Tag Archives: miners

Heaton Divided: the 1740 Corn Riots

Manchester’s infamous Peterloo massacre is rightly being remembered ahead of its bicentenary. But political protests weren’t unique to Manchester nor was Peterloo the earliest modern example of the military breaking up such a demonstration, leading to loss of life.  Almost 80 years before Peterloo, Heaton miners were at the forefront of a less well known incident in Newcastle in which a Heaton landowner was also a key figure.

It has been argued by A W Purdue that the 18th century was a time in England when there was: “a social order which demonstrated considerable cohesion in that, despite acute social tensions, ‘acceptable compromises could be negotiated, compromises which safeguarded the social fabric'”. 

There was indeed a strict social hierarchy, with the power in the land concentrated in the hands of a small number of men.  In return for the compliance of the vast majority of the population with this arrangement, there was an expectation that there would be enough food for the general public. But what would happen, if there wasn’t enough food or the people couldn’t afford it?  How would the population react and how would the authorities respond to that reaction?  Events in Newcastle in 1740 give us some clues.

Background

There was heavy rain in August and September 1739, leading to a bad harvest, causing the price of oats and rye to double by June 1740.  The winter of 1739-40 was also very severe. The Newcastle Courant carried reports of unemployment and shortages of food, coal and even water. Alderman Matthew Ridley of Heaton Hall is reported to have allowed the poor to collect small amounts of coals from his colliery in Byker. This was a heartening sign of compassion from a member of the Newcastle elite, but it was not  a foretaste of what was to happen the following summer.

It has been reported that by March 1740, local food supplies were running short and there developed the widespread belief that speculators were hoarding grain to sell abroad at an inflated price. With less grain being available, so the market value went up drastically, to the point where miners in Heaton and keelmen on the River Tyne could no longer afford to feed themselves and their families.

There were riots in many parts of the country during May 1740, although at first those in Newcastle seemed insignificant: a small group of women, led by ‘General’ or Jane Bogey, apparently rang bells and impeded the passage of horses carrying grain through the town. Five women were committed for trial but discharged at Newcastle sessions a few days later and a regiment of dragoons on standby was withdrawn.

But disturbances continued elsewhere and, on 17 June, orders were sent for three companies of troops to march from Berwick to suppress troubles south of the Tyne.

Heaton miners’ dispute

On 19 June 1740, miners on the night shift at Heaton Bank pit went on strike in a dispute about their coal allowance, which may have been recently reduced by the owners.

HeatonRoyalty1745

Map of Heaton in 1745 showing Bank pit just south of High Heaton Farm towards the north west (courtesy of the Mining Institute)

By 3.00am, the men had garnered support from other pits and 60-100 of them marched into Newcastle, demanding a settlement of the price of grain, higher wages and better food.

Les Turnbull has noted that, ‘the affidavits record that the overman, George Laverick, “saw about 60 in Number of Workmen belonging to Heaton Colliery go past about 6 o’clock on Thursday morning”. Later, several hundred men, women and children joined the throng in Sandhill near the quayside.’

The following day, the miners were joined by keelmen and iron joiners from North and South Shields, with a crowd of several hundred descending on SandgateThe authorities were alarmed by this and the Riot Act was read.  The protest at this stage was mainly peaceful. A group of women and children did force their way into a granary with the help of some of the Heaton pitmen but in the main the protesters were just trying to put their case. Miners and the keelmen  petitioned the city corporation and at first there seemed to be some sort of agreement to reduce the price of grain but when, the following morning, many grain stores failed to open, the mood of the protesters changed.

It wasn’t only miners who were involved. Keelmen were usually the protesters in those far-off days – they went on strike in both 1661 and 1731, arguably two of the first industrial strikes anywhere in the world.

It is instructive to see what happened in another north east town. Something similar happened in Stockton, but there the magistrates and aldermen sent letters to London, putting pressure on the government.  Consequently, they averted major violence in Stockton. The magistrates in Newcastle decided on another path.

Magistrates’ response

The crowd of protesters soon grew to around 1,000 and they launched a full-scale attack on the granaries, with women and children again playing a prominent part, although even now they were peaceful and often persuaded to leave empty handed.

Many gathered outside the Guildhall, which was situated on its present site by the banks of the Tyne in the Sandhill area and at the northern end of the old Tyne Bridge, where the Swing Bridge is today.

Guildhallold

Guildhall as it would have looked in 1740

Attack on the Guildhall 

The violence escalated and the crowd, by now numbering at least 1,500, attacked the Guildhall, which was described at the time as a ‘very beautiful and sumptuous‘ building. (The building was not that with which we are so familiar with today. It had been built from 1655-60 by Robert Trollope, a mason from York, replacing an earlier building which had been damaged by fire in 1629.) It is recorded that the crowd of keelmen, iron workers and townspeople, ‘smashed the woodwork and windows, tore the paintings, and ransacked the archives and treasury.’   At least £1,300 was removed from the vaults but weapons that were captured were smashed and thrown in the river rather than used on the magistrates, all of whom escaped unharmed.

The actions that took place included the blocking of the movement of grain through the town, the seizure of grain and bread and unsuccessful negotiations with magistrates and merchants in an effort to reduce prices on a range of food items.  There was also an attempt to commandeer a ship-load of rye. Interestingly, it has been noted that women and children were again prominent in the disturbances, but they were joined by contingents of pitmen, keelmen and iron-workers, as the food protest merged with discontent over wages and labour conditions.

Much of the anger was connected to the fact that corn and rye were being exported from the Tyne, from the towns of Newcastle and Gateshead, where people needed it.  This was seen as going against the idea of a moral economy – more of which later.  It has been noted that, ‘the transportation of grain from the Tyne and the Tees occasioned food riots there in May 1740.  At Newcastle, women led protests against high prices and then attempted to unload a ship at the quayside.  When an alderman, supported by a private army confronted them and fired upon the crowd, major disturbances followed.’

The private army of 60 horsemen and over 300 men on foot, all of them bearing oak cudgels, was led by Heaton Hall’s Matthew Ridley. At first it enforced an uneasy calm but the Grand Allies, who owned Heaton colliery, refused to cooperate, perhaps because it would mean coming into conflict with their own workforce but more likely because  they could not bring themselves to work with Matthew Ridley, with whom they were often involved in bitter industrial and land disputes. There were other divisions among the authorities, too particularly between Alderman Fenwick, the mayor, and Ridley.

Over the following days, more and more people came into town to take advantage of the lower prices, which had been agreed earlier, but little grain was on sale. Eventually on 26 June, Ridley led a group of 20-30 armed freemen through the demonstrators. In the scuffling that followed, shots were fired. We know that at least one demonstrator was killed, possibly more, and others were wounded.

Understandably,  the violence escalated. Ridley was so concerned that his home would be attacked that he bricked all his valuables away in a vault but, in the event, Heaton Hall escaped unharmed.

HeatonHall1793

Heaton Hall in 1793

Mayor Fenwick had to appeal to the border garrison at Berwick to send more troops down through Northumberland before the protests were finally quelled.

Aftermath

The following day Matthew Ridley wrote a letter to the ‘Newcastle Courant’:

As it hath been maliciously reported that I was the first person that fired in the unhappy tumult yesterday, I think myself obliged to declare in this publick manner that I had neither gun or pistol in my hand nor did I give orders to any person to fire; but when the gentelmen were attacked in so violent a manner and several of them knocked down, they defended their lives in the best manner they could. Our intention at that time was to guard the delivery of the ship lying in the key laden with rye at the low price and to protect the poor upon the terms promised last Saturday’

Ninety one ringleaders’ names were collected for their part in the disturbances on 19 and 20 June, 41 of which were pitmen, seven waggonmen, seven keelmen, six women, five tradesman, one labourer and 24 of unknown occupation.

Eventually twenty pitmen, predominantly from Heaton, were indicted. Most escaped punishment as the authorities chose to respond with moderation, although there were two convictions for felony, with sentences of seven years transportation, and one of riot, with a sentence of six months in prison and a further twelve months ‘on securities’.

Among the Heaton miners were William Dunn of Gateshead, who worked under Ralph Laverick, Thomas Clough of Gateshead, who worked under George Claughton and Robert Clewett of Sidgate, who worked under John Taylor.  There was also George Clewett of Gateshead, who worked under George Claughton, John Todd, who worked under Henry Laverick and William Richardson, who worked under Ralph Weatherburn.  This suggests that men came from quite long distances to work in Heaton.

A further 213 men were identified as being involved in the disturbances on 26 June, 112 of whom were prosecuted, but again the punishments were relatively lenient, perhaps influenced by the fact that most local collieries had gone on strike while awaiting the verdicts.

The Guildhall was not, in fact, completely destroyed but, following further damage by fire, the frontage was rebuilt in 1794 to designs by William Newton and David Stephenson. In 1809, the south side was redesigned again in a classical style by John and William Stokoe. John Dobson’s east extension was completed in 1823.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Matthew Ridley failed in his bid to be elected to Parliament as a Member for Newcastle in 1741 but he was elected unopposed in 1747. He was also mayor of Newcastle in 1745, 51 and 59. Interestingly in May 1768 he spoke in Parliament in defence of Newcastle men involved in London riots and against the use of the militia in riots.

Reflections

It has been noted that two distinct views of the riot prevailed afterwards; ‘The outbreak of popular violence confirmed some people’s suspicions that “respectable” grievances served only as a pretext for the mob’s brutish desire to loot and plunder: to others it vindicated the traditional argument that it was not only unjust but also unwise “to provoke the necessitous, in times of scarcity, into extremities, that must involve themselves, and all the neighbourhood in ruin”’.

When E.P. Thompson wrote in 1971 about the Newcastle Corn Riots of 1740 in his famous paper The Moral Economy of the English Crowd in the 18th Century, he talked of how the moral economy had been disturbed. Here is a definition of moral economy from the Oxford Dictionary online:  ‘The regulation of moral or ethical behaviour;  an economic system in which moral issues, such as social justice, influence fiscal policy or money matters.’

Thompson argued that the merchants and magistrates had disrupted the idea of the moral economy by not listening to the arguments of the working people that they could no longer afford rye and bread at market prices. Here was a sign of the beginning of the modern capitalist economy where items would be sold at the market value and the idea that there should still be a moral economy – which, it has been argued, in one interpretation, ‘is an economy based on goodness, fairness, and justice. Such an economy is generally only stable in small, closely knit communities, where the principles of mutuality — i.e. “I’ll scratch your back if you’ll scratch mine” — operate to avoid the free rider problem’ – was being lost.

As the economy of the north east grew during the 18th century, so society was moving further and further away from the older ideas that those at the top of the social hierarchy should be paternalistic towards those lower down the pecking order. As the market value of commodities became more important to those in positions of power than a sense of responsibility to those who would have been called the ‘lower orders‘, so it is argued, working people increasingly protested, especially when faced with starvation.

It is perhaps, then no wonder that the coming years would see the hierarchy itself being increasingly challenged but we shouldn’t forget the Newcastle corn riots of 1740 or the parts played by Heaton miners – and the local landowner.

Acknowledgements Researched and written by Peter Sagar with additional material by Chris Jackson.

Sources

‘A Celebration of Our Mining Heritage ‘ / Les Turnbull; Chapman, 2015

‘The Guildhall’, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1952

‘The Moral Economy of the English Crowd in the Eighteenth Century’ / E P Thompson;  Past and Present, No. 50. (Feb, 1971), pp76-136

Newcastle in the Long Eighteenth Century’ / A W Purdue; Northern History, September 2013

‘The Politics of Provisions: Food Riots, Moral Economy, and Market Transition’ by John Bohstedt; Routledge, 2010

‘Popular Cultures in England 1550-1750’ / Barry Reay; Routledge, 1988

‘Riotous Assemblies: Popular Protest in Hanoverian England’ / Adrian Randall; OUP, 2006.

‘Urban Conflict and Popular Violence: the Guildhall riots of 1740 in Newcastle upon Tyne’ / Joyce Ellis; International Review of Social History, Vol 25 Part 3, 1980.

https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/us/moral_economy

https://everipedia.org/wiki/Moral_economy/

http://englandsnortheast.co.uk/Georgian.html

https://co-curate.ncl.ac.uk/guildhall/

 

 

 

 

The People of Heaton High Pit

Heaton High Pit (also known as the Far Pit or E Pit) was part of Heaton Main Colliery and was in High Heaton, opposite where Heaton Manor School is now. The mine lay just to the east of the Thistle Fault where the valuable, thick seam of coal known as the ‘Main Seam’ lay much further underground than in neighbouring areas to the west. Consequently, it was only towards the end of the 18th century that engineers had developed the technology to mine there.

Heaton Main

Heaton Main Colliery was technically one of the most advanced collieries in the world, attracting visitors from elsewhere in Britain and further afield, even America. Huge steam pumping engines drained the mine and a steam locomotive hauled coal along the colliery railway to the River Tyne. This was before George Stephenson built his locomotives for Killingworth Colliery.

We now remember Heaton Main Colliery for the 1815 disaster, in which  75 men and boys died. This took place about a mile from Heaton High Pit, approximately below the site of Saint Teresa’s Church. But there were problems  at Heaton High pit too; a fire in 1810; and in 1813 ‘creep’,  which caused the colliery floors to lift, meaning the pit was abandoned until 1816, one of the things that proves that this was not the site of the 1815 disaster.

What is particularly interesting about High Pit is that, unlike Heaton’s other pits, a small mining community, what we might call a ‘hamlet’, grew up around it. We’ve been researching the ten-yearly census records and newspaper reports relating to this community.

 

HighHeatonSpinneyCottageNCCPRT003_MFD-211_0889_001.jpg

Thank you to Newcastle City Library for permission to use this photograph.

 

The above photograph of cottages at Heaton High Pit was taken in 1922 just before the present High Heaton estate was developed around the wooded area immediately above the old pit head, which we now know as The Spinney. It gives an idea of what the hamlet might have looked like.

Mining village

In 1841, there were around 25 households. Almost all the men were coal miners and, although 70 year old William Fenwick was a horse-keeper and 15 year old John Hall an apprentice smith, they too would have worked at the pit. Theirs were important jobs in the mining industry.

The surrounding area was rural: 35 year old John Twizell and 30 year old Alexander Cairns earned their living as agricultural labourers. Only two young women are listed as having a job: 15 year old, Margery Anderson and Elizabeth were servants.

In 1851, a few of the families remained  from ten years earlier but many were recent migrants from other mining communities around Newcastle and the immediate area.  Most men were still colliers but 18 year old Septimus Widderington was an engineer,  26 year old William Gascoigne a gardener and 40 year old William Taylor an agricultural labourer. Several women and girls are recorded as working:  Elizabeth Clarke (18) as a dressmaker and  Ann Ayre (14), Sarah Bell (21) and Jane Stephenson (38) as household servants.

Whereas boys as young as seven were among those killed in the 1815 disaster, the Mines Act of 1842 had made it illegal to employ anyone under ten underground, so the youngest miner in 1851 was ten year old James Cross. Nevertheless,  siblings Anne, Mary and Christopher Roaby, aged four, five and seven, were the only children, among the many who lived in the hamlet, recorded as going to school .

Heaton High Pit was closed in 1852, the battle with floodwater having finally been lost,  but many men of the village continued to work at nearby Benton Colliery. This was situated on what is now Wych Elm Crescent by the tram track across Benton Road from the Newton Park pub. You can see how close they were and how rural the area was on the OS map below.

 

HighHeatonOS1stsurvey1858.jpg

Detail from 1st edition Ordnance Survey map, surveyed in 1858

In 1861, the village was still a mining community but some of the residents had come from further afield: for example, John Bowes, a cordwainer, had been born in Yorkshire; and Elizabeth Nichol in Cumberland.  The recent birth and expansion of railways was a possible factor.

A school is listed  in the census and 12 boys and girls, aged between 4 and 12 are recorded as attending. The youngest collier was 15 year old John Burdis. Ann Bell, a 50 year old married woman, recorded as the head of household, was a shopkeeper and her daughter, 24 year old Hannah Ramsay, earned her living as a dressmaker.  By this time though, there were also a number of uninhabited dwellings,  a sign perhaps that that the housing was now considered substandard and, with the local pit closed,  the village had become a less attractive place to live.

In  January 1862 miners, George Handy and Robert Minto, both  of Heaton High Pit village, were killed in an accident at Benton Colliery.

In April 1864, the auction of the materials of 21 cottages at Heaton High Pit was announced in the local press, although the 1894 Ordnance Survey map below shows a couple of cottages just to the north of the present Spinney. By this time, trees had been planted as was customary over disused pitheads. You can also see that, although Jesmond to the west was beginning to be developed, as was Heaton to the south, High Heaton was still very rural, the sight of Byker and Heaton Cemetery being the most obvious change from 36 years earlier.

 

highheatonos2view_-northumberland-lxxxviii-se-includes_-gosforth-longbenton-newcastle-upon-tyne

Detail from 2nd edition Ordnance Survey Map, 1894

And just before WW1, when the map below was published, not that much seemed to have altered. But after the war, things moved quickly and by the late 1920s, many of the houses we are now familiar with had been built and the Heaton Secondary Schools had opened. But more of them another time!

 

high-heatonos1913view_-northumberland-nxcv-nw-includes_-longbenton-newcastle-upon-tyne-walker-walls

Detail from 3rd edition Ordnance Survey map, 1913

 

Can you help?

If you know more about anyone who may have lived or worked at Heaton High Pit, we’d love to hear from you. You can contact us either through this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or by emailing chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Acknowledgements

This article was researched and written by Chris Jackson with Les Turnbull and Michael Proctor as part of Heaton History Group’s HLF-funded ‘Heaton Beneath Our Streets’ project.

Heaton Beneath Our Feet

Heaton History Group was fortunate enough to receive a grant last year from Heritage Lottery Fund to research and publicise Heaton’s mining heritage.

During the project, we visited fantastic collections such as, The Mining Institute, Woodhorn, Durham Record Office and Tyne and Wear Archives, where members of the group were able to handle original documents, including maps, plans, account books, letters and the notebook of the mining viewer, John Buddle. As you can imagine, we learnt a great deal about mining in Heaton – and a lot more besides.

We’ve also funded talks by local historian, Les Turnbull, not only at our usual Heaton Corner House venue but also at the Mining Institute and St James in Fenham. We didn’t only want the people of Heaton to know about the area’s rich industrial heritage – we wanted the news to be spread far and wide.

Red plaques

Distinctive red commemorative plaques, like the one below, have been placed (or are being placed) at strategic positions throughout Heaton, drawing the attention of passers- by to places associated with coal mining across the centuries.  How many can you find?

OuseburnCentrePlaque

Hopefully soon everyone will know not only about the 1815 disaster (including where it actually took place) but also about the great concentration of steam power in Jesmond Vale, the surface mines near the Ouseburn which were the first to be exploited, the remains that can still be seen in Heaton Park (if you know where to look), the route of Heaton’s waggonways (forerunners of the railways) and the associated industries, such as flint, glass and pottery.

Heritage wallk

Les Turnbull has led two guided walks so far but the idea is that Ouseburn Parks guides can add the walk to their repertoire and also that we can follow the trail ourselves. A printed guide is available at various places locally including in libraries, Milburn House in Jesmond Dene and at Heaton History Group talks and events (while stocks last!).

If you’d prefer an electronic copy and have problems downloading and/or printing the images below (which fold into a leaflet), email chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

HBOF 1-4

HBOF 5-8

And, finally, seventy five schools, libraries and youth and community groups will benefit from ‘Heaton Beneath Our Feet’ information packs, which include copies of Les’s books and the printed guide.

Heaton now

We hope that our project to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the 1815 disaster has led to a better understanding of coal mining in Heaton and its spin-off industries, including how they influenced the growth of Heaton from a medieval hall, a few scattered farms and a tiny village to the large, thriving suburb we live, study and work in today.

 

Heaton History Film Night

On 25 May, it will be our great pleasure to present the world premiere of Under Heaton Fields, a film made as part of the commemorations of the Heaton mining disaster of 1815. It will be shown along with two other films about the accident and its 2015/6 commemorations and another recent local history film, The Great Tyneside Fire 1854.

Namesforweb

Under Heaton Fields documents some of the activities that have taken place in Heaton during the bicentennial commemoration of the Heaton pit disaster of 1815. This includes work done in schools, concerts, the memorial service and the choral work ‘The Heaton Suite’ especially written for the occasion and performed by local choirs and musicians.

And through this prism the film will also look back to 1815 and, through the experiences of the characters of John Buddle and the Thew family, dramatise the events that morning in May and nine months later on the discovery of the bodies. The film has been made with the help of undergraduates, members of staff, and graduates of the Film/TV course at Northumbria University. Director, Peter Dillon, a member of Heaton History Group, will introduce the film and answer questions.

200 years is an audio visual work made by year 6 children at St Teresa’s School as part of the Under the Fields of Heaton programme. The class worked with visual artist and Heaton History Group member Tessa Green and sound artist and writer Ellen Phethean in summer 2015.

Looking at life in 1815, 1915 and 2015, the children made a soundscape based on the colliery disaster as well as collages, drawings, creative writing, singing and  interviews all of which were edited together to make the final piece which even speculates on what life might be like in 2115! Tessa and Ellen will introduce the film and answer questions.

Shafts of Light Kyle Donnelly and Sarah Hibbert, graduates of the Film/TV Production course who worked with Peter Dillon on Under Heaton Fields have shot and edited a short film about lantern making under the tutelage of Louise Bradley at the Woodlands Community Centre and their subsequent use during the commemorations at the Spinney and King John’s Palace in February. Tessa Green also shot footage at St Teresa’s School with Year Six pupils.

spinneylanterns5

All three films will stand as a record of what happened in 2015, while recollecting 1815.

The Great Tyneside Fire, 1854 commemorates a mighty explosion almost half a century later. Fire tore through communities, homes and workplaces on both sides of the river. Newcastle and Gateshead quaysides were almost totally destroyed, 53 people died and many hundreds were injured.

The film was made by Mark Thorburn of Lonely Tower Film and Media with the help of historians, Anthea Lang, Freda Thompson and Graeme Turnbull. Anthea Lang will introduce the film and answer questions.

To book

The event will take place at The Corner House, Heaton Road, NE6 5RP on Wednesday 25 May 2016 at 7.30pm and is FREE to Heaton History Group members. Non-members pay £2. The 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. Booking is open to Heaton History Group members only until Wednesday 9 March.

The Heaton Main Colliery Disaster 1815

This year is the 200th anniversary of Newcastle’s worst ever peacetime catastrophe, often known locally as ‘The Spinney disaster’. In the first of a series of events to take place in and around Heaton over the coming year, Les Turnbull will give the fascinating historical background, tell us what happened at Heaton Main Colliery on 3rd May 1815 and in the months that followed – and he might surprise you when he explains WHERE the events unfolded.

Celebration of our Mining History cover

Les, who is a member of Heaton History Group and an acknowledged expert on the history of mining, especially in the North East, was born near the Middle Pit in 1941, educated at Tosson Terrace Primary, Chillingham Road Secondary and Heaton Grammar and now lives near the ‘C’ Pit.

The talk will take place on 29 April 2015 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 as we are expecting a full house). It’s essential to book your place by contacting maria@heatonhistorygroup.org /07443 594154. This event has been supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund as part of our ‘Heaton Beneath Our Feet’ project.

Celebration of our Mining Heritage

Les Turnbull’s book has been written to coincide with the 200th anniversary of the major disaster at Heaton Main Colliery in which 75 men and boys died. However, it covers much more than the terrible events of 1815. As the title indicates, it celebrates the importance of mining in the North East, Newcastle and Heaton, in particular, to the industrial revolution, mining safety, the development of railways and indeed to world history. It also looks at the lives of the colliers, engineers, mine owners and their families that contributed to Heaton’s mining heritage and the development of Heaton as a centre of population.

Celebration of our Mining History cover

The fully illustrated 92 page book contains many rarely seen maps and plans of Heaton. It was published by Chapman Research (ISBN 978-0-9561248-2-1) with the support of over 70 subscribers and is available, priced £15 (plus postage where required), from:

Heaton History Group – in person at our regular events

The Literary and Philosophical Society (Lit & Phil)

Newcastle City Library

Newsbox, 297 Chillingham Road, Heaton

The Back Page

North of England Institute of Mining and Mechanical Engineers (Mining Institute)

The book’s publication is the first of over a year of commemorative events, supported by the Arts Council and Newcastle City Council, to take place under the banner of the Shafts of Light Festival. Check out the programme so far – and arrange events of your own which can be added to it.

In addition, a programme of talks, community research and the development of a heritage trail called ‘Heaton Beneath Our Feet’ is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. If you are not already on our mailing list and are interested in finding out more, please contact chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Pit to Pi: the life of Charles Hutton

How many Cragside or Heaton Manor pupils, struggling with their homework, realise that, in High Heaton, they’re following in the footsteps of one of the greatest mathematicians who has ever lived? The remarkable story of the one time Geordie miner, who became one of the most famous and esteemed men of his time, deserves to be better known.

Detail from painting of Charles Hutton by Andrew Morton now in the Lit and Phil

Detail from painting of Charles Hutton by Andrew Morton in the Literary and Philosophical Society of Newcastle upon Tyne

Charles, the youngest son of Henry and Eleanor Hutton, was born in what was then called Side-Gate at the corner of what we now know as Percy Street and Gallowgate on 14 August 1737. He was expected to be employed in mining like his father who, by the time of Charles’ birth, seems to have been an under-viewer, which was in effect the deputy manager of a coal mine. But Henry died when Charles was just four years old and his mother married another colliery manager, Francis Fraim, an overman (the third person in the hierarchy of a coal mine). The older boys duly followed their father and stepfather underground but what Charles later viewed as a happy accident, at the age of about seven, changed the direction of the youngest brother’s life.

Street fighter

In a quarrel with some other children in the street, Charles’ right elbow was hurt. Being afraid to tell his parents, he apparently concealed the injury for several days by which time surgeons were unable to put the damage right. Charles’ mother, in particular, was said to have worried that her son wouldn’t be able to earn a living in mining as expected and to have ensured that he received a first-class education.

The first school Charles attended was in Percy Street, close to the family’s home. It was ‘kept by an old Scottish woman’. According to Hutton, she taught him to read but was no great scholar. Whenever she came to a word which she couldn’t read herself, she directed the children to skip it: ‘for it was Latin’!

To High Heaton

The family then moved to Benwell and soon after, according to contemporary and friend, John Bruce, to High Heaton. We don’t know exactly where they lived but Charles was able to go to a school across the Ouseburn valley in Jesmond. The school was run by Rev Mr Ivison and was an establishment at which Charles seems to have flourished.

Nevertheless, writing at the time of Hutton’s death in 1823, Bruce said that he had recently been shown paperwork which showed that in 1755-6, Charles did work in a pit albeit only briefly – as a hewer (a coalminer who worked underground cutting coal from the seam), at Long Benton colliery, where his step-father was an overman.

At around this time, however, Mr Ivison left the Jesmond school and young Charles, by now 18 years old, began teaching there in his place. The school relocated to Stotes Hall which, some older readers may remember, stood on Jesmond Park Road until its demolition in 1953. He then relocated in turn to the Flesh Market, St Nicholas’ Churchyard and Westgate Street in the city centre. There he taught John Scott, famous locally for eloping with Betty Surtees and nationally, after being elevated to the House of Lords with the title Lord Eldon, for his tenure as Lord Chancellor. Lord Eldon spoke glowingly of his old teacher as did many of his pupils.

‘As a preceptor, Dr Hutton was characterised by mildness, kindness, promptness in discovering the difficulties which his pupils experienced, patience in removing these difficulties, unwearied perseverance, a never-failing lover of the act of communicating knowledge by oral instruction’ Dr Olinthus Gregory

Charles Hutton by Benjamin Wyon, 1823 (Thank you to the National Portrait Gallery)

Charles Hutton by Benjamin Wyon (Reproduced with permission of the National Portrait Gallery)

Hutton was often described as ‘indefatigable’. One advert he placed offers:

‘Any schoolmasters, in town and country, who are desirous of improvement in any branches of the mathematics, by applying to Mr Hutton, may be instructed during the Christmas holidays.’

Bobby Shafto

Another interesting pupil was Robert Shafto of Benwell Towers, who originally hired Hutton to teach his children. He gave Charles the use of his extensive library and directed him towards helpful text books. In return Charles gave his mentor refresher classes. (There is considerable disagreement about whether this Robert was the ‘Bonnie Bobby Shafto’ of the well-known song. Robert was a traditional family name of more than one branch of the Shafto family so it’s difficult to be sure. One theory is that the song was originally written earlier about a previous Robert but that further verses were added over the years as it continued to be sung about a succession of members of the family who were in public life. This Robert was certainly Sherriff of Northumberland and may also have been the Robert Shafto painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds.)

On 3 March 1764, Charles published his first book ‘The Schoolmaster’s Guide or a Complete System of Practical Arithmetic’ . The book was praised for its clarity and precision and the second edition, published two years later, became a standard school textbook for at least 60 years.

Bewick Engravings

But it was in Charles Hutton’s next book on measurement, ‘A Treatise on Mensuration both in Theory and Practice’ that he ‘first eminently distinguished himself as a mathematician’. The book, published in 1770, is also notable for the diagrams, which were engraved by a 16 year old Thomas Bewick, at this time an apprentice wood engraver.

Extract from Hutton's book with Thomas Bewick engravings

Extract from Hutton’s book with Thomas Bewick engravings

This volume is evidence of Hutton’s growing reputation: the names of some 600 subscribers who supported its publication, are listed at the front: many are from the North East and include the Duke of Northumberland but others are from as far afield as Aberdeen and Cornwall, many of them schoolteachers.

Further evidence of the esteem in which Hutton was held came when the Mayor and Corporation of Newcastle asked him to carry out a survey of the town. A commission to produce an engraved map, based on the survey, followed and, after the terrible floods of 1771 in which Newcastle’s Medieval bridge was washed away, Hutton was approached to produce calculations to inform the design of its replacement. It included a brief to examine ‘properties of arches, thickness of piers, the force of water against them’. A copy of the original map can still be seen in the Lit and Phil.

And soon an opportunity arose to cement his reputation in London and beyond. A vacancy was advertised for the post of Professor of Mathematics at the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich. It appears that, at first, Hutton, who was at this time by all accounts a modest, shy young man, was reluctant to apply but his mentor, Robert Shafto, persuaded him. He was up against competition of the highest order but was appointed and moved to London. His wife, Isabella, and his four children, remained in Newcastle. Isabella, who died in 1785, is buried in Jesmond Cemetery.

Good company

A string of important works followed including ‘The force of Fired Gunpowder, and the initial velocity of Cannon Balls, determined by Experiments’ for which he won the Royal Society’s Copley Medal, still awarded annually for ‘outstanding achievements in research in any branch of science’ anywhere in the world. The list of winners reads like a ‘Who’s Who’ of the sciences and includes Benjamin Franklin, William Herschel, Humphrey Davy, Michael Faraday, Charles Darwin, Louis Pasteur, Joseph Lister, Ernest Rutherford, Albert Einstein, another adopted Heatonian, Charles Algernon Parsons and, more recently, Francis Crick and Stephen Hawking. Charles Hutton, our former pit hewer, is in good company!

Bust of Charles Hutton by Sebastian Gahagan now in the Lit and Phil

Bust of Charles Hutton by Sebastian Gahagan now in the Lit and Phil

But he didn’t stop there. Hutton’s discoveries, publications and positions of importance are too numerous to mention here but perhaps his greatest achievement was his series of calculations to ascertain the density of the earth.

‘The calculations… were more laborious and, at the same time, called for more ingenuity than has probably been brought into action by a single person since the preparation of logarithmic tables’.

Hutton made the calculations based on measurements taken at Mount Schiehallion in Perthshire by the Astronomer Royal, The Reverend Dr Nevil Maskelyne and his team. Although the result has since been refined, the methodology was a significant scientific breakthrough. A bi-product was Hutton’s pioneering use of contour lines: geographers, cartographers and walkers, as well as mathematicians, have reason to toast the name of Charles Hutton.

Legacy

Our knowledge of Hutton’s personal life is limited, but we do know that he married for a second time and fathered another daughter. Tragedy struck in 1793 when two of his four daughters died. One of them, Camilla, had married a soldier, who was posted to the West Indies. Camilla and her two year old son, Charles, accompanied him but her husband firstly was injured and then contacted yellow fever, a disease to which his wife also succumbed. Young Charles was both orphaned and a prisoner of war until he was rescued by an uncle and taken to his grandfather in London. Hutton, who was, by this time, 58 years old and his second wife, Margaret, brought up the boy as their own and ensured that he received a good education. Although Hutton did not live to see his success, Charles Blacker Vignoles became a bridge and railway engineer of world renown. He pioneered the use of the flat-bottomed rail, which bears his name. Neatly, one of the first lines in Britain to use the Vignoles Rail was the Newcastle – North Shields line through the area in which the grandfather, who was such an influence upon him, grew up.

Geordie to the Last

Charles Hutton himself never came back to Tyneside: although he often said he wanted to return, he suffered persistent ill health in his later years and, according to his letters, he was ultimately deterred by the extreme discomfort he had endured on the journeys of his youth. But he took a great interest in Newcastle’s affairs, regularly corresponding with friends here, remaining a member of the Lit and Phil and regularly supporting a number of local causes financially, among them the Jubilee School in Newcastle and a school teachers’ welfare society. The education of young people in the city of his birth was close to Charles Hutton’s heart right until his death on 27 January 1823 at the age of 85. He deserves to be remembered, especially by Heaton, where he spent some of his formative years.

Sources

Sources consulted include:

A memoir of Charles Hutton by John Bruce, read at the meeting of the Literary and Philosophical Society of Newcastle upon Tyne, May 6 1823

Brief Memoir of Charles Hutton LLD FRS from the Imperial Magazine for March 1823

(both held by the ‘Lit and Phil’.)

Charles Blacker Vignoles: romantic engineer by K H Vignoles; Cambridge University Press, 2010 9780521135399

Many thanks to the Literary and Philosophical Society of Newcastle upon Tyne for permission to publish the photographs of the Andrew Morton painting and Sebastian Gahagan bust, and to the National Portrait Gallery, for permission to reproduce the Benjamin Wyon medal.

Acknowledgements

This article, researched and written by Chris Jackson of Heaton History Group,  is part of Heaton History Group’s project ‘Brains Steam and Speed: 250 years of mathematics, science and engineering in Heaton‘, funded by Heritage Lottery Fund, with additional funding from Sir James Knott Trust and Heaton History Group.

Pupils from local schools will study mathematicians, scientists and engineers associated with Heaton and produce artworks, inspired by what they have learnt, some of which will be exhibited at the People’s Theatre in July 2018.

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