Tag Archives: Sir Charles Parsons

Forgotten Music Makers of Heaton

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

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

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Grafton Street

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

So let’s rewind.

Apprentice

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

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

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

Inventors

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

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

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

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

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

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

Close to home

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

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

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

 

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

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

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Heaton Methodist Church organ

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

Organ Centenary Concert - Programme

Heaton Methodist Church organ centenary programme

 

Military march

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

 Rescue

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

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

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

BlackettandHowdenReceiptPrince'sTheatre

Blackett and Howden document

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

Eastward ho

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

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Fushima Maru passenger list including William Blackett

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

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

Sale

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

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

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

Team effort

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

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

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

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Terrot G Myles

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

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

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

Others listed in the 1911 census include:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can you help?

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

Acknowledgements

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

Sources

Biographical Dictionary of the Organ

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

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

 National Pipe Organ Register list of Blackett and Howden organs 

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

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

and online sources eg Ancestry

The Really Incredible Heaton Telescope

Our October talk, ‘A Gift of Stars’, will tell the story of how Grubb Parsons came to be in Newcastle and will, in particular, focus on (no pun intended!) the firm’s first big reflector,  the 74 inch David Dunlap telescope. This was used by astronomer Helen Sawyer Hogg to discover thousands of variable stars, allowing the distance of galaxies to be measured accurately thus enabling the true scale of the universe to be established for the first time. We’ve always said Heaton’s at the centre of the universe. After this, there can be no doubt!

Judith1

Judith 3

Our speaker

Our speaker is David Kidd, a retired maths teacher and amateur astronomer.  David first came across Grubb Parsons in the 1960s when, as a member of South Shields Astronomical Society, he visited the works.

David spent the last part of his working life in Africa and started researching the history of Grubbs when he was contacted by a group of local historians in South Africa interested in the telescopes in Pretoria and Johannesburg built by the company.

To book

The talk will take place at The Corner House, Heaton Road, NE6 5RP on Wednesday 26 October 2016 at 7.30pm and is FREE to Heaton History Group members. Non-members pay £2. The doors open at 7.00pm. You are advised to take your seat by 7.15pm. Please book your place by contacting maria@heatonhistorygroup.org / 07443 594154. Booking is open to Heaton History Group members only until Wednesday 24 August.

 

The ‘Happy Heatonians’ – Bob Colston’s Variety Entertainment Group

During WWI there were numerous groups of entertainers prepared to give their time freely and perform throughout the country to cheer up and boost the morale of soldiers at their camps and wounded soldiers in hospital.One such group was the ‘Happy Heatonians’ managed by Bob Colston, who lived at 127 Clifford Street, which was a 3 room flat in Byker. In 1917 Bob Colston (36), a postman, was living at home with his father, mother and sister.

It is not known when the ensemble was formed, but the first mention of Bob Colston performing as a comedian, was reported in the Daily Journal, Friday, 26 February 1915. This took place at the Collingwood Restaurant, Newcastle where the first annual dinner of the Scotswood Checkers of the Fuse and Shell Department at  Sir W. G. Armstrong, Whitworth & Co Ltd took place. About 80 members attended.

Members of the ‘Happy Heatonians’ mentioned in subsequent newspaper articles were as follows (Not all appeared at each venue and they were not necessarily from Heaton.):

Mr Bob Colston                       –           Organiser, Comedian and Mimic

Mrs G D Tetley                     –           Mandolin Duettist

Miss Cockburn                        –           Mandolin Duettist

Miss Peggy Lowrey                –           Banjo and Mandolin

Mrs T H Booth                      –           Banjo and Mandolin

Little Rita*                                 –           Juvenile Entertainer

Madam Laura Fraser              –         Entertainer at Piano

Miss Gerty Moskow **             –        Mezzo Soprano

Miss Lily Farrell                       –        Comedienne

Corporal Bob Maitland            –     Scotch Comedian

Mr Taylor Scorer                    –         Baritone

Miss Enid Carverhill                –     Comedienne

Miss Bella Angus                    –       Soprano

Mr J B Cavan                       –         Actor, Vocalist

Miss Lily Nicolson                   –     Accompanist

Miss G. Makon

Mr G W. Beautyman

*Rita May Barker of 20 Tenth Avenue, Heaton, the daughter of William, a commercial traveller (flour milling) and Sophia, seem to fit the bill. She would have been aged 13 in 1917.

**At first we thought this must be a stage name but it is her real name as recorded in the 1911 census. The was the daughter of Samuel Moskow, a watchmaker and jewellerand his wife Julia. they lived in Elswick with Gertie’s sister and brother, Lily and Abraham Jacob.In 1917, she would have been 19 years old.

Newspaper Reports and Venues

23 January 1917  –   North Shields YMCA – Variety concert to a crowded audience.

17 May1917  –   Newcastle Naval Hostel – Where 587 men lived

12 October 1917  –   Residents of Greystoke Avenue and Jesmond Vale arranged for a party of wounded soldiers to have tea and supper and be entertained by a programme of music performed by the ‘Happy Heatonians’.

27 October 1917  –   Blyth YMCA Hut – Where a crowded audience of soldiers were given a concert.

4 December 1917  –   Cambridge Hall, Northumberland Road – A fund raising concert for St John Ambulance, under the patronage of the Lord Mayor. Over 200 members of St John Ambulance are on active service.

29 January 1918   –  North Wylam, Holeyn Hall, home of Sir Charles Parsons, the inventor of the Steam Turbine and of Turbinia fame. During WWI his private residence became the 14th Northumberland VAD Hospital, where a variety concert was given for the wounded soldiers.

Charles Parsons

Charles Algernon Pasrons

 

18 November 1918      Holeyn Hall – A concert, directed by Mr Bob Colston and arranged by Mrs Manning of Wylam, was given for the wounded soldiers.

12 December 1918      Holeyn Hall V.A.D. Hospital Saturday Night Entertainment Committee offered their thanks to friends who have kindly entertained the wounded soldiers during the year. Amongst them was Mr Bob Colston. Others with Heaton associations that maybe of interest were:

Heaton Juveniles Dramatic Entertainment run by Madam Kendall and Mr Alfred Braford;

Addison Wounded Soldiers Entertainment Committee, who on 10 occasions invited the soldiers to half day entertainments at Wylam Institute and also at Ryton and Newcastle;

Addison Branch of St John Ambulance Association;

Addison Male Voice Choir.

The last three would have been associated with the Addison Potter colliery and village, just west of Blaydon and named after Addison Potter, the owner of Heaton Hall and the colliery.

1 August.1919      West Moor – A second ‘welcome home’ was held in the West Moor Council Schools for the soldiers residing in the West Moor and Forest Hall districts, who enlisted from Burradon Colliery.

The above was the last reported performance of the ‘Happy Heatonians’, nine months after the Armistice took place.

It certainly seemed that during WWI (as now!), ‘Heaton had Talent’ in abundance and it was put to good use, entertaining wounded servicemen, munitions workers and helping with fund raising events, all under the direction of Bob Colston.

Note: We cannot find any evidence that Bob Colston was conscripted to fight in WWI. He does not appear in the Newcastle Absent Voters List to indicate that he was away on active service. Whether he was not fit enough to join up is unknown, but his occupation was given as postman in the 1911 Census. Being in his mid thirties he would not have been too old to join up and fight for King and Country.

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Arthur Andrews, Heaton History Group.

Can you help?

If you have any more information about the Happy Heatonians or any of the members listed here, we’d love to hear them. 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

Rachel Parsons: queen of the machine

Rachel Parsons (1885–1956) was an engineering trailblazer, but she has disappeared from the pages of history – until now. The daughter and heir of Charles Parsons, inventor of the steam turbine, she was the first woman to study mechanical sciences at Cambridge University and went on to become a director of Heaton Works, her father’s firm.

Rachel Parsons (by Bassano, by permission of National Portrait Gallery)

Rachel Parsons (by Bassano, by permission of National Portrait Gallery)

Rachel and Charles Parsons

Rachel and Charles Parsons in Charles’laboratory at Holeyn Hall, Wylam

During the First World War, she taught hundreds of women to make munitions and later founded the Women’s Engineering Society. In 1956 she met a violent death at the hands of a stableman who was well known to her.

Woman at Parsons' Heaton works engaged in steam turbine manufacture during WW1

Woman at Parsons’ Heaton works engaged in steam turbine manufacture during WW1

Rachel Parsons in a Buick outside her house in London’s Grosvenor Square, 1925

Rachel Parsons in a Buick outside her house in London’s Grosvenor Square, 1925

The remarkable story of Rachel Parsons and the Parsons family will be told by Henrietta Heald, author of William Armstrong, Magician of the North, a highly acclaimed biography of Baron Armstrong of Cragside. The talk will take place at The Corner House, Heaton Road, NE6 5RP on Wednesday 12 August at 7.30pm and is FREE to Heaton History Group members. Non-members pay £2. The doors open at 7.00pm. You are advised to take your seat by 7.15pm. Please book your place by contacting maria@heatonhistorygroup.org /07443 594154. Until Wednesday 10 June, bookings will be accepted from Heaton History Group members only but after that will be open to all-comers.

Pit to Pi: the life of Charles Hutton

How many Cragside or Heaton Manor pupils, struggling with their homework, realise that, in High Heaton, they’re following in the footsteps of one of the greatest mathematicians who has ever lived? The remarkable story of the one time Geordie miner, who became one of the most famous and esteemed men of his time, deserves to be better known.

Detail from painting of Charles Hutton by Andrew Morton now in the Lit and Phil

Detail from painting of Charles Hutton by Andrew Morton in the Literary and Philosophical Society of Newcastle upon Tyne

Charles, the youngest son of Henry and Eleanor Hutton, was born in what was then called Side-Gate at the corner of what we now know as Percy Street and Gallowgate on 14 August 1737. He was expected to be employed in mining like his father who, by the time of Charles’ birth, seems to have been an under-viewer, which was in effect the deputy manager of a coal mine. But Henry died when Charles was just four years old and his mother married another colliery manager, Francis Fraim, an overman (the third person in the hierarchy of a coal mine). The older boys duly followed their father and stepfather underground but what Charles later viewed as a happy accident, at the age of about seven, changed the direction of the youngest brother’s life.

Street fighter

In a quarrel with some other children in the street, Charles’ right elbow was hurt. Being afraid to tell his parents, he apparently concealed the injury for several days by which time surgeons were unable to put the damage right. Charles’ mother, in particular, was said to have worried that her son wouldn’t be able to earn a living in mining as expected and to have ensured that he received a first-class education.

The first school Charles attended was in Percy Street, close to the family’s home. It was ‘kept by an old Scottish woman’. According to Hutton, she taught him to read but was no great scholar. Whenever she came to a word which she couldn’t read herself, she directed the children to skip it: ‘for it was Latin’!

To High Heaton

The family then moved to Benwell and soon after, according to contemporary and friend, John Bruce, to High Heaton. We don’t know exactly where they lived but Charles was able to go to a school across the Ouseburn valley in Jesmond. The school was run by Rev Mr Ivison and was an establishment at which Charles seems to have flourished.

Nevertheless, writing at the time of Hutton’s death in 1823, Bruce said that he had recently been shown paperwork which showed that in 1755-6, Charles did work in a pit albeit only briefly – as a hewer (a coalminer who worked underground cutting coal from the seam), at Long Benton colliery, where his step-father was an overman.

At around this time, however, Mr Ivison left the Jesmond school and young Charles, by now 18 years old, began teaching there in his place. The school relocated to Stotes Hall which, some older readers may remember, stood on Jesmond Park Road until its demolition in 1953. He then relocated in turn to the Flesh Market, St Nicholas’ Churchyard and Westgate Street in the city centre. There he taught John Scott, famous locally for eloping with Betty Surtees and nationally, after being elevated to the House of Lords with the title Lord Eldon, for his tenure as Lord Chancellor. Lord Eldon spoke glowingly of his old teacher as did many of his pupils.

‘As a preceptor, Dr Hutton was characterised by mildness, kindness, promptness in discovering the difficulties which his pupils experienced, patience in removing these difficulties, unwearied perseverance, a never-failing lover of the act of communicating knowledge by oral instruction’ Dr Olinthus Gregory

Charles Hutton by Benjamin Wyon, 1823 (Thank you to the National Portrait Gallery)

Charles Hutton by Benjamin Wyon (Reproduced with permission of the National Portrait Gallery)

Hutton was often described as ‘indefatigable’. One advert he placed offers:

‘Any schoolmasters, in town and country, who are desirous of improvement in any branches of the mathematics, by applying to Mr Hutton, may be instructed during the Christmas holidays.’

Bobby Shafto

Another interesting pupil was Robert Shafto of Benwell Towers, who originally hired Hutton to teach his children. He gave Charles the use of his extensive library and directed him towards helpful text books. In return Charles gave his mentor refresher classes. (There is considerable disagreement about whether this Robert was the ‘Bonnie Bobby Shafto’ of the well-known song. Robert was a traditional family name of more than one branch of the Shafto family so it’s difficult to be sure. One theory is that the song was originally written earlier about a previous Robert but that further verses were added over the years as it continued to be sung about a succession of members of the family who were in public life. This Robert was certainly Sherriff of Northumberland and may also have been the Robert Shafto painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds.)

On 3 March 1764, Charles published his first book ‘The Schoolmaster’s Guide or a Complete System of Practical Arithmetic’ . The book was praised for its clarity and precision and the second edition, published two years later, became a standard school textbook for at least 60 years.

Bewick Engravings

But it was in Charles Hutton’s next book on measurement, ‘A Treatise on Mensuration both in Theory and Practice’ that he ‘first eminently distinguished himself as a mathematician’. The book, published in 1770, is also notable for the diagrams, which were engraved by a 16 year old Thomas Bewick, at this time an apprentice wood engraver.

Extract from Hutton's book with Thomas Bewick engravings

Extract from Hutton’s book with Thomas Bewick engravings

This volume is evidence of Hutton’s growing reputation: the names of some 600 subscribers who supported its publication, are listed at the front: many are from the North East and include the Duke of Northumberland but others are from as far afield as Aberdeen and Cornwall, many of them schoolteachers.

Further evidence of the esteem in which Hutton was held came when the Mayor and Corporation of Newcastle asked him to carry out a survey of the town. A commission to produce an engraved map, based on the survey, followed and, after the terrible floods of 1771 in which Newcastle’s Medieval bridge was washed away, Hutton was approached to produce calculations to inform the design of its replacement. It included a brief to examine ‘properties of arches, thickness of piers, the force of water against them’. A copy of the original map can still be seen in the Lit and Phil.

And soon an opportunity arose to cement his reputation in London and beyond. A vacancy was advertised for the post of Professor of Mathematics at the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich. It appears that, at first, Hutton, who was at this time by all accounts a modest, shy young man, was reluctant to apply but his mentor, Robert Shafto, persuaded him. He was up against competition of the highest order but was appointed and moved to London. His wife, Isabella, and his four children, remained in Newcastle. Isabella, who died in 1785, is buried in Jesmond Cemetery.

Good company

A string of important works followed including ‘The force of Fired Gunpowder, and the initial velocity of Cannon Balls, determined by Experiments’ for which he won the Royal Society’s Copley Medal, still awarded annually for ‘outstanding achievements in research in any branch of science’ anywhere in the world. The list of winners reads like a ‘Who’s Who’ of the sciences and includes Benjamin Franklin, William Herschel, Humphrey Davy, Michael Faraday, Charles Darwin, Louis Pasteur, Joseph Lister, Ernest Rutherford, Albert Einstein, another adopted Heatonian, Charles Algernon Parsons and, more recently, Francis Crick and Stephen Hawking. Charles Hutton, our former pit hewer, is in good company!

Bust of Charles Hutton by Sebastian Gahagan now in the Lit and Phil

Bust of Charles Hutton by Sebastian Gahagan now in the Lit and Phil

But he didn’t stop there. Hutton’s discoveries, publications and positions of importance are too numerous to mention here but perhaps his greatest achievement was his series of calculations to ascertain the density of the earth.

‘The calculations… were more laborious and, at the same time, called for more ingenuity than has probably been brought into action by a single person since the preparation of logarithmic tables’.

Hutton made the calculations based on measurements taken at Mount Schiehallion in Perthshire by the Astronomer Royal, The Reverend Dr Nevil Maskelyne and his team. Although the result has since been refined, the methodology was a significant scientific breakthrough. A bi-product was Hutton’s pioneering use of contour lines: geographers, cartographers and walkers, as well as mathematicians, have reason to toast the name of Charles Hutton.

Legacy

Our knowledge of Hutton’s personal life is limited, but we do know that he married for a second time and fathered another daughter. Tragedy struck in 1793 when two of his four daughters died. One of them, Camilla, had married a soldier, who was posted to the West Indies. Camilla and her two year old son, Charles, accompanied him but her husband firstly was injured and then contacted yellow fever, a disease to which his wife also succumbed. Young Charles was both orphaned and a prisoner of war until he was rescued by an uncle and taken to his grandfather in London. Hutton, who was, by this time, 58 years old and his second wife, Margaret, brought up the boy as their own and ensured that he received a good education. Although Hutton did not live to see his success, Charles Blacker Vignoles became a bridge and railway engineer of world renown. He pioneered the use of the flat-bottomed rail, which bears his name. Neatly, one of the first lines in Britain to use the Vignoles Rail was the Newcastle – North Shields line through the area in which the grandfather, who was such an influence upon him, grew up.

Geordie to the Last

Charles Hutton himself never came back to Tyneside: although he often said he wanted to return, he suffered persistent ill health in his later years and, according to his letters, he was ultimately deterred by the extreme discomfort he had endured on the journeys of his youth. But he took a great interest in Newcastle’s affairs, regularly corresponding with friends here, remaining a member of the Lit and Phil and regularly supporting a number of local causes financially, among them the Jubilee School in Newcastle and a school teachers’ welfare society. The education of young people in the city of his birth was close to Charles Hutton’s heart right until his death on 27 January 1823 at the age of 85. He deserves to be remembered, especially by Heaton, where he spent some of his formative years.

Sources

Sources consulted include:

A memoir of Charles Hutton by John Bruce, read at the meeting of the Literary and Philosophical Society of Newcastle upon Tyne, May 6 1823

Brief Memoir of Charles Hutton LLD FRS from the Imperial Magazine for March 1823

(both held by the ‘Lit and Phil’.)

Charles Blacker Vignoles: romantic engineer by K H Vignoles; Cambridge University Press, 2010 9780521135399

Many thanks to the Literary and Philosophical Society of Newcastle upon Tyne for permission to publish the photographs of the Andrew Morton painting and Sebastian Gahagan bust, and to the National Portrait Gallery, for permission to reproduce the Benjamin Wyon medal.

High Flyer of Tenth Avenue

On 23rd March 1915, 17 year old William Douglass Horsley became the third young man from Tenth Avenue to be charged with an offence relating to national security. A few months earlier Leo and Aloysius Beers, who lived just five doors away, had been charged under the Official Secrets Act while William fell foul of the Defence of the Realm (Consolidation) Act of 1914. This wide-ranging act, known as DORA, governed many aspects of life during WW1. It forbade, for example, the purchase of binoculars, the flying of kites, the feeding of wild animals with bread and, understandably, communicating with the enemy.

As the Newcastle Journal reported the following day, William was accused of possessing wireless telegraphy apparatus Including ‘one complete receiving set of a fairly formidable type that could receive a message from a considerable distance, probably Paris or Berlin’. The apparatus was ‘home made but very powerful and much more than a mere toy’. Furthermore, its aerials were concealed. William pleaded guilty.

The chairman of the court said that while the equipment reflected great credit on the boy’s ability, the offence was a serious matter for the well being of the country. He ordered the equipment to be confiscated and fined William 20 shillings plus costs.

The Accused

William Douglass Horsley was born on 3 January 1898 in North Shields, where his father, William Percy Horsley, was a wherry owner.

Family photo of William as a very young boy

Family photo of William as a very young boy

Engineering ran in the family. Young William’s grandfather was described as an ‘engine builder’ as far back as 1871 at which time he employed ’50 men and 31 boys’. And his father in turn, yet another William, was a ‘colliery and railway engineer’ in 1851, the earliest days of rail. According to William Douglass Horsley himself he was the latest of six generations of engineers. Thank you to Teresa Gilroy, a descendant of William’s grandfather, who provided the photographs, along with information about the family. One of her sons, continuing the family tradition, is an electrical engineer. Notice that the photograph below was taken at the studio of Edward George Brewis, another Heaton resident.

William Douglass Horsley

William Douglass Horsley as a young man

By 1911, William Senior, his wife Margaret, 13 year old William Douglass and his 8 year old sister, Phyllis, had moved to Newcastle. They were living in Jesmond and William Senior was employed as a pattern maker in an iron foundry, a skilled engineering job. By the beginning of World War 1, the family were at 8 Tenth Avenue, Heaton.

High Flyer

The engineering skills and inventiveness which impressed the chairman of the court would have made young William attractive to many Tyneside employers and in 1913, on leaving school, he had secured what would have been a highly-prized apprenticeship at Parsons. A year later war broke out and soon after that came William’s arrest.

Before he had a chance to complete his apprenticeship, William was conscripted into the armed forces. For most of the war, there were just two options for young men: to join either the Royal Navy or the Army. And it was the latter to which William signed up in February 1918. But William’s academic ability and technical aptitude made him the ideal recruit for a soon to be established service, the Royal Air Force.

The RAF was formally established on 1 April 1918. Some 20,000 aircraft and 300,000 men and women were transferred from the Army or the Royal Navy branches of the Royal Flying Corps (RFC), William among them. The RAF was already a considerable force bearing in mind that it was less than 10 years after Louis Blerioz had become the first person to fly across the English Channel but it was still very much a place for pioneers. Aircraft were used for both combat and surveillance and in both areas the knowledge of telecommunications, which William had precociously demonstrated some three and a half years earlier, were indispensable. The painting below is by Howard Leigh, who illustrated the early Biggles books by W E Johns. (Leigh lived in High Heaton before his death in 1942 but that’s another story!)

Aerial combat in WW1 by Howard Leigh

Aerial combat in WW1 by Howard Leigh

William was never posted overseas partly because on 11 November 1918, just over eight months after he had enlisted, the war was over. He wasn’t discharged until March 1919 at which time he was designated an Honorary Second Lieutenant, a Junior Officer rank. William Horsley had clearly come a long way in the four years since he was branded a threat to his country’s security.

Career Ladder

William returned to his parents’ home in Tenth Avenue, Heaton and resumed his position at C A Parsons and Co Ltd. Here too, he was soon promoted. On discharge from the RAF, William worked first of all in the drawing office before entering the design department. He became a senior designer and in 1938 was appointed chief electrical engineer. If you put his name into a search engine, you will find many patents in the UK, Canada and the USA, registered on behalf of Parsons under the name of William Douglass Horsley.

In 1949, William was appointed to the board of directors on which he served until 1967, when he was aged 69. During his career, he was an active member of the Institution of Electrical Engineers, chairman of the NE Centre in 1937. He was also a longstanding member of the North East Coast Institution of Engineers and Shipbuilders. The pinnacle of William’s career came in 1971 when he was awarded an Honorary Degree by Newcastle University. His misdemeanour 56 years earlier was well and truly behind him. During the award ceremony he recalled that the day after his appearance in court and heavy fine for making a powerful radio receiver, William was summoned by Sir Charles Parsons himself. Fearing for his job and indeed his career, he entered the great man’s office where to his surprise and relief, Sir Charles asked ‘Could you make one for me?’ (Thank you to Newcastle University for providing us with the citation read out at his degree ceremony.)

William Douglass Horsley died in 1989, aged 91.

Heaton Avenues in Wartime

Heaton History Group has been awarded Heritage Lottery Fund funding to enable it to research and recount the impact of World War One on a Tyneside neighbourhood. Children at Chillingham Road School have been involved in the project. Below is a collage based on W D Horsley’s wartime experiences made by a Year 6 pupil, who clearly shares William’s engineering aptitude.

Collage based on William Horsley's life in WW1

Collage based on William Horsley of Tenth Avenue’s life during WW1 by a Year 6 pupil at Chillingham Road School

If you would like to get involved by helping with research, illustrating the stories we uncover, mounting exhibitions or organising events – or if you have information relating to WW1, especially relating to Heaton, including First to Tenth Avenues, or to William Horsley, please contact: Chris Jackson, Secretary, Heaton History Group via chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

There is a related exhibition of original documents and artworks in the lounge bar of the Chillingham pub on Chillingham Road. It is planned to run until May 2016. The display will change approximately every two months.