Over fifty years ago a Heaton High School pupil sat on the number 11 bus to school when a teenage boy got talking to her. The pair later started going out together. That teenage boy is now a member of Heaton History Group and he has finally got round to researching an interesting member of his one time girlfriend’s family: Reverend Herbert Barnes, who was a well known non-conformist minister in Newcastle and one time Heaton resident.
In the 1901 census, Herbert was a 15 year old schoolboy, still living near Greyabbey. On leaving school, he entered into business in the art trade but by 1911, 25 year old Herbert was a theological student and boarding with a family in Belfast, some twenty miles from home. From there, he soon moved to Unitarian College Manchester, which has been ‘preparing students for ministry and lay leadership positions in the Unitarian and Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Churches since 1854′. It is still going strong. Herbert was ordained in 1915.
His first ministry was at the Oldham Road Unitarian Church in Manchester. We know from newspaper records that he also preached at other churches in the vicinity.
But just four years later, he transferred to Newcastle to take up a new post at the Unitarian church on New Bridge Street said to be the first non-conformist place of worship in Newcastle with a congregation dating from 1662, which worshipped initially in private homes. The first purpose built meeting house was built c1680 outside the Close Gate, roughly where the Copthorne Hotel is now. In 1726, the church moved to Hanover Square, behind what is now the Central Station before moving to the John Dobson designed New Bridge St church in 1854.
On 25 August 1920, in Cheshire, Herbert married (Lizzie) Beatrice Watterson who hailed from the Isle of Man. She had been a maths teacher firstly at Burnley High School and then in Manchester.
For at least the first five years of their marriage the couple lived at 12 Cheltenham Terrace in Heaton. They had three children, Henry Greenfield, Herbert Abner and Mary, at least two of whom continued to have connections with Heaton even after the family moved to the west end of the city. Henry Greenfield, who became a general practitioner, used to play rugby for the Medics, whose ground is, of course, on Heaton Road. Herbert Abner became a lawyer and, in 1949, the recipient of the Law Society’s ‘Newcastle upon Tyne Prize’. Mary became a hospital almoner (a pre-NHS forerunner of a hospital social worker). After marriage, she and her family lived for a time at 35 Lesbury Road.
Sadly, Beatrice, Herbert’s wife, died in 1939 aged only 51. Her funeral was attended by many Newcastle dignatories, including Sir Arthur Lambert (Northern Regional Commissioner for Civil Defence) and his wife, councillors and the Reverend E Drukker of the Jesmond Synagogue. The chancel furnishings in the new church were gifted in her memory.
The Reverend Barnes seems to have been very popular with his congregation. It is said that the church was so full at the services he led that that extra seats had to be crammed into the aisles.
In 1929, when he announced from the pulpit that he had declined a call to the ministry of Cross Street Chapel in Manchester, there was said to have been a round of applause in the church. Barnes said that to be invited to the ministry of the most historic and outstanding pulpit in the church’s general assembly was an honour that comes only once in a man’s lifetime but that he had decided to remain in Newcastle.
One of Herbert Barnes’s challenges during his ministry was the dangerous state of repair of John Dobson’s church. The cost of repairs eventually became prohibitive and after serious subsidence was discovered, it was decided to build a new church in its place. A public building appeal fund was set up in 1938. The last service in the old church was on Sunday 26 March 1939 and the first in the new one in nearby Ellison Place, on the site of another demolished John Dobson church, St Peter’s, was on Sunday 21 January 1940.
The new church was also known as the Church of the Divine Unity. All of this was overseen by Reverend Herbert Barnes.
Arthur Andrews takes up the story:
‘In the 1970s, I used to work at Newcastle Polytechnic and every day would see the church and wonder what it was like inside. However, it was only when I noticed that not only was it open for Heritage Open Day and there was the link with Herbert Barnes but also I read that it might soon be sold and closed to the public, that I visited.’
The art deco building was designed by the architects Cacket, Burns Dick and McKellar, who had been responsible for many familiar landmarks including the Tyne Bridge towers and Pilgrim Street Police Station.
The new church could accommodate 500 people and the church hall, where there was a stage, could hold 250 people and was used for meetings, as a theatre and for badminton. Rev Herbert Barnes’s Ministry celebrated his silver jubilee in the ministry three years after the new church opened.
Rev Barnes is said to have taken a vigorous stand against anti-Semitism. On 8 January 1934, it was reported that, later that week, ‘in appreciation of his personality and public works and services rendered to the Jewish People’ and in commemoration of the 15th anniversary of his ministry, he was to be honoured by an inscription in The Jewish National Fund’s ‘Golden Book’ and a certificate marking this was to be presented to him.
The public works referred to included serving on both Newcastle Public Libraries Committee and Education Committee. This inscription in the ‘Golden Book’, given on the recommendation of the Jewish Agency for Palestine, was said to be the highest form of tribute the Jews can pay to those whom they wish to honour. Speeches would be made by Rabbi J Kyanski and Reverend Emmanuel Drukker from the Jesmond Synagogue. Members of Mr Barnes’s church were to be individually invited to the presentation. It was reported in Reverend Barnes’ obituary in ‘The Daily Journal’, that Herbert Barnes was ‘one of the few gentiles to have had their names inscribed in the Golden Book’
Herbert Barnes wrote a weekly piece for the Evening Chronicle from 1929 until 1941. It was called ‘The Weekly Epilogue’ and published under the pen name of ‘Unitas’. It dealt with aspects of daily life in relation to the bible and philosophy.
In April 1941 he started a new weekly piece called ‘A Saturday Postscript’, for the ‘Evening Chronicle’, which he wrote under his real name until the month before his death.
And he also wrote a column for ‘The Journal’ from 1936 until 1954, called ‘Weekend Thought’ under another pen name ‘Ignotus’.
His final column was entitled ‘They Ought to have Statues’, where he made a case for more statues dedicated to women and their unsung role in society. He cited the recently unveiled statue of Thomas Hardy, observing that the doctor who delivered Hardy was sure that he was stillborn and discarded his young body, only for a woman present at the birth to check the discarded child and found him to be breathing. Herbert Barnes thought that this woman deserved a statue in her honour for saving the life of the future, great author. Although, he could perhaps have mentioned female achievements in addition to saving the life of a famous man, he was certainly ahead of his time, given that this is a more widely understood issue 67 years later.
Rev Herbert Barnesretired from the ministry on 19 July 1951. He died at his home in Wylam on 29 October 1954
On 1 October 1961, two commemoration services were held at the Church of Divine Unity to honour the memory of Reverend Hebert Barnes. The morning service was attended by the Lord Mayor, Alderman Dr H Russell and members of the City Council, at the end of which the ‘Herbert Barnes Memorial Stone’ was unveiled.
Someone who knew Herbert Barnes well said that, through his preaching and his newspaper articles, he brought his views before almost every thinking person in the north-east. It was also said that perhaps the greatest tribute to his personality was the fact that more than half of the £35,000 needed to build the Church of Divine Unity, was subscribed by people outside of his own congregation.
Researched and written by Arthur Andrews, Heaton History Group. The drawing by Byron Dawson has been reproduced with the permission of Newcastle City Library. Thank you to Maurice Large, Church of the Divine Unity leader. Herbert Barnes’s grandchildren: Lesley, Jonathan and Paul, with fond memories.
British Newspaper Archive
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Who remembers a statue of Scottish poet, Robert Burns, in Heaton Park between the mid 1970s and mid ‘80s? It seems that, even among those of us who lived in Heaton back then that not many people do, which is something of a mystery. We are hoping that this story of the statue and how it came to be in Heaton will jog some memories and maybe even unearth a photograph or two.
Robert Burns was born in Alloway near Ayr and later lived less than 30 miles from the border in Dumfries, so it’s perhaps surprising that he only visited England, or indeed left his native Scotland, three times, all in the same month, May 1787, while on a tour to collect orders for a collection of his poems. On two occasions, he ventured only a very short distance over the border to Coldstream and Berwick but on the third occasion he came to Newcastle via Wooler, Alnwick, Warkworth and Morpeth.
The date of the poet’s visit to Newcastle was Tuesday 29 May but unfortunately, although Burns kept a diary, it doesn’t give us any clue to the route he took through the town, where he stayed or what his impressions were. He recorded only that his party met ’a very agreeable and sensible fellow, a Mr Chatto, who shows us a great many civilities and who dines and sups with us.’
A letter, written during his brief stay, to his friend, Robert Ainslie, who had originally been with the group but had returned home, suggests he wasn’t particularly happy while he was here. Burns wrote, ‘Here am I, a woeful wight on the banks of Tyne. Old Mr Thomas Hood has been persuaded to join our Partie, and Mr Kerr & he do very well, but alas! I dare not talk nonsense lest I lose all the little dignity I have among the sober sons of wisdom and discretion, and I have had not one hearty mouthful of laughter since that merry-melancholy moment we parted.’
The following day, Burns and companions were on their way again. After breakfasting at Hexham, they continued west.
Although Robert Burns only made a fleeting visit to Newcastle, his younger brother, William, did live and work here. He completed his apprenticeship at Messrs Walker and Robson, saddlers. He then briefly worked in London before his untimely death in 1790.
While William was trying to find work in Newcastle, Robert wrote to him: ‘I need not caution you against guilty amours – they are bad and ruinous everywhere, but in England they are the very devil’.
Robert Burns died in 1796 at the young age of 37, only nine years after his visit to Newcastle. By this time his work was extremely popular in Scotland and the tradition of Burns Night, in effect a second national day, began within a few years of his death. The first ‘Burns supper’ is said to have been held in Scotland in 1802 but it has been claimed that the first Burns club in the world was founded in Sunderland shortly afterwards. A Newcastle club was in existence by 1816.
Migration of Scots into north-east England grew during the nineteenth century and with it a strong attachment to the national poet of their homeland. Many events were held in January 1859 to commemorate the centenary of Burns’ birth, including a supper for 70 in Low Walker and a festival dinner for 400 in the Newcastle Town Hall. There were further events in 1896, the centenary of Burns’ death.
It was in this context that Walker Burns Club, which comprised mainly workers in the local shipyards, decided to donate to the people of their district a ‘monumental drinking fountain’. At the unveiling of the ‘Burns Memorial Fountain’ on 13 July 1901 the secretary of the club, John McKay, said that for four or five years (ie from around the time of the centenary of Burns’ death) the members had wanted to do something for the people who had supported them and so had saved the profits of the club’s programme of concerts and lectures. As he formally handed over the memorial to the chairman of Walker Urban District Council, he said the club members ‘were trying to do what they could to leave the world a better place than they found it and to more fully appreciate the beautiful and humane sentiments contained in nearly all Burns’ poems .’ He made no mention of Burns’ visit to Newcastle.
It was left to Hugh Crawford Smith, Liberal Unionist MP for Tyneside, who unveiled the fountain, to make passing reference to this visit:
‘[Burns] was once very near to Walker. In 1787, he came to Newcastle, slept there a night and then went home by way of Hexham and Carlisle. Burns never really got to Walker – laughter – but he might have done so if he could have foretold that more than a century later a drinking fountain would be erected to his honour’… the memorial would stand for all time as a practical manifestation of what the Burns club had done for Walker (Applause)’.
The event merited only four and a half lines in the ‘Evening Chronicle’:
‘A Burns memorial fountain, the gift of the Walker Burns Club was unveiled in Walker Park on Saturday by Mr H Crawford Smith MP, who together with Father Berry, chairman of the council, and other speakers, made some interesting remarks about the ploughman poet.’
However, luckily for us there was much more detail in Joseph Cowen’s more radical ‘Newcastle Daily Chronicle’ and other local papers in Northumberland, Durham and Scotland.
From them, we know that the memorial comprised an ornamental, iron drinking fountain topped by a bronze ‘statuette’ of the ‘National Bard’ which stood on a capital on top the fountain, which itself was mounted on a raised platform accessed by four steps and surrounded by flower beds. It must have been an impressive sight. Father Berry, leader of the council, was the first person to point out that the poet had his back to his homeland. This became a recurring theme over the years.
The drinking fountain was cast in Glasgow by Walter Macfarlane’s Saracen Foundry, the most important manufacturer of ornamental ironwork in Scotland. Among its surviving works in Britain are the Alexander Graham Memorial Drinking Fountain in Stromness and the Barton Arcade in Manchester. Overseas works included gates in India and Argentina, fountains in Tasmania, Malaysia and Cyprus and verandas in South Africa and Singapore (at the Raffles Hotel). The Walker Burns Club chose their fountain from a pattern book. It was designed in a way that a statue of choice could be added.
The statue, which depicted Burns with right arm outstretched in the act of reciting his song ‘A Man’s a man for A ‘That’, was sculpted by David Watson Stephenson of Edinburgh whose many well-known works include a bronze statue of William Wallace on the National Wallace Monument in Stirling and the figures of Mary Queen of Scots, Halbert Glendinning and James VI on the Sir Walter Scott Monument in Edinburgh. The Scots of Walker chose the very best craftsmen to make their memorial.
A shield attached to the capital between the fountain and the statue bore the inscription ‘Presented to the District Council by the Burns Cub, Walker on Tyne 1901’.
The full song asserts that a man’s value lies not in his wealth, position or social class but in his mind and character. Of course, these sentiments still resonate today and the song is still performed in Scotland on major occasions, memorably at the opening of the Scottish Parliament and the funeral of Donald Dewar, the inaugural minister for Scotland. The Walker Burns Club’s choice of inscription has stood the test of time.
So, it is very clear from accounts of the unveiling that the drinking fountain was considered at least as important a part of the gift as the statue.
Installation of free public drinking fountains, the first of which appeared in Liverpool in 1854, was often linked to the Temperance Movement, who wanted to give people a safe and easily available alternative to alcohol, although the irony of this in relation to Robert Burns was not lost at the unveiling. Expressing an expectation that the memorial would ‘stand for all time [dispensing] pure water’, Crawford Smith joked that Burns would probably have liked something stronger in it.
The Walker fountain had tin cups suspended on chains at the base to allow passers by to drink the water but even in 1901 the public health dangers of many people sharing unwashed vessels was recognised and safer designs were being introduced elsewhere. (But there were still similar cups at Armstrong Park’s ‘King John’s Well’, the postcard below also dating from 1901).
Interestingly, although they seemed to have had their day, there has been a revival of public drinking fountains in recent years in response to concerns about the use of plastic bottles, increasing summer temperatures and as an alternative to unhealthy sugary drinks. A 2019 campaign for the installation and restoration of drinking fountains in Newcastle seems to have stalled due to the current pandemic but the reasoning behind it is still strong.
The first mention we have found of repairs to the monument was in 1956 when the council noted that the fountain was ‘now disused’. The plan was to point the masonry part of the base, remove the steps and clean and paint the statue. It would not be turned around to face Scotland!
Today painting a bronze statue sounds like an unusual piece of restoration work. Nevertheless, we know that the work was done and afterwards it was returned to Walker Park, where it stood until the mid 1970s at which time ‘vandals’ and ‘the passage of time’ had reportedly left it without a head and arms. In 1975, the North East Federation of Burns Societies, rather than the city council, commissioned another restoration by a Hatfield firm of welders where a Mr Bill Fraser, himself a Scot, led the work to pin the arms and head back onto the statue and recreate fingers missing from the the right hand with glass fibre.
This time, at least in the reports we have read, there was no mention at all of the fountain.
The next newspaper report we have found dates from 24 February 1984. It was reported in ‘The Journal’ that the statue of Robert Burns had been ‘stolen from its home of five yearsin Heaton Park , and smashed to pieces by vandals’
Mr Max McGregor, president of the Ouseburn Burns Society, is reported as saying ‘The statue was donated to the city by a Burns society and was to have been used for our celebrations on Burns Night this January. This year’s visit had to be cancelled because of this affair’.
Mr Roger Neville, spokesman for Newcastle City Council, said: ‘The statue was stolen by youngsters and as they were rolling it away, it toppled down the hill and broke into pieces. It is now in our Jesmond Dene depot’.
So still no mention of the fountain and no photograph but, based on this report, we can apparently date the statue’s sojourn in Heaton Park from 1979 to 1984. There is at least one inaccuracy in the account though. As we know, the donation was to the Urban District of Walker, not the neighbouring City of Newcastle. And, as we’ll soon see, doubt has been cast on the date.
All went quiet for a decade when, in response to an enquiry from Newcastle United historian, Paul Joannou, ‘The Journal’ ran two articles which showed that collective memory can be very short. On 15 March, it asked ‘Was there ever a statue of Robert Burns on Tyneside?’
Joannou was enquiring as he was aware of a series of football matches in the 1920s, staged for the purpose of raising money for a statue to Burns in Newcastle. He said that large crowds watched legends such as Hughie Gallagher and Alex James and that players who took part were presented with a medal, one of which was on display in the Newcastle United museum. He had put an appeal in the club programme but nobody had come forward to say they knew of the statue.
At this stage ‘The Journal’ knew nothing about the statue either, with journalist Tony Jones writing ‘I reckon the nearest one to Newcastle is 90 miles away in Dumfries.’ However, the following day, it revealed to its readers that the statue had been found in storage ‘at a council depot’ (presumably Jesmond Dene where it had lain in pieces since 1984).
‘The Journal’ had ‘learnt ‘that the statue had been removed from Walker in 1979’, which fits in with the 1984 account in the same paper (so perhaps its own archive is where it learnt it from). Again, there was no mention of the fountain nor the 1975 restoration, only the temporary removal for repair in 1956. A photograph, showing the statue on a graffiti covered cylindrical column carrying a plaque, was labelled ‘Heaton Park, 1983’ but it is very difficult to see the surroundings.
The paper had by now been contacted by a reader who remembered walking past the memorial in Walker Park every day on his way to school in the 1950s but still no such memories had come to light of its much more recent time in Heaton Park. We are hoping that 26 years on, we will have more luck.
‘The Journal’ was naturally bemused as to why fundraising football matches would be played to raise money for a statue particularly if there had been one all along. They wondered if the statue had originally stood somewhere else and only came to Walker after the 1920s.
We now know that the statue fund was for one in Newcastle, as opposed to Walker, and that the fundraising through popular and high profile football matches was extremely successful.
However, a spanner was thrown in the works by the Burns Federation, which at its annual conference in September 1926, passed a resolution to say that there should be no more statues and instead affiliated clubs should be encouraged to honour the poet’s memory by donating to local hospitals. An opinion piece in the ‘Dundee Telegraph’ didn’t mince words:
‘Few of the Burns statues are good, many are bad and a considerable number are very bad.’ Too generally they make the subject look like a moon-stricken idiot’.
We don’t know what the writer thought of the Walker statue but you can make up your own mind about its quality.
The honorary president of Newcastle Burns Club at this time was Sir Thomas Oliver who, though born in Ayrshire just like Robert Burns, was now a world famous professor of medicine at Durham University. He specialised in industrial diseases such as lead poisoning and had also been instrumental in raising the Tyneside Scottish Battalions during WW1. Former shipyard worker and trades unionist, Alexander Wilkie, once of Cardigan Terrace and Third Avenue and by this time of 36 Lesbury Road in Heaton, who had been Scotland’s first Labour MP, was an honorary vice president.
These were not men to mess with! In May 1927, in apparent defiance of the federation, the club reported that over £2,500 had already been raised and ‘with another £100 they could go ahead with the scheme and procure the site.’
Details thereafter are sketchy but the statue was never erected and we know that the Newcastle Burns Club donated considerable funds to local hospitals.
So by the second decade of the 21st century, all we had was one broken statue lying in pieces in Jesmond Dene council depot. The next document we have dates from around 2011 and confuses things further.
An entry in Tyne and Wear’s Historic Environment Record is headed ‘Robert Burns Memorial Fountain’ but states:
‘In 1901 a statue commemorating Rabbie Burns was erected in Walker Park by the local Burns Club supported by the numerous ship builders who moved to Walker from Clydesdale.The plaque reads ‘THIS STATUE WAS ERECTED IN WALKER PARK BY THE WALKER ON TYNE BURNS CLUB ON 13TH JULY 1901 TO MARK THE VISIT TO NEWCASTLE BY ROBERT BURNS ON THE 29TH MAY 1797. REMOVED TO THIS SITE BY THE CITY OF NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE ON THE 27TH SEPTEMBER 1975’. It is a bronze cast and is in very poor condition. It is presently stored at Jesmond Dene Nursery. The Walker Park lottery bid  has plans to recast the statue and put it back into the park.’
So the fountain is mentioned in the heading but nowhere in the text and there is no mention of either of the original plaques but we find that a new plaque had been created at some point – it might well be the one in the 1983 photograph – and the date it gives for its removal to a new site is four years earlier that the dates we have seen so far. But does ‘this site’ even refer to Heaton Park or did it stand somewhere else after Walker but before Heaton? Confused? You bet! And that’s why we need you to wrack your brains and sift through your old photos.
Here, for the first time, we read the claim that the statue was erected to commemorate Burns’ visit to Newcastle and this might be a suitable point to question whether Burns really was a worthy recipient of such a memorial.
It is 36 years since the Burns statue was ‘stolen by youngsters and as they were rolling it away, it toppled down the hill and broke into pieces’ but that sentence surely brought to mind recent scenes in Bristol and elsewhere. Thanks, in part, to the Black Lives Matter movement, we are much more aware of the flaws of historical figures once revered – by some.
Burns was honoured by the people of Walker and people like Heaton’s Alexander Wilkie because he was a poet who spoke for ordinary workers and their families. It may come as surprise then that the year before his visit to Newcastle, Burns had accepted a position as overseer at a friend’s sugar plantation in Jamaica, a plantation which was, of course, worked by slave labour.
In 1786, Burns faced financial ruin as his father’s death combined with the poor soil on the farm he worked with his brother had reduced both of them to near starvation. To compound matters, his love life was even more troubled than usual. It has been noted that Burns, ‘had been nearly married to his first love Jean (to the horror of her parents and the Church) but they had agreed to separate (without knowing that Jean was pregnant with twins); then Robert had fallen in love with another, ‘Highland Mary’ who died suddenly while waiting for him to come to her. Jean’s vindictive father sought court proceedings to arrest him so, like a fox with the hounds snapping at his heels, Robert needed to escape.’
He accepted Patrick Douglas’s offer of a post on a small team of overseers on his plantation. There are some who argue that this wasn’t such a bad decision as Burns was only to be a ‘bookkeeper’. But others have claimed that Burns would, ‘have a daily interface with the truth of slavery – from assisting in purchases, through recording punishments and deaths’. Burns himself described his role as ‘a poor Negro driver’, not a good look for a poet who revered as a champion of freedom and who came to Newcastle, shortly before 3,000 of its residents made their way to the Guildhall to sign a petition against the slave trade.
Fortunately both for Burns and his legions of fans down the centuries, in a last act of defiance before taking this huge step, he decided to publish his ‘Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect’. They were instantly acclaimed and so Burns was able to turn back from his journey west into the dark world of slavery administration and instead turn east to a brighter future in Edinburgh and fame and marriage to Jean. The next year he was able to do his literary tour and come south to Newcastle.
There is of course a great irony in the fact that Burns almost ended up playing a part in the deeply destructive and dehumanising slave trade and it is one that arguably cuts right to the heart of Scottish society today. Many of Burns’ poems spoke out strongly about freedom and against forms of human slavery. His national poem ‘Scots Wha Hae’, has its title taken from words attributed to Robert the Bruce before the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, where Bruce’s army won the national freedom of the Scots against a larger English army. But this is the rub; as has been pointed out on a recent BBC Scotland series, many Scots who are today advocating national freedom again, through a second independence referendum forget the major role Scotland played in the transatlantic slave trade. It was this trade that Burns himself nearly played a role in.
Burns’ only poem which is directly relevant to the issue of slavery is ‘The Slave’s Lament’ from 1792. This is clearly an abolitionist poem. It does beg the question then of just how was it that Burns so nearly became part of the trade he later seemed to abhor. There has been much speculation but we will never know.
But we do know that a young Abraham Lincoln came to the settlement of New Salem and craving books found a ready made library in the home of a Scottish neighbour Jack or Jock Kelso who, unsurprisingly given his name, was a Scotsman. It is said that Lincoln was heavily influenced by the poetry of Burns that Kelso had in his collection and this would help him on the road to becoming the US president who freed the slaves.
Another American who was to read Burns’ poems and be heavily influenced by themes of liberty and the brotherhood of men found among them, was escaped slave, Frederick Douglass. When Douglass visited Britain, he made a point of visiting Burns’ birthplace in Alloway. Like Burns, he visited Newcastle, and he became a freed slave due to the fund set up by two sisters-in-law from Jesmond. Douglass went on to become known as the ‘Father of the American Civil Rights Movement’ and a close adviser to President Lincoln. Perhaps we should leave the last words on the matter to Douglass. Speaking of Burns, he said ‘we may condemn his faults, but only as we condemn our own’ and he argued that Burns was ‘far more faultless than many who have come down to us on the pages of history as saints’, words which might serve as a warning to anyone planning to erect a statue to any historical figure in future.
Nevertheless in 2016, Burns’ statue was returned to Walker Park. A Heritage Lottery Fund grant was obtained for a revamp of the park as a whole and as part of that, a replica of the Burns statue was installed exactly where the original had stood – but this time facing Burns’ birthplace. At the same time, repairs were made to the original and it was placed in a new cafe in the park. There are now just three full length statues of Robert Burns in England, one in London’s Victoria Embankment Gardens – and two in Walker Park!
Talking in 2016, park ranger, Katharine Knox, noted that, ‘The statue was a prominent feature of the park and a lot of local people have memories of it’.
Newcastle City Council cabinet member for culture and communities, Kim McGuinness, added: ‘It’s really pleasing to see this statue, a prominent historical feature in the park, restored to its former glory and taking pride of place.’
It’s unfortunate that it was only the ‘statuette’ that was ‘restored to its former glory’. Somewhere along the line, the magnificent fountain, the quote from Burns and the plaque which explained who gave the statue to whom all became separated and, as far as we know, lost and there is nothing on the monument to tell passers by who the replica Walker Park statue depicts. There is brief information on information panels around the park which direct those interested into the cafe where the heavily restored original stand proudly along with detailed and well-presented information about Burns and the words of ‘A Man’s a man for A ‘That’, as well as a summary of the statue’s story.
At present, however, you can’t see the exhibition because, due to coronavirus, the cafe is offering a takeaway service only, alongside other community activities. Nevertheless, it’s easy to imagine that both Burns and Walker Burns Club would be satisfied at the current resting place of the the original statue, in a community hub, and they would understand why the display of a statue had to take second place to the incredible work YMCA staff and volunteers are doing to helping local people hit hard by the current pandemic.
Can You Help?
So, as you can see, there is much in the story of the Burns’ memorial which gives food for thought and much that has been forgotten or misremembered over the years. We would especially like to find out more about the statue’s stay in Heaton, which was well within living memory. Why Heaton? When was it here? Where did it stand? What became of the original fountain? Which way did Robbie face? Did you know who he was?
If you can help in any way, please get in touch. You can contact us either through this website, by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Before the ink was dry on our article, we had received the photographs below which, if you look carefully, show the statue in Heaton Park, on the far side of the pavilion before it was restored. It’s clear that the statue is mounted on a pedestal but there is no fountain. A big thanks to Ann Denton of Heaton History Group and Friends of Heaton Park. Do they stir any memories? Do you have a photo?
Researched and written by Peter Sagar of Heaton History Group, with additional material by Chris Jackson. Thank you also to Kevin Mochrie of Heaton History Group for sharing his library factsheet, to the staff and volunteers of YMCA Walker Park Cafe and Centre, who kindly gave us access to the cafe to photograph the Burns’ statue and to Ann Denton of Heaton History Group and Friends of Heaton and Armstrong Parks for supplying the photographs of the pavilion.
‘Burns: a biography of Robert Burns’ / James Mackay; Alloway Publlshing, 2004
‘Burns in the USA’, BBC Scotland
‘Myers’ Literary Guide: The North East’ / Alan Myers; 2nd Edition, 1997
‘Robert Burns: his connections to Newcastle and the North East’ / Kevin Mochrie. Newcastle City Library Factsheet, revised, January 2020.
‘Slavery: Scotland’s Hidden Shame’, BBC Scotland (TV programme)
As you wonder whether to venture out in the pouring rain, stop for a moment instead to remember a son of Heaton living when even car rides in rain and snow would barely be tolerable. In fact, it was such a car journey back to Heaton from London that led to an invention we all take for granted. To make matters worse it followed yet another cup final defeat for Colin Veitch’s Newcastle United. (Yes, I know, it’s all relative.) But the subject of our research, one Gladstone Adams, was notable for much more than the inventor of windscreen wipers.
Gladstone was born on 16 May 1880 and baptised at All Saints Church in the east end of Newcastle upon Tyne on 6 June 1880, one of ten children born to John and Agnes Adams. For many years the Adams family lived in St Ann’s Row, Ouseburn. Although, John ran his own business, life was hard: at the age of 16, Gladstone contracted typhoid and almost died.
The family business of marine salvage seemed to offer little scope to an ambitious and bright young man and so, after school, Gladstone Adams became apprenticed to Matthew Auty, a well known photographer in Tynemouth. (Apparently many years later after the photography business had closed, renovation work revealed some writing on a beam that seemed to be a log of Auty’s employees over the years. It included the name of Gladstone Adams, suggesting that he started work there in 1896, aged 16 and left in March 1901.)
Young Gladstone lived at a number of addresses in Heaton. At the time of the 1901 census, he was living with his mother and father and older sister, Grace, at 29 Eversley Place, Heaton.
Eversley Place home of Gladstone Adams and his parents
Gladstone’s father died in 1902 and mother in 1909. They are buried together in All Saints Cemetery.
When Gladstone joined the Lord Collingwood Masonic Lodge in 1907, his address was given as 39 Lesbury Road (opposite pioneering Trade Union leader and MP Alexander Wilkie at number 36).
Adams’ 39 Lesbury Road residence
At this point, aged 28, he was described as an ‘art photographer‘. A later electoral role shows him in 1913 at 82 Heaton Road.
Although he lived in Heaton as a young man, the photography business Gladstone set up in 1904 was based in Whitley Bay. Adam’s reputation as a photographer was such that three years later, he was asked to take the official photographs of the newly launched ‘Mauretania’, leaving the Tyne. The image below apparently made him more than £1000 and has been acclaimed by ‘Photography’ magazine as a future ‘Old Master’.
Adam’s business expanded with several more studios opening. By the end of the 1920s he employed in the region of 90 people. His work was extremely varied and besides the usual family and wedding portraits, he produced postcards of local scenes, worked as a commercial photographer for newspapers, police records and industrial organisations, as well as being the official photographer for Newcastle United, hence that difficult journey back from the cup final.
Gladstone Adams’ photograph of Newcastle’s R W Thomas (who only played one game for the Magpies)
Adams (far left) at a meeting of Newcastle Photographic Society
Gladstone went on to be Chairman of the Professional Photographers Association. His business flourished for over 60 years until camera ownership became common and Whitley Bay had declined as a holiday destination.
And so it was in his capacity as successful businessman and official photographer to Newcastle United that, at the end of April 1908, Adams found himself driving back from Crystal Palace in his 1904, French made Darracq motor car. It was such an unusual sight that apparently the car was put on display while he was at the match.
A Darracq like that driven by Adams
As if watching the reigning champions unexpectedly lose to Wolverhampton Wanderers wasn’t bad enough, the weather conditions for the journey home were atrocious with unseasonal snow falling. The only way Gladstone could clear his windscreen was with his hands, necessitating many stops. But much good came out of what must have been a miserable weekend. For it was on this arduous drive that Gladsone Adams said he came up with his inspired idea for a windscreen wiper (although it has to be admitted that in the USA, a Mary Anderson had patented a windshield wiper blade a few years earlier. These things are rarely straightforward!)
Adams’ windscreen wiper at the Discovery Museum (courtesy of the ‘Evening Chronicle’)
The prototype of Adams’ mechanism is on display at The Discovery Museum in Newcastle. Three years of development later, in April 1911, a patent was registered by Sloan & Lloyd Barnes, patent agents of Liverpool for Gladstone Adams of Whitley Bay.
In 1901, aged 21 Adams joined the Northumberland Yeomanry, which was a locally raised cavalry force. This enabled him to improve his horse riding skills and he won several competitions. He was about to have been sent to the Boer War but fortunately the war ended. Gladstone remained in the Yeomanry until 1910, retiring with the rank of Corporal and a good conduct certificate.
In 1914, aged 34, he volunteered to serve in WWI. Because of his photographic skills, he joined the Royal Flying Corps as a reconnaissance photographer with the 15th Wing in France. In April 1918 he was stationed at the front, close to where the German flying ace, Baron Manfred von Richthofen, was shot down and killed. Adams was given the unenviable task of photographing the deceased pilot to prove that ‘The Red Baron’ had really been killed. He was then involved in the preparations for the pilot’s burial, with full military honours, at Bertangles Cemetery, near Amiens. After the war, Adams’s military service was recognised by the award of the permanent title of ‘Captain’ on his discharge papers.
By the outbreak of WWII Gladstone was approaching 60 but he nevertheless he served as Flight Lieutenant with the 1156 Air Training Corps in Whitley Bay.
In 1914 at the age of 34, Gladstone had married the talented artist, Laura Annie Clark. He had served in the Royal Flying Corps alongside Laura’s brother, Joseph, also, like their father, Joseph Dixon Clark senior, an artist.
Laura was a notable painter of miniatures whose work was exhibited at the Royal Academy and Paris Salon as well as provincial galleries, including the Laing. Her 1923 miniature on ivory depicting herself and her son, Dennis, entitled ‘The Green Necklace’ was given a place of honour at the 1923 Royal Academy exhibition between portraits of George V and Queen Mary. Laura was also a talented musician and composer. She worked as a colourist at Gladstone’s photographic studio. The Adams’ married life was mostly spent in Monkseaton. Dennis, born in 1920, was their only child.
in the 1950s, after hearing that a squad of Royal Marines were tragically run down by a lorry on a dark road, Adams developed a prototype fluorescent belt for pedestrians to wear at night. He and his brother also invented the ‘trafficator’, a forerunner of the car indicator, as well as the sliding rowing seat.
Adams was one of Whitley Bay’s longest serving councillors, holding St Mary’s Ward from 1937 to 1948. He also served in other wards in the 1950s and early 1960s, finally losing his seat in 1963. He was also a Northumberland County Councillor. Gladstone and his son, Dennis, were councillors together for a period of time.
Gladstone Adams died, after a very eventful life, aged 86, on 28 July, 1966,. A commemorative plaque is located on the west facing, gable end of the Ouseburn Mission building, very close to the house in which he was born.
Researched and written by Arthur Andrews, Heaton History Group.
Can you help?
If you know more Gladstone Adams, especially his early life in Ouseburn and Heaton, or have photos to share, we’d love to hear from you. Please get in touch either by clicking on the link immediately below the title of this article or by emailing email@example.com
North Shields Library – Local History Section
‘The Journal‘ 10 April 2008 Report by Tony Henderson that a significant amount of memorabilia belonging to Gladstone Adams was to be auctioned.
‘The Artists of Northumbria’ / Marshall Hall; 2nd ed, 1982.
‘The Toon: a complete history of Newcastle United’ / by Roger Hutchinson; Mainstream, 1997
It was while living in Heaton that Alexander Wilkie became the first General Secretary of the Associated Society of Shipwrights.
He later became a city councillor and member of the Education Committee, then, in 1906, Scotland’s first Labour MP, representing Dundee. When he retired from national politics in 1922, Wilkie returned to his Heaton home and became an alderman for the city of Newcastle. Alexander Wilkie died on 2 September 1928, at his home, 36, Lesbury Road, Heaton, and was buried in Heaton Cemetery. You can read more about him here.
On 2 September 2018, the 90th anniversary of his death, a commemorative event will be held. We will meet at Heaton Cemetery gates at3.00pm, visit the family grave, then go on to Heaton Community Centre for 3.30pm for a short talk and musical interlude by Peter Sagar from A Living Tradition and Heaton History Group. All welcome. This is not a party political event.
Alexander Wilkie was born in 1850 in Leven in Fife, Scotland, where he became an apprentice to a firm of shipbuilders in Alloa. Although he spent his formative years and early adulthood in Scotland, it was on Tyneside, while living in Heaton, that he was to make his name, after he became the first General Secretary of the Associated Society of Shipwrights in 1882. This was an early national shipbuilders’ trade union and was based initially on the shipyards of Glasgow and Tyneside, reflecting the large number of ships being built on the Rivers Clyde and Tyne in the later years of the nineteenth century.
By 1897, Wilkie was also the Chairman of the Trades Unions Parliamentary Commitee and one of the founders and trustees of the General Federation of Trade Unions. He was a member of the Council of Federated Trades. He was also politically active in the nascent Labour Party and contested Sunderland for Labour (unsuccessfully) in 1900.
According to the census, Wilkie lived at 56 Cardigan Terrace, Heaton in 1891, before living at 84 Third Avenue in 1901 and then at 36 Lesbury Road (below) in 1911.
Leven House on Lesbury Road, home of Alexander Wilkie
He named this last address ‘Leven House’ in recognition of his birthplace. In his personal life, Wilkie married Mary Smillie, daughter of James Smillie in 1872.
Wilkie was always involved in local affairs, wherever he lived. He was a delegate to the Trades Council in Glasgow when he worked there for the Glasgow Shipwrights. When he moved to Newcastle, Wilkie served for a number of years on the School Board and then on the Education Committee which replaced it. His interest in education was further developed, after he became a councillor in Newcastle in 1904.
Wilkie was finally elected to parliament in 1906 as an MP for Dundee. He has the distinction of being the first Labour M.P. in Scotland. Hansard records his first speech to parliament being on 28 February that year, in an intervention during a debate about the Poor Law Commission. He spoke, he said as Scotland’s first Labour MP ‘to voice the keen disappointment of the Scottish workers that so far their claims to representation on this Commission had been disregarded.’
Labour then won 40 seats across Britain in the January 1910 general election including Wilkie himself, who was elected again in Dundee and was becoming something of a national political figure. He represented Dundee, in a two-seat constituency, alongside the victorious Liberal candidate, a certain Winston Churchill. Wilkie retained his seat in December 1910 as Labour won a further two seats nationally. He was to remain as an MP for Dundee until 1922.
However Wilkie retained close links with the city of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. In 1910, he was made a magistrate here, while in 1917 he became a Companion of Honour. When he retired from national politics in 1922, Alexander Wilkie returned to his Heaton home and became an alderman.
It was surely very appropriate that on Mayday, 1 May 1914, the ‘Newcastle Daily Journal’ reported that Alexander Wilkie had been the honoured guest at a large gathering at the Cooperative Hall, Darn Crook. It was further reported that Wilkie was presented with a gold watch and a cheque, whilst his wife was given a silver salver. All this was in recognition of what the ‘Newcastle Daily Journal’ described as his ‘thirty three years service as Secretary of the Ship Constructors and Shipwrights Association, and in acknowledgement also of his work on behalf of trade unions generally’.
The Lord Mayor paid a special tribute to Wilkie saying that he had come back specially from London for the ceremony and that he had come not only as Lord Mayor, but as a personal friend of Wilkie. The ‘Newcastle Daily Journal’ went on to report that, ‘the gathering had been arranged in order that they might show that they recognised the services which Mr Wilkie had rendered to the community and to the labour world, particularly the shipwrights. They deserved also to show their affections to Mr Wilkie as a man of the world.’
Wilkie was a very active member of the House Commons and spoke on many issues. Despite these interventions including a wide range of topics, he never forgot his commitment to the shipyard workers in places like the east end of Newcastle and Wallsend. In 1918 for example, Wilkie spoke about naval shipwrights pay and skilled labour in shipyards, while the following year he spoke about increases to dockyard workers’ pensions and national shipyards.
Wilkie died on 2nd September 1928, at his home, 36, Lesbury Road, Heaton, and was subsequently laid to rest at Heaton Cemetery 5 days later His effects were valued at £11 302, which today would be about £675 000. From this Wilkie left his housekeeper £104 a year for life.
Alexander Wilkie’s grave, Heaton Cemetery
The Fife Free Press reported on 8 September 1928 that, ‘the universal esteem in which he was held was evidenced by the large attendance (at Wilkie’s funeral)’ and that, ‘the hearse was proceeded by two open landaus heaped high with beautiful wreaths – tributes of esteem and affection from all sections of the community.’ The last rites were then performed as the band played ‘Abide With Me’.
Wilkie left a huge legacy of trade unionism on Tyneside, with the shipyards at the forefront of this movement. Indeed by the end of the 19th century, north east England was the most unionised region of England, having already had unions formed in the mining and engineering industries, before the Associated Society of Shipwrights was formed in 1882. Wilkie’s work helped to build this tradition further. His political legacy can be seen in Labour’s dominance for many years in Scotland, particularly from the 1960’s onwards, until the landslide by the Scottish National Party in 2015.
Can you help?
If you know more about Alexander Wilkie, especially his time in Heaton, 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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Jamieson, Northumberland at Opening of XXth Century, Pike, 1905
Newcastle-upon-Tyne Official Blue Book 1920
Newcastle Daily Journal 1 May 1914
The Fife Free Press, Saturday 8th September 1928
Written and researched by Peter Sagar, Heaton History Group, with assistance from Arthur Andrews.
Following the end of the Boer War, the War Office was concerned that, in the event of another conflict, the medical and nursing services wouldn’t be able to cope sufficiently. The peacetime needs of a standing army, in relation to medical care, were very small and specific, and to find thousands of trained and experienced personnel at very short notice, without the expense of maintaining them in peacetime, was a difficult problem to overcome. On 16 August 1909 the War Office issued its ‘Scheme for the Organisation of Voluntary Aid in England and Wales’, which set up both male and female Voluntary Aid Detachments to fill certain gaps in the Territorial medical services. By early 1914, 1757 female detachments and 519 male detachments had been registered with the War Office.
VAD recruitment poster
When war came, the Red Cross and Auxiliary hospitals sprung up rapidly in church halls, public buildings and private houses, accommodating anything from ten patients to more than a hundred. The proportion of trained nurses in the units was small, and much of the basic work was the responsibility of the VADs – they cleaned, scrubbed and dusted, set trays, cooked breakfasts; they lit fires and boiled up coppers full of washing. They also helped to dress, undress and wash the men – which was of course a big step for young women who may never have been alone and unchaperoned with a member of the opposite sex before, other than their brothers.
There were about 50,000 women involved in the movement immediately before the war, and it’s thought that in total somewhere between 70,000 and 100,000 women served as VADs at some time during the war, some for very short periods, some for up to five years.
As part of the commemoration of the centenary of World War 1, the Red Cross has been digitising its VAD records, which has allowed us to identify three VAD nurses living in the avenues as well as two male members of voluntary aid detachments, shedding some light on their lives and contributions as well as the role that they played during the war.
The English Family
The English family lived at 30 Third Avenue, Heaton. The 1911 census shows Robert English (55), a plumber, and his wife, Isabella (48), had four children living at home, twins Annie and Mary Jane (28), Isabella (20) and William 18.
In 1911, William was working as a stained glass designer. On 29 October 1915, aged 22, he enlisted in the army. His military record describes him as 5’ 8” in height and weighing 7st 8lbs. His physical development was described as ‘spare’, with a chest measurement of 33 1/2 inches. It was noted that his sight was defective, except when wearing spectacles. He also had slight varicose veins. These were deemed as slight defects that were not significant enough to cause rejection. Given his physical development, it is perhaps not surprising that he was placed into the Royal Army Service Corps rather than a combat roll.
Four days after enlisting, on 1 November 1915, William married Lillian Phillips at St Gabriel’s Church. The next day, he joined his regiment at Aldershot. What is interesting about William, is not his relatively unremarkable military career, but that both his sister, Mary Jane, and his new wife, Lillian, were to go on to become VAD nurses.
Mary Jane English and the Liverpool Merchants’ Hospital
Mary Jane saw service with the VAD from 2 October 1915 to 12 November 1917 and is listed as a sister, although it’s not clear whether this meant she was a qualified nurse. Interestingly, the 1911 census does not show any employment for Mary, although it is possible that she trained as a nurse between then and the start of the war. Mary was posted to the No 6 Hospital of the British Red Cross in Etaples, also known as the Liverpool Merchants Hospital. She was awarded the 1915 star for her service.
The Liverpool Merchants’ Hospital was constructed and equipped from funds raised by members of the Liverpool Chamber of Commerce, making it unique. The hospital opened at the end of July 1915 and treated over 20,000 people during the course of the war at a cost of some £90,000. s a Base Hospital, the hospital had 252 beds and formed part of the casualty evacuation chain, further back from the front line than the Casualty Clearing Stations. In the theatre of war in France and Flanders, the British hospitals were generally located near the coast. They needed to be close to a railway line, in order for casualties to arrive; they also needed to be near a port where men could be evacuated for longer term treatment in Britain.
Staff of the Liverpool Merchants’ Hospital where Mary Jane English served
A report from the ‘Liverpool Courier’ in January 1920 gives a description of the facilities: ‘There were eight pavilion wards, each to accommodate 27 patients, with their own nurses’ duty rooms, sink, stores and cupboards, also large linen store; and each ward had attached to it a two-bed ward for special cases. Each large ward had also its own bath and lavatory. The operation block and the kitchen block were situated in the centre of the hospital. The operation block contained also X-ray room with dark room attached, an anaesthetic room, preparation room, operating theatre, dispensary, laboratory, medical store room, splint room, quarter-master’s and matron’s store rooms and ambulance stores.’
The article closes by saying:
‘Let it be recorded to the everlasting glory of Liverpool that the Merchants’ Hospital, the only military hospital which has been “designed, built, equipped, staffed, managed, and financed” entirely by the citizens of a particular city, has never been prevented from the fullest performance of the duties for which it was devised by lack of funds.’
This last fact is particularly interesting, as all of the records show that the hospital was staffed exclusively by the people of Liverpool. It’s not clear what relationship the English family had with Liverpool, or indeed if the necessities of war meant that this particular point was overlooked in the interests of providing a service.
Lillian English and the Australian Hospital
Lillian English married William on 1 November 1915. She was the youngest daughter of Alfred and Sarah Phillips of West Jesmond. The 1911 census shows Alfred as a letterpress machine overseer in the printing industry, with 19 year old Lillian working as an assistant at a music dealer and her older step sister Mary Gregory (28) working as a booksewer in a bookbinder’s. After their marriage, Lillian continued to live at her parents’ home, 34 Mowbray Street, Heaton and William’s military record was amended to show this as his address. The couple continued to live with Lillian’s parents for several years after the war.
Perhaps inspired by the experiences and contribution of her sister-in-law, Mary, Lillian also joined the Voluntary Aid Detachment on 6 March 1918, some four months after Mary returned from Etaples. Lillian’s stay in the service was however somewhat shorter, as she was discharged one month later on 8 April 1918. This initially caused us much speculation. Typically, VAD nurses would have one month probation and it appeared at first that either she was considered unsuited for the work or could not herself cope with it. However, the answer to her hasty departure became apparent when we discovered that William and Lillian’s only daughter, Monica, was born 12 November 1918. Obviously conceived during William’s leave, Lillian must have been about four weeks pregnant when she took up her post, a fact that would have become apparent during her brief placement, leading to her premature return home. Lillian spent her brief assignment with the VAD posted to the Australian Hospital, Harefield.
Some of the buildings at Harefield Park where Lillian English served
In November 1914 Mr and Mrs Charles Billyard-Leake, Australians resident in the UK, offered their home, Harefield Park House and its grounds, to the Minister of Defence in Melbourne for use as a convalescent home for wounded soldiers of the Australian Imperial Forces (AIF). The property became the No. 1 Australian Auxiliary Hospital in December 1914. It was the only purely Australian hospital in England. The Hospital consisted of Harefield Park House, a 3-storey plain brick building, some out-buildings and grounds of some 250 acres. It was proposed that the Hospital would accommodate 60 patients in the winter and 150 in the summer. It would be a rest home for officers and other ranks, and also a depot for collecting invalided soldiers to be sent back to Australia. As Harefield Park House could only accommodate a quarter of the number expected, hutted wards were built on the front lawn, and a mess hall for 120 patients in the courtyard.
As the war progressed the hospital grew rapidly, becoming a general hospital. At the height of its use it accommodated over 1000 patients and the nursing staff had expanded to 74 members. Nearly 50 buildings were in use, including workshops, garages, stores, messes, canteens, a recreation hall (where concerts and film shows were held), a billiards rooms, writing rooms, a library, a cookhouse, a detention room and a mortuary. For entertainment, tours to London were arranged and paid for out of canteen funds, and the ladies of the district made their cars available for country trips, picnics and journeys to and from the railway station, both for patients and visitors. The hospital gradually closed down during January 1919 and the whole site was sold to Middlesex County Council who planned to build a tuberculosis sanatorium. The site is now the site of Harefield Hospital.
Mary Irene Neylon was born in 1881 in Ireland. Somewhere around the end of the 19th Century, Irene and her sister Susannah moved to Newcastle, possibly to join their Uncle James, a wine and spirit manager living in Jesmond. Irene lived at 60, Third Avenue, with her sister and her husband John William Carr and their family. She never married and remained at Third Avenue until her death on 16 March 1947, where probate records show that she left effects to the value of £164 3s.
Irene was working as a shop clerk at the time of the 1901 census, but by 1911 had trained as a nurse and was working at the Infirmary of the Newcastle upon Tyne Workhouse (later to become Newcastle General Hospital). Between 27 February 1917 and 20 January 1919 Irene is listed on the Red Cross Records as being a VAD Nurse. Unfortunately, Irene’s record only lists her placement as T.N. dept, so it’s not clear exactly where she was posted. However, we do know that part of the infirmary was taken over by the army to treat venereal diseases, with beds for 48 officers and 552 other ranks, so it is possible that she continued to work at the same location but with a different employer. What sets Irene apart from the other VAD members in the Avenues is that she was, as a qualified nurse, a paid employee, earning £1 1s per week when she joined, rising to £1 4s 10d when she was discharged.
Irene Neylon’s VAD record card
Life as a VAD Nurse
‘Do your duty loyally
Honour the King
And only the Master shall praise us, and only the Master shall blame.
And no one shall work for money, and no one shall work for fame,
But each for the joy of working, and each in his separate star,
Shall draw the thing as he sees it for the God of things as they are.’
These were the final inspirational comments of a message from the Commander in Chief of the VAD, Katherine Furse. The message was handed to each VAD nurse before they embarked. The message was to be considered by each V.A.D. member as confidential and to be kept in her Pocket Book.
The nurses were subject to full military discipline and required to assist in any way they could, with only minimal training. Given that we know that Harefield, for example, only had 74 nurses for its 1000 beds, it’s safe to assume that VAD nurses would have been carrying out most of the care. They wore a distinctive blue uniform with a white apron and sleeves and a red cross on the apron to distinguish them from other nursing staff.
The rules they were expected to work to included detail around personal cleanliness and presentation, including gargling morning and evening, but especially in the evening with carbolic, 1 in 60; listerine, 1 teaspoonful to 5 oz. water; glyco-thymoline and water, ½ and ½. They also advised combing the hair with a fine toothed comb every day!
There are several contemporary accounts of the lives of VAD nurses, including this from Kathleen Marion Barrow, who worked at a base hospital in France, similar to that where Mary Jane English worked:
‘In France, when convoy after convoy poured in, and when one piteous wreck after another, whose bandages were stiff with mud and blood, had been deposited on a clean white bed; the extent of a VAD’s work was bound to be decided far more by the measure of her capacity than by rule of seniority, or red tape. Matron and sisters soon discovered those whose skill, quickness and level-headedness, justified trust. In every new venture there are few who have not to walk for a space some time or other in the Valley of Humiliation, the military hospitals in France were a magnificent school, not only for actual nursing, but for self-control and nerve.’
She also talks of the comradeship and the humour amidst the pain and tragedy: ‘One recalls the dummy – carefully charted and hideously masked – which was tucked into bed for the benefit of the VAD and orderly when they came on night duty, and the stifled laughter under the bedclothes in adjoining beds. One recalls, too, the great occasions when some Royal or notable person came to visit the wards. Then we spent ourselves in table decorations, emptied the market of flowers, or ransacked the woods and meadows for willow or catkins, ox-eyed daisies or giant kingcups. Incidentally, we made the boys’ lives a burden to them by our meticulous care in smoothing out sheets, tucking in corners, and repairing the slightest disorder occasioned by every movement on their part, till the occasion was over. Sometimes the expected visitor did not turn up, and when another rumour of a projected visit was brought into the ward by a VAD, she was hardly surprised to find that her announcement was greeted on all sides by the somewhat blasphemous chorus of “Tell me the old, old story.” ‘
Male VAD members
Interestingly, our search for VAD nurses on the avenues identified two male members of Voluntary Aid Detachments: William Holmes and Richard Farr, both members of the St Peter’s Works Division, allocated to air raids, coast defences and convoys and employed as part of the St John’s Ambulance Brigade’s 6th division.
William Holmes, aged 51 at the start of the war, lived at 25, Eighth Avenue, with his wife Maria and five children, three of them, Harriet, William and Mary being adults.
Richard Farr, aged 32 at the start of the war, lived at 45, Second Avenue, with his wife Mary and nine year old daughter Madge.
Both were marine fitters and joined the detachment on 4 August 1914. William was too old to fight, but it’s not clear whether Richard was subsequently called up, although it is possible, given the nature of their work, that they would have been exempted. Although it was not a naval base as such, Tyneside played a huge role in World War One. A third of all the battleships and more than a quarter of the destroyers completed for the Admiralty were built here. Many other naval vessels were repaired on the Tyne particularly after the Battle of Jutland. There were no fewer than 19 shipyards on the Tyne at the outbreak of war, and five of them were big enough to build warships. Hawthorn Leslie alone built 25 royal navy vessels during the war.
Unlike the VAD nurses, the role that William and Richard would have played is much less clearly documented, although it is clear that they were expected to work on an as required basis, most likely dealing with emergencies and possibly manning coastal monitoring stations such as those at Blyth and Tynemouth.
That we have identified five Voluntary Aid Detachment members just from the ten Heaton Avenues* perhaps gives some indication of scale of the enterprise. What is even more startling is to recognise that the women in particular came from all walks of life and, with very few exceptions, worked, often for a number of years, on a purely voluntary basis, receiving no pay and little recognition for their huge commitment to the war effort.
Heaton Avenues in Wartime
This article was researched and written by Michael Proctor, with additional input from Arthur Andrews, for Heaton History Group’s ‘Heaton Avenues in Wartime’ project, which has been funded by Heritage Lottery Fund.
Since this article was written, the Red Cross has continued to post the names of VAD volunteers and so far we have found four more from Heaton’s avenues:
Annie Maud Monaghan, 90 Second Avenue
Lillian Rankin, 21 First Avenue
Annie Isabella Richardson, 55 Tenth Avenue
William Ernest Statton, 27 Ninth Avenue
Those from elsewhere in Heaton include:
Margaret Dora Burke, 146 Trewhitt Road (who served in France)
Mary Douthwaite, Woodlands, Alexandra Road, who served in France and was mentioned in dispatches (30/12/1918)
Mary Haswell, 7 Stratford Villas (who served in France)
Kate Ogg, originally of 21 Bolingbroke Street, who died of influenza on 23 February 1919 while on active duty
Mary Sharpley, 3 Jesmond Vale Terrace, who served in Egypt and was mentioned in dispatches (5/3/1917)
Mollie Allen, 62 Chillingham Road
Thomas Atkinson, Street 150 Hotspur Street
Ralph Boyd 160 Warwick Street
Hannah Buttery, 28 Sefton Avenue
John D Cant, 19 Trewhitt Road
Margaret Clare Checkie, 88 Bolingbroke Street
Mary Cowell, 36 Wandsworth Road
Margaret Annie Douthwaite, 3 Alexandra Road
Ernest Edward England, 99 Rothbury Terrace
Mary P Field, Silverdale, Lesbury Road
Gertrude Fotherby, Silverdale, Lesbury Road
Florence Garvey, 9 Meldon Terrace
Alberta Louise Gerrie, 137 Addycombe Terrace
Robert G Horne, 64 Balmoral Terrace
Gladys Mary Miller, 16 Bolingbroke Street
Hilda Oliver, Bellegrove, Lesbury Road
Jane Ethel Park, Westville, Heaton Road
Mary Isabella Roberts, Heaton Hall
E D Scott, 21 King John Terrace
Eva May Stroud, Cresta, Heaton Road
W Theobold, 39 Cardigan Terrace
Matthew Tulip, 13 King John Street
Elizabeth H Turner, 22 Bolingbroke Street
Jennie Walton, 10 Falmouth Road
Laura Whitford, 17 Guildford Place
Irene Helena Whiting, Cresta, Heaton Road
J Wilson, 101 Warwick Street
Can you help?
If you know more about any of the people mentioned in this article, please get in touch either by posting directly to this site by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or by emailing Chris Jackson, Secretary of Heaton History Group at email@example.com
The photograph below is the only photograph we are aware of taken outside the farmhouses which once stood just North of Simonside Terrace and East of Heaton Road, from where Heaton Methodist Church stands now up towards Lesbury Road and Coquet Terrace. It portrays members of the last family to manage was one of a number of farms in Heaton in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
From the 1870s to the 1890s, Heaton Town Farm, as it was then known, was farmed by the Edgar family and the photograph above seems to date from towards the end of that period. Can you help us date it more precisely?
But before we get to the Edgars, we’ve used old estate plans and census returns to give an outline of the farm’s history going back back to before 1800:
Newcastle City Library holds a map which was copied in 1800 by John Bell. The original can be dated to between 1756 and 1763. We can see what each field looked like, how big it was and what it was called. Heaton was at this time divided into two halves with East Heaton owned by Sir Mattthew White and West Heaton by Matthew Ridley. The land which became Heaton Town Farm was on the border but mainly in East Heaton ‘Grounds’. The Heaton estates were brought together first of all when Richard Ridley married Margaret White and then when, in 1742, Matthew Ridley married Elizabeth White. Field names at this time included Rye Hill, Benton Nook, East Hartley Tacks, East Huney Tacks and Whites Close.
In the 1841 census, 9 houses, recorded under the heading ‘Heaton’, seems to belong to the farmstead: one resident, George Cairns (or Carins, the spelling varies), is described as a farmer and an Edward Akenside at this time was an agricultural labourer. Other occupations to be found at the small settlement included: a gardener, a clerk, a tailor, a manufacturer (this was Joseph Sewell, who owned a successful pottery business), an agent, a grocer, a joiner, a millwright, a policeman (this was early days in the history of modern police forces following Robert Peel’s establishment of the Metropolitan Police so John Allan’s name is worthy of a special mention – he may well have been Heaton’s first ‘bobby’), 2 colliers, a 14 year old ‘shoe app[rentice?] and servants, mainly female. So not all the residents were engaged in agriculture.
In 1851, there were still 9 houses in the Heaton Farm complex. As ten years earlier, George Cairns lived in one. He farmed the majority of the land, 125 acres, employing 5 labourers. Edward Akenhead, a labourer 10 years earlier, farmed another 18, employing one labourer of his own.
George was a tenant farmer ie he leased land from the Ridleys and later William Armstrong rather than owned it but, nevertheless, his was a privileged position, demonstrated by the fact that he was entitled to vote.
George Carins (or Cairns) one of only 17 voters in Heaton in 1851-2
Poll books have even survived to show which way he voted in general elections – perhaps not surprisingly for the landowner, Matthew Ridley – no secret ballot back then!
The other houses were mainly occupied by the labourers and gardeners. Daughters and widows were employed as laundresses and dressmakers. One resident, Matthew Robinson was described as a ‘corver’ ie he wove ‘corves’, baskets used in coalmining: Heaton Colliery had closed by this time but there were plenty of other pits in the locality. There were also 2 engine fitters ie skilled mechanics, 2 blacksmiths and a joiner.
Ten years later in 1861, George Cairns was listed as the farmer of slightly more land – 145 acres and the employer of ‘4 men, a boy and women labourers’. He shared his house with four servants, described respectively as housekeeper, ploughman, dairymaid and cow keeper, evidence that Heaton Town Farm was a mixed farm. The cow keeper was a 14 year old boy called John Mains and the dairymaid a 19 year old woman from Ireland, called Martha Dalziel.
The second house was occupied by John Clark, a farm labourer, his wife, Sarah, and their young son. And the third by Jane Akenhead, Edward’s widow, described as farmer of 14 acres, perhaps what we would today term a smallholding. She lived with her 1 year old daughter, Isabella, along with her mother, her father, who was now managing the farm, and a gardener.
Jane had been born in Whitburn, County Durham in 1829 and by the age of 22 was employed as a servant to George Stabler, William Armstrong’s solicitor, who lived at Heaton Dean. Two years later, she married Edward Akenhead, the blacksmith son of an agricultural labourer, who had by this time acquired some land of his own. Sadly Edward died young, leaving Jane as head of household and the small farm. Her parents came from Co Durham to help her.
We know from records held by Northumberland Archives that in 1865 the land on which George Cairns and Jane Akenhead and later the Edgars farmed as tenants was put up for sale by its owners, the Ridley family. We don’t have evidence of an immediate sale but we know that just a few years later William Armstrong was the owner. The documents show how the configuration of the various farms in Heaton had changed over the years. Many of the fields are similar to those on the 18th century map but some have been further divided or their boundaries or names changed. The sales records show the name and size of each field, plus this time brief information about land use. There were pastures such as West and East Great Broom, Little Broom, Little Close and Long Pasture and arable fields with evocative names like Uncle’s Close, Well Hill, Seaman’s Close and East Honey Tacks. By this time, the farm was called Heaton Town Farm. You can see it marked on the plan below.
In 1871, Edward Edgar, who was born in Warkworth in c 1830 managed 27 acres of the land at Heaton. We have found records of just three houses on the farm at that time. One was the home of George Cairns, now retired.
Another house was occupied by John Brewis, his wife Margaret, their baby daughter, Mary, and Margaret’s mother, Sarah Atkinson. John was a plough engine driver. A steam driven ploughing machine was state of the art equipment in the early 1870s and operating one a skilled job.
The Edgars and their seven children along with Edward’s father and two nephews lived in the third and presumably largest house on the farm. In 1875, Elizabeth Edgar, Edward’s daughter, married Thomas Bell Kirsop, the son of a grocer from Heaton Bank.
Elizabeth Kirsop nee Edgar
Joan Cuthbertson, who has researched her family history, says that on the front row of the group outside Heaton Town farm, along with Thomas Kirsop (on the left), are William (b 1862), Edward (b 1860) and Robert Edgar (b 1864).
In 1881, Edward Edgar, now a widower, continued to live, with his sons, in one of the houses on Heaton Farm, with a house-servant and a dairy maid. He was now described as a contractor and dairy farmer of 27 acres.
Thomas and Elizabeth Kirsop and their children lived in a neighbouring house. Thomas was now a coal fitter ie an intermediary agent between a coal owner and shipowner or merchant – a responsible and respectable job. Next door to them lived David Kennedy, a dairyman, and his family.
There were 3 further houses with a Heaton Farm address, one occupied by a market gardener, a 24 year old widow, called Catherine Laws, along with her baby son and a servant; another by Robert Richardson, who farmed 28 acres and the last one by William Redpath, an agricultural labourer and his family.
By this time the terraced streets, most of which which still stand today, were encroaching ever closer to the farmhouse as William Armstrong sold more and more of his estate, encouraged by the huge demand for housing near the factories and railways of East Newcastle which drove up the price of land.
We don’t know the precise circumstances but by 1891 houses and other buildings were being built all around and on the former farm and the Edgars had moved out to Longbenton where Robert was still farming 10 years later.
However, John, another member of the extended Edgar family stayed in Heaton. In 1871 he had been living on Heaton Town Farm with his aunt, uncle and cousins. By 1891, he was living at 45 Seventh Avenue with his wife and children. His occupation was a foreman land drainer. His fifteen year old son was an assistant cricket groundsman, perhaps employed at Heaton’s cricket ground, for which William Armstrong had quite recently donated a field at the corner of what is now Cartington Terrace and Heaton Road and on which cricket is still played. The Kirsops were also living in the Avenues (36 Ninth Avenue) in Heaton when Thomas died aged only 43. His occupational status was given as ‘gentleman’. So Heaton Town Farm didn’t survive into the twentieth century. (By the way, watch out for our World War 1 project, Heaton Avenues in Wartime – and contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to get involved)
In future articles, we’ll explore the history of Heaton’s other farms and see what became of more of the agricultural land and the people who worked it.
Can you help?
Thank you to Joan Cuthbertson for giving us a copy of the historic photographs and details of her family’s history. If you know more about Heaton Town Farm or any of Heaton’s farms or have any information or photographs relating to Heaton’s past, please get in touch.