Tag Archives: Warton Terrace

Forgotten Music Makers of Heaton

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.

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Grafton Street

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.

Apprentice

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.

Inventors

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.

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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.

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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.

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Heaton Methodist Church organ centenary programme

 

Military march

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.

 Rescue

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!

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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:

Eastward ho

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.

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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.

Sale

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.

Team effort

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.

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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   chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Acknowledgements

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.

Sources

Biographical Dictionary of the Organ

Laurence Elvin ‘Family Enterprise: the story of some north country organ builders‘ 1986

Norman F Moore and W Kirby Robinson ‘From Byker to Heaton: the origins and history of Heaton Methodist Church’ Pattinson, 2000

 National Pipe Organ Register list of Blackett and Howden organs 

James Ingall Wedgwood ‘A Comprehensive Dictionary of Organ Stops English and Foreign, Ancient and Modern’ The Vincent Music company, 1905 (via Wikipedia entry for Diaphone)

Stuart Wolfendale ‘Imperial to International: a history of St John’s Cathedral Hong Kong’ Hong Kong University Press, 2013

and online sources eg Ancestry

Metal Box

Does anyone remember The Metal Box Company works near Heaton Junction?

A Bit of History

Nationally the company dates back to at least 1810, although some of its constituent companies predate that, including Hudson Scott and Sons of Carlisle and Newcastle, acquired by Metal Box in 1921 and which is said to have been founded in 1799.

However it was a Heaton firm,  I A Hodgson, that led to the company’s presence on Chillingham Road. I A Hodgson, owned by Irvine Anthony Hodgson, was originally a manufacturer of cork products but by 1922 described itself as a ‘decorated tin manufacturer’.

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Advert for I A Hodgson & Co Ltd, which became Metal Box

Metal Box seems to have acquired the company in 1924, although it continued to trade under its original name until WW2. Irvine, the son of a butcher from County Durham,  had died in 1931, leaving over £24,000 in his will.

Nationally, in 1932, Metal Box described itself as a ‘maker of plain and decorated tins and tins for fruit and vegetables’ At this point, fruit and vegetable canning represented only 20% of its business, although that was expected to grow. In the mid 1930s it made the first British beer cans.

But it wasn’t all about tin cans. During WW2, its products included:

‘140 million metal parts for respirators, 200 million items for precautions against gas attacks, 410 million machine gun belt clips, 1.5 million assembled units for anti-aircraft defence, mines, grenades, bomb tail fins, jerrican closures and water sterilisation kits, many different types of food packing including 5000 million cans, as well as operating agency factories for the government making gliders, production of fuses and repair of aero engines

However, it described its Heaton Junction enterprise as a ‘tin box manufacturer’ into the 1950s. Hopefully someone  who worked there will remember its range of products and let us know.

 By 1961,Metal Box boasted more than 25,000 employees in total in ten subsidiary and 13 associated companies and it soon became the largest user of tinplate in Britain, producing 77% of the metal cans in the UK.

But by 1970, the Metal Box name had disappeared from local trade directories and telephone books. There is a photo in Tyne and Wear Archives (not yet seen by us) of the premises in 1976 before work began on the Metro .

Globally, Metal Box is now part of the giant American multinational conglomerate, Honeywell.

But what of Metal Box in Heaton?

Mrs Anne Fletcher remembers:

‘It was situated at Heaton Junction at the top of Chillingham Road. The premises are long gone now and the site appears to be part of the environs of the Metro.

 

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North View, Heaton c 1974 with Metal Box visible in the background

 

My first job after leaving Heaton High school in 1956 was in the offices. I’d been looking for a job when I received a telegram from the firm asking me to contact them. Not many people had ‘phones then!

I duly began my working life as a junior telephonist/receptionist at the weekly wage of £3-12-6d. This enabled me to pay my mam for my keep, go dancing at the Oxfordballroom in Newcastle and buy a few treats.

I walked there and back, lunchtimes included. My route went over the skew bridge, passing the stone wall which bordered the railway shunting yard. I remember there were huge advertising hoardings behind the wall. I passed my old school, then on reaching the corner of Rothbury Terrace, passed the dark blue Police box (like “Dr  Who”) and so home to Warton Terrace.

My new duties included greeting visitors and learning to operate the switchboard with its plugs and extensions connecting callers to the various departments. I was shown how to correctly wrap sample tins for posting and I would take the franking machine up to the post office at the top of Heaton Road. I had to practise typing as I had to attend weekly classes in Newcastle.

In Reception it was fascinating to watch the large Telex machine spring to life, chattering, with typed pages magically appearing. I learned how the typists’ Dictaphone wax cylinders were cleaned on a special machine, after which they were redistributed.

Having to walk through the factory one day was a bit daunting as it was of course a very busy and noisy place. It was all new and interesting though.

I moved on to the accounts department and used a large calculator. Others worked as comptometer operators. I eventually decided to go to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance, as it then was, at Longbenton. I enjoyed my time at Metal Box  though. It  had given me a good introduction to working life.’

Your Memories   

If you have memories, information or photographs of Metal Box, which you’d like to share, please either upload them to this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or email them to chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org We’d love to hear your recollections of other notable Heaton workplaces too.

Acknowledgements

Many thanks to Mrs Fletcher for her memories and to Ian Clough, who found the advert for I A Hodgson & Co Ltd.

The photo is taken from ‘Heaton: from farms to foundries’ by Alan Morgan; Tyne Bridge Publishing, 2012. Thank you to Newcastle Libraries in whose collection the original can be found.

Details of  Metal Box’s history are from ‘Grace’s Guide to British Industrial History’ http://www.gracesguide.co.uk/Metal_Box_Co

A Hundred Years of Heaton Sprouts

A hundred years ago today (ie 22 December 1916), Newcastle Corporation announced that it would be making land available across the city for individuals to cultivate in order to grow food. Seed, manure and implements would be provided at cost price. The intention was that the council-owned  land would only be made available for the duration of the war. The Corporation was also negotiating with private landowners to make more plots available in the future.

sprouts

In Heaton, the sites to be made available by the Corporation included: between Heaton and Armstrong Parks and Ouseburn; between Ouseburn and Armstrong Park; Jesmond Park; Stephenson Road; North end of Chillingham Road; Biddlestone Road; Warton Terrace; after no 134 Heaton Road; north end of Heaton Road. A few of these sites still exist today, of course. (If you have any old photos or information about any of those mentioned, please get in touch).

The first applications on Christmas Day would have preference. And so, it seems appropriate for Heaton History Group to commemorate the centenary of  allotments in Heaton – and at the same time wish everyone ‘A Very Merry Christmas’. Enjoy your parsnips, Brussels sprouts and other veg, especially if they’re allotment grown!

Shopping on Chillingham Road

A Heaton exile, Mrs Fletcher,  has written to us with her memories of Chillingham Road. We hope that they and the photographs from an even earlier time will prompt other readers to add some of their own:

‘I grew up and lived in Heaton in a typical Tyneside flat from 1940-64. As a child living in Warton Terrace,

 

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Warton Terrace (Edwardian postcard)

 

 

I was only a ‘hop skip and a jump’ from Chillingham Road and I enjoyed shopping there with my mam or ‘going for messages’ for her. In those days ‘Chilly Road’ looked rather different – there were no trees, handy seats, estate agents, charity shops or supermarkets and a takeaway to us was fish and chips (taking newspaper for outer wrapping). There weren’t many cars but there were trams (later replaced by buses).

 

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Chillingham Road (Edwardian postcard )

 

There was however a wide variety of shops. Some that come to mind are – Burrel’s butchers where we bought such things as black pudding and ‘scrag end’… Pinder’s greengrocers for ‘half a stone of potatoes’…  Nesbit’s bakers for an ‘Edinburgh brown’ loaf… Sayer’s greengrocers where Mam first bought frozen food – a carton of bilberries. She’d have used them fairly quickly as we never had a fridge!  There was Law’s stores for groceries, Little’s Dairy, which sold wonderful ice-cream and Donkin’s toyshop which also had a lending library. Nearby was a drapers.
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Chillingham Road (Edwardian postcard)

Then there were several Co-op shops, Fong Wah’s laundry, a radio shop, Manners pork shop, two drycleaners, an off-licence, chemists, a wallpaper shop, fresh fish shop and many others.
At the post office I bought sheets of colourful pictures called ‘scraps’ to stick into my scrapbook. Next to the pillar box outside was a useful stamp machine. There was a newsagent who would deliver my  ‘Beano’ and ‘Dandy‘ comics and later ‘School Friend’.
At the tiny branch of Clough’s we used to buy our sweets, like my favourite sherbet lollies, on the way to enjoy ‘the pictures’ along the road at the Scala.
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Scala, Chillingham Road c1936

 I also remember the ‘Tru-time Watch Company’ where I bought a necklace in the 1950s (I still have it). Happy days…’
Acknowledgements
Thank you, Mrs. Fletcher, for taking the time to write and share your memories and also to Hilary Bray (nee Bates) who gave us permission to digitise and use photographs of Heaton from her collection.
Can you help? 

If you have memories of shopping on Chillingham Road or you or a member of your family kept a shop there or you can tell us more about the places depicted in the photographs, we’d love to hear from you. You can contact us either through this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or by emailing chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

S in Ringtons, Tea in Heaton

The imposing white brick Ringtons building on Algernon Road bears the date ‘1924’, indicating that the famous tea company has Heaton connections going back at least 90 years.

Simon Smith, son of Sam, and staff outside Algernon Road HQ, 1932

Ringtons staff outside the company’s Algernon Road HQ, 1932

In fact the story starts much earlier than that.

Samuel Smith was born on 22 June 1872 in Leeds and christened on 22 December of that year along with his older brother, George. His parents were both local. William, his father, earned his living as a fettler, someone who cleaned the machinery in a woollen mill.

According to Sam’s great granddaughter, Fiona Harrison, young Sam started work, aged eight, as a ‘butcher’s boy’ on Friday nights and Saturdays. Aged ten, he joined the staff of one of the country’s biggest tea-dealers, as a ‘half-timer’. He gradually worked his way up and was sent to various of the firm’s offices across Yorkshire to learn all aspects of the business.

By the time he married Ada Emmerson, daughter of a Leeds milk dealer, at the age of 25, he was a travelling salesman for the company and was based in Sheffield. The couple’s two oldest children, John and Douglas, were born in Sheffield but the next two, Elizabeth and Vera, started life in Bradford and by time the youngest, Samuel and Harriet, came along, the family were back in Leeds but preparing for a new life in Newcastle.

We are extremely lucky in that, not only did Sam keep letters, diaries, notes, photographs and mementos, but that his family have treasured them and Fiona has painstakingly combed through the family archive to help us piece together the story of the birth of Ringtons and its relevance to our ‘Heaton’s Avenues in Wartime’ Heritage Lottery Fund project.

The records show that Sam had become increasingly disillusioned with the firm he worked for in Leeds. He felt its staff weren’t treated well and he believed that he could both run a successful company and live true to his values. His friend and colleague, Irishman William ‘Will’ Titterington, was of the same mind and they decided to set up in business together under the name of ‘Ringtons’, which combined the last part of Will’s surname with the first letter of Sam’s.

Sam Smith, founder of Ringtons

Sam Smith, founder of Ringtons

Tea to Newcastle

As was common at the time, there was a clause in their contracts stipulating that if they left their current employer, they couldn’t set up within 50 miles of its Leeds headquarters. The two men weighed up their options and were initially tempted by Scarborough, but in the end they couldn’t ignore the excellent opportunities offered by industrial Tyneside, where, although there were already a number of tea dealers including Brooke Bond and Pumphrey’s, none of them delivered door to door, which Sam and Will planned to make their unique selling point, one which has stood the company in good stead right up to the present day.

Fiona has found a letter from William Titterington to Sam Smith, dated 17 July 1907, and written from 2 Fourth Avenue, Heaton, where William is lodging in what is clearly a tiny room that the two men planned to share:

‘I have arrived at the combined room… This bed will only hold me, and I am afraid by the look of it, my feet will be hanging over the foot of it.’

On the other hand:

‘I am on the spot to assist at the shop and see that the workmen are getting on with the cleaning. This house is at the other end of the same terrace as the shop.’

Extract from letter from Will Titterington Fourth Avenue, Heaton to Sam Smith 1917

Extract from letter from Will Titterington, Fourth Avenue, Heaton to Sam Smith 1917

So it was in Heaton’s Avenues in 1907 that Ringtons was born. By 1908, the partners had two vans and four assistants and they were blending twice as much tea as a year earlier.

The first mention of the firm in the trade directories is in 1909-10 (which was probably surveyed in 1907-8). Ringtons was based at number 23 Third Avenue with Sam Smith, manager, living at 25. By 1911, the Smiths had moved to 129 Warton Terrace. Will Titterington and his wife Mary were living at 109 Tynemouth Road with their sons, William jnr and Francis, aged six and four.

By 1910 Sam Smith had bought Will Titterington’s share of the company and the firm itself had moved to more spacious premises on an abandoned rifle range at 392 Shields Road (where the Byker retail park is now).

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Ringtons, Shields Rd c1912

Ringtons, Shields Rd c1912 with extension to the 1910 building in the first picture

Here, their neighbours included a coach builder, cart proprietor, horse keeper and horse shoer, all vital to the Ringtons’ enterprise. Sam had worked hard to make the business a success and it had gone from strength to strength. By this time, there were 11 vans and 11 assistants.

Struggle for survival

But then World War One broke out. It changed everything, as Sam recalled later:

‘Of my staff of 17, some of whom were married, 15 were called to the colours and I promised to do certain things for them so their families should not suffer too much while they were fighting. Of course, I agreed to keep their jobs open for them.’

What Sam hadn’t reckoned with were the severe food shortages and the resulting rationing and restrictions. There was a sugar shortage so people were only allowed to buy it where they bought their tea. Ringtons didn’t sell sugar and couldn’t get hold of it, so business plummeted.

To compensate, the firm started to sell any foodstuff it could lay its hands on: tinned and evaporated milk, dried eggs, canned meat and fish, saccharine, pickles etc. However, often as soon as Sam had bought a consignment, the price of the commodity would be fixed by government at less than he’d paid for it.

‘ Somehow I managed to keep my promises to my soldier staff’ remembered Sam. ‘And somehow managed to relieve a little the distress of the widows of the three who never came back. But it was a fight to be able to pay my own rent and the wolf came nearer and nearer my door’.

At the end of the war, the 12 surviving members of staff returned, ‘three of them wearing the Military Medal’ and, as promised, Sam took them back although the outlook for the company seemed bleak. But gradually, once people and retailers were free to buy and sell what and where they liked, customers returned.

When the ex-servicemen received their gratuities, they clubbed together to buy Sam a watch, which from then on he always wore. It was inscribed: ‘Presented to Mr Samuel Smith, as a mark of gratitude and esteem, from the staff of Ringtons Ltd, on their return from military service. December 1920′

Loyal servant

One of the returning servicemen was Robert Ernest Sturdy, who, in 1911 was living with his wife, Minnie, and their three year old son, Norman Leslie at 57 Spencer Street, Heaton. Robert described himself as a ‘superintendent, tea trade’ . By 1916, the couple had two more very young children, May and Ernest. Robert volunteered to join the army, aged 32, in December 1915, just before conscription was introduced early in 1916. He described himself as a ‘manager (drivers)’ .

On enlistment it was noted that Robert’s heart ‘seemed weak’. His letter of enlistment stated that he was invited to join the Army Service Corps(Mechanical Transport), ‘provided he has not attained the age of 46 and is found medically fit for Service‘ Despite his heart condition, Ernest was accepted and he served on the home front for just over a month before being sent to France in October 1916.

Throughout 1918, he was in and out of military hospitals with conditions variously described as ‘mild debility’, ‘TB‘ and ‘Bronchial catarrh’ before being transferred back to the UK in October 1919, at which time he signed a disclaimer to the effect that he wasn’t suffering from any disability which was due to military service.

Robert returned to Ringtons where, as Sam Smith had promised, his old job was waiting for him. He was still there in the position of sales manager in 1934 by which time he was 50 years old. On completion of 25 years service, he was presented with tea and coffee services. Robert died in 1956, aged 73. By this time his son, Norman, was himself described as a tea dealer, presumably (though we can’t be sure) also with Ringtons. Robert’s younger son, Ernest ,was sadly ‘lost at sea’ during WW2.

The Somme

In total there were 14 people in Heaton in 1911 whose occupation, as recorded in the census, included the word ‘tea’. One was Sam Smith, of course, by now living at 129 Warton Terrace, with Ada and their six children. We can’t be sure which of the others worked at Ringtons, as employer names aren’t usually recorded, but Robert Clapperton Mair, aged 15, who lived with his parents, two brothers and a sister, at 13 Charles Street, described himself as a ‘tea merchant’s assistant’. He joined the 10th battalion Northumberland Fusiliers and was posted to France. Robert was one of those who didn’t return, having been killed in action on the Somme on 25 September 1916, aged 20. His name is recorded on the Thiepval Memorial and also on that of Heaton United Methodist Church on Heaton Road.

Bravery award

Bothers Patrick and Thomas Sullivan were both ‘van salesmen (tea)‘. The family had moved from Dundee while the boys and their sister, Lizzie, were young and the family lived at 16 Fourth Avenue, just a few doors down from Will Titterington’s lodgings in 1907. When war broke out their father, Patrick, a tram conductor, was active in recruiting volunteers for the ‘Pals‘ regiments and we know that Tom enlisted very early on, in September 1914, at the age of 22.

Two years later, by now a sergeant, he was awarded the Military Medal and a Card of Honour for conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty. A full report of his actions appeared in the Newcastle Journal, reproduced below. (Despite what it says in the article, the family appears to have lived on Fourth Avenue, rather than Sixth, throughout the war).

Newcastle Journal 18 November 1916

Newcastle Journal 18 November 1916

 So Tom was one of the three recipients of the Military Medal who returned to Ringtons after 1918 and was remembered by Sam Smith almost twenty years later. This was confirmed for us by Tom’s great great niece, Helen Wells, who told us:

‘My mam remembers talk of Uncle Tommy. We knew he’d been awarded the Military Medal but we didn’t know why. Tommy worked for Ringtons tea. He moved to Thornaby near Stockton to work for Ringtons there. He died in the 1940s and had no children. Patrick was exempt from military service because he was colour-blind’.

Post-war

A hundred years later, the personal stories give us a tiny insight into the suffering of Heaton and its people during World War One. But within just a few years, the firm, its staff and customers showed their resilience. Ringtons’ business picked up to such an extent that in 1924 a magnificent, modern building was commissioned on Algernon Road.

Ringtons, Algernon Road c1930

Ringtons, Algernon Road c1930

Work began in 1926 and it was finished in 1928. It still stands, of course, and is much loved, although the firm has since moved again. Not far though. Ringtons’, first managed from a cramped single bedroom on Fourth Avenue, is still very much associated with Heaton. Its headquarters remain on Algernon Road, next door to its impressive 1920s HQ.

Heaton Avenues in Wartime

This article was researched and written by Chris Jackson, with considerable help from Fiona Harrison, for Heaton History Group’s ‘Heaton Avenues in Wartime’ project, which has been funded by Heritage Lottery Fund. An exhibition, ‘’Tea in Heaton’, will be on display at the Chillingham pub from October to December 2015.

Find out more

This article and the exhibition at the Chilli concentrates on the early days in the Avenues and the impact of World War One but it’s just one chapter of the Ringtons’ story. To find out more, pay a visit to Ringtons’ museum in their Algernon Road headquarters and look out for a talk by Fiona  in our 2016-17 programme.

Can you help?

if you have worked at Ringtons, know more about any of the people mentioned in the article and/or have memories or photos to share, please either leave a comment on this website (by clicking on the link immediately below this article’s title) or email chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

An exile remembers: Part 1 – the old house

Heaton History Group is often contacted by people who used to live in the neighbourhood and have vivid and usually fond recollections. We love to hear their memories.  ‘RS’  still returns to Heaton from time to time. Here are his thoughts, which will be serialised over the next few months.

Now here’s something that may be of interest. Ever wondered what that old Heaton house you lived in many years, or even decades, ago looks like now? Externally? Easy enough. But internally? Not so easy? Well, you may be in luck. Go to the RightMove property website and enter its address into the ‘Sold price search’ search box. As long as your old home was on the market within the last decade or so, then estate agent details, including interior photographs, should be there, as well as the price(s) at which it has recently found new owners.

Which is how I know that the house I’m standing outside, on this sunny August day, now has – among other changes – three bathrooms and no fewer than nine bedrooms. Yes, you’ve guessed it: what was once a one bathroom, four bedroom family home when I lived here as a child, from 1960 to 1968, is now student accommodation, as indeed are so many of its neighbours.

So it’s about time I told you where I am. Pretty much in the centre of Heaton, as it happens, on that stretch of Simonside Terrace lying between Chillingham Road and Heaton Road. No, I won’t give the number, but it’s the house with the rather bizarre white extension sprouting out of the roof, and in which some of those new bedrooms must surely be located.

Fond memories come flooding back, from fifty years ago and more. I lay my hand on the permanently cold, grey granite coping stone atop the low front wall, and see the small holes where the original decorative railings were once fixed, before they were conscripted to serve King and country in 1940 or so. And in that context I’m grateful for the photograph on this website of young Ruth Castle, standing outside number 47 Tenth Avenue, in the early years of the last century. The low wall and granite coping stone in evidence there are identical to the ones here on Simonside Terrace – and, for that matter, on so many other Heaton streets – rendering it safe to assume that the railings also seen there (and the gate) are of the same style that was once seen all around Heaton, and including on this house, before they were forcibly carted off, three quarters of a century ago, ostensibly to help the war effort.

But in truth, back in the ’60s, I didn’t spend much time here at the front of the house. No, most of my childhood activity took place in the back lane shared with Warton Terrace. Ah! The stories I could tell about the games we played there. And perhaps I will, in another article. (Memo to the council: the state of that back lane now is a disgrace.)

The RightMove website tells me I’d probably need something north of £200,000 to buy this house now. In the ’60s I vaguely recall the price of £4,000 being mentioned by my parents … but, a little unhelpfully, I can’t remember if that was the 1960 purchase price or the 1968 selling price. (Suggestions on a postcard.) What I do recall is my late father lifting up a floorboard one day and finding a newspaper from 1904 underneath, which we took to be a ‘message’ from the builders of approximately sixty years earlier, to an indeterminate future generation, as to when they had completed their work.

And then I turn to the west, and towards Heaton Road. For I didn’t come here to pay particular attention to the old house – although clearly the temptation could not be resisted once standing in front of it – but merely to use it as the necessary personal historical starting point, in the retracing of my frequent walks of half a century ago, to Heaton Road … and from there, across the road, to the fondly remembered parks of my childhood.

What do you remember?

We’d love to hear memories and see the photos of anyone who has lived, studied, worked or played in Heaton. Either leave your comments below the heading of this article or mail Chris Jackson, Secretary, Heaton History Group.

 

 

The signalman and his daughter

Little did we think, when we published ‘Dead Man’s Handle’, the story of a railway accident that took place almost ninety years ago, that we’d be put in touch with someone who clearly remembered that night – and so much more besides. Olive Renwick was born in September 1916, so she is now approaching her 99th birthday – and she has lived in Heaton all her life.

Olive as a young child

Olive as a young child

The signalman

Olive is the daughter of Isabella and Francis Walter (Frank) Topping. Frank was the signalman who, on 8 August 1926, saw a passenger train coming towards his box at full speed seconds before it crashed into a goods train near Manors Station. Olive was nine years old at the time and reminded us that nobody had phones back then and so when her father didn’t return from work, the family could only sit and wait. ‘My mother didn’t send my sister and me to bed’ she remembered ‘I think she was worried and wanted company’.

The train hit the box in which her father worked, damaging one of its supporting ‘legs‘ but luckily Frank Topping escaped unscathed. He alerted the emergency services and helped rescue passengers before eventually arriving home to his anxious family. ‘But he thought he was a goner’ said Olive. You can read the full story here: Dead Man’s Handle

Olive told us more about her father: he was Heaton born and bred, growing up on Simonside Terrace.

NorthViewSchool? incFrank Topping

North View School, 1890s?

On this school photo, he is second from the left on the back row. ‘I think it might be North View School but I’m not sure’. (Does anybody know?) Frank had started his career on the railways in 1900, aged 16, as a learner signal lad.  ‘I was always very proud of him. He was trusted with one of the biggest signal boxes, with four lines to look after.’

But he didn’t remain a signalman. Frank became branch secretary of Newcastle Number 2 NUR branch, senior trustee for the Passenger Signalmen’s Provident Society and was, for almost 20 years from 1931, Secretary of the NER Cottage Homes and Benefit Fund. Locally, in 1911 he was ordained an Elder of Heaton Presbyterian Church, then a session clerk from 1946 until shortly before he died. In WW2, he served in the Home Guard.

Frank Topping, Home Guard, 1942

Frank Topping, Home Guard, 1942

Olive showed us photographs and newspaper cuttings relating to her father including an account, with photographs, of him opening railway cottages in Hartlepool on a street named after him.

Frank Topping officially opening railway cottage in Topping Close, Hartlepool

Frank Topping officially opening a railway cottage in Topping Close, Hartlepool

She had also kept a tribute, published in a railway magazine after his death, in which her father was praised for:

‘ his inimitable character, his understanding and judgement, his forthright speaking, his general cheerfulness and his desire to help his fellow man’

Francis Topping died in 1957.

Olive’s childhood

It was fantastic to find out more about Frank Topping and to hear Olive’s memories of her father but we couldn’t pass up on the opportunity to hear more from someone who has lived in Heaton for almost a century. Imagine the changes she has seen.

Olive was born on Warton Terrace but spent most of her childhood on Ebor Street and then Spencer Street, ‘The railway terraces. In those days, you had to be on the railways to live there’.

Olive with her brother, Rob, outside their house in Ebor Street.

Olive with her brother, Rob, outside their house in Ebor Street.

Olive (right) with her sister Sybil, Ebor St c1923

Olive (right) with her sister Sybil, Ebor St c1923

She remember the street traders, who sold all manner of things on the front street and back lanes. And, like Jack Common, a few years earlier, she recalls itinerant musicians: ‘women, they were usually women, in shawls, women who were poorer than us, who came round door to door, singing and collecting money.’

As a child, Olive was allergic to cow’s milk. She remembers that her mother walked to Meldon Terrace everyday with a jug to collect milk from a woman who kept a goat in her back yard.

One of her earliest memories was climbing on the cannons that used to stand in Heaton Park. She cut her leg badly and, because she feared her parents would be annoyed with her, dashed straight to the outside toilet in the hope of stemming the flow of blood. Naturally though she couldn’t hide the injury for long. ‘I was carried off to hospital for stitches. And my father wrote to the council to complain the cannons were dangerous’ Olive told us, ‘And soon after they were removed!’

Olive on the cannon in Heaton Park

Olive on the cannon in Heaton Park

‘And I remember my mother taking me to the Scala for a treat to see “Tarzan” but I ran up and down the aisle, shouting “Tarzan!” and had to be taken home in disgrace’. (This must have been an older version than the famous Johnny Weismuller films of the 1930s and ’40s, perhaps ‘The Adventures of Tarzan‘ (1921), the silent movie version which starred Elmo Lincoln.)

Scala cinema Chillingham Road

Olive attended Chillingham Road School and later Heaton High:

Olive (middle) & friends in Heaton High uniform, late 1920s

Olive (middle) & friends in Heaton High uniform, late 1920s

The original buildings of what became Heaton Manor School

The original buildings of what became Heaton Manor School

‘I was in my first year when the King and Queen came to officially open the school.

King and Queen open Heaton Secondary Schools, 1928

King and Queen open Heaton Secondary Schools, 1928

We were all gathered in the hall and Miss Cooper, the head teacher, told us that the queen would be presented with a “bookie”. What on earth’s a bookie, I wondered. Only later did I realise she meant a bouquet!’

And she remembers, without much fondness, the many rail journeys of her childhood. ‘With my father’s job, the whole family enjoyed subsidised travel.. I say “enjoyed” but I hated it. We went all over, to places like Edinburgh, but trains made me sick: it was the smell. So I wasn’t allowed to sit in the carriage. I was banished to the guard’s van – with a bucket. I can still smell that smell now – and it still makes me feel sick!’

Coincidence

It was as we were leaving that Olive mentioned, in passing, her maternal grandparents: that they were called Wood, came originally from Ayton in Berwickshire, lived in Seventh Avenue and that her mother’s uncle Bob (Walker) grew potatoes on a field near Red Hall Drive. Could they be the same Woods that we’d researched and written about as part of our ‘Heaton Avenues in Wartime’ project. Surely they must? And indeed they were.

Isabella and David Wood

Isabella and David Wood

On a return visit, Olive told us more about her grandparents, David and Isabella Wood. She confirmed that they had an allotment on railway land. She told us about visits to her great aunts in Ayton and she recounted family stories about a visit to her Uncle Robert in hospital, where he was to die from wounds received on the battlefield. Best of all, she was able to show us photographs of both grandparents, more of which we will add to the article ‘The Woods of Seventh Avenue’.

It’s been a pleasure to meet Olive,  pictured here with daughters, Julia and Margaret, in 1953:

Olive with daughters, Julia and Margaret in 1953

Olive with daughters, Julia and Margaret in 1953

And here in 2015:

Margaret, Olive and Julia, 2015

Margaret, Olive and Julia, 2015

We hope that we’ll meet again soon and that she’ll be able to add even more to our knowledge of Heaton’s history.

Can you help?

If you have knowledge, memories or photographs of Heaton you’d like to share, we’d love to hear from you. Either contact us via the website by clicking on the link immediately below the title of this article or email chris.Jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org