Tag Archives: musician

Heaton Voices Tour the World

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

Mary ‘Molly’ Wharton Parkinson

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

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

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

Florrie Hamilton

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

Organiser

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

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

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

Conductor

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

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

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

Heaton Voices

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

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

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

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

Herbert Alderson

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

Margaret Howson

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

Jean Finlay Terry

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

John Charles Hamilton

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

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

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

Experiences

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Attitudes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Afterwards

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

Herbert Alderson 

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

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

Margaret Howson

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

Jean Finlay Terry 

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

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

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

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

Florrie Hamilton

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

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

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

John Charles Hamilton 

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

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

Molly’s Story

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

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

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

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

Full Circle

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

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

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

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

Acknowledgements

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

Other Sources

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ancestry, British Newspaper Archives and other online sources.

Can You Help?

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

Chas and Jimi: Heaton legends

Bryan ‘Chas’ Chandler is one of the most famous of all Heaton’s sons being notable for not one but three famous musical achievements. He was bass player in one of the groups making up the famous ‘British Invasion’ of the USA in the mid-1960s; he discovered and managed two more of the most famous acts of the 1960s and 70s and he left his mark on his home city with an important venue, which has seen concerts by some of the most famous acts in music, since it opened a quarter of a century ago. Yet life for Chandler began in a humble home in Heaton and he was to return there on numerous occasions.

Chas Chandler

Chas Chandler was born in Heaton not long before the outbreak of WW2, on 18 December 1938, and grew up at 35 Second Avenue. Chas attended Heaton Grammar School, before he began work as a turner at the Swan Hunter shipyard and Parsons’ engineering works. However, it was music that really interested young Chas – and it was in the music business that he would make his career.

Animals

In 1962, Chandler, who had learnt to play the guitar and then bass, whilst working as a turner at Swan Hunter, joined the ‘Alan Price Trio’, a band named after the man who would become keyboard player in ‘The Animals‘.

‘The Animals’ went on to play a major part in the British Invasion of the USA in 1964, after ‘The Beatles’ had opened the door for groups from this country. Indeed ‘The Animals’ were only the second British group to have a USA number one, with their electrified version of the traditional American folk song, ‘House of the Rising Sun’. ‘The Animals’‘ bold interpretation of the song didn’t only earn them number one spot, it is also generally considered to have had a huge influence on Bob Dylan, who had recorded an acoustic version of the song on his 1962 debut album, encouraging him to go electric and effectively invent what was to become folk-rock.

However, despite their success with ‘House of the Rising Sun’, the seeds of the demise of ‘The Animals’ were sown immediately. As it was a traditional song, with no known composer, Alan Price, the keyboard player, persuaded their record company to label the recording ‘Trad arr: Alan Price’, claiming that his keyboard solo was, if you excuse the pun, instrumental in the success of the song. This meant that Price got all the royalties on what was a worldwide hit. This caused enormous bitterness with the other four members of the group and it was also claimed that Hilton Valentine’s guitar arpeggio throughout the recording was at least as distinctive as Price’s keyboard playing.

Whatever the arguments, Price left the band and, despite further hits, most notably ‘We’ve Got to Get Out of this Place’, which became the theme song for many a disgruntled American GI in Vietnam, by 1966 ‘The Animals’ were on their last legs. Chandler himself described his feelings in an interview for the BBC series ‘Dancing in the Streets’, when he said that, ‘ it just wasn’t as much fun any more.’

Jimi

By the summer of 1966, ‘The Animals‘ were no more and Chandler was in New York, looking to build a new career as a manager within the rock music business. He was also dating the model Linda Keith at the time. One evening Chandler went to listen to the folk artist, Tim Rose, and was particularly struck by one song he sang: ‘Hey Joe’. Chandler made a mental note to remember that song so that, once he had found a suitable artist, they could record it. It was then that fate stepped in as Linda Keith persuaded Chandler to go and see a young guitarist at the Cafe Wha in Greenwich Village. That guitarist was Jimi Hendrix and one of the songs he played that night was ‘Hey Joe’. The rest as they say is history…

Chandler persuaded Hendrix to come back to Britain with him in September 1966, so that he could be launched on his stellar career. Chandler reported years later that one of the few questions Hendrix had asked was whether there were Marshall amps in Britain. Chandler assured him that there were and soon Chandler and Hendrix were on a flight from New York to London. Once in London a band was formed around Hendrix’s prodigious talents, with Noel Redding joining on bass guitar and Mitch Mitchell joining on drums, to form the ‘Jimi Hendrix Experience’.

It was soon after this time that Hendrix made his connection with Heaton. Chandler brought Hendrix to Newcastle in January 1967. However it was not for an official performance, but for a late-night drinking session at Chas Chandler’s house in Heaton. It is reported that Hendrix lived there with Chandler for a short time. It has often been rumoured that Hendrix even took to the streets, busking on Chillingham Road, while another story has Hendrix busking outside the Raby Arms on Shields Road. Sadly neither photographs or recorded evidence of the music he played have ever been found.

Jimi Hendrix, Newcastle City Hall (Picture: Keith Johnson via Chronicle website)

Hendrix definitely did play in Newcastle, at both the Club a’Gogo in what was then Handyside Arcade on Percy Street and at the City Hall. Indeed his performance at the Club a’Gogo is marked in a rather unusual way on Front Street in Tynemouth. A commemorative plaque records that ‘Jimi Hendrix ate fish and chips from this shop on a bench overlooking the sea after performing at the Club a-Gogo Nightclub, Percy Street, Newcastle, Friday 10th March’ 1967′. The plaque is on Marshall’s chip shop – the same name as the amps Hendrix wanted assurances about back in New York – and also Hendrix’s middle name.

Hendrix was soon to leave both the nightclubs and chip shops of Tyneside behind him to become one of the biggest stars in an already crowded 1960s musical galaxy. Once Hendrix had wowed the crowds at the Monterey Music Festival near San Francisco in the summer of 1967, he was on his way and headlined the huge festivals at Woodstock in 1969 and the Isle of Wight in August 1970. Sadly the last of these festivals was to be the last major performance by Hendrix; he died on 18 September 1970 after an accidental overdose of sleeping tablets in his London home.

Chas Chandler was to hear the news of this tragedy back in his native Newcastle. Getting off a train from London, Chandler was surprised to find his dad waiting for him at the Central Station. As he later recalled, he asked his father why he was there, noting that he had caught the train back to Newcastle from London on many occasions, without his father being there to meet him. Chandler’s father soon let Chas know the sad reason why he was there.

Slade

Chandler continued his management career and soon struck gold again, with a group of four young men from the West Midlands: ‘Ambrose Slade’. Looking for a way to publicise the band, Chandler notoriously decided to get them to get their long hair cut very short and dressed in the boots and braces of the new skinhead cult. It wasn’t a great success. The band’s guitarist Dave Hill later recalled that the skinheads they attracted were less than impressed: expecting to hear their favourite reggae music, they were confronted by a band with a violinist performing a cover version of Paul McCartney’s ballad ‘Martha My Dear’, from ‘The Beatles’’ ‘White Album’.

Soon common sense prevailed: the band regrew their hair, dropped the Ambrose part of their name and, following a minor hit with ‘Get Down and Get With It’, were on the way to massive success, ending the 1970s with six UK number ones, the joint highest number, alongside Swedish superstars ‘Abba’, of any group in that decade.

Just as Hendrix came to Newcastle, so did ‘Slade’. It has been reported that, in 2013, reflecting on his own 50 years in the music business, the band’s frontman, Noddy Holder, said: ‘My manager and producer, Chas Chandler, was from Newcastle and I had a lot of good times in the North East when I went up there…..I can’t remember much about it but I know I had a great time!’

Home

Chandler’s final musical achievement was to leave his native city of Newcastle with a lasting legacy. With his friend and fellow Tyneside-based musician Nigel Stanger, in 1995 he helped to establish the Newcastle Arena (currently the Utilita Arena). Although plans are afoot to replace it with a state of the art venue on Gateshead Quays, the Newcastle Arena has allowed the Tyneside public to see major stars from David Bowie to Bob Dylan and from Neil Young to BB King over the last 25 years. To paraphrase the words of the famous old song from the same blues genre Chandler had started out with back in the late 1950’s, Chandler had ‘brought it all back home’.

Sadly Chas himself was not to see many of these acts come to Tyneside. He passed away from a heart attack in his native Newcastle in July 1996, aged just 57. One of the mourners at his funeral was Al Hendrix, father of Chas’s protege.

A year later Dylan began his set at the Arena Chandler had established with his first rendition of ‘House of the Rising Sun’ in many years in what has been seen as a tribute to Chandler in his home city.

A commemorative plaque adorns the wall of 35 Second Avenue, Heaton which Chandler called home for the first 26 years of his life.

Plaque on wall of 35 Second Avenue

Mike Norton, originally from Hartlepool, lived at Chas’ old flat at 35 Second Avenue from 1992 to 1995. His landlord, John Morton, told Mike a few stories of the days when Chandler owned the property.

John Morton bought the property in the early 1980s with a sitting tenant downstairs, a Mrs Chandler. When Chas used to call and see his mum, she wouldn’t let him smoke in the flat and so he used to enjoy a cigarette on the steps outside. The flat upstairs used to be used by ‘The Animals’ back in the early 1960s.

One of the funnier stories related to when a friend of Mike visited. Knowing the Hendrix connection, he said that he couldn’t leave without using the toilet Jimi had used and so, even though he didn’t really need to, he nipped off to the smallest room before leaving. Mike didn’t have the heart to tell him that a new extension had been built in the 1980s which included the present toilet…

Next?

In addition to Tynemouth, the tiny Moroccan village of Diabat has a similar did he, didn’t he relationship with Hendrix as Heaton – but it unashamedly markets the tenuous connection to great success with at least two cafes named after him which draw visitors from all over the world, perhaps an idea for local entrepreneurs trying to rebuild their businesses following the current pandemic and its economic fallout. In the meantime, we have the music.

Cafe Restaurant Jimi Hendrix, Diabat, Morocco (Chris Jackson)

Can you help?

If you know more about Chas Chandler or Jimi Hendrix’s time in Heaton or have photographs or anecdotes you’d like to share, we’d love to hear from you. You can contact us either through this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or by emailing chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Sources

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chas_Chandler

https://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/news/north-east-news/how-newcastles-chas-chandler-discovered-10386763

https://co-curate.ncl.ac.uk/chas-chandler/

https://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/news/history/how-jimi-hendrix-rocked-newcastle-10079033

‘Dancing in the Streets’ BBC, 1995

Interview with Mike Norton, 21 March 2020

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Peter Sagar of Heaton History Group, with additional material by Chris Jackson. Copyright Pete Sagar and Heaton History Group.

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.

Organ Centenary Concert - Programme

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!

BlackettandHowdenReceiptPrince'sTheatre

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.

Blackett&HowdenTeretGMylesIMG_2086 (1)

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

John Wallace: landscape painter in oils

This evocative detail of ‘Newcastle upon Tyne from the South West’ is available on a greetings card, sold by Tyne and Wear Museums.

 

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

 

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

Journeyman joiner

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

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

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

johnwallaceimg_0002

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

Kingsley Place

By 1891

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Royal Academy

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

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

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

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

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

Postscript

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

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

Acknowledgements

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

Can you help?

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

 

East Side Stories: now that’s what I call the North East!

Dire Straits’ album ‘Brothers in Arms’ was the first original million-selling rock CD and was masterminded by Newcastle-raised musician Mark Knopfler. It is just one landmark in the wealth of pop and rock music that this region has given to the world.

At our December event, music historian Chris Phipps will help us celebrate decades of North East hits – from ‘The Blaydon Races’ via The Animals and Lindisfarne, through the 80s Tyneside music TV revolution of  ‘The Tube’  and beyond, revealing the stories behind the songs you have bought, danced or smooched to.

He will show how the Tyne and its heritage has vitally inspired Mark Knopfler, Eric Burdon, Sting, Alan Hull. Jimmy Nail and many others, not least Heaton’s Chas Chandler and, if popular mythology is to be believed, Jimi Hendrix himself.

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Commemorative plaque on the Heaton house where Chas Chandler grew up

 

Chris was co-producer of ‘The Tube’ and has made award-winning documentaries for radio and television, including ‘North Stars’, ‘Chris Rea – Hard is the Road’, ‘Bryan Ferry’s Jazz Age’, ‘The Battle for Byker’ and ‘The Led Zeppelin Story’, so expect many of his stories to be exclusive and anecdotal – many told for the first time.

And feel free to bring along your own personal memories of classic North East gigs too!

To book

The talk will take place at The Corner House, Heaton Road, NE6 5RP on Wednesday 14 December 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 5 October.

The signalman and his daughter

Little did we think, when we published ‘Dead Man’s Handle’, the story of a railway accident that took place almost ninety years ago, that we’d be put in touch with someone who clearly remembered that night – and so much more besides. Olive Renwick was born in September 1916, so she is now approaching her 99th birthday – and she has lived in Heaton all her life.

Olive as a young child

Olive as a young child

The signalman

Olive is the daughter of Isabella and Francis Walter (Frank) Topping. Frank was the signalman who, on 8 August 1926, saw a passenger train coming towards his box at full speed seconds before it crashed into a goods train near Manors Station. Olive was nine years old at the time and reminded us that nobody had phones back then and so when her father didn’t return from work, the family could only sit and wait. ‘My mother didn’t send my sister and me to bed’ she remembered ‘I think she was worried and wanted company’.

The train hit the box in which her father worked, damaging one of its supporting ‘legs‘ but luckily Frank Topping escaped unscathed. He alerted the emergency services and helped rescue passengers before eventually arriving home to his anxious family. ‘But he thought he was a goner’ said Olive. You can read the full story here: Dead Man’s Handle

Olive told us more about her father: he was Heaton born and bred, growing up on Simonside Terrace.

NorthViewSchool? incFrank Topping

North View School, 1890s?

On this school photo, he is second from the left on the back row. ‘I think it might be North View School but I’m not sure’. (Does anybody know?) Frank had started his career on the railways in 1900, aged 16, as a learner signal lad.  ‘I was always very proud of him. He was trusted with one of the biggest signal boxes, with four lines to look after.’

But he didn’t remain a signalman. Frank became branch secretary of Newcastle Number 2 NUR branch, senior trustee for the Passenger Signalmen’s Provident Society and was, for almost 20 years from 1931, Secretary of the NER Cottage Homes and Benefit Fund. Locally, in 1911 he was ordained an Elder of Heaton Presbyterian Church, then a session clerk from 1946 until shortly before he died. In WW2, he served in the Home Guard.

Frank Topping, Home Guard, 1942

Frank Topping, Home Guard, 1942

Olive showed us photographs and newspaper cuttings relating to her father including an account, with photographs, of him opening railway cottages in Hartlepool on a street named after him.

Frank Topping officially opening railway cottage in Topping Close, Hartlepool

Frank Topping officially opening a railway cottage in Topping Close, Hartlepool

She had also kept a tribute, published in a railway magazine after his death, in which her father was praised for:

‘ his inimitable character, his understanding and judgement, his forthright speaking, his general cheerfulness and his desire to help his fellow man’

Francis Topping died in 1957.

Olive’s childhood

It was fantastic to find out more about Frank Topping and to hear Olive’s memories of her father but we couldn’t pass up on the opportunity to hear more from someone who has lived in Heaton for almost a century. Imagine the changes she has seen.

Olive was born on Warton Terrace but spent most of her childhood on Ebor Street and then Spencer Street, ‘The railway terraces. In those days, you had to be on the railways to live there’.

Olive with her brother, Rob, outside their house in Ebor Street.

Olive with her brother, Rob, outside their house in Ebor Street.

Olive (right) with her sister Sybil, Ebor St c1923

Olive (right) with her sister Sybil, Ebor St c1923

She remember the street traders, who sold all manner of things on the front street and back lanes. And, like Jack Common, a few years earlier, she recalls itinerant musicians: ‘women, they were usually women, in shawls, women who were poorer than us, who came round door to door, singing and collecting money.’

As a child, Olive was allergic to cow’s milk. She remembers that her mother walked to Meldon Terrace everyday with a jug to collect milk from a woman who kept a goat in her back yard.

One of her earliest memories was climbing on the cannons that used to stand in Heaton Park. She cut her leg badly and, because she feared her parents would be annoyed with her, dashed straight to the outside toilet in the hope of stemming the flow of blood. Naturally though she couldn’t hide the injury for long. ‘I was carried off to hospital for stitches. And my father wrote to the council to complain the cannons were dangerous’ Olive told us, ‘And soon after they were removed!’

Olive on the cannon in Heaton Park

Olive on the cannon in Heaton Park

‘And I remember my mother taking me to the Scala for a treat to see “Tarzan” but I ran up and down the aisle, shouting “Tarzan!” and had to be taken home in disgrace’. (This must have been an older version than the famous Johnny Weismuller films of the 1930s and ’40s, perhaps ‘The Adventures of Tarzan‘ (1921), the silent movie version which starred Elmo Lincoln.)

Scala cinema Chillingham Road

Olive attended Chillingham Road School and later Heaton High:

Olive (middle) & friends in Heaton High uniform, late 1920s

Olive (middle) & friends in Heaton High uniform, late 1920s

The original buildings of what became Heaton Manor School

The original buildings of what became Heaton Manor School

‘I was in my first year when the King and Queen came to officially open the school.

King and Queen open Heaton Secondary Schools, 1928

King and Queen open Heaton Secondary Schools, 1928

We were all gathered in the hall and Miss Cooper, the head teacher, told us that the queen would be presented with a “bookie”. What on earth’s a bookie, I wondered. Only later did I realise she meant a bouquet!’

And she remembers, without much fondness, the many rail journeys of her childhood. ‘With my father’s job, the whole family enjoyed subsidised travel.. I say “enjoyed” but I hated it. We went all over, to places like Edinburgh, but trains made me sick: it was the smell. So I wasn’t allowed to sit in the carriage. I was banished to the guard’s van – with a bucket. I can still smell that smell now – and it still makes me feel sick!’

Coincidence

It was as we were leaving that Olive mentioned, in passing, her maternal grandparents: that they were called Wood, came originally from Ayton in Berwickshire, lived in Seventh Avenue and that her mother’s uncle Bob (Walker) grew potatoes on a field near Red Hall Drive. Could they be the same Woods that we’d researched and written about as part of our ‘Heaton Avenues in Wartime’ project. Surely they must? And indeed they were.

Isabella and David Wood

Isabella and David Wood

On a return visit, Olive told us more about her grandparents, David and Isabella Wood. She confirmed that they had an allotment on railway land. She told us about visits to her great aunts in Ayton and she recounted family stories about a visit to her Uncle Robert in hospital, where he was to die from wounds received on the battlefield. Best of all, she was able to show us photographs of both grandparents, more of which we will add to the article ‘The Woods of Seventh Avenue’.

It’s been a pleasure to meet Olive,  pictured here with daughters, Julia and Margaret, in 1953:

Olive with daughters, Julia and Margaret in 1953

Olive with daughters, Julia and Margaret in 1953

And here in 2015:

Margaret, Olive and Julia, 2015

Margaret, Olive and Julia, 2015

We hope that we’ll meet again soon and that she’ll be able to add even more to our knowledge of Heaton’s history.

Can you help?

If you have knowledge, memories or photographs of Heaton you’d like to share, we’d love to hear from you. Either contact us via the website by clicking on the link immediately below the title of this article or email 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

The musical ‘spies’ of Tenth Avenue

On 11 August 1914, only a week after Britain had joined World War 1, newspapers right across a country on edge reported that two brothers ‘British born but of foreign extraction’ had been arrested and charged under the Official Secrets Act.

Beers brothers at Tynemouth photo collage reimagining

Photo collage reimagining by Heaton History Group member, Janet Burn

A young sea scout from North Shields said he’d seen them, along with a third man, direct a camera at the fortifications at Tynemouth. In court he said that at 7 o’clock the previous Sunday he had seen three men, two of whom were in the dock, proceeding along the sands towards the castle. One of them had a camera. They were playing with a ball. Afterwards they sat down in a circle. The scout said he was unable to see the camera at this point. He kept observation on them and afterwards saw them upon a seat. One of them put the camera on his knee and against his breast, pointing it towards the fortifications. He tried to conceal the camera with one hand. The scout added that he at once reported the matter and the men were arrested.

In the dock, the accused were asked if they understood English. ‘We ARE English’ was the reply. ‘We were born in Newcastle’. Asked about their occupations, the elder brother replied that he was ‘engaged at a picture hall in Newcastle’; while the younger said he was in a Whitley Bay orchestra. Both men were remanded in custody for eight days.

The following day they appeared in court again. The Chief Constable said that he had made careful enquiries. They were respectable young men and he asked that they be discharged. Nevertheless, the Mayor, Councillor Gregg, didn’t absolve the brothers from all blame. He said they had brought the trouble on themselves through their own foolishness: had they been more frank at the time, they would not have been in that position. Both young men thanked the magistrate and left the court.

Similar incidents were taking place all over the country. Everyone was nervous; people didn’t really know what form the war would take; there was, as yet, no trained ‘home guard’ and boy scouts, in particular, had been asked to help with the war effort by reporting anything suspicious. We might draw parallels with the aftermath of 9/11.

Who were the brothers?

The two young men were Leo Luke (25) and Aloysius Anthony (21) Beers of 18 Tenth Avenue, Heaton.

Cartoon by Robin Beers, Aloysius's grandson

Cartoon by Robin Beers, Aloysius’s grandson

As was eagerly noted in the news reports, they were indeed of ‘foreign extraction’. Their father Simon Hubertus Beers was Dutch, although he had lived in Britain for over 50 years, having been brought to Britain by his parents as a teenager. He had married a Liverpudlian, Elizabeth Hughes, and eventually settled in the North East. Simon too was a musician as was his father before him. His sister was a singer and at least one of his bothers was a musician too.

By 1891 the family (Simon, Elizabeth and three children Adrian, Hubert and Leo) were living in Heaton, at 30 Kingsley Place and by 1901, Elizabeth had died and the family had moved to 64 Meldon Terrace. Simon had been left with 6 children. On census night, 1901 Simon was at home with 3 of them and a housekeeper: Adrian, now 16 was described as a merchant’s clerk and Joseph (9) and Aloysius (7) were at school.

By 1911, Simon and the children still living at home, Leo (22), Joseph (19), Aloysius (18) and Bernard (17) were at 18 Tenth Avenue. They are all described as ‘professors of music’. Simon is said to be self-employed; Leo, Joseph and Bernard play in theatre orchestra and Aloysius is at this point out of work. Although the boys went their separate ways, Simon continued to live on Tenth Avenue for 20 more years. He died there on 6 February 1931 at the age of c86.

Leo’s story

Leo Luke Beers was born on 18 October 1888 and baptised ten days later at St Dominic’s on Shields Road. Beyond knowing that he grew up in a large and very musical household and that he lost his mother as a young boy, we know little of Leo’s childhood. However, online records and archival material afford us tantalising glimpses into his life following being branded, albeit briefly, an alien and a spy.

We don’t know whether the arrest and the attendant publicity was a factor but it wasn’t long before Leo left Newcastle. In September 1915, the Bath Chronicle, announcing the famous Pump Room Orchestra for the forthcoming season, introduced its new first violin: ‘Mr Leo Beers… has been the leader and principal violin of the Theatre Royal, Newcastle’.

Three months later, records show that Leo had enlisted for the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry. This was before the Military Service Act, 1916 introduced conscription and so presumably, Leo volunteered. However, two months later, in February 1916, by which time the Act had been passed, he applied for exemption from military service on personal and domestic grounds but asked for his appeal to be considered in private. The tribunal agreed and later announced that a temporary certificate of exemption on domestic grounds would be granted. That April, it was reported that Leo’s appeal had been heard privately by Bath City Tribunal but had been adjourned until 1 May for further enquiries to be made. Luke’s military record card shows only that he was discharged on 28 August 1918 ‘no longer fit for duty’.

The next glimpse we have is some nine years after the war ended, by which time Leo was 38 years old. On 17 June 1927, he set sail from Liverpool to Quebec as a member of the ship’s orchestra, returning two weeks later. Interestingly in the ten strong ensemble, there were two other musicians from Heaton: Vincent Caygill of 19 Heaton Grove and John Robert Young of 149 Rothbury Terrace.

Leo Beers in later life

Leo Beers in later life

Leo spent the latter part of his life living in London. He died in December 1975 in Kensington.

Wishy’s story

Aloysius Anthony Beers was born on 1 November 1892 and he was baptised on 13 November, also at St Dominic’s. Like his brother, Aloysius didn’t stay in Heaton long after the start of the war. By December 1915, he was living in Glasgow and was married to Margaret Paterson, a ‘mantle maker’. On 6 January 1916, just four weeks after their wedding, their son Adrian was born. Aloysius too played in a ship’s orchestra at one stage. He sailed from Glasgow to Montreal in April 1931.

Aloysius Beers (extreme right) with other members of a ship's orchestra

Aloysius Beers (extreme right) with other members of a ship’s orchestra

We know too that in the years following World War 2, the brothers were reunited again. For a time, Leo was living with Aloysius, Margaret and other family members in London.

It’s because his son became at least the fourth generation to inherit the Beers family’s musical talent that we can add some colour to the raw data from the archives. Aloysius was referred to in Adrian’s obituaries as ‘Aloysius ‘Wishy’ Beers, ‘a Glaswegian’ (though we know, of course, that he was in fact originally a Geordie!) double-bass player who taught his son to play cello, piano and double bass and played with him in Glasgow music halls. Adrian became a classical musician of the highest order. He played in world famous orchestras and ensembles and was a good friend of Benjamin Britten. The Melos Ensemble, of which he was a founding member, played at the 1962 premier of Britten’s ‘War Requiem’ in the newly rebuilt Coventry Cathedral on 30 May 1962, the original cathedral having been destroyed in World War 2.

Aloysius’s granddaughter, Jackie Khan, has kindly provided Heaton History Group with additional information about the family. She told us that that Leo and Aloysius’s elder brother Hubert was a musical hall artist who used the stage name Jock Macpherson.

Brother Joseph John Septimus Beers (born 8 April 1891) was, like Luke, a professional violinist until he enlisted with the 2nd Battalion King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry. He died in active service on 10 July 1917. He is buried in Coxyde Military Cemetery in Belgium. Jackie said: ‘Joseph was killed in Flanders on the battlefield in 1917, found shell-shocked, sitting holding his hands over his ears, with fright on his face, dead’.

Sketch by Heaton History Group member, Mark James

Sketch by Heaton History Group member, Mark James

We don’t know whether Adrian’s father, Aloysius, was in the audience at the premier of ‘War Requiem’ but his son performing this powerful anti-war piece of music on such a symbolic national occasion will have been emotional for him, as he recalled not only his own wartime experiences but also his brother’s death.

Aloysius died just a few weeks later on 25 June 1962 at the age of 69. Adrian was awarded an MBE in 1990 for services to music and died in 2004.

Postscript

But that’s not the end of the story. The Beers musical genes have been passed down another two generations. Aloysius’s great-granddaughter and Adrian’s granddaughter is a very talented pianist and composer. Jean Beers has just spent a year as Composer in Residence at Eton College where she composed a piece of music for a symphony orchestra, commemorating World War One and inspired by the death of her great great uncle, Joseph John Septimus Beers.

Her aunt, Jackie Khan, who kindly found photographs of Leo and Aloysius and commissioned her brother, Robin, to produce a sketch especially for our website and exhibition, said; ‘They [the Beers of Heaton] would be very proud of her, as would her grandfather.’

Music continues to thrive in Heaton too, of course. Fittingly, there is even a well-established and still flourishing ensemble called ‘Tenth Avenue Band’, founded in 1988 at Chillingham Road School on the very avenue where the Beers had lived.

Heaton Avenues in Wartime

Heaton History Group has been awarded Heritage Lottery Fund funding to enable it to research and recount the impact of World War One on a Tyneside neighbourhood. If you would like to get involved by helping with research, illustrating the stories we uncover, mounting exhibitions or organising events – or if you have information relating to WW1, especially relating to Heaton, including First to Tenth Avenues, please contact: Chris Jackson, Secretary, Heaton History Group via chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

There is a related exhibition of original documents and artworks in the lounge bar of the Chillingham pub on Chillingham Road. It is planned to run until May 2016. The display will change approximately every two months.