Tag Archives: Shakespeare

The Gallant John Weldon DCM

This Distinguished Conduct Medal was awarded to John Weldon, who lived most of his short life in Heaton. The medal is now in the collection of the Northumberland Fusiliers Museum and Archive at Alnwick Castle. John’s name, rank and service number (16/305) is engraved around the curved surface.

 

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John Weldon’s 1916 Distinguished Conduct Medal

 

 

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Reverse of John Weldon’s Distinguished Conduct Medal

 

The Distinguished Conduct Medal had been established by Queen Victoria in 1854 and was awarded to non-commissioned officers for ‘distinguished, gallant and good conduct in the field’. It was the second highest award for gallantry in action after the Victoria Cross.

Before the War

John Weldon was born c 1885 in Stannington, Northumberland to parents, Margaret and John, a North Eastern Railways signalman. In 1891, he appears on the census as the fifth of seven children.  By 1901, the family were living at 44 Chillingham Road, Heaton. Both John and his older brother, Thomas, had followed in their father’s footsteps, with responsible jobs as signalmen at the tender ages of 17 and 15 respectively.

The 1911 census shows that John’s mother had given birth to 11 children, seven of who survived. John senior was now working as a railway porter and his wife was a shopkeeper. John junior had a new trade: a joiner and carpenter. The following year, he married a Newcastle girl, Isabella Laidler, and the couple were living at 48 Mowbray Street. The next year, their only child, Margaret Isabella, was born. Sadly she was not to get to know her father very well.

When his daughter was only one year old, World War One was declared and John was  recruited by Northumberland Fusiliers into its 16th Battalion, a so-called ‘Pals’ regiment, known as ‘The Commercials’, formed in August 1914.

Bravery recognised

An ’embarkation roll’ dated 23 November 1915 survives, which shows that John was a member of ‘B Company’. We know that he was awarded the Mons Star medal, available only to veterans of the 1914/15 campaigns in France and Belgium. A history of the regiment confirms that the battalion landed in Boulogne on 22 November 1915.

John had, by now, been promoted to the rank of Company Sergeant Major, which is the senior non-commissioned soldier of a company. He would have been responsible for, amongst other things,  the supply of ammunition, evacuating the wounded and collecting prisoners of war.  Along with his comrades, he was on active duty on 1 July 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme. On this day, 1,644 Northumberland Fusiliers were among 19,240 British soldiers who died in just a few hours.

The regimental battle diary, held by the Northumberland Fusiliers Museum, helps bring that terrible day to life. Here are just a few extracts:

Zero time was fixed for 7:30am…A and B Companies moved forward in waves – instantly fired on by machine guns and snipers…The enemy stood on their parapet and waved to our men to come on and picked them off with rifle fire…The enemy’s fire was so intense that the advance was checked and the waves or what was left of them, were forced to lie down. C company moved out to reinforce the front line, losing a great number of men by doing so… At 7:40 the reserve D company were ordered to advance. Getting over the parapet the first platoon lost a great number of men. As a result the remainder of the company was ordered to ‘stand fast’ and hold the line… At 08:20 the 16th Lancashire’s were asked to reinforce 16th NF in front line. At 09:30 message received from Mortar Battery to say they their gun had been unable to fire since 08:15 due to a lack of ammunition, but some had now arrived… The enemy’s artillery continued firing all day. Our artillery fired all day but it was only occasionally that it appeared heavy and effective… It was reported that the men of the attacking companies moved forward like one man until the murderous fire of the enemy’s machine gun forced them to halt… Not a man wavered and after nightfall we found in several places, straight lines of ten or twelve dead or badly wounded as if the Platoons ‘Had just dressed for Parade’… At 09:00pm orders received to withdraw men who lying out as it was dark. At 11:00pm the relief by another regiment was complete and the remnants of the battalion – 8 officers and 279 other ranks got back at 01:30am.

John was among the survivors. A citation in the ‘London Gazette’ some months later, on 13 February 1917, gave further indication of what he had endured:

 ‘For conspicuous gallantry in action.  He led his platoon with great courage and determination, himself accounting for many of the enemy. Later he dressed 13 wounded men under fire.’

And just over a year after that tragic day, John Weldon DCM, was given a ‘Hero’s Reception’ at the Newcastle Commercial Exchange (The Guildhall) on the Quayside, which was reported in the Newcastle Daily Journal, Thursday, July 12, 1917.

The Sheriff  of Newcastle, Arthur A Munro Sutherland (a ship owner, who became Lord Mayor in 1918 and was later to own the Evening Chronicle for a short time)  presided. He reported to the assembled throng that Weldon’s company went over the top at 07:30am and when all the officers were out of action, he took charge of the company. He did not return to the trenches until 10:45pm after lying out in ‘No Mans Land’ under continuous heavy fire. He was known to have killed or wounded 29 Germans. His rifle was twice shot out of his hands. At a later stage in the afternoon he crawled from shell hole to shell hole and was able to collect 15 badly wounded men and get them back to the British trenches. Throughout that terrible day, Sutherland concluded,  the conduct of Weldon was magnificent.

Three cheers were given and Company Sergeant Major Weldon acknowledged the kind things said about him. Colonel Ritson of Northumberland Fusiliers also spoke in high praise of Weldon’s gallantry and said that he would be returning to his battalion at the front.

Death of a Hero

He did. But on 22 September 1917 another article in the Newcastle Daily Journal, reported that CSM John Weldon DCM had been seriously wounded in the shoulder, arm and side but was reported to be ‘doing well’.

Sadly, the following day, Company Sergeant Major John Weldon died as a result of his wounds in the 14th Hospital at Wimereux, aged 32. He is buried in the Communal Cemetery there.

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CSM John Weldon DCM

As mentioned previously, Northumberland Fusiliers Museum and archive now has John Weldon’s Distinguished Conduct Medal in its collection and he is listed in ‘Historical Records of the 16th (Services) Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers’ by Captain C H Cooke MC for the Council of the Newcastle and Gateshead Incorporated Chamber of Commerce, The Guildhall, Newcastle, published in 1923. He is also mentioned on the war memorial of Nedderton Council School, Northumberland where he had been a pupil. Locally, he is among the 950 servicemen listed on the St Mark’s Church, Byker war memorial, situated in what is now Newcastle Climbing Centre on Shields Road.

We did wonder whether Weldon Crescent, built in High Heaton between the wars, might commemorate him but it seems much more likely that, like most of the surrounding streets, it was named after a small settlement on the River Coquet in Northumberland.

Acknowledgements

Researched and written, as part of Heaton History Group’s ‘Shakespeare Streets’ project, by Arthur Andrews with additional input from Chris Jackson. Special thanks to The Northumberland Fusiliers Museum archivists, Alnwick Castle and to Anthea Lang, who found John’s name on St Mark’s war memorial.

Can you help?

If you are related to or know more about John Weldon, have a photograph of him or have found his name on a war memorial, we would love to hear from you. You can post directly to this website by clicking on the link directly below the title of this article or alternatively email chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org.

Update

Read here about a ceremony to mark John’s bravery and the centenary of his death.

 

Our Shakespeare Streets

On Monday 28 November Chillingham Road Primary School and Hotspur Primary School put on a wonderful performance for family and friends to commemorate the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death and to celebrate some of the many outstanding people who have lived in the Heaton streets named in Shakespeare’s honour – and who they have been learning about in class.

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Hotspur pupils performed Richard II, in which many of the characters we are familiar with from our streetscape (such as Bolingbroke, Mowbray and Hotspur) feature; Chillingham Road performed a new play about the people of ‘Our Shakespeare Streets’. The play was based on research by Heaton History Group and friends and the project was funded by Historic England. Here are a few images taken on the night:

Chillingham Road pupils as historical figures of Heaton’s ‘Shakespeare Streets’

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Colin Veitch

 

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Florence Nightingale Harrison Bell

 

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George Stanley

 

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George Waller

 

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Kate Ogg

Hotspur’s pupils perform Richard II

 

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To find out more

about some of the historical figures who lived on Heaton’s ‘Shakespeare Streets’ and how the streets came to be named, click on the links below:

Colin Veitch

Florence Nightingale Harrison Bell

George Stanley and the naming of the Heaton Streets

George Waller

Kate Ogg

 

The Bard of Stratford (Grove Terrace)

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Twilight

Across the sky with outstretched wings

Of ev’ry colour blest,

A mystic bird of paradise

Is speeding to the west,

Upon its wings the night gods ride

To yonder burning glade,

 That they might crowd and give to earth

That sweet magenta shade. (Alex Robson, November 1929)

To commemorate the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death, Heaton History Group has been researching the many interesting people who have lived in those of our streets that were named in his honour (Hotspur, Bolingbroke, Malcolm, Mowbray, Warwick and the Stratfords, as well as Heaton Park Road, which it had originally been intended to call Shakespeare Road) and which, since the 1980s, have been overlooked by a magnificent brick artwork of the man himself.

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Brick Shakespeare on  South View West gable end

Aware that, like other parts of Heaton, these streets are now home to many talented writers, artists and musicians, we wondered whether we might find anyone from the past who had followed in the bard’s footsteps. We were not to be disappointed. Our researcher, Michael Proctor takes up the story:

While searching for stories about the residents of Heaton’s ‘Shakespeare Streets’, I came across a poem by a Mr Alex Robson of 13 Stratford Grove Terrace, published in the ‘Berwickshire News and General Advertiser’ in 1929, then I came across more, and more, each of them attributed to ‘Alex Robson, formerly of Crag Mill Belford’.

Being 1929, there was no recent census information available, but I did manage to track Alex down in the 1930 Electoral Register, along with his wife, Gertrude Winifred and William and Mona Mushett (who subsequently turned out to be his second daughter and her husband), also living at the same address. Beyond there I could go no further, as I couldn’t locate an Alex Robson in Belford on any previous census, so decided simply to publish a selection of his poetry.

Until, that is, I decided to search for his name, rather than his address ,on the British Newspaper Archive. A search that turned up many, many more poems dated from the early 1920s through to the mid 1940s and a potted biography published on 27 November 1923, which gave me the key to the story of this remarkable self educated man: a war hero; a significant figure in civic society; a musician and poet; a patriot and royalist; and a great believer in physical and mental activity and wellbeing. And, from 1929 to around 1939, a resident of Stratford Grove Terrace.

Lowest rung

Alexander Robson was born on 30 January 1884 in Gateshead. His father, Robert, aged 42, was an engine fitter, most likely working at the North Eastern Railway’s engine works at Greenesfield, situated between the High level Bridge and the current Redheugh Bridge. His mother was called Mary and he had three brothers.

Alexander left school at the age of 11, having passed the ‘labour exam.’ The 1923 article describes his parents’ lot as ‘not very brilliant’ meaning that further schooling was out of the question, so the young Alex found himself working for a J W Kent, a grocer, where he stayed until at the age of 16, when he was old enough to follow his father and elder brothers into the Greenesfield depot of the North Eastern Railway.

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By 1901 Alex was working as a railway engine cleaner, the lowest rung on the railway ladder.

Volunteer

Right from his early days, the young Alex seems to have had a strong commitment to physical fitness as well as public service. In the newspaper article he speaks of the great evils he witnessed in Gateshead, brought about by the ‘drink traffic’. Although it’s not clear whether this was a personal experience or a general comment, he clearly took a different path, becoming a member of the St James’ Physical Culture Society, (what we’d now think of as the gym) which he attended most nights. He also joined the Tyne Division Submarine Miners Electrical Engineers as a volunteer. In this capacity he was present at King Edward VII’s birthday review in June 1906 and was part of the guard of honour when the King opened the RVI in Newcastle later that summer. Alex’s duties included searchlight operator, signaller, and member of the Special Services Division as well as being in a bugle band for 3 years. He particularly recalled being in charge of the searchlight at the Spanish Battery.

During this time, Alex briefly left the railways and started as a labourer for John Abbot and Company, Steam and Hydraulic Engineers, at the Park View Iron Works, Gateshead.

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Here he was promoted to Traffic Manager, a position that was short-lived as the firm closed in 1907 and he found himself back at the Greenesfield depot.

This must have been a difficult time for him, as he had married Gertrude Winifred in 1905 and the couple had a rapidly growing family. However over four years, he got promoted to the position of freight guard at Tyne Dock, South Shields, where he was still working at the time of the 1911 census.

Poet

It was around this time that he began to pursue his musical and poetic interests. He’d long been interested in learning the violin and had purchased one for 7/6 while still living with his parents, but he ‘hadn’t been encouraged’ so sold it. Now though, he was able to spend 5 or 6 hours at a time ‘annoying the household and probably the neighbours’.

The circumstances in which he took up poetry were quite bizarre. Around this time, he was approached by a fireman at the goods yard who told a story of an old widower who’d fallen in love with a barmaid. He asked Alex to ‘make a bit of poetry about it’. He thought the request was very odd, but didn’t say that he hadn’t ever written a poem, nor did he refuse. Instead, he wrote a poem called ‘The Chocolate King’, which was to be the first of very many.

War hero

When war came he joined the 9th Yorks, 23rd Division, Kitchener’s Army on 1 September 1914 and was among the first to be sent to France, writing his first war poem, ‘For Honour and Glory’, which was recited in the recreation marquees at the camp.  It was subsequently printed and sold at 1d per copy, with proceeds to the YMCA. His initial spell in the army was short-lived as he was discharged on 2 October due to a bout of bronchitis, having just been promoted to lance corporal.

A year later, he joined the military hospital service, stationed at Richmond, where he not only borrowed a violin and formed an orchestra to cheer the wounded, but continued his poetry, with a set of three patriotic poems: To Nurse Cavell; L Battery; and British Vengeance published in a pamphlet to raise funds for the Blinded Soldiers Funds. Copies were sent to Queen Mary and Queen Alexandra, from whom he received letters of thanks.

By 1917, he was posted to a range of hospital stations at the Somme, Ypres, Rouen, Passchendael, and Amiens. En route he received a dose of gas, yet continued after a short break, moving from the hospital service to maintaining the light railways, which served the front. In June 1918 he was appointed yardmaster on the light railways. It was here, on 12 June,  where an ammunition train was fired and he was blown up with a wounded colleague whom he attempted to save. For this, he received the Meritorious Service Medal for ‘Conspicuous Services and Gallantry’.

After a month’s convalescence, spent in the band at the 72nd General Hospital, he was sent to Calais as Orderly Sergeant, conducting troops to different parts of the line, where he was to be injured again, when a train carrying troops crashed into a coal train. He was recovering at Etaples, when the armistice was signed. Orderly Sergeant Alex Robson was demobbed on 29 November and arrived home on 4 February 1919.

Of course surviving a chlorine gas attack, an explosion and a train crash had taken a toll on his health and he was no longer fit enough to take up his former position as freight train guard and shunter, which is heavy physical work. This is most likely how he ended up at Crag Mill.

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Crag Mill was a small railway station about 2 miles north of Belford on what is now the East Coast Main Line. It opened in 1871 and appears to have closed again in about 1877, probably as it was too close to Belford to be viable. However a coal yard and signal box remained. It is likely that Alex moved here to take up lighter duties, probably as signalman or crossing keeper. It was here where his publishing career in the ‘Berwickshire news and General Advertiser‘ took off in earnest.

Civic duty

The newspaper biography notes that he’d not only written many poems while on active service, but that he’d had plenty of opportunity to recite them and had made a deep theoretical study of elocution, passing his first exam in Berwick on his return. It also notes that Belford people and school children had very much enjoyed his recitals and invited him back repeatedly.

Alex’s deep sense of civic duty was made clear in the article when it listed the organisations he’d had to resign from on moving to Crag Mill. These included:

-The South Shields War pensions Committee, where he represented the railwaymen of South Shields

-Governorship of the Ingham Infirmary

-The Town Mayors Committee on the United Services fund, where he represented the Comrades Club

-Chairmanship of Tyne Dock Railwaymen’s Holiday Association

-West End War Memorial Committee

-Tyne Dock National Union of Railwaymen’s No 1 Branch Committee and various sub-committees.

To Heaton

Although the Robsons only stayed at Belford for about six years, Alex clearly made a significant impression on the local community, as indeed he had in South Shields. By 1925, he was in Newcastle and we can track his movements by the addresses on his published poetry. 1925 sees him living in 20 Stanton Street; 1927 at 5 Finsbury Avenue and in 1929, the Robsons, along with their second eldest daughter, Mona and her husband, moved to 13 Stratford Grove Terrace, Heaton, where they seem to have stayed until 1939.

 

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Alex Robson with grandson, Max, 1932

 

For a short time during World War 2, Alex was living in Haggerston Barns, Beal, most likely as a crossing keeper or signalman once again. But by 1943, he was back in Newcastle once more. In a perfect piece of serendipity, the newspaper article records that he was a great admirer of Burns, Pope, Tennyson, Kipling and, of course, William Shakespeare. Alex Robson died in 1969.

 

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Alex Robson (2nd left) with members of his family in the late 1960s

 

We also know that Alex wrote music but his greatest legacy was his poetry, which, never apparently having been published in a book, is lost in the back copies on newspapers, so it seems fitting to honour the man and his achievements by publishing a short selection.

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Michael Proctor for Heaton History Group’s Historic England funded ‘Shakespeare Streets’ project in which we are working with Hotspur and Chillingham Road Primary Schools to explore both Heaton’s theatrical heritage and the people of the streets named in William Shakespeare’s honour. Additional information and photographs were supplied by Janet Robson, the wife of Alex’s grandson, Chris Robson. Many thanks, Janet! 

Can you help?

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

 

 

Harry, Heaton Park Road Hairdresser

Although life in the east end of Newcastle is very different now to that of a hundred or even fifty years ago, most of our streets and terraces would be instantly recognisable to any of our forebears from back then who had happened upon the secrets of time travel. An exception is the southern end of Heaton Park Road, especially the section from the railway to Shields Road, so we were especially delighted when Yvonne Shannon wrote to tell us about her grandad, who had a barber’s shop at number 60 in the 1930s.

New Road

Originally the road north towards, but not extending all the way to, Heaton Hall was called Cook Street but after the opening of Heaton Park, the road was completed to allow access to the park from Byker, with the new section called Heaton Park Road (though originally it had been intended to call it Shakespeare Road) and the original Byker end renamed Heaton Park Road South.

Below is a photograph of this older section which extends from the High Main pub, beyond Molyneux Court to the railway. You can just see the railway bridge in the background. The photograph was taken in 1962 just before these houses and shops were demolished and replaced by one of Heaton’s few tower blocks. Number 60 would have been immediately next to the shop on the extreme right and just off the photograph.

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Heaton Park Road, 1962 (courtesy of Newcastle City Library)

 

First occupants

The first occupant of number 60 Heaton Park Road South that we know of was Robert Gristwood, who ran a grocery there round about 1890. This may well have been the same Robert Gristwood who emigrated to Canada in 1911 and served with the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force in WW1.

Robert was succeeded by 1900 by Mrs Jessie Eadie, who continued to run the shop as a grocery, while her husband worked as an insurance agent. The 1901 census records their grown up daughters’ occupations as ‘girl in confectionary shop’, so presumably they helped run the family business too.

Jessie had been born in Carluke, Lanarkshire but by 1881 was living on Cook Street with her husband, William Algernon Eadie, who was at this time a ‘potter (bowl maker)’ and their two young daughters, Susan (aged 4) and baby Elizabeth. After William died in 1908, leaving the then quite substantial sum of £2305 14 shillings in his will, Jessie and her daughters moved to 221 Chillingham Road, later to become a bank, now Lloyd’s.

After World War 1, the confectioner’s was run first by Miss Mary Tabrah and Elizabeth, her sister, two of nine children born to John Henry Tabrah, a boilermaker, originally from Scotland, and his wife, Mary, a Liverpudlian. In 1901 Mary was nine and Edith ten years old and the family lived in Byker

Barber’s shop

The shop then became a hosiery briefly, run by Mrs Sarah Scott, and then in the late 1920s a men’s hairdresser’s, with the first proprietor A R Humphrey, before Yvonne’s grandad took over around 1930. Yvonne takes up the story:

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Harry, Willie and Joseph Pickering outside 60 Heaton Park Road, c1930

 

‘Henry Robson Pickering (known as Harry, who was my Grandad) is the man standing to the left of the photograph, next to him is his younger brother Willie and to the right of the photograph is their father and my great granddad, Joseph Pickering.  The address is 60 Heaton Park Road, and in the window to the right you can read the notice ‘This shop is now open under new management’.

Joseph’s story

Harry’s dad, Joseph, my great grandad, was the original hairdresser or barber of the family. He learned the trade either in Cumbria, where he was born, or in Gateshead, which was the first place he lived when he moved to the North East, and taught the skill to Harry and Willie.  

He had fought in WW1 enlisting with one of the four Tyneside Scottish units (not sure which one but he did wear a kilt in uniform). He came through the war unscathed but never talked about his experiences.

The conditions for working people between the wars were very hard, and Joseph eked out a living for his family by getting his sons Harry and Willie to find wood, chop it into sticks then try to sell the bundles around the neighbourhood. Joseph himself used his barbering experience to cut neighbours hair for a few pennies, and, often worked at the RVI to shave and cut the hair of male patients. His other duties at the hospital were a bit macabre: he used to ‘dress’ the hair of people who had died.  So, I think being proprietors of a shop would have been a real step up for the whole family.

In the late ‘30’s Joseph was the marching instructor of a juvenile jazz band, The Byker Imperials and was very proud to march with them in the parades.  There is a wonderful old photo first printed in the Evening Chronicle of the jazz band including Joseph posing on the steps of Heaton Park.

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Byker Imperial Juvenile Jazz Band in Heaton Park

 

Joseph is pictured on the far right directly under the letter J. Also on the photo, in the front row, fourth from the right (just above small cross under photo), is Jimmy Pickering, the youngest child of Joseph, and brother of Harry and Willie.            

Joseph was too old to enlist for WW2 but he went to work in the shipyards at Walker and he didn’t retire until the age of seventy.

Harry’s story

Joseph’s son, Harry, was about to get married at the time of taking on the barber’s shop and I’m sure it meant a great deal to him, i.e. a new start and a reliable means of supporting his wife at their new home which was to be in Albion Row, Byker.

But, by 1932 they had given up the tenancy which would,  I think , have been a big loss to them. Harry’s daughter (Doreen, my mother) thinks the short tenancy was due to the terrible recession of the 1930s when thousands of men were out of work and was the time of the famous ‘Jarrow March’. The Wall Street Crash happened in 1929 so in a way it was the worst possible time at which to try and set up a new business.  People, ie customers, just couldn’t afford the luxury of paying for a haircut so they couldn’t earn enough to pay the rental for the shop. 

Throughout the recession Harry found it very hard to make ends meet and during winter he would volunteer (along with other men) to work for the corporation (council) to clear the snow from the streets using only shovels and was probably paid a pittance.   He kept the barbershop chair from the shop though and did the odd haircut from his house to earn a bit of money to keep them going.

World War Two   

To make a little extra Harry and Willie both joined the Territorial Army – The Royal Engineers – therefore, when war was declared in 1939 they were called up immediately and their first posting was to France.  Harry had four children by this time and it was left to their mother, Martha, to bring them up.  On his call-up papers, dated September 1939, he gives his ‘trade on enlistment’ as ‘hairdresser’ so he obviously still saw this as his main occupation.

Both Willie and Harry survived the Dunkirk evacuation and we are really sorry that we didn’t ask them about how they were brought out and on which boat they were rescued. 

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Harry Pickering (right) with topi hat on his knee

 

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Five of Harry’s WW2 medals – one was lost!

 

By 1942 both brothers embarked in Southampton and were sent to Burma. At the same time Harry’s fifth child was born but he didn’t see her until 1946 when he was demobbed.

The brothers were amongst the last to be demobbed, Both survived unhurt except for bouts of malaria contracted in Burma. They continued to have periodic episodes of this debilitating disease throughout the remainder of their lives.  Harry was also hospitalised because of Dengue fever in 1942 but recovered well.

Post war

In 1947 Harry’s family were allocated a council house   The Homes fit for Heroes’ initiative was instigated after WW1 in 1919 but there was still a lot of appalling housing in Newcastle.   All the family thought it was fantastic, it enabled them to move from what had been slum housing in Byker to a new house in Walker where the street was planted with trees and it is here where their sixth and last child was born in 1951.  They regularly visited Heaton Park and Jesmond Dene for leisure outings throughout their lives and this continues with Harry’s great grandchildren today.

Jobs were plentiful after the war and Harry’s final job was at the George Angus Factory where he was a semi-skilled machinist until he retired at the age of 65.  He still did the odd hair cut though including one memorable time when his daughter (Doreen) asked him to style hers, she requested a ‘tapering cut ‘ into the sides and neck.  Unfortunately his idea of ‘tapering’ was not quite the same as hers and ‘I nearly died when I saw it’ and ‘burst into tears’.

The photograph of 60 Heaton Park Road depicts a snapshot in time not just in the photographic sense but in the way individuals were and are swept up in much bigger events taking place around them and over which they have no control i.e. Joseph sent to the trenches in WW1, followed by the recession which led to giving up their shop in Heaton, and also their hopes for a financially secure future as a small business.  Poverty led Harry and Willie to join the Territorial Army which in turn meant they were among the first to be called up in WW2 – another event over which they had no control.’

After Harry

Another barber, George Gunn, succeeded Harry but the property seems to have been mainly empty after the war and eventually most of the block was demolished. The last few properties, once part of Beavan’s drapery, which occupied the corner site, are now part of Wetherspoon’s High Main pub.

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Edwardian photograph of  Beavan’s, showing the now partly demolished terrace on Heaton Park Road (South)

 

The rest of the block was redeveloped from the mid 60s. A modern tower block, Molyneux Court, was built on the site and alongside it there is now also a NHS walk-in centre.

Can you help?

If you can provide further information about anyone or anything mentioned in this article please contact us, either by clicking on the link immediately below the title of this article or by emailing chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org .

Acknowledgements

This article was researched and written by Yvonne and Doreen Shannon, Harry’s granddaughter and daughter and Chris Jackson, Heaton History Group. It forms part of Heaton History Group’s ‘Shakespeare Streets’ project, funded by Historic England.

Den of Thieves

On 22 January 1917, all three occupants of 45 Hotspur Street were sent to jail for a remarkable spree of shoplifting and petty crime. The three residents were John Butt (59), a labourer with the gas company, Annie Garvie (26) a dressmaker and Butt’s step-daughter and Arthur James Martin (45) a warehouseman.

The Butt family

 John Adolphus Butt was born around 1856 in St Peterport, Guernsey, the son of Nicholas and Harriet. By the age of 15 he was already working as a carpenter and went on to become a ships carpenter, a highly skilled and well respected profession. Around 1875, he married Anne Mansell from Cornwall, who already had a daughter, Edith Agnes, from a previous relationship. The 1881 census records John as aged 25, Anne aged 27 and two daughters Edith Agnes, under 6 years and Florence, under 4 years. The couple went on to have a third daughter, Anne around 1883, born in Alderney, another Channel Island.

In about 1897, the family moved to Newcastle and the 1901 census shows the couple living at 25 Claremont Road, with all three daughters, Edith Agnes (23), Florence (21) and Anne (18), none of whom were working, and a visitor, Arthur James Martin (28), a warehouseman from Essex. Interestingly, Anne, who in 1881 was recorded as two years older than John is now three years younger than him!

John was working as a labourer for the gas company, a significant change in fortune from his previous profession. As a ships carpenter, he would have had a long apprenticeship to become a skilled journeyman. Of course in the late 19th Century, the rapid shift to metal-hulled, steam-powered ships led to a huge reduction in demand for these skills, which possibly explains the move to Newcastle and the shift to unskilled work.

By 1911, the family were living at 165 Warwick Street along with Arthur Martin, now a permanent lodger and working as a carter, or rolleyman for the railway. One of their three daughters was recorded as having died and the other two had left home. Interestingly, John’s wife of 30 years was now listed as Caroline Butt and was some eight years older than him!

None of which gives us any clue as to the crime spree of 1916/17 or indeed who Annie Garvie was.

Caught red-handed

At around 3.30 on 6th January 1917, there was a sale at John Moses and Company, Drapers in Grainger Street. The shop was crowded, when Detective Sergeant Donohoe noticed Annie Garvie and another woman behaving suspiciously. Annie took a scarf from a counter, valued at 2 shillings, and pushed it under her coat. When she spotted the detective, she pulled the scarf out and threw it over the heads of the other customers. The other woman, believed to be her mother, absconded. When arrested, Annie said ‘Give me a chance and I won’t come back to this shop’.

153803

John Moses store, 1946 (copyright – Ward Philipson Photo Memories – John A Moreels MBE)

 

The big surprise came when Detective Sergeant Donohoe and Detective Trotter visited the upstairs flat in Hotspur Street. When they eventually got into the sparsely furnished flat, they found an enormous quantity of new goods. The list of which ran to 21/2 foolscap sheets. It included:

16 umbrellas

8 clocks

56 blouses

17 knives and 8 forks stolen from Beavans in Shields Road

A necklace valued at £2 12s 6d from H Dealey & Co of Northumberland Street

21 pairs of woollen combinations

60 tablets of soap

10 pairs of scissors

Bottles of whisky

24 ladies’ belts

29 pairs of ladies’ stockings

23 pairs of boots and shoes

17 bottles of perfume

18 white embroidered tablecloths

14 cushion covers

Gloves

Mufflers

Braces

8 handbags

Various articles of jewellery

Not only did they find a huge haul of goods, but they also found £50 10s in gold, £8 7s in silver, £22 10s in treasury notes and papers showing that Garvie had £57 invested in a building society and Martin had £500 in savings, more than enough to buy a house, at a time when average earnings were £1-2 per week. The bank books showed that the money had been saved over the previous 12 months.

Collateral damage

Amazingly, the raid on 45 Hotspur Street showed that Annie was not the only thief. Arthur Martin had been jailed for a month in June of 1916 having stolen two shoulders of bacon, worth £1 11s, from the Forth Banks Goods Station of the North East Railway, where he was employed as a rolleyman. The raid showed that he hadn’t learnt his lesson.

Forth banks goods station

Forth Banks Goods Station

 

Forth Banks Station was immediately to the west of King Edward bridge in the area now occupied by the Metro Radio Arena. (Some remains of the old station can still be seen when traveling north on the Redheugh Bridge.) The railways brought the first easy means of moving goods around the country, but they also brought with them a huge logistical problem. Imagine a train load of goods leaving Newcastle and heading south. Some may be heading to London, others to Leeds, Lincoln, Norwich or Bristol and multiple small intermediate stations between them. In some cases a whole truck load of goods might be heading to a single station, in others maybe a single shoulder of bacon. At every station on its route, the train would need to stop. Some trucks would be removed and added to other trains, heading say southwest. Other trucks would be added. For smaller cargoes, the problem was even worse as the contents of a single wagon would need to be divided between multiple trains.

As a result, goods stations were enormous enterprises, employing large numbers of staff and needing to keep goods, particularly perishable ones, moving. The railways also employed their own carters to deliver the goods direct from the station to the stores and companies who had ordered them. The standard four wheel horse drawn cart was known as a rolley and the men who operated them were rolleymen.

GWR rolley

Rolleyman and rolley

 

So large was the enterprise that it’s hardly surprising that theft or loss of goods was a major problem for the railways which, from the early days, employed their own police.

It was the North East Railway Police who prosecuted Arthur Martin, having discovered in the raid of 45 Hotspur Street a haul of goods stolen from the railway, including sweaters consigned to the Co-operative Wholesale Society, 12 bottles of whisky consigned to Bradford Bros, a pair of boots consigned to Jackson’s Clayton Street and miscellaneous other goods.

The outcome

The bench found that John Butt, the only one of the three to plead not guilty was largely innocent. He was described as being of a simple nature and was only implicated by being the tenant of the property. He was sentenced to three months in jail, Arthur Martin was sentenced to 12 months and Annie Garvie to nine months.

But who was Annie Garvie?

Annie Garvie, also known as Annie Craig, was evidently also known locally as Sylvia Dashwood. None of which names I’ve been able to find in census or other records. She describes herself as John Butt’s step-daughter, although his only known step daughter was Edith Agnes Mansell, who would have been 39 at the time.

Not only that, but what became of Annie’s mother, who absconded at the time of the theft on Moses’ store, or of John’s wife Anne (or Caroline).

Interestingly, the newspaper article states that John had taken the flat in the name of John Garvie. Was he running away from unpaid debts in the previous property and so using a different name, or had he taken up with a new partner, who was Annie’s absconding mother?

What little we do know of Annie is that she had previously been convicted for shoplifting nine years previously and bound over to keep the peace. Although 17 at the time, she gave her age as 26. She had since married and moved to Sunderland, but her husband had left her, so she returned to Newcastle.

Alternatively, could Annie be John’s youngest daughter, Anne, who would have been around 36 at the time of the crime?

We may never know, but we can be certain that, for a time, she was a prodigiously successful shoplifter!

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Michael Proctor, Heaton History Group, for our ‘Shakespeare Streets’ project, for which we are looking at the stories of people, places and events relating to the streets in Heaton with names relating to William Shakespeare.

Can you help?

If you have any more information, memories about or photos of anybody mentioned in this article or anything which might interest our readers relating to Bolingbroke, Hotspur, Malcolm, Mowbray or Warwick Streets or any of the Stratfords (Grove, Grove Terrace, Grove West, Road or Villas) or Heaton Park Road, which was originally going to be called Shakespeare Road, please either leave a message on this site by clicking on the link immediately below the title of this article or email chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

 

 

 

The People’s Shakespeare

On 20 June 2016 (with perfect, even poetic, symmetry, the very day on which this year’s midsummer solstice will fall), actors from the People’s Theatre, Heaton, will take to the stage at Stratford upon Avon for the first time, alongside the Royal Shakespeare Company, in a performance of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. They will perform an encore the following night.

The troupe has already played the parts of the ‘mechanicals’ (Nick Bottom, the weaver; Peter Quince, the carpenter; Snug, the joiner; Francis Flute, the bellows-mender; Tom Snout, the tinker and Robin Starveling, the tailor), the comic characters who perform a play within the play, to critical acclaim at our own Northern Stage. But The People’s connection with Shakespeare goes back almost 100 years and, although the theatre company wasn’t based on this side of the city then, Heaton was nevertheless already centre stage (if you can forgive the pun) and has remained deeply connected to both the theatre group and the bard.

Veitches of Heaton

The People’s was founded in 1911 by members of the Newcastle branch of the British Socialist Party to raise money to fund their political activities and enable them to pay the rent on their meeting rooms at the corner of Leazes Park Road and Percy Street. (Today you’ll find Tea Sutra Teahouse in what was to become the new company’s first home).

The first meeting of around half a dozen interested members was dominated by one family: 32 year old telephone engineer, Norman Kidd Veitch, and his wife, Edith, who lived at 19 Stratford Grove Terrace, Heaton and, Norman’s younger brother, Colin Campbell Mackenzie Veitch and his wife, Minnie, who lived just around the corner at 1 Stratford Villas. Fittingly both couples lived in what we now call Heaton’s ‘Shakespeare Streets’, a group of roads with connections to Shakespeare, the story of which goes back to the 1864 celebrations of the 300th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth.

Colin was, of course, a professional footballer, still fondly remembered as Newcastle United’s most successful captain in the Edwardian era, during which the club won three Football League Championships and graced Wembley six times in seven years, at a time, of course, when FA Cup semi-finals weren’t played there, and the first League Cup was still fifty years away.

Colin Veitch

Colin Veitch

But there was much more to Colin Veitch than his football talent, immense though that was, as shown by his presence at that inaugural meeting of the Clarion Dramatic Society, as it was then called. Sometime between the initial meeting and the society’s first dramatic performance on 11 July 1911, Veitch captained Newcastle United, the holders, in the 1911 FA Cup Final (which they lost 1-0 to Bradford City after a replay at Old Trafford) but he was by now approaching 30 and in dispute with Newcastle United, and so although it was only the outbreak of WW1 which brought the final curtain down on his playing career, he was ready for new challenges.

Colin Veith's commemorative plaque

.

The Veitches, as well as being keen socialists – Colin was a founder member and later chairman of the Association Football Players Union (now the PFA) and turned down the invitation to stand as a Labour MP – were all lovers of the arts. Minnie was a star of Newcastle Amateur Operatic Society, where Colin, Norman and Edith were members of the chorus; Colin wrote music and conducted; Edith and Norman both wrote plays, a number of which were performed by the Clarion and later The People’s, so what started as an income generator for the British Socialist Party soon took on a life of its own.

From the beginning, the Clarion were ambitious. They performed the works of George Bernard Shaw, the eminent contemporary – and socialist – playwright.  They also performed Ibsen, Galsworthy, Chekhov and other great playwrights. As Norman Veitch said: ‘ If we are going to murder plays, let us murder the best’.

In 1920, the company invited George Bernard Shaw to see them perform. Shaw replied ‘I wouldn’t travel so far overnight in a railway train to meet Shakespeare himself’ but come he did on 25 April 1921 to see the company perform his play ‘Man and Superman’, with Colin Veitch playing the part of Old Malone.

The People’s Shakespeare

The next and final play of the landmark 1920-21 season was ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’,the Clarion’s first Shakespearean production. Colin Veitch was Falstaff, Minnie and Edith merry wives. Norman Veitch later wrote that ‘it was a jolly and inspiring performance’.

That summer, the Clarion was renamed The People’s Theatre and Shakespeare became a staple: ‘Antony and Cleopatra’, ‘The Comedy of Errors’, ‘Coriolanus’, ‘Cymbeline’, ‘Hamlet’, ‘Henry IV Part 1’, ‘Julius Caesar’, ‘King Lear’, ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost’, ‘Measure for Measure’, ‘The Merchant of Venice’,  ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, ‘Much Ado About Nothing’, ‘Othello’, ‘Pericles’, ‘Richard II’, ‘Romeo and Juliet’, ‘The Taming of the Shrew’, ‘The Tempest’, ‘Troilus and Cressida’,  ‘Twelfth Night’, ‘Two Gentlemen of Verona’ and T’he Winter’s Tale’, were all performed before the company moved to Heaton.

People’s in Heaton

The People’s Theatre was based in a disused chapel in Rye Hill from 1930 but by 1953 the company recognised it had outgrown the premises and they set their sights on their own arts centre. A public appeal was launched in 1955 at a luncheon attended by Sir John Gielgud and Peggy Ashcroft. Eventually by 1959 a suitable building was found and enough money was in the bank to start to convert it into a theatre.

Lyric cinema 1936

Entrance to the Peoples 2013

The soon to be refurbished People’s Theatre

 

The building was the recently closed Lyric Cinema, next to the Corner House on Stephenson Road (the Coast Road). It reopened as a theatre on 24 September 1962, with Shaw’s ‘Man and Superman’ (of course!) and the season appropriately ended with the People’s first Shakespeare performance in Heaton, a Christmas production of ‘Twelfth Night’. The official opening by Princess Alexandra followed on 20 October 1964.

The company continued to bring new Shakespeare plays to Heaton audiences eg Henry IV Part 2 (1965), Richard III (1967), Henry V (1981) but soon there was an even more exciting development, which cemented the east Newcastle relationship with Stratford which had begun with Frank Benson’s company in 1895.

RSC at the People’s

The RSC had made Newcastle its third home in 1977, bringing productions annually from Stratford to the Theatre Royal and the Gulbenkian, but in 1987 and 1988 they needed a third venue and so actors such as Jeremy Irons and Brian Cox trod the People’s boards.

The second season will always be remembered for a particularly gory production of ‘Titus Andronicus’, after which reports of fainting audience members even  made the pages of ‘The Sun’!

The RSC returned to Heaton in 2004 when the Newcastle Playhouse (now Northern Stage) was undergoing refurbishment. It’s an honour for both the People’s and Heaton for our own theatre company to be able to accept a return invitation to Stratford twelve years later in this most special of seasons for both theatres. There’ll be a few charabancs of Heatonians heading down to the midlands in June. It would be lovely to welcome members of the RSC back to our own soon to be even more fantastic theatre before too long.

Sources

The main sources used in researching this article were:

Chris Goulding ‘The Story of the People’s’

Norman Veitch ‘The Peoples’

http://www.ptag.org.uk/about-us/history.html

http://www.colinveitch.co.uk/

where you will be able to read much more about The People’s Theatre and Colin Veitch respectively

Can you help?

If you have memories of the People’s or any performances or readings of Shakespeare in Heaton or can provide further information about anything mentioned in this piece, please contact us, either by clicking on the link immediately below the title of this article or by emailing chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Shakespeare 400

This article was written and researched by Chris Jackson, as part of Heaton History Group’s project to commemorate the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death.

We are interested in connections between Heaton and Shakespeare through its theatres, past and present; writers, actors – and of course, the famous brick Shakespeare on South View West. See:

A Road By Any Other Name

The Grand Opening

We are also researching and writing about some of the people who have lived in the ‘Shakespeare Streets’: initially, we are looking at Bolingbroke, Hotspur, Malcolm, Mowbray and Warwick Streets plus Heaton Park Road, Stratford Grove, Stratford Grove Terrace, Stratford Grove West, Stratford Road, and Stratford Villas. See:

Colin Veitch’s Twelve Days of Christmas

George Waller: world champion cyclist

George Waller: life as a champion

More to follow!

If you would like to join our small friendly research group or have information, photos or memories to share, please contact us, either by clicking on the link immediately below the title of this article or by emailing chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

The Grand Opening

In our previous article about Heaton’s Shakespearean heritage, we showed that, in the late 1870s, Heaton was home to an important local theatrical figure at the time when a number of streets in the area were given names connected with the bard. But we also claimed that this part of Newcastle’s connections with the Royal Shakespeare Company itself go back much further than the 1970s when the RSC’s made Newcastle its third home and its actors began to stay in digs in the east of the city. Here’s why:

On Saturday 21 December 1895, it was announced in the ‘Newcastle Courant‘ that the ‘accomplished and popular Shakespearian actor, F R Benson‘, had laid the foundation stone of a new theatre in Heaton the previous Tuesday.

NPG x96407; Sir Francis Robert ('Frank') Benson as 'Romeo' in 'Romeo and Juliet' by Alexander Bassano

Frank Benson as Romeo by Alexander Bassano, half-plate glass negative, 1886, courtesy of National Portrait Gallery

Francis Robert Benson wasn’t local. He was born in Tunbridge Wells in 1858 and after studying at New College, Oxford, he immediately took to the stage. Benson’s first recorded appearance at the Theatre Royal was in 1881, before he had officially turned professional, when he performed with the company of Charles Bernard and Miss Alleyn. Soon afterwards, Benson started his own company. From the outset, he concentrated on Shakespeare.

Stratford remembers

Surprisingly it seems that until 1864 (the year in which, you may remember, George Stanley our ‘tragedian‘ had served on the Newcastle Shakespeare Tercentenary Committee, made an impassioned plea to be allowed to practice his own art in his own building and put on his own tribute to the bard) there was little interest in putting on Shakespeare’s plays in the town of his birth. Stratford did, however, put on a successful festival that year, promoted and bankrolled by Edward Flower of the brewing family, who happened to be mayor at the time. The success of the commemoration gave momentum to attempts to raise money to build a theatre in the town specifically to put on the plays of its famous son, an appeal that was scoffed at by influential commentators in London, but officially supported by many in Newcastle including the council itself.

The Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, Stratford upon Avon opened its doors and launched its first Shakespeare Festival on 23rd April 1879, the year, you may remember, in which the plans for Heaton’s own memorial to Shakespeare, our ‘Shakespeare streets’ were first submitted.

In 1886, Frank Benson became the director of the Stratford Festival, which was effectively the forerunner of the Royal Shakespeare Company. Nevertheless he continued with a gruelling touring schedule.

Early in 1893, Benson played Richard III at the Theatre Royal with a temperature of 104 and what turned out to be typhoid. After the show, he collapsed on the train back to Stratford and was seriously ill for several weeks, missing that year’s Stratford Festival.

Grand opening

The Grand Theatre, where Benson laid the foundation stone, was, by the time of its opening, recognised by the press as being in Byker, although, on the north side of Wilfred Street (just west of where Morrison’s is today), it was only a couple of hundred yards away from the boundary with Heaton. It was designed by William Hope of North Shields and built by the firm of Samuel Ferguson Davidson. Both men were Freemasons, who specialised in theatre work, often in partnership, not only in the north east but much further afield.

Samuel Ferguson Davidson was from Heaton. We know that, in 1895, he was living at 53 Falmouth Road. Samuel was a Temperance campaigner as well as a Freemason. He worked on theatres as far away as Birmingham and Margate and, locally, perhaps most notably on Spanish City in Whitley Bay. He died on 12 February 1964, aged 97.

image

The Grand Theatre, Byker, was described as a very fine building, which could seat 2,500 people. The principal entrance was surmounted by an imposing turret, which you can see above. Inside the main entrance was a spacious vestibule. There was a large handsome marble staircase to the circle. The tip-up chairs were upholstered in ‘terracotta plush’.

The stage was large and could accommodate the largest shows, hence its suitability for Benson’s Shakespearean productions. It also had ‘a commodious suite of dressing rooms on each side fitted with every convenience for the comfort of the artistes’ which would no doubt also appeal.

The Grand was established, owned and managed by Weldon Watts, an Irishman who had previously managed the Theatre Royal in Sheffield and the Queens Theatre in Gateshead

Seven months after laying the foundation stone of the Grand, Fred Benson, brought his production of ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ to its opening night, which took place on 27 July 1896. Below is a silk VIP programme for that performance for which we are indebted to John Moreels of Photo Memories Organisation.

image

Programme from the Grand Theatre, Byker’s opening performance

Local critics were rather sniffy about the liberties Benson took with the text but conceded that the comedy had been well received by the audience, which must have comprised many people from Heaton, including from our Shakespeare streets, from which it was only a couple of hundred yards or so via the Elizabeth Street underpass below the railway.

The performance was just the first of Byker’s own Shakespearian festival that week. Benson’s company also put on ‘The Merchant of Venice’, ‘Hamlet’ and ‘As You Like It‘, with ‘Richard III‘ played al fresco at the Sandyford Park home of a Dr Gibb (See the Comments to this article for more on the interesting Dr Gibb).

Benson was back at the Grand in December 1899. His company had been at the Theatre Royal performing ‘Macbeth‘, the play famously considered by actors to be unlucky, when a disastrous fire destroyed the interior of the theatre and with it most of the company’s costumes, props and scenery as well as personal effects. They say in the theatre that the show must go on. So Frank Benson dashed to London to source replacements and the management of the Grand Theatre, Byker offered it as an alternative venue, not the last time Newcastle’s East End was to help out the Stratford company.

Services to Shakespeare

Benson’s contribution to the cause of Shakespeare can hardly be overestimated and was formally recognised a hundred years ago during the commemorations for the Tercentenary of Shakespeare’s death. He was playing Julius Caesar in front of an audience of nearly three thousand people, which included King George V and Queen Mary, when a telegram finally reached Benson informing him that he was to be honoured with a knighthood. A royal aid was informed that the message had just been received, a sword was sent for and Frank Benson was knighted on stage still wearing the blood-stained robes and ashen make-up of the dead Caesar.

Postscript

The Royal Shakespeare Company evolved out of the Shakespeare Festival that Benson ran in Stratford between 1888 and 1916. The debt that the company owes to him is acknowledged by a set of stained glass windows in the original Shakespeare Memorial Theatre.

The Grand, after struggling for many years to be profitable as either as a theatre or a cinema, finally closed its doors on August 1954. But Heaton got its own theatre in 1960, when The People’s moved here.

In 1961, the RSC itself was formed. The story of Shakespeare at the People’s and its ongoing links with the RSC is another story!

Can you help?

If you have memories of the Grand or can provide further information about anything mentioned in this piece, please contact us, either by clicking on the link immediately below the title of this article or by emailing chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Shakespeare 400

This article was written by Chris Jackson and researched by Chris Jackson, and Peter Walker, as part of Heaton History Group’s project to commemorate the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death.

We are interested in connections between Heaton and Shakespeare through its theatres, past and present; writers, actors – and of course, the famous brick Shakespeare on South View West.

We are also researching and writing about some of the people who have lived in the ‘Shakespeare Streets’: initially, we are looking at Bolingbroke, Hotspur, Malcolm, Mowbray and Warwick Streets plus Stratford Grove, Stratford Grove Terrace, Stratford Grove West, Stratford Road, and Stratford Villas.

If you would like to join our small friendly research group or have information, photos or memories to share, please contact us, either by clicking on the link immediately below the title of this article or by emailing chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org