Tag Archives: Sixth Avenue

S in Ringtons, Tea in Heaton

The imposing white brick Ringtons building on Algernon Road bears the date ‘1924’, indicating that the famous tea company has Heaton connections going back at least 90 years.

Simon Smith, son of Sam, and staff outside Algernon Road HQ, 1932

Ringtons staff outside the company’s Algernon Road HQ, 1932

In fact the story starts much earlier than that.

Samuel Smith was born on 22 June 1872 in Leeds and christened on 22 December of that year along with his older brother, George. His parents were both local. William, his father, earned his living as a fettler, someone who cleaned the machinery in a woollen mill.

According to Sam’s great granddaughter, Fiona Harrison, young Sam started work, aged eight, as a ‘butcher’s boy’ on Friday nights and Saturdays. Aged ten, he joined the staff of one of the country’s biggest tea-dealers, as a ‘half-timer’. He gradually worked his way up and was sent to various of the firm’s offices across Yorkshire to learn all aspects of the business.

By the time he married Ada Emmerson, daughter of a Leeds milk dealer, at the age of 25, he was a travelling salesman for the company and was based in Sheffield. The couple’s two oldest children, John and Douglas, were born in Sheffield but the next two, Elizabeth and Vera, started life in Bradford and by time the youngest, Samuel and Harriet, came along, the family were back in Leeds but preparing for a new life in Newcastle.

We are extremely lucky in that, not only did Sam keep letters, diaries, notes, photographs and mementos, but that his family have treasured them and Fiona has painstakingly combed through the family archive to help us piece together the story of the birth of Ringtons and its relevance to our ‘Heaton’s Avenues in Wartime’ Heritage Lottery Fund project.

The records show that Sam had become increasingly disillusioned with the firm he worked for in Leeds. He felt its staff weren’t treated well and he believed that he could both run a successful company and live true to his values. His friend and colleague, Irishman William ‘Will’ Titterington, was of the same mind and they decided to set up in business together under the name of ‘Ringtons’, which combined the last part of Will’s surname with the first letter of Sam’s.

Sam Smith, founder of Ringtons

Sam Smith, founder of Ringtons

Tea to Newcastle

As was common at the time, there was a clause in their contracts stipulating that if they left their current employer, they couldn’t set up within 50 miles of its Leeds headquarters. The two men weighed up their options and were initially tempted by Scarborough, but in the end they couldn’t ignore the excellent opportunities offered by industrial Tyneside, where, although there were already a number of tea dealers including Brooke Bond and Pumphrey’s, none of them delivered door to door, which Sam and Will planned to make their unique selling point, one which has stood the company in good stead right up to the present day.

Fiona has found a letter from William Titterington to Sam Smith, dated 17 July 1907, and written from 2 Fourth Avenue, Heaton, where William is lodging in what is clearly a tiny room that the two men planned to share:

‘I have arrived at the combined room… This bed will only hold me, and I am afraid by the look of it, my feet will be hanging over the foot of it.’

On the other hand:

‘I am on the spot to assist at the shop and see that the workmen are getting on with the cleaning. This house is at the other end of the same terrace as the shop.’

Extract from letter from Will Titterington Fourth Avenue, Heaton to Sam Smith 1917

Extract from letter from Will Titterington, Fourth Avenue, Heaton to Sam Smith 1917

So it was in Heaton’s Avenues in 1907 that Ringtons was born. By 1908, the partners had two vans and four assistants and they were blending twice as much tea as a year earlier.

The first mention of the firm in the trade directories is in 1909-10 (which was probably surveyed in 1907-8). Ringtons was based at number 23 Third Avenue with Sam Smith, manager, living at 25. By 1911, the Smiths had moved to 129 Warton Terrace. Will Titterington and his wife Mary were living at 109 Tynemouth Road with their sons, William jnr and Francis, aged six and four.

By 1910 Sam Smith had bought Will Titterington’s share of the company and the firm itself had moved to more spacious premises on an abandoned rifle range at 392 Shields Road (where the Byker retail park is now).

RingtonsShieldsRdc1910ed

Ringtons, Shields Rd c1912

Ringtons, Shields Rd c1912 with extension to the 1910 building in the first picture

Here, their neighbours included a coach builder, cart proprietor, horse keeper and horse shoer, all vital to the Ringtons’ enterprise. Sam had worked hard to make the business a success and it had gone from strength to strength. By this time, there were 11 vans and 11 assistants.

Struggle for survival

But then World War One broke out. It changed everything, as Sam recalled later:

‘Of my staff of 17, some of whom were married, 15 were called to the colours and I promised to do certain things for them so their families should not suffer too much while they were fighting. Of course, I agreed to keep their jobs open for them.’

What Sam hadn’t reckoned with were the severe food shortages and the resulting rationing and restrictions. There was a sugar shortage so people were only allowed to buy it where they bought their tea. Ringtons didn’t sell sugar and couldn’t get hold of it, so business plummeted.

To compensate, the firm started to sell any foodstuff it could lay its hands on: tinned and evaporated milk, dried eggs, canned meat and fish, saccharine, pickles etc. However, often as soon as Sam had bought a consignment, the price of the commodity would be fixed by government at less than he’d paid for it.

‘ Somehow I managed to keep my promises to my soldier staff’ remembered Sam. ‘And somehow managed to relieve a little the distress of the widows of the three who never came back. But it was a fight to be able to pay my own rent and the wolf came nearer and nearer my door’.

At the end of the war, the 12 surviving members of staff returned, ‘three of them wearing the Military Medal’ and, as promised, Sam took them back although the outlook for the company seemed bleak. But gradually, once people and retailers were free to buy and sell what and where they liked, customers returned.

When the ex-servicemen received their gratuities, they clubbed together to buy Sam a watch, which from then on he always wore. It was inscribed: ‘Presented to Mr Samuel Smith, as a mark of gratitude and esteem, from the staff of Ringtons Ltd, on their return from military service. December 1920′

Loyal servant

One of the returning servicemen was Robert Ernest Sturdy, who, in 1911 was living with his wife, Minnie, and their three year old son, Norman Leslie at 57 Spencer Street, Heaton. Robert described himself as a ‘superintendent, tea trade’ . By 1916, the couple had two more very young children, May and Ernest. Robert volunteered to join the army, aged 32, in December 1915, just before conscription was introduced early in 1916. He described himself as a ‘manager (drivers)’ .

On enlistment it was noted that Robert’s heart ‘seemed weak’. His letter of enlistment stated that he was invited to join the Army Service Corps(Mechanical Transport), ‘provided he has not attained the age of 46 and is found medically fit for Service‘ Despite his heart condition, Ernest was accepted and he served on the home front for just over a month before being sent to France in October 1916.

Throughout 1918, he was in and out of military hospitals with conditions variously described as ‘mild debility’, ‘TB‘ and ‘Bronchial catarrh’ before being transferred back to the UK in October 1919, at which time he signed a disclaimer to the effect that he wasn’t suffering from any disability which was due to military service.

Robert returned to Ringtons where, as Sam Smith had promised, his old job was waiting for him. He was still there in the position of sales manager in 1934 by which time he was 50 years old. On completion of 25 years service, he was presented with tea and coffee services. Robert died in 1956, aged 73. By this time his son, Norman, was himself described as a tea dealer, presumably (though we can’t be sure) also with Ringtons. Robert’s younger son, Ernest ,was sadly ‘lost at sea’ during WW2.

The Somme

In total there were 14 people in Heaton in 1911 whose occupation, as recorded in the census, included the word ‘tea’. One was Sam Smith, of course, by now living at 129 Warton Terrace, with Ada and their six children. We can’t be sure which of the others worked at Ringtons, as employer names aren’t usually recorded, but Robert Clapperton Mair, aged 15, who lived with his parents, two brothers and a sister, at 13 Charles Street, described himself as a ‘tea merchant’s assistant’. He joined the 10th battalion Northumberland Fusiliers and was posted to France. Robert was one of those who didn’t return, having been killed in action on the Somme on 25 September 1916, aged 20. His name is recorded on the Thiepval Memorial and also on that of Heaton United Methodist Church on Heaton Road.

Bravery award

Bothers Patrick and Thomas Sullivan were both ‘van salesmen (tea)‘. The family had moved from Dundee while the boys and their sister, Lizzie, were young and the family lived at 16 Fourth Avenue, just a few doors down from Will Titterington’s lodgings in 1907. When war broke out their father, Patrick, a tram conductor, was active in recruiting volunteers for the ‘Pals‘ regiments and we know that Tom enlisted very early on, in September 1914, at the age of 22.

Two years later, by now a sergeant, he was awarded the Military Medal and a Card of Honour for conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty. A full report of his actions appeared in the Newcastle Journal, reproduced below. (Despite what it says in the article, the family appears to have lived on Fourth Avenue, rather than Sixth, throughout the war).

Newcastle Journal 18 November 1916

Newcastle Journal 18 November 1916

 So Tom was one of the three recipients of the Military Medal who returned to Ringtons after 1918 and was remembered by Sam Smith almost twenty years later. This was confirmed for us by Tom’s great great niece, Helen Wells, who told us:

‘My mam remembers talk of Uncle Tommy. We knew he’d been awarded the Military Medal but we didn’t know why. Tommy worked for Ringtons tea. He moved to Thornaby near Stockton to work for Ringtons there. He died in the 1940s and had no children. Patrick was exempt from military service because he was colour-blind’.

Post-war

A hundred years later, the personal stories give us a tiny insight into the suffering of Heaton and its people during World War One. But within just a few years, the firm, its staff and customers showed their resilience. Ringtons’ business picked up to such an extent that in 1924 a magnificent, modern building was commissioned on Algernon Road.

Ringtons, Algernon Road c1930

Ringtons, Algernon Road c1930

Work began in 1926 and it was finished in 1928. It still stands, of course, and is much loved, although the firm has since moved again. Not far though. Ringtons’, first managed from a cramped single bedroom on Fourth Avenue, is still very much associated with Heaton. Its headquarters remain on Algernon Road, next door to its impressive 1920s HQ.

Heaton Avenues in Wartime

This article was researched and written by Chris Jackson, with considerable help from Fiona Harrison, for Heaton History Group’s ‘Heaton Avenues in Wartime’ project, which has been funded by Heritage Lottery Fund. An exhibition, ‘’Tea in Heaton’, will be on display at the Chillingham pub from October to December 2015.

Find out more

This article and the exhibition at the Chilli concentrates on the early days in the Avenues and the impact of World War One but it’s just one chapter of the Ringtons’ story. To find out more, pay a visit to Ringtons’ museum in their Algernon Road headquarters and look out for a talk by Fiona  in our 2016-17 programme.

Can you help?

if you have worked at Ringtons, know more about any of the people mentioned in the article and/or have memories or photos to share, please either leave a comment on this website (by clicking on the link immediately below this article’s title) or email chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Feeding the Avenues

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

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

Robert Wood's grave

Robert Wood’s grave

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

Joseph Fagg's letter to Daily Journal

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

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

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

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

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

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

Article about Mary Dawson selling bread after 9.00pm

Heaton Avenues in Wartime

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

Newcastle’s War Hospitals

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

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

No 1 Northern General Hospital

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

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

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

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

Colonel Gowan’s response is not recorded!

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

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

1st Northern General Staff 1916

1st Northern General Staff 1916

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

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

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

HOSPParasite programme 3 (2)


Northumberland War Hospital

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

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

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

HOSPwar hospital xmas card 3 (2)

HOSPwar hospital xmas card 4 (2)

HOSPwar hospital xmas card 5 (2)

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

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

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

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

Brighton Grove Hospital

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walkergate Hospital

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

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

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

Heaton Avenues in Wartime

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

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

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

Fred Blenkinsop Robinson: teenage soldier who died of flu

Frederick Blenkinsop Robinson was born on 19 March 1900 and lived his entire life on Sixth Avenue, Heaton. He was the third of four children born to Joseph and Margaret Robinson. Joseph was a commercial traveller, born in York. He married Margaret Jane Blenkinsop of Newcastle in 1895 and the couple lived at no 13 Sixth Avenue. The 1911 census shows Joseph, aged 39 and Margaret, aged 41, living with their four children: Margaret May, aged 15; Joseph, aged 13; Frederick Blenkinsop, aged 11; and Thomas, aged 9. The family also had a lodger, William Blenkinsop, a 26 year old railway porter, who must have been a relative of Margaret.

Young life

Fred would have been only 14 at the start of the war and, like his siblings, was a pupil at Chillingham Road School. After leaving school, he became an apprentice fitter at Henry Watson and Sons Engineering Works in High Bridge, Walkergate. The company made cylinder blocks for commercial and marine engines as well as specialist pumps. An article in Commercial Motor on 5 September 1912, notes that the London General Omnibus Company were using cylinder blocks and pistons from Henry Watson and Sons exclusively for their B-type buses. The article particularly praises the quality of the work produced at the Walkergate factory in a new foundry specially built to produce commercial vehicle engines components.

Fred was almost too young to have been involved in the war and certainly too young to have fought at the front (young men could join up at 18, but weren’t posted to the front until they reached 19). Yet he died on 1 March 1919, 18 days short of his 19th birthday, some four months after the end of the war and is listed as a casualty of war, buried in a Commonwealth War Grave at Byker and Heaton Cemetery. 

Fred Robinson's gravestone

Fred Robinson’s gravestone


His is a particularly sad story among many such stories from the war.

Military service

It is likely that Fred’s older brother, Joseph, had joined the forces when he was 18, two years before although no record of his military service survives. We know that he survived the war and is mentioned in a list of family in Fred’s military record. Fred was obviously keen to sign up to do his military service, as he attended his initial medical assessment on 26 March 1918, one week after his 18th birthday. He passed this and was enlisted on 19 April. On 19 August, 102540, Private Frederick Robinson of the 5th Reserve Battalion of The Durham Light Infantry was called up and posted to Sutton on Hull in East Yorkshire for his initial training.

Fred was in hospital – the St John’s VAD Hospital in Hull – when the armistice was signed, having fallen ill with diarrhoea on 10 October, which he took 35 days to recover from. He might reasonably have expected that his time in the army would either be short or would at least involve less risk of death or serious injury. In Fred’s case, his discharge was rather shorter than he might have expected. By December, a process of discharge on the grounds of disability had started. On 13 December in a personal statement, Fred records that he has chronic discharge from both ears and resultant deafness. This had started about a month before he had joined up, but had got worse since.

When he examined Fred on 30 January, Lieutenant JD Evans of the Royal Army Medical Corps recorded that ‘there is a high degree of deafness and discharge from both ears. He says that this is worse since joining the army and he has certainly become more deaf since joining the unit. He is utterly unable to hear any commands unless they are shouted close to his ears and he is quite unfit for camp life.’ He recommended discharge on the grounds that he was permanently unfit. Today, we would think little of an ear infection which would be quickly and effectively treated with a course of antibiotics, but in 1918 it could be a permanent disability, leaving lasting damage even if and when the infection cleared up.

On 2 February, Fred was transferred to the OC Discharge Centre at Ripon to prepare for discharge. Six days later, he was admitted to the Military hospital at Ripon with influenza. The medical record notes that he was admitted unconscious, before going on to develop bronchopneumonia and late emphysema. On 26 February, an attempt was made to relieve the emphysema surgically, but to no avail. Fred died on 1st March, with his family with next of kin with him.

Pandemic

The 1918 flu pandemic ran from January 1918 to December 1920 and was unusually deadly It infected 500 million people across the world, including remote Pacific islands and the Arctic, and killed 50 to 100 million of them: three to five per cent of the world’s population. Two factors made it particularly deadly. Firstly, the unique conditions of the war. While the location of the first cases is disputed, the crowded and unsanitary conditions at the front made an ideal breeding ground. What is more, cases of flu are often limited by having sufferers stay at home. During the war, the opposite happened, with those affected transferred away from the front to hospitals both locally and in the soldiers’ home country, spreading the disease around the world. Secondly, flu most often affects the weakest, killing the young and old and those with existing medical conditions. The 1918 pandemic killed mainly healthy adults. Modern research has concluded that the virus killed through a cytokine storm (overreaction of the body’s immune system). The strong immune reactions of young adults ravaged the body, whereas the weaker immune systems of children and middle-aged adults resulted in fewer deaths among those groups.

To maintain morale, wartime censors minimized early reports of illness and mortality in Germany, Britain, France, and the United States; but papers were free to report the epidemic’s effects in neutral Spain (such as the grave illness of King Alfonso XIII), creating a false impression of Spain as especially hard hit, thus the pandemic’s nickname Spanish flu.

 Commemoration

In his report of Fred’s death, Major PW Hampton noted that ‘in my opinion death was attributable to service during the present war, viz exposure and infection on Home Service’. By doing so, he ensured that Fred could be buried in a Commonwealth War Grave and that his family would be entitled to a memorial scroll and plaque as well as service medals. This must have been of some comfort to his grieving family. Fred’s service record includes a copy of the slip that accompanied the memorial scroll to confirm receipt. This notes that the plaque will be issued directly from the Government plaque factory.

After the end of the war in 1918, Britain began the long process of commemorating the service of those who had lost their lives during its course. As part of this, the government issued to their next-of-kin (in addition to any of the standard campaign medals an individual might have been entitled to had they lived) what was known as the Memorial Plaque and the Memorial Scroll. The plaque was a bronze disc, about 5 inches in diameter, and depicted Britannia holding a trident whilst standing with a lion, holding an oak wreath above a rectangular tablet bearing the deceased’s name cast in raised letters. Rank and regiment was not included, since there was to be no distinction between sacrifices made by different individuals.

WW1 memorial plaque

WW1 memorial plaque

This was complimented by the Memorial Scroll, which provided additional information as to rank, branch of service or any decorations awarded.The scroll itself was a little smaller than a modern A4 sheet of paper, printed on thick card, and came in three main varieties. Those to the Army had a large blue H in the main text, with the rank/name/regiment hand-written at the bottom in red ink. Those to the Navy had a large red H, with the hand-written naming at the bottom in blue ink. Finally, those to the RAF had a large black H in the main text, with the hand-written naming at the bottom in both red and blue ink.

WW1 memorial scroll

WW1 memorial scroll

Clearly there was some delay in the issuing of plaques as a letter from Fred’s mother, Margaret, dated 13 November 1921 enquires about a memorial plaque and medals.

Margaret Robinson's letter requesting a plaque and Victory Medal for her son

Margaret Robinson’s letter requesting a plaque and Victory Medal for her son

.

Fred was also commemorated on war memorials at Chillingham Road School and St Gabriel’s Church in Heaton.

Chillingham Road School War Memorial

Chillingham Road School War Memorial

St Gabriel's Church War Memorial

St Gabriel’s Church War Memorial

Postscript

Fred wasn’t the only young person from the Avenues or from Heaton known to have died of flu (or as the result an unnamed disease thought likely to be influenza) during the 1918-19 pandemic. They include:

Able Seaman John James Hedley of 12 Eighth Avenue, husband of Corrie Hedley and formerly a boot salesman, who died on 16 October 1918 and is buried at Saint Andrew and Jesmond Cemetery.

This list will be updated as our ‘Heaton Avenues in Wartime’ research progresses.

Heaton Avenues in Wartime

This article was researched and written by Michael Proctor, with additional input by members of our ‘Heaton Avenues in Wartime’ research team. The project is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. If you have further information about anything relating to the article, please get in touch either via this website (by clicking on the link immediately below the article title) or by emailing: chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

 

 

The Lumleys of Sixth Avenue

The 1911 census has four members of the Lumley family living at number 37 Sixth Avenue. Joseph Smith Lumley, aged 55 was born in Gateshead and was an industrial insurance agent. He married Margaret Rudd from Shiny Row in 1883 in Newcastle and the couple lived in Tanfield and Elswick, before moving to Heaton some time after 1901. The couple had three children, one of whom did not survive infancy. In 1911, their two unmarried children: a daughter, Rosanna, aged 23, working as a telegraphist, and a son William, aged 20, working as a clerk/book-keeper with an electrical manufacturer, lived with them. The family were Methodists and members of the congregation at the Bainbridge Memorial Wesleyan Methodist Church, which formerly stood on the site of Southfields House sheltered accommodation on the corner of Heaton Road and Tynemouth Road.

Cuthbert Bainbridge Memorial Chapel

Cuthbert Bainbridge Memorial Methodist Chapel, c1905

Following their move to Heaton, William completed his education at Chillingham Road School. It is likely that Rosanna had already left school before the family relocated.

Will’s story

At the start of the war, William, known to friends as Will, joined the 1st/6th Battalion of the Northumberland Fusiliers, which was a Territorial Force formed at St George’s Drill Hall Newcastle in August 1914 and stationed on Northumberland Road, opposite the City Hall. Along with the 1st/4th stationed at Hexham and the 1st/5th stationed in Walker, the Battalion were engaged in Tyne defences over the autumn and winter of 1914 and were mobilised for war in April 1915, landing in France to become part of the 149th Brigade of the 50th Division, which were engaged in action on the Western Front.

Will’s army career was, like many others, tragically short lived as he died on 26th April 1915 aged 23 during the Battle of St Julien, part of the second Battle of Ypres. This was an important point in the war as it was the first time that the German Army had successfully used poison gas, to devastating effect, although they failed to fully exploit this as German troops had been re-deployed to the Eastern Front, leaving too few men to fill the gaps that opened in allied lines. Chlorine gas was first deployed in the Battle of Gravenstafel at around 5pm on 22 April near the hamlet of Gravenstafel in Belgium. German troops carried 5,730 gas cylinders weighing 90lb each to the front. These were then opened and lit by hand, relying on the prevailing wind to carry the gas towards allied trenches. The aerial photograph below shows the eerie spectacle.

Gas attack in WW1 Ypres

Yellow-green clouds drifted towards the Allied trenches. The gas had a distinctive smell, like pineapple and pepper. At first the French officers assumed that the German infantry were advancing behind a smoke screen and the troops were alerted. When the gas arrived at the Allied front trenches soldiers began to complain about pains in the chest and a burning sensation in their throats. The French troops in the path of the gas cloud suffered 6,000 casualties, with many dying within 10 minutes and others being left blind or with permanent lung damage. Many more ran for their lives. A four mile gap opened up in the front, which the German troops advanced upon, but the effect of the gas on their own troops and the lack of men meant that advance was contained by Canadian troops.

Dusk was falling when from the German trenches in front of the French line rose that strange green cloud of death. The light north-easterly breeze wafted it toward them, and in a moment death had them by the throat. One cannot blame them that they broke and fled. In the gathering dark of that awful night they fought with the terror, running blindly in the gas-cloud, and dropping with breasts heaving in agony and the slow poison of suffocation mantling their dark faces. Hundreds of them fell and died; others lay helpless, froth upon their agonized lips and their racked bodies powerfully sick, with tearing nausea at short intervals. They too would die later – a slow and lingering death of agony unspeakable. The whole air was tainted with the acrid smell of chlorine that caught at the back of men’s throats and filled their mouths with its metallic taste. The village of St Julien, where Will was posted, had been comfortably behind the Canadian defences until the poison gas attack of 22 April, when it became the front line.

On the morning of 24 April the Germans released another cloud of chlorine, towards the re-formed Canadian line just west of St. Julien. Word was passed among the Canadian troops to urinate on their handkerchiefs and place these over their noses and mouths. The countermeasures were insufficient and German troops took the village. However, the use of urine soaked pads continued to be the only counter-measure against the gas until respirators were provided in July 1915. The ammonia in the urine partly neutralised the chlorine. The picture shows British troops wearing the primitive protection.

WW1 Protection against gas attack St Julien

Next day the York and Durham Brigade units of the Northumberland Division counter-attacked, failed to secure their objectives but established a new line closer to the village. On 26 April the Northumberland Brigade attacked again and gained a foothold in the village but were forced back with the loss of more than 1,940 casualties, among them Sergeant William Lumley, who died in heavy shelling. Field Marshall Sir John French, Commander in Chief of the British Army, reports in his 8th Despatch that ‘the Northumberland Infantry Brigade advanced against St Julien and actually succeeded in entering, and for a time occupying, the southern portion of that village.’ They were, however, eventually driven back, largely owing to gas, and finally occupied a line a short way to the south. Will was reported missing in the ‘Journal’ on 15 May 1915 and his death was confirmed on 18 June in the ‘Evening Chronicle’, where a letter from a friend who had witnessed it praised his heroic actions:

Heroism in an Attack
Sergeant W. Lumley of the 6th Northumberland Fusiliers was killed in action on April 26, and his father, Mr J. Lumley of 37 Sixth Avenue, Heaton, has received from a fellow sergeant the following letter:

I have had a letter from my chum in which he states you are very anxious for any detail of poor Will of whose sad end you have received official intimation from the War Office, I understand. Being an office colleague of mine, we chummed in together out here and went into action together on that fated Monday afternoon, April 26. Unfortunately we were separated in the final rush, but another chum of his was near him when he fell. This is his story. When we were making the final attack on St Julien, he was wounded in the arm and, after having had it bound up hurriedly, insisted on going on. Had he been but that brave fellow he proved himself to be, he would have gone back to dressing station there and then, as nearly every man would have done. He insisted on going on however and shortly afterwards was killed outright by the bursting of a shell. He would be buried where he fell, either by the Seaforths or the Warwicks, who were in the trenches at the time and would send burial parties out after the affair. I have lost many chums in this ***** affair, but I have felt Will’s loss more than any, as he had been associated with me so closely. At any rate you have consolation, however small, that your son died a hero. Had he been any other, he would have probably been alive today.
Transcript of article from Evening Chronicle 18 June 1915

Will’s death is marked on plaques on the Menin Gate in Ypres, his body having been hastily buried and never recovered due to the retreat of the allied forces from St Julien.

Will Lumley's name on the Menin Gate

He is also remembered on war memorials in Chillingham Road School and in the former Bainbridge Memorial Methodist Church where stained glass windows were commissioned to commemorate the loss of members of the congregation. William was awarded three medals: The British War Medal; the Victory Medal; and the 1914-15 star. The three medals were almost always awarded together and were known as Pip (the 1914-15 Star), Squeak (the British War Medal) and Wilfred (the Victory Medal). Entries in the register of soldiers effects show that a War Gratuity of £6 and the sum of £2 7s 7d, cash in his possession when he died were paid to Will’s sister, Miss Rosanna Lumley, on 7 July 1919.

Margaret’s story

On Wednesday 22 March 1916, Will’s bereaved mother, Margaret Lumley, is noted in ‘The Newcastle Daily Journal’ amongst a list of other donors as having donated a muffler, games, two pairs of socks, bedsocks, magazines and stationery to the Northumberland War Hospital on behalf of the North Heaton Branch of the British Women’s Temperance Association.

In the Victorian period, alcohol consumption was massive. It was a way of life. Beer was cheaper than bread; spirits were deemed to have ‘medicinal’ benefits. It was one of the few pastimes that transcended the class structure. Nor was it just men who drank. To many, alcohol offered a temporary escape from their hard lives. Others thrived on the sensory pleasure it seemed to afford. However, it was the women who usually had to suffer and manage the consequences of excessive drinking by their menfolk. It was the women who struggled to keep enough money back from their husbands’ pay to feed the family before it was spent at the pub. It was they who had to shelter the children from aggressive drunken fathers, often taking a beating themselves in the process. And it was they who had to watch as sons grew up to regard beer as the staple drink.

It was against this background that the temperance movement started to grow, almost inevitably led by men, until the BWTA came along. Margaret Bright Lucas was a member of a well known Quaker family and in 1872 joined the Independent Order of the Good Templars, rising by 1875 to the level of ‘grand worthy vice templar, the highest position afforded to a British woman. The IOGT afforded much greater equality for its women members, encouraging them to speak in public.

Margaret Bright Lucas

Margaret Parker BWTA

Along with Margaret Parker from Dundee, she had visited America and been heavily influenced by the thinking of the US women’s temperance leader Eliza Stewart. On their return, they issued a call to arms, bringing together over 150 women from across the country to a meeting as part of a conference of the International Order of Good Templars in April 1876. The British Women’s Temperance Association was born, with Margaret Parker becoming the first president. Margaret Bright Lucas took over the presidency in 1878 until her death in 1890 and oversaw a massive growth of the association. Many organisations with similar goals became affiliated to the movement and in 1884, an organising agent was appointed to add 100 additional branches. It produced its own journal and a non-alcoholic cookery Book. Margaret Bright Lucas also recognised that women’s voice for reform would be stronger if women had the vote and advocated means of influencing men to use their votes in support of women’s issues, thus tying temperance and women’s suffrage issues together very strongly. A tie that would ultimately in 1893 split the organisation into the National British Women’s Temperance Association, then led by Lady Henry Somerset, with a mandate for a full reforming agenda and the Women’s Total Abstinence Union, with a much narrower remit.

The newly reformed NBWTA involved itself in a much wider social reform agenda, including child protection, suffrage and prison and court work. It is this organisation that Margaret Lumley would have been active in. The newspaper article identifies her address as the address for the North Heaton Branch of the association, so she must have played a leading role in the local organisation, possibly branch secretary, which was obviously big enough to warrant its own North Heaton branch. As a member, Margaret would have had to sign a membership pledge and would have worn the organisations white ribbon brooch.

BWTA Pledge Card

What is significant is what Margaret’s role as branch secretary tells us about the changing role of women in society at the time. The early leaders of the BWTA were very much from the upper class philanthropist mould. Ladies who could play no official role in the society of the day, but were able to use their status and connections to exert a growing influence on matters of concern to society, like temperance. But during World War One, Margaret Lumley a lower middle class wife and mother, was leading a local branch of a national organisation with some significant influence nationally.

It is perhaps not a coincidence that the 1915-16 programme of the Ladies Literary Society at the Bainbridge Memorial Church, which the family attended, as well as having needlework and cookery competitions and considering a paper on the ‘potentialities of a handkerchief’ also held debates and had a talk from Mrs Florence Nightingale Harrison-Bell, a leading local figure in the women’s suffrage movement.

Bainbridge Chapel Programme

An article in 14 August 1914’s edition of ‘The Newcastle Daily Journal’ reports that the BWTA was one of a number of local women’s organisations that had met with the Lord Mayor of Newcastle to discuss how they could help the war effort by organising women volunteers. The article notes that a committee had been established under the Lord Mayor’s direction, which would allow the various organisations to coordinate women volunteers to meet various needs as and when they were identified. The article goes on to note that the only immediate requirements were for women qualified to investigate cases of distress and help with sewing. It is possible that a continuation of this work that led to the donations to the Northumberland War Hospital noted in the original article. Nationally, the association funded reading, writing and refreshment rooms for the troops as well as funding the provision of mobile canteens to feed the troops at the front and the North Heaton branch would have been active in raising money for the national effort as well as supporting local initiatives.

Heaton Avenues in Wartime

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

Heaton Avenues in Wartime

We’re delighted to announce that Heaton History Group has been awarded £8,600 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for a project, Heaton Avenues in Wartime. Awarded through HLF’s First World War: then and now programme, the project will focus on life on ten terraced streets off Chillingham Road, Heaton during World War One.

To mark the centenary of the First World War, the project will enable local people in Heaton to come together to learn more about the lives of the people who lived in First to Tenth Avenue a hundred years ago. Writer, Jack Common, was growing up on Third Avenue and attending Chillingham Road School at that time and he later wrote about his experiences in his autobiographical novel ‘Kiddars Luck’. Local people of all ages, including pupils at Chillingham Road, Jack’s old school, will be able to find out more about him and take his account as a starting point for discovering more about life of ordinary people in the Avenues and Heaton at that time. The money will fund visits to local collections, talks and workshops but also an opportunity for artists to get involved by illustrating some of the stories that are uncovered to bring them to life for a wider audience.

The aim of the project is to learn, not only about the lives of those who fought but also the impact of war on some of those who stayed behind.

Commenting on the award, Heaton History Group chair, Alan Giles, said: “We are thrilled to have received the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund. This project will enable Heaton History Group and the people of Heaton to come together to learn and so enrich our community in the present as well as commemorate a momentous event from the past”.

The group is very keen to hear from anyone interested in getting involved – especially anyone who lives or has lived in the Avenues themselves or knows of any family member who lived or worked there between 1914 and 1918. We’re also interested to hear from anyone locally who has WW1 memorabilia or family stories they’d like to share – they don’t have to relate to the Avenues.

Explaining the importance of the HLF support, the Head of the HLF in the North East, Ivor Crowther, said: “The impact of the First World War was far reaching, touching every corner of the UK. The Heritage Lottery Fund has already invested more than £52 million in projects – large and small – that are marking this global centenary; and with our small grants programme, we are enabling even more communities like those involved in Heaton Avenues in Wartime to explore the continuing legacy of this conflict and help local young people in particular to broaden their understanding of how it has shaped our modern world.”

If you would like to get involved or think you can help, contact Chris Jackson, Secretary: chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org