Before her recent death at the age of 105, Lilian, the wife of St Gabriel’s parishioner Herbert Dixon (‘Dix’) Hodgson, shared some memories of her husband. Among the stories about Dix’s short but eventful life was one about a solo performance by him being broadcast on the opening night of Newcastle’s first BBC radio station. She also said that, as a young girl, she was taken to a neighbour’s house to listen to the historic launch. What she said she didn’t realise was that, among the voices she heard seemingly magically beamed across the Tyne into her neighbour’s living room in Whickham, was that of her future husband.
Herbert Dixon Hodgson was born in October 1908. Records show that in 1911 he was living at 41 Tosson Terrace, Heaton with his father William, mother Margaret and his four year old sister Hilda Annie. Another sister, Nellie Blue (Blue was a family name) came later.
Young Dix became a member of the choir at St Gabriel’s Church. He was soon recognised as having an excellent voice and starred as a soloist at church concerts. This seems to have led, as we have heard from his wife’s account, to him being selected to sing solo to mark a momentous occasion, the opening night of Newcastle’s first radio station.
There are, however, a number of unanswered questions around Dix’s involvement. We wondered whether his performance was live. And when and where did it take place? How old was Dix? And the listening Lilian? What do the historical records tell us about the occasion?
Newcastle’s first radio station was known as 5NO, its call sign. According to the BBC, its opening broadcast was a hundred years ago this year, on Christmas Eve 1922, so Dix would have been 14 years old. Incredibly the British Broadcasting Company had been in existence for only a couple of months. It had been set up by a consortium of wireless manufacturers, including Marconi, General Electric and Metropolitan Vickers, primarily in the hope of a commercial bonanza from the sale of radio equipment, although very few people at that time saw its full potential to ‘inform, educate, entertain’ as its first director, John (later Lord) Reith later put it.
Newcastle was just the 4th BBC station to open behind London, Manchester and Birmingham, set up by Marconi, Metrovick and General Electric respectively, all of which were a matter of months or weeks old. In fact, it was the first to be established by the BBC itself: the other three had been put in place before the national broadcasting company’s formation. The British Broadcasting Company had been set up on 18 October and BBC broadcasting had officially begun on 14 November. John Reith had been appointed General Manager on 14 December and hadn’t even started work that Christmas Eve. In fact he was to visit Newcastle on 29 December en route from Scotland, where he had spent Christmas, to London to take up his appointment.
The station Reith visited was set to become the first radio station to operate from new premises, independent of their parent wirelesss manufacturing company. They were in Eldon Square and had been kitted out by a small group of enthusiasts. However, there were technical problems on the 23rd, the night of the promised ‘before Christmas’ opening and so a decision was made to conduct proceedings as close as possible to the newly constructed transmitter on a tower at the Cooperative Society buildings on West Blandford Street. So, the opening broadcast of Newcastle’s first radio station was from a ‘donkey cart’ in a stable yard. Very Chrismassy! And perhaps not surprising that the BBC chose to ignore this first broadcast in its official records.
The station manager was a man called Tom Payne. Tom was born in South Shields in 1882 and was an accomplished musician. But he was most famous for his feats during a competitive walking career which began in 1906. By 1916, he had broken world records for 12 and 24 hour duration feats and won three London to Brighton and six Manchester to Blackpool races. In the meantime, he had found time in 1910 to open Morpeth’s first cinema, ‘The Avenue’, and then set up a business on Gallowgate as a wireless dealer and a music promoter. It was because he recognised the potential for his business that Tom got involved with 5NO and, at least according to Tom himself, financed the arrival of broadcasting in the city out of his own pocket. (You can hear him tell the tale on the podcast mentioned below this article.)
It isn’t easy to tell whether later references to the opening night referred to 23rd or 24th December. But we know it was scheduled to last just one hour. There were live acts including Tom himself playing violin and a Mr W Griffiths playing cello. Miss May Osbourne sang ‘Annie Laurie’ but she couldn’t be accompanied in the stable yard as intended by pianist, W A Crosse, because the piano Payne had borrowed for the occasion wouldn’t fit on the cart. There may have been recorded music on both occasions, as well as other live acts whose names aren’t recorded. There were no listings in the press ahead of the event. The first we have found date from the first week of 1923 but, as you’ll see if you scroll right at the bottom of the image below, they weren’t exactly comprehensive in Newcastle’s case. The Radio Times didn’t appear until 28 September 1923.
In the event, on that very first night a barking dog in the stable yard reportedly forced proceedings to end early.
It was because of these difficulties that John Reith was asked to break his journey from Scotland a few days later. Reith was unlikely to be of much help to Tom. He admitted that he knew nothing about broadcasting, he didn’t own a radio set and, unlike Lilian, aged 5, hadn’t even listened to a BBC broadcast. His diary entry for the day reads:
‘Newcastle at 12.30. Here I really began my BBC responsibility. Saw transmitting station and studio place and landlords. It was very interesting. Away at 4.28, London at 10.10, bed at 12.00. I am trying to keep in close touch with Christ in all I do and pray he may keep close to me. I have a great work to do.’
So where did Dix’s solo fit in? The truth is we don’t know. It has been suggested that the full St Gabriel’s Choir performed and that the concert took place in Newcastle Cathedral. Both are unlikely.
There certainly was no outside broadcast from Newcastle Cathedral. The first music outside broadcast nationally did not take place until January 1923 and was a high profile performance of ‘The Magic Flute’ from Covent Garden.
If St Gabriel’s choir had performed on the very first night, it would have had to have been in the Co-op stable yard. Ensembles did perform in those early days but, even in a proper studio, a full choir would have posed enormous problems for the equipment and space available in Newcastle at the time. It certainly wouldn’t have fitted onto a donkey cart!
Perhaps the choir had been recorded on a previous occasion and played on a gramophone on the opening night. But recording music was still an expensive and laborious process. In the early 1920s, the quality of the live music broadcast would be far superior to any recordings used. A search through the St Gabriel’s parish magazine from that period yielded nothing.
This suggests that, if Dix did perform on that opening night, it was as a solo, probably unaccompanied, voice. Achieving the right balance between a singer and an accompanist or multiple voices had not been fully mastered at that point even if there hadn’t been the issue with the borrowed piano.
What did Dix sing? Given the time of year, one could imagine him singing carols but the above poster for a St Gabriel’s concert just a few weeks later on 13 February 1923 suggests another possibility. Then, Master Hodgson sang Handel’s‘ Rejoice greatly’ and ‘Angels ever bright and fair’ . There may not have been a dry eye either in the Coop stable yard or that Whickham living room.
Lilian would have been one of a select few listening to that first north-east broadcast. There were apparently only about 100 potential listeners in the Newcastle area at that time and only those within about 15 miles of Newcastle were expected to be able to hear 5NO, although a ship’s radio as far away as Gibraltar reportedly picked up the signal. At home, many of the radio hams who had crystal sets or early valve radios at that time were ex-servicemen who had learnt how to use radio during the war.
However, there had been a huge advertising campaign for sets ahead of that Christmas. They weren’t cheap (from about £4) but the audience was set to expand quickly.
Tom Payne did not last long at 5NO. There are conflicting accounts about his departure sometime in 1923. One account says that he was heard to swear on air and was fired, another that his quirky presentation didn’t fit with the more formal style favoured by Reith. A petition to have him reinstated was unsuccessful.
But Tom’s walking exploits continued to keep him in the public eye. Indeed on 15 November 1926, he delivered a lecture on athletics to members of Heaton Harriers at their headquarters in Armstrong Park Refreshment Rooms.
The headline of a local newspaper report of his death at Walkergate Hospital in 1966 said ‘Champion walker dies’ rather than the ‘Broadcasting pioneer’.
Two years after Newcastle’s first BBC broadcast, aged 16, Dix signed indentures and became an apprentice to the Moor Line, the merchant fleet operated by Walter Runciman and Co. He attended college to gain qualifications, including, to obtain his Master’s Certificate in 1936, at Nellist’s Nautical College.
Between 1931 and 1938, Dix’s name appears on the Newcastle electoral register. He is still living with his father and mother but now at 31 Tosson Terrace, a few doors away from where he grew up. In 1938 and ‘39, a Leonard and Wilhelmina Runciman are registered at his childhood home at number 41. A coincidence? Were they part of the Runciman shipping dynasty and were they known to the Hodgsons? By 1939, the Hodgson family is registered at 305 Chillingham Road.
We don’t know when and where Dix eventually met Lilian Mary Spittle. They lived on opposite sides of the Tyne but we know that Lilian had trained as a fever nurse and the Newcastle Upon Tyne Infectious Diseases Hospital was situated at Walkergate just up the road from Heaton.
Dix and Lilian were married in spring 1939, sixteen and a half years after that first broadcast, and Andrew their first son was born in late 1940. Douglas came along soon after.
By now, Dix was a master mariner, the highest rank in the merchant navy and what is usually referred to as a ship’s captain.
But on 21 May 1942, he was in charge of the SS Zurichmoor as it left Halifax, Nova Scotia in ballast bound for St Thomas in the Virgin Islands.
Three days later while 400 miles east of Philadelphia, it was torpedoed by a German U-boat and sank within 90 seconds. Dix, his crew of 38 and six naval gunners were lost. Many of them were, like Dix, from north-east families.
They are all remembered on the Tower Hill Memorial, London, a war memorial to ‘merchant seamen with no grave but the sea’.
In Tyne & Wear Archives there is a Book of Remembrance commissioned by the directors of Walter Runciman and Company, owners of the Moor Line.
Angels ever bright and fair, take o take them to your care.
Researched and written by Robin Long of Heaton History Group with additional material from Chris Jackson; thank you to Andrew and Douglas Hodgson for their help and for the photograph of Dix and Lilian.
Can You Help?
If you know any more about the people named in this article or about the launch of the BBC in Newcastle or the sinking of SS Zurichmoor especially as they relate to Heaton, we’d love to hear from you.You can contact us either through this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or by emailing email@example.com
‘The Birth of Broadcasting 1896-1927’ by Asa Briggs; OUP, 1961
‘British Broadcasting Century with Paul Kerensa’ podcast series
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Researched and written by Robin Long, Heaton History Group, with additional material by Arthur Andrews and Chris Jackson.
British Newspaper Archives
Find My Past
Scott family papers
Electoral registers held by Newcastle City Library
It’s late June 2021 and Team GB for the 2020 Summer Olympics has just been announced. Such are the strange times we’re living through. But amidst ongoing uncertainty about the next games, let’s celebrate Heaton’s distinguished past Olympians.
No 1 Harry Askew
Harry represented Great Britain in the long jump at the 1948 London Summer Olympics.
Born in Barrow-in-Furness on 31 December 1917, he excelled in sports at school, particularly as a sprinter, only moving to long jump while at Cambridge University. Pre-war, he won the 1937 Oxbridge Sports long jump and 2 years later the UAU title and was second in the AAA Championships. The war interrupted Harry’s career. He spent six years in the army with the Royal Corps of Signals, achieving the rank of captain. After the war, he moved to Jersey to teach.
The Olympic champion and world record holder in the long jump was famously the great Jesse Owens, who had won 4 gold medals in Berlin in 1936. Because of World War 2, it was to be 12 years before the next games and so the American didn’t get to defend his title. Harry was one of 21 competitors to take part in the qualifying round on 31 July 1948 and comfortably made the final in 6th place with a jump of 7.14. He was 9th in the final with a jump of 6.935m. The medal winners were all from the USA, the winner, Willie Steele, achieving 7.825.
Harry’s son, Roger, told us that Harry stayed in Hammersmith during the games and travelled to White City, where the athletics took place, by bus, even on the day he was competing.
Askew went on to teach and coach in Essex. He improved his personal best to 7.29m in 1949 and in 1950 won the AAA title, the British championship, aged 32. In 1958, the Askew family moved north in order that Harry could take up a position as head of Heaton Grammar School, which is what makes his name so familiar to many older Heatonians. Despite being a vociferous opponent of comprehensive education, he was appointed head of Heaton School, Heaton’s new coeducational comprehensive in 1967.
Askew achieved more national and even international fame than for his Olympic achievements in 1976 when his controversial response to the newly enacted Equal Opportunities Act was to announce that, henceforward, girls would be subject to corporal punishment on the same basis as boys ie liable to receive it. Parents and pupils organised a protest and alerted the media. There was damage to the school, assaults, expulsions, court cases.
The dust settled, however, and Harry Askew eventually retired in 1979 after 21 years in post. On his retirement he told the ‘Journal’. ‘Do you know, I still have my jumping shoes, my England vest and tracksuit? I couldn’t bear to part with them, although today I can hardly get my feet off the ground unless it’s to put them up in front of the television set!’
Harry Askew and his wife moved south on his retirement to be closer to family. He was looking forward to having more time for his passion for jazz music – he was a talented pianist – and for gardening. He died on 31 October 1986, aged 68.
No 2 Alan Lillington
Alan represented Great Britain in the 100m at the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki.
Born in South Shields on 4 September 1932, Alan grew up in Heaton and attended Heaton Grammar. His mother and father were steward and stewardess of Heaton Liberal Club at 25 Heaton Road, the building with the stone lion above the bay window. He continued to live there until he married local girl, Eileen Murray, in 1955. After their marriage, the couple lived with Eileen’s family at 14 Cloverdale Gardens, High Heaton.
Alan was an all round sportsman and is reported to have played for Newcastle United as a junior as well as rugby for Northern. The first mention we have found of him in the local press, however, was in August 1949 when the ‘Evening Chronicle’ reported that the 16 year old Elswick Harrier, already the champion at 100 yards, had been set to miss competing for the Northumberland and Durham 220 yards title at Cowgate because of plans for a holiday in Portsmouth. He and a friend had seats booked on the night bus departing at 7.15 until his father stepped in with a more costly rail ticket, which left three hours later, allowing him to race earlier in the evening. In the article, Lillington was described as a ‘young sprint star’. The following July he won the All England Schools’ Silver Jubilee Intercounty AA championships in a time of 10 seconds dead and was in the victorious 440 yards relay team too. And in August he won the junior 100 yards at White City, London.
By 1952, Olympic year, Lillington, now a medical student at Durham University, was second only to Trinidad-born Emmanuel McDonald Bailey, the joint 100m world record holder, in the senior AAA Championship and so was deservedly selected for Helsinki, aged 19, as the ‘baby’ of the team.
Helsinki had originally been chosen to replace Tokyo in 1940 after Japan announced two years before that it would be unable to host the games because of the ongoing Second Sino-Japanese War. In the event, of course, the 1940 games were cancelled because of World War 2. London, which had been selected for the also cancelled 1944 event, was awarded the first games after the war with Helsinki getting its turn four years later.
None of the medallists from 1948 were competing in the 100m this time round and so McDonald Bailey, who finished 6th in London was favourite along with American, Art Bragg, and Jamaica’s Herb McKenley.
Young Alan Lillington was drawn in the first heat on 20 July, from which he qualified in second place behind Australia’s John Treloar, but in the quarter finals, he finished in 6th and last place to Lindy Remigino of the USA and so failed to qualify for the semi final or final. It was nevertheless a magnificent feat for a teenager.
The final on 21 July was one of the closest races imaginable with all six runners separated by only 0.12 seconds, hand-timed. A photograph showed Lindy Remigino to have finished first, Herb McKenley second with GB’s McDonald Bailey in bronze medal position.
Much later, Alan said the games brought back fond memories but that he was sorry that Great Britain recorded its lowest medal total with ‘its only gold medal winner a horse!’ (In fact, three horses and their riders in the team show jumping).
After the Olympics, Lillington continued to perform at a high level. He represented England in the 1954 British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Vancouver.
He remembered celebrating his 21st birthday at an event in Stockholm where he was carried around the room on the stroke of midnight by his mentor, Harold Abrahams (1924 Olympic Champion, whose story was told in ‘Chariots of Fire’) and Chris Chataway (5,000m finalist in Helsinki, pacer for Roger Bannister’s 4 minute mile and, later, minister in the Heath government).
But soon, Alan Lillington’s mentions in the press were mainly in connection with his work as a doctor and for charity. He worked at Newcastle’s RVI and General before becoming a consultant paediatrician in Sunderland. He was also a director of St Benedict’s Hospice in Sunderland, as well as a committed Freemason, and he helped set up Sunderland Sports Council.
Lillington was appointed a Deputy Lord Lieutenant for Tyne and Wear and, in 1995, Sheriff. He was awarded the MBE for services to the community in Wearside in 2006.
Alan and Eileen’s son, Peter, played club rugby for Harlequins and toured New Zealand with Scotland in 1981.
No 3 Maurice Benn
Maurice represented Great Britain in the 1500m at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City.
Born in Wallsend on 9 November 1946, Maurice was a member of Heaton Harriers. The first mention of him we have found in the press so far was on 7 January 1966 when the ‘Evening Chronicle’ reported:
‘Heaton’s boys proved their worth by finishing second team on Boxing Day and with Dick Balding, Joe Hawes and Maurice Benn in their senior line up, the ‘East Enders’ if they can find a couple of useful youths, must be among the medals again on Saturday.’
A month later, the future Olympian was referred to as having the best time for a youth over a Team Valley cross-country course and was expected to take his place in Heaton Harriers’ senior team in the race for the Royal Corps of Signals (coincidentally Harry Askew’s old regiment) Trophy over the same course.
But it wasn’t until 3 June 1968 that Maurice came to national attention during the inter-county finals at London’s White City. The Birmingham Post summed up the media’s surprise:
‘Perhaps the biggest shock of all was the entry of 21 year old Maurice Benn into the ranks of Britain’s sub-four-minute milers. An “unknown” from the north east, Benn had a previous best of 04:04.8 and he beat the established international, John Whetton of Nottinghamshire into third place.’
Benn’s time was 03:59.9. He was the first north-east athlete to achieve this feat. It transpired that he had recently teamed up with north-east based national coach, Peter Harper, after being coached for the previous two years by letter by the AAA’s travelling coach, who was based in Glasgow. No Zoom back then!
And so on 5 August 1968, Maurice Benn of Heaton Harriers, received a letter signed by Prince Philip inviting him to compete in the games. With the times he had achieved that summer, Benn’s selection was certainly merited but Maurice himself later said that he had really gone to Mexico for the experience. The Birmingham Post called his selection ‘controversial’.
Maurice struggled in the altitude of Mexico City. As he later recalled ‘I shouldn’t have gone to Mexico. I had a history of anaemia and didn’t acclimatise well… I trained with Ron Hill and I was panting like an old bloke’.
The reigning champion was New Zealander, Peter Snell, who had won in Tokyo four years earlier with a time of 3:38.1, but he wasn’t competing in Mexico. Here, the favourite was the USA’s Jim Ryun, the world record holder. Maurice was drawn in the first heat on 18 October along with Ryun and, although the Heaton Harrier achieved a time of 3:56.43, a personal best, it was well behind the qualifiers. Ryun went onto win his semifinal ahead of Kenyan, Kip Keino, but in the final Keino, who was paced by his compatriot, Ben Jipcho, won gold in an Olympic record time. John Whetton, beaten by Maurice at sea level, just a few months earlier, was a creditable 5th.
After the games, Benn went to study in the USA where, representing the University of Nevada, he won the USA National Collegiate cross-country championship. The university won the team prize as well and they were welcomed home in style with banners, a motor-cavalcade and television interview. It was said to be the first national victory by any Nevada team at any time in any sport – and led by a former Heaton Harrier. But anaemia continued to dog him in the states – Nevada is at altitude too.
By 1970, Benn was back in Britain but had moved away from the north-east. He continued running for Cambridge Harriers. The following year he ‘surprisingly won the Southern Counties 10,000m’ in cold and blustery conditions with a ‘staggering time of 28:53:08, which is top international standard’ but by the time of the 1972 games his training had become spasmodic, his form had dipped and he was out of contention for Olympic selection.
Maurice went on to work as a finance worker for British Rail in London, where he represented Woodford Green athletics club for many years. He has a permanent place in the pantheon of Heaton sport.
No 4 Derek Talbot
Derek Talbot represented Great Britain at badminton at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich.
Born in Newcastle in 1947, Derek grew up on Etherstone Avenue in High Heaton and attended Heaton Grammar, where he first played badminton. He went on to study metallurgy at Newcastle University, where, after doing well with the British Universities’ badminton team, he was spotted by the England selectors. He then moved to London for five years to establish himself in the sport.
Talbot’s first major title was Commonwealth Games mixed doubles gold with Margaret Boxall in Edinburgh in 1970 and in April 1972, he again won mixed gold with Gillian Gilks and bronze with fellow Heatonian, Elliot Stuart, at the European Badminton Championships in Sweden.
Badminton had been chosen as a demonstration sport for the 1972 Olympics so medals did not count in official tables. The intention was to promote to a global audience a sport which was, and is, very big in some parts of the world but unknown, at least as a spectator sport, in others. Some years later, Talbot summed up the different levels of fame top players enjoyed in different countries:
‘In many parts of the far east, we were recognised in the streets and invited to meet presidents in their palaces. But I could always come back to Newcastle and be inconspicuous, which I prefer. So I got the best of both worlds’.
The demonstration sports rules allowed for doubles partners of mixed nationality and the medals awarded were slightly smaller replicas of the official ones. The entire tournament took place on a single day, 4 September.
Derek competed in the men’s doubles, partnered again by fellow Heaton Grammar old boy, Elliot Stuart. They beat a German / Canadian pairing in the1st round before losing to the eventual winners, Indonesians Ade Chandra and Christian Hadanata, in the semi-finals. Thus they were bronze medallists.
In the mixed doubles, he again partnered fellow Britain, Gillian Gilks, one of the most decorated British badminton players of all time. The pair beat Japanese, West German and Danish opponents to win gold.
The Munich Olympics are remembered, of course, for the events of 5-6 September. Eight members of a Palestinian terrorist group, Black September, took nine members of the Israeli Olympic team hostage, killing two of them. Five terrorists and a German police officer were also killed during a rescue attempt.
Speaking some years later, Talbot said that he witnessed the start of the incident first hand:
‘I went out on the town celebrating and came back at 4.00am to what seemed like fireworks just 20 yards away. I walked right past and thought how inconsiderate it was of people to let off fireworks that time of night when many others had important events the next day. It was only later that I realised that I had almost stumbled across the terrorist attack.’
He went on to represent his country 83 times and won a total of four Commonwealth golds, one silver and two bronzes; three European golds, three silvers and two bronzes medals. He also won three All England Open golds and three silvers; a gold with Elliott Stuart in the Indian Open; a silver in the World Championships and a bronze in the World Cup.
Derek retired from international badminton in 1981 and became a successful businessman, running a sports shop and having his own brand of badminton racquets, alongside coaching, commentating and property development. He continued to serve his sport as a selector and an administrator.
He didn’t always speak well of Heaton, however. Having bought a £95,000 house in Jesmond Park East in 1986, he reportedly sold it a matter of months later, allegedly because ‘couldn’t make a right turn at the end of the street.’
‘It was impossible. If I wanted to drive to Newcastle I had to take a two mile detour to get on my way. I also found the neighbourhood lacking in facilities like shops, open space, a library, cinema and swimming pool’.
Perhaps Brian Johnson of AC/DC fame, who is said to have bought the house, found a quicker route west and also realised that High Heaton Library, Biddlestone Road baths and the shops of Heaton and Chillingham Road were just a twelve minute walk away and the open spaces of Jesmond Dene barely six.
After a spell in Jesmond, Talbot, who had had a longstanding interest in alternative medicine, moved to Ibiza in the early 1990s where he practised homeopathy. He later returned to Tyneside. In 2013, he received an MBE for services to badminton.
No 5 Elliot Stuart
Elliot represented Great Britain at badminton at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich.
Like Derek Talbot, Elliot attended Heaton Grammar. He lived with his parents on Kingsley Place and, after leaving school, also like Talbot, he studied metallurgy at Newcastle University because, he said,’dad worked in Vickers and Armstrong shipyards on the Tyne, and he thought it would be interesting – he was wrong.’
Stuart joined Barclays as a computer operator, later becoming a programmer, systems analyst and project manager. He said that he moved to London because he was on the verge of playing international badminton and ‘because it was easier to fly from Heathrow (regional airports barely existed then) to the many badminton tournaments throughout Europe and the world.’ In 1969, after he had been at Barclays for just a year, the company gave him ‘six months a year paid leave, without contractual obligations, except to spread the name of Barclays, whenever appropriate at events across the globe’.
In April 1972, Stuart won bronze with fellow Heatonian, Derek Talbot, at the European Badminton Championships in Sweden before representing Great Britain in the Olympic Games in Munich some four and a half months later. Although, the bronze medal the pair won doesn’t count officially, it was nevertheless a great honour to be chosen to represent their sport in the biggest event on earth.
The Heatonian went on to win gold at the 1973 Indian Open with Derek Talbot, 1974 Commonwealth gold, again with Talbot, and bronze with Susan Whetnall. In 1975, he won the All England mixed doubles title with Nora Gardner. But he says that his biggest badminton success was marrying Swedish World Singles Champion, Eva Twedberg!
In 1996, aged 50, Elliot took early retirement so that he could help top level badminton transition from an amateur to a professional sport. He continued to coach and mentor and became Performance Director for English Badminton. After retirement. he went to live in Portugal.
No 6 Jonathan Edwards
Jonathan represented Great Britain in the triple jump at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta and the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney.
Born in London on 10 May 1966, Jonathan was the son of Jill Edwards and her husband, Andy a clergyman. He was brought up to have a strong Christian faith which included preserving Sundays as a special day. The family didn’t watch television, work or study on the Sabbath. Jonathan remembers watching his mother prepare the vegetables for Sunday lunch on Saturday evenings.
Jonathan went to school in Devon, before coming north to study Physics at Durham University. While a student, he began to be coached by Gateshead-based, Carl Johnson, and, after graduation, decided to remain in the north east so that they could continue to work together.
It was the faith that Jonathan had inherited from his parents that brought him to Heaton. He began to worship at Heaton Baptist Church and took advantage of a book held at the back of the church listing local people with property available for rent.
His biographer writes of Edward’s first impressions of Heaton when a prospective landlord took him to view the King John Street property that became his first Heaton home:
‘Edwards confesses that as the car drove into Heaton his heart missed a beat. As rain drilled against the windows, all he could see was street after street of dreary-looking terraced houses. For a young man spoiled by the wild, rural beauty of the north Devon coast and the quaintness of Durham, this urban landscape was a culture shock. Still, Edwards needed a roof over his head and the accommodation was clean and affordable. He was to discover that his first impressions did not necessarily provide a fair reflection of the area. He found a friendliness and warmth in Heaton and, with his wife Alison, later established their first marital home in the street that had provided him with such an unflattering view of the suburb on the day he came flat-hunting’. They went on to live at several other Heaton addresses including on Heaton Park View.
Edwards recalls his early days, newly unemployed and alone, in Heaton: ‘I cried my eyes out’.
‘I’d never experienced life, real life, like this. After I’d moved into the flat in Heaton, my first attempt at cooking involved making an omelette and putting it on a lettuce leaf. Grotesque.’
Soon, however, Edwards got a job as a maternity cover scientific officer in the cytogenetics laboratory at the RVI. After work, he would go to Gateshead to train and then catch a Metro back into town. From there, he’d catch the Number 1 bus back to Heaton or walk if one didn’t arrive. We’ve all been there!
But soon Heaton and particularly Heaton Baptist Church became the focus of a national media storm. Improving performances meant that Edwards was selected for the 1988 British Olympic trials. The first two in the trials were guaranteed selection for the games and there would be a third wild-card place. Unfortunately for Edwards, the triple jump event was scheduled for a Sunday and so the young, unknown Edwards declared that he could not compete. The media had already besieged the RVI and on the day of the event itself, television crews turned up at the church on Heaton Road hoping to film Edwards going in to worship. However, Edwards’ gamble paid off: he was selected for Seoul anyway. It was never expected that he would achieve a high place but he would gain valuable experience. In fact he finished 23rd in qualifying with a best jump of 15.88. Bulgaria’s Khristo Markov won the final with a new Olympic record of 17.61.
By the time of the Barcelona games, 4 years later, Jonathan Edwards had married Alison Briggs, a physiotherapist at the RVI, at Heaton Baptist Church. Expectations, including his own, were high. His father was in the stadium to watch him qualify and his mother and Alison would be there for the final. Except, for Jonathan, there was to be no final. He fouled his first jump and messed up his next two as well. His position of 35th was worse than Seoul. His best distance of 15.76 almost two metres shorter than that of the eventual winner, USA’s Mike Conley, who achieved a new Olympic record of 17.73. Edwards was distraught.
By the time of the next summer games in Atlanta in 1996, Edwards was a full-time athlete, having been able to give up work at the RVI thanks to a grant from the Great North Run Trust. He had also changed his coach and adopted the jumping style of the Barcelona gold medallist, Mike Conley. And there were new names in the Edwards’ family, Alison having given birth to two sons, Sam and Nathan, in 1993 and 1995 respectively. Most importantly from an athletics point of view, he was now world record holder.
In the European Cup Final in Lille on 25 June 1995, he had jumped a huge but slightly wind-assisted 18.43. A legitimate world record of 17.98 in Salamanca followed, and then on 7 August two more massive world record breaking jumps of 18.16 and 18.29 metres during the World Championships in Gothenburg while his wife Alison was back in Heaton, trying to take her mind off things by gardening. When the media converged on our area again, a home made banner outside the Edwards’ flat read ‘Simply the Best’. That Edwards was now a sporting superstar was confirmed when he won the prestigious BBC Sports Personality of the Year. He went into the 1996 Olympics as hot favourite.
The triple jump event in Atlanta took place on 26 July. In qualifying, Edwards struggled, as he had previously, while reigning champion Mike Conley and former world champion, Kenny Harrison, both on home soil, along with Cuban Queseda, Bermudan Wellman, and Bulgarian Georgiev, all reached the automatic qualifying distance on their first jump. Edwards eventually qualified for the final in sixth place.
In the final, Harrison set a new Olympic record with his first jump and bettered it with his fourth. Edwards struggled with two red flags before managing a legal jump which put him in third place and entitled him to a further three attempts. His fourth effort was the longest jump ever not to win gold but the Briton had to settle for silver. (This was Heaton’s first official Olympic medal!)
Four year’s later in Sydney, the now Gosforth-based Edwards was determined to better that. Harrison wasn’t competing and so when qualifying began on 23 September 2000, the British athlete was favourite again. This time he achieved the required distance with his second jump, although his British team mates, Onochie ‘Larry’ Achike and Phillips Idowu, were in first and second place, both with personal bests, and Edwards in fourth going into the final two days later.
In the final, Achike led after the first round and Russia’s Denis Kapustin after the second but in the third round Edwards jumped 17.71m and took gold (Heaton’s first!) He was awarded a CBE.
Following his Olympic success, Edwards won gold at the 2001 World Championships. At one point he was the reigning champion in the Olympics, World, Commonwealth and European Championships. At the time of writing, he still holds the World Record with his jump of 18.29m on 7 August 1995 in Gothenburg and his wind-assisted 18.43m on 25 June the same year, while not counting in the record books, also remains unsurpassed. He is also Heaton’s most successful Olympian.
No 7 Freya Ross née Murray
Freya represented Great Britain in the marathon at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
Born on 20 September 1983, Freya grew up in Temple, Midlothian and was a successful runner as a schoolgirl, winning the Scottish Schools 3,000m title in 1999 and 2000 and Scottish Cross-Country Champion in 2001.
Her progress continued into senior athletics and she won the Scottish 10,000m in 2009 and the 5,000 national title in 2010. She represented Scotland in both the 5,000m and 10,000m the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, finishing 7th and 5th respectively.
In 2006, after studying structural engineering at Heriot-Watt University, Freya moved to the north east, initially to Sunderland where she ran for Chester le Street. She joined international engineering consultancy Cundall and able to work part time for them, while pursuing her athletics career. She describes how she often ran to and from their Regents Centre office from her home in Tosson Terrace. She has also described how she used to like running at Rising Sun Country Park and along the wagonways. The flexibility of her employer also meant she could train for part of the year in California.
Freya didn’t originally originally make the London Olympics squad. She had been pipped to the final marathon place by Claire Hallissey who had beaten her in that April’s London Marathon and she was picked only when injury forced the withdrawal of Paula Radcliffe, the world record holder and one of the favourites. On 29 July, only a week before the event, Freya was at home in Heaton doing table plans for her wedding when she got the call to pack her bags. Nevertheless, the following day, she went into work as she ‘had a few bits to finish off’. It wasn’t until the Thursday that she flew down to London.
The London Olympics women’s marathon on 5 August 2012 began and finished on the Mall and took in iconic sights such as Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, St Paul’s Cathedral, the Tower of London and the Houses of Parliament. Unfortunately for both athletes and spectators, the race began in heavy rain and so Paula Radcliffe’s world record was never in jeopardy. It was nevertheless a dramatic contest. The eventual winner, Ethiopia’s Tiki Gelana, fell at around halfway, trying to negotiate a water station but fought back to power past the bronze medallist, Russian Tatyana Arkhipova and silver medallist, Kenyan Priscah Jeptoo. Freya was the best placed Briton in 44th place from 118 starters in a personal best of 2 hours 28 minutes 12 seconds.
Following the Olympics, Freya got married as planned, became a full time athlete for a while and moved back to Scotland. She continued to compete, winning the Scottish National Championships 5,000m in 2016. She now has two young children, works as an events coordinator, has written a recipe book ‘Food on the Run’ and coaches at her local running club.
She has a permanent place in Heaton’s history as our first female Olympian.
No 8 Brazil, Spain and Gabon Football Teams, 2012 Summer Olympics in London
The previous athletes all were either born in, lived in, worked in or represented Heaton. But we must also reserve a place for the footballers who trained here before and during the 2012 games.
It was announced a good year before the event that the Brazil and Spain football squads had been allocated training facilities at the Newcastle University sports complex at Cochrane Park. The facilities underwent a half a million pound revamp in preparation for their illustrious visitors, the most famous of whom was to be Neymar, who at that time still played for Santos in his home country but was the hottest property in South American football. There was disappointment as a high fence appeared around the sports ground but excitement as it was discovered that good views of the pitches could be obtained from the first floor café of the High Heaton Sainsbury store across the road. The Geordie public had a chance to watch him properly in the quarter final v Honduras where he scored a penalty and registered an assist in Brazil’s thrilling 3-2 win v Honduras.
On 17 July 2012, Gabon became the first team to train on the university facilities but it was their warm-up match five days later that has gone down in local folklore. Former Newcastle United star Nobby Solano’s agent was drafted in to help the African underdogs find opponents to play in a friendly. He’d tried the Magpie’s Under 21s to no avail so he got in touch with the Heaton Stannington manager requesting a game the very next day. It was July. Some of the squad were on holiday, none were in training but it felt like too good an opportunity to miss, especially as Gabon boasted another of the most promising players in the world, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, then of St Étienne in France but soon to sign for Dortmund and later Arsenal. A team of part-timers was scrambled together, word was put out on social media and the game was on.
But not before the Stan assistant manager had made two mercy dashes to the African team’s base at the Gateshead Hilton, firstly to reunite Aubameyang with the boots he’d left behind and then to pop back for the sort of match balls they’d be playing with in the tournament. Aubameyang was marked by captain Joe Wear who had run the Great North 10K that morning ‘so I was a bit tired’. He scored two first half goals in Gabon’s 4-0 win before being substituted at half time.
The Africans turned down the Stan’s offer of a pie and a pint after the game but hung around to chat and pose for photographs. Their signed shirt still hangs in the clubhouse. Four days later they stepped out against Switzerland at St James Park with Aubameyang scoring their only goal of the tournament in a 1-1 draw. Their next opponents Mexico beat them 2-0 and went on to win the tournament, beating Neymar’s Brazil in the final.
Can you help?
So they’re the Heaton Olympians we have discovered so far. They all deserve a commemorative postbox! Please let us know if you know more about the Heaton connections of any of them. And we hope you can help us discover more Olympians or connections between Heaton and the Olympic Games more generally. You can contact us either through this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or by emailing email@example.com
Updated on 15 July 2021 with details of a recently rediscovered Heaton Olympian, Alan Lillington. Thank you to Arthur Andrews of Heaton History Group. Updated on 20 July 2021 to include Heaton Park View as a Heaton address for Jonathan Edwards. Thank you, David Faulkner.
British Newspaper Archive
‘The Eastenders: Heaton Harriers 1890-1990’ by William Allen; Heaton Harriers, 1990
‘A Time to Jump: the authorised biography of Jonathan Edwards’ by Malcolm Folley; Harper Collins, 2000
Other online sources
Researched and written by Chris Jackson with additional material supplied by Arthur Andrews. Thank you to Roger Askew for personal information and photos of his father and to Freya Ross and Jonathan Edwards for confirming their Heaton addresses.
During the years immediately following World War One, the world very quickly became a smaller place. Developments were taking place almost on a daily basis in aviation. An international air mail service was becoming established and newsreels, introduced before the war, became a must-see bi-weekly feature of cinema-going. As a result of all of these, the events of 14 December 1920 and the name of a Heaton pilot were spoken about, not only across Britain, but around the world.
Robert Wilkinson was born on 27 June 1886 in Byker, the second son of Margaret Chambers, a single mother. Margaret went on to marry Lawrence Bager, a merchant seaman, and, by 1891, the family were living in Wallsend. Lawrence and Margaret had had a baby son together, while the older boys, Foster and Lawrence, were both recorded on the census under the surname ‘Wilkinson’ and as the stepsons of Lawrence, the head of household.
By 1901, the family were in Byker. Fourteen year old Robert was employed as a merchant’s clerk, as was his older brother, now listed as Fredrick. Both boys now had the surname ’Bager’ and were listed as sons of Lawrence, just like their younger siblings. Lawrence died in 1910 leaving Margaret at home, now 109 Tosson Terrace, Heaton, with her three grown up sons.
The older boys’ names had changed again by the time of the 1911 census to Robert William Moore-Wilkinson and Foster Moore-Wilkinson. Robert, now 25, was an engineer’s fitter at a firm of marine engineers. Apparently, prior to WW1, he made trips to Germany for Sopwith, a new company designing and building military aircraft and the ‘Bat Boat’, an early flying boat, which could operate on sea or land, one of which was bought by the German Navy Air Service.
It’s no surprise, to find that, on the outbreak of war, Robert quickly joined the Royal Navy or that he was recruited to serve in the Royal Naval Air Service, the pioneering forerunner of the RAF. It is from Robert’s war records that we learn a little of what he looked like: 5 ft 91/2 inches tall, blue eyes and a complexion described as fresh. The photograph below is from the Royal Aero Club records.
Robert was a member of No 7A Squadron (which, in 1917, became 14 Squadron) at first working as an aerial gun-layer. The squadron flew Handley Page Type 0 biplane bombers. In a report in the ‘Daily Mirror’ on 3 November 1917, headlined ‘Cavalry of the Clouds: honours for heroes who have been bombing foe docks’, Leading Mechanic R W Bager is listed as a recipient of a Distinguished Service Medal. We know too that he was wounded in engagements over Zeebrugge but was soon able to resume his duties. After the war, Robert joined the Handley Page Co, whose aircrafts he was so familiar with.
Handley Page, founded in 1909, was Britain’s first publicly traded aircraft manufacturing company. During the war it built heavy bombers at its factory in Cricklewood. Having been narrowly beaten in June 1919 to the kudos of making the world’s first transatlantic flight by Alcock and Brown in a Vickers Vimy, on which there was a cargo of 196 letters and one letter packet with them, four months later Handley Page’s plane the ‘Atlantic’ won the consolation prize of carrying the first airmail from Canada to the USA.
The company had already launched a goods and passenger service between London and Paris and Brussels. The first Brussels service was advertised as three times weekly and the Paris service daily (except Sunday). A single ticket cost £15.15s and a ‘double journey’ £31.10 (No saving there then!) ‘Luncheon Baskets ‘ could be ordered in advance and passengers would be conveyed between the aerodrome and the respective cities by ‘landaulette cars’.
Just a month later on 11 November 1919, the first public overseas airmail service began, flying between London and Paris. This historic flight, captained by Lt Henry ‘Jerry’ Shaw, chief pilot of Aircraft Transport and Travel, flew the first commercial flight across the Channel, a de Havilland DH.9 biplane. The flight from Hendon to Paris-Le-Bourget took 2 hours and 30 minutes and cost £21 per passenger, the equivalent of more than £1,000 today. Pilots sat in unheated open cockpits before the age of reliable radio, often following landmarks such as railway lines to ensure they were on track.
The following year, Handley Page inaugurated its own air mail services to Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam. The Paris flight left daily at noon. The price was still £10 10s but there was now a discounted return fare available for £18 18s.
One of its pilots was Major Robert Bager of Tosson Terrace, Heaton.
In mid-December 1920, England was experiencing severe weather. The headlines in the ‘Halifax Evening Chronicle’ on Tuesday 14th were typical: ‘Bolshevik weather: cold winds direct from Russia.’ ‘Iceland Warmer Than England’. The article went on to say that the Hebrides was the warmest part of Britain, while ten inches of snow was lying in Plymouth. The overnight temperature was ‘1 degree above zero’ FAHRENHEIT (-17 degrees Centigrade) in Peterborough. There were stories of happy polar bears in London Zoo and hardy swimmers in the Serpentine.
And below under the heading ‘Aeroplane Thrills’ was the story of the previous day’s Handley Page Transport flight from Paris. The pilot described his three hour flight across the Channel in a blizzard ‘Mine was the only machine to arrive in London today’ pilot Lt R H Macintosh is reported to have told the ‘Daily Mail.’ ‘The conditions were terrible, particularly on the English coast and the machine was covered with ice… when nearing London, I completely lost my bearings and flew about aimlessly until I succeeded in getting in touch with the aerodrome by wireless, which put me right and guided me home.’
As people read this in Yorkshire, other local papers from Portsmouth to Dundee were beginning to carry news of the crash of that day’s outward flight at Golders Green, very close to the Cricklewood aerodrome. In early editions there were just a couple of lines but, by late afternoon, news came through of fatalities.
By the following day, Handley Page Transport had issued a statement saying that an accident occurred to one of its 0/400 aeroplanes (G-EAMA HP-25) shortly after it left their aerodrome at 12.30pm for Paris.
It named the four victims: ‘Mr Salinger of London, an employee of a bristle merchant, passenger; Mr Van der Elst, of Paris, passenger; Mr Bager, pilot; Mr Williams, mechanic.’ Four other passengers survived: Mr Pierre Curioni of Lima, Peru and Mr E Rosenthal, a London shipbroker, were slightly injured; Mr Alexander Bona, an agent for Cinzano of Turin and Mr Eric Studd of Harley St, London, who was on his way to India via Paris, were unhurt. Mr Studd was said to have left for India by train later that afternoon.
The company pointed out that it was the first accident that had occurred in connection with its air services, which, it said, had been running since September 1919, during which time they had carried 4,000 passengers over a total distance of over 320,000 miles. The details of the passengers gives us some idea of the sort of people making international flights a century ago.
Some of the survivors were soon interviewed: Alexandre Bona, the Cinzano rep, who described himself as an ‘Italian balloon pilot’ is reported as saying:
‘It is only through our coolness that my friend, Curioni, and I survived.’ He said they broke windows and were able to jump out. ‘They’re easy to break these mica windows’. He said that those who died were seated in the front section of the plane.
There were eye witness accounts too: ‘Nursemaids, postmen, milkmen and policemen [were among the first to] rush to the scene’ . ’Many of them said that the ‘machine’ appeared to be in difficulty immediately after take off, swerved but hit a tree and then an outhouse in the garden of no 6 Basing Hill ‘the eight-roomed residence of Miss E Robinson’. The fire service responded to a telephone call from Miss Robinson, who said she was in her front room when she heard the noise, but by the time they arrived, there was only ‘the skeleton of the plane’ left. As time went on, the accounts became ever more graphic. One witness said he saw one person jump clear and make an attempt to help others. Others said they could hear the harrowing shouts of those inside.
By the end of the day, it had emerged that the pilot was from Newcastle. The local press had printed his address and interviewed his mother, said to be ‘overcome by the news’ but who proudly told journalists of her son’s many achievements and his award for gallantry.
And within a few days, cinema-goers in Heaton and elsewhere were able to see the scene of the crash for themselves in a British Pathe newsreel which survives. You can clearly see the snow falling.
Interest in the accident was unsurprising. Flying was in its infancy and fascinated the public. Landmark achievements seemed to occur almost daily but setbacks too were big news – and there were plenty of them: The previous year, Winston Churchill, the UK’s first Secretary of State for Air, having resumed flying lessons which had been interrupted by the war, had suffered severe bruising after crashing his plane, severely injuring his instructor; in the USA, airmail pilots had gone on strike after being forced to fly even in zero visibility, a policy which resulted in 15 crashes in a fortnight with two fatalities; a year ago almost to the day, Sir John Alcock of Manchester, the first person to pilot a flight across the Atlantic, had died after crashing in fog near Rouen on route to an air show; and just a few months before, actor and stuntman, Ormer Locklear and his flying partner were killed while filming a night time spin for a feature film ‘The Skywayman’ before a large crowd in Los Angeles.
But the accident on 14 December was the first ever fatal, commercial air crash on British soil and is widely considered only the third in the world. The first, in July 1919, was the crash of the Wingfoot Air Express, an airship, into the Illinois Trust and Savings Building in Chicago, killing one crew member, two passengers and ten bank employees. The second, and the first involving a heavier than air plane, occurred near Verona in Italy, in August 1919. Tullo Morgagni, the founder of many still important cycle races, including the Giro d’Italia, was among the 14-17 (reports vary) victims.
The inquest heard that Major Bager was a very experienced pilot and that the machine had always functioned well. It had been examined before take-off by two ground engineers and, according to a Major Brockley, who said he had helped start the engine before the flight, it was ‘quite satisfactory’. The verdict was that the four victims died from the consequences of burns due to the crashing of an aeroplane to the ground after it had struck a tree and that there was not sufficient evidence as to how it crashed to the ground.
There appears to have been no allusion to the weather, the previous day’s dramatic flight, the design of the aircraft, communications with the ground or the commercial pressure to fly.
Major Bager’s funeral was held on 20 December. The cortege left his family home in Tosson Terrace, accompanied by the chief mourners, his mother, brothers and sister, fiancé Ethel Gibbett of Cricklewood and representatives of Handley-Page and the Amalgamated Engineering Union, as well as many old friends and ‘sympathetic spectators.’ Reverend R Trotter, Vicar of St Gabriel’s, conducted the funeral at Heaton Cemetery where Major Robert William Bager rests still.
Researched and written by Chris Jackson, Heaton History Group.
Fifty nine names from the First World War along with seventy eight from World War Two are listed on St Gabriel’s Church war memorial. Heaton History Group member, Robin Long, has been looking into the shortened lives and sad deaths of some of those who died in 1914-18. He started by looking at people with the same surname, many of whom were related, often as brothers:
‘There are nine instances of two casualties with the same surname. The first of these are Andrew Angus and Leslie Angus. It was their father who unveiled the war memorial when it was dedicates on 27 November 1921. In 1911 the family, including sister Rita, were living at 18 Fifth Avenue. Andrew was the eldest born in 1881. He was a sergeant serving in the 16 Battalion, Northumberland Fusiliers and was killed on 20 February 2016 when they came under heavy gunfire at Aveluy. He is buried there. Leslie was a private in the 5th Battalion (Territorial) Gloucestershire Regiment and was also killed in action. He died on 27th July 1916, age 20 and is buried at Lavente, thirty miles north of his brother. Both also appear on the War Memorial at Chillingham Road School.
St Gabriel’s war memorial
After a brief unsuccessful search for John Brown and John Brown Jnr as well as John and Leonard Davies I moved to Edwin and Thomas Lant. At first I could not be sure that they were related. The 1911 census lists Edwin, age 20, living with his father, John and his mother, Mary Eleanor on Jesmond Dene Road. He has three younger siblings but there is no mention of Thomas. A search of the 1901 census shows the family including Thomas living in Darlington. The father is a building contractor and possibly moved to Newcastle for work. It was Thomas who was killed first on 1 November 1916. He was second lieutenant in the Northumberland Fusiliers and is buried at Bezentin-Le-Petit Military Cemetery. He would be about 28. Edwin died on 8 September 1917 age 27. He too was a 2nd Lieutenant and was serving in the Royal Field Artillery. He is buried at Noeux-Les-Mines Communal Cemetery, about 40 miles from his brother.
I turned my attention to Bertie and Chester Potter whom I originally thought would be related to the Potter family from Heaton Hall. Fortunately I discovered that Sandra MacDonald (19th Newcastle Scouts) was doing similar research and was able to pass much useful information me.
Bertie Potter was the son of Fred and Annie Potter. He was born in Middleham, Yorks, the second youngest of nine children. In 1911 the family were living in Wooler but at the time of Bertie’s death his parents were living in King John Terrace, Heaton. That was on 10 August 1917 when he was 19 and serving in the Royal West Kent regiment. He is buried at Godewaersvelde British Cemetery.
In 1911 Chester Arthur Potter was living with his mother Jessie and his elder brother William Stanley at 48 Coquet Terrace. He was employed as an Insurance Clerk. He was serving in the Royal Field Artillery and died of wounds on 1 April 1918 age 28. He is buried at Hannerscamps New Military Cemetery.
Henry Sibbit and George Bertrand Sibbit were brothers living in 1911 at 21 Rothbury Terrace along with five younger siblings. Their father Thomas Henry Sibbit was a ‘Schoolmaster, Elem (Head)’. Their mother Jane Elizabeth Fisher Sibbit had given birth to eight children in 24 year of marriage. A daughter had died age 5. Their eldest son Henry was to become a major in the Tyneside Scottish Battalion, Northumberland Fusiliers. He was killed in action on 1 July 1916 age 27 and is remembered with honour on the Thiepval Memorial. George Bertrand Sibbit was killed in action on 27 September 1918 age 27. He was serving with the Northumberland Fusilier as a Lieutenant and is remembered on the Vis-En-Artois Memorial. Both appear on the War Memorial at Chillingham Road School.
Waller is a name still connected with St Gabriel’s and Thomas William and Robert Edward were the brothers of Eileen’s father. In 1911 they were living at 114 Tosson Terrace along with their mother and father, two brothers and two sisters. Thomas William was serving as a Signaller in the Northumberland Fusiliers after spending 12 months in France he had been drafted to Italy. He was killed in action on 27 October 1918 age 21 and is buried at the Tezze British Cemetery.
Robert Edward enlisted in January 1917, aged 17 years 10 months, into the West Yorkshire Regiment. He was to remain in England until March 1918 when he travelled from Folkstone to Boulogne and was transferred to the Durham Light Infantry. He died on 22 April 1918 and is remembered at the Bouzincourt Ridge Cemetery, near Albert, France.
Both bothers are remembered on the Chillingham Road School WW1 Memorial. Thomas is also on the Royal Grammar School Memorial.
In 1911 John Cyril Watmough and Victor Watmough were living at 41 Meldon Terrace along with their mother, Helen Mary, three brothers and two sisters. Their father, John, is not mentioned in 1911 but in 1901 he is listed with his family living in South Shields and is described a ‘Political Agent – Own account’. In 1891 he was a teacher of language and science.
John served as a second lieutenant in the Northumberland Fusiliers and was killed in action on 10 July 1915 and is buried at Ridge Wood Military Cemetery, Ypres. Victor served as a Private in the Royal Scots and died on 22 October 1917. He is remembered on the Tyne Cot Memorial and also on the War Memorial at Chillingham Road School.
Ernest and Norman Watson do not seem to be related. There is 1911 record of Ernest Watson living in Jesmond with his father John and mother Margaret as well as younger siblings. He was a shipbrokers clerk. He served as a private in the Northumberland Fusiliers and died on 31 August 1916 age 28. He is remembered in the London Rifle Brigade cemetery, Hainaut, Belgium. At the time of his death he was married to Gladys.
My searches led me to Norman O Watson who in 1911 was living in Elswick along with two older brothers and his parents, James (an art master teaching drawing) and Isabella. Norman was a private in the Northumberland Fusiliers and died of wounds on 3 March 1916 age 19. He is remembered at the Millencourt Communal Cemetery. At the time of his death his parents were living in Newport, Monmouthshire but are recorded as ‘Native of Newcastle upon Tyne’.
I thought that I would search again for Leonard Davies. I found a Leonard Jewkes Davies on the Commonwealth Graves Commission records. He lost his life on 4th October 1917, age 24, serving in the 12th/13th Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers. Whilst his parents were living in Brighton, his wife, Annie Isabella was living at 12 Holly Avenue, Wellfield. She had been born at Hirst (Ashington) but I have not established any link to Heaton or St Gabriel’s
In due course I will continue with the individuals on the Memorial helped by research already carried out by Sandra MacDonald. In the meanwhile I would be interested to hear from anyone who has further information about any of the men listed on the War Memorials in St Gabriel’s.’
Can you help?
If you know any more about any of the people mentioned in this article or on the war memorial, we’d love to hear from you. Please either leave a reply on this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or email firstname.lastname@example.org
If you were asked about Heaton’s most important exports, you might well mention great feats of engineering, such as Sir Charles Parsons’ ground-breaking steam turbines, or Grubb Parsons’ telescopes, both of which are still to be found throughout the world. Or perhaps you’d suggest music, with local boy Chas Chandler, inducted into Rock and Roll’s Hall of Fame with ‘The Animals’ in 1994 – the band’s 60s’ songs still played and performed all over the world half a century after they were written. We rightly commemorate such achievements with plaques, books and museum displays.
But hands up if you’ve ever stopped on Grafton Street and given even a passing thought to the local men who married both of the great Heaton industries of engineering and music? In truth, you might never have had cause to go to Grafton Street at all: since redevelopment of the area, it’s perhaps the shortest street in Heaton (or is it Byker?) comprising little more than four parking bays (usually full) facing Shields Road and a single yellow line. There’s a pawnbroker’s shop on one corner and a council customer service centre on the other.
But there’s also a nearby bench on which you can sit and listen. There may still be music in the air.
So let’s rewind.
Charles William Howden was born in All Saints parish, of which Heaton was a part, in 1865 and baptised in St Nicholas’s Cathedral on 28 May of that year. He was the eldest child of Ryton born, Margaret Isabella, and John Howden, a shipping clerk from Wakefield in Yorkshire.
By 1881 at the age of 16 and still living with his parents and now four younger siblings in the west end of Newcastle, Charles was described as an ‘organ builder’s apprentice’. Ten years later, still living in the parental home, he is described on the census as an ’employer’ and ‘organ builder’.
We don’t yet know to whom young Charles Howden was apprenticed but we can trace the development of the organ building firm that bears his name from its foundation c1893 via Forth Street and Snowdon Street in Newcastle to 65 Grafton Street, Heaton. Howden had joined forces with one William Charlton Blackett, the Bensham-born son of a coal agent, to set up the firm of Blackett and Howden Ltd.
Like other more famous engineers operating around Heaton at this time, Blackett and Howden weren’t content to copy what had gone before. They wanted their organs to be better than everyone else’s. We can trace several patent applications: for ‘pallets‘ (1891). ‘pneumatic action’ (1895) and ‘blowing‘ (1904).
According to organ historian, James Ingall Wedgewood, they may have invented what is known as a ‘diaphone‘, the noise-making device best known for its use as a foghorn. While the invention of the diaphone is commonly attributed to Robert Hope-Jones, it was apparently Blackett and Howden who first experimented with it as early as 1888:
‘It frequently happens in organ building, when the requisite conditions are fortuitously complied with, that a pallet will commence to vibrate rapidly, and it is often within the province of an organist’s or organ builder’s observation that such a “fluttering pallet,” or a Tremulant in a state of rapid vibration, when provided with a resonator in the form of a soundboard or wind trunk, generates tones of considerable power. The safety valves of steamboats constantly act similarly. … The idea must doubtless have occurred to many builders … that such phenomena might systematically be adapted to tonal use.
An experimental attempt at such adaptation was made in 1888 by Messrs. Blackett & Howden, of Newcastle [England]. The bulk of the apparatus employed was enclosed in a box (15 ins. square for the 16 ft. note). Wind passed into a chamber containing a vibrator in the form of a circular disc fixed on to the loose end of a spring, and so arranged as to beat against a hole in the under side of the resonator, being regulated in pitch and intensity by a sliding bridge and set-screw.’
Whether because they were louder or simply because they were of superb quality, Blackett and Howden organs were sold not only across the north east but soon throughout the UK and even overseas.
Some of the earliest church organs for which records exist are in Scotland; the one in the Braid Church in Edinburgh was built in 1898 and there were other early instruments in Glasgow, West Kilbride and Montrose. At one point the firm did so much business in Scotland that it ran a second workshop in Glasgow. Another one followed in Cardiff.
Close to home
According to the British Pipe Organ Register, locally, the firm built the organ for St Gabriel’s (date unknown), Heaton Methodist Church (1910) and Heaton Congregational Church (1920).
The transport costs to Heaton Congregational Church must have been among the lowest for any Blackett and Howden organ: the church (now Heaton Bingo) was only a few hundred yards from the factory. Unfortunately, we don’t know what happened to this organ: it doesn’t appear on the current National Pipe Organ Register.
Heaton Congregational Church’s Blackett and Howden organ was installed in 1920
There is some confusion regarding the St Gabriel’s organ. According to the British Pipe Organ Register, organ N04082 was surveyed in St Gabriel’s in 1944 and described as ‘built by Blackett and Howden (date unknown)’. According to the opening sentence of a report written in 1994 by Paul Ritchie: ‘The builders of St Gabriel’s organ would appear to be modest as there is no name plate on the console, nor do the bellow weights carry their initial letters’. Ritchie goes on to say: ‘Somewhere in the back of my memory is a little voice saying Abbott and Smith’. And indeed there is another entry in the register for St Gabriel’s: organ N12464 ‘built by Abbott and Smith in 1905; surveyed in 1980′. Another unsigned and undated report states that Blackett and Howden installed an exhaust-pneumatic action around 1920 and that, at the same time, tuba and pedal trombone were added ‘and the Great Organ gained a large Open Diapason with leathered upper lips. This latter stop was placed on a separate unit chest and was reported to be rather poor; it was removed by Willis in 1963′.
But there are no such doubts about the instrument in Heaton Methodist Church. It was inaugurated on Wednesday 4 May 1910: ‘there were recitals from 2.30pm, followed by a public tea. Special services took place on the next three Sundays and a concert took place on Monday 23rd May.’ And it’s is still going strong.
Heaton Methodist Church organ
A celebratory concert was held in 2010 to celebrate the centenary of its installation and the programme included a short history of both the organ and of Blackett and Howden itself.
Heaton Methodist Church organ centenary programme
But perhaps the most famous Blackett and Howden organ still played today is in the Royal Memorial Chapel of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, which was built in 1924. The instrument is described in the history of the organ as ‘for its time, fairly cutting edge technology’ with ‘pioneering use of tubular pneumatic action’. After the war, the architect Sir Hugh Casson designed a new organ case for the instrument above the chapel’s main war memorial. At this point the organ was rebuilt and enlarged but using a lot of the original pipework.
Sadly many Blackett and Howden organs have been destroyed over the years but that originally built for the Prince’s Theatre in North Shields was fortuitously rescued by an Australian enthusiast. Apparently this was the only unit theatre organ ever built by the firm (in 1929) and its console was displayed at the North East Trade Fair Exhibition.
Records show that the flue pipes were ‘voiced’ by Syd Goldsmith and the reeds and strings by Frank ‘Hubbert‘ (although we believe this to be Frank Hubbard who in 1911 was living on Tosson Terrace, Heaton). The skill of manipulating an organ pipe to make it sound is known as voicing: ‘Each pipe must be made to play with the proper onset of sound (known as speech), sustained tone, and volume. When the voicing process is complete, each individual pipe in the organ forms a beautiful musical instrument.’
According to locals, the Prince’s Theatre organ had ‘a beautiful tone with sweet voicing and ample power for the large house.’ Although its console was destroyed in 1969, its chamber contents were bought for £75 by the Organ Society of Australia. They even obtained the original receipt!
Blackett and Howden document
In 1975, it was installed in Cinema North in Reservoir, Victoria. In 1999, it was moved to Coburg Town Hall, also in Victoria. You can read the full story of this wonderful instrument here:
We have found a record showing that, on 16 January 1917, William Blackett sailed from London to Hong Kong on the Japanese ship, SS Fushimi Maru. It was a dangerous time to be at sea: over 200 allied ships were lost during January 1917 alone. But it shows that Blackett and Howden’s reputation was worldwide. As you can see below, most of Blackett’s fellow British passengers were missionaries or nurses.
Fushima Maru passenger list including William Blackett
The organ of St John’s Cathedral in Hong Kong was built by William Blackett ‘an elderly, bearded gentleman’ who ‘had come to the colony to install one of their organs in a church in the colony. Finding the climate congenial, he decided to stay and set up a small organ factory in the city. He recruited a group of Chinese and taught them the trade’.
Full renewal of the existing organ was priced at $14,000 but fundraising was suspended because of what was called ‘troublous times’ in 1925: a strike and anti-British boycott ignited by a deadly shooting during a strike in Shanghai, fuelled to fever pitch by British and French guards killing demonstrators in Canton. Nevetheless the organ was complete by 1927 and services, in which the organ could be heard, broadcast on the radio the same year.
Meanwhile back home, Blackett and Howden was sold to the London firm of Hill, Norman and Beard in 1924. At this time, John Christie of Glyndebourne became the major shareholder and Charles Howden became general manager with Ralph Walton Blackett, William’s son, sub-manager.
But on 25 September 1927, with William Blackett still in Hong Kong, Charles Howden died at the age of 62 at his home, 35 Rothbury Terrace. He left £1873 3s 3d in his will, a modest sum considering the success of the company he had co-founded more than thirty years earlier.
Blackett and Howden’s name continued to be used, however. It traded from its Grafton Street premises for another half century. The Heaton factory finally closed in 1974, when the remaining part of the business was purchased by N Church & Co.
William Blackett and Charles Howden did not, of course, build their organs alone.
Hopefully this article will enable us to trace people employed in the factory in later years. In the meantime, it seems appropriate to pay tribute here to some of the workers listed in the 1911 census whose reputation and, in some cases, expertly crafted musical instruments live on more than a hundred years after they were made.
One of these was Terrot G Myles who, in 1911, was 30 years old. He lived at 149 Molyneux Street.
Terrot G Myles
Terrot is described in the census as an ‘organ builder‘. Thanks to his granddaughter, Grace, we have photographs of him and know quite a lot about his life. Terrot was born in Glasgow but moved to Edinburgh as a young boy. After leaving school, he was apprenticed to Ingram & Co, a firm of organ builders, in their Edinburgh factory and progressed to become a journeyman. The firm described him as ‘smart, willing and punctual’ and recommended him to future employers. In 1908, Scovell and Company called him ‘a most conscientious and painstaking worker, perfectly steady and reliable and a good all round man’. His reference made it clear that he was leaving the company only due to ‘depression of trade’ and they expressed a hope that he would return at some future date.
By this time though Terrot had already married Isabella Younger, a bookbinder from Sunderland. Their elder son, Richard, was born in Hampshire in 1908 but by 1911, they were in Newcastle, where, a year later, their younger son, John was born. We can only guess that while in Heaton and working as an organ builder, Terrot was employed by Blackett and Howden but it seems a fair assumption to make.
However, in 1923, the family set sail from Liverpool to New York in search of a better life. Terrot spent the next eight years working for Henry Pilcher’s Sons, an organ builder, in Louisville, Kentucky. He became a naturalised American the following year and spent his career building and installing organs all over the USA. He received and treasured many glowing references, which Grace still has. Terrot and Isabella eventually moved to White Lake, Michigan, where Isabella died in 1954 and Terrot a year later, aged 73 years.
Others listed in the 1911 census include:
William Blackett, aged 52, 13 Brough Street, Heaton Joiner in Organ Factory (We don’t know whether he was related in any way to the firm’s co-founder, William Blackett, who lived in Whitley Bay at this time)
Charles Brassington, aged 31, 26 Heaton Park Road, organ builder
John Wastle Craig, aged 14, 15 Tynemouth Rd, organ builder assistance
William Gill, aged 54, 13 Addison Street, organ builder, voicer, tuner
Thomas Miller Hendry, aged 23, 39 Langhorn St, organ builder
Frank Hubbard, 83 Tosson Terrace, organ voicer (*Almost certainly the Frank ‘Hubbert’ who voiced the North Shields organ. See above.)
James William Jobson, aged 50, 10 North View, organ builder
John Jobson, aged 16, 10 North View, apprentice organ builder
John George Millington, aged 34, 188 Warton Terrace, organ builder (Later lived in King John Terrace until his death in 1962)
John Matthew Mitchell, aged 63, 72 Addycombe Terrace, organ builder
John Henry Reed, aged 22, 80 Eighth Avenue, organ builder
Ernest Routledge, aged 22, 57 Malcolm Street, organ pipe maker (Ernest died in 1918 aged 29 as did his 2 year old son, Roland)
Whenever you listen to organ music this Christmas, spare a thought for these Heaton master-craftsmen and the lasting joy they have brought to the world.
Can you help?
If you know more about any of the people or organs mentioned in this article or of anyone who worked at Blackett and Howden’s, we’d love to hear from you. We’d also be interested to hear and see photographs of any other Blackett and Howden organs you see on your travels. Please either leave a reply on this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or email email@example.com
Researched and written by Chris Jackson, Heaton History Group. Thank you to HHG member, Joyce Lovell, and to George Cottrell for information about Heaton Methodist Church organ; to Pauline Giles for information about St Gabriel’s organ; to Grace Myles for photos and information on Terrot Myles.
This fantastic photograph, showing a group of men in front of the pavilion in Heaton Park, was taken by Edward G Brewis or at least his firm.
Edward lived from about 1895 to 1900 in ‘the photographer’s house’, the double-fronted house just a few doors up from the park, 190 Heaton Park Road. He ran his own photography studio in New Bridge Street, as well as from his Heaton home and he took the last ever photograph of Heaton Park Road champion cyclist, George W Waller.
By 1900, Edward Brewis had moved to Broomley near Bywell but he later returned to Jesmond Park East, High Heaton for a while. He died aged only 44 in 1908. (You can read more about him and the house by clicking on the link in the first line of this paragraph.)
Early 20th Century Heaton Park bowlers?
We are hoping that someone will be able to tell us more about the photograph. Who were the men? They are posing with bowls on the bowling green so that could be a clue? Is the man standing at the back and the one sitting on the grass to the left of the bowls a park keeper? They both have badges on their distinctive caps and one has what might be a money bag over his shoulder.
When might it have been taken? Do the array of bowlers, boaters, flat caps, even a top hat (held by the bare-headed man second from the right in the second row from the back) and what looks like a tam o’shanter (three to the left of the man with the top hat) enable anyone to date it with a degree of confidence? Perhaps the collars and neck ties can help us pin it down.
Or does the pavilion itself hold the answer? How long was the large fountain in place? And does the photo pre-date a later clock? When was this part of the park a bowling green? We know it was a croquet lawn at one point. We are sure that readers of this article will have at least some of the answers.
Ian Sanderson recently wrote from Sussex, telling us that he believes the man in the boater on the left of the above photograph to be his grandfather, John Arthur Whyte.
John, born in 1885, lived in Byker and Heaton all his life and in 1911 was presented with two medals by his bowling club, Heaton Victoria. John spent a long career with Newcastle Corporation, rising to the position of town clerk. He continued to bowl in Heaton Park and for the Portland Club into the 1950s. He also represented Northumberland.
Below is a detail from the above photograph and also photos, supplied by Ian, which show his grandfather in 1916 and the medals he won. Ian believes that the above photograph may show members of the Heaton Victoria Club in around 1911.
Detail of photograph of bowlers in Heaton Park
John Arthur Whyte, 1916
Heaton Victoria Bowling Club medal
Heaton Victoria Bowling Club medal
Heaton Victoria Bowling Club medal
Heaton Victoria Bowling Club medal
Thank you very much to Ian and to Gary Walsh of Whickham, who kindly sent us a copy of the photograph.
Can you help?
If you can give us any leads or have any other information or photos of bowling in Heaton that you’re happy to share, we’d love to hear from you. Please either leave a message on this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or email firstname.lastname@example.org We’d love to hear from you!
Heaton History Group has been interviewing older Heatonians so that we can capture memories and personal photographs to complement more easily accessed published and archived material. Jeanie Molyneux recently met Joan Sweeney nee Potter, who was born in 1922, lived at 23 Sackville Road until 1951 and then in Rothbury Terrace for a further 8 years.
Young Joan, aged 4, in 1926
We are hoping that Mrs Sweeney’s recollections will interest other longstanding or former residents. Please add your memories to our collection either by leaving a comment on this website (by clicking on the link immediately below the article title) or by emailing email@example.com .
Mrs Sweeney remembers
– the visit of King George V and Queen Mary to Tyneside for the opening of the Tyne Bridge on 10 October 1928. She recalls being taken to the approach Road at Armstrong Bridge by Jesmond Dene and being given a flag to wave and, later, a certificate. Where you there or perhaps at one of the Heaton Secondary Schools which they officially opened the same day?
– playing bat and ball against the wall of the house on the corner of Stanmore Road and Ravenswood Road. She also remembers that in the backyard of her home there was a container for ashes attached to the back wall with an aperture so that the ashes could be tipped into the bath which was brought around the back streets. What did you play in the back lanes? Do you remember ashes being collected?
Young Joan in her backyard with the ash box in the background c1932
– the blacksmith’s shop and Clarendon garage at the top of Chillingham Road (opposite Norwood Avenue). As a child, Mrs Sweeney was sent to the garage to collect batteries for the cat’s whisker (wireless / old radio). Were you sent on errands to local shops?
– the Scala on the corner of Chillingham Road and Tosson Terrace. The First Vets practice premises was Riddells, a photographers. Baobab Bakery was also a bakery in earlier years – the Tynedale Bakery. This photo of the bakery was taken by High Heaton photographer, Laszlo Torday. Thank you to Newcastle City Library for permission to use it.
Next door was the Teesdale Dairy. They also operated a horse and cart which would travel around the area selling milk, pouring the milk from a white container directly into a jug at local residents’ homes. Do Mrs Sweeney’s memories jog yours?
– other local shops, for example, on Rothbury Terrace from the corner of Spencer Street to Chillingham Road included Topliffe hardware store and Tulip’s chemists. She remembers a small general store on the corner of Sackville Road and Stanmore Road which sold food and she recalls helping to serve there on one occasion. Mrs Sweeney also remembers Ochletree’s, a newsagent on Addycombe Terrace on the corner of Tosson Terrace or Trewhitt Road – she is a little uncertain which. Can you help?
– Sainsbury’s on Benton Road was a sweet / toffee factory. Thank you to English Heritage for permission to reproduce the aerial photo below from its Britain from Above website.
A S Wilkins’ Cremona Toffee Works, 1938
Also in that area was the Sylvan Jam factory, with a big chimney with the name Sylvan on the side. Mrs Sweeney remembers being able to smell strawberries when jam was being made. What smells do you remember from your Heaton childhood?
– In the years before World War 2, the last tram along Heaton Road (about 11.00 pm) also had a post box on board. The last tram would drop the box off at the Post Office at the top of Heaton Road. She remembers occasions when she would see her father running up the road with a letter in order to catch the final tram.
She also remembers that a tram (open upstairs) travelled up to Gosforth Park (she thinks possibly only at weekends). She recalls travelling on the tram to Lamb’s Tea Gardens, next to the garden centre. Do you remember taking a trip to Lambs’ or taking a tram in Heaton?
Share your memories
We really appreciate Mrs Sweeney giving up her time and sharing her memories and photographs with us. If you remember ‘bygone’ Heaton, please get in touch. We can meet you for a chat if you still live locally. Or send your memories by email to firstname.lastname@example.org
‘Craigielea’ (276 Heaton Road) is an imposing early Edwardian brick villa situated on the corner of Heaton Road and Cartington Terrace opposite both St Gabriel’s church and the Heaton Medicals cricket and rugby ground. We were thrilled when just before recent owner Jimmy McAdam moved out, he invited us to look through the house’s deeds and other documents. What would they reveal? We suspected that some interesting people would have crossed its threshold and we weren’t disappointed.
The first question the documents answered was the age of the house. The first conveyance is dated 3 June 1902. It shows that William Watson Armstrong, who had inherited Lord Armstrong’s estate only eighteen months earlier, sold three adjoining plots of land, on what was termed the Heaton Park Villa Estate, to builder William Thompson of Simonside Terrace. The contract came with a myriad of strict provisos concerning the quality of the properties to be built on the site: only high quality materials were to be used; the roof and back offices were to be covered with Bangor or Duke of Westmoreland slate, yard fences were to be wire railings of approved design and four feet high; the front was to comprise a garden only; no trades were to be pursued from the properties etc. The high standard of design and workmanship is still evident today.
The architect’s family
William Thompson was the first owner of Craigielea but not its first resident. That honour seems to have gone to the Lish family. At least they are the first to be named in the annual trade directories. Joseph James Lish was born in Beamish, County Durham in 1841. By the time he moved to Heaton, he had been married for over 35 years to his wife, Nancy, a Londoner, and they had 5 children, the rather exotically named John Robertson, Kirkwood Hewat, Catherine Hozier Robertson, Bentley Beavons and Florence Meek. Sadly John, a Second Lieutenant in the Lincolnshire Regiment, was to die during the First World War. He is cited in De Ruvigny’s Roll of Honour which, in addition to giving details of his military service and heroic death, records that he was a shipbroker, coal exporter and all round sportsman.
His father, Joseph Lish, was an architect but he didn’t design the house or its two neighbouring properties. The original plans in Tyne and Wear Archive show that they were the work of the well-known Tyneside architects, William Hope and Joseph Charlton Maxwell.
Craigielea is shown on the left of this original design
Hope and Maxwell are remembered for their design of theatres, not only locally in Blyth and Newcastle, but as far afield as Glasgow, Margate and Southampton. Sadly the Hope and Maxwell theatres have all been demolished or been destroyed by fire. Another of their buildings does still stand, however, just up the road from Craigielea. It’s Heaton Methodist Church.
But back to Craigielea‘s first resident. There are a number of known Lish buildings around Tyneside, the most well known of which is the 1908 Dove Marine Laboratory, which still stands at Cullercoats. There is a book in Newcastle City Library in which Lish describes the design and build of the laboratory. He was an early advocate of reinforced concrete, using it in the Dove laboratory. What’s more, over a quarter of a century earlier, in 1874, he had exhibited his own invention, ‘Tilo-Concrete’. Lish was prominent in his profession both regionally and nationally. At one stage he was the President of the Society of Architects, whose Gold Medal he was awarded. He died in 1922 at the age of 80.
If you know more about Joseph Lish or any member of his family or have any photographs you are willing to share, we’d love to hear from you. Please get in touch either via the ‘Reply’ link just below the title of this article or by emailing email@example.com
The marine engineer’s family
By 1911, the Lish family had left Heaton and marine engineer Robert Bales Armstrong and his wife, Margaret Emma, had moved in with their eight children and Robert’s sister, Sarah. Robert, from West Herrington in County Durham, was the son of a cartman/sheep farmer. His wife, from the same county, had worked as a Post Office assistant before she was married. By 1911, the two older boys, Frank Bales and Robert Hunter, were both apprentices in engineering and ship building respectively. The older girls, Sarah Jane and Daisy Bales ‘assisted with housework’; John, David Bales and Reginald Hugh were at school and Doris Hunter and Gladys May were under school age. The family also had a live-in servant, Annie Elizabeth Robinson. You can see why they needed a substantial house!
Robert and Margaret are in the centre of this family group
We are indebted to researchers of the Armstrong family tree who have posted on the Ancestry website for the above photo and additional information about Robert who had begun his career as a draughtsman at Hawthorn Leslie, worked for a while at Day, Summers and Co in Southampton and returned to the North East and Hawthorn Leslie in 1905. While living in Heaton, he was Chief Assistant to the Engineering Director and then General Manager. The family left Craigielea just before the end of the First World War. Robert was awarded the OBE in 1918 for his part in keeping the shipyards open during the war. Later he invented a steam powered boiler, the ‘Hawthorn-Armstrong’. Robert died in 1931 only weeks after becoming Managing Director of R & W Hawthorn, Leslie and Co Ltd.
The draper’s family
Next to move in to Craigielea was Herbert Pledger and his family. Herbert Pledger was born in Cambridgeshire, the son of a ‘bootmaker and publican’. By 1891, at the age of 22, he was a draper’s assistant in Saffron Walden, Essex and lodging with his employer. Within a few years, he had moved North and entered into a business partnership on Shields Road (See below). Soon he was to have his own firm.
Herbert Pledger’s shop seen here in 1923 on the occasion of the Prince of Wales’ visit (Taken by Heaton butcher, Edgar Couzens)
We can track Herbert’s success by his various Heaton addresses. In 1895, he lodged at 29 Kingsley Place. By 1900 he was married, with a young son, and was householder at 105 Cardigan Terrace. In 1911, he, his Gateshead born wife, Annie and their children, Herbert Junior, William Cowley and Marjorie plus servant Isabella Caisley lived at 20 Simonside Terrace and for a couple of years from 1918, they lived at Craigielea before moving just up Heaton Road to Graceville.
Herbert Junior and William Cowley Pledger, c 1901 (Thank you to Simon Bainbridge for permission to publish on this website)
Herbert Pledger Senior died in 1929 with an estate worth over £80,000, a significant fortune then.
After the Pledgers moved out, the house was owned and occupied briefly by William Thompson, builder. This was the first time it had been owner-occupied and at present, we can only surmise that this is the same William Thompson who had built the house 20 years or so earlier. He seems also to have had a house in Coquet Terrace (number 39). Sadly he died soon after. Isabella , his widow, sold Craigielea in 1931 to William Thompson Hall, a doctor who also had a surgery at 12 Heaton Road. There is a document in which the freeholder’s lawyers say that (despite the original clause forbidding trades being practised from the house) they had no objection to Dr Hall’s medical practice and, subject to the approval of Lord Armstrong’s architects, a side entrance could be made for the convenience of Dr Hall. The plans are held by Tyne and Wear Archive.
The original dining room and drawing room were converted into a waiting room and consulting room
Dr Hall died in 1934 at which point the house passed into the ownership of his widow, Edith, and an Isabel Dorothy Reed. From this point on, biographical information about the householders becomes a little harder to find but we do have the bare bones. From just before World War 2 until the late fifties, a Maurice Edward Robinson, manager, was in residence but didn’t own the property. In 1958 Vincent and Margaret Richards Fleet moved from 14 Coquet Terrace, paying Hall and ‘another’ £1,900. When Vincent Fleet died in 1977 the house was passed firstly to ‘Thomas and Spencer’ and then to the Taz Leisure group, which applied for, but was refused, permission to convert the house into the HQ of the Northumbrian branch of the Red Cross Society. It was then sold to Ronald and Philippa Oliver in 1985 (They had moved, as so many of the more recent owners had, from a nearby Heaton residence – in this case 18 Westwood Avenue.) The Olivers in turn sought planning permission, this time to use part of the ground floor for a tea room but this too was refused and the Olivers also soon sold the house. There were to be two further owners, ‘Maill and Grant’ and then Carol Simpson before Jimmy and Lesley McAdam of Tosson Terrace bought it in 1994 and lived there for over 20 years. Jimmy is a photographer and has a wealth of stories of his own to tell – but they’ll wait for another day!
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If you know more about the history of Craigielea or any of the people mentioned, we’d love to hear from you. Please get in touch either via the ‘Reply’ link just below the title of this article or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
The site now occupied by Tesco on the corner of Chillingham Road and Tosson Terrace was once, as many readers will know, a cinema. Sadly, the Scala (always pronounced, as was stressed at a recent Heaton History Group talk, Scay-la) became a victim of the growing popularity of television, closing its doors for the last time over 50 years ago on 1 July 1961. The photograph below appears in ‘Cinemas of Newcastle’ by Frank Manders (Tyne Bridge Publishing, 2005):
Former Heaton resident, ‘RS’ has only vague memories of it:
Being only six when The Scala closed, I would have been too young to have been allowed to go there on my own, but there is a vague memory of having visited there once, with a friend and his older sister. Certainly however, even at that young age, I was entrusted to make my own way to and from Ravenswood Primary School, and the most direct route by which to do so would have taken me past The Scala twice a day. To sum up: I may have visited it once, and must have seen it on many occasions, yet my memories of the building are faint.
However, he has much clearer memories of what came next. The world of retailing was changing and the old Scala was eventually demolished to make way for what RS believes to have been Chillingham Road’s – and, possibly, Heaton’s – first supermarket, a ‘Fine Fare’.
The writer was there, standing on the pavement with many others – trust me, it was a big deal at the time, and there was quite a crowd – at its grand opening.
I recall a bright but chilly Saturday morning and, if so, a best guess would be for sometime in the spring of 1965, when I would have been nine or ten. Predictably enough, there was a ribbon to be cut, and men in suits officiating, likely to have been a director of Fine Fare and a perhaps a local councillor. And there was a show business presence as well. On that Chillingham Road pavement, outside the Fine Fare, was a female celebrity, who I believe may have been a pop singer of the time. Now we’re not talking someone with the profile of Cilla, Dusty or Lulu here, but there was definitely someone from showbiz. I recall her having dark hair, and am tempted to have a guess at her identity … but no, that’s all it would be – a guess.
But there’s more – the main attraction, in fact. On that pavement, right in front of the shop entrance, there was placed at least one trestle table – maybe more – where the star guests performed their familiar routine, well known to ITV viewers since 1956. Yes, two or three of the Brooke Bond PG Tips chimpanzees had been brought along and – suitably and safely harnessed – were put through a traditional ‘chimps’ tea party’ act, for the benefit and amusement of the assembled crowd. At least we were all led to believe they were the genuine Brooke Bond TV chimps, hitherto only ever seen in black and white: it didn’t seem to be in the spirit of the occasion to ask for proof of their identities, and they may have been random, Geordie-based chimps for all anyone could tell. But on reflection – probably not. The demanding of autographs was also judged to be an unrealistic option. And then it was all over – no doubt much to the chagrin of the various grocers, butchers, bakers etc. of that stretch of Chillingham Road, now faced with the arrival of a new form of retailing which would do their own businesses no favours at all.
I shopped at the Fine Fare from time to time myself, and actually ended up working there, after school on two evenings a week and on Saturdays, in the early ’70s, when in my mid-teens, tasked with filling the freezer cabinets, but unfortunately without the benefit of an incipient frostbite allowance.
No longer resident in Heaton, I still occasionally drive past the premises noting occasional changes in ownership and name. And, after a gap of probably over four decades, one afternoon in the summer of 2013, I finally ventured back inside. On leaving the old, former Fine Fare, I lingered on the pavement outside for a few seconds, and those memories of nearly half a century ago returned – the memories which you have just read. Just a Tesco Express. Who would give it a second glance or thought today? But once it mattered. Maybe only for that single Saturday morning, so long ago. But, in the history of Heaton, once it mattered.
The photograph below was taken outside Fine Fare in 1974, on what appears, at first sight, to have been a somewhat less memorable moment in the history of Heaton.
We have Hungarian Laszlo Torday to thank for capturing just an ordinary moment some 40 years ago. Torday was a chemical engineer and amateur photographer who took hundreds of similar everyday scenes around Newcastle – and especially around Heaton because he lived on Jesmond Park West. The writer, Paul Torday, best known for his novel, ‘Salmon Fishing in the Yemen’ was Laszlo’s son. Newcastle City Library bought Torday’s photograph albums when they came up at auction some years ago and has given us permission to reproduce this one here. See more Torday photographs here.
Can you help?
Do you have memories of The Scala, Fine Fare or its successors to share? Do you remember who the celebrity was? Maybe you took a photo of the chimps? Or remember other early supermarkets in Heaton? Or perhaps you recognise someone in Torday’s photo? Post a comment by clicking on the link below the article title or email email@example.com
Thank you to ‘RS’ from whose longer essay, these memories have been taken.