As soon as the train from Carlisle pulled into Newcastle Central Station, concerned travelling companions carried one of their number to a horse drawn cab which sped to his temporary accommodation less than a mile and a half away in Heaton.
The unfortunate man was George ‘Osmond’ Tearle, a very well known actor of the time. George was born in Plymouth on 8 March 1852, the son of Susan Tearle (née Treneman) and her husband, George, a Royal Marine. But he grew up in Liverpool, to where his father had retired and where, from childhood, young George developed an interest in the theatre and, particularly, Shakespeare.
Tearle’s professional debut was in 1869 at the Adelphi Theatre in his home city. He soon established himself on the London stage and in March 1878, made an acclaimed debut at Newcastle’s Tyne Theatre as Hamlet, a role he is said to have played an incredible 800 times.
In September 1880, now under the name ‘Osmond Tearle’, he performed in New York for the first time, as Jacques in ‘As You Like It’. He went on to tour America to critical acclaim.
Tearle’s return to Newcastle in 1885 was billed ‘first appearance in England, after his great American success, of the eminent tragedian’ and he was ‘supported by Miss Minnie Conway from the Union Square Theatre, New York’. ‘Minnie’, whose real name was Marianne Levy, was, by now, Tearle’s second wife. She was from a well-known American theatrical family, whose Shakespearian connections went back at least as far as her grandfather, Englishman, William Augustus Conway (1789-1828), who travelled to the United States in 1823 and appeared as Hamlet and in other tragic roles in New York and other American cities. Back in Britain, there were more rave reviews for Osmond on Tyneside.
Tearle further endeared himself to north easterners with his generosity. For example, he made a donation to a fund for the restoration of Blyth’s theatre after it had been destroyed by fire, along with an offer of his theatre company’s services to perform at the reopening at which he would forego his share of the receipts. And when touring, he often captained a company cricket team in charity matches including in Hebburn and Whitley Bay.
In 1888, Tearle established his own Shakespearean touring company and, in 1890 and 1891, he was honoured by being selected to direct the annual festival performances at Stratford-upon-Avon, producing in his first year Julius Caesar and Henry VI part 1 and in the second year King John and The Two Gentlemen of Verona. In between these two events, he played Newcastle’s Theatre Royal with productions of Hamlet, Othello, Richard III, King John, Macbeth and Merchant of Venice. In Hamlet, Minnie played Gertrude and Osmond, of course, Hamlet.
Tearle’s connections with the area were strengthened in August 1896 when Minnie died and was interred in St Paul’s churchyard, Whitley Bay to be with her sister who was already buried there. When he returned to the Tyne Theatre in July 1898 after an absence of two years, it was noted that he had been seriously ill that spring. Audiences flocked back to see him and the reviews were more glowing than ever. He appeared ‘reinvigorated’. Nevertheless, a few months later, it was reported that he had been ordered to rest by his doctors and that he would sail to South Africa to aid his recovery.
Although he had appeared on stage in Carlisle the week before, this was the context in which, on Sunday 1 September 1901, aged 49, Osmond Tearle arrived in Newcastle.
The cab took the sick actor to number 93, the end property on South View West. The house, like all the others on the street, faced the railway line. It stood at South View West’s junction with Newington Road but, along with all of the properties west of Stratford Road, has since been demolished.
Today there are trees where its front door would have been and its back yard would have been in what is now a corner of Hotspur Primary School’s playing fields. The boarding house was just a few hundred metres away via a still well used pedestrian tunnel under the railway, from Byker’s Grand Theatre, where Osmond Tearle’s company had been booked to perform the following week. The Grand had been opened just five years earlier with a Shakespeare festival.
Living at 93 South View West in 1901 were 39 year old Robert Bell, a wood carver, his wife, Bella, and their four children Herbert, Frederick, Robert and Harry. The Bells took in boarders, specifically those from the theatre. We are sure of this because, apart from Osmond, we know the identity of three actors who were there on census night earlier that year: Clifford Mohan, Walter Cranch and Hubert Clarke. And by 1911, the family had moved to the west end, where they lived even closer to the Tyne Theatre. On the night of that year’s census, they were hosting well known opera singers: Graham Marr, ‘America’s foremost operatic baritone’ whose house on Staten Island has been designated a New York City LGBT Historic Site, and Henry Brindle, a successful English performer.
The newspapers tell us that soon after Tearle’s arrival at 93 South View West, Dr Russell of Heaton was summoned to attend to him.
Dr Frank Russell, aged 28, ran a medical practice and lived with his wife, Annie, and young children William and Jessie at 41 Heaton Road. Even on foot, it would have taken under ten minutes to reach a patient on South View West. It was reported that Tearle insisted that he would be well enough to go on stage at the Grand that week, as billed, but Dr Russell insisted that he rest.
By Friday, a further doctor’s visit was deemed necessary. This time Dr Oliver (presumably Thomas Oliver of 7 Ellison Place) attended but could do no more. Osmond Tearle died at his lodgings the following morning. In keeping with theatrical tradition, the show went on. The company performed ‘Richard III’ at the Grand ‘ but it was obvious that the men and women on stage were labouring under the shadow of an irreparable loss, the influence of which also extended to the audience, as was evidenced by its sympathetic demeanour’. It was noted that ‘two members of Mr Tearle’s family are connected with the company and his youngest son, a youth of very tender years, after having spent the holidays with his father, returned to school at Bournemouth so recently as last Wednesday’.
News of Tearle’s death and extensive obituaries were carried not only by all the national and local papers in the UK but in many across the world, including the USA.
The following Wednesday, after a brief service at the Bells’ home, conducted by the Vicar of St Silas, Rev J H Ison, Tearle’s funeral cortège travelled to Whitley Bay. Along with family and friends and members of the company, Robert and Bella Bell, in whose home he died, travelled in one of the ‘mourning coaches’. At St Paul’s churchyard they were met by representatives of theatres from throughout the north east and further afield, including Weldon Watts of Newcastle’s Grand Theatre, where the company had been playing the previous week, F Sutcliffe of the Tyne Theatre and T D Rowe of the Palace Theatre.
On Osmond’s memorial stone there is an appropriate line from Shakespeare that the actor must have spoken many times: ‘After life’s fitful fever he sleeps well’ (‘Macbeth‘, Act 3 Scene 2).
And on Minnie’s ‘Flights of angels sing thee to thy rest’ (‘Hamlet’, Act 5 Scene 2).
It is fitting too that on the gable end of the final house on South View West in Heaton, a huge, brick mural of William Shakespeare now looks down on the spot, just a few metres away, where George Osmond Tearle breathed his last.
Out out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. ‘
‘Macbeth’, Act 5 Scene 5
But Osmond Tearle’s short life has not been forgotten. His entry in the Dictionary of National Biography states ‘As a Shakespearean actor, Tearle combined the incisive elocution of the old school and the naturalness of the new. A man of commanding physique and dignified presence, he was well equipped for heroic parts. In later life, he subdued his declamatory vigour and played Othello and King Lear with power and restraint’.
Tearle’s most important legacy was that all three of his sons became actors, the most well-known being Godfrey, 16 year old ‘youth of very tender years’ at the time of his father’s death. He too was predominantly a Shakespearean but he also appeared in some prominent screen roles including that of Professor Jordan in Hitchcock’s ’39 Steps’. Godfrey Tearle was knighted for services to drama in 1951.
And Osmond Tearle now takes his place in our growing Shakespeare Hall of Fame, which also includes:
If you know more about anyone mentioned in this article or have photographs to share, we’d love to hear from you. You can contact us either through this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or by emailing email@example.com
In a recent article, Peter Sagar looked at how Jack Common described life in Edwardian Heaton in his famous semi-autobiographical novel ‘Kiddar’s Luck’, here he considers how Commons’ writing been viewed down the years and how we look upon it today:
It has been noted that Common was born in Heaton, in an upstairs flat at 44 Third Avenue. Of this background, the trade unionist and activist, Dave Douglass, ‘drew me to recall just such a Heaton street parallel to the railway (South View West) and a back bedroom in which I was to pass many a night in the formative political years. It was in the upstairs flat which Les Howard shared with his father. Les was a member of the first Tyneside Committee of 100 [an anti war group of the 1960s] and I became secretary of the second Committee. When I first met him Les had a magical aura which surrounded all the early crowd. The ILP Hall on Shields Road was the meeting place of anarchists, pacifists, the old ILP and the exponents of direct action…’ If you can excuse the pun, this kind of identification with Common’s work is not uncommon, among a number of commentators.
Douglass goes on to tell us how from beginning to end you can ‘almost smell Tyneside’ in ‘Kiddar’s Luck‘. Douglass says how reading ‘Kiddar’s Luck‘ is the ‘next best thing to a visit home’ and capable of bringing on ‘nostalgic homesickness’ in him. Interestingly, Douglass then goes on to talk of how he felt sympathy for Common in his role as worker-writer. Indeed this sympathy and empathy with Common was so strong in Dave Douglass, that he goes on to say that reading again of Common’s experience had cause him to, ‘man the pumps and set to, with renewed vigour to pull together my mountain of unfinished work which lies upstairs awaiting an injury or illness to provide me with the time to bring it all to life’. As somebody who knows that feeling well, this would seem to be high praise indeed!
It has also been noted by local writer, Dan Jackson, that, ‘the novelist Jack Common, future friend and correspondent of George Orwell, was …………. smitten with belles-lettres growing up in a Tyneside flat near the railway sheds in Heaton.’
It is argued that Common was a well-read man and while his observations of Heaton truly came from the streets, his way of of expressing them were shaped by more exotic influences. It has been further argued that, ‘a love of great literature sharpened the pen of this “Geordie Proust” who was moved by “the birds at dawn, as well as the babble of the lounge bar”, yet as Common himself admitted later in life the life of a working-class writer was not an easy one: “There’s no talking to the lightning struck, the fatally illuminated are always alone.” ‘
If Common was undoubtedly one of those who was fatally illuminated, does that mean that his talent set him apart from his contemporaries in Heaton? He did leave Tyneside for London. Is that always the curse of the so-called ‘working-class writer?’
We saw in a recent article about ‘Kiddar’s Luck’ and its descriptions of Heaton, that Common had a quite contemptuous view of his education at Chillingham Road School. However, there is also evidence that the same school nurtured Common’s love of poetry. It has also been claimed that it was at this school that Common developed a lifelong love of the poetry of Shelley.
As for Common’s love for the classics, ‘The Chronicle’ in 2015 reported his son, Peter, as saying, ‘My mother taught me to read and write at an early age because I was confined to bed in a darkened room suffering from mumps, I believe. This gave my dad an opportunity to introduce me to many of the classical authors. His admiration and appreciation of these short stories made a big impression on me and I know that he tried to emulate them in his own short stories’.
This is surely what made Common such a great writer: with one foot in the rough and tumble streets of Edwardian Heaton and the other in the world of some of the greatest writers of all time, Common was able to convey an authentic impression of life in Heaton and the wider Newcastle.
This ability meant that Common was able to convey the richness of working-class life in Heaton in a way which still resonates with us today. And it has been argued that this was not only true when considering better known works such as ‘Kiddar’s Luck’. Jack Common’s story, ‘Nineteen’, which was first printed in the 1931 edition of the London-based literary journal ‘Adelphi’ is seen as a case in point.
Philip Hensher, editor of ‘The Penguin Book of the British Short Story’ , in which ‘Nineteen’ was republished in 2015, said: ‘What I loved about “Nineteen” was its understanding of how broad and varied working class culture could be, and its warm and humane understanding of two young people. It is so beautifully written, and so very special. Jack Common was a wonderful writer and I hope to give him some circulation again.’ These characteristics of Common’s writing could be said to be the hallmarks of his work and why he was so revered by people like George Orwell.
Indeed Common developed a strong friendship with Orwell and it has been noted that, ’Common and Orwell became friends, corresponding and occasionally meeting when Common was running the village shop in Datchworth, Hertfordshire, about ten miles from Orwell’s Wallington cottage.’
This was around the time when Common, ‘inspired, prefaced and edited’ the compilation ‘Seven Shifts’ (1938), in which seven working men told of their experience.
Orwell was famously rather envious of Common, stating that Common was the writer he would like to have been. This was because Common had genuine working-class roots in Heaton, the likes of which Orwell might have yearned for, but could never have claimed. This quality, being a great writer, but being from a genuine working-class background is what set Common apart. It has been said of Common that his writing was, ‘warm, ironic and quirky’. He soon won admirers throughout the 1930s as a writer with a genuine proletarian viewpoint, as distinct from the purveyors of middle-class Marxist fiction.
Common was invited in 1930 by John Middleton Murry, founder and editor of ‘Adelphi’, who had noticed an essay he had written, to become circulation promoter and later assistant editor of the magazine. For a period in 1936, he was acting editor and a collection of his articles ‘The Freedom of the Streets’ appeared in 1938.
The writer, V S Pritchett, considered the ‘The Freedom of the Streets’ to have been the most influential in his life, and George Orwell heard in the essays ‘the authentic voice of the ordinary working man, the man who might infuse a new decency into the control of affairs if only he could get there, but who in practice never seems to get much further than the trenches, the sweatshop and the jail.’
It has also been said Orwell had written of Common: ‘he is of proletarian origin, and much more than most writers of this kind he preserves his proletarian viewpoint’. It is further argued that this, ‘viewpoint was developed by Common with a clear critical intelligence, in a variety of reviews, essays and satirical pieces’ and that he was, as another reviewer put it: ‘a knowing bird, [whose] life appears to be spent with his head on one side forever questioning the quaint ways of the bourgeois, whilst he chuckles down his throat at their dependence upon the proletarians’.In this “knowingness”, however, there is no hint of smugness or self-satisfaction. The perspective he offered was not one of class prejudice or “workerism” (he had little time for middle class socialists who were determined – in dress, manner and speech – to outdo the workers on their own terms!) His concern was with a humanistic analysis of capitalist society. One which saw the proletariat to lie at the heart of an immense economic and social crisis which affected all classes.’ Here again we see Common portrayed as having the ‘authentic voice of the working-man’, or at least the working man from Heaton.
It has also been argued that Common paid the price for being this authentic voice of the working-man. It is said that, ‘Common grew up as a writer when the proletarian novelist, whether from the north-east or south Wales or Clydesdale, was worth a casual aside over dinner in Bloomsbury but was unlikely to be offered a seat at the table or a square meal.’ Like his contemporaries, the Ashington ‘pitmen painters’, Common was to be admired and talked about…from a distance.
Much of Common’s writing can be said to express the nobility of working life in the north-east, but he could also demonstrate some of the less positive aspects of life in the region. As Dan Jackson notes in ‘Northumbrians’,‘The working-class novelist Jack Common wrote of the stifling conformity of suburban Heaton, where the pursuit of respectability, through a clean front-step and spotless rent book, was pursued fanatically and all under the watchful eyes of one’s neighbours’.
‘And there by the slight fold of a lifted curtain, he encountered an Eye’, wrote Common in his autobiographical ‘Kiddar’s Luck’. ‘It was Mrs Rowley’s and there was no doubt about it. The woman was a natural overlooker.’
The north-east has never really lost that slightly oppressive sense of community and a certain suspicion of individualism. I do wonder, however, if it has begin to lose its sense of community somewhat in recent decades as the forces which bound communities together, such as large employers and their accompanying trade unions have either disappeared or declined drastically in their importance.
Common himself describes another downside of working-class life in Heaton, when describing how when coming home his mother would more often than not return to ‘an empty house, in a hateful suburb. She loved the town and was happiest in company, with the full household of her childhood. True she was very much in love with her husband. She’d sit up far into the night waiting for his return, a pleasant enough parcel of pretty wifehood for any man to find at the end of the day’s work. But he didn’t like it. He was shamed, shamed in his manhood that he was kept like a slave away from her and could only slink back in the late hours when work had done with him and left him too tired and irritable to toss the nice nothings of love towards his waiting fancy. He spoke sharp and hurt her, he didn’t want to hear about the people she had met in town that day..’.
Again we see Common describing working-class life in Heaton in all its gritty realism, almost as if he was foreshadowing the northern kitchen sink dramas that were to come on television ten years later. But Common wrote of it with compassion and understanding and an honesty that came from having lived in the same house, the kind of honesty that could never have come from a writer from a more affluent background, the kind of writer who might glorify working-class life, without having experienced it for even a minute.
Regional v Universal
The Jack Common who wrote ‘Kiddar’s Luck’ was undoubtedly a north-east writer. As Jackson says, ‘consider the working-class novelist, Jack Common in “Kiddar’s Luck”, sallying forth eastwards – on foot – from industrial Heaton to the glories of the Riviera:
“From North Shields on, the air was full of the sea glow, a salt radiance heightened all along the Tynemouth streets. At the end of them, the land fell off at the cliff-edge into a great shining nothingness immense all ways over the lazy crimping of seas on their level floor.”’
Common could write about the harshness of working-class life in Heaton, but as we see here was also more than capable of writing of the glorious setting so much of Tyneside enjoys to this day. Common was seen in his day by many as a ‘regional writer’.
Was Common a universal writer, or what would be seen as merely a regional writer? There are numerous arguments that what Common wrote about involved universal themes, about family relationships or the role of working people in society, which pertain to humanity as a whole, but sadly it seems that, like many artists and writers from our region, Common has often been firmly put away in the box marked ‘regional’. Indeed it has been noted that,
’In 1951 Turnstile Press published Common’s best-known book, the autobiographical “Kiddar’s Luck”, in which he vividly describes his childhood on the streets of Edwardian Tyneside, as seen through the lens of his adult socialism. There are four chapters on his life before five years old – a feat of detailed memory – while his mother’s alcoholism and the overbearing father whom Jack at length dramatically defies, form the dark background to the vigorous, at times bravura, narrative. The book found praise as a slice of Geordie naturalism, a convincing depiction of “the other England” which so beguiled the imagination of contemporary intellectuals. On the other hand, its irony and subtly bitter universality went largely unrecognised.’
Perhaps the truth is simply that writers such as Common have had things to say which worry establishment elites and worry them to such an extent that it is safer to just put him away in a box which limits his relevance to only the north-east. If so, that only shows the cowardice of the literary establishment and just how narrow their own thinking really is. Perhaps they simply can’t imagine that the ‘other England’ is as real as their own…
This ‘other England’ would indeed take decades after Common’s best work to even be fully discovered. Alan Plater, the north-east born playwright, has described how when writing for ‘Z Cars’ in the 1960s, he and his fellow writers had to make up the name for a town for the series to be set in and call it ‘Newtown’, near to the large city of ‘Seaport’. Everybody knew it was Kirkby near Liverpool, but those were the rules of the game at the time. Indeed Plater himself has stated that, ‘the setting was an ill-defined, generalised lump of the good earth called “The North” and the writers were categorised as “northern writers”’.
Hull-born Tom Courtenay starred in ‘Billy Liar’, despite its West Riding setting and Salford-born Albert Finney found his way to Nottingham in ‘Saturday Night and Sunday Morning’, all without comment in the posh newspapers, though there were comments aplenty in the areas listed. We can also consider the way the north east finally found its voice on television. In the 1960s there was the first series of ‘The Likely Lads’, which is portrayed as being set ‘somewhere in the north-east’, which could, in practice, have been anywhere from Tyneside to Hartlepool. The 1970’s reprise, ‘Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads’ is clearly set more firmly on Tyneside, with the pictures of a changing Newcastle during the intro and outro music and its habitual Whitley Bay jokes, but still one of the two likely lads themselves is played by Bingley-born Rodney Bewes, while another Yorkshire-born actor, Brian Glover has a starring role in perhaps the most famous of all the episodes, when Bob and Terry try to avoid the score of an England match. It took the 1980s and ‘Auf Wiedersehen, Pet’ for three Geordie actors to be playing the parts of three Geordie characters.
As it took drama and literature so long for the ‘other England’ to be taken seriously on a national level in the 20th century, it is little wonder that Common’s writing has been put in this regional box. Yet, if the universal themes of the work of the Bronte sisters from Haworth can be acknowledged then perhaps so will Common’s one day. But then again, the Bronte sisters’ father wasn’t a humble railwayman.
So how should we look upon the legacy of Common’s work today? In the last two years, I have had the pleasure of going into seven north-east primary schools to teach them old north-east songs and teach them some north-east history. Almost without exception the pupils loved it. They have seen the songs as their songs and the history as their history. They listen to music from many different cultures in primary schools and rightly so. Music is there to be enjoyed from whatever background it comes and if pupils can enjoy music from many parts of the world, then that is great. And it almost goes without saying that music is a great way to break down barriers between people and anything that can do that is surely to be applauded, especially at a time like this. But, I would also say that their musical learning should be based on starting with music form their own heritage. How can pupils in our region have any real understanding of other musical traditions, if they have no knowledge of their own? And why should our musical traditions in north-east England be seen as any less important or valid than any others from anywhere else in the world?
If this is true, then the same can be said about writing like that of Jack Common. Here was an authentic Tyneside voice articulating what it was like to live on the same streets as us a century ago. I would be the last person to say that Heaton school pupils should be deprived the chance to read great literature from around the world during their school days. After all, we have seen that Common did just that himself. But it does seem a pity that you will look in vain to find mention of any books by Common in the National Curriculum or in most north-east schools. Common is still seen as not quite important enough. Perhaps it is time for the north in particular to re-find its voice and one of the best starting points would be the writings of Jack Common.
For an example of what could be achieved, one only has to look north of the border to see how Scotland has regained its sense of cultural self-confidence. However, it can easily be forgotten that it has been a century’s long journey to get there. In the years after the first world war, Scottish culture was embodied in the person of Harry Lauder, who presented to Scotland and the world a kitsch, tartan-clad version of ‘Scottishness’, a million miles away from the offerings on BBC Alba today. A similar renaissance of northern English literature and culture in general is long overdue and Common could and should be a major part of it. In the hands of writers like Common, the ‘other England’ had much to say which was valid and important. It still does.
Researched and written by Peter Sagar.
Geordies / edited by B. Lancaster and R. Colls; Edinburgh University Press,1992
Kiddar’s Luck / by Jack Common, 1951
The Northumbrians: North-East England and Its People — A New History / by Dan Jackson; Hurst, 2019
If you know more about Jack Common or have photographs to share, we’d love to hear from you. You can contact us either through this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Our vote for Heaton’s favourite caused quite a storm, with coverage in the Evening Chronicle and lots of interest at and after John Grundy’s talk. The shortlist, all of which were nominated by Heaton History Group members or Twitter followers, was;
Heaton Windmill We have to kick off with this one. Iconic is an oversused word but this feature of Armstrong Park is certainly a familiar and much-loved landmark and the one we chose to be Heaton History Group’s logo and feature on our home page. The windmill dates from the early eighteenth century and was already a ruin by 1844. Constructed from coursed squared sandstone, it’s been partially restored since then and is grade 2 listed. Has to be a contender.
People’s Theatre It’s the art deco detailing together with, for many people, happy memories of time spent inside which makes The People’s such a favourite. The building was designed by Marshall and Tweedy and opened in 1936 as the Lyric cinema. During its first week, the two films shown were ‘Little Colonel’ with Shirley Temple and ‘Sweet Music’ with Rudy Vallee and Ann Dvorak. (Thanks to Tomorrow’s History for that information). Conversion into a theatre toook place in 1962. The first play performed there was George Bernard Shaw’s ‘ Man and Superman’. (Thanks to People’s Theatre). The photos below were taken in this week’s snow and shortly after the cinema opened in 1936. (Thanks to Newcastle Libraries for this one.) Does it get your vote?
Shakespeare House Although it’s in a pleasant, secluded, green corner and, when we checked it out on a snowy day in March, the birds were in full voice, from the front 47 South View West doesn’t look too different from many other houses in Heaton. It’s the gable end that makes it one of many people’s favourite local landmarks. William Shakespeare’s face (based on Martin Droeshout’s famous engraving of 1623) looks down on streets named in his memory.
The surrounding terraces – Stratford Grove, Warwick Street, Malcom Street, Bolingbroke Street, Mowbray Street, Hotspur Street etc – were built before the end of the 19th century but when some houses were demolished 100 or so years later to make way for Hotspur School, the decorative brickwork was put in place.
The People’s has been putting on Shakespeare plays in Heaton regularly since the 1960s. The RSC’s been coming to Newcastle since 1977, with members of the company often lodging locally as well as intermittently appearing at the People’s. The South View West gable end seems fitting somehow and it makes us smile.
The Wills factory was retro even when it opened in 1950. Its foundation stone had been laid four years earlier but it was built to a pre-war art deco design by Cecil Hockin, an Imperial Tobacco Company in-house architect. (WD and HO Wills was actually part of Imperial Tobacco as early as 1901, so even the buidling’s name was retro from the outset.) Apparently at its peak, 6 million Woodbine cigarettes a day were manufactured at the plant. The complex included a theatre and other leisure facilities for staff as well as the factory itself.
Production ceased in 1986. Its last days were documented by photographer Isabella Jedrzejczyk and can be seen on the Amber Online website with text by Ellin Hare.
The disused building was given Grade 2 listed status to prevent demolition. It stood empty for 10 years until Wimpey Homes converted the former front wing into 114 apartments. The building is still a nationally important example of art deco architecture and its elegance and clean lines, together with its prominent position on the Coast Road, makes it a local favourite too. Luckily it just sneaks into Heaton – the adjacent railway line marks the boundary with Wallsend.
If you or anyone you know used to work at the factory, please get in touch. We’d love to find out more about what it was like to work there.
King John’s Palace Built before 1267 and so the oldest still (partly!) standing building in Heaton by some distance, King John’s Palace is a constant reminder of Heaton’s rich history. Despite its name though, it almost certainly doesn’t date from the reign of King John, which ended in 1216. Best estimates date it around 1255. There are traditions, however, that both King John and King Edward I stayed in Heaton which may have caused confusion. The building’s alternative names of The House of Adam of Jesmond or Adam’s Camera (‘camera’ here means ‘chamber’ or a usually round ‘building’), give better clues to its history. Adam was a knight and staunch supporter of King Henry III. Records show that he became unpopular for embezzlement and extortion and that he applied to Henry for a licence to enclose, fortify and crenellate his house. Adam went to the crusades from which he didn’t return and his house was allowed to fall into disrepair.
Beavan’s Beavans had been trading since the 19th century – an 1879 directory lists ‘Fred Beavan, draper’ on the North side of Shields Road, where Parrishes later traded – but the lovely building on the corner of Heaton Park Road and Shields Road is Edwardian and contains many features, such as the round and stained glass windows, which are typical of the period. A railway line used to pass under the building which apparently meant that permission wasn’t granted to build upper floors on the west side. The new store was opened in 1910 and traded until (we think) the early 1990s. You can still see original name plates ‘F Beavan Ltd, Ironmongers and Furnishers’ as well as a sign which reads ‘Beavans – the great cash drapers’. the building now contains apartments.
If you or anyone you know used to work at Beavan’s or know more about its history, please get in touch. We’d love to find out more.
Ringtons The former head office of the Ringtons tea and cofee business is the first 1920s building on our short list. Its distinctive white stone, green and yellow tiling and the elegance, especially of the slightly older southern half, along with its association with a long-established, local company make it a favourite with many people. It’s now the auction house of Thomas N Miller, with Ringtons operating from more modern premises next door.
Ringtons was established in Heaton by Sam Smith and his business partner, William Titterington, in 1907, at first delivering tea from small premises in the avenues. Thank you to Ringtons for the older photograph which shows a busy scene from when the firm was using the horse drawn carts which helped make it famous – and notice the long-demolished houses in the background. Can anyone help us date it?
Sam Smith and his family later lived Warton Terrace. To find out more about Ringtons and its long association with Heaton, go to the small museum housed in the company’s current Algernon Road HQ which tells the fascinating story of the firm’s history.
Ringtons building detail
St Gabriel’s Church The tower of the parish church of St Gabriel is one the tallest structures in Heaton and so the church can be seen from some distance. It’s built in a free Gothic style of snecked sandstone, with a roof of graduated lakeland slate (Thanks to English Heritage for that information). Th e style and materials help it give quite a villagey feel to this part of Heaton and mean that it’s much loved not only by its congregation.
The church was designed by FW Rich (also responsible for Ouseburn School and Bolbec Hall) and built in 1899 on land donated by Lord Armstrong. The south transept and chapel were added in 1931. It is now Grade 2 listed. This photograph held by Newcastle City Libraries was taken in 1957/8.
Heaton Road Co-operative Building One of several former Co-ops in Heaton, this fine three storey brick building adds character to the southern end of Heaton Road. It was built in 1892 and, as well as the date, carries the inscription ‘Newcastle upon Tyne Cooperative Society Limited, Heaton Road branch, Registered Office 117 Newgate Street’ on decorative white stonework between the first and second floors. Over recent years, many different businesses have operated from the ground floor but currently the owners of cafe ‘The Wild Trapeze’. florist ‘Hazy Daisy’, ‘Gold Star Gym’ etc are ensuring it’s looking better cared for than for some years.
If you could help us find out more about the history of the Co-operative movement in Heaton or have photos or memories of any of the stores, we’d love to hear from you.
Chillingham Road School Chillingham Road Primary School (as it now is – there used to be a secondary school on the site too) holds a special place in Heaton’s, and indeed Newcastle’s, history and in the heart of many Heatonians. It’s the oldest still functioning school in Newcastle, with its 120th anniversary celebrations taking place later this year.
A sum of £15,130 15s was sanctioned by the Newcastle School Board to build the school which, when it opened in 1893, was considered to offer the most sanitory environment of any educational establishment in the city, with a state of the art ventilation system comparable with the best in Leicester,Liverpool, Glasgow, Nottingham and other cities. The first head was Mr R H Gilhespy, formerly of Arthur’s Hill School.
It’s also the school one of our best known historical figures, Jack Common, attended – and we can still read about life in Heaton and at the school just before World War 1 in his autobiographical novel ‘Kiddar’s Luck’.
There’ll be a chance to learn more about the history of Chillingham Road Primary School later this year when a programme of events is planned to celebrate its 120th birthday. On Wednesday 23 October Heaton History Group and the school will jointly present a talk about Jack Common by Dr Keith Armstrong. More details to follow.
The photograph above dates from 1966 and is held by Local Studies at Newcastle Central Library.
Heaton Park Pavilion The original pavilion was erected in 1884 as an aviary housing exotic birds and animals. It looked out over a croquet lawn and, beyond that, a bowling green. You can read what Jack Common said about the pavilion in a previous blog. It was later extended to accommodate a cafe and other facilities. A lot of people think the original building still stands but it was badly damaged by fire in 1979.
The surviving ironwork was restored at Beamish Museum and, painted in typically Victorian shades of dark red, black, cream and olive, used in a new building, which was made from handmade yellowed bricks. The reconstruction won a Civic Trust award. It is currently occupied by Sambuca, an Italian restaurant.
Its history, Victorian elegance and association with carefree summer days in the park combine to make it one of Heaton’s favourite building.
Thanks to Heaton History Group Honorary President, Alan Morgan, for the above information. You can read more and see photographs in his book ‘Heaton: from farms to foundries’ or better still come to his illustrated talk on 22 May. Contact email@example.com to reserve a place.
And thanks to Newcastle Libraries for the image of the old postcard, which is undated.
High Heaton Library The most modern building on the shortlist and the third library to have been built the site. It was designed by Ryder Architecture Limited (who were also responsible for the City Library) and was commended in the 2009 Public Library Building Awards. its curving façade and intimate scale seem to contributes to its welcoming feel. Click on the third link below to see it looking beautiful by night. Sadly it’s due to close in June this year.
Corner House When you see the the Corner House, you know you’re nearly home to Heaton, standing prominently as it does at the corner of Heaton Road and the Coast Road. The Corner House was built at the same time as the Lyric cinema (now People’s Theatre). It’s changed quite a bit over the years but, empty roads aside, is still immediately recognisable in this photo taken in 1936 soon after it opened.
Hadrian’s Wall Ok, this last nomination is a bit contentious. Is it in Heaton? We think so. It forms the southern boundary of our catchment area and would definitely have been considered part of Heaton, when it was an independent township until the early 20th Century. We’re historians. It’s in. Is it a building? Debatable. The accepted definition usually involves some sort of shelter and human occupancy, but there were turrets every 500 metres or so and so we reckon the whole structure was, therefore, one very long building. And a lot of the foundations are still down there – somewhere. At nearly 2000 years old, it’s by far the oldest structure in Heaton, the most popular tourist destination in Northern England and the only World Heritage Site on our list so it’s got to be in the running. You can follow the line of it marked out by studs on the south side of Shields Road. And also we wanted an excuse to mention that we’ve just booked Paul Bidwell OBE, Head of Archaeology at Tyne and Wear Museums and expert on Roman archaeology, to give a talk later in our 2013/4 programme. Watch this space!
We had to stop there, although we realise that there were other contenders, many of which we’ll feature on this website over the coming months.
The top seven, announced on 17 April 2013, and listed here in reverse order were:
7th – Ringtons HQ
6th – People’s Theatre
=4th – Beavans and Heaton Park Pavilion
3rd – the old Heaton Road Co-op
2nd – Wills Building
and the winner: Saint Gabriels Church
Thank you to everyone who voted and congratulations to FW Rich, architect, and everyone associated with the church!