Tag Archives: Ninth Avenue

VAD Nurses in Heaton’s Avenues

Following the end of the Boer War, the War Office was concerned that, in the event of another conflict, the medical and nursing services wouldn’t be able to cope sufficiently. The peacetime needs of a standing army, in relation to medical care, were very small and specific, and to find thousands of trained and experienced personnel at very short notice, without the expense of maintaining them in peacetime, was a difficult problem to overcome. On 16 August 1909 the War Office issued its ‘Scheme for the Organisation of Voluntary Aid in England and Wales’, which set up both male and female Voluntary Aid Detachments to fill certain gaps in the Territorial medical services. By early 1914, 1757 female detachments and 519 male detachments had been registered with the War Office.

VAD recruitment poster

VAD recruitment poster

When war came, the Red Cross and Auxiliary hospitals sprung up rapidly in church halls, public buildings and private houses, accommodating anything from ten patients to more than a hundred. The proportion of trained nurses in the units was small, and much of the basic work was the responsibility of the VADs – they cleaned, scrubbed and dusted, set trays, cooked breakfasts; they lit fires and boiled up coppers full of washing. They also helped to dress, undress and wash the men – which was of course a big step for young women who may never have been alone and unchaperoned with a member of the opposite sex before, other than their brothers.

There were about 50,000 women involved in the movement immediately before the war, and it’s thought that in total somewhere between 70,000 and 100,000 women served as VADs at some time during the war, some for very short periods, some for up to five years.

As part of the commemoration of the centenary of World War 1, the Red Cross has been digitising its VAD records, which has allowed us to identify three VAD nurses living in the avenues as well as two male members of voluntary aid detachments, shedding some light on their lives and contributions as well as the role that they played during the war.

The English Family

The English family lived at 30 Third Avenue, Heaton. The 1911 census shows Robert English (55), a plumber, and his wife, Isabella (48), had four children living at home, twins Annie and Mary Jane (28), Isabella (20) and William 18.

In 1911, William was working as a stained glass designer. On 29 October 1915, aged 22, he enlisted in the army. His military record describes him as 5’ 8” in height and weighing 7st 8lbs. His physical development was described as ‘spare’, with a chest measurement of 33 1/2 inches. It was noted that his sight was defective, except when wearing spectacles. He also had slight varicose veins. These were deemed as slight defects that were not significant enough to cause rejection. Given his physical development, it is perhaps not surprising that he was placed into the Royal Army Service Corps rather than a combat roll.

Four days after enlisting, on 1 November 1915, William married Lillian Phillips at St Gabriel’s Church. The next day, he joined his regiment at Aldershot. What is interesting about William, is not his relatively unremarkable military career, but that both his sister, Mary Jane, and his new wife, Lillian, were to go on to become VAD nurses.

Mary Jane English and the Liverpool Merchants’ Hospital

Mary Jane saw service with the VAD from 2 October 1915 to 12 November 1917 and is listed as a sister, although it’s not clear whether this meant she was a qualified nurse. Interestingly, the 1911 census does not show any employment for Mary, although it is possible that she trained as a nurse between then and the start of the war. Mary was posted to the No 6 Hospital of the British Red Cross in Etaples, also known as the Liverpool Merchants Hospital. She was awarded the 1915 star for her service.

The Liverpool Merchants’ Hospital was constructed and equipped from funds raised by members of the Liverpool Chamber of Commerce, making it unique. The hospital opened at the end of July 1915 and treated over 20,000 people during the course of the war at a cost of some £90,000. s a Base Hospital, the hospital had 252 beds and formed part of the casualty evacuation chain, further back from the front line than the Casualty Clearing Stations. In the theatre of war in France and Flanders, the British hospitals were generally located near the coast. They needed to be close to a railway line, in order for casualties to arrive; they also needed to be near a port where men could be evacuated for longer term treatment in Britain.

Staff of the Liverpool Merchants' Hospital

Staff of the Liverpool Merchants’ Hospital where Mary Jane English served

A report from the ‘Liverpool Courier’ in January 1920 gives a description of the facilities: ‘There were eight pavilion wards, each to accommodate 27 patients, with their own nurses’ duty rooms, sink, stores and cupboards, also large linen store; and each ward had attached to it a two-bed ward for special cases. Each large ward had also its own bath and lavatory. The operation block and the kitchen block were situated in the centre of the hospital. The operation block contained also X-ray room with dark room attached, an anaesthetic room, preparation room, operating theatre, dispensary, laboratory, medical store room, splint room, quarter-master’s and matron’s store rooms and ambulance stores.’

The article closes by saying:

‘Let it be recorded to the everlasting glory of Liverpool that the Merchants’ Hospital, the only military hospital which has been “designed, built, equipped, staffed, managed, and financed” entirely by the citizens of a particular city, has never been prevented from the fullest performance of the duties for which it was devised by lack of funds.’

This last fact is particularly interesting, as all of the records show that the hospital was staffed exclusively by the people of Liverpool. It’s not clear what relationship the English family had with Liverpool, or indeed if the necessities of war meant that this particular point was overlooked in the interests of providing a service.

Lillian English and the Australian Hospital

Lillian English married William on 1 November 1915. She was the youngest daughter of Alfred and Sarah Phillips of West Jesmond. The 1911 census shows Alfred as a letterpress machine overseer in the printing industry, with 19 year old Lillian working as an assistant at a music dealer and her older step sister Mary Gregory (28) working as a booksewer in a bookbinder’s. After their marriage, Lillian continued to live at her parents’ home, 34 Mowbray Street, Heaton and William’s military record was amended to show this as his address. The couple continued to live with Lillian’s parents for several years after the war.

Perhaps inspired by the experiences and contribution of her sister-in-law, Mary, Lillian also joined the Voluntary Aid Detachment on 6 March 1918, some four months after Mary returned from Etaples. Lillian’s stay in the service was however somewhat shorter, as she was discharged one month later on 8 April 1918. This initially caused us much speculation. Typically, VAD nurses would have one month probation and it appeared at first that either she was considered unsuited for the work or could not herself cope with it. However, the answer to her hasty departure became apparent when we discovered that William and Lillian’s only daughter, Monica, was born 12 November 1918. Obviously conceived during William’s leave, Lillian must have been about four weeks pregnant when she took up her post, a fact that would have become apparent during her brief placement, leading to her premature return home. Lillian spent her brief assignment with the VAD posted to the Australian Hospital, Harefield.

Some of the buildings at Harefield Park

Some of the buildings at Harefield Park where Lillian English served

In November 1914 Mr and Mrs Charles Billyard-Leake, Australians resident in the UK, offered their home, Harefield Park House and its grounds, to the Minister of Defence in Melbourne for use as a convalescent home for wounded soldiers of the Australian Imperial Forces (AIF). The property became the No. 1 Australian Auxiliary Hospital in December 1914. It was the only purely Australian hospital in England. The Hospital consisted of Harefield Park House, a 3-storey plain brick building, some out-buildings and grounds of some 250 acres. It was proposed that the Hospital would accommodate 60 patients in the winter and 150 in the summer. It would be a rest home for officers and other ranks, and also a depot for collecting invalided soldiers to be sent back to Australia. As Harefield Park House could only accommodate a quarter of the number expected, hutted wards were built on the front lawn, and a mess hall for 120 patients in the courtyard.

As the war progressed the hospital grew rapidly, becoming a general hospital. At the height of its use it accommodated over 1000 patients and the nursing staff had expanded to 74 members. Nearly 50 buildings were in use, including workshops, garages, stores, messes, canteens, a recreation hall (where concerts and film shows were held), a billiards rooms, writing rooms, a library, a cookhouse, a detention room and a mortuary. For entertainment, tours to London were arranged and paid for out of canteen funds, and the ladies of the district made their cars available for country trips, picnics and journeys to and from the railway station, both for patients and visitors. The hospital gradually closed down during January 1919 and the whole site was sold to Middlesex County Council who planned to build a tuberculosis sanatorium. The site is now the site of Harefield Hospital.

Irene Neylon

Mary Irene Neylon was born in 1881 in Ireland. Somewhere around the end of the 19th Century, Irene and her sister Susannah moved to Newcastle, possibly to join their Uncle James, a wine and spirit manager living in Jesmond. Irene lived at 60, Third Avenue, with her sister and her husband John William Carr and their family. She never married and remained at Third Avenue until her death on 16 March 1947, where probate records show that she left effects to the value of £164 3s.

Irene was working as a shop clerk at the time of the 1901 census, but by 1911 had trained as a nurse and was working at the Infirmary of the Newcastle upon Tyne Workhouse (later to become Newcastle General Hospital). Between 27 February 1917 and 20 January 1919 Irene is listed on the Red Cross Records as being a VAD Nurse. Unfortunately, Irene’s record only lists her placement as T.N. dept, so it’s not clear exactly where she was posted. However, we do know that part of the infirmary was taken over by the army to treat venereal diseases, with beds for 48 officers and 552 other ranks, so it is possible that she continued to work at the same location but with a different employer. What sets Irene apart from the other VAD members in the Avenues is that she was, as a qualified nurse, a paid employee, earning £1 1s per week when she joined, rising to £1 4s 10d when she was discharged.

Irene Neylon's VAD record card

Irene Neylon’s VAD record card

Life as a VAD Nurse

‘Do your duty loyally
Fear God
Honour the King

And only the Master shall praise us, and only the Master shall blame.
And no one shall work for money, and no one shall work for fame,
But each for the joy of working, and each in his separate star,
Shall draw the thing as he sees it for the God of things as they are.’

These were the final inspirational comments of a message from the Commander in Chief of the VAD, Katherine Furse. The message was handed to each VAD nurse before they embarked. The message was to be considered by each V.A.D. member as confidential and to be kept in her Pocket Book.

The nurses were subject to full military discipline and required to assist in any way they could, with only minimal training. Given that we know that Harefield, for example, only had 74 nurses for its 1000 beds, it’s safe to assume that VAD nurses would have been carrying out most of the care. They wore a distinctive blue uniform with a white apron and sleeves and a red cross on the apron to distinguish them from other nursing staff.

VAD uniform

VAD uniform

The rules they were expected to work to included detail around personal cleanliness and presentation, including gargling morning and evening, but especially in the evening with carbolic, 1 in 60; listerine, 1 teaspoonful to 5 oz. water; glyco-thymoline and water, ½ and ½. They also advised combing the hair with a fine toothed comb every day!

There are several contemporary accounts of the lives of VAD nurses, including this from Kathleen Marion Barrow, who worked at a base hospital in France, similar to that where Mary Jane English worked:

‘In France, when convoy after convoy poured in, and when one piteous wreck after another, whose bandages were stiff with mud and blood, had been deposited on a clean white bed; the extent of a VAD’s work was bound to be decided far more by the measure of her capacity than by rule of seniority, or red tape. Matron and sisters soon discovered those whose skill, quickness and level-headedness, justified trust. In every new venture there are few who have not to walk for a space some time or other in the Valley of Humiliation, the military hospitals in France were a magnificent school, not only for actual nursing, but for self-control and nerve.’

She also talks of the comradeship and the humour amidst the pain and tragedy: ‘One recalls the dummy – carefully charted and hideously masked – which was tucked into bed for the benefit of the VAD and orderly when they came on night duty, and the stifled laughter under the bedclothes in adjoining beds. One recalls, too, the great occasions when some Royal or notable person came to visit the wards. Then we spent ourselves in table decorations, emptied the market of flowers, or ransacked the woods and meadows for willow or catkins, ox-eyed daisies or giant kingcups. Incidentally, we made the boys’ lives a burden to them by our meticulous care in smoothing out sheets, tucking in corners, and repairing the slightest disorder occasioned by every movement on their part, till the occasion was over. Sometimes the expected visitor did not turn up, and when another rumour of a projected visit was brought into the ward by a VAD, she was hardly surprised to find that her announcement was greeted on all sides by the somewhat blasphemous chorus of “Tell me the old, old story.” ‘

Male VAD members

Interestingly, our search for VAD nurses on the avenues identified two male members of Voluntary Aid Detachments: William Holmes and Richard Farr, both members of the St Peter’s Works Division, allocated to air raids, coast defences and convoys and employed as part of the St John’s Ambulance Brigade’s 6th division.

William Holmes, aged 51 at the start of the war, lived at 25, Eighth Avenue, with his wife Maria and five children, three of them, Harriet, William and Mary being adults.

Richard Farr, aged 32 at the start of the war, lived at 45, Second Avenue, with his wife Mary and nine year old daughter Madge.

Both were marine fitters and joined the detachment on 4 August 1914. William was too old to fight, but it’s not clear whether Richard was subsequently called up, although it is possible, given the nature of their work, that they would have been exempted. Although it was not a naval base as such, Tyneside played a huge role in World War One. A third of all the battleships and more than a quarter of the destroyers completed for the Admiralty were built here. Many other naval vessels were repaired on the Tyne particularly after the Battle of Jutland. There were no fewer than 19 shipyards on the Tyne at the outbreak of war, and five of them were big enough to build warships. Hawthorn Leslie alone built 25 royal navy vessels during the war.

Unlike the VAD nurses, the role that William and Richard would have played is much less clearly documented, although it is clear that they were expected to work on an as required basis, most likely dealing with emergencies and possibly manning coastal monitoring stations such as those at Blyth and Tynemouth.

That we have identified five Voluntary Aid Detachment members just from the ten Heaton Avenues* perhaps gives some indication of scale of the enterprise. What is even more startling is to recognise that the women in particular came from all walks of life and, with very few exceptions, worked, often for a number of years, on a purely voluntary basis, receiving no pay and little recognition for their huge commitment to the war effort.

Heaton Avenues in Wartime

This article was researched and written by Michael Proctor, with additional input from Arthur Andrews, for Heaton History Group’s ‘Heaton Avenues in Wartime’ project, which has been funded by Heritage Lottery Fund.

*Postscript

Since this article was written, the Red Cross has continued to post the names of VAD volunteers and so far we have found four more from Heaton’s avenues:

Annie Maud Monaghan, 90 Second Avenue

Lillian Rankin, 21 First Avenue

Annie Isabella Richardson, 55 Tenth Avenue

William Ernest Statton, 27 Ninth Avenue

Those from elsewhere in Heaton include:

Margaret Dora Burke, 146 Trewhitt Road (who served in France)

Mary Douthwaite, Woodlands, Alexandra Road, who served in France and was mentioned in dispatches (30/12/1918)

Mary Haswell, 7 Stratford Villas (who served in France)

Kate Ogg, originally of 21 Bolingbroke Street, who died of influenza on 23 February 1919 while on active duty

Mary Sharpley, 3 Jesmond Vale Terrace, who served in Egypt and was mentioned in dispatches (5/3/1917)

Plus:

Mollie Allen, 62 Chillingham Road

Thomas Atkinson, Street 150 Hotspur Street

Ralph Boyd 160 Warwick Street

Hannah Buttery, 28 Sefton Avenue

John D Cant, 19 Trewhitt Road

Margaret Clare Checkie, 88 Bolingbroke Street

Mary Cowell, 36 Wandsworth Road

Margaret Annie Douthwaite, 3 Alexandra Road

Ernest Edward England, 99 Rothbury Terrace

Mary P Field, Silverdale, Lesbury Road

Gertrude Fotherby, Silverdale, Lesbury Road

Florence Garvey, 9 Meldon Terrace

Alberta Louise Gerrie, 137 Addycombe Terrace

Robert G Horne, 64 Balmoral Terrace

Gladys Mary Miller, 16 Bolingbroke Street

Hilda Oliver, Bellegrove, Lesbury Road

Jane Ethel Park, Westville, Heaton Road

Mary Isabella Roberts, Heaton Hall

E D Scott, 21 King John Terrace

Eva May Stroud, Cresta, Heaton Road

W Theobold, 39 Cardigan Terrace

Matthew Tulip, 13 King John Street

Elizabeth H Turner, 22 Bolingbroke Street

Jennie Walton, 10 Falmouth Road

Laura Whitford, 17 Guildford Place

Irene Helena Whiting, Cresta, Heaton Road

J Wilson, 101 Warwick Street

Can you help?

If you know more about any of the people mentioned in this article, please get in touch either by posting directly to this site by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or by emailing Chris Jackson, Secretary of Heaton History Group at chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Newcastle’s War Hospitals

Newspaper articles from the First World War documented many gifts from the public to war hospitals in Newcastle. These included: a muffler, games, two pairs of socks, one pair of bedsocks, magazines and stationery from Mrs Lumley of Sixth Avenue on behalf of the British Women’s Temperance Association to the Northumberland War Hospital; lettuces from Mrs Wood of Seventh Avenue to the No 1 Northern General Hospital; a contribution from Mrs Whitfield of Ninth Avenue to purchase a bell tent for the Northumberland War Hospital and a gift of cigarettes by William Castle of Tenth Avenue to ‘Armstrong College Hospital’, all of which came to light during research for our ‘Heaton Avenues in Wartime’ project.

In total, Newcastle had over 3000 military hospital beds as well as a Voluntary Aid Detachment Hospital in Pendower Hall, run by the Red Cross and a St John’s Ambulance Hospital in Jesmond, both of which would have been used for convalescence. Patients would arrive by train and were cared for by huge numbers of doctors, nurses and orderlies, often drawn from providing care to the rest of the population or given only basic training as volunteers.

No 1 Northern General Hospital

Work on the building of Armstrong College, now the original buildings of Newcastle University, had started in 1888, with the third and final stage being completed in 1914. However, before the college could occupy the building, it was requisitioned by the government along with the rest of the college buildings for use as the 1st Northern General Hospital on the outbreak of World War I. The No 1 Northern General Hospital had capacity for 104 officers and 1420 other ranks. The hospital worked very closely with the Royal Victoria Infirmary, which had only recently opened (the last patients having moved from the old infirmary on Forth Banks in 1908).

The arrangement included provision of an additional 112 beds for military use at the RVI, created in the spaces between the ward blocks, as well as the RVI providing specialist functions such as x-ray, an arrangement that was not without its problems. On 9 October, Lieutenant Colonel Gowans, Officer in Command of No 1 Northern General wrote to the matron of the RVI, informing her that the army would, due to the pressure of war demands, be removing Territorial Army Nurses from staffing these beds at the RVI.

A special meeting was called on 15 October, to which Colonel Gowans was invited, which evidently became quite heated. The argument was around who should bear the cost of nursing patients in the military requisitioned beds as well as how and at what cost, additional accommodation could be provided for the extra nurses. The house governor estimated that the additional cost to the RVI would not be less than £1,000 per year and senior staff of the Infirmary were of the view that this should be borne by the Government. An additional cost of 6d per head per day was suggested, on top of the 3/- per day already paid. Colonel Gowan questioned whether there was indeed any additional cost to be borne by the Infirmary, at which point the house governor replied:

that it was a well known fact, easily verified by any of the reports of the large hospitals, that a hospital bed cost about £100 per year to maintain; as 3/- per day came to £54 per year, there was a balance on the wrong side of between £40 and £50. Moreover, about half of the operations performed on territorial patients had been done in this Infirmary and at the cost of this Infirmary, and in the theatres nursed by civil nurses; that the electrical treatment for the Armstrong College had been done in this Infirmary by our nurses; that the X-ray work for the College had been done here and that we had borne the cost of all plates, materials etc, with only one orderly to assist in the department; that all the bacteriological and pathological work had been done here; that Mr Wardale uses the large operating theatre in ward 3 for military cases from the college; that many thousands of the troops had been inoculated in the Infirmary; that the mortuary and post mortem rooms were used by the College; and that by making use of these departments, they have saved themselves the expense and trouble of providing and running these departments themselves. It was stated again that the Committee desired to make no profit out of this matter, but they thought it desirable that the help which they had already given should be recognised rather more in the future than it had been in the past.”

Colonel Gowan’s response is not recorded!

This incident aside, it is evident that the RVI and the military hospital worked closely together throughout the war. Many of the RVI’s medical staff received honorary commissions and spent periods of up to a year caring for troops either at the front or in UK military hospitals. So much so, that the RVI’s 1916 annual report for the surgical department records that four of the eight honorary surgical staff and two of the four surgical registrars were away throughout the year on military service ‘throwing much extra work on those who were left’, so much so, that statistics on the surgery carried out were not available, but the report does acknowledge that work done by senior students to fill in for house officers.

The RVI also provided training for Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) Nurses, who received a month of basic training before being used to supplement the qualified staff, both at home and at the front. The VAD nurses can clearly be seen in the staff photo of the 1st Northern General as they wear a Red Cross on their apron.

1st Northern General Staff 1916

1st Northern General Staff 1916

The RVI and the military hospital also worked closely on the creation of a military orthopaedic Hospital, following a model already established in Leeds. The intention was to provide specialist rehabilitation facilities for soldiers who had lost or damaged limbs. An initial meeting was held on 25 September 1917 to discuss plans for a facility with up to 1500 beds, to be built on the RVI site. On 15 October, a meeting of the Committee and local dignitaries welcomed the former King Manuel II of Portugal, who had been deposed in 1910 and made himself available to the allies in support of the war. He was assigned to a post in the British Red Cross, much to his disappointment, but played a very active role in supporting the organisation during the war. The Red Cross promised to provide funding of £2,500 for equipment and a further £10,000 was promised from the War Office, but only when a total of £45,000 had been gathered from local fund raising efforts. It was September 1918 before the funds were raised and when, on 3 December, the Committee received a letter from Major General Bedford asking that completion of the centre should be expedited so that patients could be moved from the Northern General, so that the College could be evacuated, building still hadn’t started. By June 1919, the work was finally underway having been slowed down by the lack of builders and materials, although arguments were still going on in 1924 about the ownership of equipment and facilities. The three wards eventually built (pavilions 1,2 and 3), along with other support and facilities remained in use until the 1970s.

Despite the many hardships and difficulties the war posed for soldiers and staff, there was also evidence of the comradeship and sense of humour of those working together in the hospitals, as can be seen by this playbill for entertainment put on during the war. The spoof adverts in particular provide a window on the circumstances they were living through.

HOSPParasite programme 1 (2) HOSPParasite programme 2 (2)

HOSPParasite programme 3 (2)


Northumberland War Hospital

On 24 February 1915, Alderman William H Stephenson informed the city council that arrangements had been made with the government authorities for the utilisation of The City Asylum as a hospital for the forces, and for the patients being temporarily accommodated in other asylums.

The City Asylum, which we now know as St Nicholas’ Hospital in Gosforth, had opened in 1869, having been built on a 50 acre farmstead, known as Dodd’s Farm. It was built in response to chronic overcrowding in local hospitals for the mentally ill and reflected the latest medical thinking concerning care of the mentally ill. It had capacity for over 400 patients and included its own farm among other amenities.

Plans moved quickly, reflecting the urgent need for hospital provision for injured troops brought home from the front and, on 19 May 1915, Alderman Stephenson, chairman of the Lunatic Asylum Visiting Committee presented a report to the council setting out the arrangements for the operation of the Northumberland War Hospital.

HOSPwar hospital xmas card 3 (2)

HOSPwar hospital xmas card 4 (2)

HOSPwar hospital xmas card 5 (2)

In order to clear the asylum of patients, arrangements were made to transfer them to the care of other nearby local authorities. The report noted that the Board of Control had permitted a certain percentage of overcrowding in the receiving asylums. One can only imagine the impact of these arrangements on the mentally ill patients, uprooted and moved around the region. However, it freed up a substantial and modern hospital site to meet the urgent need to care for injured troops returning from the war.

Alderman Stephenson’s report goes on to set out the arrangements for the operation of the hospital for the duration of the war. The Visiting Committee were to retain the lay administration of the hospital, with the payment by the Army Council of:

• Charges in connection with the buildings and equipment; and
• Charges in connection with the maintenance of staff and soldier patients.

The hospital was handed over as a going concern with the whole of the staff, medical, engineering, stores, farm etc and the nursing and attendant staff. The War Office was to assume sole responsibility for the medical care and treatment of the soldiers and the management of the hospital. Lieutenant Colonel Prescott DSO RAMC was appointed Administrator and the Acting Medical Officer of the Asylum, Dr McPhail was appointed Registrar, with the rank of Major. The nursing staff was augmented and the whole of the male attendants at the asylum transferred to the Royal Army Medical Corps for the duration. The nursing staff were to be accommodated in a newly built nurses home and additional villa blocks, which were still under construction. The medical staff were to be accommodated in tents in the grounds. The Northumberland War Hospital, when it opened in the summer of 1915 had accommodation for 1040 patients, two and a half times the number previously accommodated on the site, which gives some indication of both the degree of overcrowding and the urgent need for hospital provision.

Brighton Grove Hospital

In addition, in Newcastle alone there was specialist venereal disease provision for 48 officers and 552 other ranks at Brighton Grove Hospital (on the site of the old Newcastle General). Sexually transmitted disease (Venereal Disease or VD) was a huge issue in the forces before the days of effective barrier contraception or treatments. When British soldiers set off for the trenches in 1914, folded inside each of their Pay Books was a short message. It contained a piece of homely advice, attributed to the Secretary of State for War, Lord Kitchener, which included:

You are sure to meet a welcome and to be trusted; your conduct must justify that welcome and that trust.
Your duty cannot be done unless your health is sound, so keep constantly on your guard against any excesses.
In this new experience you may find temptations both in wine and women.
You must entirely resist both temptations, and, while treating all women with perfect courtesy, you should avoid any intimacy.

In his memoirs Private Frank Richards, who served continuously on the Western Front, recorded men’s responses to these words: “They may as well have not been issued for all the notice we took of them.”

Licensed brothels had existed in France since the mid-19th Century – the war saw the trade flourish. Brothels displayed blue lamps if they were for officers and red lamps for other ranks. Outside red lamp establishments, queues or crowds of men were often seen.

Cpl Jack Wood compared the scene he witnessed to “a crowd, waiting for a cup tie at a football final in Blighty“. Others saw brothel visits as a physical necessity – it was an era when sexual abstinence for men was considered harmful to their health. Physical need made it more acceptable for married men, rather than single men, to visit prostitutes. Twenty-four hours before the major British offensive of the Battle of Loos, Pte Richards saw “three hundred men in a queue, all waiting their turns to go in the Red Lamp”.

Brothel visits could also be a way to avoid death. They gave soldiers a chance to swap time in the trenches for a few weeks in a hospital bed. According to Gunner Rowland Myrddyn Luther, who enlisted in September 1914, and served through to the Allied advance of 1918, a great many soldiers were prepared to chance venereal disease, rather than face a return to the front.
The numbers infected were “stupendous“. Around 400,000 cases of venereal disease were treated during the course of the war. In 1916, one in five of all admissions of British and dominion troops to hospitals in France and Belgium were for VD.

Walkergate Hospital

Council Minutes record that Mr Stableforth had been approached by the military authorities requesting that the Sanitary Committee could handle their cases of infectious diseases at Walkergate Hospital (Walkergate had been built in 1888 as an infectious diseases hospital). It was reported that there was insufficient accommodation, but that it had been agreed that two additional pavilions could be constructed to accommodate the military patients. The design of Walkergate, and presumably the temporary ‘pavilions’ was to provide a single story ward with a long covered verandah, where patients could be wheeled outside for fresh air, which was considered vital to their recovery, particularly with conditions such as TB. A subsequent minute records contracts with:

• Stanley Miller to build the new pavilions at a cost of £2,126/8/-;
• Walter Dix and Co to provide heating and hot water at a cost of £261/2/8; and
• William T. Wallace for making roads into the new pavilions.

The pavilions were built on the east side of Benfield Road, opposite the main hospital and were intended to be removed after the war. In practice, they remained in use, though not as part of the hospital until 1979.

Heaton Avenues in Wartime

This article was researched and written by Heaton History Group member, Michael Proctor, as part of our HLF funded project, ‘Heaton Avenues in Wartime’. A display about the civilian war effort of the people of the avenues will open at the Chillingham pub in early May 2015 and will be in place for approximately two months.

Thank you to Tyne and Wear Archives for permission to use the photographs in this article.

If you can provide any further information about Heaton connections to the hospitals, please either leave a message by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or email chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Jack Common’s Avenues in Wartime

Jack Common was born at 44 Third Avenue on 15 August 1903. In his autobiographical novels, ‘Kiddar’s Luck’ and ‘The Ampersand’, he wrote about growing up in Heaton. Although ostensibly fiction, Jack’s writing is clearly based on his own experience and his vivid memories. It tells us about aspects of life in the avenues, before and during World War One, that often we’d have no other way of knowing. Jack describes his milieu, life as a ‘corner boy,’ and gives us a rare (pupil’s) insight into life at Chillingham Road School. He writes with feeling, humour and from the perspective of the socialist he became. While we have to remember the fictional element and the personal viewpoint, Jack Common’s work is an important source for our Heaton Avenues in Wartime research.

The avenues

Some of the places Jack describes have changed, of course, but to anyone familiar with Heaton, the streets (or avenues) of terraced houses and Tyneside flats are instantly recognisable over a hundred years later:

…’ the south side started with a grocer’s shop on the corner, ran straight past some eighty front doors arranged in twos, one for the upstairs flat, one for the down, and each pair separated from the next by the downstairs garden.’

…’when you could crawl and totter, you always made for the street whenever the door was open. Over the rough cement path, down the step onto the wonderfully smooth pavement, perhaps on again to the cobblestones in the middle of the road.’

So far, we’ve traced only one photograph of the Avenues taken during this period. it shows Heaton History Group member, Arthur Andrews’ great aunt, Ruth Castle, outside her home at 47 Tenth Avenue and it chimes with Jack Common’s description of his ‘territory’.

Ruth Castle outside 47 Tenth Avenue

Ruth Castle outside 47 Tenth Avenue, early 1900s


‘These gardens were just narrow fenders of soil laid around the buttress of the bay window but they were magnificently defended from depredation by low brick walls, coped with granite slabs, each sprouting a complicated fence of spiked railings… Between them lay cement aprons in front of the doors.’

Regular visitors

Some of the most evocative descriptions of the avenues are the lively street scenes; the traders and entertainers who passed through: the rag and bone man with his bugle, barrow and paper windmills, ‘made of rough sticks and coloured wallpaper or an umbrella of the same or a fan or a piece of pineapple rock’ which he’d exchange for the jam jars or rags the children brought him.

‘… such a procession of horse-drawn vans, man-pushed barrows, milk chariots, coal-carts and steam wagons… Practically any moment of the day, one or other of these strange craft, ark or pinnacle, was bound to come upon our horizon. The hooves of the faster traffic, doctor’s trap or post office van, shot sparks from our cobbles…’

‘… the slower moving door-to-door tradesmen announced their presence: the milkman with a hand-bell and a high-pitched cry, the firewood seller with a long wail ‘d’ye wa-a-nt any sticks’, the coal-man bluff, solid and low, ‘coal ter wagon, coal ter wagon’, and the hardware merchant, standing on his high cart, with a rapid ringing of plate against plate, produced an insistent tintinabulation which rang across several streets. Very often several of these were around at the same time, plus one or other of varieties of street musician, the tin whistler, the barrel organist or German band….’


‘And that was only the front street…. Though milk and bread were front door deliveries, greengrocery and fish and coal came to the back door…..

'Coo-al' by Mark James

‘Co-al’ by Mark James, Heaton History Group

Down here came the Cullercoats fishwives crying ‘Caller herrin’ in that season and otherwise ‘Fresh fish, hinny, straight from the sea’. They wore their traditional dress of dark blue which so well set off their biscuit tan of arm and face, the salt-white hair and they were like caryatids walking under the great baskets they carried on their heads.’

‘Everbody’s washing hung across the lane so that the appearance of a tradesman’s cart meant a rush to tuck sheets and things round the rope and to raise the diminished bunting high over the horse’s head with a prop.’

Close friends

Common’s descriptions of childhood are equally wonderful and will resonate with many older readers, in particular:

‘… the many games that made their immutable processions across our year. Marbles, tops, hoops and girds, bays, monty-kitty, kick-the-block, up-for-Monday, they came and went in their due seasons.’

‘The marble millionaire gambled untold wealth at the Big Ring, increasing the stakes as the evening wore on until there was a fortune out there on the cement; whole constellations of fat Millies and coloured glass alleys with twinkling spirals down their centres and clear sea-green or whipwater-white pop-alleys winked in the shaky gaslight, nothing less than these high counters allowed in the big game, stonies and chalkies definitely barred. Then in came the bullocker shot from the ringside. The constellation shook and was scrambled; single stars fled or rolled towards the chalk ring. All that went over belonged to the lad that made the shot. Sometimes none did. Right, next player. The winners dropped their captured beauties with a happy plonk into the poke they nearly all carried; losers might fish for a last treasure, a broken pen knife or a watch-compass, to barter for another stake.’

And bonfire night:

‘At the bottom end, on Ninth back lane a mattress in the bonfire had just caught alight, the dervishes around it jumped and yelled from fiery-smudged faces; Eighth were entrenched within their narrow gardens, hurling Chinese crackers and jumping-jacks at all who passed by; Seventh were engaged in a slanging match because the great pyramid of their fire, crowned with a guy sitting in an armchair, had toppled over and was burning against somebody’s back door…. You could even see the near-toddlers solemnly lighting each other’s sparklers from the hot end of the last one to burn out, and there were little girls running wild as they tried to throw London Lights into the air.’

He also describes life in what he refers to as the ‘corner-gangs’. That the camaraderie and solidarity of his gang ‘Sons of the Battle-axe’ meant a lot to Jack can be deduced from his writing and the politics he espoused but also in the fact that, all through his life, he held onto treasured mementos of his Heaton childhood.

The Jack Common Archive is now in the Robinson Library at Newcastle University. Amongst the novel manuscripts, correspondence with publishers and friends, family photographs and cuttings of reviews are the rules, oaths and codes relating to the Sons of the Battle-axe. Examples are displayed here with the permission of the Common family and the university.

Jack Common's 'corner-gang' codes

Jack Common’s ‘corner-gang’ codes

Sons of the Battle-axe oath of allegiance

Sons of the Battle-axe oath of allegiance

Many of Jack Common’s boyhood friends, such as the Ord brothers, appear in ‘Kiddar’s Luck’, with their names unchanged, even if, writing thirty or forty years later, Common appears to have fictionalised some of their back stories.

School

The Chillingham Road School Jack Common attended still stands proudly today, of course. Jack didn’t look back on his schooldays with much affection, believing that working class children like him were being ‘trained for boredom’ as he put it. He conveys his negative feelings in ‘Kiddar’s Luck’:

‘There was a school bell which tolled for some five minutes in the mornings, a peculiarly flat despondent sound, not urgent, not very loud, though it carried over all the Avenues, and it always seemed as if it meant to go on forever.’

although he did have some fond memories:

‘… a class of some fifty children, more than half of them girls, I was disgusted to note. It was a very pleasant classroom though. The morning sun shone in through the wide windows over blue glass vases and painted pottery jugs holding flowers on to the yellow desks.’

But Jack’s daughter, Sally, wrote in a letter to Heaton History Group:

‘I have just looked at their website, and it comes across as such an amazing, vibrant establishment. It makes me want to be a child again and go there! So different from the place my father described that trained children in boredom – in preparation for the boring jobs they would have later’

and Jack would surely have been amazed that today’s pupils learn about and are rightly proud of their somewhat reluctant predecessor.

Winner

For all his later cynicism, Jack (or John as he was known there) Common had some notable successes while at school. He won prizes for at least two of his essays – one a citywide competition on the war-inspired theme of ‘Thrift‘. The essay itself doesn’t survive but he was proud enough of the letter inviting him to collect his prize of Government War Bonds and the newspaper coverage to keep them. They survive in the Jack Common Archive and copies will be displayed at the Chillingham pub from mid-February to mid-April 2015.

The same goes for two compositions about Jesmond Dene for which he also won prizes. Jack later referred to the florid writing style he had adopted in his teenage years and you can judge for yourself from the extracts to be displayed at the Chilli or by visiting the Jack Common Archive.

Jack Common is known for his working class Newcastle upbringing, his strong socialist beliefs and his friendship with George Orwell rather than his love of nature but a lot of his writing and especially the personal diaries in the archive show how much he cared about and knew about the natural world. He may not have acknowledged the influence of his Heaton boyhood or his education at Chillingham Road School but it’s a deep love which began in childhood and which the school log books show was shared by his head teacher, even if neither teacher nor pupil recognised it at the time.

War

Jack was ten years old at the start of the first world war. He refers to it only briefly in ‘Kiddar’s Luck’, writing through a child’s eyes:

‘One Saturday morning a rumour came round that the schools were to be commandeered as temporary barracks; a second report said that the soldiers were already in. Some of us tore round to have a look. Chillingham Road School stood bare and empty, a maw gaping for Monday. We back-pedalled round a corner so as to put it out of sight again, wishing we hadn’t come. But somebody passing on a bike said that North Heaton was taken. We moved off into the territory presided over by that semi-cissy academy, hunching together in case we got raided on the way.

It was true. North Heaton School echoed to the bawls of a couple of sergeants drilling their awkward squads in the boys’ yard….’

But the descriptions of the attitudes of the adults around him are enlightening as well as entertaining. Jack Common is typically unafraid to go against the grain or to offend. He refuses to romanticise and so adds to our understanding of a particular place and an important time:

‘But I had a feeling deep down that war wouldn’t apply to my father. I couldn’t see him waving a flag and leaping over a parapet, as the wild bugles blew, straight into the enemies’ fire; I could see him sitting firmly as ever in his own chair, pointing out that the war was a lot of fat-headedness started by old grannies and bosses-on-the-make and carried on by young fools who believed what they said in the newspapers.’

‘After the customary visit to the boozer, argument waged hot and strong. Uncle George, Boer War veteran, would join up at once – only there was no one to run his greengrocery business if he did. True-blue Uncle Will was hot against the Germans; he would throw in a couple of sons against them right away – the sons, though, did not endorse this generous patriotism. Red Uncle Robin, bachelor, vegetarian and crank, saw the conflict as a power-struggle between rival groups of bosses to be boycotted by all intelligent working men. Sad Uncle Andrew thought it was one of those madnesses good men have to go into because they couldn’t stand being with the crooks and sharpers who’d stayed out. Burly, gentle Uncle Bill knew no rights or wrongs in it, he had the countryman’s view, that it was a super-thunderstorm or tremendously bad weather – ‘Thor’s ne help for it, we’ll hae t’last it oot’. ‘

His presentation of dissident voices is another reason, if we need one, to read, reread, remember and appreciate Heaton’s Jack Common.

Postscript

‘Kiddars Luck’ is currently out of print but can be obtained in a Kindle version and from second-hand bookshops, online and in libraries.

More about Jack Common

This article was written by Chris Jackson, as part of Heaton History Group’s ‘Heaton Avenues in Wartime’ project, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. We would like to hear your views on anything relating to the article. You can leave them on the website by clicking on the link immediately below the title or email chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

A related exhibition will be in the lounge bar of the Chillingham pub from 16 February to mid April 2015. It contains digital copies of documents from the Jack Common Archive at Newcastle University and Tyne & Wear Archives as well as illustrations by local artists.

Heaton Avenues in Wartime

We’re delighted to announce that Heaton History Group has been awarded £8,600 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for a project, Heaton Avenues in Wartime. Awarded through HLF’s First World War: then and now programme, the project will focus on life on ten terraced streets off Chillingham Road, Heaton during World War One.

To mark the centenary of the First World War, the project will enable local people in Heaton to come together to learn more about the lives of the people who lived in First to Tenth Avenue a hundred years ago. Writer, Jack Common, was growing up on Third Avenue and attending Chillingham Road School at that time and he later wrote about his experiences in his autobiographical novel ‘Kiddars Luck’. Local people of all ages, including pupils at Chillingham Road, Jack’s old school, will be able to find out more about him and take his account as a starting point for discovering more about life of ordinary people in the Avenues and Heaton at that time. The money will fund visits to local collections, talks and workshops but also an opportunity for artists to get involved by illustrating some of the stories that are uncovered to bring them to life for a wider audience.

The aim of the project is to learn, not only about the lives of those who fought but also the impact of war on some of those who stayed behind.

Commenting on the award, Heaton History Group chair, Alan Giles, said: “We are thrilled to have received the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund. This project will enable Heaton History Group and the people of Heaton to come together to learn and so enrich our community in the present as well as commemorate a momentous event from the past”.

The group is very keen to hear from anyone interested in getting involved – especially anyone who lives or has lived in the Avenues themselves or knows of any family member who lived or worked there between 1914 and 1918. We’re also interested to hear from anyone locally who has WW1 memorabilia or family stories they’d like to share – they don’t have to relate to the Avenues.

Explaining the importance of the HLF support, the Head of the HLF in the North East, Ivor Crowther, said: “The impact of the First World War was far reaching, touching every corner of the UK. The Heritage Lottery Fund has already invested more than £52 million in projects – large and small – that are marking this global centenary; and with our small grants programme, we are enabling even more communities like those involved in Heaton Avenues in Wartime to explore the continuing legacy of this conflict and help local young people in particular to broaden their understanding of how it has shaped our modern world.”

If you would like to get involved or think you can help, contact Chris Jackson, Secretary: chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Heaton Town Farm

The photograph below is the only photograph we are aware of taken outside the farmhouses which once stood just North of Simonside Terrace and East of Heaton Road, from where Heaton Methodist Church stands now up towards Lesbury Road and Coquet Terrace. It portrays members of the last family to manage was one of a number of farms in Heaton in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

9 men outside Heaton Town Farm including members of the Edgar Family

From the 1870s to the 1890s, Heaton Town Farm, as it was then known, was farmed by the Edgar family and the photograph above seems to date from towards the end of that period. Can you help us date it more precisely?

But before we get to the Edgars, we’ve used old estate plans and census returns to give an outline of the farm’s history going back back to before 1800:

18th century

Newcastle City Library holds a map which was copied in 1800 by John Bell. The original can be dated to between 1756 and 1763. We can see what each field looked like, how big it was and what it was called. Heaton was at this time divided into two halves with East Heaton owned by Sir Mattthew White and West Heaton by Matthew Ridley. The land which became Heaton Town Farm was on the border but mainly in East Heaton ‘Grounds’. The Heaton estates were brought together first of all when Richard Ridley married Margaret White and then when, in 1742, Matthew Ridley married Elizabeth White. Field names at this time included Rye Hill, Benton Nook, East Hartley Tacks, East Huney Tacks and Whites Close.

1840s

In the 1841 census, 9 houses, recorded under the heading ‘Heaton’, seems to belong to the farmstead: one resident, George Cairns (or Carins, the spelling varies), is described as a farmer and an Edward Akenside at this time was an agricultural labourer. Other occupations to be found at the small settlement included: a gardener, a clerk, a tailor, a manufacturer (this was Joseph Sewell, who owned a successful pottery business), an agent, a grocer, a joiner, a millwright, a policeman (this was early days in the history of modern police forces following Robert Peel’s establishment of the Metropolitan Police so John Allan’s name is worthy of a special mention – he may well have been Heaton’s first ‘bobby’), 2 colliers, a 14 year old ‘shoe app[rentice?] and servants, mainly female. So not all the residents were engaged in agriculture.

1850s

In 1851, there were still 9 houses in the Heaton Farm complex. As ten years earlier, George Cairns lived in one. He farmed the majority of the land, 125 acres, employing 5 labourers. Edward Akenhead, a labourer 10 years earlier, farmed another 18, employing one labourer of his own.

George was a tenant farmer ie he leased land from the Ridleys and later William Armstrong rather than owned it but, nevertheless, his was a privileged position, demonstrated by the fact that he was entitled to vote.

List of only 17 voters in Heaton in 1851-2

George Carins (or Cairns) one of only 17 voters in Heaton in 1851-2

Poll books have even survived to show which way he voted in general elections – perhaps not surprisingly for the landowner, Matthew Ridley – no secret ballot back then!

The other houses were mainly occupied by the labourers and gardeners. Daughters and widows were employed as laundresses and dressmakers. One resident, Matthew Robinson was described as a ‘corver’ ie he wove ‘corves’, baskets used in coalmining: Heaton Colliery had closed by this time but there were plenty of other pits in the locality. There were also 2 engine fitters ie skilled mechanics, 2 blacksmiths and a joiner.

1860s

Ten years later in 1861, George Cairns was listed as the farmer of slightly more land – 145 acres and the employer of ‘4 men, a boy and women labourers’. He shared his house with four servants, described respectively as housekeeper, ploughman, dairymaid and cow keeper, evidence that Heaton Town Farm was a mixed farm. The cow keeper was a 14 year old boy called John Mains and the dairymaid a 19 year old woman from Ireland, called Martha Dalziel.

The second house was occupied by John Clark, a farm labourer, his wife, Sarah, and their young son. And the third by Jane Akenhead, Edward’s widow, described as farmer of 14 acres, perhaps what we would today term a smallholding. She lived with her 1 year old daughter, Isabella, along with her mother, her father, who was now managing the farm, and a gardener.

Jane had been born in Whitburn, County Durham in 1829 and by the age of 22 was employed as a servant to George Stabler, William Armstrong’s solicitor, who lived at Heaton Dean. Two years later, she married Edward Akenhead, the blacksmith son of an agricultural labourer, who had by this time acquired some land of his own. Sadly Edward died young, leaving Jane as head of household and the small farm. Her parents came from Co Durham to help her.

We know from records held by Northumberland Archives that in 1865 the land on which George Cairns and Jane Akenhead and later the Edgars farmed as tenants was put up for sale by its owners, the Ridley family. We don’t have evidence of an immediate sale but we know that just a few years later William Armstrong was the owner. The documents show how the configuration of the various farms in Heaton had changed over the years. Many of the fields are similar to those on the 18th century map but some have been further divided or their boundaries or names changed. The sales records show the name and size of each field, plus this time brief information about land use. There were pastures such as West and East Great Broom, Little Broom, Little Close and Long Pasture and arable fields with evocative names like Uncle’s Close, Well Hill, Seaman’s Close and East Honey Tacks. By this time, the farm was called Heaton Town Farm. You can see it marked on the plan below.

Map of Heaton
1870s

In 1871, Edward Edgar, who was born in Warkworth in c 1830 managed 27 acres of the land at Heaton. We have found records of just three houses on the farm at that time. One was the home of George Cairns, now retired.

Another house was occupied by John Brewis, his wife Margaret, their baby daughter, Mary, and Margaret’s mother, Sarah Atkinson. John was a plough engine driver. A steam driven ploughing machine was state of the art equipment in the early 1870s and operating one a skilled job.

The Edgars and their seven children along with Edward’s father and two nephews lived in the third and presumably largest house on the farm. In 1875, Elizabeth Edgar, Edward’s daughter, married Thomas Bell Kirsop, the son of a grocer from Heaton Bank.

Elizabeth Kirsop nee Edgar

Elizabeth Kirsop nee Edgar

Joan Cuthbertson, who has researched her family history, says that on the front row of the group outside Heaton Town farm, along with Thomas Kirsop (on the left), are William (b 1862), Edward (b 1860) and Robert Edgar (b 1864).

1880s

In 1881, Edward Edgar, now a widower, continued to live, with his sons, in one of the houses on Heaton Farm, with a house-servant and a dairy maid. He was now described as a contractor and dairy farmer of 27 acres.

Thomas and Elizabeth Kirsop and their children lived in a neighbouring house. Thomas was now a coal fitter ie an intermediary agent between a coal owner and shipowner or merchant – a responsible and respectable job. Next door to them lived David Kennedy, a dairyman, and his family.

There were 3 further houses with a Heaton Farm address, one occupied by a market gardener, a 24 year old widow, called Catherine Laws, along with her baby son and a servant; another by Robert Richardson, who farmed 28 acres and the last one by William Redpath, an agricultural labourer and his family.

By this time the terraced streets, most of which which still stand today, were encroaching ever closer to the farmhouse as William Armstrong sold more and more of his estate, encouraged by the huge demand for housing near the factories and railways of East Newcastle which drove up the price of land.

1890s

We don’t know the precise circumstances but by 1891 houses and other buildings were being built all around and on the former farm and the Edgars had moved out to Longbenton where Robert was still farming 10 years later.

However, John, another member of the extended Edgar family stayed in Heaton. In 1871 he had been living on Heaton Town Farm with his aunt, uncle and cousins. By 1891, he was living at 45 Seventh Avenue with his wife and children. His occupation was a foreman land drainer. His fifteen year old son was an assistant cricket groundsman, perhaps employed at Heaton’s cricket ground, for which William Armstrong had quite recently donated a field at the corner of what is now Cartington Terrace and Heaton Road and on which cricket is still played. The Kirsops were also living in the Avenues (36 Ninth Avenue) in Heaton when Thomas died aged only 43. His occupational status was given as ‘gentleman’. So Heaton Town Farm didn’t survive into the twentieth century. (By the way, watch out for our World War 1 project, Heaton Avenues in Wartime – and contact chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org if you’d like to get involved)

In future articles, we’ll explore the history of Heaton’s other farms and see what became of more of the agricultural land and the people who worked it.

Can you help?

Thank you to Joan Cuthbertson for giving us a copy of the historic photographs and details of her family’s history. If you know more about Heaton Town Farm or any of Heaton’s farms or have any information or photographs relating to Heaton’s past, please get in touch.