Tag Archives: Newington Road

Shakespearean’s Final Curtain

As soon as the train from Carlisle pulled into Newcastle Central Station, concerned travelling companions carried one of their number to a horse drawn cab which sped to his temporary accommodation less than a mile and a half away in Heaton.

Actor

The unfortunate man was George ‘Osmond’ Tearle, a very well known actor of the time.  George was born in Plymouth on 8 March 1852, the son of Susan Tearle (née Treneman) and her husband, George, a Royal Marine. But he grew up in Liverpool, to where his father had retired and where, from childhood, young George developed an interest in the theatre and, particularly, Shakespeare.

Tearle’s professional debut was in 1869 at the Adelphi Theatre in his home city.  He soon established himself on the London stage and in March 1878, made an acclaimed debut at Newcastle’s Tyne Theatre as Hamlet, a role he is said to have played an incredible 800 times.

In September 1880, now under the name ‘Osmond Tearle’, he  performed in New York for the first time, as Jacques in ‘As You Like It’. He went on to tour America to critical acclaim. 

Osmond Tearle as King John

Tearle’s return to Newcastle in 1885 was billed ‘first appearance in England, after his great American success, of the eminent tragedian’ and he was ‘supported by Miss Minnie Conway from the Union Square Theatre, New York’. ‘Minnie’, whose real name was Marianne Levy, was, by now, Tearle’s second wife. She was from a well-known American theatrical family, whose Shakespearian connections went back at least as far as her grandfather, Englishman, William Augustus Conway (1789-1828), who travelled to the United States in 1823 and appeared as Hamlet and in other tragic roles in New York and other American cities. Back in Britain, there were more rave reviews for Osmond on Tyneside.

Tearle further endeared himself to north easterners with his generosity. For example, he made a donation to a fund for the restoration of Blyth’s theatre after it had been destroyed by fire,  along with an offer of his theatre company’s services to perform at the reopening at which he would forego his share of the receipts. And when touring, he often captained a company cricket team in charity matches including in Hebburn and Whitley Bay.

In 1888, Tearle established his own Shakespearean touring company and, in 1890 and 1891,  he was honoured by being selected to direct the annual festival performances at Stratford-upon-Avon, producing in his first year Julius Caesar and Henry VI part 1 and in the second year King John and The Two Gentlemen of Verona. In between these two events, he played Newcastle’s Theatre Royal with productions of Hamlet, Othello, Richard III, King John, Macbeth and Merchant of Venice. In Hamlet, Minnie played Gertrude and Osmond, of course,  Hamlet.

Tearle’s connections with the area were strengthened in August 1896 when Minnie died and was interred in St Paul’s churchyard, Whitley Bay to be with her sister who was already buried there. When he returned to the Tyne Theatre in July 1898 after an absence of two years, it was noted that he had been seriously ill that spring. Audiences flocked back to see him and the reviews were more glowing than ever. He appeared ‘reinvigorated’. Nevertheless, a few months later, it was reported that he had been ordered to rest by his doctors and that he would sail to South Africa to aid his recovery.

Although he had appeared on stage in Carlisle the week before, this was the context in which, on Sunday 1 September 1901, aged 49, Osmond Tearle arrived in Newcastle.

Lodgings

The cab took the sick actor to number 93,  the end property on South View West. The house, like all the others on the street, faced the railway line. It stood at South View West’s junction with Newington Road but, along with all of the properties west of Stratford Road, has since been demolished.

Location of theatrical boarding house at 93 South View West (2021)

Today there are trees where its front door would have been and its back yard would have been in what is now a corner of Hotspur Primary School’s playing fields. The boarding house was just a few hundred metres away via a still well used pedestrian tunnel under the railway, from Byker’s Grand Theatre, where Osmond Tearle’s company had been booked to perform the following week. The Grand had been opened just five years earlier with a Shakespeare festival.

Living at 93 South View West in 1901 were 39 year old Robert Bell, a wood carver, his wife, Bella, and their four children Herbert, Frederick, Robert and Harry. The Bells took in boarders, specifically those from the theatre. We are sure of this because, apart from Osmond, we know the identity of three actors who were there on census night earlier that year: Clifford Mohan, Walter Cranch and Hubert Clarke. And by 1911, the family had moved to the west end, where they lived even closer to the Tyne Theatre. On the night of that year’s census, they were hosting well known opera singers: Graham Marr, ‘America’s foremost operatic baritone’ whose house on Staten Island has been designated a New York City LGBT Historic Site, and Henry Brindle, a successful English performer.

On Call

The newspapers tell us that soon after Tearle’s  arrival at 93 South View West, Dr Russell of Heaton was summoned to attend to him.

Dr Frank Russell, aged 28, ran a medical practice and lived with his wife, Annie, and young children William and Jessie at 41 Heaton Road. Even on foot, it would have taken under ten minutes to reach a patient on South View West. It was reported that Tearle insisted that he would be well enough to go on stage at the Grand that week, as billed, but Dr Russell insisted that he rest.

By Friday, a further doctor’s visit was deemed necessary. This time Dr Oliver (presumably Thomas Oliver of 7 Ellison Place) attended but could do no more. Osmond Tearle died at his lodgings the following morning. In keeping with theatrical tradition, the show went on. The company  performed ‘Richard III’ at the Grand ‘ but it was obvious that the men and women on stage were labouring under the shadow of an irreparable loss, the influence of which also extended to the audience, as was evidenced by its sympathetic demeanour’. It was noted that ‘two members of Mr Tearle’s family are connected with the company and his youngest son, a youth of very tender years, after having spent the holidays with his father, returned to school at Bournemouth so recently as last Wednesday’.

News of Tearle’s death and extensive obituaries were carried not only by all the national and local papers in the UK but in many across the world, including the USA.

Burial

The following Wednesday, after a brief service at the Bells’ home, conducted by the Vicar of St Silas, Rev J H Ison, Tearle’s funeral cortège travelled to Whitley Bay. Along with family and friends and members of the company, Robert and Bella Bell, in whose home he died, travelled in one of the ‘mourning coaches’. At St Paul’s churchyard they were met by representatives of theatres from throughout the north east and further afield, including Weldon Watts of Newcastle’s Grand Theatre, where the company had been playing the previous week, F Sutcliffe of the Tyne Theatre and T D Rowe of the Palace Theatre.

On Osmond’s memorial stone there is an appropriate line from Shakespeare that the actor must have spoken many times: ‘After life’s fitful fever he sleeps well’ (‘Macbeth‘, Act 3 Scene 2).

And on Minnie’s ‘Flights of angels sing thee to thy rest’ (‘Hamlet’, Act 5 Scene 2).

Brick Shakespeare mural on gable end of 47 South View West

It is fitting too that on the gable end of the final house on South View West in Heaton, a huge, brick mural of William Shakespeare now looks down on the spot, just a few metres away, where George Osmond Tearle breathed his last.

Legacy

Out out, brief candle!

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,

And then is heard no more. ‘

Macbeth’, Act 5 Scene 5

But Osmond Tearle’s short life has not been forgotten. His entry in the Dictionary of National Biography states ‘As a Shakespearean actor, Tearle combined the incisive elocution of the old school and the naturalness of the new. A man of commanding physique and dignified presence, he was well equipped for heroic parts. In later life, he subdued his declamatory vigour and played Othello and King Lear with power and restraint’.

Tearle’s most important legacy was that all three of his sons became actors, the most well-known being Godfrey, 16 year old ‘youth of very tender years’ at the time of his father’s death. He too was predominantly a Shakespearean but he also appeared in some prominent screen roles including that of Professor Jordan in Hitchcock’s ’39 Steps’. Godfrey Tearle was knighted for services to drama in 1951.

And Osmond Tearle now takes his place in our growing Shakespeare Hall of Fame, which also includes:

George Stanley and ‘A Road by Any Other Name’

Colin Veitch and the People’s Theatre

Frank Benson and the Grand Theatre

Acknowledgements 

Researched and written by Chris Jackson, Heaton History Group. Thank you to Arthur Andrews for the photographs taken in St Paul’s churchyard.

Sources 

Ancestry

British Newspaper Archive

Dictionary of British Biography

Wikipedia

Can You Help?

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

Scrannin’ on the Tip

The grandly titled City Stadium is a well-used green space at the south end of Heaton. In all weathers, you’ll find runners, cyclists, walkers, outdoor gymnasts, playing children, allotmenteers and many others enjoying the fresh air and perhaps a coffee.

City Stadium, April 2021 (Copyright: Chris Jackson)
City Stadium, April 2021 (Copyright: Chris Jackson)

But it’s not always been like this. We asked Heaton History Group’s Keith Fisher to delve into the archives and his memory bank to tell its story:

Having friends and associates on both sides of the water, I’ve always been rather impressed with the degree of separation caused by the River Tyne.  Despite the arrival of the tunnel in 1967 and now that I live in North Shields, getting to friends’ homes in South Shields still requires at least thirty minutes of driving (plus tolls) to cover no more than a mile as the crow flies.

What has this got to do with Heaton, you may well ask; well, even today, the Ouseburn valley presents a somewhat similar – albeit less severe – impediment. And 100 years ago it was a distinctly difficult obstacle during journeys east to west and vice versa.  Between the city centre and Heaton there were few options that didn’t require labouring first down and then up a very steep bank.

Uphill Struggle

A typical symptom of the enthusiasm to avoid Byker Bank for example can be seen by the number of people paying the pedestrian toll to cross the Byker Railway Viaduct (yes, folk paid to walk over) which was approximately 72,000 per year.  So the first option was the building of the Byker Road Bridge in 1878 – you had to pay to use that as well, of course.  Admittedly the toll was withdrawn in 1895 when the city corporation bought the bridge and it soon had to be widened because of increased traffic: a very familiar modern-day story. 

The City Road route was relatively level, so you could bypass Byker Bank by crossing over Glasshouse Bridge and cutting across the western edge of Byker and Heaton with only the slope of Albion Row to contend with.  OK, maybe we can consider that as an option, but if you needed to deliver anything by handcart from the town centre to Craigielea on Heaton Road then that was a long way out of your way on a cold and windy day.

I mention pushing heavy laden handcarts because my maternal grandfather, having retired as a lion-tamer in the circus, took to the variety theatre boards and would transport his props on a handcart. His sons, my uncles, were commandeered to labour on his behalf and they complained to me about it until they died.

Fortunately for the waggoneers, in the same year as Byker Road Bridge opened, another improvement arrived, as did so many, from Lord Armstrong: I never stop waxing lyrical regarding his unstinting benevolence, despite his motives being held to doubt in certain quarters.  He had apparently bowed to the demands of Lady Armstrong – who was horrified by the sight of poor old horses dragging carts of coal up Benton Bank – and built Armstrong Bridge at his own expense, before giving it to the city council, insisting it remain toll-free.  

Back in 1900, as far as the council were concerned, a more central route to all the new industries and residencies in Heaton from the town was desirable, but the best that was going to be achieved would still involve a steep bank. 

Shieldfield, like the city centre, is far lower down than the centre of Heaton, and if we think that Warwick Street is steep today, imagine what it must have been like a century ago with a 30 metre deep Ouseburn Valley across its way.  In mitigation, the new route would only be an uphill struggle in one direction; it would create new land for housing development; plus, it would provide a waste disposal facility in the centre of the city for 40 years.

Rubbish

During my youth in the ’50s and ’60s, everyone referred to the City Stadium as ‘The Tip’ because for the previous 40 years it had been the destination of both domestic and commercial refuse while the 100 foot deep valley was brought up to Shieldfield’s level.  We didn’t generate much waste back then, did we?  Couldn’t afford to!

The council’s plan to develop the infilled valley with houses never came to fruition because building regulations stiffened and residential development on infilled land was forbidden.

Concrete

But first, culvert the Ouseburn. And to do that city engineer F J Edge decided that François Hennebique’s system was the method of choice: what we know today as reinforced concrete.  The French Hennebique system was pioneered in this country by L G Mouchel with offices in Jesmond; work was initially executed by engineering firm W T Weir and Co of Howdon.

Actually, my mention of Craigielea on Heaton Road was not without significance.  Its first resident, Joseph Lish, was an early pioneer of reinforced concrete and has many buildings to his name: up here, the best known being the Dove Marine Laboratory in Cullercoats.  As early as 1874, he had exhibited his own invention: ‘Tilo-Concrete’. Lish was prominent in his profession both regionally and nationally. At one stage he was the President of the Society of Architects, whose Gold Medal he was awarded. He died in 1922 at the age of 80.

The Corporation might have saved themselves a great degree of trouble if they had awarded the contract to Lish, and we shall see why as we move on; although I suspect that the real problem was city councillors expecting the impossible by yesterday for no more than the price of a pint of beer and a bag of pork scratchings.

Ouseburn culvert, City Engineers drawing

Looking at the above plan it can be seen that filling up the narrowest portion of the valley came first (‘WORK No.1’). This allowed an extension of Newington Road to link with Starbeck Avenue in Sandyford. It is also apparent that the burn had travelled a good way west before turning towards the Tyne in the south, slowly eroding away the bank and creating the large loop that the engineers by-passed by hugging the steep bank at the end of Stratford Grove.  The shading and black bars are mine.  The following picture shows the original river course in the foreground running left to right.  Also apparent is the height of Newington Road above the valley floor, and it is at the foot of Warwick Street: hard going, even for horses.  

Building the Ouseburn culvert

The tunnel is 2,150 feet long.  Construction used 850 tons of steel and 17,000 cubic yards of concrete.  It is 30 feet wide and 20 feet high; at its apex it is only 8 inches thick, supporting 90 feet – or 2·5 million cubic yards – of compacted waste material.  Started in 1906, it was interrupted by flooding and old colliery workings and became a huge financial embarrassment to the corporation, resulting in a stoppage of work and a change of contractors very early on… sound familiar?

What did they do with the water in the meantime?

There were two pre-existing facilities: one was a large bore sewage pipe heading for the Tyne.  Yes!  Who remembers the smell of the Tyne on hot days before the interceptor sewer was built?  Or what was worse, the smell of the Ouseburn which itself was an open sewer until the middle of the 1970s when a big pipe was buried running from one end of the valley to the other.  It is not always 100% sealed, as many folk will probably be aware when walking past various manholes at certain times, but I still vividly recall, from my early years, the large, open, vertical grills of the outlet pipes choked with unmentionable material that was the norm back then.

The second was a weir and sluice gate in Jesmond Vale – as it happens, mere yards from the beginning of the future culvert – which diverted full-flow water into a mill-race that more or less paralleled the burn, passing alongside the original large lead works, then under the railway bridge where it powered a flint-mill.  That mill does not look big enough to warrant construction of a 3,000 foot long race, so who contributed to the cost? Early maps show nothing definite, even though the race is in existence by 1859.  It’s curious: why take a mill-race all that distance to power a rather insignificant flint-mill that is only yards from the burn itself?  There are many references in old newspaper accounts of ‘washing tubs’ and I suspect they are referring to the mill-race heading for the original lead works before it moved under the railway bridge and straddled the burn itself.  Maps are full of interesting activity around the burn; there are all sorts of mysterious doings – both old and new; and also up the hill a-ways, where we find a huge brick-works I never realised had been there.  The red rectangle on the OS map below indicates the point where the Ouseburn absorbs the Sandyford Burn, coming down the back of Portland Road from Lambert’s Leap on Sandyford Road.  It is now culverted under Grantham Road.

The above picture shows us the sewage pipe (bottom left) carrying its share of the burn while in the distance, top right, can be seen the original route of the burn and mill-race. All of the property visible was compulsorily purchased and demolished; much more, it would turn out, than had been initially anticipated.

The following pictures give us a good idea of the construction process. Reinforcing poured concrete with iron bars is a fairly common sight nowadays but back then it was relatively novel and the entire endeavour was officially photographed for posterity.

The next photo shows tipping activity; and the inset shows ‘scrannin on the tip’ (as it was known) by folks foraging for usable material.  In the background can be seen the slowly submerging parabola of the culvert roof.  Many people will remember the smell of the tip; I can certainly remember the smell of similar activity as they began to widen Lansdowne Gardens at the other end of Jesmond Vale; I believe that was still going on through the ’70s: dreadful!

The Ouseburn tip while the culverting was still underway

All things considered, it was a relatively unsatisfactory project: original cost estimates spiralled out of control; work was halted; suggestions it be abandoned were voiced. The council had been anxious to get cross-roads established as soon as possible: that was achieved in the first six years; and having rapidly built heavily above the Jesmond Vale section, repairs soon became necessary in order to strengthen the walls.  

If you look closely at this aerial photo from 1938 you can see how the extension to Warwick Street was accomplished; it is also apparent why getting an extension from Newington Avenue up to Starbeck Avenue was achieved so quickly as the valley is comparatively narrow at that point. 

The white border on this 1945 photo shows the extent of the area being filled; these two aerial shots indicate the lack of progress during the war years, as it seems it remained untouched; so where was all the rubbish going?

Shelter

Speaking of war: during my youth, many folk told me that the culvert had been an air-raid shelter during the war, as many of them used it – but most of us are completely unaware of the extent of the facilities provided.

Marian Jones describes what must have been the finest public air -raid shelter in existence: a concrete floor was laid across the tunnel sealing off the burn below and thick concrete blast-walls were installed across the entrances. Gangways accessed a space big enough to accommodate up to 3,000 people. As well as lighting, there were benches, bunk-beds, a canteen/shop and a well equipped and manned hospital room.

Susan Bright tells of an office for air raid wardens, a youth club, a religious space, and a staging area for musical performances.  And, in 1943, a library and reading room were added.  Entrances were under the railway bridge and at the foot of Warwick Street, with gangways giving access to the shelter.

 Many people didn’t even wait for the sirens and simply headed down there every night – with blankets, pillows, flasks of tea and cocoa etc – when the bombings were at their worst.  In 1941 this unplanned and intense activity unfortunately led to a crack 100 feet long appearing in the wall of the tunnel and that section had to be cordoned off.  Even so, this was as luxurious an accommodation as was possible during such fearful times; a lot better than those in Anderson Shelters in back gardens or even the Victoria Tunnel.  Better again than the London Underground tunnels, as the culvert shelter was purpose built and exclusive… hence the extraordinary facilities.

Post War

Today’s evidence of the culvert’s existence is decidedly removed from the original construction. When I was a nipper exploring my vast dominion, the entrance to the culvert was mostly unchanged, except for the metal railings preventing access at the Sandyford entrance. You could see the construction but that was all. The exit under Byker Bridge, however looked like this in the early 1960s.

Ouseburn Culvert, 1960s

We little lads can find adventure wherever, along with wet shoes, muddy knees and diphtheria.

Now the picture is very different, most evidence of the entrance and exit has been obliterated, except what you see in my 2021 photos.

The first is the Vale.

Ouseburn Culvert images (Copyright: Keith Fisher)

The south exit is even more inaccessible, which has a lot to do with raves held there around 2017. Ubiquitous graffiti provides further disguise.

Ambitious Plans

With the war over and housebuilding on the tip forbidden, what could be done with the land created by the culverting and levelled by infill? How about a sports stadium? Here’s an ‘Evening Chronicle’ sketch from the 1950s of the plans. 

City Stadium plans from the 1950s

Seating for 86,000 people (Yes, eighty six thousand!) was augmented by a further space for 8,500 standing.  Car parking was to be on three floors below the stands.  Indoor sports, ice rinks (yes, plural), and badminton courts were also planned.  T Dan Smith proposed spending £500,000 to prepare such a stadium for the British Empire Games. (Renamed the British Commonwealth Games by the time 1966, the year he was targeting, came round). ‘The best intentions’ right?  We got a wooden hut and a cinder track, plus the grand name.

Build by Numbers

I passed our – so called – City Stadium on an almost daily basis riding the Number 1 or 2 bus to and from town during the ’60s and early ’70s, and remained mystified by the enormous forest of stone blocks, all numbered in white figures, scattered over the near corner of the unrealised City Stadium.  It turned out they were the Royal Arcade waiting to be resurrected at some future time and place.  I was equally mystified by their disappearance sometime during the ’70s; at least I assume it was then because I was in and out of Newcastle throughout that decade and was gone almost for good by the ’80s: just like the Royal Arcade, the prestigious City Stadium and our Empire!

Now, if you drop by ‘the tip’ you’ll see the unmistakeable signs of gentrification, the most recent phase of the rich history of this patch of Heaton. What went before has almost, but not quite, been forgotten. But should we be making more of our heritage? The Victoria Tunnel has become a tourist attraction. Perhaps I’m biased but I reckon the City Stadium and Ouseburn Culvert has an even more exciting history. Conducted tours anyone?’

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Keith Fisher, Heaton History Group. Thank you to Carlton Reid for information about the washing tubs.’ Photograph of the Victoria Tunnel courtesy of ‘The Evening Chronicle’.

Can You Help?

If you know more this part of Heaton or have memories or photos 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

The author’s personal archives

‘The Ouseburn Culvert and the City Stadium’ by Marian Jones; ‘The Newsletter of the Ouseburn Trust Heritage Group’, Spring 2008.

‘Bridging the Ouseburn’ by Sue Bright; Ancestors Publishing, 2013