Tag Archives: Thomas Cairns

The Sinking of the Cobra: a Heaton maritime disaster

When, on 18 September 1901, HMS Cobra sank on its maiden voyage on route from Newcastle to Portsmouth, it was a huge shock for the country and a particular tragedy for the north-east, but nowhere was the loss felt more keenly than in Heaton.

Steam

Only four years earlier, Charles Parsons had amazed onlookers by gatecrashing Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee Fleet Review and racing his yacht, Turbinia, between the lines of the officially invited vessels at speeds of up to 34 knots.

Sir Charles Algernon Parsons (1919) by Walter Stoneman
(National Portrait Gallery)

Turbinia was powered by marine steam turbines invented at C A Parsons and Co in Heaton by Parsons himself alongside other great engineers such as Gerard Stoney, whose home, as well as his office, was in Heaton and Robert Barnard, who worshipped at Heaton Congregational Church.

Turbinia

Turbinia’s spectacular demonstration of speed prompted local armaments and shipping firm Armstrong Whitworth to build a torpedo destroyer to be fitted with a turbine engine, confident that a buyer would quickly be found. The ship’s design was based on those of two other vessels built at Elswick and it was launched on 28 June 1899. Six months later the ship was offered to the Admiralty.  However, the turbine machinery on board was much heavier than the machinery on the earlier ships (183 v 110 tons) and 30 tons more than expected. Despite the assurances of the designer, Philip Watts, who was head of the Elswick shipyard and the firm’s chief naval architect, that the weight was within tolerance limits, the prospective purchaser expressed a number of concerns including about the  strength of the upper deck. 

Viper

While what was to become HMS Cobra was being modified on the quay at Elswick, a collier ship accidentally collided with her, delaying completion by another seven months. This misfortune allowed a sister ship, HMS Viper, ordered by the Admiralty from another Charles Parsons company, Parsons Marine (who subcontracted the building of the hull to a third local firm, Hawthorn Leslie) to become the world’s first turbine-driven warship. Sadly on 3 August 1901,  HMS Viper was grounded on rocks during naval exercises in fog off Alderney in the Channel Islands. The crew were forced to abandon ship as she sank.

HMS Viper

Disaster

Less than seven weeks later, at 5.00pm on 17 September 1901, HMS Cobra was deemed ready to leave Newcastle for Portsmouth, where she was to be armed and commissioned. On board were 79 men, 24 of whom were from the north-east, mainly employees of Armstrong Whitworth, the shipbuilders,  and Parsons, the turbine builders. 

HMS Cobra

As the weather deteriorated and the ship began to roll, the thoughts of many of those on board must have turned to the recent demise of the Viper, a ship well-known to the Parsons contingent in particular. Conditions, however, began to improve at first light until a sudden shock was felt throughout the Cobra. Within seconds, the ship had broken in two. There wasn’t time to launch any of Its five lifeboats but twelve men, including the ship’s chief engineer, John J G G Percy, were able to scramble into a small dinghy. They were the only survivors. Sixty seven men lost their lives, twenty three of them from ‘contractors’, mainly Parsons.

Local

Among those known to have Heaton connections were:

John Abel

John originated in Brighton, Sussex and, aged 28, worked for Parsons as a ‘steam engine maker and fitter’. His daughter had been born in Portsea, Hampshire in December 1899 so it’s possible that the family hadn’t been in Newcastle long. At the time of the 1901 census, they were living at 12 Morley Street but by the time John lost his life on the Cobra, they were at 44 Denmark Street.

Robert Barnard

The Essex born marine engineer was the senior Parsons Turbine representative aboard the Cobra. He was manager of Parsons Turbine Works, Newcastle and Wallsend. He had assisted in the design of Turbinia and superintended its construction. During its trials, he usually acted as steersman alongside Gerard Stoney and Parsons himself.

Barnard had also superintended the erection of the works at Wallsend and supervised the building and engineering of the Viper and the King Edward as well as the Cobra. Aged 38, he had been ‘associated with the development of the modern steam turbine from the very first. No one next to Mr Parsons believed more in the possibilities’. He was also, until shortly before his death,  treasurer of Heaton Congregational Church. He is buried in Preston Cemetery, North Shields with his wife, Mary.

Alfred Bryans

Alfred’s was one of the first six bodies to be found and it was formally identified in Grimsby Hospital mortuary by the coroner’s jury three days after the disaster. An envelope addressed to him at his home address of 25 Meldon Terrace, Heaton was found on him. Alfred was born and raised in Co Durham but in 1901, aged 25, was living in Heaton with his widowed mother. He described himself as a ‘steam engine maker and fitter’.Regarded as an exceedingly promising and capable young man’, he had worked as an electrical engineer at Parsons for five years and was previously on board the Viper ‘superintending work in connection with the dynamos’ when it sank. 

He had then been sent to Stockport to be in charge of the dynamos of the new electric car system there and had just returned to Tyneside to travel to Portsmouth aboard the Cobra ‘in the same capacity as he had worked on the Viper’. He had three brothers, one of whom was a doctor at the Middlesbrough hospital where some of the survivors of the Cobra disaster were taken. His older brothers were also engineers, one in London, and the other on a railway in South America. Alfred was among the first to be buried. His funeral took place at Bishopwearmouth Cemetery. Among the mourners at his funeral were Gerard Stoney, John Barker, manager of Parsons Turbine, and Sir Richard Williams who, in 1889, had moved from Clarke and Chapman with Parsons to help him set up his own company.

Edward Lee

Edward was a foreman fitter from C A Parsons and Co. He lived at 21 Morley Street.

George McGregor

Aged only 17, George was the youngest of the Heaton victims. He lived with his widowed mother, younger brother  and  two sisters at 69 Molyneux Street and was an apprentice fitter at Parsons. His older married brother, David McGregor, aged 29, who lived nearby at 33 Algernon Road was also a fitter at the firm.

John W Webb

John, a 32 year old Parsons fitter, lived at 9 Fifth Avenue with his wife, said to be ‘of delicate health’ and his sister in law. He was reported to be ‘well known and highly respected in the eastern part of the town’,  a member of Bainbridge Memorial Wesleyan Church and superintendent of the Sunday school.

Aftermath

Among the first announcements after the disaster was one the following day from the Admiralty declaring that they would ‘cease naming vessels after  the snake tribe – first the Serpent, next the Viper and now the Cobra’ (HMS Serpent had run aground and sank in a storm off Galicia in Spain  in November 1890, less than two years after going into service. 173 of her 176 crew lost their lives).

Locally, Charles Parsons headed to London immediately and the whole Parsons workforce was given the rest of the week off. There were reports of ’the horrors of scalding steam’ adding to the other dangers experienced by those on board. ‘The Evening Chronicle’ reported that Charles Parsons had foreseen this risk and insisted that the steam pipes on the Viper (on which no escape of steam was reported) were fixed as flexibly as possible. However, on the Cobra, the Parsons Company, as engine builders ‘were bound to follow specifications and these provided that the steam pipes should be as rigidly fixed as possible.’ The war of words between the various interested parties had begun.

The Admiralty immediately absolved the ship’s captain of any blame or navigational error, reporting that the ship was in deep, clear water when it sank. It conceded that it could have struck a wreck or some floating obstruction. A Captain Smith of a Yarmouth herring drifter which was the first vessel on the scene said that he might have seen a shark’s tail but it was impossible to know. A wounded whale, seen in the area, was also implicated until it was discovered that it had been landed a week earlier. The inquest jury expressed  ‘an informal opinion that the Cobra was too lightly built and hoped the government would build stronger destroyers’.

Meanwhile a special memorial service was held at Heaton Congregational Church on Sunday 22nd, led by the Reverend William Glover.

Appeal

And on Saturday 21st, a public meeting was announced by Councillor Thomas Cairns, to be held at the Victoria Hotel on Heaton Road ‘with a view to forming a committee to give assistance where necessary to the families deprived of their bread-winners by the loss of HMS Cobra’. The meeting was said to be crowded. Letters of support had been received from the Mayor, the Sheriff, MP Mr Crawford Smith, eminent trades unionist and Heaton resident Alexander Wilkie and the Reverend J Robertson of St Gabriel’s Church among others. Councillor Cairns made a stirring speech which concluded by assuring listeners that the organisers wished to alleviate distress only where it existed and so prompt enquiries into the circumstances of every case would be made. It was stated that the appeal would only be on behalf of the bereaved of the ‘Tyneside district’. A committee was elected and a further meeting convened.

However, a few days later it was announced that a national relief fund had been opened in Portsmouth. When Councillor Cairns contacted the mayor to ask that the Heaton committee be left to support its own bereaved as they better understood individual needs and appealed for the national fund not to appeal for donations for Parsons’ families, he was told the 600 letters had already been sent to national and local newspapers and that the fund would be for the widows and orphans of all those lost, not just the naval men. Cairns responded that Newcastle wouldn’t have dreamt of setting up a national fund. ‘If it had been set up in London, that would be different’. An agreement was soon made for the Heaton executive committee to be broadened to include the mayors of all the Tyneside boroughs. Mr Alfred Howson of 8 Heaton Road was appointed secretary and local councillor Thomas Cairns, treasurer.

Armstrong Whitworth contributed £1,000 to the Tyneside fund.

Court Martial

On 10 October 1901, the naval enquiry or court martial opened at Portsmouth. The Hon Charles Parsons was in court to hear his company absolved of any blame for the accident but Philip Watts, the designer of the ship for Armstrong Whitworth, endured lengthy questioning about the strength of the vessel and what might have caused it to sink. Watts said that he believed that wave action alone could not have sunk the Cobra because of where the ship broke and he maintained that the disaster could not have been caused by striking a rock as the shock felt by those on board would have been greater still. His best guess was that the destroyer had struck some drifting wreckage perhaps with an iron mast attached. He believed that if the aft half of the boat, which was still missing, were to be found, the likely damage would show this to be the case.

Parsons then gave evidence to the court. Perhaps undiplomatically, he said that he believed destroyers like the Cobra were intended to be ‘fine weather vessels but that gradually, having been found to survive heavy seas , they were not taken the same care of as they were originally.’ He clarified that he meant that they were designed to shelter in bad weather. When pressed on the fact that heavy seas were to be expected around the British Isles, he confirmed it ‘would become a necessity to ensure that the strength of these vessels is sufficient to stand any stress they may be likely to come across.’

He confirmed that the turbine machinery installed exceeded the original estimate of 155-160 tons, being 183 tons.

The enquiry concluded that Cobra didn’t meet with any obstruction and that there was no navigation error but ‘the loss was attributable to the structural weakness of the ship’. The court also found that the ‘Cobra was weaker than other destroyers and, in view of that fact, it is to be regretted that she was purchased into his Majesty’s service.’

Defence

Armstrong Whitworth immediately contested the court martial’s findings. The company pointed out that similar boats had sailed to Australia and Japan without incident.

Asked about Parsons’ comments the following day, an Armstrong Whitworth representative said that Parsons had meant that destroyers fitted with the turbine system of propulsion were constructed essentially for their high speed and this high speed could only be obtained in smooth water.

The company authorised Philip Watts, the ship’s designer, to conduct a search operation to try to restore its and his damaged reputations.  However, the missing aft section, which could have provided evidence of a collision and exonerated both Watts and the firm, wasn’t found.

Tutor

However, Armstrong Whitworth was invited to submit an article to a literary and current affairs magazine ‘The Monthly Review’. It commissioned John Meade Falkner, the English novelist best known for ‘Moonfleet’, the classic children’s story of shipwrecks and smuggling, written just a few years earlier, to write the piece. 

Why him? Well, soon after the Wiltshire born, Marlborough educated Falkner had graduated in history with a third class degree from Hertford College Oxford in 1882, he was introduced to an Eton schoolboy who was struggling to prepare for his Oxford University entrance examination. The boy was John Noble, son of Sir Andrew Noble, physicist, ballistics expert and partner of Sir William Armstrong.

John Meade Falkner

Falkner came to Newcastle to be a tutor both to John and to Sir Andrew Noble’s other children. You can see the 32 year old listed among the large extended household living in Jesmond Dene House on the 1891 census, even though by this time the youngest of the Noble children at home was 20 year old Philip who was recorded as being at Balliol College. 

Falkner’s occupation then appears to read ‘MA Oxon Secretary’. There is a second census entry for him as a lodger in Elswick and ‘secretary to engineering company’. He had become company secretary to Armstrong Mitchell in 1888. ‘Moonfleet’ was published in 1896.

By the time of the Cobra disaster in 1901, Falkner was living in Divinity House, Palace Green, Durham and described as a ‘mechanical engineer’  and an ‘employer’. At some point during that year, he became a director of what was now Armstrong Whitworth. His persuasive writing skills were undoubtedly a reason for him being chosen to pen the piece.

Like the naval enquiry, Falkner, in his article, quickly exonerated Parsons and the turbines but questioned the credibility of the court by drawing readers’ attentions to its members’ lack of knowledge of marine engineering. He went on to cast doubt on the competence of the naval divers who had dragged the wreck into deeper waters, searched in poor visibility and, in one case, ‘a foreigner, and his evidence, which seemed naturally vague, was rendered still more obscure by difficulties of interpretation.’

Falkner called for a ‘properly qualified tribunal’ … ‘which will command respect, and the country will accept nothing less’. The  truth would then be uncovered ‘on better authority than the verdict of a casual court-martial.’

His words fell on deaf ears but Armstrong Whitworth survived the blow to its reputation and, like Parsons’ turbine business, went from strength to strength in the following decades. Falkner succeeded Sir Andrew Noble as Chairman of Armstrong Vickers in 1915. He later became Honorary Reader in Paleography at the University of Durham and Honorary Librarian to the Dean and Chapter Library of Durham Cathedral. 

Sixty seven men, including twenty four from Parsons and at least six who lived in Heaton, weren’t so fortunate.

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Chris Jackson, Heaton History Group.

Can You Help?

If you know any more about the people named in this article or the sinking of HMS Cobra, 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

Ancestry

British Newspaper Archive

‘The Cobra Trail’ / George Robson and Kenneth Hillier in ‘The John Meade Falkner Society Journal’ no 9, July 2008

‘Down Elswick Slipways: Armstrong’s Ships and People 1884-1918’/ Dick Keys and Ken Smith; Newcastle City Libraries, 1996

‘From Galaxies to Turbines: science, technology and the Parsons family’ / W Garrett Scaife; Institute of Physics Publishing, 2000

www.rjbw.net/JMFalkner.html

Other online sources

Trewhitt to Woo

Trewhitt Road in Heaton first appears in trade directories in 1907-8 but only as far as number 188. Among the road’s first residents were Miss Maud Forman, ‘librarian in charge, Victoria Public Library, Heaton Park View’ at number 4; J Money, a ‘press reader’ at 45; A Gregory, a ‘missionary’, at 58; J Beaumont, a ‘musician’, at 60; J Shelton, a ‘mariner’, at 73. 

It appears that 212, the final residence before the Iris Brickfield allotments, wasn’t yet occupied. It is unusual in that it is a two bedroomed house whereas most of the properties in the area are Tyneside flats. It is the only property beyond Whitefield Terrace on the south side, adjoining what was originally a corner shop. The house is wide rather than deep with a garden along the front. There used to be a bed of mint which was freely used by the neighbours.

212 Trewhitt Road in March 2022

We know such a lot about this house because it was the home for many years of Pat and Jim Scott and their daughter, Heaton History Group member Kathryn, who Robin Long, our treasurer, married. Robin took advantage of access to the deeds when the property was being sold in 2004 to find out more about no 212 and its various owners and inhabitants.

Farmland

Plans dated around 1800 show that the house stands in what was then a field called ‘North Saugh Close’ (‘Saugh’ is a local word for willow which suggests the ground was damp, which wouldn’t surprise anyone who walks on the neighbouring Iris Brickfield Park today.) The farm was owned by the Ridley family but tenanted by Thomas Cairns.

The layout of the fields in Heaton had, not surprisingly, changed quite a bit by 4.00pm on Tuesday 7 November 1865 when the Heaton farms not already developed were put up for auction at the Queen’s Head in Newcastle. It’s not easy to map the sketch maps drawn for the auction against a modern street plan but North Saugh Close still existed and was described as arable land. It was part of ‘Heaton East Farm in the occupation of Mr William Lax.’ We have previously written a little bit about the Lax family.

We don’t know what happened at the auction but the land does not appear to have finally changed hands for several years when the deeds of 212 Trewhitt Road refer to ‘an Indenture dated 12 May 1868 and made between Sir Matthew White Ridley of the first part Matthew White Ridley of the second part and Sir William George Armstrong of the third part and a Deed dated the 11 October 1894 and made between William George Baron Armstrong of the one part and William Armstrong Watson Armstrong of the other part’ . Put more simply, Sir William, later Lord, Armstrong bought the land from Sir Matthew White Ridley and it remained in the family.

Building

It was sold again on 9 March 1908. By this time, Heaton had been growing fast for some twenty years and was a sought-after place to live. The purchaser was William Spence Lambert of Newcastle upon Tyne, a builder. He paid £145 19s 9d for the plot on which the house stands and also  bought a number of adjacent plots. 

The plot on which 212 stands is described as ‘extending from North to South on the East side thereof 43 feet 9 inches and on the West side thereof 44 feet 9 inches and from East to West on the North side thereof 70 feet and on the South side thereof 69 feet 11 inches and containing 343 1/2 sq. yards of thereabouts delineated in the plan (which is missing)…bounded on or towards the North by Trewhitt Road on or towards the South by the other hereditaments of the purchaser on or towards the East by a back street and on or towards the West by Whitefield Terrace together with the two dwelling houses and other building erected thereon. And together with the liberty of way and passage in any manner howsoever over the said streets (Except and reserved unto the person or persons entitled thereto all mines and seams of coal within and under the said hereditaments…)’

There is  a stipulation that ‘the purchaser is to maintain on each site sold a dwelling house to be built of good and substantial materials’.

‘The gardens (where gardens are shewn on the plan) are to be enclosed with a cast iron palisading of uniform height and pattern to be approved by the vendor’s architect.’ These were presumably removed for the war effort in 1942 but have since been replaced.

The last paragraph of the schedule reads: 

‘No part of the purchased ground or any building erected or to be erected thereon shall be used as an inn or alehouse or for the sale of wine spirits or malt liquors and no trade business or manufacture shall be carried on thereon or therein from which nuisance of annoyance can arise to the neighbourhood’. The penalty for breach of the covenant is set at £50 per month or part. 

The abstract then goes on to record an indenture on 10 March 1908 between William Spence Lambert (the builder and purchaser) and the Northern Counties Permanent Building Society for a mortgage of £936 0s 8d. This includes a page or more on the powers that the building society have in the event of default. Presumably the difference between the cost of the land and the amount of the mortgage was to cover the cost of building the house.

Owners and Occupiers

An advertisement in the ‘Evening Chronicle’ on 17 June 1910 described the house available for let as ‘Double fronted self-contained house… 4 rooms, bathroom. Immediate £22’.

One of the people to reply to the advert may have been W Beckett, a travelling draper. He appeared in a 1910 trade directory along with new neighbours including NH Burgess, a naval architect, next door at number 210; F A Charlton, a telegraphist at 186; W Hopper, a mariner at 160. 

But the 1911 census shows the residents of 212 to be Herbert Bond, a 35 year old clerk from Middlesbrough who was working for a wholesale chemist, his wife, Alice, and 12 year old son Charles Edmund. 

The deeds for 212 refer to an indenture dated 28 November 1911 between Northern Counties PBS and William Goode Davies and George Francis Bell,  solicitors. It mentions that monies still remained owing to the Society… suggesting that Lambert may have become bankrupt. This indenture refers to ‘all the said hereditaments at the price of £3,422 5s 8d’ so these solicitors seem to have bought the whole block. On the same day they obtained a mortgage for £3,400 from the Northern Counties. 

The Bonds were still in residence in 1914 and both father and son saw active service in World War One. Herbert enlisted at the age of 40 in December 1915. He served as a storeman and clerk and was promoted to Lance Corporal in 1917. Young Charles, still only 19 at the end of the war, suffered from ‘neurasthenia’ , for which he was awarded an army pension, and is a term which suggests he was affected by what was later known as ‘shell-shock’ and now ‘post-traumatic stress disorder’.

At this point, the Bonds’ neighbours included T P Browne, a bookseller at number 3; J H Weatherall, a groundsman, at no 67; W E Hurford, an assistant librarian at 89 and F W H Reed, a journalist, at 178; and Trewhitt Road was home to what seems like an extraordinary number of police officers –  A Pogue at 72;  T Nattress at 130; R Lambert at 138 and W Hall at 199;  with  J Wardell, a sergeant to keep them all in line, at 66.

This is a map of the area, dating from 1913. Note that there are already allotments around the edge of the brick works.

The next document that Robin examined was an abstract of title which referred to the will of William Goode Davies drawn up on 17 July 1918 in which he appointed his two daughters and son-in-law as his executors. Davies died just over a week later. 

On 18 March 1920, 212 Trewhitt Road was sold by the executors and George Francis Bell, solicitor,  with the permission of the Northern Counties to John Bartholomew of 141 Denmark Street for the sum of £450 with £400 being paid to the Society. John Bartholomew borrowed £344-17s-1d from Northern Counties. 

Bartholomew, a fish merchant, continued to live in Monkseaton and rented out his recently purchased property on Trewhitt Road to the existing tenant, Herbert Bond, now described as a manager.

It changed hands again on 16 February 1924, with Charles William Llanwarne of Whitley Bay, an Employment Officer,  buying it for £575. His mortgage of £400 was with the Crown Building Society. This was about the same time as the Bonds moved to 15 Tosson Terrace. Herbert became a director and secretary of a wine merchants. Charles went on to be a dentist and to live in Monkseaton.

Charles Llanwarne seems to have been the first owner occupier of 212 as this is the address that appeared for him on the conveyance dated 10 May 1927 when he sold the property to Charles Haw of 32 Corporation Street, a wagon driver, for £480. Haw does not seem to have needed a mortgage. 

Haw is listed as the occupier in the  directories of both 1933 and 1939. Somewhat unusually no occupation is given for him.

It was Charles Haw from whom Robin’s future parents in law first rented number 212. It seems that he moved out during the war when the house was used as accommodation for firemen.

By the time Haw sold the house on 11 December 1951, he was living at Daddry Shields, Westgate in Weardale and his signature was witnessed by Charles Bertram Emmerson of the same address, a quarry foreman. Did Haw’s wagon driving take him into quarry work? And had he previously been employed on the Iris Brickfield quarry and brickworks? Number 212 Trewhitt Road could scarcely have been closer. 

Family home

The purchaser was James Fairhurst Scott, who had been renting it with his wife, Pat, since 1944. The conveyance stated that the 1908 covenant between Baron Armstrong and William Spence Lambert still applied: ‘and no trade business or manufacture shall be carried on thereon or therein from which nuisance of annoyance can arise to the neighbourhood.’  Robin is quite sure that the Scotts would not have breached it.

Jim had previously lived at 144 Chillingham Road along with his mother, Elizabeth Scott (nee Fairhurst) and his sister Jane (Jean). Before the war he was working for Ringtons selling tea from a van (drawn by his much loved horse, Polly) with two ‘lads’ under him. (His sister, Jean, was secretary to Doug Smith at Ringtons).

Meanwhile Pat, his bride to be, was living in Cleethorpes, Lincolnshire. Her father, a builder with several employees, had been killed in an accident at work when she was about three years old. Her mother, having two more children at school, ran a seaside boarding house. Pat worked in a local photographer’s shop, colouring black and white photographs. Later she worked at Marks and Spencers in Grimsby. 

Butlin’s Holiday camp in Skegness, Lincolnshire opened in 1937 and it was there in 1939 that Pat and Jim met and romance blossomed. 

Jim was clearly smitten as it is said that he cycled to Cleethorpes to meet Pat’s family (and prepared the site for their Anderson shelter). 

They married at St Old Clee Church, Cleethorpes in January 1942 and came to live in Newcastle. Having had scarlet fever as a youngster, Jim was not allowed to join the forces and was sent to work for Newcastle Corporation Transport. His job involved looking after the wiring on trolley buses and he could be located whenever lights were seen flashing and sparks flying. After a short spell with his own fruit shop, he worked in George Wilkes’ furniture store. He was very successful at selling pianos despite being unable to play one. After Wilkes closed he worked for Callers furniture store on Northumberland Street. If you bought G-plan furniture in the 60s, he could well have sold it to you as he was regularly the top salesman. He was known there as Mr Fairhurst as there was already a Mr Scott.  

Many will remember the Callers window displays at Christmas and the serious fire just before Christmas 1969. Whilst the shop was being rebuilt, they continued to trade from Prudhoe Street and Saville Row until the rebuilt shop was opened in 1971. To thank their staff for their hard work during the rebuild, Roy and Ian Caller took the staff for a weekend in Paris. A visit to the Folies Bergère was included. Jim retired in September 1978 and died in April 1979. 

The Scotts on their silver wedding day in the front room of 212.
Kathryn with her pram outside 212, the allotments behind her
Kathryn outside the front door of 212 Trewhitt Road

Pat was responsible for running the home. She was a competent dressmaker, making dresses for Kathryn as well as outfits for dancing displays. She was an active member of Heaton Armstrong Townswomen’s Guild and part of the drama group. Because she didn’t have a Geordie accent she was often given the part of the lady of the manor! 

Inside

Robin, of course, visited number 212 many times while he was courting Kathryn and after they were married – here they are on one of their first dates.

Robin and Kathryn (centre), Seaton Sluice, Whit 1963

He remembers the interior well:

‘The front door is in the centre of the frontage and this led to a lobby with doors to both right and left and the staircase going up the middle. To the right was the front room with a square bay window and a tiled fireplace. This was usually used on high days and holidays but Jim also had a stereo radiogram there and enjoyed listening to his records several of which were ‘Readers Digest’ collections.

The door to the left led into the living room, which has a bay window. It contained a drop leaf dining table and chairs, three piece suite, sideboard and a writing desk – Jim’s 21st birthday present. There was a large cupboard off this room which stretched under the stairs so provided plenty of storage space.

A door led through to the kitchen containing cooker, fridge, sink-unit and twin tub as well as kitchen table and wall cupboards. The back door off the kitchen led into the yard where there was a coal house and toilet.

The main source of heating and hot water was a coal fire in the living room – Shilbottle coal was preferred. Later central heating was installed.

A garage had been built in the back yard by Jim. The door to it was in three sections, two of which were hinged together. This made access easier but a three point turn was still necessary to line up the car, an Austin A35 and later a Morris 1100. In later years the garage was demolished and the yard extended making a pleasant patio area for morning coffee.

Moving upstairs there are bedrooms to right and left at the top of the stairs both containing cupboards over the staircase and good size alcoves for wardrobes. The bedroom to the left led directly to the bathroom. Jim added a partition so that the bathroom could be accessed without disturbing the inhabitants of the bedroom. An inside toilet was added to the bathroom. Kathryn can recall sleeping in the bathroom when friends or family from Cleethorpes visited.

Jim’s war years working on trolley buses were not wasted as he was able to rewire the house. He also replaced the sash windows with casements as well as refitting the kitchen’

Pat continued to live at Trewhitt Road after Jim died, continuing as a member of the TWG and later the Women’s Fellowship at St Gabriel’s Church. She enjoyed looking after her granddaughter, Susan, and encouraged her to develop her mathematical skills by keeping the score whilst watching the snooker. (Susan is now a MEng working in Istanbul for Field Ready.) In 2004 Pat moved into Abbeyfield on Castles Farm Road at which time this happy family home was sold.

Pat died in the RVI on 26 December 2006.  

212 Trewitt Road is over 110 years old.

Can You Help?

If you know more about 212 Trewhitt Road or anybody mentioned in the 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

Acknowledgments

Researched and written by Robin Long, Heaton History Group, with additional material by Arthur Andrews and Chris Jackson.

Sources

Ancestry

British Newspaper Archives

Find My Past

Scott family papers

Electoral registers held by Newcastle City Library

Property Ownership in Heaton Township 1795-1810

The streets of Heaton and High Heaton are familiar to most visitors to this website but have you ever wondered what was here before they were built in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries? Eminent local historian, Mike Greatbatch, has been looking at surviving records to help us find out what Heaton was like 210-225 years ago:

The township of Heaton, like all the townships in Northumberland, owes its existence to the Settlement Act of 1662 which stipulated that the northern counties of Lancashire, Cheshire, Derbyshire, Yorkshire, Northumberland, Durham, Cumberland and Westmorland, `by reason of their largeness of the Parishes within the same’, should henceforth be subdivided into townships for the better administration of the `the Poor, Needy, Impotent and Lame’ (13 and 14 Charles II c12 Settlement).

Whilst the township boundaries may have mirrored those of some major landowners in 1662, it should not be confused with these private estates. Townships were administrative districts created by parliament to levy the poor rate and disburse the available funds to relieve the poor. Consequently the township boundary of 1662 continued to define Heaton as a district for the next two hundred years, well beyond its incorporation into the Town and County of Newcastle in 1835. Only when the population of Heaton and Byker townships began to grow rapidly towards the latter half of the nineteenth century did the old boundaries become indistinct, with ward boundaries based on the changing size and distribution of Newcastle’s municipal electorate becoming the norm.

The Poor Rate

Heaton township was created to better administer the poor rate. This was a tax based on an assessment of the yearly value of property, defined by the annual rental paid by the occupier. Heaton township lay within the parish of All Saints, and surviving records show that the poor rate was supervised by the magistrates and administered by the parish vestry, whose members appointed and employed the overseers of the poor from amongst the ratepayers of the parish, and administered all collections of the rate and its disbursement.

The rate assessments were agreed at regular meetings to cover specific periods and purposes, being recorded in Rate Books along with a list of properties, their occupiers, and their rentals. The rate itself varied from time to time depending on changing levels of demand for poor relief and other associated expenditure, such as overseers expenses.

The number of surviving rate books for Heaton is very limited: the catalogue at Tyne and Wear Archives lists just three volumes between 1860 and 1890. However, within the records of the neighbouring township of Byker there is a detailed assessment that includes Heaton. Recorded in March 1795, this was specifically `a taxation for the purpose of procuring (jointly with the Township of Heaton) a Volunteer, to serve in His Majesty’s Navy during the present War’. A rate of two pence per pound was calculated to raise £20 10s 3d from Byker and £18 11s 8d from Heaton in the following month of April. At the end of the assessment, there are the signatures of the Overseers of the Poor for both townships, which for Heaton was Thomas Holmes, a farmer.

HeatonRateAssessmentOct 1810_edited-1

Rate assessment for the township of Heaton, October 1810. TWAS 183/1/102. Reproduced with permission of Tyne & Wear Archives

A similar detailed record also survives within the rate books for the parochial chapelry of Newcastle All Saints. Undertaken in October 1810 for the purpose of raising `the sum of four hundred pounds and upwards’, being the sum required to `reimburse the Church Wardens for the money expended by them for the Bills, Clerks Salary, Bread, Flour, Visitation Charges etc and to enable them to keep the Church thoroughly clean and in repair and other incidental expenses’. A rate of four pence per pound was levied, calculated to raise a total of £503 from the whole parish, of which £93 09s 3d would be raised in Byker and £66 12s 8d raised in Heaton. At the end of the assessment, the signature of Samuel Viner, a magistrate (`his Majesty’s Justices’) and Peter Marsden (a public notary acting on behalf of the church) are recorded, confirming their consent to the agreed rate, together with the date they attached their signatures to this declaration, 23 October 1810.

Taken together, these two detailed records illustrate the nature and changing value of property in Heaton during these years, together with the names of those whose income permitted them to occupy these premises as tenants of the two principle landowners at that time, Matthew Ridley and Sir Matthew White Ridley. The latter lived at Heaton Hall on land owned by the former and ,in 1795, the rental value of the house and grounds was £60, rising to £180 in 1810. Whilst this is the only house identified in the rate assessments, the farmhouses were included in the overall value of the farm rentals, and likewise the cottages occupied by the labourers. The working poor did not own property and thus they are absent from both assessments.

Coal and Iron

The population of Heaton recorded in the first detailed census carried out on 10 March 1801 was just 183 persons. By contrast, the population of neighbouring Byker was 3,254 persons. Byker was far more industrialised than Heaton by 1801 and this is reflected in the rate assessments undertaken in 1795 and 1810. Industrial property was present in Heaton in both years but its share of the total value of property was significantly less than in neighbouring Byker.

Heaton Colliery was the most valuable property in Heaton. In March 1795 it was valued at £1000 annual rental, increasing to £1,750 per annum by October 1810. This one industrial concern accounted for at least 45% of the total value of the property in Heaton recorded in both years.

Other industry in Heaton accounted for a mere 5% of the total value in both 1795 and 1810, despite the significant increase in value of Malin Sorsbie’s iron-works at Busy Cottage, from a rental of £30 per annum in March 1795 to £100 rental in October 1810. In neighbouring Byker the contrast couldn’t be greater. Here industry other than coal mining and associated transport accounted for 15% of the total in 1795 and 41% of the total value in 1810.

The iron-works at Busy Cottage (where Jesmond Dene’s visitor centre and Pets’ Corner are now) had long been a significant industrial settlement in Heaton. When it was advertised for sale in 1764, following the bankruptcy of its then owner, George Laidler the younger, this settlement adjacent to the east bank of the Ouseburn consisted of a dwelling house, three houses for servants and workmen, a stable with two parcels of ground adjoining, an over-shot forge and bellows wheel, a furnace for making iron, and facilities for making German steel. There was also a tilt hammer for making files and other items from thin iron plate, and a grinding mill with up to seven grindstones, a machine for cutting dyes, and a slitting mill for cutting and shaping bars of iron, all powered by over-shot waterwheels or water powered engines.

There were also extensive smiths shops that could employ up to fourteen workmen using three hearths, plus a foundry for casting iron and a steel furnace capable of producing about four tons of steel every nine days. When the premises were advertised again, two years later, there were an additional thirteen smithies, several warehouses, and a `Compting-house’ (counting-house) or office.

From January 1781, Busy Cottage was owned by the owners of the Skinner-Burn Foundry, Thomas Menham and Robert Hodgson, and when they became bankrupt in January 1785, Busy Cottage once again was advertised for sale, being `well adapted to carrying on the nail, hinge, ….file cutting, or any other branch in the smith and cutlery way’. The complex also included a water-powered corn mill at this time.

Although advertised for sale again in the summer of 1790, Thomas Menham is still recorded as living at Busy Cottage in January 1793, so Malin Sorsbie had not long been in possession of the property when he was recorded as occupier in the March 1795 rate assessment.

The Sorsbie family had long been prominent amongst the business and municipal community of Newcastle; a Robert Sorsbie served as mayor in the 1750s and Jonathan Sorsbie later served as Clerk of the Council Chamber. In the 1760s the family business interests included grindstone quarries on Gateshead Fell and a foundry at a site on the south side of the Tyne called the Old Trunk Quay, in addition to their corn merchant business with offices at Sandhill. Malin Sorsbie owned a house and garden in fashionable Shieldfield from at least January 1789 onwards.

Mills: Water & Wind

If Heaton Colliery and Busy Cottage were the highest value industrial property in Heaton, this does not diminish the importance of the other three industrial enterprises active in these years. All three followed the upward trend in value between 1795 and 1810 and were an important feature of the township beyond this period.

The precise location of Robert Yellowley’s flint mill is uncertain, but should not be confused with the similar establishment on the west side of the Ouseburn in Jesmond. The Yellowley family were merchants, and by the 1790s Robert Yellowley was wealthy enough to afford the rent on a house at St Ann’s Row on the New Road, west of Cut Bank. When the Ouseburn Pottery of Backhouse and Hillcoat ran into financial difficulty in 1790, Robert Yellowley acquired the business and is recorded as proprietor from June 1794 onwards. Flint by this time was an essential ingredient in the manufacture of better quality earthenware as it turns white when burnt, and thus provided a bleaching agent when used in firing the ware.

Heaton windmill was in the occupation of William Dodds throughout these years and, like the watermill occupied by Patrick Freeman in October 1810, it was an important adjunct to the eight farms that occupied the greater part of the land in the township. Identifying the precise location of Freeman’s watermill is not easy. In a schedule of land prepared by the surveyor John Bell to accompany a plan of West and East Heaton in December 1800, there are three mills – High, Middle, Low – identified in fields adjacent to the east bank of the Ouseburn. However, in 1810, Freeman’s is the only mill specifically identified as water powered, so it may be that the other two were dormant and unoccupied. In the 1795 rate book, this property appears to be occupied by Richard Young but again little indication is provided as to its location.

Heaton’s Farms, 1795 and 1810

In the October 1810 rate assessment there are eight farms, which together had a combined value of £1,738 or 45% of the total rental value of the township. The families who occupied those farms were the same as in March 1795 with the exception of William Lawson who had died in January 1804. In 1810, Lawson’s farm was occupied by John Watson.

The most valuable farms were High Heaton Farm (the Holmes family), Lawson’s farm, the Newton family farm in Low Heaton, and Thomas Carins’/ Cairns’ (the spelling varies throughout this period)  farm. Some indication of their social and economic standing is provided by the fact that Thomas Holmes was the township’s Overseer of the Poor in 1795, and Cairns the treasurer of the local Association (for Prosecuting Felons). This Association combined with similar associations of property owners in neighbouring Gosforth and Jesmond to offer cash rewards to anyone providing information that helped secure a conviction for theft, damage or trespass, and/or the return of stolen property. They also published appeals to their fellow property owners and hunt enthusiasts to avoid damage to crops and `not to ride amongst corn or grass seeds’.

Heaton & Jesmond Association1807

Membership of the Heaton and Jesmond Association for the Prosecution of Felons etc included 6 Heaton farmers and 1 mill owner. Newcastle Advertiser 7 Feb 1807, p1. Reproduced with permission of Newcastle City Library Local Studies & Family History Centre.

All these farms were extensive undertakings, and given the sparse population of Heaton at this time, all were vulnerable to theft. When Lawson’s farm was broken into in 1790, thieves stole hens, geese, and poultry, and made off on a mare that returned to the farm the same night. In the summer of 1795, twenty-three chickens, six hens and two cockerels were stolen from a single hen-house in Heaton; a reward of two guineas was offered by William Pattison of Heaton, with a further reward of three guineas paid by the Gosforth Association on conviction. When Joseph Newton’s garden was broken into in July 1808 and a quantity of fruit stolen, causing injury to the trees, a reward of twenty guineas was offered by the Heaton and Jesmond Association, Newton being one of its members.

If apprehended, those convicted could face severe punishment. In October 1798, Joseph Nicholson, William M’Clarie, Jane Cunningham, and Mary Eddy were all sentenced to six months hard labour for having stolen rope from Heaton Colliery. Given the need to store ropes, screws, bolts and other iron materials, the colliery was a regular target for thieves. As incidents of infringements of property rights increased, so the punitive nature of these associations became more pronounced.

Conclusion

In March 1795, the total value of property assessed for the poor rate in Heaton Township was £2,136. By October 1810 the total value of the same property was £3,878; being an increase of 81.5%. Despite the on-going war with Revolutionary France and its allies throughout this period, the local Heaton economy experienced something of a boom period.

The interdiction by French naval ships or privateers of merchant ships importing grain and other foodstuffs to the Tyne resulted in a food shortage, especially of wheat and rye. In 1799, the resultant scarcity of flour led some local newspapers to recommend rice and potatoes as good substitutes by way of relieving the distress prevalent amongst the town’s poorer inhabitants.

This scarcity also resulted in an increase in the price of grain and locally milled flour. Despite the accumulation of imported grain in temporary wooden stores, soon commonly referred to as Egypt, just west of Saint Ann’s Church in the summer of 1796, the price of wheat, rye, barley, and oats all increased from 1798 onwards. This of course was good news for farmers, millers, and landowners in townships like Heaton where transport costs to the local Newcastle market were negligible.

One might think that as their income and property values increased, the respectable residents of Heaton might relax their attitude to their neighbours in the manufacturing districts of Sandgate and Byker. Sadly, the opposite appears to have occurred. As the wartime economy and interruptions to overseas trade increased the numbers of those without work or on low income, so the property owners of Heaton became increasingly conscious of the vulnerability of their privacy and possessions. Unemployment, food shortages, and widespread human distress made the sparsely populated lanes and fields of Heaton all the more attractive to those desperate for redress and with little to lose.

In June 1805, a blacksmith named Erington was stopped near Heaton Wood by a man dressed in a blue jacket and robbed of a £20 bank note. Such incidents of so-called foot-pads became a recurring feature of Newcastle newspaper reports as the number of homeless seafarers and unemployed workers increased. The response of the local associations of property owners was characteristically harsh, resulting in the following all encompassing resolution by the Gosforth (& Heaton) Association in November 1805 `to prosecute with the utmost rigour, all vagrants, or other disorderly strollers, and those who give them harbor or encouragement’. By the first decade of the nineteenth century, even going for a stroll, in Heaton, had become a dangerous pastime.

Sources & Acknowledgements

Written for Heaton History Group by Mike Greatbatch. Text copyright Mike Greatbatch and Heaton History Group. Image permissions from Tyne and Wear Archives for use on this website only.

The surviving rate assessments for these years are part of the collections at Tyne & Wear Archives, specifically 183/1/577 Byker 1794-1802, and 183/1/102 Newcastle All Saints June-November 1810.

Contemporary trade directories and Newcastle newspapers, specifically the Courant, the Advertiser, and the Tyne Mercury provided details of properties and owners, together with reports on the human impact of wartime food shortages and the response of property owners through the various Associations. Many of the newspaper sources were accessed on-line via the British Library’s invaluable British Newspaper Archive.

The author is grateful to staff at both Tyne & Wear Archives and Newcastle City Library Local Studies & Family History Centre for their help in accessing sources and for permission to reproduce the two images.