubtable Mrs Harrison Bell: campaigner and social reformer

This photograph of Florence Nightingale Harrison Bell, who was born and bred in Newcastle and lived on Hotspur Street in Heaton for over 20 years, is held by the National Portrait Gallery.

NPG x47718; Mrs F.N. Harrison Bell by Lafayette (Lafayette Ltd)
Mrs F N Harrison Bell  by Lafayette,  25 May 1929 courtesy of National Portrait Gallery
The gallery’s aim is ‘ to promote through the medium of portraits the appreciation and understanding of the men and women who have made and are making British history and culture’. What then was Mrs Harrison Bell’s contribution to our national life?

Tireless

Florence Nightingale Harrison Bell was one of the country’s leading socialist and feminist reformers in the early part of the 20th Century. She was a member of the Independent Labour Party from its inception in 1893; the ILP’s first Federal Secretary; and the first woman member of the party’s National Administrative Council, replaced in 1908 by the much better remembered Emmeline Pankhurst. She was the first socialist candidate of the Newcastle Board of Guardians in 1893 and a Director of the Newcastle Co-operative Society from 1902.

She was secretary of the Newcastle branch of the Women’s Labour League and member of the National League’s Executive Committee from 1913. She was an elected member of the Labour Party National Executive from 1918-25; represented Labour on the Standing Joint Committee of Industrial Women’s Organisations; was part of the British Labour delegation to the Congress of 2nd Internationale in Geneva in 1920, representing the TUC, Labour Party & the Fabian Society; and from 1921 was Treasurer of the International Federation of Working Women.

Yet none of that impressive CV even begins to describe the huge impact that she made on British social and political life throughout her life. She regularly spoke at local meetings and national conferences the length and breadth of the country, from Dundee to Truro, and was a tireless campaigner on issues including universal suffrage, women’s and child health, housing, unemployment and inequality.

She was born in Newcastle and until 1922 lived at 6 Hotspur Street, Heaton, yet today, despite the lasting impact of some of the changes she was instrumental in achieving and the currency of some of the issues she championed, she remains virtually unknown, without even a Wikipedia entry to her name!

Teacher

Florence Nightingale Harrison, named after Florence Nightingale, who was at the height of her fame, was born in Newcastle in 1865. One biography lists her father as a Dr Thomas Harrison, of whom we’ve been able to find no trace. However he seems to have died young, as by 1881 a 14 year old Florence is identified as the step-daughter of Thomas Thompson, an engine fitter of 87 Walker Rd, Longbenton. She lived with him, his wife Isabella and their two year old son, Alfred.

Florence studied English History & Economics at Armstrong College and in 1891 was still living with her mother and step-father at 30 Belvedere Street, Byker, where she is recorded as being an elementary school teacher.

On 28 July 1896, Florence married Joseph Nicholas Bell at St Augustine’s Church Newcastle, becoming Florence Nightingale Harrison Bell, widely referred to as Mrs Harrison Bell.

Joseph was born in London, but brought up, along with his older sister, May, by his grand-parents on a farm near Brampton in Cumbria, where his grandfather was a shepherd. As an adult, he moved to Newcastle, boarding in Elswick and working at North Eastern Railway’s Forth Banks Goods Yard, where he helped to organise the workforce into the National Amalgamated Union of Labour, of which he became General Secretary in 1896.

Although never as prominent in the life of the city as his wife became, Joseph was very politically active, chairing the Labour Party Conference in 1903 and unsuccessfully contesting a by election in Leith for Labour in 1914. In a rare interview for the Journal in April 1917, he expressed his grave concern about the potential impact that the number of women entering the workforce during the war would have on wages when the war was over. His solution was to ensure that the unskilled workforce would be properly represented, by bringing together the many disparate unions representing them and allowing wage negotiations to take place at a national level. This he achieved in July of that year, when he was elected vice chair of the Federation of General Workers, with a total membership of 500,000.

Activist

It’s difficult to say whether it was Joseph’s political activism that inspired Florence, or whether her own aspirations brought them into the same circle. However we do know that Florence was politically active before their marriage, becoming a member of the Independent Labour Party from its establishment in 1893 and the first socialist candidate for the Newcastle Board of Guardians. Responsible for the administration of the Poor law, Guardians were subject to annual elections.

The 1901 Census shows the Bells living at 6 Hotspur Street, where their son Edward Percy was born in 1902. Being a mother did not seem to slow Florence down. That same year, she became a Director of the Newcastle Co-operative Society and shortly afterwards her name began to appear regularly in the press as a speaker, first at local events – the Women’s Suffrage Committee at Bedlington; a meeting of Socialists at North Seaton Colliery; the Blyth Independent Labour Party, but soon spreading further to places as far flung as Portsmouth and Coventry. The main focus of her early speeches was female emancipation. Under the auspices of the Newcastle and District Women’s Suffrage Committee, she set up regular meetings in Fenwicks’ Drawing Room Cafe, where women would meet to hear speakers and discuss political issues. Among her fellow group leaders was Ethel Bentham, a local doctor who would become one of the first women Labour MPs.

Below is the 1915-16 programme of Heaton’s Bainbridge Memorial Church Ladies Literary Society. which shows Mrs Harrison Bell speaking on ‘The Women’s Movement: its Moral Aspect’.

 

Bainbridge Chapel Programme

Does she appear on this 1909 film of a suffragette demonstration in Newcastle, held by the BFI? We think we may have found her but can’t be sure. Let us know what you think.

However, women’s suffrage was far from her only interest. She spoke movingly about the importance of a home life, contending that neither those living in slums nor the aristocracy had a proper home life and that ‘the only party that showed any desire to deal with the emancipation of women was the Labour Party’. She also showed a keen interest in unemployment, speaking at a right to work rally in Portsmouth in 1908. Unemployment and the right to work were to become a more significant theme in her work during the depression of the 20s and 30s.

What is interesting, in reading the huge amount of press coverage of Mrs Harrison Bell’s political life, is that none of the articles feel the need to explain who she was, suggesting that her name was already well known in an age before today’s mass media. However, her appearance on the national stage, including membership of Labour’s National Executive Committee, Executive Committee member of the Women’s Labour league and membership of the Standing Joint Committee of Industrial Women’s Organisations, didn’t mean that she neglected local social issues. The Journal reported on 12 December 1916 that a meeting of the Newcastle Sanitary Committee received a deputation from the Women’s Helpers’ League, led by Mrs Harrison Bell. They urged the establishment of a municipal clinic for the treatment of infants. In 1917, she was co-opted to the Newcastle Food Control Committee Food Distribution Sub Committee, a wartime Committee established to manage the chronic problem of food shortages caused by the war. In 1918, the Coventry Evening Telegraph listed her among a list of women intimating their intention to stand for parliament, how far her bid progressed is unclear, but it was not successful.

Her husband Joseph, however, was more successful in his bid to become an MP, although his tenure was tragically short-lived.  In 1922, the Bells moved to 90, Friern Park Road, North Finchley, London, in anticipation of Joseph becoming an MP. In the General Election on 15 November, he gained the seat of Newcastle East with a majority of 3,085. Tragically, he died a little over a month later on 17 December, aged 58, at Finchley Cottage Hospital, following two unsuccessful operations for Lymphadenoma, a tumour of the lymph nodes. His obituary noted that he had served on several Home Office committees of inquiry and on the panel of arbitration in industrial disputes and had been predicted to become the first Labour Home Secretary.

The Dundee Evening Telegraph reported several days later that ‘If Mrs Harrison Bell accepts the invitation of Newcastle East Labour to contest the seat so briefly held by her husband, she will stand an excellent chance of election.’ Going on to note that ‘so well known has she been indeed that it became the fashion in Labour circles to speak of the late J.N. Bell as husband of Mrs Harrison Bell.’ Florence clearly chose not to stand, as the seat was successfully contested by Arthur Henderson, General Secretary of the Labour Party.

Ahead of her Time

One might have thought that at the age of 57, having just lost her husband and having achieved her goal of women’s emancipation (women over 30 meeting a minimum requirement for property ownership gained the vote in 1918), Florence may have taken a lower public profile. Not so the redoubtable Mrs Harrison Bell. In fact the 1920s seem to have been the most productive time in her political career.

Just four days after Joseph’s death, the Ministry of Labour announced a ‘committee to inquire into the present conditions as to the supply of female domestic servants’ of which Florence was to be a member and by March 1923, she was back on the public speaking trail. In 1923 alone she was a delegate at the International Federation of Working Women Congress is Vienna; became Chairman of the Standing Joint Committee of Industrial Women’s Organisations and its subcommittee on birth control; represented the Standing Joint Committee on the Overseas Committee and a deputation on housing to the Minister of Health and presided over the Annual Parliament of Labour Women in York, where the Burnley Evening news described her as a ‘lady who combines a unique degree of womanly homeliness with a penetrating insight into the larger affairs of local and national government.’

Amongst the resolutions carried at the Parliament were:

– One condemning London County Council’s decision to dismiss women teachers on marriage as being ‘inimical to the cause of education’;

– A proposal of one person one vote at the age of 21, which came to be in 1929;

– A proposal that elections should take place on Saturday rather than Thursday and that municipal elections should take place in May not October.

The only one of these resolutions that did not come to be was the call for elections to be held on Saturdays. Remarkably, this pattern is followed in many of Mrs Harrison Bell’s other political and social crusades, where she was clearly far ahead of her time and the things she called for ultimately came to be, as the NHS and the welfare state developed over the coming decades. Sadly she did not live to see all of these changes.

The focus of her public speeches during this period was often the home – ‘we stand for a home in which family life can be lived; a home which is fit for children to be born in’ she said at a speech in Truro in March 1923. In that same speech she also called for provision of sickness benefit and nursery school provision for all children. So far ahead of her time was she that she was accused, in calling for universal nursery school provision, of breaking up the home!

Increasingly though, her focus was on unemployment, which became a growing problem throughout the 20s as the Great Depression started to build.  In that same speech at Truro, she said ‘If women ran the home on the same lines as the Government was running the nation, there would be no home at all. An economical Government was paying one million pounds in unemployment benefit to the men in the building trade and had not a single house to show for it.’ She returned to that same theme the following year, when following a snap election, Labour was in power with a minority administration. Supporting calls for a Capital Levy, she said ‘I never realised the vulgarity of wealth until I went to London and saw little shops selling ladies’ handkerchiefs at £20 a dozen…. Those shop owners and the people who buy their goods are the people who will have to pay’. How little has changed!

Royal Commission

In 1924, with Labour in power, albeit briefly, Florence was drawn into two major government inquiries.

The first was an inquiry into child settlement in Canada. In what we’d now regard as a barbaric practice, Dr Barnardos, the Salvation Army and other charities routinely sent child orphans to Canada to live, effectively as slave labour on farms. She sailed to Canada on the Empress of Scotland in September 1924 along with Miss Margaret Bondfield, one of the first female MPs and Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour. They found that while the children were undoubtedly better fed than their counterparts at home, the farmers would prefer to have adults. As a result of their inquiry unaccompanied children being sent to Canada was stopped, although it appears that the practice continued elsewhere as in a speech in Portsmouth in 1930, she spoke of the continuing scheme for emigrating girls to the dominions for domestic work.

The second was a Royal Commission established to inquire into the National Health Insurance Scheme. This was a major piece of work which took two years to take evidence and make recommendations. The conclusion of the Commission, published in 1926, was that with a few minor changes the scheme, which was based heavily on the 19th Century Poor Law, worked satisfactorily.

However, that was not the conclusion of all of the Commission’s members. A minority report was produced by four of the members, including Mrs Harrison Bell. This report called for, amongst other things:

– The abolition of approved societies – insurance companies that managed the scheme, with local authorities taking on their role;

– Recognition that investment in health care would repay itself through improved health of the workforce, rather than simply attempting to contain the scheme within the prescribed resources;

– The provision of a complete remedial and treatment service including access to consultant and specialist care;

– Dental, optical and maternity care;

– Medical benefit for the dependents of injured people;

– An increase in sickness benefit and a new benefit for disabled people;

– Maternity benefit;

– Co-ordination of maternity and child welfare services with local authorities; and

– Re-arrangement and extension of maternity care, in particular, addressing the high maternal death rate.

It would be another 20 years before this vision was realised in the birth of the welfare state

Florence would return repeatedly to the issue of maternal health over the coming years. In 1924, she called, at the National Conference of Labour Women for public health authorities to provide information and advice on birth control, despite being heckled by a mother of 11 who declared that she was against the general teaching of birth control to working women.

In 1928 she spoke at a meeting to discuss maternal mortality at Central Hall Westminster. The resolution, which was carried was – ‘To work in all ways for the reduction in continued high death rates of mothers in childbirth. Steps to include:

– Medical enquiry into each maternal death

– Training of medical students & GPs in midwifery

– Committee on training and employment of midwives

– Provisions of National Health insurance Act adjusted so that medical and midwifery services should be available for mothers ante-natal and after confinement.’

All of which ultimately came to be.

It’s not clear whether Florence continued to work as a teacher alongside her highly public campaigning and political work, but it seems unlikely that she would have had an independent source of income. Although she started her career as an elementary school teacher, she did at some point work in adult education and as a lecturer for the Co-op movement. While living in London, she was the Secretary of the Central London Branch of the Teachers Labour League, so it is possible that she was still in the profession.

A brief biography notes her hobbies as reading, walking and motorcycling.

Public Figure

Florence continued to be a prominent public figure throughout the 1920s and into the early 1930s, continuing to campaign on the issues of inequality, unemployment and maternal and child welfare. In 1927 as Director of London Labour Party’s Summer School for Women at Guildford, she said ‘They don’t send the fool of the family into the diplomatic service, for high qualifications are needed. The great fault with this service is that the upbringing of those in it prevents them from being in touch with the class whom they were sent to serve. They have no knowledge of working class conditions.’ In the early thirties, she also started to call for nationalisation of key industries, pointing out, in particular, the high death rates in coal mining as justification.

In 1929, at the age of 64, she stood unsuccessfully for parliament, in the first election where Labour formed a majority government. Standing for Labour in Luton, she came a poor third behind the Liberals and Unionists. Her son Percy also stood for Parliament in 1929 and again in 1931 for the seat of Wood Green. Both attempts were unsuccessful and he continued as a school teacher. However, in 1964, he become the Labour party member for Newham and later Newham South in the Greater London Council, a seat he held until the age of 79 in 1981, carrying on the family tradition. He died in 1987.

Legacy

Florence herself seems to have taken a lower public profile beyond the mid 1930s, or at least was less reported in the press. That doesn’t mean though that she didn’t continue to take an active interest in politics. In 1946, at the National Conference of Labour Women in Hastings, a gathering she had initiated, there was a call for equal pay for women amongst other things. The Western Daily News reported ‘As the conference ended the oldest delegate, 81 year old Mrs Harrison Bell said: “We get a good deal more space in the press nowadays. We are very grateful for the work they have done’.

Florence Nightingale Harrison Bell died two years later on 8 September 1948 at Whipps Cross Hospital London, having left a huge, and now largely forgotten, legacy to the causes of feminism, inequality, healthcare and her much loved Labour party. She left a total of £190 6s to her son Percy.

Amazingly, given her prominence during her lifetime, we have not, as yet, been able to find a newspaper obituary let alone any permanent local or national memorial. Perhaps now is the time for Heaton History Group to help put that right? We call on the National Portrait Gallery to set the ball rolling by giving her photograph the prominent position on its walls we believe she deserves.

Can you help?

If you have information, anecdotes or photographs of Florence Nightingale Harrison Bell or Joseph or Percy Bell, that you are willing to share or have any comments on this article we’d love to hear from you. Please either write direct to this page by clicking on the link immediately below the article title, or email chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org.

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Michael Proctor, Heaton History Group, as part of our Historic England funded ‘Shakespeare Streets’ project.