Tag Archives: Kingsley Place

Heaton Voices Tour the World

On 17 March 1911, Mary ‘Molly’ Wharton Parkinson of Heaton stood on the deck of RMS ‘Victorian’ in Princess Dock, Liverpool and waved at the cheering, flag-waving two thousand-strong crowd below. Moments earlier she had joined in a rousing chorus of ‘Auld Lang Syne’ and ‘God Save the King’ and, if she had shed a tear as the ship left the port, she would have been in good company.

Mary ‘Molly’ Wharton Parkinson

Molly, aged 32, was a teacher, vocalist and music teacher. Born in Penshaw, Co Durham, she had lived in Heaton with her family for many years, first of all at 32 Kingsley Place and then 19 Holmside Place. She was the eldest of 16 children, nine of whom had survived beyond infancy. In later life, Molly recalled that at about the age of nine she could ‘simultaneously read a book propped on the mantle, knit a stocking and rock the baby’s cradle with my foot’.

Molly was better placed than most on the ship to have known that the ‘Victorian’ was the first large civilian ship to be powered by steam turbines and that those turbines had been made by the Parsons Marine Steam Turbine Company. Not only had marine steam turbines been developed by Sir Charles Parsons and his team less than a mile away from where she lived but she had recently got to know (and like very much) a young marine engineer, Fred Christian, who had lodged nearby while studying and working in Newcastle but who had recently returned home to New Zealand. Perhaps his absence and the possibility of a brief reunion had motivated her to put her name down for the trip.

When the crowds were no longer in view and Molly had retired to her cabin, she was joined by a familiar face: Florrie Hamilton was nine years younger than Molly but they had got to know each other. Not only did Florrie live in the next street at 27 Eversley Place but they also sang in the same choir, the Newcastle and Gateshead Choral Union, which rehearsed every Tuesday night at Newcastle’s Lit and Phil. Molly sang contralto and Florrie soprano. 

Florrie Hamilton

And singing was what brought them together now. They were about to embark on a hugely ambitious and exciting six month long world tour with a 225 strong choir.

Organiser

The idea for the tour had been that of Dr Charles Harriss, a London-born composer, choral conductor, organist of Ottawa Cathedral and founder of the McGill Conservatorium of Music. He was described as a ‘staunch British imperialist who sought to bring British cultural “standards” to the crown’s dominions abroad’ . He was certainly keen to build bridges, initially between Canada and ‘the motherland’. This led to the Sheffield Union Choir travelling to Canada in 1908 and, following the success of that visit, he was determined to foster similar ‘reciprocity’ between Britain and a British Empire recently bruised by events such as the Second Boer War – or at least with those regions where white settlers formed a majority of the population.

A very wealthy and well connected man, he garnered support for his ideas in the highest political echelons including the British government at home and the 4th Earl Grey, former MP for Tyneside and at that time both Governor General of Canada and a great patron of the arts.

He was also able to underwrite the tour financially to the tune of £60,000 (some £7,000,000 today). And crucially, he was a great organiser. In the 12 months before the tour began, he visited every country personally ensuring that the arrangements in place were ‘second to none’. 

Conductor

The conductor of the touring choir was Henry Coward, later to become Sir Henry. Coward was born in Liverpool in 1849, the son of a publican. Henry’s father had died when he was a small boy and his mother relocated to her home city of Sheffield, where the young boy could become an apprentice cutler to her brother, a pen-knife maker. Henry had shown an aptitude for music at an early age and had played the banjo but in Sheffield he taught himself how to read music and soon became a great advocate of the tonic sol-fah method of teaching others. He went on to achieve a first degree and doctorate in music from the University of Oxford.

Coward was a man of great energy and passion for singing, especially choral singing, not only from a musical point of view but also for its social, psychological and health benefits. He became a renown singing teacher and choral conductor, especially known for the huge choirs he could manage. He founded the Sheffield Tonic Sol-fa Association, later renamed the Sheffield Music Union and conducted over 50,000 voices in front of Queen Victoria at the opening of Sheffield Town Hall. Coward was a natural choice as lead conductor for Harriss’s tours.

Although based in Sheffield, Coward travelled hundreds of miles every week to conduct choirs in Leeds, Huddersfield, Southport, Glasgow and, of course, Newcastle at a time before motorways or even private cars. His Newcastle choir was the Newcastle and Gateshead Choral Union, of which Molly, Florrie and all the other Heaton singers were a part.

Heaton Voices

Coward selected the tourists, mostly from the choirs he regularly conducted, on the basis of their singing, sight reading and temperament.

The Newcastle Journal of 18 July 1910 published a list of  ‘Local Singers who have passed the musical test and qualified to take part in the world tour of the Sheffield Musical Union next year’

Apart from Molly and Florrie, there were 5 other Heatonians:

Herbert Alderson. Born on 26 December 1877 in Bishop Auckland, so on tour Herbert, a joiner, was 33 years old. He lived with his parents and younger siblings at 147 Bolingbroke Street. He sang tenor.

Herbert Alderson

Margaret Howson, born on 21 February 1888, and so aged 23 at the time of the tour, was living with her family at 8 Heaton Road, although by the time of the 1911 census, they had relocated to Stocksfield. She was a music teacher and sang contralto.

Margaret Howson

Jean Finlay Terry, born on 25 August 1865 in SE Northumberland, she was aged 45 at the start of the tour and, like Molly and Margaret, a teacher. She had lived at various addresses in Northumberland but, at the time of the test, was at 16 Stratford Grove. She was a contralto. On the ‘Victorian’, she shared a cabin with Margaret Howson. We also know that she kept a tour diary (but, alas, so far haven’t tracked it down). 

Jean Finlay Terry

John Charles Hamilton was aged 50 at the start of the tour and sang bass. Originally from Crook in Co Durham, he worked as a school board attendance officer and was Florrie’s father.

John Charles Hamilton

Miss M Atkinson of 64 Cartington Terrace is also listed as having passed the singing test but her name doesn’t appear on later lists of the tourists so presumably, she either withdrew or was on the tour’s reserve list.

The successful candidates would, in most cases, have needed permission from their employers to take six months unpaid leave and they would not be paid to participate, although their expenses would be covered and some ‘pocket money’ was distributed.

They also had to sign up to a gruelling programme of private study and rehearsals in order to learn and be able to sing no less than 160 different pieces, from composers such as Handel, Verdi, Bach, Berlioz and Elgar, as well as Harriss himself, along with arrangements of English folk music and ‘empire music’. Every month between July and March, the whole choir convened in Sheffield for five hours of rehearsal and ‘team bonding teas’.

Experiences

On tour, the travelling was alternately gruelling and thrilling. Starting with a storm off the south coast of Ireland, there were numerous ‘weather events’ to contend with. Intense cold, a storm and icebergs slowed the progress of the ‘Victorian’ as it approached St Johns in Canada; in Montreal the singers had to walk through a narrow passage through snow piled ‘higher than our heads’; a train ride through the Rockies was described as ‘fifty Switzerlands rolled into one’; In the Pacific it was so hot that one of the crew went ‘insane with the heat’ and between Australia and New Zealand, the captain told the passengers to ‘put on a lifebelt and try to go to sleep’ before a ferocious cyclone flooded every cabin, the water so deep that everyone was trapped where they were. The boat deck and bridge deck were washed away, ‘ironwork twisted as though it were paper’. Many of the choir were injured, some of the crew badly hurt.

On the other hand, it’s difficult to imagine the excitement the choir members, very few of whom had travelled much if at all, felt when they saw their first icebergs, walked behind the Niagara Falls, saw the Northern Lights in all their glory, watched flying fish, albatrosses and whales and sailed through coral reefs, all before the days of television and Sir David Attenborough. 

In Honolulu and Suva, they saw coconuts, dates, mangoes, ‘bananas growing in the streets’ and sampled many foods you’d be hard-pressed to buy in Heaton (even today!):

papaya … was like pink melon to look at but was soft and ripe and tasted of strawberries and cream’.

May Midgley, a singer from Bradford, was particularly impressed by the desserts in Canada:

‘..such ices! The ladies said “We make our own always!” They have a refrigerator in every house almost and they don’t make them in little slices like we do in England but like puddings and you can help yourself to as much as you like.’

Unlike many of the singers, Jesmond’s Eliza Vinycomb was well-travelled but even she was impressed by one of the American hotels ‘it has all the latest gadgets, two telephones in each bedroom, one to servants and one to the office, electric lights at the bedside…’

Activities put on for the party included a chance to speed round the Indianapolis motor racing track ‘at seventy or eighty miles an hour’; ‘bathing in a steaming bath in a snowstorm’ in Banff; visits to diamond and gold mines in South Africa (‘Except that the dust was white instead of dark, it looked greatly like going by Middlesbro’’ – Jesmond’s Eliza Vinycomb).

Members of the choir bathing in the sea in Durban: Florrie Hamilton is near the centre of the front row on the left of the man kneeling on one knee; Herbert Alderson is third from the left on the second row.

There were large, enthusiastic crowds everywhere: in Canada, apparently ’an old native of Sheffield travelled two days by dog-sleigh and snowshoes and 400 miles by train’ and another music lover ‘two days and nights on horseback’; elsewhere ‘ a large crowd of cowboys [unable to gain admittance] climbed onto the [concert venue and] showed their appreciation by thumping on the roof and sides of the building’. The audiences frequently numbered in the thousands: in Sydney there were 5,000 inside and an ‘immense crowd’ outside for a performance of Handel’s ‘Messiah’ and, following that, the choir performed outdoors in front of almost 40,000 people for George V’s coronation celebrations and there were at least half that number at the tour’s farewell and thanksgiving service in Capetown.

In Toronto, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, St Paul and Chicago, the choir was conducted in ‘Dream of Gerontius’, a work then only ten years old, by Sir Edward Elgar himself. Elgar travelled with the party across North America, much to the excitement of some of the younger choir members.

In Cincinnati they were directed by a young Leopold Stokowski, best remembered now for his involvement (and appearance) in the Disney film ‘Fantasia’ some 30 years later.

In Ottawa, they met Earl Grey who expressed his pleasure at hearing the ‘north country burr’ again and in Chicago they met the brother and wife of President Taft. In Honolulu, they sang before Queen Liliuokalani, the last monarch of Hawaii before the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom and its annexation by the USA, and in South Africa, they met the Governor General, Lord Gladstone, the former British Home Secretary and the son of William Gladstone.

Attitudes

The tour was well-documented. Many of the choir, including our own Jean Terry and Jesmond’s Eliza Vinycomb wrote diaries, others kept scrapbooks and Henry Coward later wrote a published account. Letters home have been preserved and ‘there were forty cameras in our party’. They were even filmed:

‘We were invited to the Bijou Theatre Co to see ourselves on the cinematograph and it was funny… what a laugh we had!’ 

Reading the first hand accounts now, we cannot help be struck by some of the attitudes expressed and language used.

The aim of the tour was certainly to foster good will and promote peace. This can be summed up by Henry Coward’s words on reaching South Africa less than ten years after the Second Boer War had ended:

‘two hundred and twenty invaders entered Pretoria, not in the panoply of hateful war but holding the olive leaf of peace, good will and reciprocity, by means of song’.

In Durban, Eliza Vinycomb showed an awareness of apartheid ‘The rickshas had on them “For Europeans only” and at the post office a place partitioned off “For Asiatics and Natives” and in the trains were separate carriages for blacks and whites’. ‘The people say the Boers will never rise again, they felt their beating so thoroughly but they think the blacks may rise sometime.’ But she didn’t comment on the rights and wrongs.

Elsewhere Coward expressed his distaste for slavery and reported that the party was shocked by the poverty and inequality in Chicago. The choir sang for the patients at a leper station ‘where we saw some sorrowful sights but felt we had done a little to cheer their hopeless lot.’

But reading his and other accounts through the prism of 2020, some of the language and assumptions are nevertheless shocking.

In Buffalo, USA, the choir had  ‘the new experience of being waited upon by negro attendants’; train staff were complimented by being referred to as ‘our dusky friends’; In Suva, Coward thought ‘the natives showed a strong indisposition to work’. About being taken to the spot where Captain Cook first landed in Australia and ‘captured it for England’, he later wrote, ‘Well done, Whitby!’

Descriptions of visits to a Sioux encampment at Portage la Prairie in Manitoba where the ‘Indians were very shy’ and ‘the occupants declined to thaw from their reserve’ and a Sursee reservation in Calgary where ‘the moderns [tried] to coax the occupants to show themselves but they gave no sign of obliging us’ make uncomfortable reading in the 21st century. Coward wrote that he was sorry that the tribe was dying out because of ill health and what he saw as ‘the fixed inferiority complex in their minds’.

Coward also reported an incident in Honolulu when a man trying to board their ship was apprehended by police officers, apparently having reached for a gun. ‘One of the two detectives settled the argument by giving the “wanted man” a tremendous bang on the head with the butt of his revolver…I was pleased to see this bit of summary, wild west justice. It impressed me very much.’

Afterwards

Such an amazing experience, good and bad, must have affected the choir members for the rest of their lives. Coward reports that ‘about a score of happy marriages resulted from the tour’. Were many of the choir politicised and did they continue to make music and travel? We are lucky to know at least a little about the subsequent lives of our Heaton singers:

Herbert Alderson 

Herbert continued to sing. We have a record of him as a soloist in 1913 at a ‘Grand Evening Concert’ in aid of Gateshead Independent Labour Party, alongside another well-known Heatonian, Colin Veitch, who lived just five minutes walk away on Stratford Villas. The following year, he performed with Gerald Veitch in a Newcastle Operatic Society performance of ‘The Yeoman of the Guard’  and soon after Colin conducted Herbert in Newcastle Amateur Operatic Society’s ‘Merrie England’.

In 1916, Herbert married shorthand typist, Edith Jane Ord of 54 Rothbury Terrace. Edith was also a keen singer. The couple lived in Jesmond when they were first married but soon returned to Heaton to 22 Crompton Road, where they lived for almost 20 years. That is where they were living at the outbreak of WW2, when Herbert was still listed as a joiner. Later they spent time at 211 Benton Road and then 12 Ravenswood Road, where Herbert died in 1961, aged 83.

Margaret Howson

We know that, after the tour, Margaret spent some time in South Africa because on 12 October 1919, she set sail from Cape Town to Southampton and was listed as a recent resident of that country and a music teacher. She returned to the north east where in 1923 in Hexham, she married Sidney Wilfred Lewis, a travelling sales rep for concrete and quarry plant, who had two children from a previous marriage. The couple lived in Stocksfield where their daughter, Dorothy, was born two years later. But by the outbreak of WW2, Mary had separated from Sidney and was living in London, where she described herself as a retired violin tutor. She died in Northampton in 1971, aged 82.

Jean Finlay Terry 

In 1913, a book ‘Northumberland Yesterday and Today’ by Jean F Terry LLA (St Andrews) 1913  was published. LLA stands for ‘Lady Literate in Arts’ and was offered by the University of St Andrews from 1877, fifteen years before women were admitted to Scottish universities. It became popular as a kind of external degree for women who had studied through correspondence or by attendance at non-university classes and continued until the 1930s. You can still find Terry’s fascinating local history book online and in second hand shops. We haven’t yet been able to prove that it was written by our Jean but there don’t seem to be any other likely contenders. If more evidence is required, not only does the author mention Heaton and Armstrong Parks in the text, she also included many poems and, particularly, folk-songs.

In 1914, Jean was elected to the committee of the Newcastle branch of the Victoria League at its AGM held at Armstrong College. The Victoria League for Commonwealth Friendship was founded in 1901 to connect people from Commonwealth countries and promotes cooperation and peace. It was noteworthy in that, during the early years, it was predominantly a women’s organisation at a time when women still didn’t have the vote. At that time, ’through philanthropy to war victims, hospitality to colonial visitors, empire education and the promotion of social reform as an imperial issue, it aimed to promote imperial sentiment at home and promote colonial loyalty to the mother country’, all aims which Henry Coward and Charles Harriss would heartily endorse (in fact Coward pays tribute to the league in his account of the tour). It is still active today.

In 1926, there is a record of her travelling back from Marseilles to her home in Jesmond.

At the outbreak of WW2, Jean was described as a retired teacher, living with her younger brother Arthur, a retired civil servant, and their housekeeper in Stocksfield, where she lived until she died in 1951, aged 86.

Florrie Hamilton

Florrie continued to sing with the Newcastle and Gateshead Choral Union and in April 1912 was billed as ‘soprano of the famous Sheffield choir’ when she sang at two East Cramlington Primitive Methodist Church services. There is a record of her singing another solo the following year at the annual Wesley Guild and Christian Endeavour rally in Seaton Burn alongside Walter Gardner of Heaton Road Wesleyan Guild. Less than two and a half years later, she married Walter, a shipbrokers’ clerk, who in 1911 was living with his family in Falmouth Road, just three minutes walk away from Florrie and her family. The couple went on to live at 92 Cartington Terrace. In 1919, Florrie gave birth to their daughter, Muriel.

Florrie continued to perform. In 1923, she ‘acquitted [herself] with refinement and expression’ as an accompanist at a recital at Bainbridge Memorial Wesleyan Church.

Parenthood didn’t signal the end of travel for Florrie either. We know that in July 1926, she and young daughter, Muriel, were in the USA. They travelled back from New York to Southampton on the RMS ‘Homeric’. By this time, the family was living in Whitley Bay. Sadly, Florrie died in 1936, aged only 49.

John Charles Hamilton 

John returned to Heaton where his wife, Rachel, and son, Walter, had been continuing to live while John and Florrie were on tour but the family was soon separated again when Walter joined the Northumberland Fusiliers to serve in WW1. In 1917, Rachel and John received the news that he had suffered slight gunshot wounds.

 John died at Florrie’s home in Whitley Bay on 30 August 1925, aged 64.

Molly’s Story

As for Mary Wharton Parkinson, she and Fred continued to write to each other and, only two years after the world tour, she set sail once again, this time straight to New Zealand. The couple married on 11 December 1913 in Wellington. 

By this time, Fred had set up an engineering and plumbing business in Tauranga in Bay of Plenty on North Island. Music played a big part in the couple’s life together. The month after their wedding, Molly and Fred performed in a local Methodist church concert: they played a piano duet together and both sang solo. We know that Molly also played the organ. And later in the year, Molly gave a talk about the world tour. If only we could know what she said!

But, important as it was, there was much more to Molly’s life than music. She and Frederick had four children. In 1916, she was elected president of the local Women’s Christian Temperance Movement and, when her children were older, she also became a ’leading light’ in the Country Women’s Institute, Maori Women’s Welfare League, the Girl Guides and other community organisations, often providing hospitality and accommodation to these groups in the extensive property, she and Fred had bought when they were first married. Fred died in 1957 age 73.

Mary Wharton Christian was awarded the MBE in 1975 and died one month short of her hundredth birthday in 1979.

Full Circle

Although it has only been possible to give a flavour of the tour and the lives of the Heaton singers who experienced it, none of it would have been possible without the help received on a virtual round the world journey reminiscent of that undertaken by Molly and our Heaton tourists 109 years ago, albeit this time online. 

After reading about those who had passed the audition in the ‘Newcastle Journal’, just as for the successful singers, my first stop was Sheffield, where Chris Wiltshire, composer, choral conductor and the author of a book about the letters home of choir member, May Midgley, told me that he too used to do Henry Coward’s regular commute between Sheffield and Newcastle, as for many years he had conducted the Felling Male Voice Choir as well as the Sheffield Chamber Orchestra. Going the extra mile to help us find out more about our local singers, Chris put me in touch with Caroline Roberts of Durham University, who he said was also researching the north east representatives.

Meanwhile, via North America (well, Google) came the exciting discovery of an article on a local history website much like our own. This told the story of how Molly had got to know Fred Christian and their subsequent life together in Tauranga. It mentioned that one of Molly’s daughters had been a generous benefactor of the local history society. A couple of emails later and we had learnt that the piece had been written by Julie Green, the wife of Molly’s step grandson, and that all Molly and Fred’s photos, diaries and letters were in her loft!

And there was more! It turned out that not only had Caroline Roberts done a huge amount of research into the tour and, in particular, the Tyneside contingent, over many years and was very generously willing to share everything she knew about our Heaton singers – and more – but incredibly she was the daughter of Heaton History Group members, Joyce and Paul Craggs. Paul’s great grandfather, Fred Knowles, was a member of the touring choir and it was fellow HHG member Paul who, browsing in a Corbridge antique shop, had found the framed photograph from which the individual images of the singers you see above have been taken. All roads truly lead to Heaton!

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Heaton History Group’s Chris Jackson with huge help from Julie Green, Caroline Roberts and Chris Wiltshire. A big thank you to all of them.

Other Sources

The Diary of Eliza Bustin Vinycomb (unpublished); Christchurch Archives, New Zealand

Round the World on Wings of Song: reciprocity / by Sir Henry Coward; Northend, 1933

Tauranga Historical Society Blog: Mary Wharton Christian (nee Parkinson) / by Julie Green, 2019

12 Oak Avenue: the letters of Henrietta May Midgley 1911 / by Christopher Wiltshire; Wiltsmusic, 2018

To Walk Upon the Grass: the impact of the University of St Andrews’ Lady Literate in Arts, 1877-1892 / by Elisabeth Margaret Smith; University of St Andrews PhD Thesis, 2014

Women, Gender and the Promotion of Empire: the Victoria League 1901-1914 / by Eliza Riedi; The Historical Journal 45.3 (2002) pp 569-599

Ancestry, British Newspaper Archives and other online sources.

Can You Help?

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

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.

Library108 RLCres

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.

KingsleyPlacel109 RLCedres

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.

KeoghcatalogueIMG_2810res

KeoghcatalogueentriesIMG_2809res

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.

Keoghpaper_IMG_2812res

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.

Librarypc

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.

 

johnwallacedetailimg_0001

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

 

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

Journeyman joiner

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

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

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

johnwallaceimg_0002

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

Kingsley Place

By 1891

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

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

 

kingsleyplacel109-rlced

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

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

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

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

Royal Academy

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

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

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

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

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

Postscript

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

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

Acknowledgements

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

Can you help?

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

 

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.

Craigielea 2014

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.

Pledgerboys

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