Tag Archives: Seventh Avenue

Around Heaton’s Shops – with a Camera (Part One)

Eric Dale was born in 1937 and in about 1939 moved with his family from Corbridge Street, Byker to Eighth Avenue in Heaton. Like many of us, he clearly remembers many of the shops of his boyhood but, even better, from our point of view, he returned with his camera in the 1970s, 80s and 90s.

Here he takes us on a walking tour of some of the highlights, from  the Avenues where he grew up and along Chillingham Road and back, where he was sent on errands every Friday.  Inserted are photographs he took years later, alongside some taken this week.

The Avenues

On Second Avenue from Meldon Terrace going south: east side, on corner of Tenth Avenue I remember a small sweet shop and penny lending library at the no 1 bus stop. Opposite on Meldon corner was Thompson’s Red Stamp Stores. (Ed: This was a chain of grocery stores, which started in Blyth and spread throughout the north east.)

 

thompsons-red-stamp-stores-second-avenue-in-1994edresized

Thompon’s Red Stamp Store, by 1994 a second hand furniture shop (Copyright: Eric Dale)

 

secondavenuethompsonstampsaswasimg_7501

Corner of Second and Meldon, 2017 – now a lettings agent (Copyright: Chris Jackson)

 

Next, a shop which recharged the glass-encased wet acid batteries (accumulators) which powered the household radio/wireless on the basis of take a spent one to the shop, pay your sixpence and get a freshly charged one in return. There was a chip-shop on King John Street corner. Opposite corner had a general dealer. (Ed: this corner is now residential properties.)

 

shop-on-king-john-street-and-second-avenue-in-1994revresized

Corner of Second Avenue and King John Street, 1994 (Copyright: Eric Dale)

 

On the corner of Balmoral Terrace and Second Avenue corner was an off-licence. If it still exists it must be the longest established retail outlet in Heaton. I lived in Eighth Avenue from the early 40s and remember as a very small child seeing deliveries being made to it by a steam-driven lorry or dray.

balmoral-wines-second-avenue-in-1994edresized

Balmoral Wines, 1994 ( copyright Eric Dale)

(Ed: Well, yes, it does still exist! We’ll have to delve more into its history and see whether it rivals Clough’s for that title.)

 

secondavebalmoralimg_7504resizeweb

Balmoral Wines, still going strong, 2017 (Copyright: Chris Jackson)

Finally, on Second Avenue between First and Third, there was John Cook, gents’ hairdresser – and part-time bookies’ runner!

 

Chillingham Road

On west side of Chillingham Road going north was the Chillingham Hotel, then on the corner of Seventh a newsagent.

 

corner-seventh-and-chillinghamrevresized

Newsagent on the corner of Chillingham Road and Seventh Avenue in 1994 (Copyright: Eric Dale, 1994)

(Ed: This may have changed hands a few times but it’s still a newsagent’s)

 

chilliroadseventhcornerimg_7505webresized

Newsagent on the corner of Chilli and Seventh, 2017 (Copyright: Chris Jackson)

 

On the opposite corner was Miss Welch’s, which sold sweets. Higher up Seventh on south side, McGee’s Bakery.

mcgee-bakers-seventh-avenuerevresized

McGee’s bakery, empty by 1984 (Copyright: Eric Dale)

(Ed: Again, like many of the former shops in the Avenues, it’s been converted into a residential property.)

Back to Chillingham Road: Harrison’s Bakery (‘Harrison’s Pies are full of flies, it’s a puzzle to find the meat!’) was where mam always specified a ‘high-baked’ wholemeal small loaf which cost sixpence farthing. Wedgewood’s general dealers was on Eighth corner.

On the opposite corner was the Grace Fairless second-hand shop, where on rainy days I used to swap comics such as the ‘Beano’, ‘Dandy’, ‘Knockout’ and ‘Film Fun’ for older editions that I’d take along. As I grew older myself the favourites became the boys’ story papers ‘The Adventure’, ‘Hotspur’, ‘Wizard’ and ‘Rover‘; featuring ‘The Tough of the Track’ and ‘Smith of the Lower Third’).

Elliot’s general dealers (a small refund when returning pop bottles) was next in the row, later taken on by John and Mary from Chester-le-Street, then came Laidler’s fish and chips (‘a fish and threepen’orth’ was the usual order, but when new potatoes were in season chips went up to fourpence) and thenTurnbull’s newsagents.

Still on west side of Chillingham Road, after the school and on Meldon Terrace corner Fong Wah Laundry, then The Pie Shop (without doubt the least savoury chips in Heaton: greasy, limp and soggy), The Clock and Model Shop, Dennison and Graham chemist, the garage and filling station.  (Ed:Note the 1984 prices in the photo. If our maths can be trusted that’s £1.85 for 4.55 litres or 40.66p a litre. About £1.15 today? But maybe that’s not too bad compared with the rise in cost of, say, going to St James’ Park?)

 

chillingham-road-view-south-with-petrolrevresized

Chillingham Road filling station, 1984 (Copyright: Eric Dale)

 

 

chilliroadoldgaragesiteimg_7510resizedweb

The old Chillingham Road filling station site, about to be redeveloped, 2017 (Copyright: Chris Jackson)

 

Grosvenor Ballroom, The Scala Cinema, The Co-op, a newsagent and Post Office on the corner of Cartington Terrace. Finally Riddells Photography, another very long-established business.

On east side from the south: on Spencer Street corner L.C. Garage, then Oakley fireplaces/plumbers.

 

oakleyrevresized

Oakley’s the plumber, 1994 (Copyright: Eric Dale)

 

chilliroadoakleysimg_7500web

Oakley’s the plumbers boarded up for many years, 2017 (Copyright: Chris Jackson)

 

Hedley’s the greengrocer was on the corner of Rothbury Terrace (there was a sloping wooden ramp down into the shop) and then Trutime Watch Co, which many older residents will remember well.

 

trutime-1994revresized

The Trutime Watch Co, 1984 (Copyright: Eric Dale)

 

chilliroadtrutimeimg_7512web

Trutime Watch Co ( the fascia uncovered a couple of years ago) to let, 2017 (Copyright: Chris Jackson)

 

Nearby was London and Newcastle Tea Company and, just before Watson’s Paint and Wallpaper, Clough’s sweet shop. Yes, younger readers might not know there used to be more than one Clough’s – they must have bulk bought all the blue paint in Heaton!

 

chilli-cloughsreved

Clough’s Chillingham Road shop’s golden anniversary, 1984 (copyright: Eric Dale)

 

chilliroadbijouoldcloughsimg_7508resizedweb

Formerly Clough’s Chilli Road, Bijou Hairdressing in 2017 (Copyright: Chris Jackson)

 

My Weekly Shop at the Co-op

Each Friday tea-time it was my job to walk along to the Co-op on Chillingham Road with my little shopping list and bring back the bacon (literally). Shopping there was a nightmare as each product was allocated a different counter. Sugar had to be weighed up and neatly packed in blue bags, lumps of the desired weight were hacked from barrel-shaped slabs of butter, cheese was similarly cut from large rounds and bacon thinly sliced on a hand-operated machine. Nothing perishable was pre-wrapped. And there was the additional tedium waiting whilst the relevant coupons were clipped from ration books. Jam, when it was available (and during the war it was always Damson) at least came in jars! Because there was no queueing system in place it was a struggle to maintain position in the mass of adult customers clamouring to be served….and I was only a kid less than half their size. I hated it, and it’s no surprise that I can remember our Co-op dividend number to this day. Just for reference, ration allocations per person per week in 1945 were 2 ounces butter and cheese, 4 ounces bacon and margarine, 8 ounces sugar. All rationing ended in 1954.

Acknowledgements

A big thank you to Eric Dale for his photos and memories. We’ll be featuring more in the near future.

Can you help?

We hope that you will add to what we know about the shops on Chillingham Road and in the Avenues. Either post your comments direct to this site by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or email chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org. It would be fantastic to find some more old photos.

Or if you are able to volunteer to take photos in Heaton today, again please get in touch. Think how interesting they will be in a few years time.

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.

 

 

 

 

The signalman and his daughter

Little did we think, when we published ‘Dead Man’s Handle’, the story of a railway accident that took place almost ninety years ago, that we’d be put in touch with someone who clearly remembered that night – and so much more besides. Olive Renwick was born in September 1916, so she is now approaching her 99th birthday – and she has lived in Heaton all her life.

Olive as a young child

Olive as a young child

The signalman

Olive is the daughter of Isabella and Francis Walter (Frank) Topping. Frank was the signalman who, on 8 August 1926, saw a passenger train coming towards his box at full speed seconds before it crashed into a goods train near Manors Station. Olive was nine years old at the time and reminded us that nobody had phones back then and so when her father didn’t return from work, the family could only sit and wait. ‘My mother didn’t send my sister and me to bed’ she remembered ‘I think she was worried and wanted company’.

The train hit the box in which her father worked, damaging one of its supporting ‘legs‘ but luckily Frank Topping escaped unscathed. He alerted the emergency services and helped rescue passengers before eventually arriving home to his anxious family. ‘But he thought he was a goner’ said Olive. You can read the full story here: Dead Man’s Handle

Olive told us more about her father: he was Heaton born and bred, growing up on Simonside Terrace.

NorthViewSchool? incFrank Topping

North View School, 1890s?

On this school photo, he is second from the left on the back row. ‘I think it might be North View School but I’m not sure’. (Does anybody know?) Frank had started his career on the railways in 1900, aged 16, as a learner signal lad.  ‘I was always very proud of him. He was trusted with one of the biggest signal boxes, with four lines to look after.’

But he didn’t remain a signalman. Frank became branch secretary of Newcastle Number 2 NUR branch, senior trustee for the Passenger Signalmen’s Provident Society and was, for almost 20 years from 1931, Secretary of the NER Cottage Homes and Benefit Fund. Locally, in 1911 he was ordained an Elder of Heaton Presbyterian Church, then a session clerk from 1946 until shortly before he died. In WW2, he served in the Home Guard.

Frank Topping, Home Guard, 1942

Frank Topping, Home Guard, 1942

Olive showed us photographs and newspaper cuttings relating to her father including an account, with photographs, of him opening railway cottages in Hartlepool on a street named after him.

Frank Topping officially opening railway cottage in Topping Close, Hartlepool

Frank Topping officially opening a railway cottage in Topping Close, Hartlepool

She had also kept a tribute, published in a railway magazine after his death, in which her father was praised for:

‘ his inimitable character, his understanding and judgement, his forthright speaking, his general cheerfulness and his desire to help his fellow man’

Francis Topping died in 1957.

Olive’s childhood

It was fantastic to find out more about Frank Topping and to hear Olive’s memories of her father but we couldn’t pass up on the opportunity to hear more from someone who has lived in Heaton for almost a century. Imagine the changes she has seen.

Olive was born on Warton Terrace but spent most of her childhood on Ebor Street and then Spencer Street, ‘The railway terraces. In those days, you had to be on the railways to live there’.

Olive with her brother, Rob, outside their house in Ebor Street.

Olive with her brother, Rob, outside their house in Ebor Street.

Olive (right) with her sister Sybil, Ebor St c1923

Olive (right) with her sister Sybil, Ebor St c1923

She remember the street traders, who sold all manner of things on the front street and back lanes. And, like Jack Common, a few years earlier, she recalls itinerant musicians: ‘women, they were usually women, in shawls, women who were poorer than us, who came round door to door, singing and collecting money.’

As a child, Olive was allergic to cow’s milk. She remembers that her mother walked to Meldon Terrace everyday with a jug to collect milk from a woman who kept a goat in her back yard.

One of her earliest memories was climbing on the cannons that used to stand in Heaton Park. She cut her leg badly and, because she feared her parents would be annoyed with her, dashed straight to the outside toilet in the hope of stemming the flow of blood. Naturally though she couldn’t hide the injury for long. ‘I was carried off to hospital for stitches. And my father wrote to the council to complain the cannons were dangerous’ Olive told us, ‘And soon after they were removed!’

Olive on the cannon in Heaton Park

Olive on the cannon in Heaton Park

‘And I remember my mother taking me to the Scala for a treat to see “Tarzan” but I ran up and down the aisle, shouting “Tarzan!” and had to be taken home in disgrace’. (This must have been an older version than the famous Johnny Weismuller films of the 1930s and ’40s, perhaps ‘The Adventures of Tarzan‘ (1921), the silent movie version which starred Elmo Lincoln.)

Scala cinema Chillingham Road

Olive attended Chillingham Road School and later Heaton High:

Olive (middle) & friends in Heaton High uniform, late 1920s

Olive (middle) & friends in Heaton High uniform, late 1920s

The original buildings of what became Heaton Manor School

The original buildings of what became Heaton Manor School

‘I was in my first year when the King and Queen came to officially open the school.

King and Queen open Heaton Secondary Schools, 1928

King and Queen open Heaton Secondary Schools, 1928

We were all gathered in the hall and Miss Cooper, the head teacher, told us that the queen would be presented with a “bookie”. What on earth’s a bookie, I wondered. Only later did I realise she meant a bouquet!’

And she remembers, without much fondness, the many rail journeys of her childhood. ‘With my father’s job, the whole family enjoyed subsidised travel.. I say “enjoyed” but I hated it. We went all over, to places like Edinburgh, but trains made me sick: it was the smell. So I wasn’t allowed to sit in the carriage. I was banished to the guard’s van – with a bucket. I can still smell that smell now – and it still makes me feel sick!’

Coincidence

It was as we were leaving that Olive mentioned, in passing, her maternal grandparents: that they were called Wood, came originally from Ayton in Berwickshire, lived in Seventh Avenue and that her mother’s uncle Bob (Walker) grew potatoes on a field near Red Hall Drive. Could they be the same Woods that we’d researched and written about as part of our ‘Heaton Avenues in Wartime’ project. Surely they must? And indeed they were.

Isabella and David Wood

Isabella and David Wood

On a return visit, Olive told us more about her grandparents, David and Isabella Wood. She confirmed that they had an allotment on railway land. She told us about visits to her great aunts in Ayton and she recounted family stories about a visit to her Uncle Robert in hospital, where he was to die from wounds received on the battlefield. Best of all, she was able to show us photographs of both grandparents, more of which we will add to the article ‘The Woods of Seventh Avenue’.

It’s been a pleasure to meet Olive,  pictured here with daughters, Julia and Margaret, in 1953:

Olive with daughters, Julia and Margaret in 1953

Olive with daughters, Julia and Margaret in 1953

And here in 2015:

Margaret, Olive and Julia, 2015

Margaret, Olive and Julia, 2015

We hope that we’ll meet again soon and that she’ll be able to add even more to our knowledge of Heaton’s history.

Can you help?

If you have knowledge, memories or photographs of Heaton you’d like to share, we’d love to hear from you. Either contact us via the website by clicking on the link immediately below the title of this article or email chris.Jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Feeding the Avenues

From the outbreak of WW1, getting food onto the table became increasingly difficult. We have been researching how the people of the Avenues were affected and responded.

The mother Isabella Wood grew up on a farm in Berwickshire. In 1881, aged 20, her occupation is given as a ‘farm servant’ but, by WW1, she was living at 57 Seventh Avenue with six children and her three sons in the forces. We know that Isabella donated gifts to the Tyneside Scottish (January 1915) and lettuce and flowers to Northern General Hospital (August 1916). She wanted to do her bit. It may well be that she and her husband took advantage of the council’s provision of allotments at St Gabriel’s and elsewhere and utilised skills she’d acquired growing up in the Scottish countryside. Sadly, on 18 April 1917, her son, Robert, died of wounds received in France. He is buried, with his parents, in Byker and Heaton Cemetery.

Robert Wood's grave

Robert Wood’s grave

The union officials Joseph Fagg of 27 Third Avenue was Secretary of the Newcastle branch of the National Union of Clerks. On 6 February 1915, his letter of protest against rising food prices was published in the ‘Daily Journal’:

Joseph Fagg's letter to Daily Journal

‘Clerks, like the rest of their fellow workers, have nobly responded to their country’s call, and this heartless fleecing of dependents of our patriotic comrades is a matter calling for immediate and drastic treatment on the part of the Government.’

Meanwhile, Amos Watson of 63 Second Avenue (a fitter) and W J Adamson (a joiner) of 36 Sixth Avenue served on the General Purposes Sub-Committee of the Newcastle Food Vigilance Committee, set up by the labour movement to protect the interests of workers and their families from shortages, profiteering and poor quality food, in response to what were seen as the vested interests of many members of the official Food Committee.

The shopkeepers Life was difficult for food wholesalers and retailers too. Not only did they have to cope with shortages and rising prices, just like their customers, but concerns over air-strikes and coal shortages led to restrictions on lighting and opening hours. The press reported that Elizabeth Maughan (possibly Florence Elizabeth Monaghan), of 90 Second Avenue, was fined 5 shillings for not shading her lights in 1916. Those who contravened the new laws were named and shamed in the press, although sometimes they elicited sympathy even from the authorities.

Mary Dawson, who kept a shop at 16 Second Avenue, was fined for serving bread after 9.00pm. The Chairman of Newcastle Police Court, Alderman Cail, said:

‘It is a frightful thing to see crowds of women clustering around drapers’ shops, which are ablaze with light in the evenings. If economy is wanted in light or coal, the Home Office should have turned their attention to these establishments, instead of the little shop burning only one light or perhaps a tallow candle.’

The Bench found Mary technically guilty but they let her off with only payment of costs.

Article about Mary Dawson selling bread after 9.00pm

Heaton Avenues in Wartime

This article was researched and written by members of Heaton History Group for our ‘Heaton Avenues in Wartime’ project, which has been funded by Heritage Lottery Fund. An exhibition, ‘Feeding the Avenues’ , which includes illustrations by local artists, will be on display at the Chillingham pub from early August until late September 2015.

The Woods of Seventh Avenue

Mrs Wood of 57 Seventh Avenue is listed in the local press as having donated lettuce and flowers between 21 August and 26 August 1916 to Northern General Hospital where casualties of WWI were being treated. Apart from the same desire as many of the general public to contribute to the war effort, she had the additional motivation of having two of her three sons already serving in the Royal Field Artillery with the youngest to follow a little later.

Back story

Isabella was born Isabella Walker on 19 May 1861 in Ayton, Berwickshire to Robert and Isabella Walker (nee Gourlay). The 1881 Scottish Census shows her still living in Ayton with her mother Isabella, now widowed, and her brothers John, Robert, James and Thomas. Her occupation is recorded as ‘farm servant’ so she is likely to have been familiar with growing vegetables which may be relevant to her later gifts to the wounded soldiers.

By the 1891 Census she was married to David Simpson Wood, 29, a railway porter, who was also born in Ayton, Berwickshire on 13 June 1861, the son of John and Helen Wood (nee Simpson). They were now living at Bishopwearmouth, Sunderland with their 2 daughters, Isabella Gourlay Wood, age three, and Helen Simpson Wood, age eight months, and Isabella’s brother Robert Walker, age 35, a corporation carter.

Ten years later the 1901 Census shows the family living at 33 Elvet Street, Heaton (parish of St. Michael) with four more children: John David, age eight, Robert Thomas, age six, Margaret Cleghorn, age four, and Stanley Alexander, age one. David is now a railway guard and Robert Walker is still living with them and is now a general labourer.

In 1911 all the children are still at home and the family is now living at 57 Seventh Avenue. David is now a railway passenger guard and Robert Walker a builders labourer. Of the children, Isabella at 23 is a confectionery shop assistant; Helen, 21, is a clerkess in a laundry; John, 19, is an electric wireman and Robert, 17, is a butcher with the Co-operative Society. Margaret, 14, is ‘at home’ and Stanley, 11, is at school.

Died from wounds

When the First World War started in 1914, life must have changed suddenly for the Wood family. John, Robert and subsequently Stanley joined up and served in the Royal Field Artillery. No military record has been found for John, but all three brothers are recorded on the Roll of Honour 1914-18 in Heaton Presbyterian Church (now United Reform Church). Robert served as a driver with 1st/3rd Northumbrian Brigade, Royal Field Artillery, Service No. 750395, as later did Stanley, Service No. 262357. Stanley was awarded the British War Medal and Victory Medal and it is likely that John would also have received these as a surviving serviceman.

Robert served in France from 18 April 1915, where he was wounded, brought back to England and died from his wounds in St. George’s Hospital, London on 20 April 1917. He was buried in Byker and Heaton Cemetery (Grave reference xviii.v.3). Like many servicemen, he carried a handwritten informal will which left ‘the whole of my property and effects to my mother Mrs Wood, 57 Seventh Avenue, Heaton, Newcastle upon Tyne’. This was enacted by the War Office and Isabella received the sum of £8 12s together with his War Gratuity of £11 10s.

Robert Thomas Wood's will

Robert Thomas Wood’s will

Robert Wood's grave

Robert Wood’s grave

David Simpson Wood died on 18 March 1934 aged 72 and was buried in the same grave as Robert, as was Isabella when she died on 7 July 1937, aged 76.

Allotments

Isabella Wood’s gifts to the Northern General Hospital suggest that she may have been able to grow her own flowers and vegetables. It is possible that there was some vacant land near the Avenues which residents were able to cultivate or perhaps David Wood’s connection to the Railways gave his family access to railway land. It is also possible that the family had an allotment somewhere nearby.

As food supplies became more restricted with an increase in U-boat attacks on supply ships, the Cultivation of Lands Order of 1916 required councils to provide more land for cultivation for food production, and the minutes of Newcastle City Council show that ’55 separate groups of allotments have been formed and about 200 acres of land in the city put into cultivation, representing 2,900 allotments.’ Seed potatoes and manure were acquired and distributed at cost price to allotment holders, who could spread the cost over two or even three years.

Things did not always run smoothly for allotment holders, however. Minutes of 8 May 1917 report:

‘Armstrong Allotments Association – Damage by rabbits

The Town Clerk reported that representatives of the AAA had made a complaint to him that rabbits from Armstrong Park entered upon the allotments and ate up the cabbage plants and other vegetables. They had endeavoured to prevent the nuisance but were unable to do so and appealed to the corporation to assist them.

It was agreed to suggest to the allotment holders that they should endeavour to kill the rabbits and, failing this, the committee agreed to consider the question of wiring the park fence.’

Hints for allotment holders were regular features in local newspapers – the Newcastle Courant of 19 May 1917 promises ‘Advice about Brussels Sprouts and the Best Way to Sow Beet in next week’s edition.’

Growing your own was now essential and it seems likely that Isabella’s farming experience as a young woman in Berwickshire may have proved extremely useful to her and her large family.

Postscript

Since this article was written, we’ve been lucky enough to meet Olive Renwick, Isabella and David’s grand-daughter – Olive’s mother was Isabella, the Woods’ eldest daughter. Olive was able to tell us more about her grandparents, mother and aunts and uncles. She gave us permission to publish the photographs below.

She confirmed that her grandparents had an allotment on railway land near Heaton Station but also that her Great Uncle Robert cultivated a field near Red Hall Drive. She remembers him carrying heavy bags of potatoes and stopping off at her house for a rest en route home to Seventh Avenue. She also recalled that her father, who worked on the railways, used to buy leeks from Dobbies in Edinburgh and sold them on to work colleagues and neighbours.

She was also able to add to what we knew from the 1911 census where it is recorded that Olive’s mother, the younger Isabella was a ‘confectionary shop assistant’. Olive said the shop was on Chillingham Road between Simonside and Warton Terraces ‘opposite Martha and Mary’s’. Her father used to call in and buy something every day on his way home from work, leading his mother to wonder why he’d suddenly acquired such a sweet tooth. Only later did she realised that the shop assistant was the attraction rather than the cakes!

David and Isabella Wood with eldest children, Isabella, Helen & John, c1893

David and Isabella Wood with eldest children, Isabella, Helen & John, c1893

David and Isabella Wood in the backyard of their home in Seventh Avenue

David and Isabella Wood in the backyard of their home in Seventh Avenue

Isabella Wood at her front door in Seventh Avenue, still tending plants

Isabella Wood at her front door in Seventh Avenue, still tending plants

 

Robert Walker, Isabella Wood's brother, who grew potatoes in a field of Red Hall Drive

Robert Walker, Isabella Wood’s brother, who grew potatoes in a field of Red Hall Drive

Finally, Olive’s daughter Margaret took this photograph of the war memorial in Heaton Presbyterian Church  on which her great uncles are remembered.

Heaton Presbyterian Church War Memorial where the contributions of Robert, John and Stanley Wood are commemorated.

Heaton Presbyterian Church War Memorial where the contributions of Robert, John and Stanley Wood are commemorated.

The Wood brothers' names on the Heaton Presbyterian Church war memorial

The Wood brothers’ names on the Heaton Presbyterian Church war memorial

Heaton Avenues in Wartime

This article was researched and written by Caroline Stringer for Heaton History Group’s ‘Heaton Avenues in Wartime’ projected, which has been funded by Heritage Lottery Fund. An exhibition, ‘Feeding the Avenues’, will be on display at the Chillingham pub from late July until late September 2015.

Many thanks to Olive Renwick, Margaret Coulson and Julia Bjornerud for all their help and for permission to publish photographs from the family archives.

Can you help?

If you know any more about the history of allotments in Heaton or any of the people featured in this article – or have relevant photographs – please contact Chris Jackson, Secretary, Heaton History Group (chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org)

Newcastle’s War Hospitals

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

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

No 1 Northern General Hospital

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

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

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

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

Colonel Gowan’s response is not recorded!

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

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

1st Northern General Staff 1916

1st Northern General Staff 1916

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

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

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

HOSPParasite programme 3 (2)


Northumberland War Hospital

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

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

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

HOSPwar hospital xmas card 3 (2)

HOSPwar hospital xmas card 4 (2)

HOSPwar hospital xmas card 5 (2)

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

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

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

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

Brighton Grove Hospital

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walkergate Hospital

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

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

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

Heaton Avenues in Wartime

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

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

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

Jack Common’s Avenues in Wartime

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

The avenues

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

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

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

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

Ruth Castle outside 47 Tenth Avenue

Ruth Castle outside 47 Tenth Avenue, early 1900s


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

Regular visitors

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

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

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


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

'Coo-al' by Mark James

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

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

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

Close friends

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

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

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

And bonfire night:

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

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

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

Jack Common's 'corner-gang' codes

Jack Common’s ‘corner-gang’ codes

Sons of the Battle-axe oath of allegiance

Sons of the Battle-axe oath of allegiance

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

School

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

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

although he did have some fond memories:

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

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

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

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

Winner

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

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

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

War

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Postscript

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

More about Jack Common

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

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