Tag Archives: Lord Armstrong

Forgotten Music Makers of Heaton

If you were asked about Heaton’s most important exports, you might well mention great feats of engineering, such as Sir Charles Parsons’ ground-breaking steam turbines, or Grubb Parsons’ telescopes, both of which are still to be found throughout the world. Or perhaps you’d suggest music, with local boy Chas Chandler, inducted into Rock and Roll’s Hall of Fame with ‘The Animals’ in 1994 – the band’s 60s’ songs still played and performed all over the world half a century after they were written. We rightly commemorate such achievements with plaques, books and museum displays.

But hands up if you’ve ever stopped on Grafton Street and given even a passing thought to the local men who married both of the great Heaton industries of engineering and music?  In truth, you might never have had cause to go to Grafton Street at all: since redevelopment of the area, it’s perhaps the shortest street in Heaton (or is it Byker?) comprising little more than four parking bays (usually full) facing Shields Road and a single yellow line. There’s a pawnbroker’s shop on one corner and a council customer service centre on the other.

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Grafton Street

But there’s also a nearby bench on which you can sit and listen. There may still be music in the air.

So let’s rewind.

Apprentice

Charles William Howden was born in All Saints parish, of which Heaton was a part, in 1865 and baptised in St Nicholas’s Cathedral on 28 May of that year. He was the eldest child of Ryton born, Margaret Isabella, and John Howden, a shipping clerk from Wakefield in Yorkshire.

By 1881 at the age of 16 and still living with his parents and now four younger siblings in the west end of Newcastle, Charles was described as an ‘organ builder’s apprentice’. Ten years later, still living in the parental home, he is described on the census as an ’employer’ and ‘organ builder’.

We don’t yet know to whom young Charles Howden was apprenticed but we can trace the development of the organ building firm that bears his name from its foundation c1893  via Forth Street  and Snowdon Street in Newcastle to 65 Grafton Street, Heaton. Howden had joined forces with one William Charlton Blackett, the Bensham-born son of a coal agent, to set up the firm of Blackett and Howden Ltd.

Inventors

Like other more famous engineers operating around Heaton at this time, Blackett and Howden weren’t content to copy what had gone before. They wanted their organs to be better than everyone else’s. We can trace several patent applications: for ‘pallets‘ (1891). ‘pneumatic action’ (1895) and ‘blowing‘ (1904).

According to organ historian, James Ingall Wedgewood, they may have invented what is known as a ‘diaphone‘, the noise-making device best known for its use as a foghorn. While the invention of the diaphone is commonly attributed to Robert Hope-Jones,  it was apparently Blackett and Howden who first experimented with it as early as 1888:

‘It frequently happens in organ building, when the requisite conditions are fortuitously complied with, that a pallet will commence to vibrate rapidly, and it is often within the province of an organist’s or organ builder’s observation that such a “fluttering pallet,” or a Tremulant in a state of rapid vibration, when provided with a resonator in the form of a soundboard or wind trunk, generates tones of considerable power. The safety valves of steamboats constantly act similarly. … The idea must doubtless have occurred to many builders … that such phenomena might systematically be adapted to tonal use.

An experimental attempt at such adaptation was made in 1888 by Messrs. Blackett & Howden, of Newcastle [England]. The bulk of the apparatus employed was enclosed in a box (15 ins. square for the 16 ft. note). Wind passed into a chamber containing a vibrator in the form of a circular disc fixed on to the loose end of a spring, and so arranged as to beat against a hole in the under side of the resonator, being regulated in pitch and intensity by a sliding bridge and set-screw.’

Whether because they were louder or simply because they were of superb quality, Blackett and Howden organs were sold not only across the north east but soon throughout the UK and even overseas.

Some of the earliest church organs for which records exist are in Scotland; the one in the Braid Church in Edinburgh was built in 1898 and there were other early instruments in Glasgow, West Kilbride and Montrose. At one point the firm did so much business in Scotland that it ran a second workshop in Glasgow. Another one followed in Cardiff.

Close to home

According to the British Pipe Organ Register, locally, the firm built the organ for St Gabriel’s (date unknown), Heaton Methodist Church (1910) and Heaton Congregational Church (1920).

The transport costs to Heaton Congregational Church must have been among the lowest for any Blackett and Howden organ: the church (now Heaton Bingo) was only a few hundred yards from the factory. Unfortunately, we don’t know what happened to this organ: it doesn’t appear on the current National Pipe Organ Register.

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Heaton Congregational Church’s Blackett and Howden organ was installed in 1920

 

There is some confusion regarding the St Gabriel’s organ. According to the British Pipe Organ Register, organ N04082 was surveyed in St Gabriel’s in 1944 and described as ‘built by Blackett and Howden (date unknown)’. According to the opening sentence of a report written in 1994 by Paul Ritchie: ‘The builders of St Gabriel’s organ would appear to be modest as there is no name plate on the console, nor do the bellow weights carry their initial letters’. Ritchie goes on to say: ‘Somewhere in the back of my memory is a little voice saying Abbott and Smith’. And indeed there is another entry in the register for St Gabriel’s: organ N12464 ‘built by Abbott and Smith in 1905; surveyed in 1980′. Another unsigned and undated report states that Blackett and Howden installed an exhaust-pneumatic action around 1920 and that, at the same time, tuba and pedal trombone were added ‘and the Great Organ gained a large Open Diapason with leathered upper lips. This latter stop was placed on a separate unit chest and was reported to be rather poor; it was removed by Willis in 1963′.

But there are no such doubts about the instrument in Heaton Methodist Church. It was inaugurated on Wednesday 4 May 1910: ‘there were recitals from 2.30pm, followed by a public tea. Special services took place on the next three Sundays and a concert took place on Monday 23rd May.’ And it’s is still going strong.

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Heaton Methodist Church organ

A celebratory concert was held in 2010 to celebrate the centenary of its installation and the programme included a short history of both the organ and of Blackett and Howden itself.

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Heaton Methodist Church organ centenary programme

 

Military march

But perhaps the most famous Blackett and Howden organ still played today is in the Royal Memorial Chapel of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, which was built in 1924. The instrument is described in the history of the organ as ‘for its time, fairly cutting edge technology’ with ‘pioneering use of tubular pneumatic action’. After the war, the architect Sir Hugh Casson designed a new organ case for the instrument above the chapel’s main war memorial. At this point the organ was rebuilt and enlarged but using a lot of the original pipework.

 Rescue

Sadly many Blackett and Howden organs have been destroyed over the years but that originally built for the Prince’s Theatre in North Shields was fortuitously rescued by an Australian enthusiast. Apparently this was the only unit theatre organ ever built by the firm (in 1929) and its console was displayed at the North East Trade Fair Exhibition.

Records show that the flue pipes were ‘voiced’ by Syd Goldsmith and the reeds and strings by Frank ‘Hubbert‘ (although we believe this to be Frank Hubbard who in 1911 was living on Tosson Terrace, Heaton). The skill of manipulating an organ pipe to make it sound is known as voicing: ‘Each pipe must be made to play with the proper onset of sound (known as speech), sustained tone, and volume. When the voicing process is complete, each individual pipe in the organ forms a beautiful musical instrument.’

According to locals, the Prince’s Theatre organ had ‘a beautiful tone with sweet voicing and ample power for the large house.’ Although its console was destroyed in 1969, its chamber contents were bought for £75 by the Organ Society of Australia.  They even obtained the original receipt!

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Blackett and Howden document

In 1975, it was installed in Cinema North in Reservoir, Victoria. In 1999, it was moved to Coburg Town Hall, also in Victoria. You can read the full story of  this wonderful instrument here:

Eastward ho

We have found a record showing that, on 16 January 1917, William Blackett sailed from London to Hong Kong on the Japanese ship, SS Fushimi Maru. It was a dangerous time to be at sea: over 200 allied ships were lost during January 1917 alone. But it shows that Blackett and Howden’s reputation was worldwide. As you can see below, most of Blackett’s fellow British passengers were missionaries or nurses.

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Fushima Maru passenger list including William Blackett

The organ of St John’s Cathedral in Hong Kong was built by William Blackett ‘an elderly, bearded gentleman’ who ‘had come to the colony to install one of their organs in a church in the colony. Finding the climate congenial, he decided to stay and set up a small organ factory in the city. He recruited a group of Chinese and taught them the trade’.

Full renewal of the existing organ was priced at $14,000 but fundraising was suspended because of what was called ‘troublous times’ in 1925: a strike and anti-British boycott ignited by a deadly shooting during a strike in Shanghai, fuelled to fever pitch by British and French guards killing demonstrators in Canton. Nevetheless the organ was complete by 1927 and services, in which the organ could be heard, broadcast on the radio the same year.

Sale

Meanwhile back home, Blackett and Howden was sold to the London firm of Hill, Norman and Beard in 1924. At this time, John Christie of Glyndebourne became the major shareholder and Charles Howden became general manager with Ralph Walton Blackett, William’s son, sub-manager.

But on 25 September 1927, with William Blackett still in Hong Kong, Charles Howden died at the age of 62 at his home, 35 Rothbury Terrace. He left £1873 3s 3d in his will, a modest sum considering the success of the company he had co-founded more than thirty years earlier.

Blackett and Howden’s name continued to be used, however. It traded from its Grafton Street premises for another half century. The Heaton factory finally closed in 1974, when the remaining part of the business was purchased by N Church & Co.

Team effort

William Blackett and Charles Howden did not, of course, build their organs alone.

Hopefully this article will enable us to trace people employed in the factory in later years. In the meantime, it seems appropriate to pay tribute here to some of the workers listed in the 1911 census whose reputation and, in some cases, expertly crafted musical instruments live on more than a hundred years after they were made.

One of these was Terrot G Myles who, in 1911, was 30 years old. He lived at 149 Molyneux Street.

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Terrot G Myles

Terrot is described in the census as an ‘organ builder‘. Thanks to his granddaughter, Grace, we have  photographs of him and know quite a lot about his life. Terrot was born in Glasgow but moved to Edinburgh as a young boy. After leaving school, he was apprenticed to Ingram & Co, a firm of organ builders, in their Edinburgh factory and progressed to become a journeyman. The firm described him as ‘smart, willing and punctual’ and recommended him to future employers. In 1908, Scovell and Company called him ‘a most conscientious and painstaking worker, perfectly steady and reliable and a good all round man’. His reference made it clear that he was leaving the company only due to ‘depression of trade’ and they expressed a hope that he would return at some future date.

By this time though Terrot had already married Isabella Younger, a bookbinder from Sunderland. Their elder son, Richard, was born in Hampshire in 1908 but by 1911, they were in Newcastle, where, a year later, their younger son, John was born. We can only guess that while in Heaton and working as an organ builder, Terrot was employed by Blackett and Howden but it seems a fair assumption to make.

However, in 1923, the family set sail from Liverpool to New York in search of a better life. Terrot spent the next eight years working for Henry Pilcher’s Sons, an organ builder, in Louisville, Kentucky. He became a naturalised American the following year and spent his career building and installing organs all over the USA. He received and treasured many glowing references, which Grace still has. Terrot and Isabella eventually moved to White Lake, Michigan, where Isabella died in 1954 and Terrot a year later, aged 73 years.

Others listed in the 1911 census include:

William Blackett, aged 52, 13 Brough Street, Heaton Joiner in Organ Factory (We don’t know whether he was related in any way to the firm’s co-founder, William Blackett, who lived in Whitley Bay at this time)

Charles Brassington, aged 31, 26 Heaton Park Road, organ builder

John Wastle Craig, aged 14, 15 Tynemouth Rd, organ builder assistance

William Gill, aged 54, 13 Addison Street, organ builder, voicer, tuner

Thomas Miller Hendry, aged 23, 39 Langhorn St, organ builder

Frank Hubbard, 83 Tosson Terrace, organ voicer (*Almost certainly the Frank ‘Hubbert’ who voiced the North Shields organ. See above.)

James William Jobson, aged 50, 10 North View, organ builder

John Jobson, aged 16, 10 North View, apprentice organ builder

John George Millington, aged 34, 188 Warton Terrace, organ builder (Later lived in King John Terrace until his death in 1962)

John Matthew Mitchell, aged 63, 72 Addycombe Terrace, organ builder

John Henry Reed, aged 22, 80 Eighth Avenue, organ builder

Ernest Routledge, aged 22, 57 Malcolm Street,  organ pipe maker (Ernest died in 1918 aged 29 as did his 2 year old son, Roland)

Whenever you listen to organ music this Christmas, spare a thought for these Heaton master-craftsmen and the lasting joy they have brought to the world.

Can you help?

If you know more about any of the people or organs mentioned in this article or of anyone who worked at Blackett and Howden’s, we’d love to hear from you. We’d also be interested to hear and see photographs of any other Blackett and Howden organs you see on your travels. Please either leave a reply on this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or email   chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Chris Jackson, Heaton History Group. Thank you to HHG member, Joyce Lovell, and to George Cottrell for information about Heaton Methodist Church organ; to Pauline Giles for information about St Gabriel’s organ;  to Grace Myles for photos and information on Terrot Myles.

Sources

Biographical Dictionary of the Organ

Laurence Elvin ‘Family Enterprise: the story of some north country organ builders‘ 1986

Norman F Moore and W Kirby Robinson ‘From Byker to Heaton: the origins and history of Heaton Methodist Church’ Pattinson, 2000

 National Pipe Organ Register list of Blackett and Howden organs 

James Ingall Wedgwood ‘A Comprehensive Dictionary of Organ Stops English and Foreign, Ancient and Modern’ The Vincent Music company, 1905 (via Wikipedia entry for Diaphone)

Stuart Wolfendale ‘Imperial to International: a history of St John’s Cathedral Hong Kong’ Hong Kong University Press, 2013

and online sources eg Ancestry

10 Sefton Avenue: a time-line

It seems fitting that the first owner of 10 Sefton Avenue was the daughter and granddaughter of at least two generations of watchmakers who had lived in a place that, in the nineteenth century, was synonymous with monitoring the passage of time. For studying the history of buildings to help us understand those who have inhabited them fascinates the current owner of the house. Conversely the stories of those who have lived and worked in a building over time can breathe life into inanimate bricks and mortar.

The discovery in his loft of a large collection of objects and documents that had belonged to a previous owner aroused Jules Brown’s curiosity.

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10 Sefton Avenue, 2017 (undergoing a loft conversion)

What we came to call the ‘Sefton Hoard’, along with the deeds and other documents relating to the property were the starting point for our investigation. But we’ll begin before the house was built.

Little Broom

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Plan of Heaton which accompanies the deeds of 10 Sefton Avenue

In October 1894 Lord Armstrong had passed on his land in Heaton, including Heaton Town Farm, to his great nephew, William Armstrong Watson-Armstrong. In 1907, the plot which became 10 Sefton Avenue was sold by Watson-Armstrong to a local builder, Peter Grant Tulloh. By comparing the above plan accompanying the house deeds to modern maps, we have calculated this plot to have been part of Heaton Town Farm, somewhere in field 95, formerly pasture known as Little Broom.

Peter Tulloh had been born in Forres in Moray, Scotland in 1859 but had moved south as a young man, first to Bishopwearmouth and, by 1891, to 28 Falmouth Road in Heaton at which time he described himself as a ‘traveller’, which we think means what we later called a ‘commercial traveller‘ or ‘travelling salesman‘. Ten years later, he described himself as a ‘traveller’s manager’ and was living at 48 Heaton Road.

We don’t know when or how he became a builder and property developer but he was soon successful. By 1912, he was living at 330 Heaton Road, a house later demolished for the building of the Coast Road, ending his days at Eastwood on Jesmond Park East. He died on 13 April 1939, leaving almost £30,000 in his will. Peter is buried in Byker and Heaton Cemetery with his wife, Isabella and young daughter, Olivia.

The time traveller’s daughter

In January 1907, Peter Tulloh sold 10 Sefton Avenue to 32 year old Fanny Louise Baker. Fanny had been born in Newcastle in c1874 to parents who had moved from the midlands. Her father, William, had worked as a finisher in the watchmaking industry as did his father before him, at a time when the area around Spon Street, Coventry, where they lived, was one of the oldest and most important centres of the industry in the world. Old watchmakers’ houses still stand in this historic quarter of the city and the Coventry Watch Museum tells the fascinating story of the industry and the people employed in it.

But specialist skills were also in demand in the rapidly expanding cities of the north and so William and his wife, Frances, were assured of a bright future when, around 1867, they set off for Newcastle, three young children in tow. (Fanny herself was born some seven years later.) The family settled in Elswick, where William continued to work as a watchmaker. He eventually died in September 1905 leaving £635 6s 9d in his will, a sum that would secure his family’s future by enabling Fanny to buy the brand new house (10 Sefton Avenue cost her just £575 ) she was to share with her now 72 year old mother and her older sister, Elizabeth, a schoolteacher and the only wage earner in the family. By 1911, they had been joined by a boarder, Reuben Charles Salmon, whose rent would have been a welcome supplement to the household income.

The power of love

So, what brought Reuben to Newcastle? He had been born in Bethnal Green, Middlesex in 1881 and by the age of 20, still at home, he was an apprentice electrical engineer. Ten years later and now in Heaton, he described himself as ‘electrical engineer (electric supply)’.  For an ambitious young man in Reuben’s relatively new line of work, Newcastle, was the place to be.

As early as 1860 Sir Joseph Wilson Swan had developed a primitive electric light bulb. But it took him almost twenty more years to develop the incandescent electric light bulb, which would stand the test of time. He patented it in 1878 and a year later, Mosley Street in Newcastle became the first street in the world to be lit by electricity.

Cragside, the Northumberland home of Lord Armstrong, former owner of the land on which 10 Sefton Avenue was built, was famously the first house in the world to be lit by electricity. The picture gallery was illuminated by arc lamps by 1878. And in 1887, 45 of Swan’s light bulbs were installed to light the whole house, the power generated by hydraulics, Armstrong’s own speciality. But Armstrong was interested in physics more generally and he also worked with Professor Henry Stroud, who lived at 274 Heaton Road, on research into the nature of electricity.

But it was one thing generating the power to serve one wealthy person’s home, another to produce enough to cost-effectively service heavy industry. But once again this area was at the forefront of developments. In 1901 Neptune Bank Power Station was built at nearby Wallsend by the Newcastleu pon Tyne Electric Supply Company. Servicing shipyards and other local industry, it was the first in the world to provide electricity for purposes other than domestic and street lighting. It was also the first in the world to generate electricity using three-phase electrical power distribution at a voltage of 5,500 volts. In 1902, two 1,500-kW Parsons steam turbine driven turbo-alternators, developed and made in Heaton, were added. They were the largest three-phase steam turbine driven alternators in the world, as well as the first of a revolutionary barrel type, rotary design. But they weren’t enough.

In 1904 Carville Power Station was built, again using Parsons’ steam turbine alternators from Heaton. The first electricity produced by the station was provided to the NER for the very early electrification of the railway line that passed through Heaton. Carville was extended in 1907 and, in 1916, with demand for electricity soaring because of the war, a second power station, Carville B, was built. This was the largest power station in the UK at the time and was considered to be the ‘first major generating station in the world’, as well as the largest and most economical in the UK. The power supply industry may have been what brought Reuben north. It was certainly where he made his living. However, he found more than work in Newcastle: in 1913, Reuben Charles Salmon married Fanny Baker, his landlady. They lived on Sefton Avenue for eight more years, before moving to Bristol.

Self-made

In October 1921, the house changed hands for the first time. It was bought by Henry Lowery, aged 35, variously described as a ‘ship breaker’ and an ‘iron and steel merchant’, whose business was based in Gateshead.  Born in Newcastle on 16 June 1886, Henry had grown up locally – in Byker. Aged 4, he was living with his widowed mother, Mary Ann, described as a ‘hawker’, and three elder siblings. Aged 14, Henry was described as a painter. In 1911, he was married and still living in Byker but now working as a clerk in an iron and steel merchants.

His wife, like his mother, was called Mary Ann (nee Wilde). And they had daughter called? You guessed it: Mary Ann! Ten years later, now with his own business, he had done well enough for himself to buy a very nice house in Heaton, initially with the help of two sisters from Berwick, Isabella and Barbara Forbes Atchison, his relationship to whom we don’t yet know.

Henry repaid the sisters a year later and lived at 10 Sefton Avenue for 28 years before retiring to Gateshead. When he died, aged 73, he left over £17,000 in his will, very much a self-made man.

Wanderer

The next owner, George Arrowsmith Barnet, had been born on 8 April 1911 in Bishop Auckland. He married Moira H Ashley in Lambeth, London in 1935 and by 1939 the couple and their three children were living in Portsmouth, where George was a cafe manager. Soon afterwards, however, they returned to Bishop Auckland before, in 1949, buying 10 Sefton Avenue from Henry Lowery. George was now described as a ‘catering manager’. But the Barnet’s didn’t stay in Heaton long. Post-war austerity and rationing won’t have made his job easy and Canada was eager to attract new workers: George and his wife, like another half a million Britons in the thirty years following WW2, made the brave decision to emigrate. After giving Moira Power of Attorney so that she could manage his affairs, including the sale of 10 Sefton Avenue, on 13 May 1953 George sailed from Liverpool to Quebec on SS Franconia.  Four months later, Moira and their four children followed him. George Arrowsmith Barnet died aged 77 in White Rock, British Columbia, thirty six years after leaving Heaton.

Hoarder

The person who Moira Barnet sold the house to was Robert Edward Topping. He and his wife Greta (nee Gerner) moved the short distance from 10 Roxburgh Place to 10 Sefton Avenue in August 1953. And for the first time we have more than archival records to help us tell their story.

But first we need to jump ahead around sixty four years. Thinking of expanding his living accommodation, current owner Jules Brown, ventured up a ladder to survey the available roof space. To his amazement, as he arced his torch in the darkness, objects began to emerge from the shadows: some boxes but also individual items, large and small: once-treasured books, many of which were inscribed: some birthday gifts to a young Robert from his father and others presented to Greta for excellent attendance at Sunday School; photographs and personal letters; journals; home made tools, furniture and electric lamps; a canvas rucksack; toys and games, again some home-made; part of a lantern slide projector with slides and a couple of cine films; even a bike. Many of the items seemed insignificant, but clearly all had had meaning enough to become keepsakes for someone. All now black with the dust and soot of more than half a century.

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Jules Brown examining the contents of his loft

Luckily for us, Jules works for Historic England and North of England Civic Trust as a conservation manager. Naturally, he was intrigued by the finds and what they might tell him about his home and those who had lived there before him. He invited Heaton History Group to help sift through the items and decide what had a historic value and who might appreciate it. He wondered whether it was fanciful to think descendants of the hoard’s owners might be traced.

It soon became apparent that most of the objects in the loft had belonged to a Robert Topping and his wife, Greta. Some items were fit only for the tip. Time hadn’t treated them kindly. But there was a small pile relating to C A Parsons, journals, engineering text books, pencils, a slide rule. They were gladly accepted by Siemens’ Heaton Works historian, Ruth Baldasera. The North East Land Sea & Air Museum said they’d love the old BSA (Birmingham Small Arms) military bike.

Reunited

Another group of items related to Heaton Presbyterian Church – Robert and Greta’s religious conviction was clear: there were books about the church, tales from the New Testament, a prayer book but also sermons, hand-written in pencil. We remembered that the daughters of Olive Renwick, of whom we have written before, were parishioners. Would the church like the items and did they happen to know of a Robert Topping? Of course they did. Robert was only their uncle!

He was Olive’s brother and the son of Isabella and Frank Topping, the railway signalman who featured in another article we’ve published.

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Olive, Robert and Sybil Topping with their mother Isabella c1925

And so, over a cup of tea a few nights later, Robert’s nieces, Margaret and Julia, put flesh on the bones of what we’d already pieced together about ‘Uncle Rob and Auntie Greta’ and were reunited with photos, letters, cine films and other personal effects.

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Julia & Margaret, Robert Topping’s nieces with Arthur Andrews & Chris Jackson of HHG

Robert was born on 5 March 1922. He worked as an engineer at Parsons for many years but he’d also served in the Royal Navy during and after the second world war.  Jules’ next door neighbour, who had known Robert as an elderly man, believed he had been a submariner. Robert had told Margaret and Julia that too. But his nieces also recalled that he had a vivid imagination and told many fantastic stories, many of which they suspected to be made up to entertain and impress them.

Amongst the documents in the attic were letters that showed Robert had been at a naval base in Virginia in the USA, a postcard addressed to him as an Engine Room Artificer (a fitter, turner or boilermaker) on HMS Queen Elizabeth and a telegram addressed to him aboard HMS Hargood at Rosyth naval dockyard, suggesting he served on ships in the Royal Navy rather than submarines.

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Robert Topping in the Royal Navy

But there was also a ship’s diary, hand-written in Spanish, in which the author recounted watching the German Graf Zeppelin in the sky above Reykjavik in 1931, on its way to carry out research into the Arctic. Robert would have been nine years old.  ‘Perhaps some of those fantastic stories of a life of adventure were true!’, joked Margaret. Julia remembered with affection her uncle’s sense of humour: ‘He was the only one who could make Aunt Sybil laugh!’ As we looked at family photos around Jules’ kitchen table, we could feel his jovial, larger than life presence in the room.

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Robert Topping in later years

Some of Robert and Greta’s belongings have now been returned to the family and others donated to specialists who would appreciate them but Jules has kept a few items ‘for the house’. He will restore the home made bird box and put it in the garden. And five books by Ramsay Guthrie will be cleaned up and returned to the now converted loft.

Ramsay Guthrie was the alias of John George Bowran (1869-1946), a Primitive Methodist Minister from Gateshead, who wrote many novels set on Tyneside. They feature miners, ship builders and other working class characters and were concerned with morality and redemption. They were written around the time the house was built and, like the lives of the house’s former inhabitants, help to tell its story.

Post-script

Robert Edward Topping died in 2002, while still living at 10 Sefton Avenue. The house was then home to first the Kemptons and later the Kemps from whom Jules Brown bought it. Their life stories will add another layer to the fascinating history of 10 Sefton Avenue in due course.

Acknowledgements

Thank you to Jules for sharing his finds with us and to Julia and Margaret for supplying photographs of their uncle and adding to what the ‘Sefton Hoard’ had told us about him.

Researched and written by Chris Jackson and Arthur Andrews.

Can you help?

If you can add to the story of 10 Sefton Avenue and those who have lived there – or you would like us to look into the history of YOUR house, either leave a reply on this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or email   chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

The Stroud Family of Cresta

274 Heaton Road is one of Heaton’s more substantial Victorian villas, also known as Cresta. The first recorded conveyance of the house is 1902 and it seems likely that the first residents were the Stroud family, Professor Dr Henry Stroud, his wife Eva Mary Antoinette Stroud and their three children, Irene Elizabeth, Bessie Vera and Henry Clifford. All fairly unremarkable, except that in one house we have a man who was professor of physics at the age of 26 and a close research collaborator and personal friend of Lord Armstrong; a world war one war hero and early aviator; a Red Cross volunteer in WW1 and a possible member of the peerage.

Henry Stroud was born in Bristol in 1862, the second of three children to John and Mary Stroud. John was a pharmaceutical chemist and as well as his family had two apprentices and a servant living in his home.

On leaving school, Henry had a brilliant academic career at both the University of London, where he gained first class degrees in both Physics and Chemistry and later a Doctorate, and at Cambridge, taking a first class degree in the second part of the Natural Science Tripos.

Henry became a lecturer in physics at Armstrong College, then part of the University of Durham in 1886. In 1887, he married Eva Marie Antoinette Emmett, also from Bristol.

Also in 1887, Henry became Professor of Physics and head of the department, at the ripe old age of 26. The 1891 census shows the family, Henry and Eva, with two daughters, Irene aged two and Bessie, six months, living at 8 Grosvenor Place Jesmond, supported by two servants. By 1911, they were living on Heaton Road, with their three children Irene, 22, Bessie, 20 and Henry Clifford, 17, again with two servants.

Either a Physics Professor earned a great deal more in 1911 than they do today, or one of the families had considerable wealth, as they certainly lived a comfortable lifestyle. There is no doubt that Henry was a great success in his position, growing the department from one professor, one lecturer and 76 students in 1887 to two professors, four lecturers, two demonstrators and 244 students when he retired in 1926.

What perhaps better explains the family’s wealth is Henry’s research interest. Throughout his career, Henry collaborated with Lord Armstrong on research into the nature of electricity. Lord Armstrong conducted early experiments on electrical discharges, which Henry worked with him on. A room, the Electrical Room, was specifically set aside at Cragside, Lord Armstrong’s country home, for their research work. Next door to the Billiard Room, the National Trust has recently opened this room to the public to celebrate their research. At Lord Armstrong’s request, Henry completed this research, which was published in 1899 as a ‘Supplement to Electrical Movement in Air and Water with Theoretical Inferences’ by Lord Armstrong CB, FRS. Essentially, the research led Armstrong to propose the existence of two ‘electric fluids’ in air and water, what we now understand as positively and negatively charged particles.

The photographs of their research showing the effect of negatively and positively charged particles are quite exquisite.

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Illustration of Lord Armstrong and Professor Stroud’s research on electrical discharges

A number of these are available on the Royal Society website. It seems likely that this research and Henry’s academic prowess made him a wealthy and famous man at a time when society revered knowledge. Certainly when he died in 1940, his estate was valued at £23,136/16/5, about £1.4m in today’s money.

Henry Clifford

The youngest of Henry and Eva’s children, Henry Clifford Stroud was born on 25 July 1893. He certainly followed in his father’s footsteps in terms of academic ability, although his passion was for engineering. He was educated at the Royal Grammar School, then gained his BSc in Engineering at Armstrong College in 1913, followed by a BA at King’s College Cambridge. He was a student of the Institution of Civil Engineers and a graduate of the North East Coast Institution of Engineers and Shipbuilders where, despite his young age, he read a number of papers and was awarded prizes. He was gaining practical experience at Sir William Arrol’s in Glasgow during vacations and had plans to become a civil engineer.

At University, Henry Clifford joined the Officer Training Corps, then the Territorial Force and in June 1912, at the age of 18, was gazetted a Second Lieutenant in the Northumbrian Royal Engineers then promoted to Lieutenant two years later.

Captain Henry Clifford Stroud

Henry Clifford Stroud (Imperial War Museum)

When war broke out Henry immediately volunteered for service overseas and embarked for France with the Northumbrian Royal Engineers, First Field Company in January 1915. His career was tragically short-lived as on 8th February he was severely injured in both legs and after immediate treatment in Versailles, he found himself back at Armstrong College, now converted into the No1 Northern General Military Hospital, where he had a long slow recovery.

Sadly his injuries made a return to front line service impossible, so he was posted to Otley as an Instructor in Field Engineering and Bombing, becoming a Captain in June 1916. However, this didn’t satisfy Henry and in July he was passed by the Medical Board to join the Royal Flying Corps, qualifying as a pilot on 22nd August 1916.

STROUDpilots licence

In September he was posted to 61st Squadron at Rochford Aerodrome in Kent, engaged in the defence of London from air raids, often under the cover of darkness.

At around 11.30 on the night of 7 March 1918, Henry took off in a Se5a bi-plane to intercept a German plane. It was a moonless night, one of only two occasions when the Germans launched attacks on such nights during the war and there was obviously no radar or radio.

StroudSe 5a biplane

Plane like that piloted by Henry Clifford Stroud

At about the same time, Captain Alexander Bruce Kynoch of 37 Squadron took off from Stoke Maries to intercept the same raider. With no means of communication and next to no light, the two aircraft collided in mid air over Dollyman’s farm in Essex at around midnight, killing both pilots. Henry Clifford was buried at St Andrew’s Church Rochford and a permanent memorial of the accident was placed at the spot where the two planes crashed. The memorial is still there and consists of an aeroplane propeller.

Stroud memorial

Memorial to Henry Clifford Stroud

Professor Stroud endowed a physics prize in his son’s honour at the University. Newspapers show that the Henry Clifford Stroud Prize for Physics was still being awarded well into the 1940s.

Eva

Henry’s wife had been born Eva Mary Antoinette Emmett in 1862. Like her husband, she was born in Bristol, the eldest daughter and one of six children of Clifford and Laura Emmett. Her father, Clifford, started as an accountant, in 1881 was clerk to an iron merchant and subsequently took over the business.

Eva was well educated. In 1881, aged 19, she was recorded as a ‘scholar’ (and her name is given as Mary E), signs of an independent spirit or just a slip of the pen? Later documents refer to her as Eva Mary once more.

We don’t know much about Eva’s early adulthood other than that she married Henry in 1887 and had three children. But we do know that, soon after Henry Clifford’s death during WW1, she volunteered her services to the Red Cross and Victoria League, following in the footsteps of her daughter, Irene. Records show that they both worked in the ‘moss room‘. During the first world war, sphagnum moss was collected from peat bogs in industrial quantities, as it had mildly antiseptic properties. The moss was transported to depots where it was dried and made into dressings for use in military hospitals.

StroudIrene

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When  Eva died on 3 March 1928,  Henry endowed another prize in her memory, the Eva Marie Antoinette Stroud Prize for Physics.

 Irene and Bessie

It’s relatively unusual to be able to track down what became of the daughters of a family, particularly post the 1911 census. However in the case of the Stroud family, the probate for Henry Stroud following his death in 1940 shows that his estate was to be divided between William Robert Gerald Wthiting and Ralph Oakley Whiting. Further research uncovered that Irene married William in the spring of 1911 and Bessie married his younger brother Ralph in September 1918.

The Whitings were the two sons of William and Marion Whiting. William was the Chief Constructor for the Admiralty. In other words, he was the person overall responsible for the construction of the naval fleet, which clearly influenced the careers of both sons.

William was born on 15th May 1884 and in 1911 was a Naval Architect, boarding at 2 Larkspur Street Jesmond. After marrying Irene, the couple lived at Perivale, Nun’s Moor Crescent. On 26 January 1923 he joined the Institute of Civil Engineers, where the records show that he had an MBE as well as BA. At that time he was working as Personal assistant to the General Manager at Armstrong Naval Yard. He died at the age of 63 on 5th September 1947 in Middlesex Hospital London.

Ralph was born on 16th January 1893, graduating Cambridge Trinity with a BA in Mechanical Sciences in 1914, acquiring an MA in 1918. He immediately joined the Royal Navy, becoming an Instructor Lieutenant in 1921 and Commander (the rank below Captain) in 1949. He was clearly stationed abroad for some of his career as immigration records show Bessie travelling alone to and from Malta, Singapore and Gibraltar in the 1930s, no doubt to be with her husband on his overseas postings.

The couple had at least one son, Anthony Gerald Stroud Whiting, born in 1926 and died in 2008 and he had a daughter Anita Julia Whiting.

What is intriguing about Ralph, Bessie and the family is that they are listed on a website called the Peerage, a genealogical survey of the peerage of Britain. So far I have been unable to determine why exactly. I have however discovered that Anita married the Very Rev. Hon. Dr Richard Crosbie Aitken Henderson, son of Peter Gordon Henderson, Baron Henderson of Brompton in 1985. So at the very least, Bessie and Ralph’s granddaughter is married to the son of a Baron, but there may be more to it. Watch this space.

 Acknowledgements

This article was researched and written by Michael Proctor, Heaton History Group.

Can you help?

If you know anything else about any of the people mentioned in this article, please get in touch either by clicking on the link immediately below the title of this article or by emailing chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

We are always interested to receive information, memories and photos relevant to the history of Heaton.

Jesmond Dene: past, present and future

Our August guided walk will take us to Jesmond Dene. The Ouseburn Parks Volunteer Guides will help participants explore this much-loved park – its history, its buildings and the families connected with it.

Brash Jesmond Dene

Jesmond Dene

We will meet at 6.30pm (Please note the earlier start time) on Wednesday 23 August at the Ouseburn Parks’ Visitor Centre in Jesmond Dene. Booking is essential and until Thursday 25 May is open to Heaton History Group members only.

A Road by Any Other Name

On 20th June 2016 in Stratford upon Avon, amateur actors from The People’s Theatre, Heaton will appear in a production of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ alongside professionals from the Royal Shakespeare Company. That performance, a reprise the following night and five nights at Northern Stage in March, will form part of the national commemoration of the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death and is a great honour for our local and much loved theatre company.

The People’s Theatre has links with the RSC going back many years. The Stratford company made Newcastle its third home back in the 1970s and the People’s has come to the rescue three times (1987, 1988 and 2004) when an extra venue was needed for one reason or another. But these are far from Heaton’s earliest connections with the ‘immortal bard’ and we’ve decided to explore some of them as part of our own contribution to ‘Shakespeare 400’.

 The Name of the Roads

The most obvious references to Shakespeare in the locality are a group of streets in the extreme south and west of Heaton: Bolingbroke, Hotspur, Malcolm and Mowbray are all Shakespeare characters, as well as historical figures. And immediately north of them are Warwick Street and the Stratfords (Road, Grove, Grove Terrace, Grove West, Villas). But could the literary references be coincidental? Perhaps it was the real life, mainly northern, noblemen that were immortalised? Why would a housing estate, built from the early 1880s for Newcastle workers and their families, pay homage to a long-dead playwright. It’s fair to say our research team was surprised and delighted at what we found.

Two documents, one in Tyne and Wear Archives (V273) and one in the City Library, provided the key. Firstly, in the archives, we found a planning application from Alderman Addison Potter of Heaton Hall and his architect, F W Rich (who later designed St Gabriel’s Church). Their plans show Bolingbroke, Hotspur, Malcolm and Mowbray Streets, pretty much as they look now, but bordering them to the south is Shakespeare Road! No doubt now about the references. (Thank you to Tyne and Wear Archives for permission to use the images below.)

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Plan of roads near Bolingbroke Street showing Shakespeare Road

Not only that but Lennox, Siward, and Umfreville Terraces also appear. You’d be forgiven for not immediately getting the Shakespearian references there but Siward is the leader of the English army in Macbeth; Lennox, a Scottish nobleman in the same play and Umfreville, we’ve discovered, has a line which appears only in the first edition of Henry IV Part II but, like many of the others, the real person on which he was based has strong north east connections. Clearly the inspiration for the street names came from one or more people who knew their literature and their history.

Shakespeareroadplan3ed

But two sets of plans were rejected by the council for reasons that aren’t clear and, within a year, Addison Potter seems to have sold at least the leasehold of the land to a builder and local councillor called William Temple. Temple submitted new, if broadly similar, proposals. Building work soon started on the side streets but the previous year, Lord Armstrong had gifted Heaton Park to the people of Newcastle and the road to the new public space took its name. And nobody lives on Lennox, Siward or Umfreville Terraces either: they became Heaton Park View, Wandsworth Terrace and Cardigan Terrace.

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Bricks stamped with Temple’s name can still be found in the area. This one is displayed in his former brickyard on the banks of the Ouseburn.

But why Shakespeare? Whose idea was it? A newspaper article, dated 21 May 1898, in Newcastle City Library provided our next clue. A former councillor, James Birkett, was interviewed: ‘Mr Birkett himself occupied a cottage on the land which is now known as South View. There were another cottage or two near his, but they had nearly the whole of the district to themselves’. It continues ‘In front of them was the railway line, and behind was the farmhouse of a Mr Robinson. This house stood on the site now forming the corner of Heaton Park Road and Bolingbroke Street, and one of its occupants was Mr Stanley, who for many years was the lessee of the Tyne Theatre’.

The Tragedian

Further research showed that George William Stanley had a deep love not only of drama but of William Shakespeare in particular.  He was born c 1824 in Marylebone, London. By 1851, Stanley described himself as a ‘tragedian‘ (ie an actor who specialised in tragic roles).

By 1860, he was in the north east. The first mention we have found of him dates from 28 July of that year, when he is reported to have obtained a licence to open a temporary theatre in East Street, Gateshead. A similar licence in South Shields soon followed. Later, we know that he opened theatres in Tynemouth and Blyth.

In 1861, he was staying in a ‘temperance hotel’ in Co Durham with his wife (Emily nee Bache) and four children: George S who is 8, Alfred W, 4, Emily F, 3, and Rose Edith Anderson, 1. He now called himself a ‘tragedian / theatre manager’.  And he had turned his attention to Newcastle, where attempts to obtain theatre licences were anything but straightforward.

In June 1861, Stanley applied for a six month licence for theatrical performances in the Circus in Neville Street. He argued that one theatre (the Theatre Royal) in Newcastle to serve 109,000 people was inadequate; he promised that the type of performances (‘operatic and amphitheatre’) he would put on would not directly compete with existing provision; he produced testimonials and support from local rate payers; he gave guarantees that alcohol would not be served or prostitutes be on the premises. But all to no avail. The Theatre Royal strongly objected; an editorial in the ‘Newcastle Guardian’ supported the refusal. Appeal after appeal was unsuccessful. Stanley continued to use the wooden building as a concert hall and appealed against the decision almost monthly.

In October 1863,  George Stanley made another impassioned speech, in which he begged to be allowed to practice his own art in his own building. He concluded: ‘I will not trouble your worships with any further remarks in support of my application, but trust that the year that witnesses the tercentenary of Shakespeare’s birth, will also witness the removal of any limitation against the performances of the plays of that greatest of Englishmen in Newcastle’.  The Bench retired for thirty five minutes but finally returned with the same verdict as before.

GeorgeStanley

George Stanley, tragedian and theatre manager

Tercentenary

Despite his latest setback, George Stanley started 1864 determined to mark Shakespeare’s big anniversary. In the first week of January, he played Iago alongside another actor’s Othello in his own concert hall. ‘Both gentlemen have nightly been called before the curtain’.

The following week, a preliminary public meeting was held to hear a dramatic oration ‘On the Tercentenary of Shakespeare’ by G Linnaeus Banks of London, Honorary Secretary to the National Shakespeare Committee, and to appoint a local committee to arrange the celebrations in Newcastle. Joseph Cowen took the chair and George Stanley was, of course, on the platform. And it was he who moved the vote of thanks to Mr Banks for his eloquent address.

Unfortunately the festivities were somewhat muted and overshadowed by Garibaldi’s visit to England. (He had been expected to visit Newcastle that week, although in the event he left the country somewhat abruptly just beforehand). There was a half day holiday in Newcastle on Monday 25 April ‘but the day was raw and cold and the holiday was not so much enjoyed as it might otherwise have been’ and  a celebration dinner in the Assembly Rooms, ‘attended by about 210 gentlemen’, was the main event. A toast ‘In Memory of Shakespeare’ was proposed, followed by one to ‘The Dramatic Profession’. George Stanley gave thanks on behalf of the acting profession.

Stanley continued to pay his own respects to the playwright. He engaged the ‘celebrated tragedian, Mr John Pritchard’ to perform some celebrated Shakespearian roles, with he himself playing Othello and Jago on alternate nights.

Tyne Theatre

In October 1865, Stanley’s wooden concert hall was damaged and narrowly escaped destruction in a huge fire that started in a neighbouring building. His determination to open a permanent theatre intensified and he had found powerful allies. On 19 January 1866, it was announced that an anonymous ‘party of capitalists’ had purchased land on ‘the Westgate’ for the erection of a ‘theatre on a very large scale’. They had gone to London to study the layout and facilities of theatres there. It was said that George Stanley would be the new manager.

In May of that year, in a sign that relations between Stanley and the Theatre Royal had at last thawed, Stanley performed there ‘for the first time in years’. And soon details of the new Tyne Theatre and Opera House began to emerge.  Joseph Cowen, with whom Stanley had served on the Shakespeare Tercentenary Committee, was among the ‘capitalists’.

Cowen was a great supporter of the arts and an advocate for opportunities for ordinary working people to access them. He was incensed at the council’s continued blocking of Stanley’s various theatrical ventures and offered to fund the building of a theatre in which Stanley’s ‘stock‘ ( ie repertory) company could be based.

The opening been set for September 1867 but a licence was still required. Stanley applied again on 31 August. The hearing was held on Friday 13 September before a panel of magistrates which included Alderman Addison Potter of Heaton Hall – and this time Stanley and his influential backers were in luck. Just as well as it was due to open ten days later. And it did, with an inaugural address by George Stanley himself.

Despite his earlier claims that the Tyne Theatre wouldn’t compete with the Theatre Royal, Shakespeare was very much part of the programme in the early years: ‘As you Like It’, ‘The Merchant of Venice’, ‘King Lear’… But it was soon acknowledged that there was room for two theatres in Newcastle. Stanley soon found the time and the good will to play the role of Petruchio  (‘The Taming of the Shrew’ ) at the Theatre Royal. He continued to manage the Tyne Theatre until 1881.

Heaton House

It was while still manager of the Tyne Theatre that Stanley moved to Heaton. His first wife had died in the early ’60s. He had remarried and with his second wife, Fanny, still had young children.

Heaton House, as we have heard, stood on what is now the corner of Heaton Park Road and Bolingbroke Street and the Stanley family were living there from about 1878.

The map below is from some years earlier (Sorry it’s such a low resolution. We will replace it with a better version asap) but gives a good impression of the rural character of Heaton at this time. In the top right hand corner of the map, is Heaton Hall, home of Alderman Addison Potter, one of Stanley’s few neighbours and the owner of the farmland on which Stanley’s house stood. Remember too that Potter had been a member of the panel that finally approved Stanley’s theatre in Newcastle.

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Memorial

Potter and Stanley would surely have discussed matters of mutual interest. So while we might not know exactly how the naming of the streets on the east bank of the Ouseburn came about, we can surely assume that George William Stanley, actor, tragedian, Shakespearean, passionate promoter of theatre and neighbour of Potter at the time, played a part. It might have taken almost another twenty years and the name ‘Shakespeare Road’ didn’t make the final cut but Newcastle finally had the long-lasting tribute that George Stanley had wanted for the Shakespeare’s tercentenary.

By the early 1880s the area looked very different. William Temple had developed the fields to the south and west of Heaton Hall;  Heaton House had been demolished and Bolingbroke Street and Heaton Park Road stood in its place; George Stanley had moved back to London.

Stanley would probably be surprised to know that his Tyne Theatre is about to celebrate its 150th anniversary; proud of the People’s Theatre‘s participation in the national commemorations a hundred and fifty two years after his own involvement and delighted that Shakespeare lives on in Heaton.

Can you help?

If you can provide further information about anything mentioned in this article please,contact us, either by clicking on the link immediately below the title of this article or by emailing chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Shakespeare 400

This article was written by Chris Jackson and  researched by Chris Jackson, Caroline Stringer and Ruth Sutherland, as part of Heaton History Group’s project to commemorate the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death.

We are interested in connections between Heaton and Shakespeare through its theatres, past and present; writers, actors – and of course, the famous brick Shakespeare on South View West.

We are also researching and writing about some of the people who have lived in the ‘Shakespeare Streets’: initially, we are looking at Bolingbroke, Hotspur, Malcolm, Mowbray and Warwick Streets plus Stratford Grove, Stratford Grove Terrace, Stratford Grove West, Stratford Road,  and Stratford Villas.

If you would like to join our small friendly research group or have information, photos or memories to share, please contact us, either by clicking on the link immediately below the title of this article or by emailing chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

 

Coquet Villa – house of romance

Take a stroll through Jesmond Old Cemetery and you’ll come across this imposing headstone.

Headstone of George Thompson, Coquet Villa

Headstone of George Thompson, Coquet Villa

Inscription on Thompson family vault (detail)

Inscription on Thompson family vault (detail)

It marks the grave of George Thompson, who, the inscription tells us, ‘died at Coquet Villa, Heaton on May 2nd 1905’. It’s quite unusual for a gravestone to pinpoint where its incumbent passed away so it suggests that Coquet Villa was a special place for the deceased and his family.

The name ‘Coquet Villa’ may not be familiar to you – the gatepost on which its name was carved was replaced decades ago – but, a hundred and ten years later, the house is still much admired, one of only two private residences to have been nominated in Heaton History Group’s 2013 bid to find Heaton’s favourite buildings. Coquet Villa was the original name for 246 Heaton Road, which you probably call ‘the turret house’.

Coquet Villa 2015

Coquet Villa 2015

Lifting the spirits

The land on which the house stands was sold by William Watson-Armstrong, Lord Armstrong’s nephew and heir, on 31 December 1900 just 3 days after his uncle’s death. The agreement stipulated that two semi-detached residences be constructed within nine months of the contract being signed. George Thompson paid £574 11s 1d, a substantial sum then. However, it was some 21 months earlier, in March 1899, that he had first commissioned the well-known local firm of architects, Hope and Maxwell, to draw up designs for a pair of semi-detached houses to fit the site. This suggests that plans for the sale of land were in train well before Lord Armstrong became ill.

Hope and Maxwell's plans for Coquet Villa and Redthorpe next door

Hope and Maxwell’s plans for Coquet Villa and Redthorpe next door

The two houses were of similar specification, apart from the distinguishing feature of that on the right – the one which Thompson chose to be his own home and called ‘Coquet Villa’. It’s only this one that has the famous attic turret. Like you, we wondered why.

William Hope and Joseph Charlton Maxwell are particularly remembered for their design of theatres, not only locally in Blyth and Newcastle, but as far afield as Glasgow, Margate and Southampton. Sadly the Hope and Maxwell theatres have all been demolished or destroyed by fire, but another of their public buildings does still stand – almost next door to Coquet Villa: it’s Heaton Methodist Church – and it too had a single turret until very recently.

Churches and theatres have to be more than functional buildings, of course: they’re designed to raise the spirits. If that was the aim of Hope and Maxwell and their client, Coquet Villa, still much enjoyed by passers-by as well as those lucky enough to live there, can be considered a huge success.

Echoes of childhood

George Thompson, the son of a Warkworth grocer, described himself as a ‘commercial traveller’. He and his Scottish wife, Margaret, moved to Newcastle, living first in Malvern Street, Elswick, and then at 22 Simonside Terrace before they were eventually able to afford their long term family home, which they nostalgically named after the river that flows through George’s boyhood village.

After the delay to the start of the build, things moved apace and George and Margaret soon moved in with their teenage sons, 17 year old Lonsdale Copeland and 14 year old Norman Malvern (who, again rather romantically, seems to have been named after the Elswick street in which his parents began their married life).

Perhaps Warkworth is a clue to the turret too. George grew up in the shadow of the famous castle and perhaps wanted to recreate some of its grandeur in his own dream home. Margaret too grew up close to a magnificent castle not short of turrets: she was from Edinburgh.

But a visit to Tyne and Wear Archives to view the original plans showed that internally the turret served a more practical purpose. As you can see from the image below, the front room in the attic was designed to be a billiards room. It was the ideal place for the two boys to hang out without disturbing their parents or perhaps George enjoyed the company of his sons over a game. We don’t know. But it is clear that the room was designed to accommodate the table with just enough room for the players to move around it comfortably. So where would onlookers and the player awaiting a turn at the table sit without being in the way? On a recessed window seat of course, with lovely views over Heaton Park towards Newcastle. In a turret. Genius!

Hope and Maxwell's plans showing the attic billiard room at Coquet Villa

Hope and Maxwell’s plans showing the attic billiard room at Coquet Villa

Family home

The house is a large one for a family of just four but the additional space was used. The Thompsons were joined by a niece of George’s, Christiana ‘Cissie’ Robson and the 1901 census shows them having a live-in servant, 18 year old Agnes Chandler.

Sadly George did not enjoy Coquet Villa for long. As we have seen, he died there just a few years later at the age of 52. But what happened to his bereaved family?

Margaret, Cissie and the boys remained in the family home until, in 1910, Lonsdale married Frances Maud Holland, daughter of Sir Thomas Henry Holland, an eminent geologist. (In 1939 Thomas was awarded the Royal Society’s prestigious Albert Medal, an honour earlier bestowed on at least two other men with Heaton connections, Lord Armstrong in 1878 and Charles Parsons in 1911). Frances had been born in India where her father was working at the time. Her mother was also born in India). The newlyweds started married life in Gosforth with Lonsdale making his living first as a woollen merchant and then a tailor, with his own business. At the time of his death, in 1957, he was living in Great Malvern in Worcestershire.

In 1916, Norman married Jeanne Julie Maude Rodenhurst, the youngest of six children of Harry, a wholesale millinery merchant, and his French wife, Jeanne, who lived in Deneholme on Jesmond Park East. The wedding was at St Gabriel’s Church. Norman set up as a market gardener in Ponteland, where he was eventually succeeded by his and Jeanne’s son Derrick. Jeanne’s brother, also called Norman, described himself as a tomato grower, so it’s possible that the brothers in law set up in business together. Norman died in 1968 and is buried in the family vault in Jesmond Old Cemetery with his wife Jeanne, his father and his mother, who died in 1935 at the age of 79.

Cissie died on 25 October 1914. Three days later, her funeral cortège processed from Coquet Villa to Heaton Station to meet the 8.05 train to Rothbury, where she was interred.

But with the war over, Cissie having passed away and her sons flown the nest, Margaret sold the family home, now clearly too big for her. The purchaser was a man called Frank Fleming, who stayed only three years.

The wanderer

Next came Charles and Mary Kirk, whose family was to be associated with Coquet Villa for another 14 years. Charles, like his father Samuel before him, was a slate merchant. Samuel Kirk was born and grew up in Boston, Lincolnshire but by 1871 had moved to Newcastle, no doubt to take advantage of the building boom in the industrial North East. He set up on his own in 1883 in Ridley Villas, following the dissolution in 1883 of a partnership, Kirk and Dickinson. The firm eventually passed to his son, Charles, who in 1911 was living at 14 Rothbury Terrace with Mary, his wife, five children (May 8, Annie 7, Samuel 6, Mary 4 and Charles 2) and two servants, Annie Wood and Florence McIntoch.

By 1917, the family had moved round the corner to 18 Jesmond Vale Terrace. In that year, with World War One raging, we know that Charles sailed from Sydney to San Francisco on the SS Ventura, that ship’s final voyage before it was commissioned by the Australian government to transport troops. In January 1918 he sailed from New York to Liverpool on the SS St Louis. His occupation is given as ‘exporter’. The ship’s Wikipedia entry illustrates just how hazardous these journeys were:

‘On 17 March 1917, she [SS St Louis] was furnished an armed guard of 26 United States Navy sailors and armed with three 6-inch guns, to protect her from enemy attack as she continued her New York-to-Liverpool service. On 30 May, while proceeding up the Irish Sea and skirting the coast of England, she responded rapidly to the orders, “Hard Starboard,” at the sighting of a periscope, and succeeded in dodging a torpedo while apparently striking the submarine which fired it. Later dry-dock examination revealed that 18 feet of her keel rubbing strake had been torn away. On 25 July, her gunners exchanged fire with a surfaced U-boat, some three miles away, and sighted many near misses.’

A book (‘Missouri at Sea’ by Richard E Schroeder) refers to the ‘bitter North Atlantic storms of 1917-18′. It would be fascinating to know more about what took Charles around the world at such a dangerous time. Another so far unanswered question is whether Kirk’s slates were used on the roof of Coquet Villa – and its locally famous turret.

Like George Thompson though, Charles and Mary didn’t enjoy Coquet Villa for long. Charles died in 1925, aged only 59, and Mary in 1927, after which the house was let to a number of tenants including Joseph Hilliam, a wallpaper manufacturer, and Joseph H Hood, a musician. Eventually, in 1936 it was sold to Harriet May Morton, wife of John Hugh Morton, a cashier.

Like many of the other owners, the Mortons moved only a matter of yards – from what would then have been a new house on Crompton Road almost opposite Coquet Villa. Later occupiers included Martha Ellen and Allan Frankland Holmes; Ronald George Smart, a commercial traveller; Alexander Reed Morrison, a medical practitioner; Torleif Egeland Eriksen, a Norwegian dental surgeon and his wife, June Margaret; George and Thora Brown of Thetford in Norfolk and Dr M M Ahmed. We hope you’ll help us uncover more about some of them in due course.

Full circle

Like the Thompsons, the current owners, Helen Law, a fine artist originally from Leicester (where, incidentally, her great grandfather set up a football boot manufacturing company – the firm made the retro boots used in the 1982 film ‘A Captain’s Tale’ about West Auckland Town winning the first World Cup) and Richard Marriott, a teacher, saw the house as the ideal family home. Although separated from the original owners by a century or more, they clearly share the romanticism which led George Thompson to name the house after the River Coquet, on the banks of which he played as a boy and to commission an architect to echo the magnificent castles so familiar to him and his Edinburgh-born wife. On their first night in their new home, Richard donned a suit, went down on one knee and proposed to Helen in the turret. Later, they lovingly restored the attic, which had long been an unloved dumping ground, to its former glory. They renovated the turret, building a magnificent new window seat, which they enjoyed with their children and still love to sit in today.

Interior of Coquet Villa's turret, 2015

Interior of Coquet Villa’s turret, 2015

You feel sure that George and Margaret would approve.

Footnote

You may have noticed (June 2015) that 246 Heaton Road is up for sale. As with Margaret Thompson, almost 100 years ago, the house is too big for the current owners now that their children have flown the nest.

Can you help?

If you can add to the story of Coquet Villa and those who have lived there – or you would like us to look into the history of YOUR house, either leave a reply on this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or email chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Dreams of Nature: William Armstrong and Jesmond Dene

William Armstrong, Baron Armstrong of Cragside (1810–1900) is best known as a practical engineer and scientist – the inventor of modern artillery and creator of the first house in the world to be lit by hydroelectricity – but he had an intensely romantic side that revealed itself in his shaping of the landscape around him. ‘I am a greater lover of nature than most people give me credit for,’ wrote Armstrong in 1855, by which time he had started to transform his garden and grounds in Jesmond Dene to reflect his dream of living in the mountains.

Early 20C postcard of Jesmond Dene, published by Alexander Denholm Brash of 92 Heaton Road

Early 20C postcard of Jesmond Dene, published by Alexander Denholm Brash of 92 Heaton Road

Armstrong’s attachment to Jesmond Dene, which began in childhood, remained strong throughout his long life. As his prosperity increased, he was more and more inclined to share the pleasures of the place with others. For example, in the early 1860s, he built a Banqueting Hall in the dene – not for lavish feasting, but for entertaining his workers at tea parties. In 1884 he handed over the dene and the hall to the citizens of Newcastle in perpetuity, with clear instructions about their preservation and use.

Another early 20C card of Jesmond Dene by Alexander Denholm Brash

Another early 20C card of Jesmond Dene by Alexander Denholm Brash

AT our talk on Wednesday 25 March 2015, Henrietta Heald, author of ‘William Armstrong, Magician of the North’, will talk about the long association between Armstrong and Jesmond Dene, the dene’s status as a public park, and the future of the Banqueting Hall, which is now the subject of a restoration campaign. The talk will take place at The Corner House, Heaton Road, NE6 5RP at 7.30pm (Doors open at 7.00pm. You are advised to take your seat by 7.15pm). Please book your place by contacting maria@heatonhistorygroup.org /07443 594154.

Please note: this replaces the originally advertised talk by Andrew McLean.