Tag Archives: North View School

Elsie Tu: Geordie champion of the poor

She was awarded the prestigious pan-Asian honour, the Ramon Magsaysay Award,  for ‘Outstanding Contribution in Government Service’  in 1976, one of the very few non-Asians to have been honoured in this way; in 1977, she received a CBE in Britain for her work against corruption; she was voted the most popular politician in Hong Kong in 1994 and, in 1997, was presented with Hong Kong’s highest honour, the Grand Bauhinia Medal in the first year it was awarded.

Elsie Tu née Hume

She campaigned tirelessly against corruption wherever she encountered it and worked with and for the under-privileged for more than five decades. Hong Kong’s three most senior politicians were pall bearers at her funeral and yet, in Newcastle, the city of her birth, and even in Heaton and High Heaton, where she lived and went to school within living memory, hardly anyone recognises her name or her face.

Early years

Elsie Hume was the second child of John and Florence Hume. In 1911, John and Florence, both aged 25 and married for just over a year, were living with John’s two brothers and two sisters at 12 Sutton Street, Walkergate (across Shields Road from where Lidl is now). John had been orphaned aged 11 and his older sister, Janet, brought up her siblings. At this time, John described himself as a grocer’s assistant and he and his young wife already had a young baby girl, Ethel. 

Elsie was born in the house just over two years later on 2 June 1913 but said she had no memory of it because very shortly afterwards, ‘Auntie Janet’ and the extended family moved to 29 Chillingham Road. ‘All my earliest memories centre on that gloomy flat, where for about seven years we occupied the front room.’ Janet Hume lived in the flat until it was demolished in 1975.

Elsie Hume (right) with older sister, Ethel

By the time Elsie was born, her father was working as a tram conductor but the following year, he, like so many of his generation, joined the army. Elsie said that, until she was five years old, she knew nothing of him except his name. But John Hume’s experiences during this period, during which he was gassed, had a profound effect upon him and indirectly upon Elsie. He developed an intense dislike of war and a compassion for all humans.  Elsie said that, in turn, her left-leaning world-view was influenced by him. She recalled much later that when her father was encouraging her to make the most of her opportunities at school, it was not for the advantages that would give her in terms of her own career but rather he emphasised the many more ways to serve the poor that would be open to her. She enjoyed discussing and arguing about politics with her father and brother from an early age and said that her father’s ambition for her was to become an MP and fight for workers’ rights.

Schooldays

The family moved many times when Elsie was young and she attended several different schools including North View School in Heaton, Walkergate and Welbeck Road and, less happily, West Jesmond. Here she felt she was looked down on by both teachers and other pupils because she lived in the poor neighbourhood of Shieldfield at the time. In future years, she remembered how she had felt and said this influenced her behaviour towards others.

On the whole though, Elsie loved learning and was offered a place at Benwell Secondary School, where she spent three years, before her family became the first tenants of 8 Holystone Crescent on the newly built High Heaton council estate and she transferred to the recently opened Heaton Secondary Schools.

King and Queen open Heaton Secondary Schools, 1928
The King and Queen at Heaton Secondary Schools just after they opened in 1928

Elsie was able to shine there and was in the first cohort to matriculate, obtaining the best results in the school, along with a special history prize. This was a prize fittingly donated by Heaton social campaigner, Florence Nightingale Harrison Bell.

The programme for the school opening ceremony had announced that ‘Mrs Harrison Bell has very kindly endowed a history prize in memory of her husband, the late Mr J N Bell, who was elected in 1922 Member of Parliament for the east division of the city. The prize will be awarded in the boys’ and the girls’ school in alternate years.’

Elsie also loved sport. She won ‘school colours in gymnastics, sports, lacrosse, rounders and netball’ and wrote in her autobiography about how her father, brother and herself were ‘mad about football’, and how all her life she was a passionate supporter of Newcastle United. 

Trial 

In January 1930, however, a shocking event took place in the family home, which was witnessed by 16 year old Elsie.  Elsie’s brother in law, Leslie Aynsley, who had been living with the Humes since he married her older sister, Ethel, just a couple of months previously, attacked his young wife with a hammer one breakfast time and when John, her father, tried to intervene, he too was struck. It was Elsie who was next on the scene and summoned help. Aynsley said that he didn’t know what had come over him. Ten days later both Ethel and her father were still in hospital with severe head injuries.

 At Aynsley’s trial, much was made in the press of the fact that the trial judge was Mrs Helena Normanton. She was the first women to take advantage of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 and join an institution of the legal profession and the second woman to be called to the bar. As such, even in the circumstances in which they came face to face, she might have been another inspiration to young Elsie, who gave evidence to the court that Aynsley looked ‘old and grey’.

Ethel Hume refused to testify against her husband and, under Normanton’s guidance, the jury sentenced him to one year’s imprisonment with the proviso that if he became insane during his time in jail, he could be removed to a lunatic asylum. Most of the press coverage, however, centred upon the judge’s appearance and novelty value, something that is alluded to in a recent biography of her.

The Humes continued to live at 8 Holystone Crescent for at least three years after this traumatic event but then moved to various other addresses in Heaton, including, from 1935-37, 64 Balmoral Terrace; 1938, 20 Cheltenham Terrace and, from 1939, 26 Balmoral Terrace.

University

But Elsie was now ready to spread her wings,

She left school with a treasured testimonial from Miss Cooper, headmistress of Heaton Secondary Schools’ girls’ school, which read:

Elsie Hume was always an exceptionally high-principled and conscientious student and was also a very keen athlete. She was Captain of the First Lacrosse and First Rounders Teams, and School Sports Captain in 1932. Elsie was always most public-spirited and energetic.’

Elsie (top left), Armstrong College netball team

Elsie* wrote later that she was inclined to join the civil service so that she could immediately start to earn money and to repay her family for the sacrifices they had made. Miss Cooper had other ideas and had not only decided she was university material but had persuaded Elsie’s parents too. Elsie went to Durham University’s Armstrong College (later Newcastle University), which she walked to every day from Heaton. She studied English and history and trained to be a teacher not, she later said, because she had a burning ambition to work in education but because she believed it was the only profession open to a girl from a poor background like hers, without the means to pay for further study.

It was at university that Elsie, to the surprise and even disappointment of her family, became a ‘born again Christian’ and then joined the Plymouth Brethren. She became clear about her future: she would teach for a few years to pay back her parents and those who had given her an education, then she would become a missionary and ‘spread my new-found happiness to others’.

Despite having to take a year off her studies when she nearly died following an operation for a gynaecological condition which eventually meant that she couldn’t have children, Elsie graduated in 1937 (and was in 1976 to be awarded an honorary doctorate in Civil Law jointly by the universities of Durham and Newcastle).

She had to look beyond Newcastle for a job teaching English and history and found one in an elementary school in Halifax, taking her away from home for the first time. She returned to Newcastle when war broke out.

Wartime

Back home in Heaton, Elsie found a job teaching in Prudhoe and, when not working, she volunteered in civil defence. Her autobiography contains an emotional account of 25-26 April 1941 when 46 people were killed when high explosive devices and a parachute bomb exploded in the area of Heaton around Guildford Place and Cheltenham Terrace. The house (20 Cheltenham Terrace) where the Humes had lived only a couple of years before was badly damaged by the first bomb and two people who lived there were seriously injured.

Less than two weeks before, it had been announced in the newspapers that Elsie had successfully completed a certificate in home nursing and on this night, her newly acquired skills were used to the full. She helped a man who has been hurt by flying debris ‘His head had been split open on one side and his eyes were filled with pieces of glass’ and was about to walk him home.

Elsie spoke of meeting two brothers, fellow air raid wardens. They warned her and the injured man to return to an underground shelter as they believed more bombs would fall. The lenses had been blown out of the glasses of one of the brothers and they told her that their home had been hit. She later discovered that both of them were killed by a second bomb. They were almost certainly the Shaw brothers, Thomas and William, whose story has already been written about on this website by Ian Clough. Elsie also recalled the panic at a nearby dance hall (the one above the Co-op?) where her sister was caught in a stampede down the stairs, after the lights had gone out and the premises had been filled with soot and dust. 

Elsie said that the impact of that night would never leave her and she spoke scathingly about politicians who approved the bombing of foreign parts and the killing of innocent people when they ‘have never known what it’s like to be on the receiving end’.

Later in the war, Elsie took up a post at Todd’s Nook School and then accompanied Newcastle schoolchildren who had been evacuated to Great Corby in Cumberland, a period of her early life which she remembered with great affection. 

Marriage

During this time, Elsie received a surprise marriage proposal from Bill Elliott, one of the Plymouth Brethren she had known in Halifax. He told her that he intended to go to China as a missionary, something he knew she was interested in. Elsie had grave doubts about his fundamentalist religious beliefs and rejected his offer. Two years later, he repeated it, telling her that he would become more liberal and, this time, Elsie, despite knowing that she was not in love with him, accepted his proposal. The couple were married in 1945, after which they lived and worked in Hull.

She soon realised that she had made a mistake. She found that, simply because she was a woman, she wasn’t allowed to take part in decision making or have an independent life outside work and she was restricted to friendships with those of the same faith and attitudes. 

Nevertheless, in December 1947, the couple set off by boat to Shanghai and then travelled on to Nanchang in Jiangxi province where they were to stay for three years.  Elsie soon became disillusioned with the racist and colonialist attitudes she believed the Christian groups in China exhibited but she enjoyed learning Mandarin and became interested in the country and its people.

However, when war broke out in Korea, the political situation in China became tense and missionaries were advised to leave. Elsie and Bill travelled to Hong Kong with the intention of moving on to Borneo. They found temporary accommodation in a small village near the airport called Kai Tek New Village, where their closest neighbours were refugees from Swatow (Shantou, China) living in a squatter village. She saw the many privations suffered by the people there, with skilled women working twelve hours a day doing embroidery for a pittance and their sick, ill-fed children packing matches or biscuits to enable their families to survive. 

She and Bill set up a home clinic, using Elsie’s smattering of Chinese and the basic first aid she’d learnt as an air raid warden in Heaton. She, Bill and a Chinese colleague, Andrew Tu, also set up a school but Elsie was becoming unhappier still in her marriage and disillusioned with missionary life, which she now described as ‘arrogant racism’. She left the church and, when she returned to Hong Kong after a short break in Britain, her husband did not go back with her. 

Elsie rented rooms in another squatter area while running a school for deprived children. At this time, she lived a extremely frugal lifestyle, taking on private teaching to subsidise the school while living in a small hut on the school site, spending and even eating as little as possible to enable the school to survive. It was during this time that she began to encounter corruption among the British police force and government and noted how British residents were treated much more favourably than the Chinese, particularly poor Chinese, and she began to help them in their dealings with the authorities. 

Politics

In 1963, by which time Elsie and Andrew Tu had opened another three non-profit making schools at a time when there was still no universal free education in Hong Kong, Elsie was approached by the Reform Club, a quasi-political party loosely aligned with the British Liberal party, to stand for election to the Urban Council. It campaigned for a more democratic and just system of colonial government, causes close to her heart. This was a time when only rate-payers, property owners and certain professionals had the right to vote and, even then, they had a vote only for the Urban Council, which had comparatively few powers. The Legislative Council, the law-making body ‘offered no elected seats and was dominated by British officials and rich businessmen’. Elsie was elected to the council, fulfilling at the age of 51 her father’s ambition for her to become a politician. 

Although the position on the council did not come with a salary, Elsie gave up her paid teaching. She continued to work at the school she ran with Andrew Tu by organising her timetable around the demands of the council and accepting only the bare minimum salary she needed to survive. It was only in the 1970s when councillors started to receive an allowance and government-subsidised free education was made available to all, that Elsie began to live more comfortably.

 After her first term representing the Reform Club, Elsie successfully stood as an independent for 32 years. She fought the widespread corruption by pointing it out wherever she encountered it, to the departments concerned, the governor, the British government or the press. She later recalled how she wrote her first letter to a newspaper on the subject of free trade while still at school in Heaton. Her first letter to the ‘Guardian’, during her early days in Hong Kong, was about the long hours worked by Chinese people in Hong Kong. It was referred to by a British MP in the House of Commons, although he named the writer as Mr Elliott, and led to new employment legislation on the island. Elsie’s campaigning is also credited with the eventual establishment in Hong Kong of the Independent Commission Against Corruption in 1976.

Elsie held regular surgeries where she tried to help people with their battles against injustice and with all kinds of personal problems. Her brave (particularly because there were close connections between the police and organised crime, the triads) and tireless work on behalf of ordinary people made her increasingly popular. She fought against the exploitation of workers, child labour and for universal suffrage, gay rights, better housing and public transport, along with many other improvements in poor people’s lives.

One of the most famous cases associated with Elsie involved opposition in 1965  to price rises on the Star Ferry on which many working people relied. Via the newspapers, she canvassed public opinion, which was overwhelmingly against the increase both because it broke an agreement between the ferry company and the government and because it came at a time when people were facing particular economic hardship. Protests followed, illegal in Hong Kong at the time, which became known as the ‘Elsie Riots’. A number of young people were arrested for violence and it was alleged that they were acting under Elsie’s instructions,  something she vehemently denied. It emerged later in court that the young people had been beaten up by the police and forced to sign statements saying that Elsie had paid them to throw stones. The following year, in the biggest ever turn out ever in the Urban Council elections, Elsie received over 80% of the vote. 

Love

Elsie worked with Andrew Tu from her earliest days in Hong Kong. He had arrived there fresh from university in Inner Mongolia, as a young, penniless migrant. They co-founded and ran schools for poor and refugee children and he ran her political campaigns, advised her and taught her Chinese. He also became a Samaritan and a campaigner on green issues and, like Elsie, became well known and respected in Hong Kong.

In 1963, when in London on business with the Samaritans, Andrew travelled to Newcastle to Elsie’s sister’s house to meet the Hume family. Despite the language barrier, they are said to have taken to him immediately and constantly asked why the couple weren’t married. Elsie always replied that they felt no need to but they finally did tie the knot on 13 June 1985, when Elsie was 72 years old.

In her autobiography, Elsie described how, after their marriage, the couple first visited Andrew’s family and friends in Inner Mongolia and then came to Newcastle to stay with her sister, Dorothy, and her husband. She describes visiting Whitley Bay in the fog, eating fish and chips on the prom, walking on the Roman Wall and going to Blanchland and Cragside.

Legislative Council

In 1988, aged 76, Elsie was elected by the Urban Council as its representative on Hong Kong’s Legislative Council or parliament. One of the successful battles she fought was for Chinese to be accepted as an official language of Hong Kong: she took on government departments which failed to provide Chinese translations and argued that court cases conducted in English disadvantaged local, Chinese speakers. She became increasingly accused by the establishment of being pro-Chinese and anti-British.  However, she always claimed not to be connected to any political party and not to be a communist or for or against any country, but to be pro-democracy, pro-justice and anti-corruption: ‘I’m not for China, I’m not for Britain. I’ve always been for the people of Hong Kong and for justice’.  

She wasn’t defeated in an election until 1995, aged 83. Even after the handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997, she continued to hold the government to account. In 2013, aged 99, she criticised the widening income disparity in Hong Kong, referring to ‘rich men who have no conscience’. 

Death 

Elsie Tu died on 8 December 2015, aged 102. All three men who had held Hong Kong’s highest office, that of Chief Executive, Tung Chee-Hwa (1997-2005), Donald Tsang (2005-2012) and Leung Chun-Ying ( 2012-2017) were pall-bearers at her funeral. The current incumbent, Carrie Lam, recalls taking part in actions led by Elsie from her university days. She described her as an exemplary champion of social justice, who commanded respect for her valiant words and deeds.

Perhaps the last word on Elsie should come from her obituary writer in the ‘Daily Telegraph’, not a paper known for its empathy with people who threaten the British establishment: ‘In truth, her politics were less coherent, and far less significant, than her burning concern for the poor and her fearlessness in challenging those she accused of exploiting them.’

Elsie Tu

Not only would her father, John, and old headteacher, Miss Cooper, have been proud, but so too would Helena Normanton, the ground-breaking judge before whom Elsie had given evidence as a teenager, and especially that other renowned Heaton campaigner and social reformer, Florence Nightingale Harrison Bell, whose history prize Elsie had been presented with over eighty years before. Like her, Elsie didn’t only study history, she made it.

*We have referred to Elsie by her first name throughout this article to avoid any confusion caused by the three surnames she used at different stages of her life.

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Peter Sagar, Arthur Andrews and Chris Jackson of Heaton History Group. Thank you to Tracey Cross, Elsie’s first cousin once removed, for bringing the achievements of Elsie Tu and her connection with Heaton to our attention; to Heidi Schultz, Executive Office Team Leader, Newcastle University for supplying Elsie’s honorary degree citation; to Ruth Sutherland, Northumbria University, for supplying newspaper articles about her.

Sources

‘Colonial Hong Kong in the Eyes of Elsie Tu’ / Elsie Tu; Hong Kong Press, 2003

‘Crusade for Justice’ / Elsie Elliott; Henemann Asia, 1981

Elsie Elliot Tu, Doctor of Social Sciences honoris causa’, the University of Hong Kong, 1988

‘Elsie Tu, activist – obituary; social campaigner in Hong Kong regarded as a potential troublemaker by the colonial authorities’ in ‘Daily Telegraph’, 15 December 2015

‘Elsie Tu Doctor in Civil Law honorary degree citation’ / Newcastle University, 1996

‘Helena Normanton and the Opening of the Bar to Women’ / Judith Bourne; Waterside Press, 2017

‘Shouting at the Mountain: a Hong Kong story of love and commitment’ / Andrew and Elsie Tu, 2004

Wikipedia

Ancestry

British Newspaper Archives

Other online sources

Can You Help?

If you know more about Elsie Tu, particularly her Heaton connections, 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

Heaton Olivers

This photograph of Heaton’s North View School choir with their teacher, Miss Brown, taken outside Newcastle’s City Hall in 1948 was sent to us from Canada by Alan Oliver.

 

northviewchoir1948olivered

North View School Choir, 1948

 

The children had just won the title of Best Infant School Choir in Newcastle. Alan is the boy third in from the post in the middle, right hand side. He told us that his family’s connections with Newcastle and Heaton, in particular, go back much further and we wanted to know more:

Three Andrews

We have used census records and trade directories to trace the Oliver family back to 1841 when Alan’s great great grandfather, Andrew Oliver, was a coalminer in Ford. He lived in the North Northumberland village with his wife, Ann, and their 11 year old son, also called Andrew, and their daughter, Isabella.

By 1851 son, Andrew, now 21, had moved to the nearby village of Branxton, where he was apprenticed to a shoe maker, Thomas Pringle and  lodged, along with two other apprentices (the younger of them just 12 years old) at the home of Thomas, a widow, and his  24 year old daughter, Euphemia, along with a servant. Andrew soon fell in love with and married Euphemia.

By 1861 the couple, now living in the nearby village of Crookham, had two young children, William, aged two and one year old (you guessed), Andrew. They had a servant and a boarder, who was also a shoemaker.

By 1871 the family had moved to the nearby town of Wooler, where Andrew senior (or middle) was still a shoemaker and all the children went to school. They were still in Wooler in 1881, by which time the youngest Andrew was aged 21 and also working as a shoemaker. By now he had younger siblings, Isabella, Gilbert and Hannah.

However by 1891, the whole family, 60 year old Andrew senior, his wife, Euphemia, sons Andrew junior, now aged 30, and Gilbert, aged 23, with sisters Isabella and Hannah, had moved to 101 Tynemouth Road in Heaton. We don’t know why the family relocated but, if it was for financial reasons, it seems to have been a sound decision. Heaton was rapidly expanding and becoming more prosperous so there was a growing demand for footwear.

The younger Andrew and his wife, Jessie and their family continued to live on Tynemouth Road and run a shoemaker’s shop, first at number 101 and, by 1911, at number 91, now with three sons, Thomas, aged 13, Sidney, 9, and Harold, 6.

Longevity

This Chillingham Road School class photograph shows Sidney, Alan’s father, aged about 7, so it must have been taken around 1908. Sidney is on the right hand end of the back row.We wonder whether anyone else had inherited a copy and could name anyone else in the class.

 

chillinghamroadc1908oliver

Chillingham Road School, c 1908

 

By 1930 the family shop was in his mother Jessie’s name but the long standing business on Tynemouth Road was soon run by Sidney and his wife and their son,  Alan, and his brother (yes, Andrew!) grew up above the shop. .

And this one shows a VE street party on Denmark Street in 1945.

 

denmarkstreet1945oliverrev

Denmark Street, 1945

 

Alan’s brother, Andrew, is third boy from the left on the back row. We haven’t been able to find out exactly who Fearon and Hickford were and why they are named on the banner in the centre but Alan says that Mr Fearon is the man on the right holding a small child and he thinks that Mr Hickford is the man on the left, also holding a child. He remembers the Fearon family, with children John, Kenneth, Sandra and Dennis, living on Denmark Street. If you know more about the two men or recognise anyone else in the picture, please get in touch.

The family business eventually closed when Sidney retired. He eventually left Tynemouth Road for Killingworth in the mid 1970s when the street was demolished prior to redevelopment. He died on 10 September 1989, the day after his 88th birthday.  Three generations of Olivers had helped keep the people of Heaton shod for over 50 years.

Lord Mayor

But another Heaton Oliver made an important contribution to the life of the city. Gilbert, Alan’s great uncle, the brother of his father, Sidney’s father, you may remember, was a tailor when he moved to Heaton with his parents and siblings sometime before 1891, when he was 23 years old.

Gilbert went into partnership with a Thomas Walton in a business they operated from 1 Molyneux Street. Later he ran his own tailor’s shop at 39 Second Avenue, then 53 Balmoral Terrace and in Clayton Street in town.

By 1911, Gilbert had moved with his wife, Mary, and 15 year old son, Welsley Herbert, to 55 Cartington Terrace.

 

cartingtonterr74-rlc

Cartington Terrace

 

We don’t yet know when Gilbert became interested in politics or was first elected to serve as a councillor but if you read through the list of Lord Mayors, displayed in the current (November 2016) Newcastle City Library exhibition, you’ll find the name Gilbert Oliver, holder of that ancient and prestigious office in 1937.

The photograph below was taken at Heaton Assembly Rooms in 1935 when Gilbert was Sheriff and Deputy Lord Mayor.

 

olivergilbertdeputymayor1935

Deputy Mayor Gilbert Oliver of Heaton (second from the left)

 

Gilbert is second from the left. Also in the photograph are the Duke of Northumberland (extreme left), the Lord Mayor, Councillor Dalglish and the Duke of Kent. We haven’t identified the person on the extreme right.

Sadly Gilbert died of pneumonia in 1939 after being taken ill on a civic trip to York.

Canadian correspondents

Our correspondent Alan left Heaton and England in 1964. He joined the Norwegian merchant navy and in 1967 settled in Canada. His sons, Kevin and Ian, were born in Richmond, British Columbia. Kevin told us he has been to Heaton and Newcastle three times to visit family and see where his ancestors lived – and, of course, ‘to watch Newcastle United and Whitley Bay Warriors play’.

Acknowledgements

A big thanks to Alan for permission to publish his photographs and for adding a little more to our knowledge of Heaton’s history – and to Kevin for patiently acting as go-between!

Thank you too to Hilary Bray (nee Bates) who gave us permission to digitise and use the photograph of Cartington Terrace from her postcard collection.

Can you help?

If you know more about anyone or anything mentioned in this article or can identify anyone in the photographs, 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

 

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

In Memory of William Brogg Leighton

If you’ve ever looked into Newcastle’s past or have ancestors from Heaton, you’ll have come across the name ‘Leighton’, pronounced locally ‘Light-on’. There was Leighton Primitive Methodist Chapel on Heaton Road and Leighton Memorial Board School, which was originally based in the church’s Sunday School. Indeed there’s still a Leighton Street off Byker Bank. But who was Leighton and what do we know of the buildings named in his honour?

Heaton History Group’s Norman Moore and his fellow researcher, Geoff Dickinson, take up the story:

Early life

William Brogg Leighton was born in Newcastle on 27 July 1810 and baptised on 26 August at All Saints Church. He worked as a printer and bookseller, building society treasurer (Northern Counties Building Society) and valuer – and, in an early example of what we’d now call a portfolio career, he sold butter and eggs on market days.

Preacher

William was a pioneer of the temperance movement and a local preacher. In 1829, aged 19, he started a Sunday School of which he remained superintendent for 51 years. In 1836 he married Mary Hedley at Longbenton and they had three children. Mary, was the first woman in Newcastle to sign the pledge! In 1841, William was instrumental in establishing the Ballast Hills Methodist Chapel in Byker. The chapel was in existence until 1955. When a new place of worship was opened in Heaton in 1877, it was named Leighton Primitive Methodist Church in recognition of William’s significant contribution to the church. Eventually William became a member of the first School Board of Newcastle and a director of the Byker Bridge Company. He died on 25 April 1884 in Newcastle. Thank you to his great great granddaughter for permission to publish the photograph below.

William Brogg Leighton

You can read more of Norman and Geoff’s research on William Brogg Leighton here.

Leighton Methodist Church

This Primitive Methodist church was one of the first buildings on Heaton Road when it was built in 1877. It was designed in the Italianate style with a broad pedimented front. In 1965 the chapel merged with the Wesleyan Methodists’ Bainbridge Memorial Chapel, a short distance along Heaton Road, the building with a tower in the photograph below. The Leighton Memorial premises were closed and later demolished. The 1970s shops towards the corner of Shields Road were built on the site.

Leighton Primitive Methodist Chapel c 1910

Leighton Primitive Methodist Chapel c 1910

Leighton Memorial School

On 24 May 1880, Leighton Memorial School opened. It was established as a branch of the School of Science and Art, Newcastle upon Tyne and was located in Leighton Memorial Church Sunday School on Heaton Road. These premises were leased by the Rutherford Committee for use as a day school. The school began with 26 pupils but within six months of opening numbers had increased to over 200. The school was arranged in two main sections – the Infants Department and the Mixed Department.

In 1885, a further branch of the School of Science and Art was opened at Ashfield Villa, Heaton Road to meet local demands for higher education. The popularity of this school and Leighton Memorial School led to overcrowding and it was decided that a new building was required. The new school was named North View School and the foundation stone was laid on 21 September 1891. The school was located on the south side of North View near the junction with Brough Street. It was officially opened on 26 September 1892.

North View Schools

The old Leighton Memorial School building was retained for use by the infants until about 1907. Initially boys and girls were taught together in the Mixed Department but from 1893 boys and girls departments were established and the two sexes were taught separately. In 1897 Newcastle School Board agreed to take over the management of North View School and Leighton Memorial Infants School from Rutherford College Council and the transfer was completed in 1900. In that year the School was re-arranged once again on a mixed basis. In 1903 Newcastle School Board was wound up and responsibility for the schools passed to Newcastle City Council Education Committee.

In 1907, North View Schools were re-organised with the opening of a new Junior Department. This left the school arranged in three Departments – Infants, Juniors and Seniors. In November 1940 North View School was re-organised into two Departments – Infants/Lower Junior and Senior/Upper Junior. This change was short lived and in 1943 the School returned to the earlier arrangement of three Departments. By the early 1950s the Senior Department was redesignated North View County Secondary School.

North View School 1974

North View School 1974

In 1967, North View County Secondary School closed following the re-organisation of secondary education along comprehensive lines. Pupils were transferred to the new Benfield Comprehensive School. The buildings were taken over by North View Junior School. In 1981 the school was reorganised as North View Primary School, and located in the old infant school building. The school closed in 1984. Northfields House, sheltered accommodation, was built on the site.

Acknowledgements

Thank you to Norman Moore for facilitating this article and to Tyne and Wear Archives for the information about Leighton Methodist Church, Leighton Memorial School and North View Schools. The Archive holds many records for both the schools and the church and is well worth a visit.

And thank you also to Heaton History Group Honorary President, Alan Morgan, from whose book ‘Heaton: from farms to foundries’ additional material was taken, including the photographs of Leighton Memorial Chapel and North View School.

Can you help?

If you have any information, photographs or memories connected with anyone or anything mentioned in this article, please either leave a comment by clicking on the link immediately below the headline or email chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org .