Tag Archives: Ravenswood Primary School

Torn from Home: from Bosnia to Heaton

On 4 May 1980 a major news story broke. For all its importance, it probably didn’t have a huge resonance in Heaton, but it would nevertheless go on to have an impact on the life of that part of Newcastle.  It was on that day that President Tito of Yugoslavia died.  Tito and his authoritarian rule had helped to keep the former Yugoslavia together after the nightmares of WW2, yet in little over ten years after Tito’s death, Yugoslavia would be torn apart by ethnic conflict and Smajo Beso and his family would be torn from home only to find a safe place of refuge in Heaton. This is the story of Smajo and his family….and other Bosnians who fled the deadly war and horrific concentration camps of Bosnia and came to the sanctuary of Tyneside will have similar tales to tell.

Smajo Beso was born on 29 March 1985 in a little town in Bosnia called Stolac.  Although born in Stolac, which is a town of 18,000 people, he actually grew up in a small village called Barane. Smajo’s early childhood was pretty idyllic, living under a beautiful mountain, surrounded by nature. In the village there were only 44 homes and as a young boy this gave Smajo a great sense of freedom and adventure.

Smajo 5

Smajo is the little blond boy being held on the left

 

 

Smajo makes it clear now that while the conflict in Bosnia is often explained by using the argument that there were ancient hatreds, which just exploded like a deadly human volcano and there was an inevitability about it all, he doesn’t doesn’t agree.  He says that this is an outsiders’ explanation and simply not true. On the contrary, Bosnia was a country where people of different religions co-existed very peacefully. Jews, for example, were made to feel welcome in Bosnia when they were not welcome in other parts of Europe.

Smajo was brought up not to differentiate in anyway between people of different religions. Although from a Muslim family, he remembers going to a neighbouring Catholic family’s home at Christmas, while they bought Smajo’s family presents at Eid.  Smajo was raised to know that people celebrate different holidays at different times, but they were not different as people. In Bosnia the outward appearance of religion was not obvious, particularly from a child’s perspective; there were a lot of mixed marriages and people were not treated differently.

Signs of change

When asked how he noticed as a young boy that things were going wrong, Smajo replied that it was ‘not overnight’. However, he does remember one incident vividly.  Smajo was six years old and was living in a new home his family had just built. Smajo was playing outside but when he ran back in, he saw his mother crying, while watching television.

Looking back it was 1991 and Smajo thinks it was probably something bad happening around the area of Croatia and northern Bosnia. Smajo also remembers that,  ‘our Croatian friends disappeared overnight’.  They were worried about the Second World War and that some Croatians, working in tandem with the Nazis, had been involved in massacres of Serbs.  In the end only a few elderly Croatians stayed and then eventually only Smajo’s family was left in the village surrounded by the Serb army.

Smajo’s grandad and his brothers had helped to save Serb villages in the Second World War. Consequently, local people went into the street to say Smajo’s family should be protected. They were friends and still coming round – but now in uniforms. They were still friendly and Smajo’s dad knew the commander and he was able to reassure Smajo’s family that even though they were Muslim they would be alright.  However, local friendly soldiers started being replaced by others from further away, from Monetengro and Serbia and some locals changed. One person, who had been friendly, came round sharpening knives, saying that he was going to kill Smajo’s family.  He had been friendly just a week earlier.

Concentration camps

However. it was notable that other Serbs still came at night to bring food to Smajo and his family at great risk to their own lives, even when it came to really bad times.  There was still one local hospital open but when Smajo had to be taken there because he was ill, soldiers at roadblocks wouldn’t let Smajo and his father back in to the village.  The soldiers told them to go a nearby concentration camp.  Fortunately one soldier recognised the family and got into the car with them, so they were able to go to another house. The son of another friend got into his uniform and also got into the car.  Smajo and his family got back to safety. Smajo’s dad’s cousin not so lucky. He was taken to a camp and died a few days later after coming back. It was said to be a heart attack. Whatever the truth, it was surely brought on by torture.

Inevitably, there was a lot of propaganda, with rumours of massacres. By now Smajo and his family were completely cut off. Smajo’s dad  felt compelled to patrol with an old gun. His own father had fought with the Partisans against the Nazis in WW2 , but now Smajo’s dad was up against what was still then the Yugoslav army, then the fourth biggest in Europe. At one point a truck of Serbs came to torture and kill Smajo and his family, but were stopped by a Serbian friend.

Smajo’s family escaped from the isolated village of Barane and made it to Stolac, where there were other Muslims and there would be safety in numbers. Smajo’s dad joined with the Croatian army to fight against the Serbs but after a year all the Muslim men in Stolac were sent to a concentration camp – by the Croatians. Still a small child, Smajo escaped through a place of happy childhood memories from just a few years earlier. How different it all was now.  His first taste of war was playing behind his house and hearing shells. Smajo has noted that even when young you know when danger is around you. He understood then the panic he had seen earlier in the adults around him and what they had been talking about.

Smajo’s father and other men were arrested in July 1993 and put in a concentration camp by the name of Dretelj, which was to become known as the Camp of Death. Smajo’s father lost 27kg in his first few weeks there. He had been fighting the common enemy for the ideal of a multicultural Bosnia. Around the same time, Smajo and his friend had been outside playing in the town of Stolac, when they saw many trucks coming down the road. One of Smajo’s friends saw an uncle of his in the trucks. The men were being taken to be interrogated. Smajo’s dad went back to the front line to wait for inevitable capture while Smajo and the rest of the family remained at his uncle’s house in Stolac for over a month. The uncle was taken a few days later and they saw it happening. He had not been on the front line due to having an injury. One man who came to take him was his daughter’s boyfriend. He didn’t care who he took from Stolac. On 4 August, Smajo’s family were expelled from their old home and taken to a metal factory (Smajo’s uncle had been expelled from his home a month earlier and taken to the same metal factory to be searched and interrogated.) Smajo’s mother was forced to sign something to give away her earrings for ‘safe-keeping’.

Smajo 8

Document on which Smajo’s mum had to sign away her earrings ‘for safe keeping’

From there Smajo and his family were loaded onto trucks and driven until they were near Bosnian-controlled territory and then forced to march to safety. It was very hot and at one point Smajo stepped over a dead body. The elderly died on the side of the street and they were all shelled and shot at.

Escape to the UK

From August 1993 until July 1994 the family stayed in Mostar with Smajo’s mum’s sister. His dad was writing to the family through the Red Cross so they knew that at least he was alive. They had found out just before they left Stolac and then heard nothing for months. The camp he was in was eventually discovered by the Red Cross but by then Smajo’s dad had been there for four months, with nothing to eat but watery stew served in a tiny pot. The boiling hot stew was often so hot he passed it on without having any as it burnt his insides, so on many days he simply didn’t eat anything. In four months he lost 27 kg.  The Red Cross took out the 500 men in the worst condition to an island off Croatia where they were fed and treated. From there, Smajo’s father came to the UK, arriving on 19 January 1994. He was told he could go anywhere except Asia, Africa – or back to Bosnia.

Smajo’s father had to take a ferry, then a bus to Zagreb, walking on enemy territory, when he could have been killed any time. Indeed at one point he had to move away from Muslim haters on the ferry. He was then taken to a meeting point in Zagreb and then flew to the UK on a charter flight for refugees. Eventually, he reached Newcastle.

While all this was going on what happened to the town of Stolac?  Stolac had for long been known as the ‘Bosnia Museum in the open’. It had the best conserved historic core of any town in Bosnia, with wonderful archives and museums. The Croatian troops who went there in August 1993 torched every sign of Muslim existence – with even the local mosque foundations dug up and archives burnt.

This was the dreadful situation Smajo and his family were fleeing from when they were torn from home to land in the Heaton area of Newcastle.  Smajo himself had just turned nine and on hearing that he was coming to the UK  he found it on a map. He says now that,  ‘it looked small!’ He was however excited to get out. A peace agreement with Croatians had been signed, but no agreement had been concluded with the Serbs and the nightmare of the genocide at Srebrenica was still to come a year later. However Smajo was also sad at leaving grandparents, family and friends behind.  It was particularly difficult for his mother; she was leaving her parents behind to see her husband in Newcastle. Thankfully they did survive.  But around the same time the dangers of staying were sadly brought home only too clearly, when Smajo’s aunt (his mother’s sister), was killed by Croatian bombs well away from the front line. It was a senseless killing.

Refugees in Newcastle

In June the Red Cross picked up Smajo and his immediate family  so that they could join Smajo’s father. On route, they were regularly stopped by Croatians at road blocks before reaching a refugee camp in northern Croatia. They were then driven to Zagreb, before flying to London and a short stay in a refugee centre there – all part of the agreement signed by John Major’s government – before finally flying north to Newcastle. Newcastle Central MP Jim Cousins was among those who helped them get to Newcastle.

 

Smajo 1

Smajo, his brother and father, Gosforth, 1994

Smajo 2

Smajo, his brother and sister, 1994

Smajo 3

Family photo, 1994

At first Smajo’s family lived in a refugee centre in Gosforth before moving to a house in Heaton, just off Heaton Park Road.  Coming from a war zone Smajo found Heaton very peaceful – there was no sound of shooting. At night however he found himself having nightmares about Bosnia as he began to process what had happened. One particular recurring dream was of waiting in line for food. On one occasion when doing this for real back in Bosnia, Smajo and his family had been shelled, but until now, he had blocked this from his memory.

Chillingham Road schooldays

Soon it was time for Smajo’s first day at Chilingham Road Primary School. He remembers that he was taken there with a Croatian interpreter.  However, the school had not been told that he was from a war zone. What with the bad memories and no English language, Smajo was very quiet in his early days at Chillingham Road.  Consequently, the school requested a meeting with his parents to discover why he wasn’t talking and subsequently things improved.

At this point the deputy head of Chillingham Road Primary School at the time, Claire Webster Saaramets takes up the story.  Claire remembers going to the school gates that first morning and that she had no real knowledge of what Smajo and other children from Bosnia had gone through. She had seen the news from Bosnia on the television, but that was all. Chillingham Road Primary School was already a mixed community and very integrated. However Smajo was so quiet, not saying very much at all and this lack of English language left teachers unaware of the trauma he had gone through.

After the horrors of Bosnia, living in Heaton and attending Chillingham Road Primary School was a very positive experience for Smajo and others. They were able to feel a sense that they could just come and be who they were.  Music was important and was one thing that could be shared. After Smajo’s parents went back in to school there was lot of additional help.

There was often a song at the end of class and Claire taught the children how to sing it in Bosnian.  So it was that a year 5 class in Heaton learnt to sing in Bosnian, their class song with the title of ‘Goodbye my Friends’, a poignant song about leaving friends behind at the end of the school day. Smajo remembers this as, ‘just the most incredible and biggest act of kindness ever.’  He goes on to comment that, ‘this was something so simple but something so incredibly huge for me. It was a piece of home. I remember that first day walking home from school with a smile on my face. That’s no exaggeration. It was incredible how welcomed I felt, how human and real I felt. What Claire did I will never forget for the rest of my life and we can all learn so much for that one act.’

Smajo also remembers drawing two soldiers with a flag of peace and as his English improved was able to produce an autobiography with a picture.

Schools in Heaton did a lot to help the Bosnian community and others fleeing the war in the former Yugoslavia. Chiilingham Road Primary School held a mini project around peace, helping pupils to feel safe. Meanwhile nearby Ravenswood Primary School initiated a campaign to try and stop the deportation of a pupil and their family back to Croatia. The project at Chillingham Road was about making sure it was safe place, while the school was also used a community centre for several years with the Bosnian flag in on the wall of the dining hall. Members of the Bosnian community met every Friday and they also received great help from the caretakers at the school.

Smajo faced a number of initial problems at school at Chillingham Road Primary.   Most obviously there was the language barrier.  Consequently, at Chillingham Road it took quite a long time for him to make friends. He would stand forlornly looking and watching on the playground.  In his early days at Chillingham Road, Smajo would wait outside every morning, until it was time to come in. Fortunately it was a good Year 5 group and the teachers encouraged the playing of games, which Smajo could join in with. Ultimately it was the international language of football which helped, as playing football was the way he got friendly with people; Smajo had also played football in Bosnia.

At home in Heaton

As Smajo settled into his new life in Heaton, he found both good and bad things about it. On the down side, nearly all his family and friends were still in Bosnia and Smajo found himself feeling homesick. He and his family had a home, but it didn’t feel like a home at first. Happily, all that has changed and Heaton and Newcastle are very much home now.

Smajo  says that people in Heaton and the north east of England share a lot of similarities with Bosnians – they are friendly, with a lot of time for people, just like people in Bosnia. The Bosnian community helped each other, but there were so many other people who helped them. Consequently, they have integrated well, with many Bosnians becoming doctors or working in other professions. Smajo is proud to be Bosnian, but also proud that Newcastle is his home. Heaton is very much their home and most Bosnians in Newcastle live in Heaton and High Heaton.

Smajo sometimes thinks of what might have happened if he and his family hadn’t come to Heaton.   He states that they had no option but to flee. They escaped because of the agreement signed by the British government and that was what brought them here. They never knew how long they would stay here but are now glad that they did.

In terms of what people in Heaton and Newcastle can do to help those torn from home at time of war or other crisis, Smajo simply says to give them a warm welcome. It is a great credit to the people of Heaton and Newcastle that Smajo thinks that they should do whatever was done in the 1990s for the Bosnian community. Smajo notes that people here did that extra bit for them, acts of kindness from people in Heaton, such as having the class song translated into Bosnian.

And what is Smajo doing now?  He is busy completing his Phd in Architecture and teaching at Newcastle University.  He also spends a lot of time telling others of the experiences of himself and others in Bosnia in those dark days in the 1990s and helping people to understand what happened and how we must always be aware of the signs of impending genocide. The struggle against hatred and prejudice goes on.

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Peter Sagar of Heaton History Group. Interviews with Smajo Beso and Claire Webster-Saaramets, Newcastle-upon-Tyne,  21 March 2019 with further comments from Smajo, April 2019.

Additional Source

Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Josip_Broz_Tito

 

 

An exile remembers: Part 2 – the old walk

Heaton History Group is often contacted by people who used to live in the neighbourhood and have vivid and usually fond recollections. We love to hear their memories.  ‘RS’  still returns to Heaton from time to time. Here is the second instalment of his thoughts, which will be serialised over the next few months.

So here I go, from the old house to Armstrong and Heaton parks, retracing the walk – and back again – that I made so many times in the ’60s, and an equivalent walk that many of you may have made yourselves, from the Heaton homes of your own childhoods.

Crossing Simonside Terrace diagonally, from the north side to the south, I soon reach the back lane cut-through which connects it with Rothbury Terrace.

Back lane between Simonside and Rothbury Terrace, November 2015

Back lane between Simonside and Rothbury Terrace, November 2015

(You know the one – straight across from the end of Coquet Terrace.) In fact, as I quickly recall, this particular journey was made on numerous occasions, independently of any visits to the parks, as just along here was the local corner shop, where much of my mid-’60s, one shilling a week pocket money had a tendency to end up, and where my father frequently sent me to buy his packs of (ten) Gold Leaf cigarettes.

(Note: for the benefit of younger readers, one shilling is the modern equivalent of five pence of that new money which was forced upon us 1971, but which nevertheless now seems to have caught on quite well.)

 The name of the corner shop was ‘Tulip’s’, as I hope a few others of you may also remember. Strictly speaking, it wasn’t exactly a ‘corner’ shop, not being positioned on a street corner, but let’s not quibb … oh, it’s gone! Standing directly outside where it once was, I am faced with only the ghostly brick-based outline of its former existence; a seemingly Turin Shroud-like impression of small-scale retailing has been indelibly stamped into the wall, leaving – quite literally – only a trace of what once was.

And as I’m about to turn right into Rothbury Terrace, another memory returns. Back in the ’60s the two main Heaton primary school options were Chillingham Road and Ravenswood. There were also St. Teresa’s for the Catholics, which I can recall being built – and very futuristic it seemed at the time – and Cragside, but which was more for the children of High Heaton.

 Many years later someone told me that the back lane between Rothbury and Meldon Terraces – at least on this west side of Chillingham Road – was the dividing line for the catchment areas of Chillingham Road and Ravenswood primary schools. Put simply, if a child lived on Meldon Terrace and all streets south, then s/he went to Chillingham Road; however, living on Rothbury Terrace and all streets north, then s/he went to Ravenswood. Therefore, in my own case, living on Simonside Terrace meant I went to Ravenswood, even though Chillingham Road was actually nearer to my home.

 I’m rather glad that I did. Meaning absolutely no offence to any readers who may have gone to Chillingham Road primary school, and casting no aspersions on the quality of education which they received there, I always felt that Ravenswood was the better deal. Having opened in 1893, Chillingham Road was already an institutional pensioner when I started at Ravenswood in early 1961, whereas the latter – having opened in 1953 – was still in short trousers, and was still only going through institutional puberty when I left in 1966.

But there was more to it than age. Chillingham Road School seemed to me, in those days, to be a tall, dark, brooding presence, positioned almost menacingly right on … well, right on Chillingham Road, naturally enough … and displaying a stern, grassless, late Victorian asceticism. On the other hand, Ravenswood was lighter and more low-rise, exhibiting the modernity and optimism appropriate to the reign of a new, young queen, with its several acres of school field symbolic of the openness and boundless opportunities that might lie ahead for its pupils. (I can recall how we lost about ten yards from the bottom of the school field in 1965 or so, as a consequence of the Coast Road widening scheme – but we had so much it would have seemed churlish to complain.)

And so I turn right into Rothbury Terrace. Oh! And what’s this? There is still a shop here, after all. Occupying the same space as the former Tulip’s, it seems that the decision has been made to have the door and shop front here rather than around the corner on the side street, where it used to be when I knew it. Fair enough.  It’s no longer ‘Tulip’s’ of course. Now the owner’s name is Kohli.

Tulip's now Kohli's

Tulip’s now Kohli’s

So I now look towards Heaton Road. I’ll be soon be crossing it and entering Armstrong Park. But as I begin to walk in that direction, another set of memories comes flooding back. In the early to mid 1960s Heaton wasn’t a very diverse and vibrant place, in the ethnic sense. If one’s mother was daring enough to ever serve up a Vesta beef curry, then that tended to be about as diverse as life ever got. Until things began to change. In the mid-60’s. And right here. Yes here. On Rothbury Terrace.

 What do you remember?

We’d love to hear memories and see the photos of anyone who has lived, studied, worked or played in Heaton. Either leave your comments below the heading of this article or mail Chris Jackson, Secretary, Heaton History Group.

 

 

Heaton’s Favourite Football Team

Who are we? We play on Tyneside in black and white striped shirts. Easy! We played an national side in 2012. Mmmm? We won the treble in 2012-13 and have already won a trophy in 2014-15. It has to be… ‘The Stan’. We asked the Heaton club’s official historian (and programme editor… and press officer) Kevin Mochrie to tell us about the club’s long history. Over to Kevin:

The beginning

Although officially founded in 1910, recent research has discovered that Heaton Stannington were in existence by 1903 (and so no more than 10 years after the other local team that wears black and white) and playing at Miller’s Lane on the site of the current Fossway. The club name originates from its links with the Stannington Avenue area of Heaton. In 1903-04 they finished fifth in Division 2 of the Newcastle and District Amateur League. In December 1904 they resigned from the league and there is no further record of the team until 1910 which suggests that they might have folded.

The next match played by the Stan appears to have been on 24 September 1910 when they were beaten 4-1 by Sandyford. From at least 1913, home games were taking place at Paddy Freeman’s Park. The club played friendly matches until joining the Tyneside Minor League in 1913 and Northern Amateur League (NAL) Division Two in 1914. The club were elected to membership of the Northumberland FA on 10 September 1914, just over a month after the start of the First World War. The Stan stopped playing until 1919 as at a NFA emergency meeting on 24 November 1914 it was announced that the club were unable to take part in a cup replay ‘on account of not being able to raise a team as so many of their members had joined the army.’

Cup winners

The club spent the next 19 years in NAL Division One and gained their first trophies in 1934 and 1936 when they won the Tynemouth Infirmary Minor Cup and NAL Challenge Cup respectively. The first glory season came in 1936-37 when the club won NAL Division One, were Northumberland Amateur Cup winners and NAL Challenge Cup runners up. The reserves were also NAL Division Two runners up. For one season, 1938-39, the Stan participated in the Tyneside League and were runners up. By the 1930s the team were playing at the Coast Road ground which is now the site of Ravenswood School.

Heaton Stannington, 1934 team photo

Heaton Stannington, 1934

In October 1935, they started playing at Newton Park in High Heaton on the site of a recently filled in quarry. In 2007, the ground was renamed Grounsell Park in honour of the service given, both on and off the pitch, by Bob Grounsell.

High court ruling

The club were elected to the Northern League in 1939. They only managed one season before the league was suspended for the duration of the Second World War. It restarted in 1945 but Heaton Stannington were elected, until 1946, as a non-playing member as their ground was being used by the military. After 5 consecutive bottom three finishes, the club resigned at the end of the 1951-52 season and joined the Northern Alliance until 1956.

Action from a Heaton Stannington game in 1951

Action from a Heaton Stannington game in 1951

The next 16 seasons included involvement in the NAL, North Eastern League and the Northern Combination. In 1972 the club stepped up to the Wearside League and remained there for ten years. They were forced to resign in 1982 for financial reasons due to the club trustees, who had formed a limited company in 1968, putting the annual rent up from £400 to £1500. The company then tried to build a supermarket on the ground but the planning application was defeated. In 1983 the High Court ruled that the ground belonged to the football club and the company had to relinquish ownership.

Champions again

The team were not members of a league during 1982-83 but then joined the Tyneside Amateur League (TAL) for one season and achieved only their second league title up to this point. The next two seasons were spent back in the NAL where they were champions in 1985-86 as well as wining the Northumberland Minor Cup. For the next 27 years the club were in the Northern Alliance, which became a three tier league in 1988 and saw the Stan placed in the Premier Division. After two relegations to Division One, the Stan achieved stability by spending nine seasons in the Premier Division.

Olympics

The club won their highest level league trophy when they became Champions in 2012. Another highlight of the club’s recent past came just a couple of months later when the Gabon national team, who were about to play in the London 2012 Olympic tournament, sought an opponent for a warm-up game. Newcastle United old boy Nobby Solano was asked to help and, with just a couple of days notice during the close season, he approached Heaton Stan, who, despite a number of players (and the club historian, programme editor and press officer!) being away, they raised a team which gave an international side that included Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, then of St Etienne and now (2014) a star of the very successful Borussia Dortmund team, a good run out. The match drew a large crowd to Grounsell Park and the Stan’s very respectable performance seemed to inspire them because in 2012-13, they achieved a historic treble by not only retaining the title but by wining the Northern Alliance League Cup and the Northumberland Senior Benevolent Bowl.

Today

For season 2013-14, after a gap of 61 years, the Stan returned to the Northern League. They were in the promotion race throughout the season and finished a healthy fifth. Grounsell Park now boasts new floodlights and a stand to complement the other facilities, including a bar serving real ale. The first trophy of 2014-15, the Shunde Worldwide Friendship Association Cup, was won in July when the Stan beat Shunde of China 17-2. Another highlight this season was the visit of Peter Beardsley and his Newcastle United Under 18s team, which attracted a crowd of several hundred to Grounsell Park.

Heaton Stannington 2014

Heaton Stannington 2014

There’s no team in black and white that’ll bring you more pleasure this season. Support your local club: ‘Follow The Stan’! You’ll find their fixtures and other information here

Chilli Chimps

The site now occupied by Tesco on the corner of Chillingham Road and Tosson Terrace was once, as many readers will know, a cinema. Sadly, the Scala (always pronounced, as was stressed at a recent Heaton History Group talk, Scay-la) became a victim of the growing popularity of television, closing its doors for the last time over 50 years ago on 1 July 1961. The photograph below appears in ‘Cinemas of Newcastle’ by Frank Manders (Tyne Bridge Publishing, 2005):

Scala cinema Chillingham Road

Former Heaton resident, ‘RS’ has only vague memories of it:

Being only six when The Scala closed, I would have been too young to have been allowed to go there on my own, but there is a vague memory of having visited there once, with a friend and his older sister. Certainly however, even at that young age, I was entrusted to make my own way to and from Ravenswood Primary School, and the most direct route by which to do so would have taken me past The Scala twice a day. To sum up: I may have visited it once, and must have seen it on many occasions, yet my memories of the building are faint.

However, he has much clearer memories of what came next. The world of retailing was changing and the old Scala was eventually demolished to make way for what RS believes to have been Chillingham Road’s – and, possibly, Heaton’s – first supermarket, a ‘Fine Fare’.

The writer was there, standing on the pavement with many others – trust me, it was a big deal at the time, and there was quite a crowd – at its grand opening.

I recall a bright but chilly Saturday morning and, if so, a best guess would be for sometime in the spring of 1965, when I would have been nine or ten. Predictably enough, there was a ribbon to be cut, and men in suits officiating, likely to have been a director of Fine Fare and a perhaps a local councillor. And there was a show business presence as well. On that Chillingham Road pavement, outside the Fine Fare, was a female celebrity, who I believe may have been a pop singer of the time. Now we’re not talking someone with the profile of Cilla, Dusty or Lulu here, but there was definitely someone from showbiz. I recall her having dark hair, and am tempted to have a guess at her identity … but no, that’s all it would be – a guess.

Star attractions

But there’s more – the main attraction, in fact. On that pavement, right in front of the shop entrance, there was placed at least one trestle table – maybe more – where the star guests performed their familiar routine, well known to ITV viewers since 1956. Yes, two or three of the Brooke Bond PG Tips chimpanzees had been brought along and – suitably and safely harnessed – were put through a traditional ‘chimps’ tea party’ act, for the benefit and amusement of the assembled crowd. At least we were all led to believe they were the genuine Brooke Bond TV chimps, hitherto only ever seen in black and white: it didn’t seem to be in the spirit of the occasion to ask for proof of their identities, and they may have been random, Geordie-based chimps for all anyone could tell. But on reflection – probably not. The demanding of autographs was also judged to be an unrealistic option. And then it was all over – no doubt much to the chagrin of the various grocers, butchers, bakers etc. of that stretch of Chillingham Road, now faced with the arrival of a new form of retailing which would do their own businesses no favours at all.

I shopped at the Fine Fare from time to time myself, and actually ended up working there, after school on two evenings a week and on Saturdays, in the early ’70s, when in my mid-teens, tasked with filling the freezer cabinets, but unfortunately without the benefit of an incipient frostbite allowance.

No longer resident in Heaton, I still occasionally drive past the premises noting occasional changes in ownership and name. And, after a gap of probably over four decades, one afternoon in the summer of 2013, I finally ventured back inside. On leaving the old, former Fine Fare, I lingered on the pavement outside for a few seconds, and those memories of nearly half a century ago returned – the memories which you have just read. Just a Tesco Express. Who would give it a second glance or thought today? But once it mattered. Maybe only for that single Saturday morning, so long ago. But, in the history of Heaton, once it mattered.

Seventies

The photograph below was taken outside Fine Fare in 1974, on what appears, at first sight, to have been a somewhat less memorable moment in the history of Heaton.

Fine Fare

Fine Fare

We have Hungarian Laszlo Torday to thank for capturing just an ordinary moment some 40 years ago. Torday was a chemical engineer and amateur photographer who took hundreds of similar everyday scenes around Newcastle – and especially around Heaton because he lived on Jesmond Park West. The writer, Paul Torday, best known for his novel, ‘Salmon Fishing in the Yemen’ was Laszlo’s son. Newcastle City Library bought Torday’s photograph albums when they came up at auction some years ago and has given us permission to reproduce this one here. See more Torday photographs here.

Can you help?

Do you have memories of The Scala, Fine Fare or its successors to share? Do you remember who the celebrity was? Maybe you took a photo of the chimps? Or remember other early supermarkets in Heaton? Or perhaps you recognise someone in Torday’s photo? Post a comment by clicking on the link below the article title or email chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Thank you to ‘RS’ from whose longer essay, these memories have been taken.