Tag Archives: Third Avenue

Jack Common’s Avenues in Wartime

Jack Common was born at 44 Third Avenue on 15 August 1903. In his autobiographical novels, ‘Kiddar’s Luck’ and ‘The Ampersand’, he wrote about growing up in Heaton. Although ostensibly fiction, Jack’s writing is clearly based on his own experience and his vivid memories. It tells us about aspects of life in the avenues, before and during World War One, that often we’d have no other way of knowing. Jack describes his milieu, life as a ‘corner boy,’ and gives us a rare (pupil’s) insight into life at Chillingham Road School. He writes with feeling, humour and from the perspective of the socialist he became. While we have to remember the fictional element and the personal viewpoint, Jack Common’s work is an important source for our Heaton Avenues in Wartime research.

The avenues

Some of the places Jack describes have changed, of course, but to anyone familiar with Heaton, the streets (or avenues) of terraced houses and Tyneside flats are instantly recognisable over a hundred years later:

…’ the south side started with a grocer’s shop on the corner, ran straight past some eighty front doors arranged in twos, one for the upstairs flat, one for the down, and each pair separated from the next by the downstairs garden.’

…’when you could crawl and totter, you always made for the street whenever the door was open. Over the rough cement path, down the step onto the wonderfully smooth pavement, perhaps on again to the cobblestones in the middle of the road.’

So far, we’ve traced only one photograph of the Avenues taken during this period. it shows Heaton History Group member, Arthur Andrews’ great aunt, Ruth Castle, outside her home at 47 Tenth Avenue and it chimes with Jack Common’s description of his ‘territory’.

Ruth Castle outside 47 Tenth Avenue

Ruth Castle outside 47 Tenth Avenue, early 1900s


‘These gardens were just narrow fenders of soil laid around the buttress of the bay window but they were magnificently defended from depredation by low brick walls, coped with granite slabs, each sprouting a complicated fence of spiked railings… Between them lay cement aprons in front of the doors.’

Regular visitors

Some of the most evocative descriptions of the avenues are the lively street scenes; the traders and entertainers who passed through: the rag and bone man with his bugle, barrow and paper windmills, ‘made of rough sticks and coloured wallpaper or an umbrella of the same or a fan or a piece of pineapple rock’ which he’d exchange for the jam jars or rags the children brought him.

‘… such a procession of horse-drawn vans, man-pushed barrows, milk chariots, coal-carts and steam wagons… Practically any moment of the day, one or other of these strange craft, ark or pinnacle, was bound to come upon our horizon. The hooves of the faster traffic, doctor’s trap or post office van, shot sparks from our cobbles…’

‘… the slower moving door-to-door tradesmen announced their presence: the milkman with a hand-bell and a high-pitched cry, the firewood seller with a long wail ‘d’ye wa-a-nt any sticks’, the coal-man bluff, solid and low, ‘coal ter wagon, coal ter wagon’, and the hardware merchant, standing on his high cart, with a rapid ringing of plate against plate, produced an insistent tintinabulation which rang across several streets. Very often several of these were around at the same time, plus one or other of varieties of street musician, the tin whistler, the barrel organist or German band….’


‘And that was only the front street…. Though milk and bread were front door deliveries, greengrocery and fish and coal came to the back door…..

'Coo-al' by Mark James

‘Co-al’ by Mark James, Heaton History Group

Down here came the Cullercoats fishwives crying ‘Caller herrin’ in that season and otherwise ‘Fresh fish, hinny, straight from the sea’. They wore their traditional dress of dark blue which so well set off their biscuit tan of arm and face, the salt-white hair and they were like caryatids walking under the great baskets they carried on their heads.’

‘Everbody’s washing hung across the lane so that the appearance of a tradesman’s cart meant a rush to tuck sheets and things round the rope and to raise the diminished bunting high over the horse’s head with a prop.’

Close friends

Common’s descriptions of childhood are equally wonderful and will resonate with many older readers, in particular:

‘… the many games that made their immutable processions across our year. Marbles, tops, hoops and girds, bays, monty-kitty, kick-the-block, up-for-Monday, they came and went in their due seasons.’

‘The marble millionaire gambled untold wealth at the Big Ring, increasing the stakes as the evening wore on until there was a fortune out there on the cement; whole constellations of fat Millies and coloured glass alleys with twinkling spirals down their centres and clear sea-green or whipwater-white pop-alleys winked in the shaky gaslight, nothing less than these high counters allowed in the big game, stonies and chalkies definitely barred. Then in came the bullocker shot from the ringside. The constellation shook and was scrambled; single stars fled or rolled towards the chalk ring. All that went over belonged to the lad that made the shot. Sometimes none did. Right, next player. The winners dropped their captured beauties with a happy plonk into the poke they nearly all carried; losers might fish for a last treasure, a broken pen knife or a watch-compass, to barter for another stake.’

And bonfire night:

‘At the bottom end, on Ninth back lane a mattress in the bonfire had just caught alight, the dervishes around it jumped and yelled from fiery-smudged faces; Eighth were entrenched within their narrow gardens, hurling Chinese crackers and jumping-jacks at all who passed by; Seventh were engaged in a slanging match because the great pyramid of their fire, crowned with a guy sitting in an armchair, had toppled over and was burning against somebody’s back door…. You could even see the near-toddlers solemnly lighting each other’s sparklers from the hot end of the last one to burn out, and there were little girls running wild as they tried to throw London Lights into the air.’

He also describes life in what he refers to as the ‘corner-gangs’. That the camaraderie and solidarity of his gang ‘Sons of the Battle-axe’ meant a lot to Jack can be deduced from his writing and the politics he espoused but also in the fact that, all through his life, he held onto treasured mementos of his Heaton childhood.

The Jack Common Archive is now in the Robinson Library at Newcastle University. Amongst the novel manuscripts, correspondence with publishers and friends, family photographs and cuttings of reviews are the rules, oaths and codes relating to the Sons of the Battle-axe. Examples are displayed here with the permission of the Common family and the university.

Jack Common's 'corner-gang' codes

Jack Common’s ‘corner-gang’ codes

Sons of the Battle-axe oath of allegiance

Sons of the Battle-axe oath of allegiance

Many of Jack Common’s boyhood friends, such as the Ord brothers, appear in ‘Kiddar’s Luck’, with their names unchanged, even if, writing thirty or forty years later, Common appears to have fictionalised some of their back stories.

School

The Chillingham Road School Jack Common attended still stands proudly today, of course. Jack didn’t look back on his schooldays with much affection, believing that working class children like him were being ‘trained for boredom’ as he put it. He conveys his negative feelings in ‘Kiddar’s Luck’:

‘There was a school bell which tolled for some five minutes in the mornings, a peculiarly flat despondent sound, not urgent, not very loud, though it carried over all the Avenues, and it always seemed as if it meant to go on forever.’

although he did have some fond memories:

‘… a class of some fifty children, more than half of them girls, I was disgusted to note. It was a very pleasant classroom though. The morning sun shone in through the wide windows over blue glass vases and painted pottery jugs holding flowers on to the yellow desks.’

But Jack’s daughter, Sally, wrote in a letter to Heaton History Group:

‘I have just looked at their website, and it comes across as such an amazing, vibrant establishment. It makes me want to be a child again and go there! So different from the place my father described that trained children in boredom – in preparation for the boring jobs they would have later’

and Jack would surely have been amazed that today’s pupils learn about and are rightly proud of their somewhat reluctant predecessor.

Winner

For all his later cynicism, Jack (or John as he was known there) Common had some notable successes while at school. He won prizes for at least two of his essays – one a citywide competition on the war-inspired theme of ‘Thrift‘. The essay itself doesn’t survive but he was proud enough of the letter inviting him to collect his prize of Government War Bonds and the newspaper coverage to keep them. They survive in the Jack Common Archive and copies will be displayed at the Chillingham pub from mid-February to mid-April 2015.

The same goes for two compositions about Jesmond Dene for which he also won prizes. Jack later referred to the florid writing style he had adopted in his teenage years and you can judge for yourself from the extracts to be displayed at the Chilli or by visiting the Jack Common Archive.

Jack Common is known for his working class Newcastle upbringing, his strong socialist beliefs and his friendship with George Orwell rather than his love of nature but a lot of his writing and especially the personal diaries in the archive show how much he cared about and knew about the natural world. He may not have acknowledged the influence of his Heaton boyhood or his education at Chillingham Road School but it’s a deep love which began in childhood and which the school log books show was shared by his head teacher, even if neither teacher nor pupil recognised it at the time.

War

Jack was ten years old at the start of the first world war. He refers to it only briefly in ‘Kiddar’s Luck’, writing through a child’s eyes:

‘One Saturday morning a rumour came round that the schools were to be commandeered as temporary barracks; a second report said that the soldiers were already in. Some of us tore round to have a look. Chillingham Road School stood bare and empty, a maw gaping for Monday. We back-pedalled round a corner so as to put it out of sight again, wishing we hadn’t come. But somebody passing on a bike said that North Heaton was taken. We moved off into the territory presided over by that semi-cissy academy, hunching together in case we got raided on the way.

It was true. North Heaton School echoed to the bawls of a couple of sergeants drilling their awkward squads in the boys’ yard….’

But the descriptions of the attitudes of the adults around him are enlightening as well as entertaining. Jack Common is typically unafraid to go against the grain or to offend. He refuses to romanticise and so adds to our understanding of a particular place and an important time:

‘But I had a feeling deep down that war wouldn’t apply to my father. I couldn’t see him waving a flag and leaping over a parapet, as the wild bugles blew, straight into the enemies’ fire; I could see him sitting firmly as ever in his own chair, pointing out that the war was a lot of fat-headedness started by old grannies and bosses-on-the-make and carried on by young fools who believed what they said in the newspapers.’

‘After the customary visit to the boozer, argument waged hot and strong. Uncle George, Boer War veteran, would join up at once – only there was no one to run his greengrocery business if he did. True-blue Uncle Will was hot against the Germans; he would throw in a couple of sons against them right away – the sons, though, did not endorse this generous patriotism. Red Uncle Robin, bachelor, vegetarian and crank, saw the conflict as a power-struggle between rival groups of bosses to be boycotted by all intelligent working men. Sad Uncle Andrew thought it was one of those madnesses good men have to go into because they couldn’t stand being with the crooks and sharpers who’d stayed out. Burly, gentle Uncle Bill knew no rights or wrongs in it, he had the countryman’s view, that it was a super-thunderstorm or tremendously bad weather – ‘Thor’s ne help for it, we’ll hae t’last it oot’. ‘

His presentation of dissident voices is another reason, if we need one, to read, reread, remember and appreciate Heaton’s Jack Common.

Postscript

‘Kiddars Luck’ is currently out of print but can be obtained in a Kindle version and from second-hand bookshops, online and in libraries.

More about Jack Common

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

A related exhibition will be in the lounge bar of the Chillingham pub from 16 February to mid April 2015. It contains digital copies of documents from the Jack Common Archive at Newcastle University and Tyne & Wear Archives as well as illustrations by local artists.

Heaton Avenues in Wartime

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Grundy is back

A year ago Heaton History Group launched with a packed to the rafters talk by TV historian John Grundy. It set the tone for a great first year. We’re, therefore, delighted that John will be launching our 2014-5 programme too.

His topic will be ‘The North East in Literature’. The talk will take place on Wednesday 30 April at The Corner House in Heaton BUT IS NOW FULLY BOOKED. Contact maria@heatonhistorygroup.org / 0191 215 0821 / 07763 985656 to be added to the reserve list.

John Grundy

Having worked for English Heritage in the 1980s John is probably most well known for the TV shows Grundy’s Wonders and Grundy’s Northern Pride. John also contributed to the 2nd edition of Nikolaus Pevsner’s Northumberland and has been extolling the virtues of the North’s heritage for many years.

The North East in literature

The content of John’s talk remains a closely-guarded secret but it’s an excuse to mention a couple of Heaton’s literary claims to fame:

Writer Jack Common was born on 15 August 1903 at 44 Third Avenue and attended Chillingham Road School. He is perhaps best remembered for his autobiographical novel, Kiddar’s Luck, which describes growing up in Edwardian Tyneside.

Jackcommoncover1

More recently, author David Almond, perhaps best known for his children’s book ‘Skellig‘, used to live on Westwood Avenue and Heaton features in a number of his works.

Tell us about other literary connections you know of (You can click on the ‘Leave a reply’ link just below the title of this article or email chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org)

Will Ye Buy Ma Fresh Fish?

On Wednesday 11 December, Hazel Graham and Hilary East will give a visual talk on the life of the Cullercoats fishwife with traditional live music, a demonstration of Northumberland and Durham clog dancing and a display of traditional costumes and creels. If you’re wondering whether this is relevant to Heaton, here’s an extract from Jack Common’s Kiddar’s Luck:

Though milk and bread were front door deliveries, greengrocery and fish and coal came to the back door. Sometimes for days on end, the children would spend all their time in the back lane, in and out of each other’s yards, sitting on the steps or swinging on the lamp posts. Down here came the Cullercoats fishwives crying ‘Caller Herrin’ in that season and otherwise ‘Fresh fish, hinny, straight from the sea’. They wore their traditional dress of dark blue which so well set off the biscuit tan of arm and face, the salt-white hair, and they were like caryatids walking under the great baskets they carried on the heads.

And this postcard was published by Alexander Denholm Brash, who between 1905 and 1910 kept a bookshop, stationer’s and circulating library at 92 Heaton Road. It was posted in October 1913. Jack Common was born in 1903 in nearby Third Avenue. Kiddar’s Luck covers the period from his birth until he left Chillingham Road School in 1917.

Postcard of Cullercoats fishergirls, published by Alexander Brash

The event will take place at the Corner House Hotel on Heaton Road. As usual, please book for the talk to ensure you’re not disappointed. We’ll restrict numbers so that we have room for tables to contribute to a social atmosphere – as befits the time of year! But as usual, please be in your seat by 7.15 so that we can offer any unclaimed places to anyone on the waiting list or who comes on spec. To book, contact Maria Graham: maria@heatonhistorygroup.org/ 0191 2150821 / 07763 985656

Freedom of the Streets: the life and work of Jack Common

On Wednesday 23 October, Dr Keith Armstrong will give an account of the life and work of Jack Common, who was born at 44 Third Avenue. He will dwell on Common’s Heaton upbringing and how it influenced his life and writing. He will read extracts from Common’s autobiographical novels ‘Kiddar’s Luck’ and ‘The Ampersand’ and go on to discuss Jack’s unique friendship with George Orwell.

Jackcommoncover1

Keith will also talk about his own Heaton background and will read his poetry inspired by his roots, including a new piece on Heaton, specially written for this talk. He will be joined by local folk group ‘Kiddar’s Luck’ with whom he has regularly appeared over the years, especially at events to celebrate Jack Common. The group’s extensive repertoire is largely based on traditional Tyneside songs, past and present.

This event will take place at Chillingham Road School as it forms part of the school’s 120th anniversary celebrations. Jack Common was a pupil at the school and 2013 is also the 110th anniversary of his birth.

Keith Armstrong

Born in Newcastle upon Tyne, where he has worked as a community development worker, poet, librarian and publisher, Doctor Armstrong now lives in Whitley Bay. He has organised several community arts festivals in the region and many literary events. He is coordinator of the Northern Voices Community Projects creative writing and community publishing enterprise and was founder of Ostrich poetry magazine, Poetry North East, Tyneside Poets and the Strong Words and Durham Voices community publishing series.

He recently compiled and edited books on the Durham Miners’ Gala and on the former mining communities of County Durham, the market town of Hexham and the heritage of North Tyneside. He has been a self employed writer since 1986 and he was awarded a doctorate in 2007 for his work on Jack Common. His biography of Jack Common was published by the University of Sunderland Press in 2009.

jack commoncover2

Common Words and the Wandering Star, Dr Armstrong’s book about Jack Common will be available at the talk.

Booking

Free to members. Non-members £2. Booking essential. Contact Maria Graham – maria@heatonhistorygroup.org
/ 0191 215 0821 / 07763 985656).

185 Shields Road

This photograph shows the premises at 185 Shields Road, now occupied by Fantasia Florist, a family business, which has had shops in Heaton and Byker for over twenty five years.

IMG

The first shop on the site of 185 Shields Road seems to have been Peter Hilton’s grocery store which occupied the site from 1886 to 1889. Its number at this time was actually 271. The road was renumbered around 1890, a not uncommon occurrence in those days.

Peter Hilton was born in Belford, Northumberland, and at the time of the 1881 census he was living with his Middlesex (Holborn) born wife, their son and Peter’s sister in Holly Avenue, Jesmond. Peter had been a grocer for at least 15 years before opening the Shields Road shop. After his retirement, he lived with his son and daughter in law in Third Avenue, Heaton (1911 Census).

German pork butchers

The first mention of number 185 Shields Road in the trade directories was in 1890 when, for a couple of years, the shop was George Pfaff’s pork butcher’s. George and his wife were born in Germany and lived next door to the shop.

German pork butchers were a feature of British high streets from the mid 19th century. Most of the first wave of immigrants came from a small area around the town of Künzelsau in the Kingdom of Wurttemberg. Nobody is entirely sure what brought so many to Britain but this part of Germany was affected by population growth, agricultural depression, crop failures and the traditional inheritance practice of primogeniture (excluding all but one sibling from taking over the family estate). Many people emigrated and news must have been relayed back home that there was a good living to be made as a butcher in the growing towns and cities of the newly industrialised North of England. Subsequent German immigrants in the 20th century continued the tradition.  (See the story of Rudi Kuhnbaum here http://woodhornexhibitions.com/treasures/13.html).

185 Shields Road remained a pork butcher’s under Henry Abel, who like many pork butchers who settled in Britain, was born in Wurttemberg. His wife was also German born but they married in Newcastle in 1896. The Abels were proprietors for about 16 years but gave up the shop during World War One. There were many reports of persecution of Germans and specifically of German pork butchers at around that time including, in 1915, in Byker. The war is certainly a possible reason for Henry and his family leaving Shields Road.

Edgar Couzens

The next proprietor was also a pork butcher but Edgar Couzens (pictured below) was born in East Walton, Norfolk in 1887. In 1908, he and his brother, Bert, moved to Newcastle, where there were better job prospects, and Edgar trained to be a butcher. He soon opened his own shop on Heaton Road.

Edgar Couzens

On 7 February 1916, Edgar joined the 6th Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers Army Veterinary Corps but he seems not to have been called up for active service until December of that year. In the meantime, he married Gwendoline, who’d also moved from Norfolk. They lived on Sefton Avenue and opened this shop at 185 Shields Road. After Edgar was called up, Gwen managed the shop until he returned from service. They later had shops in both Chillingham Road and on Raby Street in Byker. Edgar died in 1971 aged 83 while living at Charminster Gardens, North Heaton. Gwen died in 1986, aged 96. Their grandson, Mike Couzens, has provided us with fascinating information about the life of his grandparents and other family members. We are especially fortunate in that Edgar was a keen amateur photographer and over the coming months we’ll be featuring many of his photos along with information provided by Mike.

Mains’ grocery

In 1927 185 Shields Road is listed as Fisckhoff and Sons, egg merchants, but the following year Robert Mains’ grocery store, pictured above, was established. The poster on the left suggests the photograph dates from soon after it opened. It advertises the film Love me and the World is Mine, which starred Mary Philbin, Norman Kerry and Betty Compson and was released in 1928.

Robert was born in 1896 and in 1911, he was described as an office boy and was living with his father, a postman, his mother and two brothers on Mowbray Street, Heaton. (Census information for 1921 isn’t available for another 8 years so later biographical information is limited at the moment.)

The other name in the window is that of Charles Frederick Hunter. There were several people of that name living in the Newcastle area at this time, including more than one in Heaton itself. However, although the lettering between the two names is difficult to make out, it says ‘Ten’ (we think) ‘years with’ and so it seems most likely that it refers to a provisions merchant who lived in Smallburn, Ponteland. It looks as though Robert worked for him before setting up on his own and that Hunter’s reputation was such that it enhanced his own standing.

The address isn’t listed in the directories from 1930 until 1936. S Grossman (another German name), woodworker, was the occupier from then until 1940. It then seems to have been empty for a number of years. Did it just become dilapidated or was it perhaps damaged in the war? Either way it was eventually rebuilt.

Post war

From 1956 the shop was called Home Comforts and described as a linoleum merchants. The proprietor in 1959 was given as P Bransky (a name of Polish origin). Home Comforts seems to have been successful. It was still there in 1968, benefitting from greater post war affluence which led to more expenditure on the home.

Fantasia Florists

The shop occupying the premises is now Fantasia Florists, a family firm headed by Shirley Ovington. Shirley is Newcastle born and bred. The family has been running florists for twenty five years including, in the past, two on Chillingham Road, in premises now occupied by the Pine Shop and Subway. Shirley bought the lease of 185 Shields Road from a photographer and thinks that the shop was once a bakers, as there are still cooling vents for the oven at the back of the shop. In the picture below, you can clearly see that the shop building is more modern than its neighbours.

Fantasiaflorists

Sources

Sources consulted for this article included:

Karl-Heinz Wüstner: New light on the German pork butchers in Britain (1850 – 1950), http://www.surrey.ac.uk/cronem/files/conf2009papers/Wuestner.pdf

Your turn

Perhaps more than anything, the story of 185 Shields Road shows that migration to the East End is by no means a new phenomenon. The population of Heaton in the mid 19th century numbered only a few hundred and so almost everyone who made it the bustling suburb it is now had origins outside the area – whether elsewhere in Newcastle or the North East or, as was often the case, much further afield.

And this is where we need your help. Can you add to the information here? Do you remember Home Comforts, a bakery or the photographer’s or any other shop there’s been on the site? Do you have any memories or photos of Heaton shops that you’d like to share? If so, we’d love to hear from you. Contact chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org or leave a comment here.