Tag Archives: Kingsley Place

The Dewey-Eyed Librarian and his Legacy in Heaton

One of Heaton’s most recognisable buildings and one which contributed to the education and entertainment of generations of Heatonians is 120 years old this autumn. The Victoria Branch Library was opened by Earl Grey on 6 October 1898.

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The library was gifted to the city by Alderman William Haswell Stephenson who, two years earlier, had financed a library for the west end of the city in Elswick. When nobody else responded to the council’s appeal for another local benefactor to ensure that the people of the east end also had access to books, Stephenson put his hand in his pocket a second time, stipulating only that the council should undertake the equipment, management and maintenance of the building.

The position chosen for the library was controversial. Many people had concerns which resonate today about the encroachment of buildings, even a library, onto a public green space, Heaton Park:

‘It might seem a small thing to take 450 yards out of a park but they did not quite know where this nibbling process would end’ reported the ‘Daily Journal’.

Local residents also wanted the Corporation to approve both the site and the design of the building rather than all decisions being made by Alderman Stephenson, again a contemporary concern as private enterprise becomes increasingly involved in what have previously been public sector concerns. However, the site on Heaton Park View and the design by Newcastle architect, John William Dyson, were eventually approved.

Inside, on the ground floor there was a large reading room and a newsroom (where people had access to newspapers), a smoking room and a ladies reading room. Upstairs was the library itself, which measured 70 feet by 36 feet and would be able to house around 25,000 books; a committee room and the janitor’s room. External features included a turret on the roof, the dome of which was covered in copper. Carved panels depicted the royal arms, the city arms and Alderman Stephenson’s arms.

Grand Opening

At the opening,  over 200 of the great and the good enjoyed breakfast and speeches.  Apart from benefactor Alderman Stephenson, guest of honour Earl Grey, and the architect, they included the mayors of Newcastle, Gateshead, Tynemouth and South Shields; the Bishop of Newcastle; the Sheriff of Newcastle; most of the council; industrialists such as shipbuilder, John Wigham Richardson and many many more.

Alderman Stephenson reminded the audience that it was 44 years to the day since the ‘Great Fire of Gateshead’, which he remembered well as a young boy serving his apprenticeship on the Quayside. He regretted the absence of Heaton Councillor James Birkett, a great supporter of the project, who had recently died. And he spoke about the success of the Elswick branch library, including how few books had been lost.

The library was officially opened by the Right Honourable Earl Grey. In his speech, Lord Grey praised Alderman Stephenson’s generosity at a time when ratepayers’ money wasn’t forthcoming and also his modesty in not requiring the library to be named after him (although this may have been because he’d already ensured that the Elswick Library carried his name!), preferring instead to honour the queen. He urged others to follow the alderman’s example perhaps by gifting ‘more pleasure grounds, great and small, bright with flowers; drinking fountains of artistic design; clocks with chimes, for bells are the best music a crowded city could enjoy; nursing homes in every ward; halls in every ward with the best organs money could buy..’

The Bishop of Newcastle gave a vote of thanks, in which he said:

‘Even fiction, if it were rightly chosen, would aid in the development of character and if that aid was found in fiction, it would certainly be found in other books as well.’

Lord Grey was presented with a copy of the library’s initial catalogue of 7,000 volumes. This was a significant document as contemporary newspaper accounts state that the shared catalogue with Elswick Library (To save money, they both carried the same stock) was ‘ the first catalogue published in the Dewey Decimal System in the British Isles’.  The newspaper praised Andrew Keogh, Assistant Librarian at the Central Free Library ‘ who had earned the gratitude of all who have need to consult the catalogues’.

We are used to Heaton being at the forefront of developments in the various branches of engineering, science and mathematics and Heatonians excelling in arts, music, literature and sport but should we also be trumpeting our place in the history of librarianship? And does the library and its innovative catalogue partly explain why Heaton was at the forefront of so much. We carried out a little more research.

Catalogue

Amazingly, copies of that first catalogue survive eg in the Lit and Phil and so we can see exactly what was on the shelves of Heaton’s Victoria  Library when it opened. There was a broad selection, catering for all interests and some written in foreign languages, as you can see from the first page of the author listing below.

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To mention just a few, artist John Wallace  will have watched the library being built at the end of his street, Kingsley Place, and was surely delighted with the selection of books on painting and other arts as, a little later, would  Alfred Kingsley Lawrence of Heaton Road. And suffragist and social campaigner Florence Nightingale Harrison Bell, who married in 1896 and went to live on nearby Hotspur Street, suddenly had access to a wide range of books on politics and sociology including Engels’ ‘Condition of the Working Class in England’ as well as a surprising number of books on the emancipation of women and ‘The Woman’s Manual of Parliamentary Law’. Gerald Stoney of Meldon Terrace then Roxburgh Place, who had helped Sir Charles Parsons develop the record breaking Turbinia the previous year, had many books on engineering and physics from which to choose.

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There were plenty of books for ‘juveniles’ too, marked with a J in the main catalogue, as well as having their own separate listing. The musical Beers children, living on Kingsley Place just yards from the library when it opened,  had access to a vast array of fiction, including many classics still enjoyed today, but also books on music – and photography, a hobby which led to their wrongful arrest years later.

The library was an incredible resource for the people of Heaton, even if the books weren’t on open access. As was normal practice at the time, you made a choice from the catalogue and asked the librarian to bring you the book if it wasn’t on loan. A bit like Argos today. This made the catalogue extra important.

And the catalogue of the Victoria Library in Heaton was groundbreaking. Although the Dewey system had been copyrighted in the USA over 20 years earlier by Melvil Dewey, in the eighteen nineties almost all British libraries, if they were classified at all, used very broad classes, such as ‘Theology and Philosophy’ or ‘ Arts, Sciences, Law, Politics, Commerce’. Readers would have to peruse lists of accessions arranged chronologically under each heading. No further breakdown was considered necessary in Victorian public libraries, although by 1908, the absence of a detailed classification system was described as a weakness by the Library Association. Yet, ten years ahead of his time, the year in which our library opened, an Andrew Keogh (whose name you might remember from the newspaper report mentioned earlier) had written in ‘Library World’  that it was highly desirable that a uniform, detailed classification system be adopted across the country.

Assistant Librarian

Andrew Keogh was born on 14 November 1869  the son of recent Irish immigrants, Bridget and James Keogh, a shoemaker. In 1871, aged 11, Andrew was living with his parents, older sister, May and younger siblings, Bridget, Elizabeth and Edward at ’14 Trafalgar Street (or, as the census form gives as an alternative, 8 1/2 Back Trafalgar Street, All Saints, off New Bridge Street). Did this young man of such humble origins really produce the first published Dewey catalogue in Britain? Luckily we have enough further sources of information to draw on in order to flesh out Andrew’s career and confirm his pioneering work for the people of Elswick and Heaton.

1945.140, 44785

His biography would grace any library shelf.

While Andrew was a student, Newcastle’s first public library opened at the end of his street. It is said that he was never away. The staff got to know this ‘modest, serious, polite young boy’ and, if a staff member was ill or away, they called on him. Two years into his college course, the library offered him a full time job.

His parents were divided and he too was unsure about giving up his education but he accepted the post. He clearly took his work very seriously and researched developments which he could bring to Newcastle.

Keogh became an advocate for Melvil Dewey’s Decimal Classification System and was allowed to try it out on the stock for Stephenson’s new branch libraries. So the people of Heaton were able to easily see in detail what books they could take home on ornithology, plumbing, physics, horticulture, world religions, baking, poetry or whatever else interested them when most of those few libraries in Britain that already used Dewey used it only in their reference libraries. It seems that, at this time, not only was it a first for Britain but no library in Europe had published a catalogue arranged and indexed by Dewey.

What Next?

In July 1897, when Keogh was 27 years old, a big international librarians’ conference was held in London. It was attended by 641 librarians and influencers from all over the world – from Australia, Canada, Ceylon, India, Jamaica, Japan,  New Zealand and South Africa, as well as from right across Europe and the United Kingdom. Newcastle Public Library’s head librarian, Basil Anderton; Councillor Robert Flowers, Vice Chairman of the Books Committee of Newcastle Public Library; Councillor Henry Newton, Chairman of Newcastle Public Library Committee and Robert Peddie of the Lit and Phil were among the many British delegates. But by far the largest foreign delegation was from the United States, including Melvil Dewey himself, who delivered a paper on the relation of the state to the public library.

Afterwards many of the American delegates took a tour of important English libraries, including on Friday 6 August, those in Newcastle. We haven’t been able to discover whether Dewey was among them.

Andrew Keogh was put in charge of their reception and arranged an evening river trip, followed by dinner at the Grand Assembly Rooms and ‘conversazioni’ at the Lit and Phil. One of the delegates was Jessica Sherman Van Vliet, a librarian from the Armour Institute in Chicago. Keogh immediately fell in love and it is said ‘took her home that evening’. He saw her and the rest of the delegates off the following day and the pair started to correspond. His letters often contained poetry, ‘some original, some quoted, always meticulously referenced’. Soon he proposed by letter and, his proposal having been accepted, Keogh set about finding a job in the USA.

Eventually he secured a post in a Chicago bookshop which was looking for someone who knew the Dewey system (the manager no doubt impressed by Keogh’s pioneering catalogue for the Elswick and Heaton libraries) and in January 1899, he sailed for America, reaching Chicago in February. But with his aim a position in a library, Keogh soon made the arduous 720 mile journey to the next annual meeting of the American Library Association in Atlanta, where he reacquainted himself with some of the delegates he had met in Newcastle. He was offered posts in several public libraries but, with his heart set on an academic position, turned them down, a brave move for a foreigner of humble origins and no university education. Eventually though, his persistence paid off with the offer of a post in Yale University library. He began work on 1 August 1900 and on 6th, he married Jessica Sherman Van Vliet.

By 1902, Keogh was teaching bibliography at Yale and he quickly progressed up his chosen career ladder, also becoming a lecturer and professor of bibliography. In 1909, he successfully applied for an American passport, from which we have a description of him as 5 feet 8 inches tall with an oval face, hazel eyes, dark brown hair and a moustache.

On 1 July 1916, despite ‘certain limitations of a middle class Englishman which he will probably never overcome’,  he was appointed Librarian of the University of Yale.

Keogh wrote many papers and books and one of his many career highlights was a term as President of the American Library Association in 1929-30.

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On his retirement in 1938, Andrew Keogh was named Librarian Emeritus of Yale University. He and Jessica were together for over 50 years until her death in 1952 aged 84. Andrew died a few months later on 13 February 1953 at the same age. Not a bad shelf life for the working class Geordie who cut his teeth cataloguing the collections  of Elswick and Heaton branch libraries and whose life was shaped by love at first sight  – and an equally strong passion for books.

Heaton’s Victoria Library, loved and appreciated by generations, closed in 2000. The nearest public libraries are now in High Heaton and Byker.

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Can You Help?

If you have memories or photos of Heaton Library or know more about Andrew Keogh, 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.

Sources

Andrew Keogh: his contribution to Yale / James T Babb; The Yale University Gazette Vol 29 No 2, October 1954

Classification in British Public Libraries: a historical perspective / J H Bowman; Library History Vol 21, November 2005

Heaton: from farms to foundries / Alan Morgan; Tyne Bridge Publishing, 2012

Transactions and Proceedings of the Second International Library Conference held in London July 13-16 1897

The Lit and Phil library

plus Ancestry, British Newpaper Archive and other online sources

 

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.

 

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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’.

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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. Soon though, John’s horizons began to extend beyond Newcastle. In 1890, he  exhibited at the Scottish Academy in Edinburgh.

Kingsley Place

The following year, 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.

 

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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? 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.

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

 

Craigielea – history of a Heaton house

‘Craigielea’ (276 Heaton Road) is an imposing early Edwardian brick villa situated on the corner of Heaton Road and Cartington Terrace opposite both St Gabriel’s church and the Heaton Medicals cricket and rugby ground. We were thrilled when just before recent owner Jimmy McAdam moved out, he invited us to look through the house’s deeds and other documents. What would they reveal? We suspected that some interesting people would have crossed its threshold and we weren’t disappointed.

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Craigielea exterior

The first question the documents answered was the age of the house. The first conveyance is dated 3 June 1902. It shows that William Watson Armstrong, who had inherited Lord Armstrong’s estate only eighteen months earlier, sold three adjoining plots of land, on what was termed the Heaton Park Villa Estate, to builder William Thompson of Simonside Terrace. The contract came with a myriad of strict provisos concerning the quality of the properties to be built on the site: only high quality materials were to be used; the roof and back offices were to be covered with Bangor or Duke of Westmoreland slate, yard fences were to be wire railings of approved design and four feet high; the front was to comprise a garden only; no trades were to be pursued from the properties etc. The high standard of design and workmanship is still evident today.

Living rooom interior

The architect’s family

William Thompson was the first owner of Craigielea but not its first resident. That honour seems to have gone to the Lish family. At least they are the first to be named in the annual trade directories. Joseph James Lish was born in Beamish, County Durham in 1841. By the time he moved to Heaton, he had been married for over 35 years to his wife, Nancy, a Londoner, and they had 5 children, the rather exotically named John Robertson, Kirkwood Hewat, Catherine Hozier Robertson, Bentley Beavons and Florence Meek. Sadly John, a Second Lieutenant in the Lincolnshire Regiment, was to die during the First World War. He is cited in De Ruvigny’s Roll of Honour which, in addition to giving details of his military service and heroic death, records that he was a shipbroker, coal exporter and all round sportsman.

His father, Joseph Lish, was an architect but he didn’t design the house or its two neighbouring properties. The original plans in Tyne and Wear Archive show that they were the work of the well-known Tyneside architects, William Hope and Joseph Charlton Maxwell.

Craigielea is shown on the left of this original design

Craigielea is shown on the left of this original design

Hope and Maxwell are remembered for their design of theatres, not only locally in Blyth and Newcastle, but as far afield as Glasgow, Margate and Southampton. Sadly the Hope and Maxwell theatres have all been demolished or been destroyed by fire. Another of their buildings does still stand, however, just up the road from Craigielea. It’s Heaton Methodist Church.

But back to Craigielea‘s first resident. There are a number of known Lish buildings around Tyneside, the most well known of which is the 1908 Dove Marine Laboratory, which still stands at Cullercoats. There is a book in Newcastle City Library in which Lish describes the design and build of the laboratory. He was an early advocate of reinforced concrete, using it in the Dove laboratory. What’s more, over a quarter of a century earlier, in 1874, he had exhibited his own invention, ‘Tilo-Concrete’. Lish was prominent in his profession both regionally and nationally. At one stage he was the President of the Society of Architects, whose Gold Medal he was awarded. He died in 1922 at the age of 80.

If you know more about Joseph Lish or any member of his family or have any photographs you are willing to share, we’d love to hear from you. Please get in touch either via the ‘Reply’ link just below the title of this article or by emailing chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

The marine engineer’s family

By 1911, the Lish family had left Heaton and marine engineer Robert Bales Armstrong and his wife, Margaret Emma, had moved in with their eight children and Robert’s sister, Sarah. Robert, from West Herrington in County Durham, was the son of a cartman/sheep farmer. His wife, from the same county, had worked as a Post Office assistant before she was married. By 1911, the two older boys, Frank Bales and Robert Hunter, were both apprentices in engineering and ship building respectively. The older girls, Sarah Jane and Daisy Bales ‘assisted with housework’; John, David Bales and Reginald Hugh were at school and Doris Hunter and Gladys May were under school age. The family also had a live-in servant, Annie Elizabeth Robinson. You can see why they needed a substantial house!

Robert and Margaret Armstrong with some of their family

Robert and Margaret are in the centre of this family group

We are indebted to researchers of the Armstrong family tree who have posted on the Ancestry website for the above photo and additional information about Robert who had begun his career as a draughtsman at Hawthorn Leslie, worked for a while at Day, Summers and Co in Southampton and returned to the North East and Hawthorn Leslie in 1905. While living in Heaton, he was Chief Assistant to the Engineering Director and then General Manager. The family left Craigielea just before the end of the First World War. Robert was awarded the OBE in 1918 for his part in keeping the shipyards open during the war. Later he invented a steam powered boiler, the ‘Hawthorn-Armstrong’. Robert died in 1931 only weeks after becoming Managing Director of R & W Hawthorn, Leslie and Co Ltd.

The draper’s family

Next to move in to Craigielea was Herbert Pledger and his family. Herbert Pledger was born in Cambridgeshire, the son of a ‘bootmaker and publican’. By 1891, at the age of 22, he was a draper’s assistant in Saffron Walden, Essex and lodging with his employer. Within a few years, he had moved North and entered into a business partnership on Shields Road (See below). Soon he was to have his own firm.

Herbert Pledger's shop seen here in 1923 on the occasion of the Prince of Wales visit (Taken by Heaton butcher, Edgar Couzens

Herbert Pledger’s shop seen here in 1923 on the occasion of the Prince of Wales’ visit (Taken by Heaton butcher, Edgar Couzens)

We can track Herbert’s success by his various Heaton addresses. In 1895, he lodged at 29 Kingsley Place. By 1900 he was married, with a young son, and was householder at 105 Cardigan Terrace. In 1911, he, his Gateshead born wife, Annie and their children, Herbert Junior, William Cowley and Marjorie plus servant Isabella Caisley lived at 20 Simonside Terrace and for a couple of years from 1918, they lived at Craigielea before moving just up Heaton Road to Graceville.

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Herbert Junior and William Cowley Pledger, c 1901 (Thank you to Simon Bainbridge for permission to publish on this website)

Herbert Pledger Senior died in 1929 with an estate worth over £80,000, a significant fortune then.

Owner-occupiers

After the Pledgers moved out, the house was owned and occupied briefly by William Thompson, builder. This was the first time it had been owner-occupied and at present, we can only surmise that this is the same William Thompson who had built the house 20 years or so earlier. He seems also to have had a house in Coquet Terrace (number 39). Sadly he died soon after. Isabella , his widow, sold Craigielea in 1931 to William Thompson Hall, a doctor who also had a surgery at 12 Heaton Road. There is a document in which the freeholder’s lawyers say that (despite the original clause forbidding trades being practised from the house) they had no objection to Dr Hall’s medical practice and, subject to the approval of Lord Armstrong’s architects, a side entrance could be made for the convenience of Dr Hall. The plans are held by Tyne and Wear Archive.

Plans of Craigielea 1930s

The original dining room and drawing room were converted into a waiting room and consulting room

Dr Hall died in 1934 at which point the house passed into the ownership of his widow, Edith, and an Isabel Dorothy Reed. From this point on, biographical information about the householders becomes a little harder to find but we do have the bare bones. From just before World War 2 until the late fifties, a Maurice Edward Robinson, manager, was in residence but didn’t own the property. In 1958 Vincent and Margaret Richards Fleet moved from 14 Coquet Terrace, paying Hall and ‘another’ £1,900. When Vincent Fleet died in 1977 the house was passed firstly to ‘Thomas and Spencer’ and then to the Taz Leisure group, which applied for, but was refused, permission to convert the house into the HQ of the Northumbrian branch of the Red Cross Society. It was then sold to Ronald and Philippa Oliver in 1985 (They had moved, as so many of the more recent owners had, from a nearby Heaton residence – in this case 18 Westwood Avenue.) The Olivers in turn sought planning permission, this time to use part of the ground floor for a tea room but this too was refused and the Olivers also soon sold the house. There were to be two further owners, ‘Maill and Grant’ and then Carol Simpson before Jimmy and Lesley McAdam of Tosson Terrace bought it in 1994 and lived there for over 20 years. Jimmy is a photographer and has a wealth of stories of his own to tell – but they’ll wait for another day!

Can you help?

If you know more about the history of Craigielea or any of the people mentioned, we’d love to hear from you. Please get in touch either via the ‘Reply’ link just below the title of this article or by emailing chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

The musical ‘spies’ of Tenth Avenue

On 11 August 1914, only a week after Britain had joined World War 1, newspapers right across a country on edge reported that two brothers ‘British born but of foreign extraction’ had been arrested and charged under the Official Secrets Act.

Beers brothers at Tynemouth photo collage reimagining

Photo collage reimagining by Heaton History Group member, Janet Burn

A young sea scout from North Shields said he’d seen them, along with a third man, direct a camera at the fortifications at Tynemouth. In court he said that at 7 o’clock the previous Sunday he had seen three men, two of whom were in the dock, proceeding along the sands towards the castle. One of them had a camera. They were playing with a ball. Afterwards they sat down in a circle. The scout said he was unable to see the camera at this point. He kept observation on them and afterwards saw them upon a seat. One of them put the camera on his knee and against his breast, pointing it towards the fortifications. He tried to conceal the camera with one hand. The scout added that he at once reported the matter and the men were arrested.

In the dock, the accused were asked if they understood English. ‘We ARE English’ was the reply. ‘We were born in Newcastle’. Asked about their occupations, the elder brother replied that he was ‘engaged at a picture hall in Newcastle’; while the younger said he was in a Whitley Bay orchestra. Both men were remanded in custody for eight days.

The following day they appeared in court again. The Chief Constable said that he had made careful enquiries. They were respectable young men and he asked that they be discharged. Nevertheless, the Mayor, Councillor Gregg, didn’t absolve the brothers from all blame. He said they had brought the trouble on themselves through their own foolishness: had they been more frank at the time, they would not have been in that position. Both young men thanked the magistrate and left the court.

Similar incidents were taking place all over the country. Everyone was nervous; people didn’t really know what form the war would take; there was, as yet, no trained ‘home guard’ and boy scouts, in particular, had been asked to help with the war effort by reporting anything suspicious. We might draw parallels with the aftermath of 9/11.

Who were the brothers?

The two young men were Leo Luke (25) and Aloysius Anthony (21) Beers of 18 Tenth Avenue, Heaton.

Cartoon by Robin Beers, Aloysius's grandson

Cartoon by Robin Beers, Aloysius’s grandson

As was eagerly noted in the news reports, they were indeed of ‘foreign extraction’. Their father Simon Hubertus Beers was Dutch, although he had lived in Britain for over 50 years, having been brought to Britain by his parents as a teenager. He had married a Liverpudlian, Elizabeth Hughes, and eventually settled in the North East. Simon too was a musician as was his father before him. His sister was a singer and at least one of his bothers was a musician too.

By 1891 the family (Simon, Elizabeth and three children Adrian, Hubert and Leo) were living in Heaton, at 30 Kingsley Place and by 1901, Elizabeth had died and the family had moved to 64 Meldon Terrace. Simon had been left with 6 children. On census night, 1901 Simon was at home with 3 of them and a housekeeper: Adrian, now 16 was described as a merchant’s clerk and Joseph (9) and Aloysius (7) were at school.

By 1911, Simon and the children still living at home, Leo (22), Joseph (19), Aloysius (18) and Bernard (17) were at 18 Tenth Avenue. They are all described as ‘professors of music’. Simon is said to be self-employed; Leo, Joseph and Bernard play in theatre orchestra and Aloysius is at this point out of work. Although the boys went their separate ways, Simon continued to live on Tenth Avenue for 20 more years. He died there on 6 February 1931 at the age of c86.

Leo’s story

Leo Luke Beers was born on 18 October 1888 and baptised ten days later at St Dominic’s on Shields Road. Beyond knowing that he grew up in a large and very musical household and that he lost his mother as a young boy, we know little of Leo’s childhood. However, online records and archival material afford us tantalising glimpses into his life following being branded, albeit briefly, an alien and a spy.

We don’t know whether the arrest and the attendant publicity was a factor but it wasn’t long before Leo left Newcastle. In September 1915, the Bath Chronicle, announcing the famous Pump Room Orchestra for the forthcoming season, introduced its new first violin: ‘Mr Leo Beers… has been the leader and principal violin of the Theatre Royal, Newcastle’.

Three months later, records show that Leo had enlisted for the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry. This was before the Military Service Act, 1916 introduced conscription and so presumably, Leo volunteered. However, two months later, in February 1916, by which time the Act had been passed, he applied for exemption from military service on personal and domestic grounds but asked for his appeal to be considered in private. The tribunal agreed and later announced that a temporary certificate of exemption on domestic grounds would be granted. That April, it was reported that Leo’s appeal had been heard privately by Bath City Tribunal but had been adjourned until 1 May for further enquiries to be made. Luke’s military record card shows only that he was discharged on 28 August 1918 ‘no longer fit for duty’.

The next glimpse we have is some nine years after the war ended, by which time Leo was 38 years old. On 17 June 1927, he set sail from Liverpool to Quebec as a member of the ship’s orchestra, returning two weeks later. Interestingly in the ten strong ensemble, there were two other musicians from Heaton: Vincent Caygill of 19 Heaton Grove and John Robert Young of 149 Rothbury Terrace.

Leo Beers in later life

Leo Beers in later life

Leo spent the latter part of his life living in London. He died in December 1975 in Kensington.

Wishy’s story

Aloysius Anthony Beers was born on 1 November 1892 and he was baptised on 13 November, also at St Dominic’s. Like his brother, Aloysius didn’t stay in Heaton long after the start of the war. By December 1915, he was living in Glasgow and was married to Margaret Paterson, a ‘mantle maker’. On 6 January 1916, just four weeks after their wedding, their son Adrian was born. Aloysius too played in a ship’s orchestra at one stage. He sailed from Glasgow to Montreal in April 1931.

Aloysius Beers (extreme right) with other members of a ship's orchestra

Aloysius Beers (extreme right) with other members of a ship’s orchestra

We know too that in the years following World War 2, the brothers were reunited again. For a time, Leo was living with Aloysius, Margaret and other family members in London.

It’s because his son became at least the fourth generation to inherit the Beers family’s musical talent that we can add some colour to the raw data from the archives. Aloysius was referred to in Adrian’s obituaries as ‘Aloysius ‘Wishy’ Beers, ‘a Glaswegian’ (though we know, of course, that he was in fact originally a Geordie!) double-bass player who taught his son to play cello, piano and double bass and played with him in Glasgow music halls. Adrian became a classical musician of the highest order. He played in world famous orchestras and ensembles and was a good friend of Benjamin Britten. The Melos Ensemble, of which he was a founding member, played at the 1962 premier of Britten’s ‘War Requiem’ in the newly rebuilt Coventry Cathedral on 30 May 1962, the original cathedral having been destroyed in World War 2.

Aloysius’s granddaughter, Jackie Khan, has kindly provided Heaton History Group with additional information about the family. She told us that that Leo and Aloysius’s elder brother Hubert was a musical hall artist who used the stage name Jock Macpherson.

Brother Joseph John Septimus Beers (born 8 April 1891) was, like Luke, a professional violinist until he enlisted with the 2nd Battalion King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry. He died in active service on 10 July 1917. He is buried in Coxyde Military Cemetery in Belgium. Jackie said: ‘Joseph was killed in Flanders on the battlefield in 1917, found shell-shocked, sitting holding his hands over his ears, with fright on his face, dead’.

Sketch by Heaton History Group member, Mark James

Sketch by Heaton History Group member, Mark James

We don’t know whether Adrian’s father, Aloysius, was in the audience at the premier of ‘War Requiem’ but his son performing this powerful anti-war piece of music on such a symbolic national occasion will have been emotional for him, as he recalled not only his own wartime experiences but also his brother’s death.

Aloysius died just a few weeks later on 25 June 1962 at the age of 69. Adrian was awarded an MBE in 1990 for services to music and died in 2004.

Postscript

But that’s not the end of the story. The Beers musical genes have been passed down another two generations. Aloysius’s great-granddaughter and Adrian’s granddaughter is a very talented pianist and composer. Jean Beers has just spent a year as Composer in Residence at Eton College where she composed a piece of music for a symphony orchestra, commemorating World War One and inspired by the death of her great great uncle, Joseph John Septimus Beers.

Her aunt, Jackie Khan, who kindly found photographs of Leo and Aloysius and commissioned her brother, Robin, to produce a sketch especially for our website and exhibition, said; ‘They [the Beers of Heaton] would be very proud of her, as would her grandfather.’

Music continues to thrive in Heaton too, of course. Fittingly, there is even a well-established and still flourishing ensemble called ‘Tenth Avenue Band’, founded in 1988 at Chillingham Road School on the very avenue where the Beers had lived.

Heaton Avenues in Wartime

Heaton History Group has been awarded Heritage Lottery Fund funding to enable it to research and recount the impact of World War One on a Tyneside neighbourhood. If you would like to get involved by helping with research, illustrating the stories we uncover, mounting exhibitions or organising events – or if you have information relating to WW1, especially relating to Heaton, including First to Tenth Avenues, please contact: Chris Jackson, Secretary, Heaton History Group via chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

There is a related exhibition of original documents and artworks in the lounge bar of the Chillingham pub on Chillingham Road. It is planned to run until May 2016. The display will change approximately every two months.

John Gilroy – Heaton to Royals and Rome

John Gilroy is considered by many to be the best commercial poster artist of the 20th century, credited with inventing ‘visual silence’ in advertising. John spent his early life in Kingsley Place, Heaton.

John Gilroy

Plaque - John Gilroy

Born in 1898, John Gilroy was son of a marine draughtsman who was himself a painter of some note. At 15 he was already a freelance cartoonist for the Newcastle Evening Chronicle and at 16 he won the Christie Scholarship to attend Armstrong College Art School in Durham University. After war service, Gilroy won a Scholarship to Royal College of Art, Kensington. In 1925, he joined Benson Advertising Agency in London as a commercial artist and started to produce the work for which he is best remembered: iconic images that had humour, visual absurdity and simplicity of form.

Gilroy1935 Toucan and 2 pints

Gilroy card

But Gilroy was also a portrait and landscape painter: between 1930 and 1953, he exhibited at the Royal Academy 15 times. Among his paintings were many of the royal family, politicians, actors – and, as anyone who came to our recent quiz will remember, even a pope (John XXIII).

Our speaker on Wednesday 28 May, David Hughes, has just written a book about John Gilroy and his art: 400 original canvases recently came to light in the USA, some selling for £10,000. The book, Gilroy was Good for Guinness, is the story of this lost art.

The event will take place at the Corner House Hotel on Heaton Road. We expect this event to appeal to artists and designers as well as those with an interest in Heaton and its history, so please book to ensure you’re not disappointed. And be in your seat by 7.15 so that we can offer any unclaimed places to those on the waiting list or who come on spec. To reserve your place, contact Maria Graham: maria@heatonhistorygroup.org / 0191 215 0821 / 07763 985656. FREE to members; £2 to non-members.

The Prince of Wales’ visit 1923

The photographs below were taken on 5 July 1923. The occasion was a visit to Newcastle by the Prince of Wales, later to be crowned King Edward VIII. The Prince’s visit to the North East lasted 3 days. Amongst his engagements in Newcastle itself were visits to the Royal Agricultural Show, which that year was held on the Town Moor, and to St James’ Park, St Thomas’ Church and Walker Naval Yard. On the afternoon of Thursday 5th he went to Parsons in Heaton and returned to town along Shields Road. It was a very hot day with the temperature reported to have reached 86 Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius) in the shade, although you might not know from the clothes the crowd are wearing.

199. Prince of Wales Visit Shields Road

200. Prince of Wales Visit 1923

206. Prince of Wales

Shop Shields Road Lipton Pledger Prince of Wales Royal visit Couzens

Shields Road in 1923

The pictures were taken by Edgar Couzens, a keen amateur photographer, who at that time was the proprietor of a butcher’s shop at 185 Shields Road. He set up his tripod to the side of his shop, which was just East of Heaton Road. Thank you to Mike Couzens, Edgar’s grandson for permission to publish them for the first time.

Lipton’s, the most prominent shop in the last photo, is now Ladbrokes Bookmakers. Next door (in premises now also part of Ladbrokes) was Pledger’s drapery which also had the larger shop two doors down, now Nobles Amusements. Between them was squeezed Bookless, a fruiterer, now the Cooperative Funeral Store. The Raby Hotel was, as now, further along the road to the right.

While Lipton’s was a national chain which had its beginnings in Glasgow, Pledger’s was a local company. It had had a presence on Shields Road since the 1890s, firstly at number 214 as Flintoft and Pledger. But by 1900 it was solely Pledger’s and had expanded into a second shop.

Successful Businessman

Herbert Pledger senior was born in Cambridgeshire, the son of a ‘bootmaker and publican’. He was one of at least 10 children. By 1891 at the age of 22, he was a draper’s assistant in Saffron Walden, Essex, and lodging with his employer. Within a few years he had moved North and entered into a business partnership on Shields Road. Soon he was to have his own firm.

We can track Herbert’s success by his various Heaton addresses. In 1895, he lodged at 29 Kingsley Place. By 1900, he was married, with a young son, and was the householder at 106 Cardigan Terrace. In 1911 he, his Gateshead-born wife Annie and their growing family lived at 20 Simonside Terrace and by the time this photo was taken in 1923, they lived at the much grander Graceville, overlooking the park on Heaton Road. He died in 1929 with an estate worth over £80,000, a significant fortune then.

His sons, another Herbert and William followed him into the drapery business and Pledger’s was a well known landmark on Shields Road until the mid-1960s. It was succeeded by Waring and Gillow, a furniture store.

Parsons

The photograph here shows CA Parsons employees who had fought in World War 1 forming a guard of honour for the prince earlier in the day.

If you can add to the information we have here, we’d love to hear from you. Contact Chris Jackson chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org