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The Great Peace: a Heaton schoolgirl’s memento

In summer 1919, every schoolchild in Newcastle was given their own, personally inscribed, copy of a booklet commemorating the ‘Signing of the Great Peace’ on 28 June.

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Newcastle schoolchildrens’ Great Peace souvenir, 1919

 

The booklet was full of stirring words, such as:

‘This Victory has only been made possible through the heroism of, and the sacrifices made by, your Fathers and Brothers, the splendid men from our Colonies, and our gallant Allies, nobly assisted by the patriotism of our women.

You were too young to take part in the struggle, but your turn has now come – not to fight as your Fathers and Brothers did, but to prove yourselves worthy of the noble men who fought and suffered for you, and to do your share as Citizens of the great British Empire, so that you may be able to preserve and to hand down to the next generation the priceless heritage of Freedom which has been secured for you at so great a cost.’

One recipient was Dorothy Mary Flann who, aged 10 years old, had just started Chillingham Road Senior School. She saw fit to keep this memento until she died in 1983.  Heaton History Group member, Arthur Andrews, recalls, ‘I probably bought her booklet for a small sum at Tynemouth Market several years ago because of my interest in WWI’. He has since looked into Dorothy’s family history and found out more about the ‘Great Peace’ celebrations in Newcastle and Heaton.

The Flann Family

Abraham Flann, Dorothy’s grandfather, an H M Customs Officer, and his wife had lived in St Helier, Jersey, where several of their children were born but by 1871 they had relocated to Willington Quay. By 1881 the family had moved to 6 North View, Heaton and by 1891 they had moved to 36 Heaton Road.

By the turn of the twentieth century, they were living at 45 Heaton Hall Road and, ten years later, Abraham was a 75 year old widower, at 34 Rothbury Terrace, with his single, 29 year old daughter, Caroline Amelia, a domestic servant and 2 sick nurses (who were probably visiting).

George Ernest Flann, a grocer’s manager, one of Abraham’s sons, continued to live at the family’s former home of 45 Heaton Hall Road, with his second wife, Charlotte Mary and children, William Henry, Jessy Emily and Dorothy Mary, whose commemorative booklet Arthur eventually bought.

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Flann family home on Heaton Hall Road

George’s brother, Edgar, who would have been 14, does not appear at home in the 1911 census, which was something of a mystery until Arthur found, in a Chillingham Road School admissions book, that he had been awarded a Flounders Scholarship, named after a Quaker industrialist called Benjamin Flounders. Flounders’ wife and daughter predeceased him so he left his fortune in a trust to help educate poor and needy children with their education in the form of schools and scholarships.

Evidently Edgar was the only scholar in the county to be awarded the scholarship, which was valued at £80, tenable for 4 years at the North East County School in Barnard Castle. When he left school, Edgar joined a bank as an apprentice. In 1916, he joined the Royal Naval Reserve and trained as a signaler, as can be seen from his surviving WWI records below:

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Part of Edgar Flann’s military service record

In 1917, Edgar married Frances Lorna Skelton and they went to live in the west end.

The ‘Great Peace’ celebrations

According to the local papers, the form that the commemoration and celebration of the Great Peace  were to take, was hastily agreed by Newcastle Council and put together, remarkably, within a month or two but it didn’t pass entirely without a hiccup: a travelling historic pageant was put together with the proceeds going to the St Dunstan’s Blinded Soldiers and Sailors charity. Unfortunately, there was a train strike with the result that the wood for the makeshift grandstand and theatrical scenery did not arrive and so the council had to spend its own money to ensure that the pageant took place. In the end the event, at Exhibition Park, made a loss and no monies at all went to the charity. Schoolchildren were also supposed to be given a commemorative mug but not enough could be produced within the short timescale.

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Great Peace commemorative mug as given to the children of Stocksfield, Northumberland

But lots of events did take place. On Saturday 19 July 1919, a ‘victory march‘ was held. Various local regiments left the Town Moor at 11.00am and marched through the city. At 3.00pm there was a choir and band concert at St James’s Park. There was English folk dancing in Jesmond Dene, as well as bands in parks throughout the city. Other parks had dancing until 10pm at night. At 9.30pm, the Tyneside Scottish Pipe Band processed around the city streets and an illuminated tramcar seemed to cover the whole tram network, leaving Byker Depot at 5.30pm for Scotswood Bridge before returning via Barras Bridge, Newton Road, Heaton Junction before finally ending up back at Byker Depot at 11.15pm.

It was reported that children celebrated with ‘gusto’, thoroughly enjoying themselves even if some felt that the Great Peace was more for the grown-ups than themselves. That would have changed when they heard King George V announce that they would get an extra week’s summer holiday from school, making it five weeks in all.

In speeches, it was impressed on the children that the fight had not been for the winning of great lands but to free people from oppression and allow them liberty in their own countries. It was also said that while remembering the heroes who had returned from war, they must not forget those who had died in the fight for civilization. Many of the children were bedecked in red, white and blue ‘favours’ and schools flew flags of not only the United Kingdom but of the Allies as well.

Heaton celebrates

 Over the next few weeks, street parties were held throughout Newcastle. One party in lower Pilgrim Street bedecked with flags, bunting and red and white chalked kerb stones, was painted by local artist, Joseph Potts. And there are reports in the papers of many such parties in Heaton, with each local politician, business and charity seemingly more generous than the last and, no doubt, enjoying the publicity that came with it.

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Arthur Munro Sutherland opened  a victory tea in Hotspur St back lane

 

On 2nd August, it was reported that ‘a victory tea and fete was in the back lane between Hotspur St and Warwick St. The lane was gaily decorated and tables and chairs set down in the centre’. It was opened by the Lord Mayor, Arthur Munro Sutherland. ‘Games and racing followed arranged by Mrs W Wilson and Mrs D Robson.’

On 11th, ‘About 150 children of Malcolm St and Bolingbroke St were entertained by their parents and friends at a victory tea and treat. Sports and dancing was held and each child received a toy and, through the kindness of Mr George Black of the Grand Theatre, they each received a 3d piece.’

On 12th, the Illustrated Chronicle carried pictures of the above and events in Mowbray St and Heaton Park Road. ‘Coming soon, pictures of Chillingham Road…’

On 22nd, ‘137 children were entertained at a Peace tea in Simonside Terrace. Councillor Arthur Lambert opened proceedings and presented each child with a piece of silver. The children were entertained at the Jesmond Pavilion at the invitation of the manager.’ The organisers even managed to show a profit with ‘the balance of £2-1s-0d presented to St Dunstans’.

On  1 September, ‘children were entertained in one of the fields beyond Heaton Cemetery courtesy of the Manchester Unity of Oddfellows.’

On 9th,  ‘150 children from Simonside and Warton Terraces were entertained at the Bungalow, Armstrong Park. They were afterwards given a free treat at the Scala Theatre.’

And, with that, the five week holiday appeared to be over.

Dorothy

As for Dorothy, proud owner of the Signing of the Great Peace souvenir that has prompted this article, in 1941, with much of  the world embroiled in yet another war, she married Raymond Lancelot Donaldson, a merchant seaman. They lived together at 46 Coquet Terrace for many years.

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Great Peace Celebration commemorative mug made by Maling

Can you help?

If you know more about either the Great Peace celebration or  Dorothy Flann or her family or have photographs or anecdotes you’d like to share, we’d love to hear from you. You can contact us either through this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or by emailing chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Acknowledgement

Researched and written by Arthur Andrews of Heaton History Group, with additional material by Chris Jackson. Thank you also to Alan Giles for the photograph of his Great Peace commemorative mug.

Sources

Ancestry

Findmypast

National Newspaper Archive

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

 

Matron Lily Atkinson Royal Red Cross

When Heaton History Group’s Ian Clough was researching the names on Heaton’s many WW1 church war memorials, one name stood out, that of Matron L Atkinson RRC. Few females are listed on first world war memorials but it now appeared that we had another Heaton woman to commemorate alongside that of Kate Ogg, who had grown up on Bolingbroke Street and given up her life in the war effort when she caught influenza from the servicemen she was nursing. But who was Matron L Atkinson and what did RRC stand for?

Matron L Atkinson’s name appears on two WWI memorials associated with Leighton Primitive Methodist Church which then stood on Heaton Road.

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Leighton Primitive Methodist Church war memorial

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Leighton Primitive Methodist Church war memorial (detail)

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Leighton Primitive Methodist Church

A broad search of census information did not bring up any L Atkinson living in the Heaton area and without any idea of her birthdate, there wasn’t much more to go on and Ian had hundreds of names to research so he called on Heaton History Group’s research team for assistance and Arthur Andrews helped unravel the mystery. After some time researching variant spellings of both first name and surname, Arthur managed to get to the nub of the problem: it turned out that although she was always known as Lily, our WW1 hero was officially an Elizabeth.  It helps to be psychic to be a local history researcher!

Nurse

It could now be established that Lily (ie Elizabeth) was born in 1874. For many years the family lived at 24 North View, a terraced house with 7 rooms, in Heaton, overlooking the railway cutting, where the Newcastle to Edinburgh steam trains would rush by. Lily’s father, Ralph, was a butcher, and later an insurance agent. Her mother was called Catherine. The 1911 census tells us that there were ten Atkinson children, two of whom had already died. There were,  at this time, at least five living daughters and three sons.

Nothing more is known of Lily’s childhood or whether she had any other jobs after leaving school but by 1901, aged 26, she was working at Carlisle Infirmary as a probationer nurse. By 1909, the Nursing Register indicates that Lily had become a certified nurse, working at the Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle and by 1911 she had been promoted to hospital sister and moved to Liverpool Infirmary to take up the post of assistant matron. By 1915 she had moved again to take up the post of matron at the historic Northampton General Hospital. Here she became responsible for the nursing of many badly-wounded soldiers and she also had links with the nearby Duston War Hospital.

Royal Warrant

It was for her outstanding WWI nursing work at Northampton that Lily was awarded the Royal Red Cross (RRC). The award, established by Queen Victoria in 1883 and awarded by Royal Warrant, is still made to ‘a fully trained nurse of an officially recognised nursing service, military or civilian, who has shown exceptional devotion and competence in the performance of nursing duties, over a continuous and long period, or who has performed an exceptional act of bravery and devotion at her or his post of duty.‘ The first recipient was Florence Nightingale and the award was so prestigious that it was often presented by the monarch at Buckingham Palace. Sadly, this was not to be the case for Lily.

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Royal Red Cross award

Lily’s Royal Red Cross Register entry, pictured below, does not give the date the award was registered and Lily’s name appeared in The London Gazette only on 9 April 1919, almost 5 months after she died. In the register it is noted that she was ‘deceased 22.11.18’ and that the medal was sent to her mother on 3 March 1920. (In fact, Lily’s mother, Catherine, had died in 1914).

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Royal Red Cross Register

Lily herself passed away in her prime on Friday 22 November 1918, during her tenure as Matron of Northampton General Hospital. She was only 44 years old and the cause of death was registered as breast cancer with other complications. Three of her siblings were with her at the time: Miss Annie Atkinson, Mrs Mary Smallwood and Mrs Margaret Shuler.

Moving scenes

A short obituary appeared in the Northampton Daily Echo on 22 November 1918. Another, more informative, obituary appeared in the Northampton Mercury a week later.

It was reported that as war work increased, Lily’s nursing and organizing abilities and devotion to work not only maintained the efficiency of the hospital but she was ‘rapidly establishing its reputation as one of the leading, provincial institutions in the country’.

It was also reported that ‘deeply moving scenes’ were witnessed when her body was removed to the railway station, for cremation at Leicester. A brief devotional service was performed by the hospital chaplain. Nurses lined the corridor singing ‘On the Resurrection Morning’, as the coffin was carried by Hospital staff. From the main entrance to the gates, an avenue was formed of 24 wounded soldiers and many other staff, who then followed the cortege to the station and lined the platform until the train left with Lily’s coffin and many wreaths.

Other members of her family met the train at Leicester. After the cremation, Lily’s ashes were taken back to Newcastle. They were buried in the family grave at All Saints Cemetery in Jesmond, after another well attended ceremony. This was reported in another obituary in the Newcastle Daily Journal on 29 November 1918.

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We join Lily Atkinson’s contemporaries in celebrating the short life of a highly respected matron from Heaton, whose professionalism and devotion to duty made a great impact during hard times.

Can you help?

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

Acknowledgements

Written and researched by Arthur Andrews, with additional research by Ian Clough, both of Heaton History Group. Thank you also to Sue Longworth and Julia Corps, Northampton Hospital archivists.

Sources

National Archives, Kew

FindMyPast

Ancestry

National Newspaper Archive

 

 

Wrong Place, Wrong Time: Heaton WW1 civilian prisoners of war

They say that every picture tells a story, that it’s worth a thousand words even. But, in this case, the few words on the board in the foreground of the photograph enabled us to look past the polished boots and smart suits and ties; beyond the forced smiles and resigned expressions into the sixteen pairs of sunken eyes and imagine what these men and thousands more like them, Heaton men and boys among them, were going through far from home.

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SS Juno

The SS ‘Juno‘ was a 1,311 ton vessel built in 1882 and acquired in 1904 by the Tyne-Tees Steamship Company, newly formed in a merger of the Tyne Steam Shipping Company, the Tees Union Shipping Company, Furness Withy and Co and the Free Trade Wharf Company. The new company’s headquarters were in the building we now know as Hotel du Vin on City Road and it also had an office in King Street, just off the Quayside. You can still see a large advert for it on the wall of Sabatini’s restaurant.

The company operated passenger and cargo services to Dutch, German, French and Belgian ports. SS ‘Juno’ had the misfortune to be in Hamburg on 4 August 1914, the day World War One started.  The crew, almost all from Tyneside, were immediately arrested and interned at first in or around the port. Among them was John Rowe of Heaton.

Donkeyman

John was born in West Hartlepool in 1856, the son of John senior, a sailor, and Mary Ann Rowe of Stockton. In 1874, he married Cicely Jowsey of Hartlepool and by 1881 they had three children: Dorothy, Rose and Maude. By 1891, a further five had been added to the family: Jowsey, Cecily, Daisey, Jessie and John junior. John gave his occupation as stoker on a steamship. In 1901, John was absent and there was a younger daughter, Gladys. By 1911, John and Cicely and three of their younger children plus a grandson  had moved to 5 Addison Street in Heaton. Cicely reported that she had been married for 37 years and had given birth to 11 children, nine of whom were still alive. Again John was away from home, presumably at sea once more.

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In August 1914, John, by this time living at nearby 60 Addison Road, would have been 58 years old. He was the ‘donkeyman‘ on SS Juno. His job would have been to oil and grease moving engine parts and to stoke the boiler. After their capture and a short time under arrest in Hamburg, John and the rest of the crew of SS ‘Juno’ were transferred to Ruhleben prison camp just outside Berlin.

Ruhleben

A prison camp to house Germany’s civilian prisoners was established at the outset of the war on a harness racing track in Ruhleben, 10k to the west of Berlin. As soon as war was declared, nationals of the Allied Powers and anyone suspected of sympathising with them were arrested. Most of the 4-5000 prisoners were British, all were male but they came from all walks of life. There were merchant seamen, like John, but also fishermen, businessmen and sportsmen.

Among the detainees were a number of very famous footballers, including Steve Bloomer, who had starred for Derby County ( 291 goals in 473 appearances)  and Middlesbrough (59 goals in 125 appearances) and had scored 28 goals in 23 appearances for England. He had begun a coaching job in Berlin just weeks earlier.

Composer Edgar Bainton was another famous prisoner. He was piano professor and principal of Newcastle upon Tyne Conservatory of Music and a leading figure in the Tyneside music scene and later nationally and internationally. He had travelled to Germany to the Bayreuth Music Festival, where along with other foreign performers and concert goers, he was arrested. Bainton is credited with introducing Tynesiders to composers such as Holst and Vaughan Williams. He is best remembered for his church music but he composed a wide range, neglected for a long time, but  now increasingly heard.

Although life and conditions in the camp weren’t easy, prisoners were allowed to administer their own affairs and were allowed letters, sports equipment, even a printing press. The prisoners organised their own police service, postal deliveries, magazine, library – even businesses. There were football, rugby, cricket and golf tournaments; concerts, opera and drama performances; lectures; a garden club affiliated to the Royal Horticultural Society and many other diversions. But there were also accounts of a class divide, racial segregation and other social problems.

Most prisoners stayed at Ruhleben, far away from their worried family and friends, for the entire duration of the war but a few were lucky enough to have been released early. Perhaps because of his age, illness or a swap with a German prisoner in Britain, John was freed on 22 December 1915 and so does not appear on the photograph, which was taken in the camp in 1916 or ’17. From research carried out by Marcus Bateman and published on the MT9 Project website, we know the names of the crew members and their home address at the time of capture but not who is who in the photo.

John Rowe was awarded the Mercantile Marine Medal and the British Medal in 1921. He and Cicely continued to live in Heaton. He died in December 1929, aged 73.

Marine Engineer

Another former Heaton resident detained was John Cyril Vasey, a marine engineer on board the SS ‘Indianola‘, a Liverpool registered ship. Records show that he was arrested on 16 October 1914 and, after a short period of confinement on the Hamburg hulks, was sent to Ruhleben.

Vasey was a Freemason: we have membership records from 1913 and he was one of 112 Ruhleben prisoners who signed a message of greeting to Sir Edward Letchworth, Grand Secretary of English Freemasons, postmarked 9 December 1914 and printed in ‘The Times’ on 28 December. He was also a keen footballer: his name appears in the ‘Handbook of the Ruhleben Football Association, Season 1915‘.

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John Cyril Vasey’s merchant navy ID card, 1923

John was born in Newcastle on 28 June 1885. By 1891, aged 11, he was living in Jesmond with his father Henry, a Londoner, part owner of Hawks, Vasey and Ridley, iron and steel merchants; his mother, Louisa, a Yorkshire woman; three older brothers, Henry, Arthur and Thomas and younger siblings, George, Frances and Nora, along with a servant.

In 1901, he was an eighteen year old marine engineering clerk, living at 192 Heaton Road with his mother Louisa, older brothers Henry and Arthur, both students, and younger siblings, George, Frances and Nora, along with a servant, Elizabeth Barnes. By 1911, the family had moved to Leyton in Essex, although John did not appear on that year’s census. Possibly he was at sea.

John returned to the merchant navy after the war. He died in 1936 at Papworth Village Hospital, Cambridgeshire, aged 50.

First Engineer

And Edwin Henry Perry was First Engineer aboard the SS ‘Sheldrake’, a Sunderland built steamer, when it was shelled and sunk on 8 November 1916 by the German U-Boat, ‘U 34’, 20 miles WSW of Marittimo Island in the Straits of Sicily. The crew survived but two senior members, Edwin Perry and the Master, Charles Stanley Johnson, were taken prisoner and transported to a prisoner of war camp at Furstenberg, north of Berlin.

In 1911, Edwin was living with his wife, Leila, and their two young children, John (3) and Henry (2) in Catford, SE London. Edwin gave his occupation as ‘seagoing engineer’. By January 1914, when he was admitted to the freemasons, he was recorded as a ‘chief engineer’.

All the family were born in the London area but they were soon to move north to Heaton. At the time of his capture in 1916, Edwin’s address was given as 18 Third Avenue, Heaton. Leila died in 1917, leaving three young children. Following the war, Edwin was married for a second time to Mary Elizabeth Gwinnett, with whom he had three more children.

Edwin was also awarded medals for service as a merchant seaman during WW2 at the start of which he would have been 60 years old. He died in 1950 in Poole, Dorset.

Apprentice

Our final Heatonian and the youngest, 17 year old William Martin Henry, was detained when the ship on which he was serving his apprenticeship, the ‘French Prince‘, was captured and sunk by the German auxiliary cruiser, ‘Mowe’, off the coast of Brazil on 15 February 1917. This time, the crew were taken to Gustrow prisoner of war camp in Northern Germany, where William was interned for the remainder of the war.

William was born at 49 King John Street, Heaton on 8 July 1899, son of Aberdonian Robert Martin Henry and Banff born Isabella Robertson Henry (nee Farquharson). On census night 1901, aged 1, he was at the home of his widowed grandmother, Annie Henry, originally from Scotland but by now a boarding house keeper  at 62 North View, Heaton. Also in the house on census night were her daughter, Mary, a ‘contralto vocalist‘ and four boarders from around the country.

On census night 1911, aged 11 William was staying with his 16 year old brother, Robert Farquharson, a clerk, who was described as head of household; his 13 year old brother Norman Charles, a ‘scholar’ and a 21 year old servant, Annie Stephenson, at 64 Rothbury Terrace. (We haven’t yet discovered where the brothers were in 1901 or where Isabella, William’s mother was in 1901 or 1911. Please let us know if you can help.)

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William Martin Henry’s 1st Mate’s certificate, 1921

After the war, William returned to the family home on Rothbury Terrace, where his mother and father lived until they died in 1924 and 1932 respectively. He was granted his Second Mate’s Certificate on 29 December 1919 and his First Mate’s Certificate two years later.  (We know from this that he was 5 feet 8 inches with blue eyes, brown hair and a fresh complexion.) On 11 September 1924 William was granted his Master’s Certificate.

We have found records showing that, after his release, he continued to enjoy a life at sea. On 8 July 1932 (aged 33), he sailed from Liverpool to Boston on the SS ‘Nova Scotia‘ as a passenger. On Feb 1935, he was a crew member aboard the SS ‘Javanese Prince‘, which sailed from Halifax in Canada to Boston.

We haven’t found WW2 records relating to William but his older brother, Robert, is honoured on panel 29 of the Merchant Seamen’s Memorial at Tower Hill in London, which commemorates losses in WW2. It names his ship as SS ‘City of Canberra’ (Liverpool) although he didn’t actually die until 28 May 1947 in Withington Hospital, Manchester, aged 52.

William himself died at the former home of his brother, Robert, in Manchester in 1962. Probate was granted to Nellie Grace Henry, named as his widow. She had previously been married to Robert.

So a photograph that, as far as we know, doesn’t include anyone from Heaton has helped uncover an often forgotten aspect of WW1, the detention of civilians by both sides, and the stories of a number of Heaton residents, caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Can you help?

If you know more about any of the people mentioned or in the SS ‘Juno‘ photograph , have photos you are willing to share or can add to our list of Heaton WW1 civilian prisoners of war, we’d love to hear from you. Please either leave a reply on this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or email chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Chris Jackson, Heaton History Group. Thank you to Colin Green of Water Orton, North Warwickshire, who kindly sent us the photograph along with others from his collection which he believes to be relevant to this area. And also to Marcus Bateman of the MT9 project for additional information about the SS Juno, John Vasey and John Rowe.

Sources

MT9 Project

The Ruhleben Story

Ancestry UK

and other online sources

 

 

 

 

Forgotten Music Makers of Heaton

If you were asked about Heaton’s most important exports, you might well mention great feats of engineering, such as Sir Charles Parsons’ ground-breaking steam turbines, or Grubb Parsons’ telescopes, both of which are still to be found throughout the world. Or perhaps you’d suggest music, with local boy Chas Chandler, inducted into Rock and Roll’s Hall of Fame with ‘The Animals’ in 1994 – the band’s 60s’ songs still played and performed all over the world half a century after they were written. We rightly commemorate such achievements with plaques, books and museum displays.

But hands up if you’ve ever stopped on Grafton Street and given even a passing thought to the local men who married both of the great Heaton industries of engineering and music?  In truth, you might never have had cause to go to Grafton Street at all: since redevelopment of the area, it’s perhaps the shortest street in Heaton (or is it Byker?) comprising little more than four parking bays (usually full) facing Shields Road and a single yellow line. There’s a pawnbroker’s shop on one corner and a council customer service centre on the other.

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Grafton Street

But there’s also a nearby bench on which you can sit and listen. There may still be music in the air.

So let’s rewind.

Apprentice

Charles William Howden was born in All Saints parish, of which Heaton was a part, in 1865 and baptised in St Nicholas’s Cathedral on 28 May of that year. He was the eldest child of Ryton born, Margaret Isabella, and John Howden, a shipping clerk from Wakefield in Yorkshire.

By 1881 at the age of 16 and still living with his parents and now four younger siblings in the west end of Newcastle, Charles was described as an ‘organ builder’s apprentice’. Ten years later, still living in the parental home, he is described on the census as an ’employer’ and ‘organ builder’.

We don’t yet know to whom young Charles Howden was apprenticed but we can trace the development of the organ building firm that bears his name from its foundation c1893  via Forth Street  and Snowdon Street in Newcastle to 65 Grafton Street, Heaton. Howden had joined forces with one William Charlton Blackett, the Bensham-born son of a coal agent, to set up the firm of Blackett and Howden Ltd.

Inventors

Like other more famous engineers operating around Heaton at this time, Blackett and Howden weren’t content to copy what had gone before. They wanted their organs to be better than everyone else’s. We can trace several patent applications: for ‘pallets‘ (1891). ‘pneumatic action’ (1895) and ‘blowing‘ (1904).

According to organ historian, James Ingall Wedgewood, they may have invented what is known as a ‘diaphone‘, the noise-making device best known for its use as a foghorn. While the invention of the diaphone is commonly attributed to Robert Hope-Jones,  it was apparently Blackett and Howden who first experimented with it as early as 1888:

‘It frequently happens in organ building, when the requisite conditions are fortuitously complied with, that a pallet will commence to vibrate rapidly, and it is often within the province of an organist’s or organ builder’s observation that such a “fluttering pallet,” or a Tremulant in a state of rapid vibration, when provided with a resonator in the form of a soundboard or wind trunk, generates tones of considerable power. The safety valves of steamboats constantly act similarly. … The idea must doubtless have occurred to many builders … that such phenomena might systematically be adapted to tonal use.

An experimental attempt at such adaptation was made in 1888 by Messrs. Blackett & Howden, of Newcastle [England]. The bulk of the apparatus employed was enclosed in a box (15 ins. square for the 16 ft. note). Wind passed into a chamber containing a vibrator in the form of a circular disc fixed on to the loose end of a spring, and so arranged as to beat against a hole in the under side of the resonator, being regulated in pitch and intensity by a sliding bridge and set-screw.’

Whether because they were louder or simply because they were of superb quality, Blackett and Howden organs were sold not only across the north east but soon throughout the UK and even overseas.

Some of the earliest church organs for which records exist are in Scotland; the one in the Braid Church in Edinburgh was built in 1898 and there were other early instruments in Glasgow, West Kilbride and Montrose. At one point the firm did so much business in Scotland that it ran a second workshop in Glasgow. Another one followed in Cardiff.

Close to home

According to the British Pipe Organ Register, locally, the firm built the organ for St Gabriel’s (date unknown), Heaton Methodist Church (1910) and Heaton Congregational Church (1920).

The transport costs to Heaton Congregational Church must have been among the lowest for any Blackett and Howden organ: the church (now Heaton Bingo) was only a few hundred yards from the factory. Unfortunately, we don’t know what happened to this organ: it doesn’t appear on the current National Pipe Organ Register.

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Heaton Congregational Church’s Blackett and Howden organ was installed in 1920

 

There is some confusion regarding the St Gabriel’s organ. According to the British Pipe Organ Register, organ N04082 was surveyed in St Gabriel’s in 1944 and described as ‘built by Blackett and Howden (date unknown)’. According to the opening sentence of a report written in 1994 by Paul Ritchie: ‘The builders of St Gabriel’s organ would appear to be modest as there is no name plate on the console, nor do the bellow weights carry their initial letters’. Ritchie goes on to say: ‘Somewhere in the back of my memory is a little voice saying Abbott and Smith’. And indeed there is another entry in the register for St Gabriel’s: organ N12464 ‘built by Abbott and Smith in 1905; surveyed in 1980′. Another unsigned and undated report states that Blackett and Howden installed an exhaust-pneumatic action around 1920 and that, at the same time, tuba and pedal trombone were added ‘and the Great Organ gained a large Open Diapason with leathered upper lips. This latter stop was placed on a separate unit chest and was reported to be rather poor; it was removed by Willis in 1963′.

But there are no such doubts about the instrument in Heaton Methodist Church. It was inaugurated on Wednesday 4 May 1910: ‘there were recitals from 2.30pm, followed by a public tea. Special services took place on the next three Sundays and a concert took place on Monday 23rd May.’ And it’s is still going strong.

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Heaton Methodist Church organ

A celebratory concert was held in 2010 to celebrate the centenary of its installation and the programme included a short history of both the organ and of Blackett and Howden itself.

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Heaton Methodist Church organ centenary programme

 

Military march

But perhaps the most famous Blackett and Howden organ still played today is in the Royal Memorial Chapel of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, which was built in 1924. The instrument is described in the history of the organ as ‘for its time, fairly cutting edge technology’ with ‘pioneering use of tubular pneumatic action’. After the war, the architect Sir Hugh Casson designed a new organ case for the instrument above the chapel’s main war memorial. At this point the organ was rebuilt and enlarged but using a lot of the original pipework.

 Rescue

Sadly many Blackett and Howden organs have been destroyed over the years but that originally built for the Prince’s Theatre in North Shields was fortuitously rescued by an Australian enthusiast. Apparently this was the only unit theatre organ ever built by the firm (in 1929) and its console was displayed at the North East Trade Fair Exhibition.

Records show that the flue pipes were ‘voiced’ by Syd Goldsmith and the reeds and strings by Frank ‘Hubbert‘ (although we believe this to be Frank Hubbard who in 1911 was living on Tosson Terrace, Heaton). The skill of manipulating an organ pipe to make it sound is known as voicing: ‘Each pipe must be made to play with the proper onset of sound (known as speech), sustained tone, and volume. When the voicing process is complete, each individual pipe in the organ forms a beautiful musical instrument.’

According to locals, the Prince’s Theatre organ had ‘a beautiful tone with sweet voicing and ample power for the large house.’ Although its console was destroyed in 1969, its chamber contents were bought for £75 by the Organ Society of Australia.  They even obtained the original receipt!

BlackettandHowdenReceiptPrince'sTheatre

Blackett and Howden document

In 1975, it was installed in Cinema North in Reservoir, Victoria. In 1999, it was moved to Coburg Town Hall, also in Victoria. You can read the full story of  this wonderful instrument here:

Eastward ho

We have found a record showing that, on 16 January 1917, William Blackett sailed from London to Hong Kong on the Japanese ship, SS Fushimi Maru. It was a dangerous time to be at sea: over 200 allied ships were lost during January 1917 alone. But it shows that Blackett and Howden’s reputation was worldwide. As you can see below, most of Blackett’s fellow British passengers were missionaries or nurses.

BlackettandHowdenpassengerlistIMG_3809_resize-2

Fushima Maru passenger list including William Blackett

The organ of St John’s Cathedral in Hong Kong was built by William Blackett ‘an elderly, bearded gentleman’ who ‘had come to the colony to install one of their organs in a church in the colony. Finding the climate congenial, he decided to stay and set up a small organ factory in the city. He recruited a group of Chinese and taught them the trade’.

Full renewal of the existing organ was priced at $14,000 but fundraising was suspended because of what was called ‘troublous times’ in 1925: a strike and anti-British boycott ignited by a deadly shooting during a strike in Shanghai, fuelled to fever pitch by British and French guards killing demonstrators in Canton. Nevetheless the organ was complete by 1927 and services, in which the organ could be heard, broadcast on the radio the same year.

Sale

Meanwhile back home, Blackett and Howden was sold to the London firm of Hill, Norman and Beard in 1924. At this time, John Christie of Glyndebourne became the major shareholder and Charles Howden became general manager with Ralph Walton Blackett, William’s son, sub-manager.

But on 25 September 1927, with William Blackett still in Hong Kong, Charles Howden died at the age of 62 at his home, 35 Rothbury Terrace. He left £1873 3s 3d in his will, a modest sum considering the success of the company he had co-founded more than thirty years earlier.

Blackett and Howden’s name continued to be used, however. It traded from its Grafton Street premises for another half century. The Heaton factory finally closed in 1974, when the remaining part of the business was purchased by N Church & Co.

Team effort

William Blackett and Charles Howden did not, of course, build their organs alone.

Hopefully this article will enable us to trace people employed in the factory in later years. In the meantime, it seems appropriate to pay tribute here to some of the workers listed in the 1911 census whose reputation and, in some cases, expertly crafted musical instruments live on more than a hundred years after they were made.

One of these was Terrot G Myles who, in 1911, was 30 years old. He lived at 149 Molyneux Street.

Blackett&HowdenTeretGMylesIMG_2086 (1)

Terrot G Myles

Terrot is described in the census as an ‘organ builder‘. Thanks to his granddaughter, Grace, we have  photographs of him and know quite a lot about his life. Terrot was born in Glasgow but moved to Edinburgh as a young boy. After leaving school, he was apprenticed to Ingram & Co, a firm of organ builders, in their Edinburgh factory and progressed to become a journeyman. The firm described him as ‘smart, willing and punctual’ and recommended him to future employers. In 1908, Scovell and Company called him ‘a most conscientious and painstaking worker, perfectly steady and reliable and a good all round man’. His reference made it clear that he was leaving the company only due to ‘depression of trade’ and they expressed a hope that he would return at some future date.

By this time though Terrot had already married Isabella Younger, a bookbinder from Sunderland. Their elder son, Richard, was born in Hampshire in 1908 but by 1911, they were in Newcastle, where, a year later, their younger son, John was born. We can only guess that while in Heaton and working as an organ builder, Terrot was employed by Blackett and Howden but it seems a fair assumption to make.

However, in 1923, the family set sail from Liverpool to New York in search of a better life. Terrot spent the next eight years working for Henry Pilcher’s Sons, an organ builder, in Louisville, Kentucky. He became a naturalised American the following year and spent his career building and installing organs all over the USA. He received and treasured many glowing references, which Grace still has. Terrot and Isabella eventually moved to White Lake, Michigan, where Isabella died in 1954 and Terrot a year later, aged 73 years.

Others listed in the 1911 census include:

William Blackett, aged 52, 13 Brough Street, Heaton Joiner in Organ Factory (We don’t know whether he was related in any way to the firm’s co-founder, William Blackett, who lived in Whitley Bay at this time)

Charles Brassington, aged 31, 26 Heaton Park Road, organ builder

John Wastle Craig, aged 14, 15 Tynemouth Rd, organ builder assistance

William Gill, aged 54, 13 Addison Street, organ builder, voicer, tuner

Thomas Miller Hendry, aged 23, 39 Langhorn St, organ builder

Frank Hubbard, 83 Tosson Terrace, organ voicer (*Almost certainly the Frank ‘Hubbert’ who voiced the North Shields organ. See above.)

James William Jobson, aged 50, 10 North View, organ builder

John Jobson, aged 16, 10 North View, apprentice organ builder

John George Millington, aged 34, 188 Warton Terrace, organ builder (Later lived in King John Terrace until his death in 1962)

John Matthew Mitchell, aged 63, 72 Addycombe Terrace, organ builder

John Henry Reed, aged 22, 80 Eighth Avenue, organ builder

Ernest Routledge, aged 22, 57 Malcolm Street,  organ pipe maker (Ernest died in 1918 aged 29 as did his 2 year old son, Roland)

Whenever you listen to organ music this Christmas, spare a thought for these Heaton master-craftsmen and the lasting joy they have brought to the world.

Can you help?

If you know more about any of the people or organs mentioned in this article or of anyone who worked at Blackett and Howden’s, we’d love to hear from you. We’d also be interested to hear and see photographs of any other Blackett and Howden organs you see on your travels. Please either leave a reply on this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or email   chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Chris Jackson, Heaton History Group. Thank you to HHG member, Joyce Lovell, and to George Cottrell for information about Heaton Methodist Church organ; to Pauline Giles for information about St Gabriel’s organ;  to Grace Myles for photos and information on Terrot Myles.

Sources

Biographical Dictionary of the Organ

Laurence Elvin ‘Family Enterprise: the story of some north country organ builders‘ 1986

Norman F Moore and W Kirby Robinson ‘From Byker to Heaton: the origins and history of Heaton Methodist Church’ Pattinson, 2000

 National Pipe Organ Register list of Blackett and Howden organs 

James Ingall Wedgwood ‘A Comprehensive Dictionary of Organ Stops English and Foreign, Ancient and Modern’ The Vincent Music company, 1905 (via Wikipedia entry for Diaphone)

Stuart Wolfendale ‘Imperial to International: a history of St John’s Cathedral Hong Kong’ Hong Kong University Press, 2013

and online sources eg Ancestry

Metal Box

Does anyone remember The Metal Box Company works near Heaton Junction?

A Bit of History

Nationally the company dates back to at least 1810, although some of its constituent companies predate that, including Hudson Scott and Sons of Carlisle and Newcastle, acquired by Metal Box in 1921 and which is said to have been founded in 1799.

However it was a Heaton firm,  I A Hodgson, that led to the company’s presence on Chillingham Road. I A Hodgson, owned by Irvine Anthony Hodgson, was originally a manufacturer of cork products but by 1922 described itself as a ‘decorated tin manufacturer’.

Tin Boxes (1)

Advert for I A Hodgson & Co Ltd, which became Metal Box

Metal Box seems to have acquired the company in 1924, although it continued to trade under its original name until WW2. Irvine, the son of a butcher from County Durham,  had died in 1931, leaving over £24,000 in his will.

Nationally, in 1932, Metal Box described itself as a ‘maker of plain and decorated tins and tins for fruit and vegetables’ At this point, fruit and vegetable canning represented only 20% of its business, although that was expected to grow. In the mid 1930s it made the first British beer cans.

But it wasn’t all about tin cans. During WW2, its products included:

‘140 million metal parts for respirators, 200 million items for precautions against gas attacks, 410 million machine gun belt clips, 1.5 million assembled units for anti-aircraft defence, mines, grenades, bomb tail fins, jerrican closures and water sterilisation kits, many different types of food packing including 5000 million cans, as well as operating agency factories for the government making gliders, production of fuses and repair of aero engines

However, it described its Heaton Junction enterprise as a ‘tin box manufacturer’ into the 1950s. Hopefully someone  who worked there will remember its range of products and let us know.

 By 1961,Metal Box boasted more than 25,000 employees in total in ten subsidiary and 13 associated companies and it soon became the largest user of tinplate in Britain, producing 77% of the metal cans in the UK.

But by 1970, the Metal Box name had disappeared from local trade directories and telephone books. There is a photo in Tyne and Wear Archives (not yet seen by us) of the premises in 1976 before work began on the Metro .

Globally, Metal Box is now part of the giant American multinational conglomerate, Honeywell.

But what of Metal Box in Heaton?

Mrs Anne Fletcher remembers:

‘It was situated at Heaton Junction at the top of Chillingham Road. The premises are long gone now and the site appears to be part of the environs of the Metro.

 

NorthView

North View, Heaton c 1974 with Metal Box visible in the background

 

My first job after leaving Heaton High school in 1956 was in the offices. I’d been looking for a job when I received a telegram from the firm asking me to contact them. Not many people had ‘phones then!

I duly began my working life as a junior telephonist/receptionist at the weekly wage of £3-12-6d. This enabled me to pay my mam for my keep, go dancing at the Oxfordballroom in Newcastle and buy a few treats.

I walked there and back, lunchtimes included. My route went over the skew bridge, passing the stone wall which bordered the railway shunting yard. I remember there were huge advertising hoardings behind the wall. I passed my old school, then on reaching the corner of Rothbury Terrace, passed the dark blue Police box (like “Dr  Who”) and so home to Warton Terrace.

My new duties included greeting visitors and learning to operate the switchboard with its plugs and extensions connecting callers to the various departments. I was shown how to correctly wrap sample tins for posting and I would take the franking machine up to the post office at the top of Heaton Road. I had to practise typing as I had to attend weekly classes in Newcastle.

In Reception it was fascinating to watch the large Telex machine spring to life, chattering, with typed pages magically appearing. I learned how the typists’ Dictaphone wax cylinders were cleaned on a special machine, after which they were redistributed.

Having to walk through the factory one day was a bit daunting as it was of course a very busy and noisy place. It was all new and interesting though.

I moved on to the accounts department and used a large calculator. Others worked as comptometer operators. I eventually decided to go to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance, as it then was, at Longbenton. I enjoyed my time at Metal Box  though. It  had given me a good introduction to working life.’

Your Memories   

If you have memories, information or photographs of Metal Box, which you’d like to share, please either upload them to this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or email them to chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org We’d love to hear your recollections of other notable Heaton workplaces too.

Acknowledgements

Many thanks to Mrs Fletcher for her memories and to Ian Clough, who found the advert for I A Hodgson & Co Ltd.

The photo is taken from ‘Heaton: from farms to foundries’ by Alan Morgan; Tyne Bridge Publishing, 2012. Thank you to Newcastle Libraries in whose collection the original can be found.

Details of  Metal Box’s history are from ‘Grace’s Guide to British Industrial History’ http://www.gracesguide.co.uk/Metal_Box_Co

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

 

Heaton Herbals

In the Newcastle trade directories from 1914-1923 the head of household of 2 Warwick Street, Heaton,  George Kingdon, was described as a ‘herbalist’. We decided to try to find out more about Mr Kingdon and the practice of herbal medicine in Newcastle and, especially, Heaton. Our research threw up some fascinating characters.

A bit of history

The practice of looking for therapeutic properties in plants dates back thousands of years, with the ‘Pen Tsao’ or ‘The Great Herbal of China’ dating back to c3000BC and the ‘Ebers’ papyrus, which listed around 700 herbal medicine used in Egypt, to about 2000BC. In ancient Rome, Pliny believed that there was a specific herbal remedy for every disorder, if only it could be found.

In Britain, Nicolas Culpepper’s ‘English Physician and Complete Herbal’ was published in the middle of the seventeenth century but, unlike in ancient China, Egypt and Rome, Culpepper incorporated magic and astrology into his work. When belief in magic faded, the popularity of herbalism waned too, although small herbal shops continued to exist, particularly in the north of England. In 1864 the National Institute of Medical Herbalists, was founded to improve standards, although old-style unqualified herbalists continued to practise.

Consumptive Cure

One of the most well known practitioners in Newcastle certainly wasn’t qualified. We might well consider him a ‘quack’ but his name will be familiar to anyone who lived in Newcastle before the mid 1980s. He’s George Handyside, who was born in Newton on the Moor, Northumberland in 1821. He started out as a shoe manufacturer and retailer in Berwick upon Tweed but soon had over 50 shops across north east England. By 1855, he had moved to Elswick in Newcastle and started to invest in property and, in 1888, he began a new business, as a ‘maker and vendor of medicinal cures’.

HerbalHandysidecartoon

Handyside’s most famous product was a ‘cure‘ for consumption but he also advertised ‘Blood Food’, ‘Blood Purifier’, ‘Blood Medicine’ and ‘Nerve Restorer’ (said to cure all appetite for alcohol), amongst other things. He’d hit on another successful business idea in the days before the NHS when, not only did conventional medicine not offer treatments for many common conditions, but also treatment by a doctor was beyond the means of many people.

George Handyside himself lived a long life. He died on 6 May 1904. His funeral was a huge affair with more than 1,000 mourners, mainly poorer people who believed they had benefitted from his medicines, along with those who remembered him as kindly neighbour. His biggest property development yet, an arcade on Percy Street, was still incomplete. It was finished after his death and named the ‘Handyside Arcade’.

Contemporaries

But Handyside was by no means the only herbalist operating in Newcastle during the 19th Century. Ward’s Directory of 1857-58, for example, lists six including a J Thomas (hopefully not wholly appropriately) ‘agent to Dr Coffin’ and James Wood, (‘dealer in British and Importer of Foreign Herbs, Barks, Roots etc‘).

HerbaladWood

In 1865, there were still six including James Wood still and now also Austin’s of Low Bridge, who promoted his ‘celebrated camomile, stomachic and aperient pills…’ .

HerbaladAustin

Twentieth Century

By 1900, Newcastle had expanded considerably and there were two herbalists on Shields Road: German, John James Reinecke, at 113 and Miss E Halsey at 42 Shields Road West. It is now that George Kingdon is first recorded in Newcastle. He ran Newcastle Herbal Medicine Stores at 110 New Bridge Street.

In Court

On 14 May 1901 George Kingdon appeared before Newcastle Police Court on a charge of keeping a refreshment house without a licence. Under the Refreshment House Act of 1860, refreshment houses were  defined as ‘all houses, rooms, shops or buildings kept open for public refreshment, resort and entertainment between 10pm and 5am not being licensed for the sale of beer, cider, wine or spirits’. The act required the keeper of a refreshment house that was open at any time between 10pm and 5am to apply for a licence. The Act was a way of monitoring establishments kept open at night for the sale of food or drink and ensuring that they weren’t operating as public houses, off licences, brothels etc.

In court, Police Sergeant Bestwick reported that he had entered Mr Kingdon’s premises in New Bridge Street at 12.10am on 3 March and bought a bottle of ‘botanic beer’ for which he paid a penny. Kingdon’s lawyer, Mr Parsons, drew the court’s attention to notices in the window of the shop which stated that tonics were sold, including one that read ‘Sarsaparilla, the great blood purifier’. When the prosecution asked Sergeant Bestwick whether the drink had a medicinal act, he replied that he’d only drunk half a bottle. The defence said ‘That wasn’t enough’.

When asked why the establishment was open at that hour, Mr Parsons said that it was not a refreshment house as covered by the act and that his client practised as a medical herbalist, selling spectacles etc, ‘everything that a chemist would sell except the scheduled poisons’. Furthermore he said that Mr Lucock, the Police-court Missionary, called regularly for a drink, believing that it did him good to which the Clerk of Court retorted ‘One needs a pick-me-up after leaving here!’

The role of the Court Missionary is interesting. It originated in London, funded by the Church of England, and was intended to steer criminals away from drink. Within a few years,  the idea had been adopted by more towns and cities and is acknowledged as the fore-runner of the probation service. Mention of the court missionary in this case appears to confirm the connections known to exist between herbalists and the temperance movement.

Despite the defence’s case, the bench’s decision was that the house was a place of refreshment under the Act and Kingdon was fined ten shillings plus costs.

George Kingdom

George Kingdon was born in Cardiff in c1866 but his early life remains  a mystery. What we do know is that by 1900 he’d moved to Newcastle and by the following year, he was described in the census as a ‘herbalist shopkeeper’ living with his wife Florence, who originated in Islington, London, at 32 Shields Road West, with a boarder called James Fielding Mattinson, aged 78, from Leeds, who was described as a ‘herbalist’s assistant’. Kingdon’s shop was downstairs at number 34. He no longer seemed to run a shop in New Bridge Street.

By 1911, George and Florence had a six year old daughter, Charlotte, and were living at 12 Stannington Avenue, Heaton, along with a domestic servant. George was still described as a ‘herbalist shopkeeper’ and he was still running the Shields Road West shop. From 1914 the couple lived at 2 Warwick Street.

We also know that George was a freemason, first at Lord Collingwood Lodge in Byker (He is mentioned in the ‘Newcastle Journal’ of 2 November 1914 as having donated £18 on behalf of the lodge to support Belgian refugees.) and then at Heaton Lodge. He died on 5 March 1923, leaving £8,183 8s 10d in his will. Florence outlived him. For a short time the Shields Road West shop continued with J W Young the proprietor but after World War 2 it became Oxteby’s Corn Stores and by the late 1960s a pet shop. It’s long since been demolished.

More Heaton Herbalists

By 1902, there was a herbalist practising in Heaton itself, Alfred Thomas Raper at 34 North View. Alfred was a former cartman from Yorkshire, who lived in Heaton with his wife, Sarah, and their six children before moving his business to County Durham. There was also a new herbalist in New Bridge Street, Alfred Salmon Barnfather’s at number 59.

Ten years later Bartholomew Westgarth, a local man who had previously kept a butcher’s shop at 65 Seventh Avenue and at 53 Chillingham Road and before that was a waterman,  was running a herbal medicine business from his home at 40 Rothbury Terrace. (Incidentally, Bartholomew was married to Elizabeth nee Hepple and on census night 1911, her nephew, John Wilson Hepple, a prominent local artist was staying with them.)

Also at this time Fred William Bernard was operating from 57 Heaton Road, a property well-known to older Heatonians as the ice-cream parlour.

Fred Bernard

Luckily for us in the early 1930s, F W Bernard published a book ‘The Rational and Natural Treatment of Disease by Medical Herbalism’, in which he promotes his products and gives a little information about himself. There is even a photo.

HerbalistBernard

Fred William Bernard

 

Fred was born in Bradford in c1882 and by 1911 was married with a seven year old daughter, Doris, and living in Heaton.

In his book, he says that he has been ‘connected with the herbal trade since a boy’ . He relates how some 15 years earlier, he had acquired the well established and previously mentioned New Bridge Street firm of J M Barnfather. He doesn’t mention possessing any specific qualifications or accreditation but asserts that ‘the various herbs, roots and barks stocked by me are gathered by trained botanists at the correct season and are dried and packed and are strictly hygienic conditions‘ and he quotes Taylor’s Chemists, Boots Cash Chemists, Principle Co-operative Stores and others as stockists of ‘Bernard’s Herbal Medicines’. He cites references from as far away as Inverness-shire and New Zealand.

HerbalBernard2

Fred died on 28 June 1941 leaving just over £11,000 in his will, with probate awarded to Second Lieutenant Leon Bernard and Frederick Bernard, herbalist. His knowledge lived on.

Sarsaparilla

Like George Kingdon thirty years earlier, Fred sold sarsaparilla (the roots of ‘smilax officianalis’, a perennial, trailing vine, native to Mexico and Central America.) as a ‘blood purifier’. His ‘finest Jamaica sarsaparilla’ cost 1s 6d per packer and was recommended for children and adults ‘for at least eight weeks every spring time’.

Herbalsarsrecipe

Thank you to G Baldwin & Co, still going strong on Walworth Road, London for permission to use this image

 

Sarsaparilla,  celebrated in the lyric in ‘Calamity Jane’: ‘Introducing Henry Miller, Just as busy as a fizzy sasparilla’  is still used as an ingredient in both herbal medicine and soft drinks. The sarsaparilla drinks you can buy today are mainly flavoured artificially but some, like those of Baldwin & Co, use a small amount of root extract.

With the advent of the National Health Service, the popularity of herbal medicine declined but it never fell out of favour completely and in Britain, and indeed Newcastle, was boosted by increased immigration from China and by a gradual realisation that conventional medicine didn’t have all the answers. And now increasingly universities, including Newcastle, and pharmaceutical companies are employing cutting edge scientific techniques to work out how to extract valuable plant compounds for use in mainstream medicine.

And you only need to call into Boots on Chillingham Road or any of our chemists and supermarkets to see how popular herbal remedies still are. Heaton’s George Kingdon, Fred Bernard and co might not have had formal medical qualifications but they knew a winner when they saw one.

Can you help?

If you have information, anecdotes or photographs of anybody mentioned in this article or herbalism in Heaton that you are willing to share, please either write direct to this page by clicking on the link immediately below the article title, or email chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Sources

‘Fringe Medicine’ by Brian Inglis; Faber and Faber, 1964

‘George Handyside: Newcastle entrepreneur and quack vendor’ by David Robertson and Alan Blakeman; BBR Publishing, 2007

‘The Rational and Natural Treatment of Disease by Medical Herbalism’ by F W Bernard; 1932.

plus online sources.

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Chris Jackson, Heaton History Group as part of our Historic England funded ‘Shakespeare Streets’ project.