Tag Archives: Leighton Primitive Methodist Church

Mystery of a Knight on a Bike

He’s conducted painstaking research into many topics of local interest but, in a quiet moment during lockdown, Heaton History Group’s Ian Clough decided to get to grips at last with a mystery that had literally been staring him in the face, a trophy on his own sideboard:

It is probably something that magpie, Uncle Jimmy Irwin, paid a few coppers for at a jumble sale long before charity shops appeared. It’s a bit battered and lost its wooden mount. I don’t even know how I ended up with it but I have always liked the penny farthing bicycles. If I took it to the Antiques Roadshow they would probably say it was worth a few coppers – “but if you could prove provenance …“‘

The scroll on the richly decorated trophy gave Ian his first clue: ‘Science and Art School Amateur Cycling Club’; a shield at the bottom is inscribed ‘Ellis Challenge Shield’ and, on two further shields at the top the name, ‘Robert Bolam’, alongside the dates, 1889 and 1890 respectively.”

To put the dates in context, local cycling hero, George Waller, who twice won the World Six Day Championship on a penny farthing, was nearing retirement and living in Heaton. In 1885, the Rover safety bicycle had been invented and three years later John Dunlop introduced the pneumatic tyre. Penny farthings were still ridden but their days were numbered. Incidentally in April 1889, a new cycle track was opened in the Bull Park on the Town Moor, where Exhibition Park is now. George Waller did a test run on it and pronounced it to be ‘one of the finest in the kingdom’. More than 140 years later, Newcastle no longer has a cycling track. The Olympic and Paralympic medallists all come from elsewhere. But we digress!

Schools

Ian first set about finding out more about the school. It was founded in 1877 by Dr John Hunter Rutherford, a Scottish  Congregationalist preacher, who qualified as a medical doctor at the age of 41. As well as running a medical practice, Rutherford campaigned for better sanitation, But he is best known as a pioneering educationalist. He founded Bath Lane School in 1870 and the School of Science and Art in 1877. A number of branch schools soon followed, in Gateshead, Shieldfield, Byker – and two on Heaton Road.

The first branch to open in Heaton was on 24 May 1880 in the Leighton Primitive Methodist Church Sunday School buildings, which, as has already been described here, stood on the site of the modern shops at the bottom of Heaton Road, just before you reach Shields Road.

In 1885, a further branch was opened at Ashfield Villa, Heaton Road to meet the local demand not just for elementary but also higher education. Ashfield Villa stood directly opposite the Leighton Primitive Methodist School, where Heaton Buffs Club is now.

Dr Rutherford died suddenly at the age of 64 on 21 March 1890. Amongst the extensive press coverage, the following appeared:

‘The announcement of the death of Dr. Rutherford has caused wide-spread regret…Yesterday the Bath Lane Schools, the Camden Street School, the Heaton Road School and the Science and Art School, Heaton were closed as a tribute of respect to the deceased gentleman.’

Benefactor

So we know something about the schools. But the Ellis Challenge Shield? A clue came in the British Newspaper Archive. On Saturday 13 September 1890, ‘The Newcastle Courant’ carried a report of the Newcastle Science and Art School sports day, which took place on the Constabulary Ground in Jesmond (now the home ground of Newcastle Cricket Club, the Royal Grammar School Newcastle and Northumberland County Cricket Club).

The article named one of the judges as Mr A M Ellis. Andrew Murray Ellis, another Scot, was headmaster of the Newcastle Science and Art School. On his retirement in 1905, it was stated that he had served the school for 28 years, which meant he must have been on the staff since the school’s foundation. The cycling shield surely bears his name.

Races

The article went on to list the first three in every race at the sports day. There, under the hoop race, the egg and spoon race and the dribbling race ‘open to members of the football club’ was:

‘Ellis Challenge Shield. Bicycle Race, one mile (open to members of the Science and Art School ACC).  Carries Championship of the club.  Holder,  R Bolam. Robert Bolam, 1;  Robt. Redpath, 2 ; Alf. Bell, 3.  Won by 12 lengths.’

But how could this Robert Bolam be identified? It’s quite a common name.  Luckily, there was a further clue to the identity of the winner:

‘Challenge Cup (presented by Councillor Cooke). Holder, Robert Bolam. Bicycle Race (mile).- [Result] Robert Bolam, 1; George T Easten, 2; Joe Bolam, 3. J Bolam and Easten made the running until the last lap, when Robert Bolam went to the front and won easily by ten yards. Easten finished second six yards in front of J Bolam.’

A further search revealed an announcement for the previous year’s sports day, due to take place on 31 August 1889. Again the Ellis Challenge Shield is specifically mentioned.  And on 17 June 1890, in the ‘Newcastle Daily Chronicle’, there was a description of the trophy and more information about the club:

‘One of the most unqualified successes among local cycling clubs has been the Science and Art School ACC, which, now in its third year, may claim to be one of the largest in the city.’

‘The Ellis Challenge Shield, a beautiful silver trophy, is competed for each year, in a one mile race, carrying with it the championship of the club – the present holder of the title being Mr R A Bolam.’ 

So now Ian knew Robert’s middle initial and that he perhaps had a brother called Joseph. He could look for census records.

Winner

Robert Alfred Bolam was born on 11 November 1871. In the 1881 census he is shown as a 9 year old scholar, the oldest son of John Bolam, a dispensing chemist, of 46 Northumberland Street and his wife, Isabella. He had three sisters and a brother. Yes, Joseph.

Seven years later on 31 July 1888, ‘The Evening Chronicle’ gave extensive coverage of the ‘Local Science and Art examinations’ and there, under the practical organic chemistry results advanced stage for Ashfield Villa, Heaton, is the name Robert A Bolam, ‘First Class and Queen’s Prize.’ Our champion cyclist had studied in Heaton and was 17 years old at the time of his first victory in the Ellis Challenge Shield.

A few weeks before his second victory, ‘The Evening Chronicle’  of 31 July 1890 gives the results of ‘Science and Art Examinations’ and among the entries:

’Framwellgate Moor Science Class examination. Hygiene – Advanced Stage, 1st Class and Queen’s Prize – Robert A Bolam.’ Still on track!

 And, so not to leave him out entirely, at ‘School of Arts and Science, Corporation St, Newcastle – Practical Organic Chemistry, 2nd Class – J H Bolam’ his younger brother.

By the time of the next census in 1891, Robert, now 19, was described as a ‘student in medicine’. He studied at Newcastle College of Medicine and Kings College London. In 1896, he won the Gold Medal at Newcastle College of Medicine, awarded to the best student in his year. By 1901, he was a ‘physician surgeon’, married with a baby and living on Saville Place. 

A young Robert Bolam

Witness

The next mention of Dr Robert A Bolam which is relevant to Heaton came on 5 July 1910 in the extensive coverage of the trial of John Alexander Dickman, then of Jesmond but previously of Heaton ( eg, in 1901 at 11 Rothbury Terrace), accused of the murder of John Innes Nisbet of 180 Heaton Road on a train between Newcastle and Alnmouth on 18 March that year. An expert witness was Dr Robert A Bolam, MRCP, Professor of Medical Jurisprudence in the College of Medicine at Newcastle. He had been asked to examine three items of Dickman’s clothing:  ‘a pair of Suede gloves, a pair of trousers and what was known as a Burberry overcoat.’ 

Bolam told the court that he had tested the garments ‘as regards solubility, chemically, microscopically and with a micro spectroscope’. He said that there were recent blood stains on the gloves and trousers and that attempts had been made to clean an unidentified stain on the coat with paraffin. Dickman was eventually hanged for murder. The case was controversial at the time and it continues to be the subject of books, articles and television programmes even today. (Unfortunately, a number of them refer to Robert Boland rather than Bolam.)

In 1911, now 39 years old, Robert Bolam lived in Queens Square and was married with 3 children and 3 servants, coincidentally one called ‘Margaret Isabella Rutherford’ . He described himself as a ‘consulting physician’. In fact, by this time Robert was already the first honorary physician in charge of the skin department at the RVI. Robert, our cycling champion, was in the fast lane.

War Service

During the WW1, Bolam served as major and acting lieutenant-colonel in the First Northern General Hospital. He was mentioned for distinguished service and awarded the rank of brevet lieutenant-colonel and the OBE (Military). He was commanding officer of the Wingrove Hospital, which specialised in venereal diseases and, a speech by him in 1916 to the BMA is credited with doing more to secure the passage of the Venereal Diseases Act of 1917 ‘than any other pronouncement’. The act prevented the treatment of the disease or the advertising of remedies by unqualified persons. After the war, when the Ministry of Health merged the clinic with the skin department at the RVI, Bolam was put in charge of both, a position he held until his retirement in 1931.

At Durham University, he was lecturer in dermatology, professor of medical jurisprudence, president of the University College of Medicine, a member of the senate and in 1936-7, vice chancellor.

National Figure

But Robert Bolam wasn’t just a major figure locally or regionally, he served as chair of council of the British Medical Association from 1920 to 1927 (‘which involved night journeys between Newcastle and London two or three times each week’). He oversaw the erection of the BMA’s headquarters in Tavistock Square, London and it was to him who fell the honour of welcoming King George V and Queen Mary in 1925, a year in which he was also awarded the association’s coveted gold medal.

He was a member of the General Medical Council from 1928 until his death, and elected President of the British Association of Dermatologists 1933-34. Robert Alfred Bolam was Knighted in 1926.

Distinguished

Sir Robert Bolam died in Newcastle on 28 April 1939 but not before, in February of that year, he had overseen the move of the King’s College Medical School to its new building opposite the RVI and received King George VI and the Queen on its official opening. Sir Robert was survived by his wife, Sarah, son, Robert, and daughters, Dorothy and Grace.

Sir Robert Alfred Bolam by Allan Douglass Mainds (Newcastle University)

On his death, the above oil painting, which is currently in store at Newcastle University, was commissioned by friends and colleagues.

Bolam’s obituary writer for the British Association of Dermatologists stated that the distinguished medical practitioner was also an authority on the Roman Wall, a first class rifle shot who regularly competed at Bisley and once shot for England, and had  ‘a large collection of prizes as a cyclist and swimmer’, which is where we came in.

When we first encountered Robert Bolam he was already in a lofty position atop his penny farthing and so it continued throughout his distinguished life. He certainly did ‘get on his bike’.

Postscript

But that’s not quite the end of the story. During the course of his research, Ian found the Bolam family tree on Ancestry. He contacted the owner, Wendy Cox, who turned out to be the granddaughter of Sir Robert Bolam and a proud, exiled Geordie. She told Ian that she hadn’t known her grandfather as he had died before she was born. Neither had she heard of the Ellis Challenge Shield or her grandfather’s cycling achievements. But when Ian told her that, much as he’d enjoyed owning it, the shield rightfully belonged with her and the Bolam family, Wendy was delighted. She says it’s already sitting on her mantlepiece next to a photograph of her grandfather and plans are afoot to display it in a frame with a fabric background. The pedalling future knight is home.

Robert’s granddaughter, Wendy, with the trophy

Acknowledgements Researched and written by Ian Clough, Heaton History Group with additional material by Chris Jackson. Thank you to Wendy Cox for photographs of herself and her grandfather. And to Uncle Jimmy Irwin for his crucial rôle in this story.

Ian’s uncle, Jimmy Irwin, who first rescued the trophy.

Sources

Ancestry

British Newspaper Archive

Obituaries of Sir Robert Bolam in the British Journal of Dermatology, British Medical Journal, Nature, The Times

Can You Help?

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

William Brogg Leighton: man of many parts

A few years ago, we published a short article about William Brogg Leighton and his legacy in Heaton and beyond. Recently Heaton History Group’s Michael Proctor has been looking in more detail at his life and achievements, which went far beyond his involvement with the chapel that bore his name:

William Brogg Leighton was born on 27 July 1810 to Thomas and Isabelle Leighton. He was to play a significant role in the civic and religious life of Newcastle throughout his life, not least in Heaton, where the Leighton Memorial Primitive Methodist Chapel on Heaton Road, was named in honour of his extensive contribution to the Primitive Methodist movement.

William Brogg Leighton
William Brogg Leighton

The Primitive Methodist movement was characterised by the relatively plain design of their chapels and their worship, compared to the Wesleyan Methodist Church from which they had split in 1811. Its social base was among the poorer members of society, who appreciated both its content (damnation, salvation, sinners and saints) and its style (direct, spontaneous, and passionate). It was democratic and locally controlled and offered an alternative to the more middle-class Wesleyan Methodists and the establishment-controlled Church of England which were not at all democratic in governance. In Newcastle, John Branfoot was the first Primitive Methodist missionary to preach. On 1 August 1821, he preached at Sandhill, followed later in the year by William Clowes, one of the movement’s founders, who preached in the home of John Wood in Quality Row. That may be significant in the young William Leighton’s involvement in the movement. As the earliest census is 1841, we don’t know where Leighton lived at this time, but his mother, Isabelle, is shown in the 1841 census as a shopkeeper in Quality Row.

A commemorative booklet, marking the 50th anniversary of the Leighton Primitive Methodist Chapel in 1927 describes how the Primitive Methodist movement developed in Newcastle. In the east end, the Ballast Hills Society was established as early as 1822, although it had no home, with public services held in hired rooms on a Sunday evening. It was in August 1829 that a 19 year old William Leighton and some colleagues, after canvassing the neighbourhood, commenced a Sunday School in a single room in Quality Row. There were 74 scholars and 9 teachers when it opened, quickly rising to 250, requiring the addition of a second room. As there was no education and very young children were working 12 hour shifts in the flax mill and potteries of the Ouseburn area, it’s perhaps not surprising that it was so popular.

The church also grew and by 1841 a chapel was built on Byker Bank. The young William continued to be involved in both Sunday Schools and a Mutual Improvement Association, which provided an opportunity for younger men to come together and acted as an incubator for future Sunday School teachers and lay preachers. William appears to have been active in recruiting young men, many of whom became major players in the church as it developed.

Of course the church, whilst undoubtedly a major part of Leighton’s life from an early age, never provided him with an income. On 23 January 1833, William married the 20 year old Mary Singleton. (There is some dispute about this as Norman Moore and Geoff Dickinson in their earlier article on WB Leighton have him marrying Mary Hedley. However, she was 10 years older than him and every census has his wife as being 4-5 years younger than him.)

Printer

The 1841 census has William and Mary living at Garth Heads and William working as a printer. This was to be his main employment throughout his working life, although by no means his only one. At the age of 30, he was already employing a domestic servant.

The printing business was obviously a success, as the 1851 census shows the Leightons living at no 7 Grainger Street, in the block between Neville Street and Westgate Road, directly opposite the Central Station. At the time, the newly built Grainger town would have been one of the most prestigious addresses in Newcastle, so business was obviously good, indeed the family continued to live in Grainger Street, moving two doors along to no 11 around the end of the 1850s, where they stayed for most of William’s working life. It seems likely that the building included both the print shop on the ground floor and the family’s accommodation above. The census describes him as a letterpress printer employing three apprentices and a provisions merchant. Unusually, subsequent censuses also show Mary as being a provisions merchant. The couple by now had three daughters, with the eldest, Elizabeth aged 13, shown as home schooled. William’s mother, Isabelle, was also living with them, having presumably retired from her shopkeeping role.

By 1861 the Leighton’s middle daughter, Isabelle was described as working as an assistant in the butter and eggs trade, which may well have been part of the family provisions business.

Building Society

By now well established in his printing business, William began to diversify. A newspaper advert in 1858 for the Tyneside Benefit Building Society shows him as the principal trustee. The advert was for a first subscription meeting of the society, to be held at the Gray’s Adelphi Temperance Hotel in Clayton Street. At the time, building societies were relatively new. The earliest had been established in Birmingham in the late 1700s, with members paying a monthly subscription to finance the building of houses for members. The early societies were wound up once all of the members had built a house, although this changed in the 1840s when Permanent Building Societies developed. The concept would have appealed greatly to the Primitive Methodist ethos and the location of the first meeting in a temperance hotel rather than a tavern, which is where the early societies tended to meet, suggests that connection.

This is the only reference to this particular society that I’ve found, but a search of the British Newspaper Archive turns up hundreds of references to William Leighton’s involvement with the Northern Counties Permanent Building Society, where he became a trustee and continued in that role throughout most of his life. The Northern Counties was one of the earliest established and largest building societies in Newcastle and continued to exist until 1965, when it merged with the Rock Building Society to form Northern Rock. Sadly, we all know how that story ended.

Public Life

He was also an active member of the Newcastle Temperance Society and papers record his contributions to various meetings. Although it’s not recorded in the papers, his wife Mary was also known to be active in the Temperance Movement. Sadly Mary died in 1866 at the tragically young age of 51.

By the time of the 1871 census, William was still living and working at 11 Grainger Street, with his youngest daughter, Mary Jane, and her husband Alexander Morton, a railway clerk, and their son William as well as a nurse and a housemaid. Alexander would also go on to play a leading role in the life of the Primitive Methodist movement.

1871 was also the year that William went on to become a member of the Newcastle School Board. The Education Act of 1870 had made provisions for compulsory free education for all children aged 5-12. Local Authorities were charged with establishing School Boards to oversee the provision and, in Newcastle, the elections took place on 25 January. The Newcastle Daily Journal of the previous day has half a page of statements from prospective candidates, effectively setting out their manifestos. Many of the candidates were selected by the churches and put forward. Interestingly William Leighton put himself forward as an independent. His statement reads:

Mr W.B.Leighton desires to thank his friends and the electors generally for the liberal support they have promised him, and to inform them that he still continues his canvass as a Liberal and independent candidate, favourable to the reading of the Bible, with only that explanation that will make it intelligible to the young, but opposed to all sectarian teaching, and also favourable to compulsion where seen to be necessary.

Interestingly, there is another statement from Leighton on the same page, which reads:

CAUTION TO THE ELECTORS

I wish to caution you against being misled by the statements of certain unprincipled persons, who, to secure their own, or the friends election, are trying to persuade you, either that I have retired from the contest, or that I have no need of your support. Do not be deceived; but show your abhorrence of such trickery, and also your independence by plumping for me as soon after noon as possible on Wednesday first.

Whatever skulduggery took place, William was duly elected, continuing his lifelong interest in education. The papers report that after the elections, he took some 60 of his supporters to a private dinner at the Temperance Hall, once again demonstrating that he was a man of some means in the town.

He was also a man of some influence within the Primitive Methodist Church in Newcastle. The Newcastle Daily Journal of 5 March 1868 records the laying of the foundation stone for a new chapel and school in St Anthony’s, with William Brogg Leighton laying the foundation stone. He was presented with a commemorative silver trowel, plumb and mallet and a time capsule was laid in the stone containing copies of the local papers, a plan of the circuit, the names of the trustees, the number of local preachers and Sunday school teachers in the district and the name of the foundation stone layer.

This was to be the first foundation stone that he laid, but by no means the last. On 5 May 1869 he laid the foundation stone for a new chapel in Scotswood Road and on 27 August 1874 he laid the stone for a new chapel in Choppington Northumberland. He must have amassed quite a collection of silver trowels! So it’s not at all surprising that when thoughts turned to the need for a chapel in the Heaton area, William would play a major role. The commemorative leaflet for the 50th anniversary of the Leighton Memorial Chapel states: ‘In the early seventies Heaton presented all the appearances of a rural neighbourhood. Soon the scene was to suffer a transformation at the hands of architect and builder. Country lanes have given place to avenues of streets and the green fields are now suburbs.’

Heaton Road

By 1871, the need for a new church was recognised and a meeting was called to consider a site. The preference was for a site on Shields Road and WB Leighton along with Peter Kidman and Thomas Corby were sent to inspect it. The price was prohibitive and in Leighton’s view the site was too small to accommodate a church and schoolrooms, so a site on Heaton Road was selected instead. The site chosen was the first plot on the west side of Heaton Road, very close to the junction with Shields Road and came with a 75 year lease from the local authority.

The Board of Trustees was appointed in 1876, both to raise funds and to oversee the building work. As an experienced valuer and inspector of materials, William Leighton played a major role in the building, as did Thomas Parker, a fellow trustee who was the architect. The church cost £5,174 to build, of which William Leighton contributed £1000. At the opening, £3630 was still owed. By 1892, the debt still stood at £1600. The commemorative booklet from the 50th anniversary describes how in the early years it was a ‘heroic struggle to stave off disaster’ and in particular how it was a great tribute to the women of the church in organising bazaars and fund raising events that the debt was finally paid off.

Leighton Primitive Methodist Chapel c 1910
Leighton Primitive Methodist Chapel c 1910

The church opened on Tuesday 23 October 1877. The Newcastle Courant describes it as follows:

The site, which is on Heaton Road, near to its junction with Shields Road, has a frontage of about 76 feet and extends back 131 feet. On the front portion of the site is erected the chapel, which measures 64 feet by 41 feet affording accommodation for 600 people; and in the rear are four class-rooms and two schools rooms, each measuring 50 feet by 33 feet and accommodating about 600 scholars. The style of architecture is classic, freely treated.

Plan of front of Leighton Primitive Methodist Chapel (Tyne and Wear Archives)
Plan of ground floor of Leighton Primitive Methodist Chapel (Tyne and Wear Archives)

The plans show an elegant and understated building, very much in the Primitive Methodist style. This would have been, when it was built, one of the first buildings on Heaton Road, but other developments followed rapidly. And by 1879, Wards Directory shows William, still accompanied by his daughter and son in law and their growing family living in Rose Villa, Heaton. So far, it’s not been possible to locate this building precisely, but it was certainly on the block of Heaton Road between Shields Road and Tynemouth Road. The Wesleyan Bainbridge Memorial Church was later built on the corner of Heaton Road and Tynemouth Road and maps from the turn of the 20th Century show six large semi detached villas next to it. Nothing now remains of these houses, but they must have been large as Tyne and Wear Archives have planning applications for no 29 and 31 to build stables and coach houses at the rear. It seems likely that Rose Villa was no 31, with James Coltman, a fellow trustee, living next door at no 29.

Bainbridge Memorial Chapel. early 20th century with Rose Villa to the left.

On the above early 20th century picture postcard, we believe that Rose Villa is immediately to the left of the Bainbridge Memorial Chapel. At the time William lived there, there were no buildings between Rose Villa and Heaton Station.

Legacy

It was here that William Brogg Leighton died on 25 April 1884. Interestingly, despite his obvious wealth and position in society, the probate records show that he had assets totalling £172/19/11 and that administration of his will was granted to John Wallace of 1 Second Street, Wallsend, a creditor.

To quote the words of Rev H B Kendall, who knew William well ‘Every organised form of local Christian philanthropy had Mr Leighton’s countenance and co-operation, so that his life was of manifold activity. He was not eloquent by nature, or a skilful debater, but just a constant cheerful worker on behalf of deserving causes’. The 50th anniversary commemorative booklet goes on to say ‘He gave out great love and devotion, without ostentation, but with a passion that the church on which he had set his heart should be a glorious success’.

The church that was to be his memorial stood until 1965, when a rapprochement between the Primitive and Wesleyan Methodist traditions led to a merger with the Bainbridge Memorial Church a short distance down the road. It took some five years to sell the site, not because of lack of interest, but due to the council’s refusal to allow planning permission for retail and office developments. However, when the site was finally sold in 1970, for £9000, that is exactly what was built!

Can you help?

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

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Michael Proctor, Heaton History Group.

Sources

Ancestry.co.uk

British Newspaper Archive

Newcastle City Library: Newcastle trade directories:

Tyne & Wear Archives: building plans

Leighton Primitive Methodist Church Jubilee Souvenir 1927

Ordnance Survey Map Byker & Heaton, 1895

Matron Lily Atkinson Royal Red Cross

When Heaton History Group’s Ian Clough was researching the names on Heaton’s many WW1 church war memorials, one name stood out, that of Matron L Atkinson RRC. Few females are listed on first world war memorials but it now appeared that we had another Heaton woman to commemorate alongside that of Kate Ogg, who had grown up on Bolingbroke Street and given up her life in the war effort when she caught influenza from the servicemen she was nursing. But who was Matron L Atkinson and what did RRC stand for?

Matron L Atkinson’s name appears on two WWI memorials associated with Leighton Primitive Methodist Church which then stood on Heaton Road.

atkinson2leightoncommuniontable_edited-1

Leighton Primitive Methodist Church war memorial

atkinsonleightonpmchurchwwideaths

Leighton Primitive Methodist Church war memorial (detail)

atkinsonleightonpmchurch

Leighton Primitive Methodist Church

A broad search of census information did not bring up any L Atkinson living in the Heaton area and without any idea of her birthdate, there wasn’t much more to go on and Ian had hundreds of names to research so he called on Heaton History Group’s research team for assistance and Arthur Andrews helped unravel the mystery. After some time researching variant spellings of both first name and surname, Arthur managed to get to the nub of the problem: it turned out that although she was always known as Lily, our WW1 hero was officially an Elizabeth.  It helps to be psychic to be a local history researcher!

Nurse

It could now be established that Lily (ie Elizabeth) was born in 1874. For many years the family lived at 24 North View, a terraced house with 7 rooms, in Heaton, overlooking the railway cutting, where the Newcastle to Edinburgh steam trains would rush by. Lily’s father, Ralph, was a butcher, and later an insurance agent. Her mother was called Catherine. The 1911 census tells us that there were ten Atkinson children, two of whom had already died. There were,  at this time, at least five living daughters and three sons.

Nothing more is known of Lily’s childhood or whether she had any other jobs after leaving school but by 1901, aged 26, she was working at Carlisle Infirmary as a probationer nurse. By 1909, the Nursing Register indicates that Lily had become a certified nurse, working at the Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle and by 1911 she had been promoted to hospital sister and moved to Liverpool Infirmary to take up the post of assistant matron. By 1915 she had moved again to take up the post of matron at the historic Northampton General Hospital. Here she became responsible for the nursing of many badly-wounded soldiers and she also had links with the nearby Duston War Hospital.

Royal Warrant

It was for her outstanding WWI nursing work at Northampton that Lily was awarded the Royal Red Cross (RRC). The award, established by Queen Victoria in 1883 and awarded by Royal Warrant, is still made to ‘a fully trained nurse of an officially recognised nursing service, military or civilian, who has shown exceptional devotion and competence in the performance of nursing duties, over a continuous and long period, or who has performed an exceptional act of bravery and devotion at her or his post of duty.‘ The first recipient was Florence Nightingale and the award was so prestigious that it was often presented by the monarch at Buckingham Palace. Sadly, this was not to be the case for Lily.

atkinson3rrcmedal_edited-1

Royal Red Cross award

Lily’s Royal Red Cross Register entry, pictured below, does not give the date the award was registered and Lily’s name appeared in The London Gazette only on 9 April 1919, almost 5 months after she died. In the register it is noted that she was ‘deceased 22.11.18’ and that the medal was sent to her mother on 3 March 1920. (In fact, Lily’s mother, Catherine, had died in 1914).

atkinsonrrcregisterlatkinson

Royal Red Cross Register

Lily herself passed away in her prime on Friday 22 November 1918, during her tenure as Matron of Northampton General Hospital. She was only 44 years old and the cause of death was registered as breast cancer with other complications. Three of her siblings were with her at the time: Miss Annie Atkinson, Mrs Mary Smallwood and Mrs Margaret Shuler.

Moving scenes

A short obituary appeared in the Northampton Daily Echo on 22 November 1918. Another, more informative, obituary appeared in the Northampton Mercury a week later.

It was reported that as war work increased, Lily’s nursing and organizing abilities and devotion to work not only maintained the efficiency of the hospital but she was ‘rapidly establishing its reputation as one of the leading, provincial institutions in the country’.

It was also reported that ‘deeply moving scenes’ were witnessed when her body was removed to the railway station, for cremation at Leicester. A brief devotional service was performed by the hospital chaplain. Nurses lined the corridor singing ‘On the Resurrection Morning’, as the coffin was carried by Hospital staff. From the main entrance to the gates, an avenue was formed of 24 wounded soldiers and many other staff, who then followed the cortege to the station and lined the platform until the train left with Lily’s coffin and many wreaths.

Other members of her family met the train at Leicester. After the cremation, Lily’s ashes were taken back to Newcastle. They were buried in the family grave at All Saints Cemetery in Jesmond, after another well attended ceremony. This was reported in another obituary in the Newcastle Daily Journal on 29 November 1918.

atkinsonrrcgravestoneres

We join Lily Atkinson’s contemporaries in celebrating the short life of a highly respected matron from Heaton, whose professionalism and devotion to duty made a great impact during hard times.

Can you help?

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

Acknowledgements

Written and researched by Arthur Andrews, with additional research by Ian Clough, both of Heaton History Group. Thank you also to Sue Longworth and Julia Corps, Northampton Hospital archivists.

Sources

National Archives, Kew

FindMyPast

Ancestry

National Newspaper Archive

 

 

In Memory of William Brogg Leighton

If you’ve ever looked into Newcastle’s past or have ancestors from Heaton, you’ll have come across the name ‘Leighton’, pronounced locally ‘Light-on’. There was Leighton Primitive Methodist Chapel on Heaton Road and Leighton Memorial Board School, which was originally based in the church’s Sunday School. Indeed there’s still a Leighton Street off Byker Bank. But who was Leighton and what do we know of the buildings named in his honour?

Heaton History Group’s Norman Moore and his fellow researcher, Geoff Dickinson, take up the story:

Early life

William Brogg Leighton was born in Newcastle on 27 July 1810 and baptised on 26 August at All Saints Church. He worked as a printer and bookseller, building society treasurer (Northern Counties Building Society) and valuer – and, in an early example of what we’d now call a portfolio career, he sold butter and eggs on market days.

Preacher

William was a pioneer of the temperance movement and a local preacher. In 1829, aged 19, he started a Sunday School of which he remained superintendent for 51 years. In 1836 he married Mary Hedley at Longbenton and they had three children. Mary, was the first woman in Newcastle to sign the pledge! In 1841, William was instrumental in establishing the Ballast Hills Methodist Chapel in Byker. The chapel was in existence until 1955. When a new place of worship was opened in Heaton in 1877, it was named Leighton Primitive Methodist Church in recognition of William’s significant contribution to the church. Eventually William became a member of the first School Board of Newcastle and a director of the Byker Bridge Company. He died on 25 April 1884 in Newcastle. Thank you to his great great granddaughter for permission to publish the photograph below.

William Brogg Leighton

You can read more of Norman and Geoff’s research on William Brogg Leighton here.

Leighton Methodist Church

This Primitive Methodist church was one of the first buildings on Heaton Road when it was built in 1877. It was designed in the Italianate style with a broad pedimented front. In 1965 the chapel merged with the Wesleyan Methodists’ Bainbridge Memorial Chapel, a short distance along Heaton Road, the building with a tower in the photograph below. The Leighton Memorial premises were closed and later demolished. The 1970s shops towards the corner of Shields Road were built on the site.

Leighton Primitive Methodist Chapel c 1910

Leighton Primitive Methodist Chapel c 1910

Leighton Memorial School

On 24 May 1880, Leighton Memorial School opened. It was established as a branch of the School of Science and Art, Newcastle upon Tyne and was located in Leighton Memorial Church Sunday School on Heaton Road. These premises were leased by the Rutherford Committee for use as a day school. The school began with 26 pupils but within six months of opening numbers had increased to over 200. The school was arranged in two main sections – the Infants Department and the Mixed Department.

In 1885, a further branch of the School of Science and Art was opened at Ashfield Villa, Heaton Road to meet local demands for higher education. The popularity of this school and Leighton Memorial School led to overcrowding and it was decided that a new building was required. The new school was named North View School and the foundation stone was laid on 21 September 1891. The school was located on the south side of North View near the junction with Brough Street. It was officially opened on 26 September 1892.

North View Schools

The old Leighton Memorial School building was retained for use by the infants until about 1907. Initially boys and girls were taught together in the Mixed Department but from 1893 boys and girls departments were established and the two sexes were taught separately. In 1897 Newcastle School Board agreed to take over the management of North View School and Leighton Memorial Infants School from Rutherford College Council and the transfer was completed in 1900. In that year the School was re-arranged once again on a mixed basis. In 1903 Newcastle School Board was wound up and responsibility for the schools passed to Newcastle City Council Education Committee.

In 1907, North View Schools were re-organised with the opening of a new Junior Department. This left the school arranged in three Departments – Infants, Juniors and Seniors. In November 1940 North View School was re-organised into two Departments – Infants/Lower Junior and Senior/Upper Junior. This change was short lived and in 1943 the School returned to the earlier arrangement of three Departments. By the early 1950s the Senior Department was redesignated North View County Secondary School.

North View School 1974

North View School 1974

In 1967, North View County Secondary School closed following the re-organisation of secondary education along comprehensive lines. Pupils were transferred to the new Benfield Comprehensive School. The buildings were taken over by North View Junior School. In 1981 the school was reorganised as North View Primary School, and located in the old infant school building. The school closed in 1984. Northfields House, sheltered accommodation, was built on the site.

Acknowledgements

Thank you to Norman Moore for facilitating this article and to Tyne and Wear Archives for the information about Leighton Methodist Church, Leighton Memorial School and North View Schools. The Archive holds many records for both the schools and the church and is well worth a visit.

And thank you also to Heaton History Group Honorary President, Alan Morgan, from whose book ‘Heaton: from farms to foundries’ additional material was taken, including the photographs of Leighton Memorial Chapel and North View School.

Can you help?

If you have any information, photographs or memories connected with anyone or anything mentioned in this article, please either leave a comment by clicking on the link immediately below the headline or email chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org .

204 Heaton Road

This photograph shows the fruiterer and florist shop which once stood at 204 / 204A Heaton Road, the premises now occupied by Heaton Property.

Outside 204 Heaton Road 1911

The photograph was taken in 1911. On the right is Florence Webb, the grandmother of Heaton History Group member Les Turnbull. In the middle is her workmate – we only know that she was called ‘Maggie’ – and on the left is ‘Mary’, a shop assistant from Blenkinsop’s, the baker’s next door. And can you see the delivery boy? The notice on the left announces that tickets for Heaton’s Electric Palace cinema can be bought in the shop.

At this time, the fruiterer’s was run by Mrs Sarah Smith, who also had a shop at 205 Shields Road and who lived at 98 Cardigan Terrace. Sarah was born in Bacton, Suffolk in c1852. By 1911, she was a widow, living with her four working sons, Jephtha, Elijah, Bertrand and Charles, plus a lodger. She had moved to Diss in Norfolk, where she met her husband, to work as a servant to a merchant there. Presumably, like many other people at that time, the young couple came to Newcastle because there were greater economic prospects in the industrial North.

Florence’s story

In 1911 Florence was living at 114 Simonside Terrace, with her mother and father and two younger brothers. Before she died, she wrote about her experiences between leaving school in 1908 and leaving work in about 1915 to get married:

1908: I left school in May at age of 14 years and started work in a small general shop wages 4/- per week, hours 9 am to 4 pm. Served in shop and helped with other household duties. My employers were an elderly couple who were very kind to me.

1909: Aged 15 years. Started work at Simpsons, 2 Raby Street, confectioners. Wages 5/- per week, hours 10 am till 10-30 pm. No time for meals and nobody to relieve me. Sunday duty 10-30 am till 10 pm, for which I got a day off during the week. No holidays then. Worked for nearly a year.

1910: Left and was off work six weeks then got work in fruit shop on Shields Road Byker 6/- per week. Hours 9 am till 9 pm (1 hour off for dinner) Monday to Thursday, Friday 10 pm, Saturday 12 pm. Before I got home it was 1 o’clock Sunday morning. People used to do their shopping after 10-30 pm when the theatres closed. Shields Road used to be quite busy then. My brother, twelve years old, was errand boy at weekends, Friday night 5 pm till 10 pm, Saturday 9 am till 12 pm, 1 hour for dinner, wages 1/6 and bag of fruit. He helped in the shop and ran errands and thought himself lucky if he got a penny. One old lady used to give him 2d for taking a heavy order of fruit and vegetables a mile away.

1911: Transferred to Heaton Road branch with girl 14 and errand boy to help wages 7/- per week and half-day on Wednesday. Left this shop and started work in Heaton at tobacconists and confectionary, 1912. Hours 8-30 am to 8-30 pm, 1 hour for lunch, half day on Tuesdays and one weeks annual holiday. Wages 8/- per week rising to 10/- when I had charge of the shop. Interviewed and paid all travellers and ordered all goods. Went to this job for three weeks and stayed four years. Bonus 10/- on the stock each six months. We cooked our own hams (6d per quarter pound) and sold fresh country eggs from Kirkwhelphington 12 a 1/-.

Florence’s working conditions improved a little after the passing of legislation to improve the working condition of shop workers. You can actually see a newspaper board advertising the coming changes in our photograph of Millers Hill Bakery on Chillingham Road, taken at about the same time. The Shops Act 1911 granted shop assistants a half day holiday, set the maximum working week to 60 hours and made it compulsory to provide washing facilities in every shop.

Early days

The block which includes 204 Heaton Road was built at the very end of the nineteenth century. To begin with, 204 was a residential property. It was first occupied by J Davidson, a tinsmith.

The first shop in the premises was opened about 1904. It was from the outset a fruiterer’s, originally owned by Mrs Mary Eden, a Londoner who had married a fruit salesman from Leicester. In the early days, the shop changed hands many times. The following year, the proprietor was a Miss Edith Wright and only a year after that a Mrs J H Evans had taken it over. She lived at 68 Rothbury Terrace and had a second shop in Jesmond. Sarah Smith came next in 1909 but she too only stayed a few years. Around the outbreak of World War 1, the shop belonged to Miss Ellen Buchanan. Five proprietors in just over ten years.

The coming of war

Only a year later, James Lillie became the first male owner of the shop. Sadly his tenure too was short-lived. James was born in South Shields in 1888. By 1911, aged 22 he was working as a grocery shop assistant. By 1915 he had married his girlfriend, Ada, and opened his own shop in a prosperous part of Heaton. His prospects were good. The world was already at war though and James joined the Northumberland Fusiliers and later Duke of Wellington’s West Riding Regiment. He was killed in action on the Somme on 12th October 1916 and is buried in the London Cemetery and Extension in Longueval, Somme, France.

Lost memorial

James was commemorated on a memorial in Leighton Primitive Methodist Church and Sunday School.

Leighton Methodist Church War Memorial

When the church was pulled down, this plaque was apparently removed to Cuthbert Bainbridge Memorial Methodist Church which itself has since been demolished. The North East War Memorials Project is trying to find out what happened to the plaque and to the church’s stained glass windows. Please get in touch via Heaton History Group (chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org) if you can help locate it.

A head for business

After the war there was a change of use. Miss Mary Gibson acquired the shop and her business was destined to last. Mary was born in Amble in 1877. She trained as a dressmaker and lived for much of her the adult life at 106 Meldon Terrace, firstly with her sister and then alone. The shop she opened was a milliner’s. As it didn’t close until the late 1940s, some older readers may have memories of buying a hat there? We’d love to hear more about Miss Gibson and the shop she ran for thirty years.

But by 1950 hats were becoming less universally worn and more people were buying clothes in large department stores. Milliners were already disappearing from places like Heaton Road. Once Miss Gibson retired, it was time for another change of direction.

Eye for business

The next business lasted even longer. In the early 1950s Gerald Walden, an optician, took over the shop. He was still at number 204 in 1995, having in the meantime expanded with shops in Forest Hall and Denton. Who remembers having their eyes tested or buying their glasses there?

Can you help?

As usual, we’re looking for your help? Can you add to what we’ve written? What do you know or remember about 204 Heaton Road? Do you remember the milliner’s or the optician’s? Can you fill in the gap between Walden’s closing and Heaton Property opening? And can you help us track down the missing war memorial? Please contact Chris Jackson (chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org)if you can answer any of the above or if you have any information or photographs which help tell the story of Heaton.