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Heaton Voices Tour the World

On 17 March 1911, Mary ‘Molly’ Wharton Parkinson of Heaton stood on the deck of RMS ‘Victorian’ in Princess Dock, Liverpool and waved at the cheering, flag-waving two thousand-strong crowd below. Moments earlier she had joined in a rousing chorus of ‘Auld Lang Syne’ and ‘God Save the King’ and, if she had shed a tear as the ship left the port, she would have been in good company.

Mary ‘Molly’ Wharton Parkinson

Molly, aged 32, was a teacher, vocalist and music teacher. Born in Penshaw, Co Durham, she had lived in Heaton with her family for many years, first of all at 32 Kingsley Place and then 19 Holmside Place. She was the eldest of 16 children, nine of whom had survived beyond infancy. In later life, Molly recalled that at about the age of nine she could ‘simultaneously read a book propped on the mantle, knit a stocking and rock the baby’s cradle with my foot’.

Molly was better placed than most on the ship to have known that the ‘Victorian’ was the first large civilian ship to be powered by steam turbines and that those turbines had been made by the Parsons Marine Steam Turbine Company. Not only had marine steam turbines been developed by Sir Charles Parsons and his team less than a mile away from where she lived but she had recently got to know (and like very much) a young marine engineer, Fred Christian, who had lodged nearby while studying and working in Newcastle but who had recently returned home to New Zealand. Perhaps his absence and the possibility of a brief reunion had motivated her to put her name down for the trip.

When the crowds were no longer in view and Molly had retired to her cabin, she was joined by a familiar face: Florrie Hamilton was nine years younger than Molly but they had got to know each other. Not only did Florrie live in the next street at 27 Eversley Place but they also sang in the same choir, the Newcastle and Gateshead Choral Union, which rehearsed every Tuesday night at Newcastle’s Lit and Phil. Molly sang contralto and Florrie soprano. 

Florrie Hamilton

And singing was what brought them together now. They were about to embark on a hugely ambitious and exciting six month long world tour with a 225 strong choir.

Organiser

The idea for the tour had been that of Dr Charles Harriss, a London-born composer, choral conductor, organist of Ottawa Cathedral and founder of the McGill Conservatorium of Music. He was described as a ‘staunch British imperialist who sought to bring British cultural “standards” to the crown’s dominions abroad’ . He was certainly keen to build bridges, initially between Canada and ‘the motherland’. This led to the Sheffield Union Choir travelling to Canada in 1908 and, following the success of that visit, he was determined to foster similar ‘reciprocity’ between Britain and a British Empire recently bruised by events such as the Second Boer War – or at least with those regions where white settlers formed a majority of the population.

A very wealthy and well connected man, he garnered support for his ideas in the highest political echelons including the British government at home and the 4th Earl Grey, former MP for Tyneside and at that time both Governor General of Canada and a great patron of the arts.

He was also able to underwrite the tour financially to the tune of £60,000 (some £7,000,000 today). And crucially, he was a great organiser. In the 12 months before the tour began, he visited every country personally ensuring that the arrangements in place were ‘second to none’. 

Conductor

The conductor of the touring choir was Henry Coward, later to become Sir Henry. Coward was born in Liverpool in 1849, the son of a publican. Henry’s father had died when he was a small boy and his mother relocated to her home city of Sheffield, where the young boy could become an apprentice cutler to her brother, a pen-knife maker. Henry had shown an aptitude for music at an early age and had played the banjo but in Sheffield he taught himself how to read music and soon became a great advocate of the tonic sol-fah method of teaching others. He went on to achieve a first degree and doctorate in music from the University of Oxford.

Coward was a man of great energy and passion for singing, especially choral singing, not only from a musical point of view but also for its social, psychological and health benefits. He became a renown singing teacher and choral conductor, especially known for the huge choirs he could manage. He founded the Sheffield Tonic Sol-fa Association, later renamed the Sheffield Music Union and conducted over 50,000 voices in front of Queen Victoria at the opening of Sheffield Town Hall. Coward was a natural choice as lead conductor for Harriss’s tours.

Although based in Sheffield, Coward travelled hundreds of miles every week to conduct choirs in Leeds, Huddersfield, Southport, Glasgow and, of course, Newcastle at a time before motorways or even private cars. His Newcastle choir was the Newcastle and Gateshead Choral Union, of which Molly, Florrie and all the other Heaton singers were a part.

Heaton Voices

Coward selected the tourists, mostly from the choirs he regularly conducted, on the basis of their singing, sight reading and temperament.

The Newcastle Journal of 18 July 1910 published a list of  ‘Local Singers who have passed the musical test and qualified to take part in the world tour of the Sheffield Musical Union next year’

Apart from Molly and Florrie, there were 5 other Heatonians:

Herbert Alderson. Born on 26 December 1877 in Bishop Auckland, so on tour Herbert, a joiner, was 33 years old. He lived with his parents and younger siblings at 147 Bolingbroke Street. He sang tenor.

Herbert Alderson

Margaret Howson, born on 21 February 1888, and so aged 23 at the time of the tour, was living with her family at 8 Heaton Road, although by the time of the 1911 census, they had relocated to Stocksfield. She was a music teacher and sang contralto.

Margaret Howson

Jean Finlay Terry, born on 25 August 1865 in SE Northumberland, she was aged 45 at the start of the tour and, like Molly and Margaret, a teacher. She had lived at various addresses in Northumberland but, at the time of the test, was at 16 Stratford Grove. She was a contralto. On the ‘Victorian’, she shared a cabin with Margaret Howson. We also know that she kept a tour diary (but, alas, so far haven’t tracked it down). 

Jean Finlay Terry

John Charles Hamilton was aged 50 at the start of the tour and sang bass. Originally from Crook in Co Durham, he worked as a school board attendance officer and was Florrie’s father.

John Charles Hamilton

Miss M Atkinson of 64 Cartington Terrace is also listed as having passed the singing test but her name doesn’t appear on later lists of the tourists so presumably, she either withdrew or was on the tour’s reserve list.

The successful candidates would, in most cases, have needed permission from their employers to take six months unpaid leave and they would not be paid to participate, although their expenses would be covered and some ‘pocket money’ was distributed.

They also had to sign up to a gruelling programme of private study and rehearsals in order to learn and be able to sing no less than 160 different pieces, from composers such as Handel, Verdi, Bach, Berlioz and Elgar, as well as Harriss himself, along with arrangements of English folk music and ‘empire music’. Every month between July and March, the whole choir convened in Sheffield for five hours of rehearsal and ‘team bonding teas’.

Experiences

On tour, the travelling was alternately gruelling and thrilling. Starting with a storm off the south coast of Ireland, there were numerous ‘weather events’ to contend with. Intense cold, a storm and icebergs slowed the progress of the ‘Victorian’ as it approached St Johns in Canada; in Montreal the singers had to walk through a narrow passage through snow piled ‘higher than our heads’; a train ride through the Rockies was described as ‘fifty Switzerlands rolled into one’; In the Pacific it was so hot that one of the crew went ‘insane with the heat’ and between Australia and New Zealand, the captain told the passengers to ‘put on a lifebelt and try to go to sleep’ before a ferocious cyclone flooded every cabin, the water so deep that everyone was trapped where they were. The boat deck and bridge deck were washed away, ‘ironwork twisted as though it were paper’. Many of the choir were injured, some of the crew badly hurt.

On the other hand, it’s difficult to imagine the excitement the choir members, very few of whom had travelled much if at all, felt when they saw their first icebergs, walked behind the Niagara Falls, saw the Northern Lights in all their glory, watched flying fish, albatrosses and whales and sailed through coral reefs, all before the days of television and Sir David Attenborough. 

In Honolulu and Suva, they saw coconuts, dates, mangoes, ‘bananas growing in the streets’ and sampled many foods you’d be hard-pressed to buy in Heaton (even today!):

papaya … was like pink melon to look at but was soft and ripe and tasted of strawberries and cream’.

May Midgley, a singer from Bradford, was particularly impressed by the desserts in Canada:

‘..such ices! The ladies said “We make our own always!” They have a refrigerator in every house almost and they don’t make them in little slices like we do in England but like puddings and you can help yourself to as much as you like.’

Unlike many of the singers, Jesmond’s Eliza Vinycomb was well-travelled but even she was impressed by one of the American hotels ‘it has all the latest gadgets, two telephones in each bedroom, one to servants and one to the office, electric lights at the bedside…’

Activities put on for the party included a chance to speed round the Indianapolis motor racing track ‘at seventy or eighty miles an hour’; ‘bathing in a steaming bath in a snowstorm’ in Banff; visits to diamond and gold mines in South Africa (‘Except that the dust was white instead of dark, it looked greatly like going by Middlesbro’’ – Jesmond’s Eliza Vinycomb).

Members of the choir bathing in the sea in Durban: Florrie Hamilton is near the centre of the front row on the left of the man kneeling on one knee; Herbert Alderson is third from the left on the second row.

There were large, enthusiastic crowds everywhere: in Canada, apparently ’an old native of Sheffield travelled two days by dog-sleigh and snowshoes and 400 miles by train’ and another music lover ‘two days and nights on horseback’; elsewhere ‘ a large crowd of cowboys [unable to gain admittance] climbed onto the [concert venue and] showed their appreciation by thumping on the roof and sides of the building’. The audiences frequently numbered in the thousands: in Sydney there were 5,000 inside and an ‘immense crowd’ outside for a performance of Handel’s ‘Messiah’ and, following that, the choir performed outdoors in front of almost 40,000 people for George V’s coronation celebrations and there were at least half that number at the tour’s farewell and thanksgiving service in Capetown.

In Toronto, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, St Paul and Chicago, the choir was conducted in ‘Dream of Gerontius’, a work then only ten years old, by Sir Edward Elgar himself. Elgar travelled with the party across North America, much to the excitement of some of the younger choir members.

In Cincinnati they were directed by a young Leopold Stokowski, best remembered now for his involvement (and appearance) in the Disney film ‘Fantasia’ some 30 years later.

In Ottawa, they met Earl Grey who expressed his pleasure at hearing the ‘north country burr’ again and in Chicago they met the brother and wife of President Taft. In Honolulu, they sang before Queen Liliuokalani, the last monarch of Hawaii before the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom and its annexation by the USA, and in South Africa, they met the Governor General, Lord Gladstone, the former British Home Secretary and the son of William Gladstone.

Attitudes

The tour was well-documented. Many of the choir, including our own Jean Terry and Jesmond’s Eliza Vinycomb wrote diaries, others kept scrapbooks and Henry Coward later wrote a published account. Letters home have been preserved and ‘there were forty cameras in our party’. They were even filmed:

‘We were invited to the Bijou Theatre Co to see ourselves on the cinematograph and it was funny… what a laugh we had!’ 

Reading the first hand accounts now, we cannot help be struck by some of the attitudes expressed and language used.

The aim of the tour was certainly to foster good will and promote peace. This can be summed up by Henry Coward’s words on reaching South Africa less than ten years after the Second Boer War had ended:

‘two hundred and twenty invaders entered Pretoria, not in the panoply of hateful war but holding the olive leaf of peace, good will and reciprocity, by means of song’.

In Durban, Eliza Vinycomb showed an awareness of apartheid ‘The rickshas had on them “For Europeans only” and at the post office a place partitioned off “For Asiatics and Natives” and in the trains were separate carriages for blacks and whites’. ‘The people say the Boers will never rise again, they felt their beating so thoroughly but they think the blacks may rise sometime.’ But she didn’t comment on the rights and wrongs.

Elsewhere Coward expressed his distaste for slavery and reported that the party was shocked by the poverty and inequality in Chicago. The choir sang for the patients at a leper station ‘where we saw some sorrowful sights but felt we had done a little to cheer their hopeless lot.’

But reading his and other accounts through the prism of 2020, some of the language and assumptions are nevertheless shocking.

In Buffalo, USA, the choir had  ‘the new experience of being waited upon by negro attendants’; train staff were complimented by being referred to as ‘our dusky friends’; In Suva, Coward thought ‘the natives showed a strong indisposition to work’. About being taken to the spot where Captain Cook first landed in Australia and ‘captured it for England’, he later wrote, ‘Well done, Whitby!’

Descriptions of visits to a Sioux encampment at Portage la Prairie in Manitoba where the ‘Indians were very shy’ and ‘the occupants declined to thaw from their reserve’ and a Sursee reservation in Calgary where ‘the moderns [tried] to coax the occupants to show themselves but they gave no sign of obliging us’ make uncomfortable reading in the 21st century. Coward wrote that he was sorry that the tribe was dying out because of ill health and what he saw as ‘the fixed inferiority complex in their minds’.

Coward also reported an incident in Honolulu when a man trying to board their ship was apprehended by police officers, apparently having reached for a gun. ‘One of the two detectives settled the argument by giving the “wanted man” a tremendous bang on the head with the butt of his revolver…I was pleased to see this bit of summary, wild west justice. It impressed me very much.’

Afterwards

Such an amazing experience, good and bad, must have affected the choir members for the rest of their lives. Coward reports that ‘about a score of happy marriages resulted from the tour’. Were many of the choir politicised and did they continue to make music and travel? We are lucky to know at least a little about the subsequent lives of our Heaton singers:

Herbert Alderson 

Herbert continued to sing. We have a record of him as a soloist in 1913 at a ‘Grand Evening Concert’ in aid of Gateshead Independent Labour Party, alongside another well-known Heatonian, Colin Veitch, who lived just five minutes walk away on Stratford Villas. The following year, he performed with Gerald Veitch in a Newcastle Operatic Society performance of ‘The Yeoman of the Guard’  and soon after Colin conducted Herbert in Newcastle Amateur Operatic Society’s ‘Merrie England’.

In 1916, Herbert married shorthand typist, Edith Jane Ord of 54 Rothbury Terrace. Edith was also a keen singer. The couple lived in Jesmond when they were first married but soon returned to Heaton to 22 Crompton Road, where they lived for almost 20 years. That is where they were living at the outbreak of WW2, when Herbert was still listed as a joiner. Later they spent time at 211 Benton Road and then 12 Ravenswood Road, where Herbert died in 1961, aged 83.

Margaret Howson

We know that, after the tour, Margaret spent some time in South Africa because on 12 October 1919, she set sail from Cape Town to Southampton and was listed as a recent resident of that country and a music teacher. She returned to the north east where in 1923 in Hexham, she married Sidney Wilfred Lewis, a travelling sales rep for concrete and quarry plant, who had two children from a previous marriage. The couple lived in Stocksfield where their daughter, Dorothy, was born two years later. But by the outbreak of WW2, Mary had separated from Sidney and was living in London, where she described herself as a retired violin tutor. She died in Northampton in 1971, aged 82.

Jean Finlay Terry 

In 1913, a book ‘Northumberland Yesterday and Today’ by Jean F Terry LLA (St Andrews) 1913  was published. LLA stands for ‘Lady Literate in Arts’ and was offered by the University of St Andrews from 1877, fifteen years before women were admitted to Scottish universities. It became popular as a kind of external degree for women who had studied through correspondence or by attendance at non-university classes and continued until the 1930s. You can still find Terry’s fascinating local history book online and in second hand shops. We haven’t yet been able to prove that it was written by our Jean but there don’t seem to be any other likely contenders. If more evidence is required, not only does the author mention Heaton and Armstrong Parks in the text, she also included many poems and, particularly, folk-songs.

In 1914, Jean was elected to the committee of the Newcastle branch of the Victoria League at its AGM held at Armstrong College. The Victoria League for Commonwealth Friendship was founded in 1901 to connect people from Commonwealth countries and promotes cooperation and peace. It was noteworthy in that, during the early years, it was predominantly a women’s organisation at a time when women still didn’t have the vote. At that time, ’through philanthropy to war victims, hospitality to colonial visitors, empire education and the promotion of social reform as an imperial issue, it aimed to promote imperial sentiment at home and promote colonial loyalty to the mother country’, all aims which Henry Coward and Charles Harriss would heartily endorse (in fact Coward pays tribute to the league in his account of the tour). It is still active today.

In 1926, there is a record of her travelling back from Marseilles to her home in Jesmond.

At the outbreak of WW2, Jean was described as a retired teacher, living with her younger brother Arthur, a retired civil servant, and their housekeeper in Stocksfield, where she lived until she died in 1951, aged 86.

Florrie Hamilton

Florrie continued to sing with the Newcastle and Gateshead Choral Union and in April 1912 was billed as ‘soprano of the famous Sheffield choir’ when she sang at two East Cramlington Primitive Methodist Church services. There is a record of her singing another solo the following year at the annual Wesley Guild and Christian Endeavour rally in Seaton Burn alongside Walter Gardner of Heaton Road Wesleyan Guild. Less than two and a half years later, she married Walter, a shipbrokers’ clerk, who in 1911 was living with his family in Falmouth Road, just three minutes walk away from Florrie and her family. The couple went on to live at 92 Cartington Terrace. In 1919, Florrie gave birth to their daughter, Muriel.

Florrie continued to perform. In 1923, she ‘acquitted [herself] with refinement and expression’ as an accompanist at a recital at Bainbridge Memorial Wesleyan Church.

Parenthood didn’t signal the end of travel for Florrie either. We know that in July 1926, she and young daughter, Muriel, were in the USA. They travelled back from New York to Southampton on the RMS ‘Homeric’. By this time, the family was living in Whitley Bay. Sadly, Florrie died in 1936, aged only 49.

John Charles Hamilton 

John returned to Heaton where his wife, Rachel, and son, Walter, had been continuing to live while John and Florrie were on tour but the family was soon separated again when Walter joined the Northumberland Fusiliers to serve in WW1. In 1917, Rachel and John received the news that he had suffered slight gunshot wounds.

 John died at Florrie’s home in Whitley Bay on 30 August 1925, aged 64.

Molly’s Story

As for Mary Wharton Parkinson, she and Fred continued to write to each other and, only two years after the world tour, she set sail once again, this time straight to New Zealand. The couple married on 11 December 1913 in Wellington. 

By this time, Fred had set up an engineering and plumbing business in Tauranga in Bay of Plenty on North Island. Music played a big part in the couple’s life together. The month after their wedding, Molly and Fred performed in a local Methodist church concert: they played a piano duet together and both sang solo. We know that Molly also played the organ. And later in the year, Molly gave a talk about the world tour. If only we could know what she said!

But, important as it was, there was much more to Molly’s life than music. She and Frederick had four children. In 1916, she was elected president of the local Women’s Christian Temperance Movement and, when her children were older, she also became a ’leading light’ in the Country Women’s Institute, Maori Women’s Welfare League, the Girl Guides and other community organisations, often providing hospitality and accommodation to these groups in the extensive property, she and Fred had bought when they were first married. Fred died in 1957 age 73.

Mary Wharton Christian was awarded the MBE in 1975 and died one month short of her hundredth birthday in 1979.

Full Circle

Although it has only been possible to give a flavour of the tour and the lives of the Heaton singers who experienced it, none of it would have been possible without the help received on a virtual round the world journey reminiscent of that undertaken by Molly and our Heaton tourists 109 years ago, albeit this time online. 

After reading about those who had passed the audition in the ‘Newcastle Journal’, just as for the successful singers, my first stop was Sheffield, where Chris Wiltshire, composer, choral conductor and the author of a book about the letters home of choir member, May Midgley, told me that he too used to do Henry Coward’s regular commute between Sheffield and Newcastle, as for many years he had conducted the Felling Male Voice Choir as well as the Sheffield Chamber Orchestra. Going the extra mile to help us find out more about our local singers, Chris put me in touch with Caroline Roberts of Durham University, who he said was also researching the north east representatives.

Meanwhile, via North America (well, Google) came the exciting discovery of an article on a local history website much like our own. This told the story of how Molly had got to know Fred Christian and their subsequent life together in Tauranga. It mentioned that one of Molly’s daughters had been a generous benefactor of the local history society. A couple of emails later and we had learnt that the piece had been written by Julie Green, the wife of Molly’s step grandson, and that all Molly and Fred’s photos, diaries and letters were in her loft!

And there was more! It turned out that not only had Caroline Roberts done a huge amount of research into the tour and, in particular, the Tyneside contingent, over many years and was very generously willing to share everything she knew about our Heaton singers – and more – but incredibly she was the daughter of Heaton History Group members, Joyce and Paul Craggs. Paul’s great grandfather, Fred Knowles, was a member of the touring choir and it was fellow HHG member Paul who, browsing in a Corbridge antique shop, had found the framed photograph from which the individual images of the singers you see above have been taken. All roads truly lead to Heaton!

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Heaton History Group’s Chris Jackson with huge help from Julie Green, Caroline Roberts and Chris Wiltshire. A big thank you to all of them.

Other Sources

The Diary of Eliza Bustin Vinycomb (unpublished); Christchurch Archives, New Zealand

Round the World on Wings of Song: reciprocity / by Sir Henry Coward; Northend, 1933

Tauranga Historical Society Blog: Mary Wharton Christian (nee Parkinson) / by Julie Green, 2019

12 Oak Avenue: the letters of Henrietta May Midgley 1911 / by Christopher Wiltshire; Wiltsmusic, 2018

To Walk Upon the Grass: the impact of the University of St Andrews’ Lady Literate in Arts, 1877-1892 / by Elisabeth Margaret Smith; University of St Andrews PhD Thesis, 2014

Women, Gender and the Promotion of Empire: the Victoria League 1901-1914 / by Eliza Riedi; The Historical Journal 45.3 (2002) pp 569-599

Ancestry, British Newspaper Archives and other online sources.

Can You Help?

If you know more about any of the Heaton singers or have photographs (or diaries!) to share, we’d love to hear from you. You can contact us either through this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or by emailing chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Windows Shopping: 111 years of Tyneside music

We’re all familiar with JG Windows’ music store in the fabulous Edwardian Central Arcade.

Windows2019

J G Windows, 2019

Heaton History Group’s Michael Proctor first knew it from searching for records on teenage trips to Newcastle and later from drooling over impossibly expensive hi-fi systems. Others may remember it as the place to buy tickets for almost any conceivable concert or event, from Shakespeare at the Theatre Royal to rock music at the City Hall and even the circus on the Town Moor, but when it first opened its doors it was to sell musical instruments and sheet music. The shop was opened by James Gale Windows, a long term resident of Heaton, so Michael decided to delve a little deeper.

Beginnings

James Gale Windows was born in October 1870 in Headington, Oxfordshire. He was the fourth son of Joseph Windows, a police sergeant and his wife, Fanny. The 1881 census shows the family still living in Cowley, with two more children, a fifth son and a daughter, with Joseph having been promoted to inspector. James’ eldest brother, Alfie, had left home by this time, but William, 18, was a tailor’s apprentice and Herbert, 14, a carpenter’s apprentice.

In his late teens, James moved to Newcastle, where he started work as a music seller’s assistant. The 1891 census shows him boarding with Annie Turnbull in Elswick.

In 1896 James returned home to Cowley to marry Maud Frances Hind, with the couple returning to Newcastle to set up home in Heaton. Maud, born in 1873, was the youngest daughter of Jonathon, a monumental mason, and his wife, Thirza. It seems likely that the families were close and James and Maud knew each other as children, as Jonathon’s death in 1910 shows his address as 17 Princes Street, the former home of Joseph and Fanny Windows.

Heaton

James and Maud’s early family life seems to have involved a lot of movement between houses, but always in Heaton. In 1899, they were living at 57 King John Street; in 1902, they’d moved to 124 Warton Terrace; in 1905 it was 21 Stratford Grove; 1908 saw them at 69 Cardigan Terrace and 1914 has the family living at 8 Norwood Avenue, where they stayed until at least 1927.

The couple’s first son, Maurice James, was born in July 1897 and their second son, Hedley Arnold, was born nine years later on 13 February 1906.

But it was in 1908 when the family’s fortunes really changed and the family name became synonymous with music on Tyneside. That was the date when James opened his own store in the highly prestigious, newly opened Central Arcade.

Exchange

The building itself had had a troubled history. The Central Exchange was intended to be the flagship of the Grainger town development. An unusual triangular shaped building it had facades on Grainger Street, Grey Street and Market Street and was intended to be the visual and commercial centrepiece of Newcastle’s Neo-Classical streets. It was built by Richard Grainger and designed as a Corn Exchange, but by the time it was completed in 1838, there was no need for an exchange. Instead, it opened as a subscription newsroom, where the wealthy gentlemen of the day could come to read newspapers gathered from around the world. Coffee rooms occupied space in the corner drums and the building became a focal point for Newcastle’s social elite.

017196:Central Exchange News Room Newcastle upon Tyne Unknown c.

Central Exchange newsroom

The fact that the building was not proving to be a great commercial success became apparent in March 1846 when a hand written share prospectus from Richard Grainger proposed to raise additional funds by selling 1,700 shares at £50 each. The prospectus notes that the news room had 1,300 subscribers paying 1 guinea each and produced an annual rent of £674 per annum. It then goes on to propose that a small increase in subscriptions of ½ guinea (50%) would allow the rent to increase to £1356. Grainger then set out the rent from shops, offices and coffee rooms as £1,340. However the premises were not fully occupied. As the additional rent he estimated would come from having the building fully occupied was £2,416, that suggests only about a third were occupied.

In the event, the share scheme was also a failure. Two years later, on 7 April 1848, the Durham County Advertiser reported that shareholders called a meeting with Grainger to hear the findings of a committee appointed to investigate the scheme. The committee recommended the immediate reimbursement of the shareholders. In the event, only 536 shares had actually been sold, with Grainger holding the remainder.

The first incarnation of the Central Exchange ended on Sunday 11 August 1867 when the building was ravaged by fire. When it reopened in 1870 the bulk of the building was occupied by the Institution for Promoting the Fine Arts and included an art gallery, concert hall and theatre.

055870:Central Exchange News Room Newcastle upon Tyne Unknown c.

Art gallery, Central Exchange, 1880

WindowsCentralexchangesign 2019

Central Exchange sign, 2019

This appears to have been more successful, but was again brought abruptly to an end by another major fire in 1901. This time, the building was completely redesigned to form an elegant shopping arcade with a barrel vaulted glazed roof, decorated using the full arsenal of Edwardian techniques with lustrous faience tiling, double arched entrances and a mosaic floor.

Arcade

Towards the end of the 19th century, public concerns were raised about the safety, hygiene and moral integrity of the city. One response was to build shopping arcades exclusively to display luxury and novelty goods to the city’s elite customers. The peak of arcade building was around 1890, so the new Central Arcade, which opened to the public in 1906, was unusual in being Edwardian rather than Victorian.

046892:Central Arcade Newcastle upon Tyne unknown December 1906

Central Arcade, 1906

This early photograph shows the arcade lavishly decorated for Christmas with an advert for a cafe on the balcony and even the latest technological advance, a public telephone.

It was into this luxury shopping arcade that James Windows opened the doors of his new business in 1908, just two years after the arcade opened. Originally, he appears to have had only the middle one of the three shopping units that the shop now occupies. Even so, this seems like a massive leap for a music seller’s assistant to open his first shop in such an environment. It’s not clear where he got the funding to do this as there doesn’t appear to have been wealth on either his or his wife’s side of the family that he may have inherited.  By 1911, it is obvious that the shop was doing well as the census shows the family had acquired that most essential of Edwardian middle class assets, a servant, Maggie Calder. The census identifies James as a seller of music and musical instruments and an employer. In 1909, James joined the Novocastrian lodge of the Freemasons, further establishing his position within the middle class elite of Newcastle.

War

With the coming of the First World War, James and Maud’s elder son, Maurice, signed up and fought as a private with the Cyclist Battalion. A vital part of the army that subsequently became the Signal Corps, cyclist battalions passed messages to and from the front line. His medal card also shows him having fought with the Northumberland Fusiliers. JG Windows’ own website records that both sons also fought in the Second World War, but no details have emerged. Obviously by the time of the war, the business had branched out into selling gramophones (and presumably records), as the Newcastle Daily Journal of 29 September 1915 records the donation of a gramophone from JG Windows for the use of the troops. It continued to expand to include radios in the 1930s and even provided for music and singing lessons. (The Newcastle Journal on 1 November 1940 records the success of a child prodigy, Maurice Aitcheson aged 14, passing the LRAM Performer exam at the Sigmund Oppenheimer Pianoforte School at JG Windows.)

After the war, Maurice Windows joined his father in the family business, as did Hedley when he was old enough and, later, Hedley and his wife Marjorie’s son, James Bowen Windows, who joined the business in 1961.

Legacy

James Gale Windows died on the 21 June 1933 aged 63. His address is given as 43 Oaklands, Gosforth, having finally moved on from Heaton. He left £7,997 16s 4d (around £380,000 in today’s money) to his widow, Maud, and to Percival Frederick Barras, Accountant. It’s not clear who Mr Barras was, but as he clearly had a call on James’ estate, it’s possible that he may have provided some of the financial backing to set up the business.

WindowsJGW memorial Gosforth parish church

James Gale and Maud Frances Windows’ memorial at Gosforth Parish Church

The business continued to thrive, led by Maurice, Hedley and James Bowen, expanding ultimately to three shop units in Central Arcade over three floors. At one point, they also had stores in Darlington, York and the Metro Centre, although Darlington and York are now closed.

Maurice died on 12 February 1962 and Hedley on 13 February 1996. In 2006 the company was purchased from the Windows family by three current and former employees and long-time associates. Although the Windows family are no longer involved in the day to day running of the company, J G Windows Ltd has stuck to the principles which have kept the company central to musical life in the North East for more than a hundred years.

Can You Help?

If you know any more about James Gale Windows or the Windows family and especially if you can help us find photographs of any of the people mentioned in this article,  we’d love to hear from you. You can contact us either through this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or by emailing chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Michael Proctor of Heaton History Group.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Through Byker to Baikal – and back

This October marks the centenary of the Russian revolution, so it feels like an appropriate time to explore the two-way links between Russia and Heaton that predate that landmark in world history.

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Heaton is much changed over the last 150 years, of course, and has experienced two world wars but the account below gives just a hint of how much Eastern Europe has changed and endured during  the same period, with many of Heaton’s ‘Russian’ links being with what we now know as Ukraine, Poland, Latvia and Lithuania and the Soviet Union having come and gone.

 From Russia for Love

In 1911, just three years before the outbreak of WW1 and the subsequent overthrow of the Russian royal family and civil war, there were at least fifteen people in Heaton who were recorded on the census as having been born in what was then Russia. We have already written about Joseph Rose, a Jewish slipper maker, born in what is now Latvia. In 1911, he had already been here for over 30 years, and like many of our other Russian Heatonians, he seems to have integrated quickly: he married Margaret, a local woman, brought up children, at least one of which fought for Britain in WW1, and succeeded in business here. Their children having grown up, the Roses had, by 1911, downsized from their family home on Stratford Grove to a smaller property on Warwick Street. Read more here.

There were other Russian Jews in Heaton who had similar backgrounds and trades to Joseph, such as Cyril Finn ( Many Jewish immigrants to the UK anglicised their names), a widower, who lived with his daughter Golda and son, Israel (known as Frederick), a travelling draper. In 1911, they all lived at 17 First Avenue.

And tailor, Harry Freeman, aged 39, by now a naturalised Briton, living at 19 Eversley Place with his Leeds born wife and Newcastle born children. Henry Beyer, another Russian-born tailor, lived at 4 Mowbray Street. As now, many migrants were prepared to travel great distances to flee persecution or at least the severe economic hardship caused by prejudice and distrust.

In wartime, in particular, foreigners here too were often the object of suspicion and on 29 February 1916, it was reported in the press that  another tailor, Henry Ninian (aged 53) and Esther, his wife, of 86 Meldon Terrace, had pleaded guilty to having, as aliens, resided in a prohibited area of Newcastle and failed to furnish the Chief Constable with particulars of their registration. In his defence, Henry claimed that until three weeks previously, he had believed he had been born in Leeds, at which time a brother in Sunderland told him he originated from Plotkis in Russia. He said his wife had been born in Britain but had acquired his nationality on marriage. He was remanded on bail for a week but stayed in Newcastle until his death ten years later.

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Extract from 1901 census

Over a century later, we have access to evidence not available to the Chief Constable or the press and can reveal that the accused was actually Henry Niman of 86 Meldon Terrace. While in 1911, he wrote on his census form that he’d been born in Leeds, back in 1901 he’d told the enumerator that he was a Russian from Poland. Unless, he’d forgotten this in the intervening decade, we can now proclaim him to be ‘guilty as charged‘!

 Passing through

Some migrants didn’t stay long in Heaton. Perhaps the most successful of Heaton Russian Jews was Joseph Cohen, who with his wife, Henrietta, also born in ‘Russian Poland’ (now Lithuania) was living at Denehurst on Jesmond Park East. The fact that their two elder children were born in Dublin suggests a circuitous route to the North East and the family soon moved on again to London. Joseph was a furniture dealer while in Newcastle and he later founded the Cavendish Woodhouse chain of furniture stores that some readers may remember.

One of the Cohens’ five children, Sybil Elsie, aged five in 1911, went on to become Lady Janner and to have a prominent role in the Jewish community and in British public life generally. Her younger sister, Edith Vera, also had a successful career, as one of Britain’s first female barristers and was also, it seems, a talented sports all-rounder. Read more here  but note that her place of birth is recorded in the census as Newcastle not London. Let’s take some credit now for her formative years!

One of the earliest Russians known  to have lived in Heaton was Theosophillus Horchover, born in Odessa but living here just two years later in 1881. He was a son of  Bernard, a commerce agent from Constantinople, Turkey, and Evelina, his Plymouth-born wife. Theo had an older brother born in Constantinople and a younger one born in Newcastle. We can only speculate about what caused the family to travel so far away from home to rest for a while at 101 Addison Road. But Theo and his family’s journey had still  not ended. By 1891, they were in Leith in Scotland and by 1910,  had emigrated to the USA where they eventually settled, in Washington.

And even before Theosophillus, came Emma Laube, who was born in Kulm in Russia. In 1871, aged 37, she was living at the house known as Heaton Dean, which was actually in what we’d now call Jesmond but we’ll count it because of its name. She was working as a governess to the children of Sir Andrew Noble, the physicist who became Sir William Armstrong’s ballistics expert, and his wife, Marjorie. So Emma is the earliest Russian connection with Heaton we have found – imagine her journey here in the mid nineteenth century. We don’t know what happened to her.  Perhaps someone can help?

East of Heaton

But there was another type of Russian-born Heatonian evident in the 1911 records,  children of British citizens, who happened to be born while their parents were living in Russia. It wasn’t unusual during the nineteenth century and even before that for Tynesiders to be sent abroad by their employers to help with mining, engineering or building projects.

A good example is the completion of the Trans-Siberian Railway, a formidable engineering challenge. A track had been built across Russia and by 1895 the only problem was how to navigate the huge expanse of Lake Baikal in Siberia. The original solution was an icebreaker ferry onto which trains, goods and passengers could be all loaded to meet up with the track on the other side of the lake. Where were the engineering skills to build such a mighty vessel? Why, Newcastle, of course.

The Russian government ordered a steel ship, to be known as SS Baikal, to be built in Walker by Sir W G Armstrong, Mitchell & Company, then to be disassembled and transported to and across Russia in thousands of pieces and rebuilt on the lake shore. Then, of course, they needed Geordie expertise to help put it back together again. In August 1897, Armstrong’s Chief Constructor,  Andrew Douie, travelled by train to Krasnoyarsk and then made the final 700 mile trek by horse-drawn carriage. More Tyneside men followed. You can read more here  The photograph below shows Andrew Moore of Walkergate, a supervisor, but surely there were Heaton men among them too.

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Andrew Moore who travelled to Lake Baikal in Siberia in 1898

Certainly there were many other examples of international travel between Heaton and Russia in the second half of the nineteenth century.

Although of British parentage, Alfred Yates and  sister, Beatrice, were both born in Ekaterinburg, which is across the Urals, over a thousand miles East of Moscow. But by 1911, aged 17 and eight, they were living with their uncle, William Glover, a Congregational minister, and his wife, Annie at 48 Rothbury Terrace.

Ekaterinburg is now  known as Yekaterinburg. It is the city to which, following the October Revolution,  Tsar Nicholas II, his wife, Alexandra and their children were exiled and, on 17 July 1918, executed. At the moment, we can only speculate about what took Alfred and Beatrice’s father, Walter, there and what happened to him and his wife but Yekaterinburg is an industrial city with a heavy engineering base and another important junction on the Trans-Siberian Railway. So maybe therein lies a clue.

Jane Seivwright was the daughter of John Ingram, a Scottish stone dresser and his wife, Margaret, who were briefly in Ukraine around the time of his daughter’s birth in about 1881. The family soon returned to Scotland but, by 1911, Jane, now married, was living at Trewhitt Road, with her 3 young children. Jane’s mother too was by this time living in Heaton – on Eighth Avenue, But on 30 March the following year, Jane and the children boarded the SS Columbia from Glasgow to New York. We know from the ship’s records that Jane was bound for Schenectady in New York State. It’s likely that her husband had gone out before her and had found a job and place for the family to live. Certainly, In 1930, Jane and her husband, Alexander, a plasterer, were still living there.

One Way Ticket

But perhaps the most remarkable link between Heaton and Russia was Elrington Reed Lax. He was born in March 1840, the son of Annie and her husband William Lax, a middle class tenant farmer, then farming at ‘Bird’s Nest‘ in Byker. By 1861, the Laxes were farming at East Heaton and, aged 21, Elrington was living at home with his parents and four sisters, Anne, Isabella, Fanny and Henrietta. The farmhouse was situated across the railway line from Rothbury Terrace, where Walkergate Hospital, Allotments and Benfield Business Park are now but the farm itself straddled the railway line into the area we now know as North Heaton bungalows and Iris Brickfield park. You can see it, as it looked then,  on the right hand side of the map below. Fields 24-40A were part of East Heaton Farm.

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East Heaton and Heaton Town farms, 1861

Ten years later, Elrington had left home to board in Jesmond while working as an iron trader and within a few years was to make a life-changing decision which took him much further from Heaton, never to return.

An opportunity arose to take part in the expansion of a small settlement called Alexandrovka in the Crimea which still celebrates the role of the original settlers, led by Welshman, John Hughes, a Merthyr Tydfil born engineer and entrepreneur, who were instrumental in turning it into a thriving city. In 1869, Hughes was a director of the Millwall Engineering and Shipbuilding Company when it won an order from the Tsar of Russia for the plating of a naval fortress at Kronstadt on the Black Sea. So Hughes set sail with eight shiploads of equipment and specialist workers, mainly from South Wales. They built a metallurgical and rail factory and soon needed more skilled workers, one of whom was Elrington Lax. Hughes made sure his migrant workers felt at home: he built a hospital, schools, bathhouses, tea rooms and a church dedicated to St George and St David.

Elrington, like many of the British migrant workers, stayed. His four children were born there between 1877 and 1889. And the settlement went from strength to strength. It was soon named Yuzovska (or Hughesovska) after its founder. Elrington spent the rest of his life in Crimea, dying in Yalta in 1903. Yuzovska continued to grow, being awarded city status in 1917.

We are lucky to know a little about Elrington’s eldest son, also called Elrington Reed Lax, This obituary in the 1938 Proceedings of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers gives us just a flavour of his eventful life. After being educated in St Petersburg and England, he returned to Russia and then came back to England to gain more work experience in Manchester before returning to Crimea, where he set up his own business. When his property was confiscated following the revolution, he acted as an interpreter and intelligence officer with the rank of Acting Sergeant (Middlesex Regiment) to the North Russian Expeditionary Force in Arctic Russia before returning to Britain. Like most other British settlers and their descendants, his siblings also returned home around this time.

The name of the settlement first known as Alexandrovka and then, as it expanded,  Hughesovska / Yuzovka,  has changed a number of times since, reflecting the complex and difficult history of the region. It was possibly called Trotsk briefly in 1923,  changed to Stalin in 1924 and then became Stalino in 1930-31. The city was almost completely destroyed by the Germans in WW2 and rebuilt afterwards by what we might now call slave labour from Hungary, Romania and Yugoslavia before, in 1961, being renamed Donetsk and in 1991 becoming part of the newly independent Ukraine. Today we often hear about the city being the centre of bitter and violent struggles between Ukrainian and Russian factions as well, more happily, for the exploits of its famous football team, Shaktar Donetsk, who currently have to play far from home in Kharkiv.

Despite its troubled past and present, a statue to John Hughes can still be seen in the city. Here we also remember the role of a Heaton farmer’s son in its development, one of many intrepid voyagers from our neighbourhood to have made epic journeys from east to west or vice versa.

Other Russians known to have lived in Heaton pre WW1

Esther born c1875 and Rebecca GLASS born c 1851 –  162 Mowbray Street (1911 census)

Margaret D HERON born c1868 – 38 Bolingbroke Street (1901 census)

Alexander A JOHNSON, Consulting Marine Engineer born c1860 – 194 Heaton Road (1901 census)

Nicholas MARKIEWICH (?), Fitter born c1888 – 68 Falmouth Road (1911 census)

Norman MARKSON, Tailor  born c1861 – 23 Cheltenham Terrace (1901 census)

Alexander SLIUFKO Draper born c1875 – 46 Chillingham Road (1901 census)

Alfred SMITH, Boiler Plater, born c1873  – 98 Addison Road (1891 census)

Valdemar A TARNKE, Electrical Engineer born c1890 –  82 Rothbury Terrace (1911 census)

George (Painter, born c1846), Jane (born c 1846), Levi (Painter, born c1879) and Annie (born c 1889) TREGON – 10 Stratford Road  (1901 census)

John (Steam Engine Fitter born c 1873) and Vera TULIP (born c1897), 24 Charles Street (1901 census)

Nathan (Draper born c1880) and Leah (born c 1881) WILSON – 34 Eighth Avenue (1901 census)

Can you help?

If you know more about any of the people or events mentioned in this article or have photos to share, we’d love to hear from you. We’d also like to hear about more recent migrants who have travelled in either direction between Heaton and Russia and Eastern Europe. Please get in touch either by clicking on the link immediately below the title of this article or by emailing chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Acknowledgements

This article was written and researched by Chris Jackson, Heaton History Group. Thank you to Brian Moore for the information about SS Baikal and the photograph of Andrew Moore.y

 

 

 

Slippers by the Hearth: home from home on Stratford Grove

In the mid to late nineteenth century, as Newcastle prospered and grew, the township of Heaton spread eastwards and northwards so some of the earliest streets to take shape were the ‘Shakespeare Streets’ in south west Heaton: among them the particularly desirable terrace of Stratford Grove, with its long front gardens leading onto a narrow walkway, with the only access for horses, carts, carriages and those new fangled bicycles round the back. An additional attraction was the grove’s westerly aspect across the Ouseburn and beautiful Jesmond Vale.

 

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View from Stratford Grove across Jesmond Vale

 

It’s not surprising then that among the first occupants were some high status professionals, Thomas Oliver Mawson,  a chemist; A Bolton, a physician; A Stephens, a tea importer and J H Shillito, a civil engineer. Stratford Grove was a very ‘respectable’ street indeed.

Slow boat to Heaton

As he spent his first evening by the fireside of number 11, Joseph Rose must have felt happy with his lot and very proud, particularly when he considered how far he’d come. For Joseph had been born around a quarter of a century earlier in what he knew as ‘Kurland’, a province of what we now know as Latvia but which was then part of Russia.

We don’t know exactly when Joseph set out on what would have been an arduous sea journey. Did he come as a young adult or earlier with his parents?  And what motivated him or the family? Were they simply economic migrants, tempted by seamens’ stories of the lifestyle to be had in an unknown industrial city in the distant north of England? There were long established trade routes between Newcastle and the Baltic ports so people in Kurland could have heard about the city’s recent expansion and known that ships, which took coal east, would readily take passengers home with them.

But perhaps too, they were refugees because his name suggests that Joseph was of Jewish background. And Jews had a difficult time in Russia in the mid to late nineteenth century. There were severe restrictions on where they could live and how they could earn a living. As the populations grew in the small towns and villages in which they were allowed to live (‘shtetls’), they became overcrowded and living standards declined. Many left, fearing the situation would worsen, which it did from 1881 when Russian Jews were terrorised and massacred in what was known as the ‘First Pogrom’.

Outsider

In the main, early Jewish migrants stuck together. This meant they had the support of neighbours who spoke their languages (Jews from Kurland mostly spoke German rather than Russian, Yiddish or Hebrew) and shared their customs. They also wanted easy access to a synagogue. In nineteenth century Newcastle, this meant living in the centre or to the west of Newcastle, close to the synagogues which had been established firstly in Temple Street and then Charlotte Square and, in 1879, in Albion Street near the new Leazes Park. Jews also usually married each other.

But Joseph was different. By 1881, aged 24, he had married a Newcastle girl, 20 year old, Margaret Kirk. Their marriage certificate cites both of their religions as ‘Church of England’. And the young couple’s first home was in Gateshead. Nowadays, Gateshead is known for its large Jewish community but back then that was not the case. Jews had lived in Newcastle for at least 50 years (and anecdotally over a century) but the first known Jewish inhabitant of Gateshead was in 1879, just two years before we know Joseph and Margaret to have been living there. The couple may have felt outsiders in both the Jewish and the indigenous, mainly Christian, community.

And yet, Joseph was a slipper maker, a business area dominated in Newcastle by Jews. Many occupations were closed to them in Kurland and so traditionally Jews were self-employed as tailors, button makers, roofers or, like young Joseph, a shoe or slipper maker. And when they arrived in Newcastle, these were the obvious trades at which to try their luck. 

By 1883, we know that the newly-weds had moved to Newcastle. They lived in Rosedale Terrace and Joseph had a workshop in Richmond Place. By 1887, he had done well enough to move his growing family, wife Margaret, five year old Frederick, three year old Henry, and one year old Lilian with another baby Joseph junior on the way, to a brand new property on Stratford Grove, a sizeable house with a garden and a view.

 

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Stratford Grove in 2016 (taken at Halloween – hence the skeleton!)

 

Fighting for Britain

And he must have made good slippers because Joseph’s firm had staying power. By 1900, it had moved to premises in Union Road, Byker and by 1911, it was in Albion Buildings, St James Street off Strawberry Place. His two eldest sons, Fredrick and Henry, had followed him into the family business. Third born, Joseph junior, however, had moved away from this traditional Jewish occupation. He was a ‘bioscope operator’ at Carnegie Hall in Workington (Bioscopes were early films, usually incorporated into music hall shows).

By this time, with the children grown up and both Henry and Joseph married and living away from home, the couple had  moved around the corner to a smaller property at 65 Warwick Street.

A few years later, we know that son Henry served Britain in World War 1. He was still a slipper manufacturer, married since 1909 to Elizabeth McLellan, and had already experienced tragedy when his four year old daughter, Margaret Ellen, had died of pneumonia. Happily, after serving with the Northumberland Fusiliers in Italy, Henry survived the war and was awarded the 1914-15 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. He returned to his wife, Elizabeth and son, Duncan McLellan, and resumed the running of the slipper business. The firm was still operating in 1928.

 Neighbours

But what of the Roses’ neighbours in the newly built houses on Stratford Grove? Were they all born and bred in Newcastle? Not at all. Two doors down at number 13 lived Charles Gustav Felix Thurm, a ‘moss litter importer’, who had been born in Glauchan, Saxony around 1852. He was naturalised as a British citizen in April 1895, his application approved by the then Secretary of State at the Home Office, Herbert Henry Asquith. Sadly Felix, as he was known, died less than a year later.

And at number 25 lived Jens Thomsen Bondersen and his wife, Martha, both Danes, with their young daughter, Ellen, and a Danish servant, Alice Tranagaard. Jens was a ‘telegraph mechanician’.

Next door to the Roses the other way lived Oscar Constantine Kale Koch, a detective, who  had recently been a bandsman on HMS Britannia and who later rose to the position of Police Superintendent. Oscar had been born in London in 1858 to Charles, a musician, and his wife, Augusta, both born in Germany.

By 1901, the Thurms’ old house was occupied by Gerald Barry, an Irishman, and his family. Gerald worked for HM Customs. A number of Scots lived on the grove at this time too.

Ten years later, we find a John Jacob Berentsen, an Ordnance Engineer from Bergen in Norway, living at number seven and working at Armstrong’s works in Elswick., where we know he had been since at least 1892 as his success in first aid classes was reported in the local press. His wife, Jane, was a local girl.

So, one short row of 26 houses demonstrates that the present day cosmopolitan character of Heaton is nothing new. Despite having to endure some difficult times, migrants to Britain have been integrating and contributing to local life for more than 130 years. They are a big part of what makes Heaton.

Can you help?

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

Sources

‘The Jewish Communities of North East England’ / by Lewis Olsover; Ashley Mark, 1980

‘They Docked at Newcastle and Wound Up in Gateshead’ / by Millie Donbrow; Portcullis Press (Gateshead Libraries and Arts Service), 1988

and a wide range of other sources, including Ancestry UK and British Newspaper Archives.

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Chris Jackson for Heaton History Group’s Historic England funded ‘Shakespeare Streets’ project in which we are working with Hotspur and Chillingham Road Primary Schools to explore both Heaton’s theatrical heritage and the people of the streets named in William Shakespeare’s honour.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Road by Any Other Name

On 20th June 2016 in Stratford upon Avon, amateur actors from The People’s Theatre, Heaton will appear in a production of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ alongside professionals from the Royal Shakespeare Company. That performance, a reprise the following night and five nights at Northern Stage in March, will form part of the national commemoration of the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death and is a great honour for our local and much loved theatre company.

The People’s Theatre has links with the RSC going back many years. The Stratford company made Newcastle its third home back in the 1970s and the People’s has come to the rescue three times (1987, 1988 and 2004) when an extra venue was needed for one reason or another. But these are far from Heaton’s earliest connections with the ‘immortal bard’ and we’ve decided to explore some of them as part of our own contribution to ‘Shakespeare 400’.

 The Name of the Roads

The most obvious references to Shakespeare in the locality are a group of streets in the extreme south and west of Heaton: Bolingbroke, Hotspur, Malcolm and Mowbray are all Shakespeare characters, as well as historical figures. And immediately north of them are Warwick Street and the Stratfords (Road, Grove, Grove Terrace, Grove West, Villas). But could the literary references be coincidental? Perhaps it was the real life, mainly northern, noblemen that were immortalised? Why would a housing estate, built from the early 1880s for Newcastle workers and their families, pay homage to a long-dead playwright. It’s fair to say our research team was surprised and delighted at what we found.

Two documents, one in Tyne and Wear Archives (V273) and one in the City Library, provided the key. Firstly, in the archives, we found a planning application from Alderman Addison Potter of Heaton Hall and his architect, F W Rich (who later designed St Gabriel’s Church). Their plans show Bolingbroke, Hotspur, Malcolm and Mowbray Streets, pretty much as they look now, but bordering them to the south is Shakespeare Road! No doubt now about the references. (Thank you to Tyne and Wear Archives for permission to use the images below.)

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Plan of roads near Bolingbroke Street showing Shakespeare Road

Not only that but Lennox, Siward, and Umfreville Terraces also appear. You’d be forgiven for not immediately getting the Shakespearian references there but Siward is the leader of the English army in Macbeth; Lennox, a Scottish nobleman in the same play and Umfreville, we’ve discovered, has a line which appears only in the first edition of Henry IV Part II but, like many of the others, the real person on which he was based has strong north east connections. Clearly the inspiration for the street names came from one or more people who knew their literature and their history.

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But two sets of plans were rejected by the council for reasons that aren’t clear and, within a year, Addison Potter seems to have sold at least the leasehold of the land to a builder and local councillor called William Temple. Temple submitted new, if broadly similar, proposals. Building work soon started on the side streets but the previous year, Lord Armstrong had gifted Heaton Park to the people of Newcastle and the road to the new public space took its name. And nobody lives on Lennox, Siward or Umfreville Terraces either: they became Heaton Park View, Wandsworth Terrace and Cardigan Terrace.

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Bricks stamped with Temple’s name can still be found in the area. This one is displayed in his former brickyard on the banks of the Ouseburn.

But why Shakespeare? Whose idea was it? A newspaper article, dated 21 May 1898, in Newcastle City Library provided our next clue. A former councillor, James Birkett, was interviewed: ‘Mr Birkett himself occupied a cottage on the land which is now known as South View. There were another cottage or two near his, but they had nearly the whole of the district to themselves’. It continues ‘In front of them was the railway line, and behind was the farmhouse of a Mr Robinson. This house stood on the site now forming the corner of Heaton Park Road and Bolingbroke Street, and one of its occupants was Mr Stanley, who for many years was the lessee of the Tyne Theatre’.

The Tragedian

Further research showed that George William Stanley had a deep love not only of drama but of William Shakespeare in particular.  He was born c 1824 in Marylebone, London. By 1851, Stanley described himself as a ‘tragedian‘ (ie an actor who specialised in tragic roles).

By 1860, he was in the north east. The first mention we have found of him dates from 28 July of that year, when he is reported to have obtained a licence to open a temporary theatre in East Street, Gateshead. A similar licence in South Shields soon followed. Later, we know that he opened theatres in Tynemouth and Blyth.

In 1861, he was staying in a ‘temperance hotel’ in Co Durham with his wife (Emily nee Bache) and four children: George S who is 8, Alfred W, 4, Emily F, 3, and Rose Edith Anderson, 1. He now called himself a ‘tragedian / theatre manager’.  And he had turned his attention to Newcastle, where attempts to obtain theatre licences were anything but straightforward.

In June 1861, Stanley applied for a six month licence for theatrical performances in the Circus in Neville Street. He argued that one theatre (the Theatre Royal) in Newcastle to serve 109,000 people was inadequate; he promised that the type of performances (‘operatic and amphitheatre’) he would put on would not directly compete with existing provision; he produced testimonials and support from local rate payers; he gave guarantees that alcohol would not be served or prostitutes be on the premises. But all to no avail. The Theatre Royal strongly objected; an editorial in the ‘Newcastle Guardian’ supported the refusal. Appeal after appeal was unsuccessful. Stanley continued to use the wooden building as a concert hall and appealed against the decision almost monthly.

In October 1863,  George Stanley made another impassioned speech, in which he begged to be allowed to practice his own art in his own building. He concluded: ‘I will not trouble your worships with any further remarks in support of my application, but trust that the year that witnesses the tercentenary of Shakespeare’s birth, will also witness the removal of any limitation against the performances of the plays of that greatest of Englishmen in Newcastle’.  The Bench retired for thirty five minutes but finally returned with the same verdict as before.

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George Stanley, tragedian and theatre manager

Tercentenary

Despite his latest setback, George Stanley started 1864 determined to mark Shakespeare’s big anniversary. In the first week of January, he played Iago alongside another actor’s Othello in his own concert hall. ‘Both gentlemen have nightly been called before the curtain’.

The following week, a preliminary public meeting was held to hear a dramatic oration ‘On the Tercentenary of Shakespeare’ by G Linnaeus Banks of London, Honorary Secretary to the National Shakespeare Committee, and to appoint a local committee to arrange the celebrations in Newcastle. Joseph Cowen took the chair and George Stanley was, of course, on the platform. And it was he who moved the vote of thanks to Mr Banks for his eloquent address.

Unfortunately the festivities were somewhat muted and overshadowed by Garibaldi’s visit to England. (He had been expected to visit Newcastle that week, although in the event he left the country somewhat abruptly just beforehand). There was a half day holiday in Newcastle on Monday 25 April ‘but the day was raw and cold and the holiday was not so much enjoyed as it might otherwise have been’ and  a celebration dinner in the Assembly Rooms, ‘attended by about 210 gentlemen’, was the main event. A toast ‘In Memory of Shakespeare’ was proposed, followed by one to ‘The Dramatic Profession’. George Stanley gave thanks on behalf of the acting profession.

Stanley continued to pay his own respects to the playwright. He engaged the ‘celebrated tragedian, Mr John Pritchard’ to perform some celebrated Shakespearian roles, with he himself playing Othello and Jago on alternate nights.

Tyne Theatre

In October 1865, Stanley’s wooden concert hall was damaged and narrowly escaped destruction in a huge fire that started in a neighbouring building. His determination to open a permanent theatre intensified and he had found powerful allies. On 19 January 1866, it was announced that an anonymous ‘party of capitalists’ had purchased land on ‘the Westgate’ for the erection of a ‘theatre on a very large scale’. They had gone to London to study the layout and facilities of theatres there. It was said that George Stanley would be the new manager.

In May of that year, in a sign that relations between Stanley and the Theatre Royal had at last thawed, Stanley performed there ‘for the first time in years’. And soon details of the new Tyne Theatre and Opera House began to emerge.  Joseph Cowen, with whom Stanley had served on the Shakespeare Tercentenary Committee, was among the ‘capitalists’.

Cowen was a great supporter of the arts and an advocate for opportunities for ordinary working people to access them. He was incensed at the council’s continued blocking of Stanley’s various theatrical ventures and offered to fund the building of a theatre in which Stanley’s ‘stock‘ ( ie repertory) company could be based.

The opening been set for September 1867 but a licence was still required. Stanley applied again on 31 August. The hearing was held on Friday 13 September before a panel of magistrates which included Alderman Addison Potter of Heaton Hall – and this time Stanley and his influential backers were in luck. Just as well as it was due to open ten days later. And it did, with an inaugural address by George Stanley himself.

Despite his earlier claims that the Tyne Theatre wouldn’t compete with the Theatre Royal, Shakespeare was very much part of the programme in the early years: ‘As you Like It’, ‘The Merchant of Venice’, ‘King Lear’… But it was soon acknowledged that there was room for two theatres in Newcastle. Stanley soon found the time and the good will to play the role of Petruchio  (‘The Taming of the Shrew’ ) at the Theatre Royal. He continued to manage the Tyne Theatre until 1881.

Heaton House

It was while still manager of the Tyne Theatre that Stanley moved to Heaton. His first wife had died in the early ’60s. He had remarried and with his second wife, Fanny, still had young children.

Heaton House, as we have heard, stood on what is now the corner of Heaton Park Road and Bolingbroke Street and the Stanley family were living there from about 1878.

The map below is from some years earlier (Sorry it’s such a low resolution. We will replace it with a better version asap) but gives a good impression of the rural character of Heaton at this time. In the top right hand corner of the map, is Heaton Hall, home of Alderman Addison Potter, one of Stanley’s few neighbours and the owner of the farmland on which Stanley’s house stood. Remember too that Potter had been a member of the panel that finally approved Stanley’s theatre in Newcastle.

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Memorial

Potter and Stanley would surely have discussed matters of mutual interest. So while we might not know exactly how the naming of the streets on the east bank of the Ouseburn came about, we can surely assume that George William Stanley, actor, tragedian, Shakespearean, passionate promoter of theatre and neighbour of Potter at the time, played a part. It might have taken almost another twenty years and the name ‘Shakespeare Road’ didn’t make the final cut but Newcastle finally had the long-lasting tribute that George Stanley had wanted for the Shakespeare’s tercentenary.

By the early 1880s the area looked very different. William Temple had developed the fields to the south and west of Heaton Hall;  Heaton House had been demolished and Bolingbroke Street and Heaton Park Road stood in its place; George Stanley had moved back to London.

Stanley would probably be surprised to know that his Tyne Theatre is about to celebrate its 150th anniversary; proud of the People’s Theatre‘s participation in the national commemorations a hundred and fifty two years after his own involvement and delighted that Shakespeare lives on in Heaton.

Can you help?

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

Shakespeare 400

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

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

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

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

 

Memories of Jesmond Vale

During the August members’ walk, Ann and Maggie mentioned a book which is available for reference in the Local Studies section of Newcastle City Library. The full details are:

Memories of Jesmond Vale” by Emley L. Ellison compiled by Cora Sanderson Geordieland press, 1980.
ISBN 0950353963

It also pops up from time to time in second hand bookshops and online.

Below are a couple of vintage photographs of Jesmond Vale, the top one of which also shows the houses around Stratford Grove and up to Warwick Street in the distance. The bottom one shows Armstrong Bridge, which is no longer visible from that spot because of the much larger trees now in the vicinity.

Image of Jesmond Vale from an old postcard

Image of Jesmond Vale from an old postcard

Green Water Pool, Jesmond Vale. Postcard published by Alexander Denholm Brash

Green Water Pool, Jesmond Vale