Tag Archives: William Armstrong

For People Not Cows: Armstrong Park’s ‘cattle run’

Funny, isn’t it, how once something becomes generally accepted it gets, well, accepted? Take Armstrong Park’s ‘cattle run’: according to an interpretation panel in the park, this distinctive feature was sunk for bovine use by Victorian industrialist Lord Armstrong.

The livestock, goes the story, were herded through this costly railway-style cutting because the route had long been used for leading cows to pasture.

Armstrong Park interpretation panel, 2010

‘When [Lord] Armstrong was given the land’ the panel explains, ‘he had this deeper channel dug so that cattle could follow the old track and be kept apart from visitors and their carriages.’

Using archive materials, period maps, and copious illustrations, local resident Carlton Reid explains why the lottery-funded interpretation panel is, in all likelihood, wrong:

Bullshi…

‘For centuries, cattle had been driven down to pasture by the River Ouseburn from the fields above the valley,’ states the interpretation panel. The moss-covered panel is situated to the side of the upper of two bridges which span the 200-metre-long sunken feature in Armstrong Park. In the 19th Century this lozenge of land which now sports the ‘Shoe Tree’ was known as Bulman’s Wood.

Even though I argue here that the feature wasn’t designed for cows, I refer to it throughout this piece as the ‘cattle run’. Another descriptive convenience is the interchangeable use of Armstrong Park and Bulman’s Wood for roughly the same 29-acre plot of land.

There’s a linear east-west feature marked on the large-scale map attached to the Deed of Gift of September 1879 in which Armstrong gave this woodland in perpetuity to the people of Newcastle, but it’s not labelled as a ‘cattle run‘.

Plan from Lord Armstrong’s Deed of Gift, 1879

The feature was constructed not in the 1850s, which the interpretation panel seems to suggest, but in 1880 when the council — then known as Newcastle Corporation — owned the land.

Armstrong may have handed Bulman’s Wood to the people of Newcastle via the council’s stewardship but, ever the canny speculator, he inserted a clause in the deed allowing him to continue draining the parts of Heaton which he wished to later develop for housing.

I also speculate that, with the Victorian equivalent of a nod-and-a-wink, the Corporation incorporated Armstrong’s pre-designed linear feature into their plans for what they named Armstrong Park.

Remarks on a cutting

The cutting today known as the ‘cattle run’ starts on Ouseburn Road, rising and curving to finish unceremoniously in a quagmire forming the southern boundary of the plots administered by the 103-year-old Armstrong Allotments Association. Waterlogged and overgrown, this patch of land is understandably little-visited today. (Wear wellies.)

As the interpretation panel rightly points out, the cutting’s high-quality sandstone blockwork is reminiscent of Victorian railway infrastructure.

Armstrong Park ‘cattle run’

Some of the sandstone blocks and their coping stones have fallen to the ground — or, more likely, were pushed — and they lie scattered on the feature’s floor, an ankle-twisting deterrent to those wishing to walk along the ‘cattle run’.

There are two pillars at the Ouseburn Road entrance of the ‘cattle run’, eight courses high and capped with flat coping stones.

If you brush fallen leaves to one side, you’ll uncover rusted remains of iron railings where, within living memory, a gate once closed off the sunken feature at the roadside pillars, one of which is decoratively triangular.

At the opposite end of the ‘cattle run’ the sandstone blocks fade almost to ground level. This entrance is marked by stumpy, ivy-covered pillars, only one of which is now easily visible. This pillar, only a couple of courses high, is capped with a pyramid-shaped coping stone.

Eastern end of the ‘cattle run’

The quality of the stone work was intended to be seen,’ an archaeologist told me, ‘but not by agricultural labourers and cows.’

Hanna Steyne specialises in 19th Century landscapes. I sent her a great many photographs of the ‘cattle run’ and surroundings, including drone shots, and she also accessed period mapping to get the contemporary lay of the land.

‘I would not expect decorative column features on a structure only to be used for agricultural purposes,’ she pointed out.

On several period Ordnance Survey maps, Armstrong Park’s elongated feature is marked with a finger-shaped 100ft contour line. It’s likely that the masonry of the ‘cattle run’ shored up what was once a natural feature in Bulman’s Wood, a feature that the ‘Newcastle Daily Chronicle’ in 1884 called a ‘deep gully’.

As shown on the map from Armstrong’s 1879 Deed of Gift, this gully contained a linear feature prior to the following year’s construction of the ‘cattle run’.

Landscape artist

Hydraulics innovator and arms manufacturer Lord Armstrong was, of course, a noted philanthropist. Five years after handing Bulman’s Wood to the people of Newcastle he gifted the larger Jesmond Dene to the city. This provision of an amenity for his fellow citizens was generous but, back in 1878 when he first discussed the gift, would he really have commissioned a channel in a deep gully to keep cows away from people in a park he was soon to give away? It’s far more likely that when he charged his agents with designing the cutting, he and they had something else in mind.

By the time the cutting was built in 1880 the land was owned by the Newcastle Corporation. The council had no need for such a feature so it was likely to have been built on Armstrong’s orders, and with his cash, on the undocumented understanding that he had a commercial use for it.

Kraal rangers

According to a Historic Environment Record, the ‘cattle run’ is a ‘stone-lined animal kraal which took Armstrong’s cattle from grazing land to the east to the lower pasture land to the west, without disturbing visitors to the park. What was the historical source for this citation? ‘Pers. Comm. Jesmond Dene Rangers, 2004,’ says the record. There’s nothing wrong with using such local knowledge — especially when such ‘personal communications’ were gleaned from folks out there in all weathers looking after our parks and who, in the course of their work, probably hear their fair share of handed-down history — but it’s odd that the entry only cites unnamed 21st century rangers rather than providing 19th century sources.

For Lord Armstrong to go to the considerable expense of sinking a bovine passageway, it would, you might think, have to be a feature in regular use and therefore would have been of at least passing interest to the local press. Yet not in any of the long and detailed descriptions of Armstrong Park in contemporary newspapers have I found mentions of a ‘cattle run’, a ‘kraal’ or any other bovine-related use for the feature.

Nor have I found any period maps, not even those of the largest scale, that mark the feature as a ‘cattle run.’ The only maps to do so are modern and crowdsourced such as OpenStreetMap, a volunteer-edited online resource founded, coincidentally, in 2004..

Don’t have a cow, man

Might there have been a time-out-of-mind cattle track through the deep gully of Bulman’s Wood? Maybe. According to an 18th Century field-name map, there were two large fields to the west of what became Heaton Road: North Cow Close and South Cow Close, both of which belonged to Low Heaton Farm. On the other side of Heaton Road there was a P-shaped field called ‘Cow Loan’ belonging to Heaton Town Farm.

Detail from a plan of Heaton believed to be by Isaac Thompson, c 1800.
Redrawn by Frank Graham, 1952. Included in ‘Maps of Newcastle’ by Frank Graham, 1984.

There was also Benton Bridge Farm, which according to the censuses between 1891 and 1911 was a dairy farm. The farmhouse was at the junction of Ouseburn Road and the Newcastle to Benton turnpike, today’s Coast Road. It is now a house called Woodburn, that, in exterior design, is little changed from the 1890s.

Bingo, you might think, cows. However, the existence of these three field names and dairy farms in the vicinity does not necessarily mean that cows would be taken to pasture on fields beside the Ouseburn.

Might cows have been taken down to the Ouseburn not for pasture but to drink? Thomas Oliver’s 1844 map of Newcastle shows Heaton Road, Heaton Hall’s garden that would become Heaton Park’s bowling green, and Ouseburn Road and, close to where the cattle run would be later built, there’s a field boundary.

Detail from Thomas Oliver’s 1844 map of Newcastle, showing Heaton

There’s no path marked at this point, for cows or otherwise, and it’s possible that cows might have been herded along the edge of this field and down to the river.

But as there were several water sources in or near the cow-themed fields was there any real need to lead cattle to a stream? Archaeologist Hanna Steyne thinks not:

‘From the topography identifiable from mapping, it seems highly unlikely that cows would be heading for pasture down by the river — there seems to have been plentiful farm land on which to graze cows.’

The three large fields may have corralled cows in the 18th century but, by the mid-19th century, only one of them — Cow Loan — was still being used for that purpose, and this only fractionally. According to an 1868 document mapping Armstrong-owned land in Heaton, only about an eighth of the fields worked by Heaton Town Farm and East Heaton Farm were devoted to pasture. (Today, these fields are mostly in the area around Ravenswood Primary School and the Northumberland Hussar pub on Sackville Road.)

As has been discussed previously on this website, Heaton Town Farm was an arable and dairy farm, owned through the 18th and most of the 19th Centuries by the aristocratic Ridley family once of Heaton Hall.

Sir Matthew White Ridley, the fourth Baronet, was the farmer of the family. He had a ‘thorough liking for agricultural pursuits, and took a deep interest in all matters relating to the farm’, reported an 1877 obituary ‘As a breeder of cattle, he was known throughout the whole of the North of England.’

Ridley sold Heaton Town Farm’s land and buildings in 1865. All were either then or soon after that owned by Sir William Armstrong. From the 1840s to the 1860s, the farm was leased by the 4th Baron Ridley to George Cairns. In the 1861 census, Cairns (who also features in records as ‘Carins’) was listed as working 145 acres of mixed farmland, employing ‘4 men, a boy and women labourers.’ Cairns lived with a housekeeper, a ploughman, a 19-year-old Irish dairymaid and a 14-year-old ‘cow keeper’. By 1881, it was still a dairy farm but was now just 27 acres.

Clearly, there were cows in this part of Heaton when Armstrong or his agents commissioned the feature which became known as the ‘cattle run’, but by the 1870s there would have been just a small number of them rather than herds so large and potentially disruptive that they required a cow cutting.

In the 19th Century, ‘dairy farming was seen as a fairly abhorrent activity,’ said Steyne, ‘and one which should be hidden from the delicate middle classes.’

Armstrong himself owned several Newcastle farms, at least two of which had cows on them. He kept small herds at Castles Farm (near to today’s David Lloyd fitness club) and at Benton Place (underneath today’s HM Revenues and Customs building off Benton Road). However, it’s unlikely these herds would have ventured as far as Bulman’s Wood, so we’re left with the small number of cows at Heaton Town Farm and Benton Bridge Farm. (By 1916, Benton Bridge Farm housed just three cows, said to be ‘shockingly emaciated’.)

The idea that cattle would be walked through a formal Victorian park is fairly strange,’ suggests Steyne.

The whole point about Victorian parks was that they were controlled “natural” environments — nature made beautiful — but deliberately separated from the reality of the [actual] natural environment.’

Even if the much-reduced number of cows in the locality during the 1870s and 1880s still used a ‘traditional’ route through the steep-sided gully in Bulman’s Wood, why would Armstrong care to preserve this? Cows are not eels, and the Ouseburn is not the Sargasso Sea. For a practical man like Armstrong, and probably for countless others before him, the sensible herding route would have been down the long-existing Jesmond Vale Lane.

Pedestrian pleasures

If the ‘cattle run’ wasn’t for cattle, what was it for? An 1880 newspaper report about the opening of Armstrong Park explains that it was for pedestrian use. The ‘Newcastle Daily Chronicle’ was clear: it was a ‘sunken footpath’.

The ‘new park is rapidly progressing towards completion’, began the report.

‘The ivy-covered mill on the eminence immediately above [the bank] has for many years been a conspicuous object of interest from the vale beneath’, explained the period writer, meaning the old windmill in Armstrong Park.

‘Beyond this ground, the boundaries of the park terminate at a hedge growing on the border of a fine grass field [where] it is intended … to erect villa residences, and in order to render these accessible from the Ouseburn road, a sunken footpath, which will be finished from plans suggested by Sir William, is at present being made.

(That’s it: the ‘cattle run’ was a sunken footpath for villa owners; quest over. True, but let’s carry on anyway, there’s plenty more to parse.)

The 1880 writer continued:

‘This path runs immediately through and underneath the park, but is in no way connected with the public pleasure ground.’

According to this contemporary description, a ‘wooden bridge forms a portion of the carriage drive over the path, which is also crossed in the middle path by a neat rustic bridge.’

Today, these two bridges are the large upper one over the ‘cattle run’ at the carriage road and the smaller one down the path from the Shoe Tree. Both bridges now have metal railings, and both are made from stone not wood. The bridges have been rebuilt some time after 1880, but let’s continue with the contemporary description.

Bridge over the ‘cattle run’, Armstrong Park

‘An elegant waterfall will be seen from both structures,’ wrote the correspondent.

Water surprise

Wait, what, a waterfall? Where? It ran parallel to the ‘cattle run’. To confirm its existence I pulled back some of the overgrown foliage to unveil the vertical rock face over which the cascade once ran.

Site of former waterfall, Armstrong Park

Just like the well-known waterfall in Jesmond Dene — the subject of countless paintings and photographs — the hitherto unknown one in Armstrong Park was built rather than being wholly natural.

Given similar landscape shaping in Jesmond Dene, it’s possible that the cascade was Armstrong’s idea, or perhaps that of his friend, the naturalist John Hancock, co-founder with his brother Albany of the museum which until recently bore their name. Some of the Dene’s naturalistic features, such as its ornamental rockeries, were either designed in whole by Hancock or in association with Armstrong.

The 1880 newspaper report has a vivid description:

‘The water, which is obtained from the fields beyond, will flow through a 15-inch pipe, placed for a distance beneath the sunken footpath, and then securing an outlet between the carriage drive and the rustic bridge, will dash merrily onwards over an ingenious arrangement of rocks, falls and ferns, until it at length mingles the purity of its stream with that of the singing burn beneath.’

(The original rocks remain, and there’s still a pipe in situ, although it’s a modern one, concreted into place.)

The waterfall pre-dated Newcastle Corporation’s ownership of Bulman Wood. According to a report in the ‘Newcastle Daily Chronicle’ of October 1878, the waterfall — described as a ‘small cascade’ — was fed by a spring that ‘runs evenly the whole year through’.

Armstrong Park has several perennial springs. Heavy rain landing on year-round saturated ground is now channeled by numerous drains but, before these were constructed, Bulman’s Wood would have been almost permanently boggy, and, during high rainfall events, there would have been a rapid runoff of stormwater down the deep gully.

Water on the brain

Bulman’s Wood, according to the ‘Chronicle’ report, was owned by a Mr. Potter. (Actually, it was owned by Armstrong, who had inherited the land in 1851.) The Mr. Potter in question was Colonel Addison Potter, who lived with his large family and many servants at Heaton Hall, once the seat of the White-Ridley family but bought in 1840 by Colonel Potter’s father, the coal owner and industrialist Addison Langhorn Potter, Armstrong’s uncle.

Armstrong bought land in Jesmond and Heaton as it became available, adding to the land he inherited from his father’s close friend Armorer Donkin, a rich Tyneside solicitor.

Armstrong Senior and Donkin were town councillors, and thick as thieves. In the 1820s and 1830s, the Armstrong family would spend holidays at Donkin’s country retreat in Rothbury. Young William developed a taste for open water fishing in the Coquet River during these holidays and loved the area’s hills, weirs, and waterfalls, a landscape he would later go on to recreate in Jesmond Dene before doing similar at Cragside.

Armstrong Junior had a lifelong fascination with water’s potential for motive power. From a young age, he was afflicted with ‘water on the brain’, joked his family.

After leaving school, Armstrong was articled with Donkin, a bachelor who treated the bright youngster as his adoptive son, heir to his fortune and his land in Heaton. Armstrong worked for some time as a solicitor in Donkin’s firm but his real vocation was as an inventor and engineer with an abiding interest in the growing science of hydraulics.

Donkin lived in Jesmond Park, a grand house in Sandyford with gardens and woodlands sloping down to the Ouseburn. Jesmond Park was famous among Tyneside’s elite for ‘Donkin’s ordinary’, a weekly Saturday luncheon where the great and good — and the rich and influential — would meet to exchange ideas as well as contacts and contracts.

Armstrong, eager to ditch his legal work and forge a living as an engineer, was a habitual attendee at these dinners, no doubt enthused after talking with visiting Victorian luminaries including Isambard Kingdom Brunel. For the young Armstrong, it would have been a short stroll down the slope from Jesmond Park to the deep gully that later became the ‘cattle run’.

There’s a linear feature in the gully shown on the 1864 Ordnance Survey map. The 200-metre-long feature is drawn like a road, with parallel lines. But it’s too narrow to be a road and isn’t dotted, so it’s not a footpath, either. Nor is it a field boundary. The nearest equivalent, on this particular map, would be a mill race.

While there’s a mill race in Jesmond Vale, opposite the gully and one of several mill races in the Ouseburn valley, there’s no known water mill in Bulman’s Wood.

The linear feature on the map was too straight to be natural and, if you were looking down from the lower bridge, it curved to the right as it neared Ouseburn Road. This “J”-shaped tail — which can still be seen on the ground today — curved in the opposite direction to the later ‘cattle run’.

There are footpaths marked on the 1864 map that follow and cross over the linear feature and its J-shaped tail. Many later maps plot both the tail and the ‘cattle run’.

The feature shown on the 1864 map is narrow, about the width of the mill race opposite. It’s probably an open-to-the-elements storm drain, yet large enough to be plotted on a map.

Detail from 1864 Ist edition OS map

‘[The] little stream which runs through [Bulman Wood’s] dell is sunk deep in a stone-lined channel,’ reported ‘Newcastle Daily Chronicle’ in 1884, adding that it had been built because it had been ‘difficult to prevent the rivulet when flooded from breaking the banks away.’

The ‘Chronicle’ didn’t give a date for the stone-lined channel’s construction but as it’s marked on the 1864 map, it must have been built sometime before 1858 when the OS map had been surveyed.

Could the channel on Donkin’s land have been used by Armstrong — or constructed, even — for experiments in hydraulics? Maybe. Armstrong certainly cited the Ouseburn as a stream that could power machinery.

‘The transient produce of useless floods’ Armstrong told an 1845 meeting at Newcastle’s Literary and Philosophical Society ‘could become available as a permanent source of mechanical power.’

He wanted to harness the ‘vast quantities of water which pour down brooks and watercourses … in time of rain.’

A newspaper report of the meeting said Armstrong ‘proceeded to point out the advantages which would result from the principles of impounding surplus water and causing it to act as a column, by referring to … the Ouseburn.’

‘Suppose,’ posited Armstrong to the august audience, ‘that instead of having a succession of six mill races and six falls, as was the case on the Ouseburn, the first mill race were continued along the banks of the stream gradually getting higher and higher above the natural channel of the brook, to within a short distance of the Tyne where a single fall of upwards of 100 feet might be obtained.’

There’s no documentary evidence to connect Armstrong’s 1845 desire for a high mill race to the probable storm drain down the gully in Bulman’s Wood, but he would have been well aware of the water feature’s existence.

The run-off from the storm drain was later employed for the scenic waterfall introduced above.

‘The stream of water,’ continued the 1880 newspaper report, ‘has been diverted along a channel of masonry almost at its highest point after entering the grounds, and it is brought along its artificial bed until opposite the larger of the two rustic bridges, where it is thrown over a rocky ledge in a high fall.’

While undoubtedly scenic, the waterfall also had a practical purpose. The storm drain which created it was said to also drain the upper field, which today is the waterlogged patch of ground between the end of the ‘cattle run’ and the multi-coloured plots belonging to the Armstrong Allotments Association.

Armstrong Allotments, 2020

‘Ingenious drainage [in Armstrong Park] has in several instances converted marshy, sodden land into pleasant places,’ reported the ‘Chronicle’

If this ‘ingenious drainage’ dates back to the 1840s or 1850s that’s only a decade or two after the introduction of the transformative Deanston method of agricultural field drainage. The work of James Smith of Deanston in Perthshire used drain tiles and narrow pipes beneath fields. Smith created the technique in 1823, but its use only became widespread after a journal published details in 1831.

‘Smith o’ Deanston’s the man!’ exclaimed a character in ‘Hillingdon Hall’, a now-forgotten but popular-in-the-1840s novel by Robert Smith Surtees of Hamsterley Hall, Rowlands Gill. ‘Who ever ‘heard o’ drainin’ afore Smith o’Deanston inwented it?’ continued John Jorrocks, an upwardly-mobile, country-sports-loving businessman who, wrote Surtees, couldn’t pronounce the ‘v’ sound.

The new method of drainage led to a revolution in British farming, financially boosted in 1846 by the Public Money Drainage Act. This largesse enacted by parliament extended generous farm improvement loans to landowners. (Many parliamentarians owned large estates at this time.) Previously soggy and unproductive land became highly profitable arable fields which, for 15 or so years, made the rich even richer.

The ‘now common accompaniment of a country gentleman,’ pointed out Surtees in ‘Hawbuck Grange’ (1847) was a ‘draining-pipe.’

After going ‘boldly at the Government loan’ another Surtees character was said to have transformed a ‘sour, rush-grown, poachy, snipe-shooting looking place’ into land ‘sound enough to carry a horse.’

Deanston’s method of introducing smaller-bore, more frequently placed drains was an improvement on former methods, wrote the landed Surtees, who described ‘gulf-like drains as would have carried off a river … but there was no making head against wet land with stone drains, the bit you cured only showing the wetness of the rest.’

The stone-lined watercourse in Bulman’s Wood was more likely to have been a storm channel than one that could drain a field, but contemporary descriptions are divided on the subject.

Even though, according to the 1864 map, it looked like one, the watercourse wasn’t a mill race, Duncan Hutt, a local watermill expert told me. ‘There is no clear evidence for any feature nearby being a conduit for water to feed a mill.’

He added: ‘The [cattle run] is far too steep to be a watercourse for a mill, [it’s] more likely something to help provide some surface drainage in times of heavy downpours in the past.’

Archaeologist Steyne agreed:

‘The identification of a drainage watercourse and a decorative waterfall to the north of the line of the cattle run, would correlate with the information in the mapping indicating earlier drainage from the land to the east, and then a later stone-built feature running alongside.’

An 1894/95 OS map shows the ‘cattle run’ to be a full-on watercourse, printed blue. This was probably a mistake by the map makers. (Mistakes were common — on the same map, Hadrian’s Wall is marked not as the Roman Wall but as the Romam Wall.)

‘It is very possible that the earlier drainage feature became less visible and was confused in the mapping with the later cattle run,’ suggested Steyne.

‘Land was not completely resurveyed for each new map, only changes added. The fact that both were perhaps unused, or fell into disrepair shortly after construction might explain [the anomaly on the 1894/95 OS map],’ she said.

‘Land for housing’

During the first 75 years of the 19th Century, the British landed aristocracy were the wealthiest class in the world’s richest country. For the last 25 of those years this wealth had at least partly come from the huge profits enabled by government-sponsored field drainage. But the good times for many of these landed elites did not last. A dramatic fall in grain prices following the opening up of the American prairies to cultivation led to a steep decline in British agriculture. This agrarian depression started in the 1870s and continued until the mid-1890s resulting in British fields that had previously been money-spinners losing much of their value.

Between 1809 and 1879, 88 percent of British millionaires had been landowners; from 1880 to 1914 this figure dropped to 33 percent.

‘Land has ceased to be either a profit or a pleasure,’ complained Lady Bracknell in Oscar Wilde’s 1895 ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’.

For the elites, it became prudent to sell land rather than farm it.

Urban farmland, in particular, could generate huge one-hit profits, with expanding cities such as Newcastle in desperate need of space for housing.

Heaton landowners Colonel Addison Potter, Sir Matthew White Ridley, and Lord Armstrong and others could — and did — make handsome profits by selling off their fields for building plots. These three in particular were voracious sellers of land, especially Armstrong who employed agents that developed housing estates on his behalf.

Armstrong, of course, also gave away land to the people of Newcastle, but the gift of his extensive Jesmond Dene ‘garden’ wasn’t perhaps as purely philanthropic as it is usually portrayed — creating an attractive country park from a steeply sided valley that might have proved too deep to fill and flatten was a savvy move for a housing developer.

‘The more he bestows, the richer [Lord Armstrong] becomes’ , a magazine calculated in 1889.

Creating the amenity of Jesmond Dene as a sweetener to help sell the plots on his extensive housing developments in Jesmond and Heaton made perfect business sense. Likewise, Armstrong Bridge wasn’t commissioned by its namesake to ease the burdens of packhorses climbing Benton Bank — a backstory usually attributed to the kindness of Lady Armstrong — but as a high-level road approach for the prestigious properties Armstrong planned to develop on both sides of the Ouseburn valley.

On the plus side, his shrewd philanthropy prevented any infilling of Jesmond Dene. Many of Newcastle’s other denes disappeared under landfill — a third-of-a-mile segment of the Ouseburn valley near Warwick Street was culverted in the early 1900s and crammed with rubble and other rubbish. However, the land created on top of the Ouseburn Tip — which is now the ‘City Stadium’ — proved too unstable for housing.

Similarly, today’s plots owned by the Armstrong Allotments Association only exist because the land they were carved from proved unsuitable for building use.

Armstrong originally planned to develop this land to create Heaton Park Estate, an exclusive neighbourhood of mansions overlooking the Dene.

In 1878, Armstrong instructed his architect Frank W Rich to ‘lay out villa residences upon the land to the eastward of the park,’ Rich had ‘already marked off into building plots the whole of the land which lives above Bulman’s Wood,’ reported the ‘Newcastle Courant’. but, as has already been discussed on this site, these villas would not be built.

Problem: ‘the ground here forms a natural basin, and a spring rises just above it, and runs evenly the whole year through,’ revealed the ‘Courant’, adding that the land was ‘soft and swampy.’

Solution: ‘The water … is now carried away to form a small cascade,’ reported the ‘Newcastle Daily Chronicle’

This cascade was the waterfall parallel to the ‘cattle run’. The waterfall, and the rivulet that formed it, were carried through one of the two arches beneath the lower of the two Armstrong Park bridges. The second arch spans the ‘cattle run’.

Bridge in Armstrong Park over the ‘cattle run’ and former waterfall

Except, remember, it’s not a ‘cattle run’, it was a sunken footpath, reported the period newspaper mentioned earlier. A sunken footpath from Ouseburn Road to Armstrong’s putative posh villas; a sunken footpath for use by the villa owners, or perhaps to be used as a hidden-from-view passageway for servants or tradespeople.

‘The quality and style of the stone work would support [the] suggestion [that this was a] pedestrian route to link the road to proposed housing,’ concluded Steyne.

The sunken footpath was built by Newcastle Corporation in 1880, working to plans drawn up by Armstrong or, more likely, his agents. Although decorative and with its own sylvan cascade, the expensive railway-style cutting didn’t help sell the plots — the thirteen posh villas never got built.

By 1884, Rich had modified the plan, dividing the development into 41 plots. However, after fresh surveys revealed the land to be unsuitable for housing, this plan, too, fell by the wayside.

The sunken footpath was itself sunk, with no longer any reason to exist.

Armstrong died in 1900. His will stipulated that part of what would have been the Heaton Park Estate should become allotments. Other parts of the would-be development lay fallow until the 1920s when almost 100 houses were erected on the land that had been deemed unsuitable forty years previously.

Heaton Park Estate never made the jump from Rich’s drawing board, but a similar development to the north of Armstrong Bridge proved more successful. In 1894, Rich (probably acting for Armstrong) was advertising ‘Villa SITES for Sale on Jesmond Park Estate.’ Significantly, the adverts stressed that on these plots the ‘drainage [was] perfect,’ which suggests that the drainage for the plots on Heaton Park Estate had not been perfect.

Jesmond Park Estate was a commercial success, and some of the large houses that stand back from the roads Jesmond Park East and Jesmond Park West are among the most expensive properties in Newcastle.

White elephant

The ‘cattle run’ was built in advance of the prestigious housing it was designed to service, perhaps constructed early to act as a sales tool to attract rich house hunters. It had been built on land owned by the city council by railway engineers who were working to plans commissioned by Lord Armstrong via his jobbing architect Frank W. Rich.

It’s possible that work on the cattle run was done by Rich’s assistant, H.G. Badenoch.

‘When Lord Armstrong presented the beautiful Jesmond Dene to Newcastle, the erection of the lodges, making of footpaths, and building of bridges was … in Mr. Rich’s hands, and I superintended most of the work,’ remembered Badenoch later in life.

Badenoch also reported that he had conducted ‘all the surveying, levelling, and setting out of streets’ for Lord Armstrong’s housing developments in Jesmond and Heaton.

The unsung Badenoch might have also been responsible for converting what had been a pre-1860s storm drain in Bulman’s Wood into Armstrong Park’s scenic waterfall.

There has never been a ‘cattle run’ in Heaton. The linear feature now known by that name was built as a sunken footpath next to a tumbling cascade. The cascade may have tumbled for some years, but it failed to drain the sodden field above it, and as the sunken footpath ended in a quagmire and not, as was planned, at the foot of thirteen posh villas, it too was a flop.

Knowledge of the ‘cattle run’’s true purpose was lost soon after its use became moot. Ordnance Survey maps didn’t label what was — and remains — a distinctive ground feature. A large-scale OS map of 1907 managed to pinpoint small items such as urinals but didn’t state the use of the feature that ninety or so years later became known, wrongly, as the ‘cattle run.’ A 1942 OS map got the closest, labelling the feature a ‘subway.’

Other Armstrong-commissioned subways exist, including the fully-covered one from his Banqueting House to St. Mary’s chapel, and another in Jesmond Dene to Blackberry crags.

Sorry, Newcastle City Council, but the lottery-funded interpretation board you installed in 2010 is incorrect — the ‘cattle run’ was built for people, not cows. But let’s look on the bright side: while Armstrong Park loses a bovine superhighway, it gains a long-lost waterfall.

Notes and Sources can be found here.

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Carlton Reid. Photographs by Carlton Reid. With thanks to Marek Bidwell, Sarah Capes, Ann Denton, Keith Fisher, Henrietta Heald, Duncan Hutt, Chris Jackson, Alan Morgan, John Penn, Yvonne Shannon, Hanna Steyne, Les Turnbull, and Will Watson-Armstrong.

Carlton Reid was ‘Press Gazette’ Transport Journalist of the Year, 2018. He writes for ‘The Guardian’, ‘Forbes.com’ and ‘Mail Online‘.

He’s also a historian – his recent books include ‘Roads Were Not Built for Cars‘ and ‘Bike Boom’ both published by Island Press, Washington, D.C. The ‘cattle run’ isn’t the first infrastructure he has shown to be wrongly labelled: in 2017 he discovered the existence of hundreds of miles of 1930s-era Dutch-style cycleways paid for by Britain’s Ministry of Transport but which fell out of use so quickly that they became buried under grass or were misidentified as service roads.

Where the Shoe Tree Grows

In August 2020 the Woodland Trust shortlisted a sycamore in Armstrong Park, known as the ‘Shoe Tree’, for its English ‘Tree of the Year’. Our representative in the competition certainly isn’t as ancient as many of the other contenders, although that didn’t stop an anonymous wit constructing a fictional history for it, as this panel, which mysteriously appeared one night in 2012, shows. 

Definitely not true but the tree is certainly growing in an area of the park with a very interesting actual history, some of which may provide an alternative narrative for why it now sprouts footwear.

Estate plans, estimated to date from around 1800, shows this particular part of Heaton, which was owned by the Ridley family, covered in trees and described as ‘plantations’. On the 1st edition Ordnance Survey map, the area is labelled ‘Bulman’s Wood’. We know that by the first half of the 19th century, it was owned by Armorer Donkin, the solicitor who in the 1830s employed William Armstrong as a clerk and became almost a father figure to him. On Donkin’s death in 1851, Armstrong inherited much of the land that he in turn gifted to the citizens of Newcastle, including the park which bears his name and houses the Shoe Tree.

But from the 1830s there was a house in the wooded area adjacent  to where the Shoe Tree stands. It can be seen on the first edition OS map below, the square just below the old windmill. A very substantial stone-built single storey house, some 20 metres squared, stood here. This house was occupied for over twenty years by Joseph Sewell, a man who deserves to be much better known in Heaton than he is.

Pottery

Joseph’s early life remain something of a mystery but we do know he was born c1777 in Northumberland. By 1804 he had become the owner of the already substantial St Anthony’s Pottery less than three miles from Heaton. The road now known as Pottery Bank led from the factory to the works’ own staithes on the River Tyne.

According to a modern reference book, ‘Although in recent years, Maling has received more attention than [other north-east potteries], the highest quality ware was made by the St Peter’s and St Anthony’s potteries.’ 

Sewell and Donkin Pineapple inkwell, c 1920 in the Laing Art Gallery

Under Sewell’s stewardship, the pottery went from strength to strength. It did not, for the most part, compete in the English market with the Staffordshire firms, which had advantages in terms of transport links by road. Instead, it took advantage of its position on the Tyne, with links to Europe, particularly Northern Europe.

Mr T T Stephenson, former works manager at St Anthony’s, interviewed by C T Maling in 1864, said:

‘I cannot go back to when it first began as a small white and common brown ware works but about 1803 or 1804, it was taken over by the Sewells and gradually extended by them for home trade until 1814 or 1815, when a considerable addition was made to manufacture entirely for exportation, chiefly CC or cream coloured, painted or blue printed [wares] and when I came to the works in 1819, the description of works then produced [was] say about five glost ovens and two or three enamel kilns per week, say CC and best cream colour to imitate Wedgwood’s tableware, then made in considerable quantities for Holland and other continental countries.’

As well as in local collections, there seem to be particularly large numbers of Sewell pieces in museums in Denmark which suggests this was a big market for Sewell’s pottery.

From 1819, the firm was known as Sewell and Donkin. Armorer Donkin, Jesmond and Heaton landowner, solicitor and businessman and soon to be Joseph Sewell’s landlord, had become a partner in the firm. 

We know that there were ‘dwelling houses’ on the site of the factory and a newspaper of 9 June 1834 reported that ‘The lightning struck the house of Mr Sewell at St. Anthonys and broke a quantity of glass’.  Whether this event was a factor, we don’t know but the following year, Sewell moved to a new house on Donkin’s land in Heaton.

Ironically, the advent of the railways from the 1830s, pioneered in the north-east, made things more difficult for Tyneside potteries as they enabled fashionable Staffordshire names to access the local market directly rather than have to transport goods by road and sea via London. Consequently their ceramics became relatively cheaper and more popular in this part of England.

The north-east firms were also affected by changes in shipping. Until this point, they had enjoyed access to cheap raw materials that were used as ballast on wooden collier ships making return journeys from Europe and London. But from the 1830s larger iron-clad ships came into use. They made fewer journeys and increasingly used water as ballast. The result was that as Staffordshire pottery became more affordable, local ware became comparatively expensive. Nevertheless St Anthony’s pottery continued to thrive by concentrating on cheaper mass-produced items. This plan is from the 1850s.

In 1851, the year in which Armorer Donkin died,  the pottery name reverted and became Sewell and Company. 

Sewell, the man

We know that Sewell diversified. He was manager and shareholder for a time at the Newcastle Broad and Crown Glass Company, the shareholder who recommended him being Armorer Donkin. 

That Joseph had some philanthropic leanings is shown by charitable donations including one from ‘Messrs Sewell and Donkin’ in 1815 to a relief fund set up after the Heaton Colliery disaster and in 1848 to another following a tragedy at Cullercoats when seven fishermen drowned. 

There are also references in the press to scholars such as those of the Ballast Hills and St Lawrence Sunday schools being taken up the Ouseburn to the ‘plantation of Joseph Sewell Esq’ including some mentions of tea and spice buns!  

His gardener also gets several mentions for having won prizes for horticultural prowess.

Joseph died on 10 June 1858 at his home in Heaton at the age of 81. 

Tearoom

At the time Sir William Armstrong gifted the land now known as Armstrong Park to the people of Newcastle in 1879, the tenant of the house was a Mr Glover. He may well have been the last occupant. Joseph Sewell’s house was soon used as a tearoom or refreshment rooms.  Later, possibly about 1882, a kiosk seems to have been built onto the side. 

Yvonne Shannon’s dad, who is 85, remembers going to the refreshment rooms for ice cream but he can’t recall anything about the big house.  Heaton History Group member, Ken Stainton, remembers it too. He told us that an elderly man ‘quite a nice guy’ called Mr Salkeld ran the refreshment rooms when he was young. Ken remembers the name because he went to school with Norman Salkeld, one of the proprietor’s grandsons. But Ken’s memories are from the second world war: ‘Sweets were rationed. I don’t think they had cake. I just remember orange juice.’ The identity of the writer of the letter accompanying the first photo below would seem to confirm Ken’s recollections.

Armstrong Park tea rooms, early 20th century

Runners’ retreat

What Ken remembers most vividly, however, is the ‘dark, dingy room at the back’ that was used as changing facilities for another great Heaton institution, Heaton Harriers. Again this was during world war two, in which many of the Harriers served and some lost their lives.

It’s fitting that Heaton’s athletes were among the last known users of the space before, in 1955, the refreshment rooms were demolished. Is it a coincidence that a tree close to the site has, for the last thirty or more years, been the final resting place for worn trainers and other footwear belonging to Heaton residents past and present?

And although a number of truly historic buildings, such as  ‘King John’s Palace’ and Heaton Windmill, survive just metres away, it’s the Shoe Tree, which particularly seems to capture the imagination of local people. It’s that which has a Heaton Park Road cafe named in its honour and has inspired local designers and artists.

Colin Hagan’s designs

But next time you pass, look up at the trainers and think about all the runners who set off from that spot, some of which were to lose their lives soon afterwards, and give a thought also to the entrepreneur, industrialist and philanthropist, Joseph Sewell, whose house footprint is beneath your feet. 

Cast your vote for the Woodland Trust’s Tree of the Year here.

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Yvonne Shannon of Friends of Heaton and Armstrong Park and Friends of Jesmond Dene, with additional material by Chris Jackson, Heaton History Group. Shoe Tree designs depicted by Colin Hagan.

Sources

‘St Anthony’s Pottery, Newcastle upon Tyne: Joseph Sewell’s book of designs’ / edited by Clarice and Harold Blakey on behalf of the Northern Ceramic Society and Tyne & Wear Museums, 1993

‘The Development of the Glass Industry on the Rivers Tyne and Wear 1700-1900’ / by Catherine Ross; Newcastle University thesis, 1982

‘William Armstrong: magician of the north’ / by Henrietta Heald; Northumbria Press, 2010.

Ancestry

Archaeologia Aelinae

British Newspaper Archive and newspaper cuttings

Ordnance Survey maps 1st and 2nd edition

Ridley collection, Northumberland Archives

Can You Help?

If you know more about the Shoe Tree, Joseph Sewell, The Armstrong Park refreshment rooms or have memories or photos to share, we’d love to hear from you. You can contact us either through this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or by emailing chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Flying Visits to Jesmond Dene

If, like so many other people, you’ve been enjoying exercising in the green haven that is Jesmond Dene this spring, perhaps you’ve wondered about those in whose footsteps you’re walking: people like William and Margaret (later Lord and Lady) Armstrong, of course, who, in 1835, were given 16 acres of land in the Dene by Margaret’s parents as a wedding present and, who, in turn, later gifted the landscaped park he developed there to us, the people of Newcastle; but also Jane and Isabella, artist daughters of engraver Thomas Bewick, who loved to walk there as elderly ladies (They both lived into their 90s); eminent naturalists John and Albany Hancock, who lived nearby, and the family of Armstrong’s trusted lieutenant, ballistics expert Sir Andrew Noble, lucky enough to live in the Dene itself, first of all in Deep Dene House on the High Heaton side of the Ouseburn, now sadly a semi ruin but most recently known as Fisherman’s Lodge, and latterly in Jesmond Dene House, now a boutique hotel. What all of these people have in common (and also in common with, reportedly, a growing number of us today) is that they took a great interest in the natural world, especially that of their own locality.

It is Andrew and Margery Noble’s son, George, who we have to thank for a fascinating  book called ‘Birds of Jesmond Dene’ published in 1931. In it, he lists and comments on ‘merely those birds which I and one or two relatives and intimate friends have observed. My memory, alas! goes back over sixty years so I have taken that period roughly as a time limit.’

Thus the book is a valuable document which gives us a feel of how the bird life of the Dene has changed over a long period, from the late 1860s to 2020, as well as giving us little glimpses into life in the Dene during the period Noble writes about. This article is not a scientific study but, just as Noble did, we have enlisted the help of a small number of fellow Heatonians and local birdwatchers to get a better understanding of the range of birds that have been seen in recent years and allow rough comparisons with the period Noble covered. And we have the added advantage of being able to scour Twitter for those birds thought worthy of special mention by today’s 140 character chroniclers. It’s certainly not an exhaustive or official list though. We have also expanded the area covered to the whole of Heaton, although most of the birds listed have been seen in Heaton’s various parks.

Woodland

Jesmond Dene is, of course, essentially a wooded valley and so many of the birds seen there could be described as ‘woodland birds’. Apologies to ornithologists as it’s certainly not a scientific classification and many of the birds listed will often be seen in other habitats too but most build their nests, and are often seen, in and around trees. Many of our common garden birds would fit into that category.

Here are the woodland birds of Jesmond Dene as mentioned by Noble in 1930 in approximate order of how common he considered them to be, along with some contemporary observations:

Robin (or ‘Redbreast’, as Noble calls it) ‘Very common and breeds’ It’s perhaps surprising that he says no more about this perennial favourite, which has such a close relationship with man. Nowadays: Still resident in and beyond the Ouseburn parks. in In  2011 Peter Candler, Managing Director of Jesmond Dene House, Noble’s old home, posted a photograph on Twitter of one in the garden there. Lovely to be able to start with that direct link with the past.

Dunnock (‘Hedge Sparrow’, as Noble calls it) ‘Very common and breeds regularly.’ Nowadays: Still a common, if often overlooked bird, in the Dene and elsewhere in Heaton. Mike Cook says it’s ‘best seen having a free lunch in Pets’ Corner’.

Song Thrush ‘Very common and breeds’ . Noble includes his own painting of one in the book. Nowadays: Although according to the RSPB ‘in serious decline’, we’re lucky to still have them in and around the Dene. In January 2020, James Common tweeted that he’d seen good numbers in Heaton Park.

Painting of a song thrush by Sir George Noble

Chaffinch ‘Very common and breeds.’ Nowadays: Still resident in the Dene and other Heaton parks and gardens, but, again, is said to be in decline, possibly because of disease.

House Sparrow ‘Very common. A pair of pure white sparrows, which had evidently just left the nest, once appeared on the lawn of Jesmond Dene House. The family was away at the time, but one of our maids, in some mysterious way, managed to capture them. She amused us afterwards by saying they looked like angels amongst their darker brethren. Poor little things! They paid the penalty of their beauty by dying a martyr’s death.’ Nowadays: While still a common sight in the author’s north Heaton garden, Mike Cook reports that, although a common resident until 2005, they are now only occasionally recorded on the periphery of the Ouseburn parks.

Starling ‘Very common and increasing species. Nests every year. It is curious to think that sixty years ago it was, comparatively speaking rare.’ Nowadays: More common in the streets and gardens of Heaton than in the Ouseburn parks themselves.

Blackbird ‘Common and breeds. I have found many nests of this species placed on the ground on the banks of the burn in the grounds of Jesmond Dene House.’ Nowadays:  Very common, of course, in the Dene and in other parks and gardens.

Blue Tit ‘Common and breeds’. Nowadays: A beautiful bird but such a common sight at feeders and in nest boxes that only artist, Sophie Foster, has mentioned them on Twitter in the context of Jesmond Dene. She found an abandoned nest, which she took home to photograph and study to understand how it was constructed and the materials used.

Great Tit ‘Common and breeds’. Nowadays: Again very common but neither the majority of our birders nor the Twitter community thought it notable enough to mention specifically.

Wren ‘Common and breeds’. Nowadays:  It’s a secretive bird which tends to lurk in the undergrowth and so perhaps more common in and around the Dene than many people realise.

Rook ‘Common resident. There was a rookery near the Banqueting Hall till quite lately but I fancy this has been deserted. A small one was started some years ago in the grounds of Jesmond Dene House but as it was just above the chicken pen it was discouraged.’ Nowadays: Only recorded very occasionally flying over.

Redwing ‘Arrives in large numbers in the autumn.’ Nowadays: Still seen in winter. In March 2017, Gareth Kane tweeted ‘Flock of redwing in a beautifully sunlit Heaton Park this morning.’ Mike Cook suggests checking out yew trees with berries in autumn.

Fieldfare ‘As above.’ Nowadays: Another winter visitor to be seen in and around Heaton occasionally, especially during harsh weather. Marek Bidwell photographed one on a crab apple tree during Beast from the East in March 2018. Mike Cook says they’re most likely to be seen around the edges of Paddy Freeman’s playing fields.

Hooded Crow ‘Regular winter visitant.’ Nowadays: Not recorded by our birders – in the UK, breeding birds are confined to the far north and west, although apparently migratory birds can occasionally be spotted on the east coast of England. Interesting that they were once more common.

Coal Tit: ‘Quite common, though I don’t think we have seen a nest’. Nowadays: Still resident in the Dene and the wider area, although only visiting birder, Sam Porter, thought to mention a sighting on Twitter last October.

Jackdaw ‘Still fairly common’. Nowadays: Resident in the Ouseburn parks and seen regularly around Heaton.

Cuckoo ‘Regularly heard each year. In 1915 they appeared to be very plentiful, being heard and seen almost daily during the season. One was caught in the nets set to protect the gooseberries…’ Nowadays: No reported sightings in and around the Dene but the author heard one this May in Rising Sun Country Park, which isn’t too far away so listen carefully while there’s less traffic noise.

Spotted Flycatcher ‘Regular summer visitant. EC: I was walking along a path by the burn when I saw in an oak tree a shabby old blackbird’s nest… when I went to examine it, a flycatcher flew off and I found a neat new nest had been built inside the blackbird’s, like the lining of an entrée dish.’ 2020: Bred in the Dene up to about 2003 but not recorded since then.

Linnet ‘Common. Much commoner in past years when the Dene was less formally laid out and there were more patches of gorse and bramble.’ Nowadays: No recent reports even though the RSPB says, ‘There are concentrations along the east coast from Kent to Aberdeen’ including in parks and gardens. The linnet is, however, another bird in long term decline.

Greenfinch ‘Common though not quite so much as formerly when it used to breed very plentifully.’ Nowadays: Perhaps the same could be said today. They are seen in Heaton’s parks and gardens but they’re another species which has declined, partly because of disease.

Goldcrest (‘Golden Crested Wren’, as Noble calls it) ‘Seen every winter as recently as January 1928.’ Nowadays: Although tiny and difficult to spot, resident in and around the Dene. James Common posted a photograph on Twitter during snowy weather in March 2018:  ‘This Goldcrest spent a good quarter-hour feeding in the lower branches of Holly in Heaton Park this afternoon. One of the species hardest hit by bad weather, it was promising to see it nab a few morsels’.

Goldcrest, Jesmond Dene Copyright: Marek Bidwell

Willow Warbler (‘Willow Wren’, Noble calls it) ‘Still nests regularly. Miss Adamson: I saw such a pretty sight the other day. I was watering my begonias with a hosepipe… when a little willow wren came and bathed in the spray. It flew onto the apple tree nearby and sang its thanks and then came back and finished its bath.‘ Nowadays: A summer migrant which bred in the Dene until the turn of the century but now just recorded on migration. James Common reported one in Heaton Park on 10 April 2020.

Garden Warbler ‘Not uncommon. We found a nest of this species many years ago.’ Nowadays: No recent records although, as they sound like blackcaps and are difficult to spot, they may go unreported.

Woodpigeon ‘Fairly common’ is all Noble had to say. Nowadays: Most of our contemporary birders didn’t think to mention it at all and nobody has excitedly posted a sighting on Twitter but if they had they may have simply said ‘ubiquitous’. The woodpigeon has increased in numbers by some 87% in the last thirty years or so. In the countryside, it’s said to have benefited from the cultivation of oil seed rape but here in Heaton, it’s one of the birds that has gained most from our increasing provision of food on bird tables.

Bullfinch ‘ Not uncommon. Nested within the last few years and seen in 1917.’ Nowadays: A few resident pairs in the Dene. James Common photographed one in Heaton Park during the harsh early spring of 2018 ‘Bullfinch from Heaton Park this afternoon – appeared grateful for the sunflower seeds placed out by a kind local. Who wouldn’t be in this weather?’ They also love the plum trees in Iris Brickfield, especially in early spring.

Tawny owl, Armstrong Park Copyright: Michael Burney

Tawny Owl ‘This bird is, I think, more plentiful in the Dene than formerly. From the fact it can be heard all year round, I fancy it may still be considered a breeding species… When I was a boy, this bird always came under the disgusting denomination of vermin and was ruthlessly destroyed. [It] does occasionally take birds but makes up for this by the enormous quantity of rats and mice it destroys.’ Nowadays: More often heard than seen but Gareth Kane reported seeing one by the Ouseburn in November 2012 and Marek Bidwell has had one in his Heaton backyard, although he says they’re more often to be seen or heard in the tall trees at the bottom of Jesmond Vale Lane.

Woodcock ‘There are generally one or two seen every year on autumn migration. Some years ago, I saw one quite unconcernedly feeding on the lawn of Jesmond Dene House’. Nowadays: A rare winter visitor but Anthea James reports seeing one in her North Heaton garden  and Gavin Dudley has seen one on Shields Road!

Wood Warbler (‘Wood wren’j ‘Occasionally seen.’ Nowadays: Rarely recorded on migration. Mike Cook saw one in May 2002.

Kestrel ‘Still occasionally seen. Some years ago we had high hopes that it might breed in the quarry of Jesmond Dene House.’ Nowadays: Mike Cook says that they bred in a ruin at Castles Farm until 1996 but now only occasionally sighted. In November 2015, birdwatcher ‘Lophophanes’ tweeted that he’d seen a kestrel with a rat in the Dene, his first sighting of one there ‘for ages’.

Redstart ‘We used to see the redstart every year and a pair nested in our garden more than once’. Nowadays: Gavin Dudley saw one in his High Heaton garden in the 1990s.

Sedge Warbler ‘Some thirty five years ago I remember finding no less than three nests in one afternoon.’ Nowadays: No recent reports.

Chiffchaff ‘Have not heard or seen it for some years but I heard its note constantly in the sixties.’ Nowadays: It appears that chiffchaff is a success story over recent years as the distinctive onomatopoeic call of this summer visitor is regularly heard in all of Heaton’s parks from March onwards. Tom Middleton photographed one in Iris Brickfield in April 2015 and they have been heard by all our correspondents in and around the Dene this spring.

Grasshopper Warbler ‘I remember this bird’s curious note as one of my earliest recollections. It must have bred regularly during the sixties as we heard it year after year.’ Nowadays: Mike Cook recorded one in Jesmond Vale in July 2007.

Whitethroat ‘Used to nest fairly frequently in the Dene but I have not myself seen a nest or bird here for some years.’ Nowadays: The last one recorded by Mike Cook was in June 1996.

Magpie ‘Often seen in the late sixties. I remember a nest in a clump of high trees at a spot not far from the east end of Armstrong Bridge.’ Nowadays: Amazing to think it was still uncommon in Heaton even thirty to forty years ago but a success story over the last few decades and one of the easiest to spot birds in the Dene and throughout Heaton.

Brambling (‘Mountain Finch‘ as Noble referred to it) ‘One roosted regularly all through the winter in a shrub outside the library window of Jesmond Dene House.’ Nowadays: A sporadic winter visitor. Gavin Dudley recalls seeing a flock in Heaton Park in the 1990s.

Nightjar ‘This bird was not uncommon years ago, I remember that my father shot one within yards of the fence on the east side of the Dene.’ Nowadays : A nocturnal summer visitor to Britain not reported in Heaton in recent years. They are normally found on heathlands, moorlands, in open woodland with clearings and in recently felled conifer plantations.

Treecreeper (Simply ‘Creeper’ Noble calls it) ‘Not very common.’ Nowadays: Resident in the Dene and Heaton and Armstrong Parks. Dick Gilhespy posted a photograph on Twitter in March 2017.

Goldfinch  ‘Seen in the grounds of Jesmond Dene House a few years ago. Nested two years in succession in a pear tree at Craghall, 1911 and 1912. The nest… was given by me to the Hancock Museum’. Nowadays: Now commonly seen and heard in the parks and gardens of Heaton, they are a bird that has done well in towns and cities during recent years, spotted at just 8% of feeders in 1972 but by 2012 were seen at 87% of them.

Marsh Tit ‘Somewhat rare. Seen in the quarry of Jesmond Dene House in 1916’. Nowadays: A one off sighting for Noble and in recent years neither marsh nor willow tits, which look very similar, have been seen locally by our birders.  Despite their name, marsh tits are most often found in broad leaf woodland, and also copses, parks and gardens so, in theory, the Dene would suit them, although they are said to be more common in southern England.

Sparrowhawk ‘I have not seen this bird for some years’. Nowadays: Another 21st century success story! Resident in the Ouseburn parks and often seen around Heaton. In January 2013, Gareth Kane tweeted ‘Saw female sparrowhawk hunting long tailed tits in Heaton Park this morning.’ And in October 2017, James Common noted ‘ Sparrowhawk twisting and turning through the chimney pots of central Heaton just now in pursuit of a pigeon. Awesome to see!’

Tree Pipit ‘I have not seen this bird for many years. In 1869, I found a nest with 5 eggs in it above the Flint Mill.’ Nowadays: Not reported by our present day ornithologists but, as the RSPB describes its habitat as newly planted conifers or open heath in western UK, that’s perhaps not surprising. Again, Armstrong’s young plantations may have briefly suited it in the 1860s.

Blackcap  ‘This bird was pointed out to me by John Hancock when I was a very small boy. Nest seen by LA and EC for several years.’ Nowadays: Although, blackcap is historically a summer visitor, increasing numbers overwinter in Britain.  In January 2015, Marek Bidwell noted: ‘Female #blackcap on my feeders in #heaton #newcastle; last sighting on 12th Jan 2014 almost exactly a year ago’ but also in April 2016, ‘Lophophanes’ tweeted ‘ Male blackcap singing Jesmond Dene, first of the spring.’

Hawfinch ‘Seen by me two or three times and always when the yew berries were ripe.’ Nowadays: Hawfinch are now among Britain’s rarest / most difficult to spot resident birds and haven’t been reported in Jesmond Dene since the 1980s.

Icterine Warbler ‘Shot in the garden of Crag Hall about twenty five years ago by the gardener. This specimen… [was] presented to the Hancock Museum.’ Nowadays: No recent reports but clearly rare back in the day too –  and made rarer by the shooting!

But there are also woodland birds seen nowadays that George Noble and friends didn’t mention seeing at all between the 1860s and 1930:

Collared Dove: Even if you don’t know what they look like, you’ll be familiar with their call which sounds like ‘U-NIIII-TED’! Not recorded as breeding in Britain until the 1950s, they are now common throughout Heaton but have declined in the parks, now being more likely to be spotted on roofs and in gardens.

Long-tailed Tit: Numbers have risen nationally since the 1980s and that certainly seems to be the case in Heaton, where acrobatic flocks are a fairly common sight in our parks and increasingly gardens.

Jay: Rare before 2003 but now breeding. All our present day birders and many Twitter users report seeing jays in the Dene and local parks.

Nuthatch: Resident in the Ouseburn parks. Marek Bidwell says they especially like pecking at the old walls on Jesmond Vale Lane.

Great Spotted Woodpecker: Its distinctive drumming is often heard, particularly in Armstrong Park. Geoff Forrester managed to photograph this bird at its nest near Pets’ Corner.

Great Spotted Woodpecker, Jesmond Dene Copyright: Geoff Forrester

Ring-necked Parakeet: Britain’s only naturalised parrot, despite many having escaped from private collections, only began to breed in the UK in the late 1960s. They spread north from the south east and, having been first recorded in 2014, they have probably been breeding in Heaton Park for the last couple of years.

Waxwings: These beautiful winter visitors tend to be seen in larger numbers in Britain, especially the east side, when harsh winter weather affects their native Scandinavia. Marek Bidwell says they are occasionally seen around the bowling green near Heaton Road. They’re also quite often seen around the Coast Road around the junction with Benfield Road. A  large flock settled on telephone wires on Huntcliffe Gardens a few years ago.

Siskin: Gavin Dudley reports them being fairly regularly winter visitors to his High Heaton garden bird feeders in the 1990s. Mike Cook saw one in the Ouseburn parks in January 2019.

Red Kite: Introduced successfully to Gateshead in the early years of the twenty first century, they are occasionally seen over Heaton. Birder, Jack Bucknall, reported seeing one circling over Shields Road in June 2018.

Redpoll: A rare visitor, Mike Cook saw one in March 1997 and visiting birder, Sam Porter, tweeted about seeing one fly over Heaton and Armstrong parks in October 2019.

Harris Hawk: an escapee from captivity of this American species was first spotted in Jesmond Dene in late 2014 and often in 2015. Since then a number of escapees have been spotted, most recently in April this year.

Lesser Whitethroat: A single migrating bird seen by Mike Cook over Paddy Freeman’s lake in May 2002.

Peacock: Marek Bidwell was astonished when walking along Park Head Road a few years ago to hear ‘ the most unusual call high in a tree that made me think of a jungle. I looked up and saw a peacock.’ It turns out it had escaped from Pets’ Corner!

Buzzard: A number of our birdwatchers have reported seeng their first buzzards flying high over Heaton during 2020’s lockdown, whether that is a coincidence or a result of increased prey or birdwatchers enjoying more time staring at the sky from their yards and gardens, it’s difficult to know.

Water

What about birds associated with the Ouseburn itself? Here are the ‘water birds’ Noble mentions, again roughly in order of how common they were.

Moorhen (‘Water Hen‘, as Noble called it)  ‘Common and breeds. Although we constantly had two or three nests on stumps or stones in the burn… they seemed hardly ever to get more than one young away… I have no doubt they were taken by pike, of which there were a good many in the water or possibly rats may have been the culprits.’ Nowadays: Still common and easy to spot in and around the Ouseburn and in recent years at Iris Brickfield in North Heaton.

Pied Wagtail ‘Still quite common. Old and young birds seen together every year about the burnside.’ Nowadays: Although included in the ‘water birds’ section, they are perhaps more commonly spotted in Heaton’s streets. Gareth Kane tweeted about one on Stratford Road in snowy weather in March 2018, the ‘Beast from the East’.  There’s often one around Chillingham Road and the author saw one in May 2020 on Rothbury Terrace.

Grey Wagtail ‘Fairly common. Still seen about the burnside. Used to breed regularly above the Flint Mill’. Nowadays: Often seen along the Ouseburn. Gareth Kane reported seeing one while out running in March 2013. Marek Bidwell recommends the burn near Pets’ Corner as a good place to spot one. The author saw one on the Ouseburn in May 2020 near the newish metal footbridge by the flyover.

Grey Wagtail, Jesmond Dene Copyright: Marek Bidwell

Common Sandpiper ‘A tolerably regular summer visitant. Has bred within the last few years’. Nowadays: Gavin Dudley has seen one under the bridge by the flyover ‘but it was a long time ago’. Let us know if you’ve seen one.

Sand Martin ‘Up to about eight or ten years ago, this bird bred above the sandstone quarry at Crag Hall.’ Nowadays: Rare but Mike Cook has two records of sightings from 2003 and 2004.

Mallard (‘Wild Duck’ is the name Noble uses) ‘Used to be seen fairly frequently in hard weather, being no doubt attracted by the food for the tame ducks that my father kept’. Nowadays: Mallards are so common on and around  the Ouseburn and in Paddy Freeman’s pond, that it’s hardly ever mentioned by local birders.  Has definitely done well over the last century or so.

Kingfisher ‘We once saw five of these birds, three young and two old ones. Still occasionally seen… one seen at Crag Hall on 22nd November 1927. Also seen in 1929 and 1930.’ Nowadays: Regularly seen but possibly no longer breeding. In December 2019, Gareth Kane tweeted  ‘Nothing like watching a kingfisher fly along the Ouseburn to lift my spirits on a Monday morning!’ and they lifted many a spirit during this year’s lockdown too. Perhaps more surprisingly, in winter 2015/16, one spent several weeks around the pond in Iris Brickfield.

Dipper ‘ I fear that this bird is perhaps not as often seen owing to the pollution of the stream from Gosforth village and the consequent destruction of the larvae upon which it fed… although ‘Miss Adamson informs me that it certainly did breed here. The nest was under the waterfall, and when she was little, her old nurse used to take her there daily to watch the birds flying out and in…’ Nowadays: There have been regular sightings since 2006. In July 2019. Marek Bidwell wrote on Twitter: ‘I spotted a #Dipper at the top of @JesmondDeneOrg this morning – it had retreated into a rocky crevice to escape the torrent of steaming water cascading down the Ouseburn, creating humidity that I would more typically associate with a tropical rain forest rather than #Newcastle.’ Earlier, in 2016, he managed to photograph a nesting pair ‘under the bridge at Cradlewell’. He has not seen them there since and says there may have been a problem with rats or vandalism.

Dippers, Jesmond Dene Copyright: Marek Bidwell

Grey Heron ‘Seen flying so low that it can said to have been seen actually in the Dene’(Ethel Cochrane, Noble’s sister)‘ Nowadays: The occasional, mainly young, heron can still be seen in Jesmond Dene in an around the burn. Gareth Kane photographed one in November 2018. Marek Bidwell has seen one fishing near Castle Farm Road. There are also occasional sightings on Iris Brickfield.

(Red breasted) Merganser ‘Mr Alfred Cochrane tells me that in February 1929, during the very hard weather, he saw a merganser in the burn, most of which was frozen over at the time. The stream has not been frozen over more than twice in the last 40 years, at least solid enough for people to walk on the ice. The other occasion was in January 1895.’ Nowadays:  More recently, Gavin Dudley has seen a pair in the Dene.

Water Rail ‘Seen in the burn at Craghall in 1910 or 1911’ (Colonel Adamson). Nowadays: A rarity just as in Noble’s time but in February 2013, a ranger posted ‘First ever film of a Water Rail in Jesmond Dene! I was really lucky to see this (only 4th ever record in the Dene) and even luckier to catch some nice feeding behaviour on film.’

Snipe ‘In February 1929 Mr Alfred Cochrane saw a snipe near the bridge in the grounds of Jesmond Dene House. Doubtless it was driven to the burnside by the extremely cold weather.’ Nowadays: A single record in August 1995.

Green Sandpiper ‘I have included this bird… although the two occurrences come somewhat outside my time limit. John Hancock in “Birds of Northumberland and Durham” stated a specimen… was killed in Jesmond Dene on the 26th July 1843 and adds … a fine specimen… found dead [at Craghall] in August 1855.’ Nowadays: No recent reports.

Little Grebe ‘Seen in the burn just above the bridge at Crag Hall in late summer of 1910 or 1911’ (Colonel Adamson). Nowadays: Still a very rare visitor but Mike Cook recorded one in December 2008.

But there are also so called ‘water birds’ that George Noble and friends didn’t see at all between the 1860s and 1930 but which have been recorded in more recent years:

Mute Swan: Occasionally sighted but this year, for the first time anyone can remember, they built a nest on Paddy Freeman’s pond, perhaps partly because council cuts and lockdown have meant more debris than usual to use for nesting material. They even made an appearance with ranger, Sarah Capes, on ‘Look North’!

Common Gull: Occasionally spotted among flocks of black-headed gulls, Mike Cook’s last record was in January this year.

Reed Bunting: They were a common sight on the reeds of the Iris Brickfield pond, certainly up to a few years ago and one year, a pair were regular visitor to garden bird feeders in the North Heaton bungalows, including the author’s.

Canada Goose: The author photographed and tweeted about seeing one in the Iris Brickfield in March 2015. It was facing down a pair of magpies. They are also occasionally seen in Paddy Freeman’s.

Coot: The author saw a coot on the pond on Iris Brickfield a few years ago. Mike Cook last saw one in the Ouseburn parks in April 2012.

Cormorant: Gareth Kane’s report in January 2020 was the latest of a number of sightings of this coastal bird.

Goosander: Marek Bidwell has seen a female at the top of the Dene near Castles Farm Road. Mike Cook’s most recent record was in January 2020.

Tufted Duck:  Also seen from time to time in Paddy Freeman’s, most recently by Mike Cook this March.

Goldeneye: Gavin Dudley has seen them in Paddy Freeman’s pond. Mike Cook has recorded two in November 1991 and December 2011.

Mandarin Duck: Mike Cook reports regular sightings between November 2002 and September 2003 and sporadically until 2013.

Wood Duck: Mike Cook reports that one was a regular in the winter of 1995 and another from April 2002 to 2003.

Teal: a single report from Mike Cook in September 2011.

Curlew: Gareth Kane saw two among the beech trees in Heaton Park in the winter of 2010.

Redshank: Recorded by Mike Cook close to the stepping stones on the Ouseburn in November 2004.

Great Crested Grebe: Gavin Dudley reports seeing one in recent years.

Common Tern: A single sighting over Paddy Freeman’s lake by Mike Cook in July 2007.

Farmland (and cliff)

Noble lists a number of birds as being common on the fields on the east side of the Dene ie inHigh Heaton. From the Coast Road to Castles Farm Road, even in 1930, the only buildings shown on a map are a couple of farm houses and High Heaton Cottages on what we now call The Spinney. 

Mistle (‘Missel’) Thrush ‘This bird bred year after year in the grounds of Jesmond Dene House in a tree close to the road and in full view of passers-by’. Nowadays: Still commonly found in the Dene and around Heaton, it is more a bird of open spaces than its cousin, the song thrush. In May 2020, Gareth Kane photographed a parent and young in a nest in a tree on the banks of the Ouseburn.

Swallow ‘Common and breeds’. Nowadays: The most recent records from Paddy Freeman’s are September 2015 and around that time they also used to sometimes be seen flying low over Iris Brickfield field and pond.

House Martin ‘Used to breed every year at Crag Hall.’ Nowadays: Good numbers nest in some of Heaton’s terraces and at Heaton Community Centre. They can occasionally be seen hunting insects over the trees in the parks.

Swift ‘Occasionally seen. I fancy these have become much more common over the Dene since St George’s Tower was built.’ Nowadays: Although the numbers are much smaller than even a few years ago, small numbers of swifts still return to Heaton skies and roof spaces every May.

Skylark ‘This bird was very common in all the fields on the east side of the Dene. I found a nest with three eggs on 3 May 1870. These eggs are still in my collection… the ground where they used to breed so plentifully is now covered with villas and tennis courts’ (Presumably Jesmond Park East and West and Melbury Road. Ed). Nowadays: You’d have to go to the Town Moor or Rising Sun to hear skylarks today.

Partridge ‘My father had the shooting of the fields on the east of the Dene and occasionally he got quite a good bag’. 2020: Again, you might spot them at Rising Sun or the Town Moor.

Corncrake ‘I have not heard its note for some time but it was common and bred regularly in the fields east of the Dene. I remember being told that six nests were found in one field alone when it was being mown’. Nowadays: Sadly now confined to Western Scotland and Ireland, except perhaps on migration.

Lapwing (‘Green Plover’) ‘Used to breed regularly in the fields east of the Dene. I had some eggs in my collection taken in April 1877 and marked with the words ‘taken within 10 minutes walk of Jesmond Dene House’. Nowadays: The nearest lapwing to Heaton the author has seen is by the pond behind the Wills Building, visible through a fence just before the Newcastle United training ground.

Yellowhammer ‘I found a nest on the east side of the Dene containing two eggs, many years ago but it was a very common bird in the sixties.’ Nowadays: Not reported by any of our birders in the Dene or Heaton.

Pheasant ‘Occasionally seen in former years, no doubt having strayed down from Gosforth Park, where they used to be reared in large quantities. One seen early in 1930.‘ Nowadays: Anthea James reports seeing one once in her North Heaton garden. Mike Cook has recorded two, in April 1994 and June 2015.

Quail ‘My father shot one in the sixties, the skin of which I had for a long time in my possession. This bird was killed within a few yards of the Dene fence.’ Nowadays: No reports.

Black-headed Gull; Herring Gull; Lesser Black-backed Gull. Noble lists these three birds together and comments ‘I do not know how far these birds may be considered as birds of the Dene. They are seen in great quantities every winter flying close over the Dene and I think they occasionally alight in the field opposite the old Flint Mill. When the Dene was in the country, they often pitched in the surrounding fields’. Nowadays: Gulls are a common sight all year round throughout Heaton. Large flocks of black-headed gulls can be seen on Paddy Freeman’s playing fields and Iris Brickfield in winter; herring gulls can be seen year round in both parks and around Heaton roof tops; lesser black-backed is now a summer visitor and becoming more common.

However, there are also ‘farmland’ (and ‘cliff’) birds that George Noble and friends didn’t see at all between the 1860s and 1930:

Feral Pigeon: Descended from the rock dove, a farmland bird, which have been bred in captivity for many years and been very successful in their return to the wild, creating a new habitat in city streets as well as parks and gardens. The white ones are descendants of the occupants of a dovecote that used to be in Pets’ Corner. Did George Noble really not see any up until 1930 or did he not think they really counted?

Stock Dove: Distinguished from feral pigeons in flight by their lack of a white rump and from wood pigeons by their lack of a white patch on the side of their neck and white band on their wings. Their songs differ too. Resident throughout the Ouseburn parks.

Carrion Crow Only fairly recently separated as a species from the closely related Hooded Crow, which Noble did see, but, unlike its cousin, now ubiquitous all year round.

Greylag Goose: Mike Cook recorded one in January 2000.

Peregrine Falcon: Local naturalist, James Common, has reported several sightings from his home in Heaton’s terraces, including via this tweet in December 2018: ‘Peregrine silhouetted overhead at first light, Herring Gulls going beserk. My second record this Winter on my street in Heaton…’

Conclusion

Sir George Noble and friends recorded 74 different species in the almost 60 years between the 1860s and 1930, 58 of which were reported by our local birders in the 30 or so years between 1990 and 2020. Of those species not recorded in more recent times, 11 were considered by Noble to be common at some point during his recording period.

In addition, our birders recorded some 35 species that Noble and friends didn’t see, around 10 of which we could classify as very or relatively common and 25 rare.

So somewhat surprisingly, the final score is Noble 76 Nowadays 93. We have a number of advantages, not least of high speed communications to report sightings and social media on which those sightings can be permanently recorded. We also stretched the geographical area covered a little more than Noble did. But on the other hand, Noble and his friends and relatives had the advantage of actually living in the Dene itself.

We can argue all day about the numbers but what is clear is that Jesmond Dene and the other parks of Heaton are a precious historic and environmental resource, which we should both enjoy and do our very best to conserve for future generations.

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Chris Jackson of Heaton History Group with huge and much appreciated input from our local birders, Marek Bidwell, Michael Burnie, Mike Cook, Gavin Dudley, Geoff Forrester, Anthea James and Gareth Kane, along with additional assistance from David Noble-Rollin and Northumberland and Tyneside Bird Club and the many Twitter users mentioned in the text.

Can You Help?

Please fee free to add your sightings and other observations to the Comments section by clicking on the link below the title of this article.


Heaton Colliery in Numbers

Earlier this year, out of the blue, a stamp-collector from Wales made contact with Heaton History group to say that he had spotted being sold on Ebay an item that might interest Heaton History Group. A seller in Australia was advertising a four page set of accounts from Heaton Colliery dated April 1842 and sealed with a Penny Red stamp. Naturally, we snapped it up, waited impatiently for it to travel halfway across the world and then showed it to our local mining expert, Les Turnbull, not knowing whether it told him anything new and whether he could interpret it for us.

Production

Happily for us, Les was enthusiastic. He started by saying that there were very few accounts of Heaton Colliery surviving from this period. He was, however, able to draw on his knowledge of other sources, including Heaton Colliery’s then viewer, George Johnson’s submission to the Children’s Employment Commission, published the very same year, to help him interpret the figures.

Les commented on the low production of coal during the fortnight (11 working days) covered by the accounts. Johnson had reported that there were 108 hewers at Heaton, who would normally be expected to extract ‘a score a day’ each or about 1,188 scores. (A ‘score’ was a unit of measurement used in the coal mining industry.) In fact, page one of the accounts shows that just over 800 was extracted.

HeatonColliery1842page1

There could be many reasons for the low production, including the timing. Early April was the time that miners signed their bonds for the following year and this could have caused some disruption. Technical, environmental or other labour issues could also have been responsible. The first page of the accounts appears to show a loss in that particular fortnight but, of course, it’s dangerous to make assumptions for the whole year based on one possibly unrepresentative fortnight.

Heaton Waggonway

What is interesting to a transport historian is that the newly opened Newcastle and North Shields Railway already played a major role in Heaton Colliery’s distribution system. Page one of the accounts shows that the colliery paid over £60 to the railway company during the fortnight.

HeatonCollieryBellsMapedited

Bell’s map of 1843 shows the Heaton Waggonway from the Engine Pit to Carville Gate where it joined the Coxlodge line which served the Spinney (Heaton E), Longbenton and Bigges Main. There is a junction with the Newcastle and North Shields line to the west of Wallsend Station.

The accounts on page 1 are signed by William Loraine or Lovaine and the initials of what could be, though we aren’t sure, George Johnson, the viewer. Perhaps someone can help?

Horses

The second page of the accounts lists totals mined for the whole month of March in the three different pits that made up Heaton Colliery at the time: Longbenton (Howard), Heaton (Spinney Pit / E Pit) and Wallsend (Bigges Main), all mining the Low Main Seam.

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The total value of the coals sold during March was £1778-10s-5d, compared to £518-6s-2d for the second fortnight, suggesting that, as Les said, there may have been been a blip then.

Les was also interested in what page three of the accounts tells us about the use of horses at Heaton Colliery:

Heatoncolliery1842IMG_0003_edited-1

‘The memorandum relating to the horses shows that they were mainly used for underground transport (49 out of 71 horses owned). Only seven waggon horses are recorded which would be used to marshall the coal from the Spinney to the Longbenton Pit and then to the head of the inclined plane at the junction of Coach Lane and the Kenton Coxlodge Waggonway. They would have travelled by gravity down to Bigges Main village. The coal for the Seacole trade would have been drawn by horses for the final mile down to the staiths.’

 Watsons of High Bridge

Heatoncolliery1842IMG_0004_edited-2

Interestingly the back of the accounts (page four) was addressed to Robert Watson Esquire of High Bridge, Newcastle and folded to create what looks like an envelope. A Penny Red (actually a reddish brown stamp, introduced in 1841 to replace the Penny Black) is affixed. The stamp isn’t perforated (Perforations weren’t introduced until the 1850s.) There are also letters (E and C) on the bottom corners which indicate the individual stamp’s position on the sheet. The postmark shows the accounts to have been posted in Newcastle on 9 April 1842. But who was Robert Watson and why was he a recipient of the accounts?

The Watson family of Newcastle were involved in many many business activities, The family’s metal-working factory in High Bridge was established in 1767 by William Watson. In 1806 Robert Watson took over the business. We know that he made a miner’s safety lamp for George Stephenson and later gave evidence via his clerk to an enquiry concerning Stephenson’s successful claim that his lamp predated Humphrey Davy’s. By 1827, he was described as plumber, coppersmith, brass founder, patent lead pipe maker and mathematical instrument maker.

In 1838 Henry Watson, Robert’s nephew and long time friend of William Armstrong, built Armstrong’s first water-powered rotary engine.  In 2010, the bicentenary of Lord Armstrong’s birth, a plaque was installed at nos 41-51 High Bridge to commemorate this.   In 1842 Robert was quoted in ‘The Farmer’s Magazine’ as having invented a pumping system for raising water.

In 1847 the firm did more work for William Armstrong, making his newly-designed hydraulic cranes before Armstrong moved to his new site in Elswick.  In the same year Robert loaned £5,000 at 5% per annum to Thomas Henry Liddell, Baron Ravensworth of Ravensworth Castle, the Honourable Henry Thomas Liddell of Eslington and John Bowes of Streatlam Castle.  In the event of default there was a penal requirement for the payment of £10,000; Robert was clearly now a wealthy man.

Mining was another significant interest of the Watson family. Indeed it predated their metal-working activities. They were owners, consultants and viewers in a very extensive range of collieries right across the north but it isn’t always possible to know what connection they had with each mine. We do know though that the family held shares in Heaton Colliery: John Watson, who died in 1832, owned 5 shares. It is probably then as an owner that Watson was sent the fortnightly accounts. Incidentally, the Mining Institute has an extensive Watson archive which is considered to be of significant historical value.  The records were deposited in 1863 by William Watson.

Robert died on 24 August 1850 in Harrogate. He has a brass memorial plaque in the Newcastle Cathedral on the family memorial stone but is buried in Jesmond cemetery.

Acknowledgements

Written by Chris Jackson of Heaton History Group using research material provided by Les Turnbull, including notes about the Watson family written by Jonathan Peacock.

Can you help?

 If you know more about Heaton Colliery or have documents to share and especially if you can help us with information about the signatures, we’d love to hear from you. Please get in touch either by clicking on the link immediately below the title of this article or by emailing chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Heaton! the movies

If you saw ‘Heaton!‘ the show at the People’s Theatre, you’ll remember the opening film sequence and would probably love to see it again. If so or if you missed the play, you’re in luck: it is presented here alongside three short films made as part of Shoe Tree Arts’ and Heaton History Group’s ‘Brains, Steam and Speed’ project.

The films give insight into the lives and psychological make-up of three of the characters from ‘Heaton!‘, all engineers associated with our area who children from local schools studied and were inspired by to produce the artwork featured in the project’s exhibition at the People’s:

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Lord Armstrong (1810-1900), world-renowned hydraulics and ballistics engineer and also local benefactor, whose gifts to the city of Heaton and Armstrong Park and Jesmond Dene we still enjoy today.

ArupBrandenbergBust

Ove Arup (1895-1988), Heaton-born structural engineer, most famous for Sydney Opera House and Kingsgate Bridge in Durham, as well as for his huge and still successful international company.

Charles Parsons

 

Sir Charles Parsons (1854-1931), world-changing inventor of the steam turbine-generator and founder of Heaton company, CA Parsons Ltd. The film also pays tribute to Katharine, his wife, and Rachel, his daughter, who co-founded the Women’s Engineering Society.

The other inspirational mathematicians, scientists and engineers were: Charles Hutton and David’s Sinden and Brown of Grubb Parsons.

The schools involved in the project were: Chillingham Road Primary School, Cragside Primary School, Hotspur Primary School, Ravenswood Primary School, Sir Charles Parsons School.

The ‘Brains, Steam and Speed’ project was funded by Heritage Lottery Fund, the Joicey Trust, Heaton History Group.

The films were made by Peter Dillon, Tessa Green (members of Heaton History Group) with students from University of Northumbria. See full credits on each film.

Watch all the films herehttps://vimeo.com/album/5310574

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Lord Armstrong (1810-1900): his science and his legacy

William George Armstrong was born on 26th November 1810, just as the Industrial Revolution on Tyneside was really getting into full swing. The Northumberland and Durham coalfield was expanding, William Hedley, Jonathan Forster and Timothy Hackworth would soon be working on their famous ‘Puffing Billy’ locomotive at Wylam and soon after George Stephenson would be working on his own ‘Rocket‘ locomotive. With the Literary and Philosophical Society established in 1793, Tyneside was in terms of both scientific achievements and progressive ideas about society, becoming a world leader. Armstrong would add to this in a number of ways – but also leave a darker legacy.

ArmstrongWilliam-George-Armstrong-Baron-ArmstrongNPG

Lord Armstrong, 1890, with permission of the National Portrait Gallery

As an inventor, Armstrong is perhaps most famous for his development of a hydraulic system enabling the famous Swing Bridge on Newcastle’s Quayside to open – and the Tower Bridge in London too. Armstrong’s hydraulic machinery was dependent upon water mains or reservoirs for power and so in 1850 he invented a hydraulic accumulator. It is noted that, ‘it comprised a large water-filled cylinder with a piston that could raise water pressure within the cylinder and in supply pipes to 600 pounds per square inch (42 kg per square cm)…..thus machinery such as hoists, capstans, turntables, and dock gates could be worked in almost any situation.’

SwingBridge

Armstrong’s Swing Bridge opened in 1876

Armstrong invented this because he had to use high water towers for the use of his cranes, on building sites where no water was available. However he hit a major problem when trying to use cranes at New Holland on the Humber Estuary, as the towers would have to be built in sand, which would not provide steady enough foundations. Accordingly, as is often the case, a problem brought forth a solution, which was in the form of a new invention, the weighted accumulator.

It is also claimed that Armstrong was an early environmentalist. Despite the huge importance of coal-mining to the local economy, Armstrong was one of the very first advocates of moving away from fossil fuels to water and solar power. Indeed Cragside, his large home near Rothbury in Northumberland, was the first house in the world to be lit by electric light – powered by hydroelectricity! So keen and visionary was Armstrong when it came to renewable energy that he claimed that coal, ‘was used wastefully and extravagantly in all its applications’, while he also predicted in 1863 that Britain would stop producing coal within two centuries. Armstrong did not only advocate hydroelectricity; he was also a great supporter of solar power, claiming that the solar energy received by 1-acre (4,000 m2) in tropical areas would ‘exert the amazing power of 4,000 horses acting for nearly nine hours every day’.

The light bulbs at Armstrong’s Cragside House were provided by his friend Joseph Swan, who demonstrated the first electric light bulb in the world at the Lit and Phil Society building near to Newcastle’s Central Station. Nearby Mosely Street was of course, the first street in the world to be lit by electric lights…

Sadly, Armstrong also had his downside. He was the inventor of modern artillery and had many weapons built in his Tyneside factory. He was also arguably the world’s first major arms dealer selling deadly weapons to governments around the world. Perhaps the only mitigation we can claim for Armstrong is that in his day, the weapons would have been used almost exclusively against other combatants and he operated before the wake-up call that was the First World War, really brought home to people just how deadly a business war is.

Armstrong and Heaton

The most obvious link between Lord Armstrong and Heaton comes with the parks, next to Heaton Road, one of which bears his name (originally Heaton Park was part of Armstrong Park)  , and the nearby Armstrong Allotments. During Victorian times the area around the Ouseburn Valley, was home to many rich and influential people. These included Sir Andrew Noble, Armorer Donkin and of course Lord and Lady Armstrong. Andrew Noble, was Armstrong’s right hand man and had the house which is now Jesmond Dene House Hotel built for him, it being designed by John Dobson.

The park forms part of a continuous area of land by the sides of the Ouseburn river, from South Gosforth to Warwick Street, which is not built upon. Armstrong acquired this land at various times throughout the 1850s and enclosed it, before planting exotic plants and shrubs and laying paths and building bridges.

HeatonParkLake252 RLC_edited-1

Heaton Park, originally part of Armstrong Park, on land donated to the city by Lord Armstrong

Armstrong and his wife, Margaret Ramshaw, lived in a house called Jesmond Dean, which he had had built in 1835 in preparation for his marriage. As he got wealthier, so Armstrong was able to acquire most of today’s Jesmond Dene, enclosing the land and transforming it into his own private garden. Together with his wife, he created a garden with rapids, waterfalls and a mysterious ghetto, while they also organised the laying of miles of paths and the planting of hundreds of trees and shrubs. Lady Armstrong, described as a ‘lover of nature’, supervised much of this work, with trees and shrubs, ‘culled from the gardens of the world’. Meanwhile, Armstrong’s banqueting house, completed in 1862, was used as a venue for entertaining both his employees from the Elswick Works and later a number of foreign clients. With reference to his employees, it is argued that, despite the business he was in, Armstrong was regarded as an enlightened employer. He built good quality housing for his workers and provided schools for their children.

The banqueting hall, is of course a significant feature of Jesmond Dene. It was built so that he could entertain the aforementioned high value clients as his own house, on the other side of Jesmond Dene Road was too small. The hall remained in regular use until the 1970s when it was damaged by fire. The remaining sections of the building are now home to a thriving artists community. Tyne and Wear Building Preservation Trust have plans for a full restoration of the site, subject to being able to raise the funds.

For thirty years, Armstrong used Jesmond Dene as his own private park, but he did allow the public in twice a week – on payment of a small sum of money! Eventually he decided that he could be a little more generous with this valuable environmental asset and in 1883, the main part of Jesmond Dene was presented to the people of Newcastle as a gift from Lord Armstrong, with the park being officially opened the following year. Armstrong essentially retreated to his home at Cragside, after the death of his wife Margaret in 1893.

When Lord Armstrong died on 27th November 1900, he also left us with the bridge bearing his name. The bridge was given as a gift to the citizens of Newcastle by Armstrong and opened on 30th April 1878.

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Armstrong Bridge from Benton Bank

It is reported that, ‘the contractors for the masonry were Messrs W E and F Jackson. It is a lattice girder bridge, 550 feet in length with a 25 foot carriageway. Varying in height from 30 to 65 feet, it is supported on seven columns 70 feet apart – each end of the bridge rested on massive masonry abutments and, despite its solid construction, presents a light and ornamental appearance.’ The bridge was also notable as the first bridge in the world specially mounted to move in the heat…

Legacy

Unfortunately, it is hard to deny that part of the legacy of Lord Armstrong’s life and work is that Britain has been for many years , one of the five biggest arms manufacturing and dealing nations in the world, often second only to the United States. However carefully the business of selling weapons is done, there has too often been too little scrutiny and monitoring on ways in which arms have been sold on again and whose hands they have ended up in. Consequently, it is impossible to tell just how many innocent children and adults have been maimed or killed by weapons made in this country and indeed by the other nations who are major manufacturers and dealers of arms. Armstrong himself felt no guilt about his role in world history, choosing to not believe that arms manufacturing might inevitably lead to war. It is reported that he once said: ‘If I thought that war would be fomented, or the interests of humanity suffer, by what I have done, I would greatly regret it. I have no such apprehension.’ Subsequent history has taught us otherwise. As arguably the world’s first major arms dealer, we should not hide from the fact that this is sadly part of the legacy of the life and work of Lord Armstrong.

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Arms in Armstrong Park

Happily, however, there are many other more positive aspects to the legacy Armstrong has left us. It was said of Christopher Wren, the architect behind the famous dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, ‘if you seek his monument, look around you’. In some respects, the same could be said for Armstrong. We can see his legacy, in the bridge, which spans the Ouseburn Valley and in the parks next to Heaton and at Jesmond Dene itself. We can also see Armstrong’s legacy in every crane we can see rising over the skyline of Newcastle, as yet another student accommodation building is constructed…

Can you help?

If you know more about Lord Armstrong, including his connections with the Heaton area, or any of the people or places mentioned in the article, 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 chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Peter Sagar, Heaton History Group.

This article is part of Heaton History Group’s project ‘Brains Steam and Speed: 250 years of science, engineering and mathematics in Heaton‘, funded by Heritage Lottery Fund, with additional funding from Heaton History Group and the Joicey Trust

Pupils from local schools will study mathematicians, scientists and engineers associated with Heaton and produce artworks, inspired by what they have learnt, some of which will be exhibited at the People’s Theatre in July 2018.

Sources

https://williamarmstrong.info/about-the-man/

https://www.britannica.com/biography/William-George-Armstrong-Baron-Armstrong-of-Cragside

http://www.jesmonddene.org.uk/history/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Armstrong,_1st_Baron_Armstrong#Hydraulic_accumulator

https://co-curate.ncl.ac.uk/armstrong-bridge/

‘The Ouseburn Parks’, noticeboard: Ouseburn Parks Visitor Centre

A pleasure garden for the people’, noticeboard: Ouseburn Parks Visitor Centre

Jesmond Dene and Ouseburn Parks Park Guide and Map

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10 Sefton Avenue: a time-line

It seems fitting that the first owner of 10 Sefton Avenue was the daughter and granddaughter of at least two generations of watchmakers who had lived in a place that, in the nineteenth century, was synonymous with monitoring the passage of time. For studying the history of buildings to help us understand those who have inhabited them fascinates the current owner of the house. Conversely the stories of those who have lived and worked in a building over time can breathe life into inanimate bricks and mortar.

The discovery in his loft of a large collection of objects and documents that had belonged to a previous owner aroused Jules Brown’s curiosity.

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10 Sefton Avenue, 2017 (undergoing a loft conversion)

What we came to call the ‘Sefton Hoard’, along with the deeds and other documents relating to the property were the starting point for our investigation. But we’ll begin before the house was built.

Little Broom

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Plan of Heaton which accompanies the deeds of 10 Sefton Avenue

In October 1894 Lord Armstrong had passed on his land in Heaton, including Heaton Town Farm, to his great nephew, William Armstrong Watson-Armstrong. In 1907, the plot which became 10 Sefton Avenue was sold by Watson-Armstrong to a local builder, Peter Grant Tulloh. By comparing the above plan accompanying the house deeds to modern maps, we have calculated this plot to have been part of Heaton Town Farm, somewhere in field 95, formerly pasture known as Little Broom.

Peter Tulloh had been born in Forres in Moray, Scotland in 1859 but had moved south as a young man, first to Bishopwearmouth and, by 1891, to 28 Falmouth Road in Heaton at which time he described himself as a ‘traveller’, which we think means what we later called a ‘commercial traveller‘ or ‘travelling salesman‘. Ten years later, he described himself as a ‘traveller’s manager’ and was living at 48 Heaton Road.

We don’t know when or how he became a builder and property developer but he was soon successful. By 1912, he was living at 330 Heaton Road, a house later demolished for the building of the Coast Road, ending his days at Eastwood on Jesmond Park East. He died on 13 April 1939, leaving almost £30,000 in his will. Peter is buried in Byker and Heaton Cemetery with his wife, Isabella and young daughter, Olivia.

The time traveller’s daughter

In January 1907, Peter Tulloh sold 10 Sefton Avenue to 32 year old Fanny Louise Baker. Fanny had been born in Newcastle in c1874 to parents who had moved from the midlands. Her father, William, had worked as a finisher in the watchmaking industry as did his father before him, at a time when the area around Spon Street, Coventry, where they lived, was one of the oldest and most important centres of the industry in the world. Old watchmakers’ houses still stand in this historic quarter of the city and the Coventry Watch Museum tells the fascinating story of the industry and the people employed in it.

But specialist skills were also in demand in the rapidly expanding cities of the north and so William and his wife, Frances, were assured of a bright future when, around 1867, they set off for Newcastle, three young children in tow. (Fanny herself was born some seven years later.) The family settled in Elswick, where William continued to work as a watchmaker. He eventually died in September 1905 leaving £635 6s 9d in his will, a sum that would secure his family’s future by enabling Fanny to buy the brand new house (10 Sefton Avenue cost her just £575 ) she was to share with her now 72 year old mother and her older sister, Elizabeth, a schoolteacher and the only wage earner in the family. By 1911, they had been joined by a boarder, Reuben Charles Salmon, whose rent would have been a welcome supplement to the household income.

The power of love

So, what brought Reuben to Newcastle? He had been born in Bethnal Green, Middlesex in 1881 and by the age of 20, still at home, he was an apprentice electrical engineer. Ten years later and now in Heaton, he described himself as ‘electrical engineer (electric supply)’.  For an ambitious young man in Reuben’s relatively new line of work, Newcastle, was the place to be.

As early as 1860 Sir Joseph Wilson Swan had developed a primitive electric light bulb. But it took him almost twenty more years to develop the incandescent electric light bulb, which would stand the test of time. He patented it in 1878 and a year later, Mosley Street in Newcastle became the first street in the world to be lit by electricity.

Cragside, the Northumberland home of Lord Armstrong, former owner of the land on which 10 Sefton Avenue was built, was famously the first house in the world to be lit by electricity. The picture gallery was illuminated by arc lamps by 1878. And in 1887, 45 of Swan’s light bulbs were installed to light the whole house, the power generated by hydraulics, Armstrong’s own speciality. But Armstrong was interested in physics more generally and he also worked with Professor Henry Stroud, who lived at 274 Heaton Road, on research into the nature of electricity.

But it was one thing generating the power to serve one wealthy person’s home, another to produce enough to cost-effectively service heavy industry. But once again this area was at the forefront of developments. In 1901 Neptune Bank Power Station was built at nearby Wallsend by the Newcastleu pon Tyne Electric Supply Company. Servicing shipyards and other local industry, it was the first in the world to provide electricity for purposes other than domestic and street lighting. It was also the first in the world to generate electricity using three-phase electrical power distribution at a voltage of 5,500 volts. In 1902, two 1,500-kW Parsons steam turbine driven turbo-alternators, developed and made in Heaton, were added. They were the largest three-phase steam turbine driven alternators in the world, as well as the first of a revolutionary barrel type, rotary design. But they weren’t enough.

In 1904 Carville Power Station was built, again using Parsons’ steam turbine alternators from Heaton. The first electricity produced by the station was provided to the NER for the very early electrification of the railway line that passed through Heaton. Carville was extended in 1907 and, in 1916, with demand for electricity soaring because of the war, a second power station, Carville B, was built. This was the largest power station in the UK at the time and was considered to be the ‘first major generating station in the world’, as well as the largest and most economical in the UK. The power supply industry may have been what brought Reuben north. It was certainly where he made his living. However, he found more than work in Newcastle: in 1913, Reuben Charles Salmon married Fanny Baker, his landlady. They lived on Sefton Avenue for eight more years, before moving to Bristol.

Self-made

In October 1921, the house changed hands for the first time. It was bought by Henry Lowery, aged 35, variously described as a ‘ship breaker’ and an ‘iron and steel merchant’, whose business was based in Gateshead.  Born in Newcastle on 16 June 1886, Henry had grown up locally – in Byker. Aged 4, he was living with his widowed mother, Mary Ann, described as a ‘hawker’, and three elder siblings. Aged 14, Henry was described as a painter. In 1911, he was married and still living in Byker but now working as a clerk in an iron and steel merchants.

His wife, like his mother, was called Mary Ann (nee Wilde). And they had daughter called? You guessed it: Mary Ann! Ten years later, now with his own business, he had done well enough for himself to buy a very nice house in Heaton, initially with the help of two sisters from Berwick, Isabella and Barbara Forbes Atchison, his relationship to whom we don’t yet know.

Henry repaid the sisters a year later and lived at 10 Sefton Avenue for 28 years before retiring to Gateshead. When he died, aged 73, he left over £17,000 in his will, very much a self-made man.

Wanderer

The next owner, George Arrowsmith Barnet, had been born on 8 April 1911 in Bishop Auckland. He married Moira H Ashley in Lambeth, London in 1935 and by 1939 the couple and their three children were living in Portsmouth, where George was a cafe manager. Soon afterwards, however, they returned to Bishop Auckland before, in 1949, buying 10 Sefton Avenue from Henry Lowery. George was now described as a ‘catering manager’. But the Barnet’s didn’t stay in Heaton long. Post-war austerity and rationing won’t have made his job easy and Canada was eager to attract new workers: George and his wife, like another half a million Britons in the thirty years following WW2, made the brave decision to emigrate. After giving Moira Power of Attorney so that she could manage his affairs, including the sale of 10 Sefton Avenue, on 13 May 1953 George sailed from Liverpool to Quebec on SS Franconia.  Four months later, Moira and their four children followed him. George Arrowsmith Barnet died aged 77 in White Rock, British Columbia, thirty six years after leaving Heaton.

Hoarder

The person who Moira Barnet sold the house to was Robert Edward Topping. He and his wife Greta (nee Gerner) moved the short distance from 10 Roxburgh Place to 10 Sefton Avenue in August 1953. And for the first time we have more than archival records to help us tell their story.

But first we need to jump ahead around sixty four years. Thinking of expanding his living accommodation, current owner Jules Brown, ventured up a ladder to survey the available roof space. To his amazement, as he arced his torch in the darkness, objects began to emerge from the shadows: some boxes but also individual items, large and small: once-treasured books, many of which were inscribed: some birthday gifts to a young Robert from his father and others presented to Greta for excellent attendance at Sunday School; photographs and personal letters; journals; home made tools, furniture and electric lamps; a canvas rucksack; toys and games, again some home-made; part of a lantern slide projector with slides and a couple of cine films; even a bike. Many of the items seemed insignificant, but clearly all had had meaning enough to become keepsakes for someone. All now black with the dust and soot of more than half a century.

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Jules Brown examining the contents of his loft

Luckily for us, Jules works for Historic England and North of England Civic Trust as a conservation manager. Naturally, he was intrigued by the finds and what they might tell him about his home and those who had lived there before him. He invited Heaton History Group to help sift through the items and decide what had a historic value and who might appreciate it. He wondered whether it was fanciful to think descendants of the hoard’s owners might be traced.

It soon became apparent that most of the objects in the loft had belonged to a Robert Topping and his wife, Greta. Some items were fit only for the tip. Time hadn’t treated them kindly. But there was a small pile relating to C A Parsons, journals, engineering text books, pencils, a slide rule. They were gladly accepted by Siemens’ Heaton Works historian, Ruth Baldasera. The North East Land Sea & Air Museum said they’d love the old BSA (Birmingham Small Arms) military bike.

Reunited

Another group of items related to Heaton Presbyterian Church – Robert and Greta’s religious conviction was clear: there were books about the church, tales from the New Testament, a prayer book but also sermons, hand-written in pencil. We remembered that the daughters of Olive Renwick, of whom we have written before, were parishioners. Would the church like the items and did they happen to know of a Robert Topping? Of course they did. Robert was only their uncle!

He was Olive’s brother and the son of Isabella and Frank Topping, the railway signalman who featured in another article we’ve published.

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Olive, Robert and Sybil Topping with their mother Isabella c1925

And so, over a cup of tea a few nights later, Robert’s nieces, Margaret and Julia, put flesh on the bones of what we’d already pieced together about ‘Uncle Rob and Auntie Greta’ and were reunited with photos, letters, cine films and other personal effects.

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Julia & Margaret, Robert Topping’s nieces with Arthur Andrews & Chris Jackson of HHG

Robert was born on 5 March 1922. He worked as an engineer at Parsons for many years but he’d also served in the Royal Navy during and after the second world war.  Jules’ next door neighbour, who had known Robert as an elderly man, believed he had been a submariner. Robert had told Margaret and Julia that too. But his nieces also recalled that he had a vivid imagination and told many fantastic stories, many of which they suspected to be made up to entertain and impress them.

Amongst the documents in the attic were letters that showed Robert had been at a naval base in Virginia in the USA, a postcard addressed to him as an Engine Room Artificer (a fitter, turner or boilermaker) on HMS Queen Elizabeth and a telegram addressed to him aboard HMS Hargood at Rosyth naval dockyard, suggesting he served on ships in the Royal Navy rather than submarines.

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Robert Topping in the Royal Navy

But there was also a ship’s diary, hand-written in Spanish, in which the author recounted watching the German Graf Zeppelin in the sky above Reykjavik in 1931, on its way to carry out research into the Arctic. Robert would have been nine years old.  ‘Perhaps some of those fantastic stories of a life of adventure were true!’, joked Margaret. Julia remembered with affection her uncle’s sense of humour: ‘He was the only one who could make Aunt Sybil laugh!’ As we looked at family photos around Jules’ kitchen table, we could feel his jovial, larger than life presence in the room.

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Robert Topping in later years

Some of Robert and Greta’s belongings have now been returned to the family and others donated to specialists who would appreciate them but Jules has kept a few items ‘for the house’. He will restore the home made bird box and put it in the garden. And five books by Ramsay Guthrie will be cleaned up and returned to the now converted loft.

Ramsay Guthrie was the alias of John George Bowran (1869-1946), a Primitive Methodist Minister from Gateshead, who wrote many novels set on Tyneside. They feature miners, ship builders and other working class characters and were concerned with morality and redemption. They were written around the time the house was built and, like the lives of the house’s former inhabitants, help to tell its story.

Post-script

Robert Edward Topping died in 2002, while still living at 10 Sefton Avenue. The house was then home to first the Kemptons and later the Kemps from whom Jules Brown bought it. Their life stories will add another layer to the fascinating history of 10 Sefton Avenue in due course.

Acknowledgements

Thank you to Jules for sharing his finds with us and to Julia and Margaret for supplying photographs of their uncle and adding to what the ‘Sefton Hoard’ had told us about him.

Researched and written by Chris Jackson and Arthur Andrews.

Can you help?

If you can add to the story of 10 Sefton Avenue and those who have lived there – or you would like us to look into the history of YOUR house, either leave a reply on this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or email   chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Through Byker to Baikal – and back

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

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

 From Russia for Love

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

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

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

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

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Extract from 1901 census

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

 Passing through

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

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

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

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

East of Heaton

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

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

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

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Andrew Moore who travelled to Lake Baikal in Siberia in 1898

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

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

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

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

One Way Ticket

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

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East Heaton and Heaton Town farms, 1861

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other Russians known to have lived in Heaton pre WW1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can you help?

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

Acknowledgements

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

 

 

 

Parish Church of St Gabriel Part 1: wood, iron & stone

A study of the 1895 Ordnance Survey map of Heaton reveals a building described as St Gabriel’s Church but it is not where you would expect it to be on Heaton Road. It is to the east of Chillingham Road on the north side of Rothbury Terrace. To the south is a cricket ground and the football ground where Newcastle East End, forerunners of Newcastle United, had played until three years earlier and to the north west just 121 years ago, you would have still seen Heaton Town Farm.

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Detail of 1895 Ordnance Survey Map of Heaton

Iron Church

There is a record that states that in 1890 ‘the wooden building was replaced with a structure of corrugated iron lined with wood, costing £500, with seats for 500’. It is not known whether the earlier wooden building was also a church. The building was known as St Gabriel’s Iron Mission Chapel and was a daughter church of St Michael’s, Byker.

Lord Armstrong’s gift

It was also in 1890 that Lord Armstrong gave a new site for a permanent church to be built on the west side of Heaton Road near to its northern end and opposite a row of large villas between Simonside and Cartington Terraces. The architect appointed was Mr Frank W Rich and the Archdeacon of Northumberland recommended  Mr Rich to prepare plans for a permanent church to be built in the Gothic design with a tower, a nave and one aisle, to hold 500 but capable of being enlarged to hold 600. Plans were submitted to Lord Armstrong for his approval.  

1891 saw proposals being put forward for a new conventional district in the Diocese of Newcastle to be formed. At this time the population of the Mother Parish Church of St Michael’s, Byker was 18,500. The new Parish of St Gabriel, Heaton would take over 7,000.

Towards the end of 1892, the Archdeacon of Northumberland wrote to the Vicar of Byker:

‘The rapid increase of the population of Heaton makes it the imperative duty of us all to provide a new parish church in that part of the City and Diocese in the manner in which the law provides’.  

The site of the new church on Heaton Road was found in 1896 to be too narrow to accommodate a large church built on a cruciform shape. Lord Armstrong generously gave another site directly north of the original site. On 1 December Bishop Edgar agreed that the architect Mr F W Rich should build a new stone church on the new site. The building contractor appointed was Mr Walter Baston, a member of St Gabriel’s congregation.

On 18 June 1898 the ‘East End Graphic’ published:

‘For some time the Anglicans in Newcastle have been anxious to see the growing district of Heaton supplied with some more substantial places of worship than the little iron structure in Rothbury Terrace, which has done duty for some years under the Charge of Reverend T H Atkinson. A site on Heaton Road in a field which commands a picturesque view of Jesmond Vale was given some time ago by Lord Armstrong, who also gave £800 to the Building Fund. Alderman Gibson donated £1,000.

A good deal of hard work on the part of the Bishop of Newcastle, Dr Jacob, the curate in charge of the Iron Church and others has brought the total subscription up to £3,110 and the task of building a new St Gabriel’s has begun.

Plans were drawn up by the architect Mr F W Rich estimated to cost £10,000 to seat 1,000.’  

You’ll notice from the architect’s drawings below that Rich’s plans evolved. For example, the spires originally planned for the top of the tower were never built. And the south transept wasn’t built at first.

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Early architect’s drawings of St Gabriel’s Church

The foundation stone was laid by Mrs. Watson-Armstrong on 15 June 1898. Under the foundation stone was placed a description of the building, plans, local newspaper and coins. (The location of the foundation stone is unknown.) 

The Consecration of St. Gabriel’s Church by Bishop Jacob took place on Friday 29 September 1899. A licence for marriages was obtained in October and on 27 December 1899 Queen Victoria sanctioned the formation of the new Parish.  

There was no chancel, sanctuary or trancepts in the newly consecrated church. An altar was created just behind the present chancel steps and vestries were built where now stand the Lady Chapel and South Transept.

The fees (presumably from weddings and funerals) were reserved for by the Vicar of Byker.

Accounts

The church building account was published in March 1900 and read:

1. Mr Walter Baston, Builder £3499.00.00

2. Mr F W Rich, Architect £307.18.00

3. Clerk of Works £104.04.00

4. Messrs Kirk Dickenson, Slates £224.10.00

5. Mr Robert Heron, Plumber £204.06.00

6. Messrs W Ferguson & Sons, Plasterer £200.06.00

7. Mr John Grundy, Heating Installer £105.00.00

8. Messrs Milburn and Sons ,Chairs £81.14.00

9. Gateshead Stained Glass £44.10.00

10. Messrs Robertson & Sons Painters £26.18.00

11. Messrs John Taylor & Co, Bell £8.16.00

12. Church Society Depot Lectern, Pulpit, Bibles & Prayer Books £4.13.00

13. Newcastle Co-operative Cabinet Makers Vestry Table, Forms £4.06.00

14. Messrs Henry Walker & Sons, Umbrella Stand £1.19.00

15. Mr F Beavan, Donation £19.19.00

Total £4837.08.00

(Those of you that can still remember pounds, shillings and pence may like to check the addition. It should be £4,837.19.00 or £4,837.95 in ‘new‘ money.)

More to Follow

This article was written by Heaton History Group member, Robin Long, who will continue with his history of St Gabriel’s in future pieces.

Acknowledgements

Information taken from Chronological History of the Parish Church of St Gabriel, Heaton, Newcastle upon Tyne. Researched by Mrs Joan Brusey (1890 – 1992) and Denis Wardle (1992-1999). Typed by Mrs Jennifer Dobson and Miss Valerie Smith. Bound by Mr John Dobson

Can you add to the story?

If you have photos or memories of St Gabriel’s that you would like to share or can provide further information about anything mentioned in this piece, please contact us, either by clicking on the link immediately below the title of this article or by emailing chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

 

Notes for: For People Not Cows

These are the notes for the article ‘For People Not Cows: Armstrong Park’s cattle run’ by Carlton Reid, published separately to aid readability. To locate references use the key words taken from the beginning of the relevant sentences.

The livestock, goes … Who built in ‘railway style’ in 1880s Newcastle? Robert Hodgson did, brother in law of Thomas Elliot Harrison, engineer in chief for the North Eastern Railway. Hodgson was engineer on the Byker Bridge over the Ouseburn, opened to foot traffic on 14 October, 1878.

Hodgson had ‘adopted the standard brick viaduct, of which ten or a dozen at least were built by … Thomas Harrison on the North Eastern Railway … without sign of a failure,’ says Proceedings of the Council of the Borough of Newcastle upon Tyne, 3 April, 1901.

Using archive materials …Thanks to coronavirus restrictions the research for this article was conducted without access to physical archives. Once archives reopen to the public I would like to see the correspondence between Frank W Rich and Lord Armstrong including ‘F W Rich, Newcastle; Concerning land at Lord Armstrong’s Heaton Estate, 1884.’ I would also like to find out what is said at ‘Concerning the purchase of cows’ of 1862, part of Lord Armstrong’s archives. Also worth exploring will be the Thomas Sopwith diaries and Newcastle Corporation records for ‘Bridges, 1772 – 1924,’ and ‘Water, Sewage and land improvement, c1860 – c1900’. ‘Ouseburn Drainage District, from Haddricks Mill to River Tyne’ of the late 1900s shows sewers and pipes. I would also like to see what was said in the council minutes for 7 October 1880 when the ‘cattle run’ was discussed. The minutes should nail down  the building date of the feature and may also have other pertinent details.

The moss-covered panel … The panels were installed in 2010. The illustration was by Mark Oldroyd of Battle.

In the 19th Century this lozenge of land … Could the Bulman of Bulman’s Wood be Job Bulman (1746-1818) who built Coxlodge Hall in Gosforth? Bulman returned to Tyneside after a successful medical career in India. He <a rel=”noreferrer noopener” href=”http://<a href=”https://www.twsitelines.info/SMR/13396&#8243; data-type=”URL” data-id=”bought land at Gosforth. The High Street became known as Bulman Village. He built Coxlodge Hall in 1796. His son Job James lost the family money and had to sell the land off for development.

Bulman’s village was the name for a group of houses just off today’s Gosforth High Street. Bulman was a ‘gentleman highly respected,’ stated the ‘Durham County Advertiser’ on 7 February 1818, reporting on Bulman’s death at the age of 74.

Wetherspoon’s named its pub in the former Post Office sorting office off Gosforth High Street, ‘The Job Bulman’.

There’s a linear east-west … The Deed of Gift map from 1879 uses the OS map of 1864.

The feature was constructed not … A 1997 book states that the feature was built in 1880. Author Fiona Green didn’t state the linear feature was called the ‘cattle run‘ but she did state it was built by Lord Armstrong to herd cows. Like a 1942 OS map, she called the feature a ‘subway‘. She wrote: ‘A subway was under construction in 1880. This is likely to be the stone faced underpass which bisects [Armstrong Park] from east to west. The underpass is thought to have been constructed in order that cattle could be moved without causing a nuisance to Sir William Armstrong. However it was not built until the park belonged to Newcastle Council and the reason for the construction is not in the council minutes 7.10.1880.’ See: ‘Heaton and Armstrong Parks and Jesmond Vale’, F Green, Newcastle upon Tyne, 1997.

Armstrong may have handed … Extract from Sir William Armstrong’s Deed of Gift, 1878:

A Conveyance of the land tinted pink on the title plan dated 15 January 1879 made between (1) George Christian Wilkinson Atkinson and Others (2) Sir William George Armstrong (3) Benjamin Chapman Browne (4) Addison Potter and (5) The Mayor Aldermen And Burgesses Of The Borough Of Newcastle Upon Tyne contains the following covenants

There is reserved to the donor and his heirs and assigns power to make through and underneath the said hereditaments [a piece of property that can be left to someone after its owner has died] and from time to time to repair all such drains and sewers as he or they may consider necessary for the drainage of the donors other lands in the township of Heaton and of any buildings which may hereafter be erected thereon and to use for such drainage any drains or sewers made or to be made by the grantees in the said hereditaments the donor, his heirs or assigns doing as little damage as reasonable may be in the exercise of the said reserved powers.’

On several period Ordnance Survey maps … It is odd that the Ordnance Survey maps of the 1890s don’t label the ‘cattle run’ because Lord Armstrong made sure other features were labelled correctly, including St Mary’s Chapel. On the Ordnance Survey map of Newcastle and Gateshead 1896, for instance, ‘the Director General of the Ordnance Survey states it was so marked “on the authority of William Armstrong, Esq. (afterwards the first Lord Armstrong), and others.”‘

It’s likely that the masonry … ‘Newcastle Daily Chronicle‘ 21 August, 1884.

Five years after handing … Armstrong Park was created in 1878 when Colonel Addison Potter, Sir William Armstrong’s cousin, sold 23 acres to the Corporation of Newcastle. Soon afterwards Armstrong gave 29 acres of his land to form the park. Sir William Armstrong wrote to the Mayor: ‘It is my intention to make a gift to the town … for the purpose of enlarging the proposed public park in Heaton dene. The land which I offers consists of — first, the house and grounds now occupied by Mr Glover, as annual tenant, including Bulman’s wood, second, the hill on which the old windmill stands; third, the grass land and banks adjoining the burn; fourth, the plot of ground on which the ruin called King John’s Palace stands; and an additional portion of Heaton Wood, which, together with the close containing the ruin, I have agreed to purchase for the present purpose from Mr Potter.’ ‘Newcastle Courant’, 4 October, 1878.

At a meeting of the town council on 2 October, 1878, the Mayor called this a ‘very princely gift’ adding that ‘in the future the name of the East End Park be “the Armstrong Park.’”

According to an 18th Century field-name …  Map by John Bell, 1800, copied from an original dated to between 1756 and 1763.

belonging to Low Heaton Farm … Plan of Heaton, undated and unsigned, but believed to be by Quaker printer Isaac Thompson, c 1800. North and South Cow Close seem to have had different names at different times. They were part of Low Heaton Farm in the 1760s according to Bell’s copy of an estate plan of that period, Castle Farm in the 1780s according to a Ridley account book, and Mr Lawson’s Farm according to an estate map of c 1800.

Benton Bridge Farm was …The 1881 census lists 62-year-old Robert Oliver as a ‘farmer’ but doesn’t mention what kind of farm. In the 1891 census, Benton Bridge Farm is listed as a ‘farm’ only but the 1901 census shows that the Ferguson family who ran it had by now moved to a dairy farm in Benwell so it’s likely they were already dairy farmers in 1891. The 1901 census lists 26-year-old George Dickinson as the tenant farmer and describes him as a ‘cow keeper.’ There are no other dairy workers mentioned. His wife Margaret lives with him along with two domestic servants. In the 1911 census a widowed 69-year-old Irish ‘cow keeper’ called Catherine McStay was head of the family, helped by her single 40-year-old son John Owen and also his single 30-year-old brother James who was described as a ‘milk deliver[er].’

There’s no path marked at this point ...  It’s indistinct, but Oliver’s map also possibly shows the ‘J’ shaped turn in the water channel.

…before their seat was removed to Blagdon in Northumberland … Another thing removed, in 1933, was the Temple that once adorned Heaton Hall’s stately ground, the hill for which is at the top of Heaton Park, just down from the former Victoria Library. See photos on Flickr here and here.

.. family estate at Blagdon … The estate is still noted for its prize cattle, including the ancient breed of White Park cattle. The Ridley family emblem is a bull. Sir Matthew White Ridley ‘had a thorough liking for agricultural pursuits, and took a deep interest in all matters relating to the farm. As a breeder of cattle he was known throughout the whole of the North of England …‘ ‘Morpeth Herald‘, 29 September, 1877.

Also living in one of the farm’s houses … The dairy farm was not Edgar’s sole source of income, nor was it likely to be his main source. His contracting work included installing drains — in 1890, while still living at Heaton Town Farm, Edgar installed the drainage for the then new Byker and Heaton cemetery and a ‘large sewer down Benton Road … for £1,350.’ ‘Newcastle Daily Chronicle’, 11 April, 1890.

Clearly, there were cows in this part … In today’s transport terminology such separation of transport modes is known as ‘grade separation’. This is where roads or rail lines are carried at different heights, or grades, so that they do not disrupt the traffic flow on the other routes when they cross each other. A subway is a form of grade separation, keeping pedestrians apart from motor vehicles.

Armstrong, who was elevated …  ‘The outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease at Benton.‘ ‘Morpeth Herald’, 17 November, 1883.

By 1916, Benton Bridge Farm … Cow keeper John Owen McStay was fined 20 shillings for ‘having omitted to supply sufficient food for three dairy cows — everything pointed to a long and continued period of starvation.’ The cows were two young shorthorns and ‘an aged cow, suffering from tuberculosis.’ ‘Newcastle Journal’, 21 April, 1916.

The “new park is rapidly progressing … ‘The Armstrong Park,’ ‘Newcastle Daily Chronicle’, 16 June, 1880.

For instance, across the valley underneath … The <a rel=”noreferrer noopener” href=”http://Devil’s Burn — also known as Mill Burn for the wheel it powered in Jesmond Vale — rises in former ponds close to the Kenton Road and Grandstand Road junction in Gosforth, and empties into the Ouseburn at Springbank Road in Jesmond Vale.

According to a report in the ‘Newcastle Daily Chronicle’ of October 1878 … ‘Newcastle Daily Chronicle’, 7 October, 1878:

‘The ground [in Bulman’s Wood] forms a natural basin and a spring rises just above it, and runs evenly the whole year through, it is soft and swampy. The water, which is now carried away to form a small cascade in Mr Potter’s grounds, is quite sufficient in quantity to replenish a lake, which might be made with a very small amount of labour, and would be in a splendid situation.’

This lake was proposed for the area which is now the Greenwater Pool allotments — it was never filled.

The Mr. Potter in question was …‘ There are two Addison Potter’s — Addison Langhorn Potter (1784-1853) was the father of Colonel Addison Potter (1821-1894). Addison Langhorn Potter was a ‘maltster’ who ran a brewery at Forth Banks from 1787 (HER 4895). The Melbourne Street Maltings were said to be the finest of its kind, housed in an imposing seven storey building.

He also owned a fire brick and cement factory at Willington Quay and was one of the leading partners in the Stella Coal Company.

Colonel Addison Potter inherited his father’s colliery interests, brickworks, cement works and brewing firm; he employed nearly 1,000 people. By the 1871 census, he had moved into Heaton Hall with his wife, four daughters, a nursery-maid and governess, five domestic servants, a butler and two cooks. In 1863, Colonel Potter became the first chairman of the local school board in Willington Quay — a school was later named after him.

The hall, marked as … ‘Castle on the Corner’, Keith Fisher, 2013.

Victorian Tyneside’s industrial and …

Armstrong Senior and Donkin were … Armstrong Senior’s father, John, was a Carlisle shoemaker who become a yeoman farmer in the nearby village of Wreay. The father of Sir William, also called William, born in 1778, came to Newcastle as a junior clerk in a corn merchant’s office, Losh, Lubbon & Co. He ended up owning the firm (it was then called William Armstrong & Co), married into a well established local family (the Potter’s of Walbottle Hall) and became a member of Newcastle Town Council. His brother-in-law Addison Langhorn Potter was Mayor, and in 1850, aged 74, he became the holder of that office. William George Armstrong was born in 1810 in a terraced house, 9 Pleasant Row, Shieldfield. This large house had a garden leading down to the scenic Pandon Dene and its stream.

… and thick as thieves …  After the passing of the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835, Newcastle was governed by a council consisting of the mayor, the sheriff, 14 aldermen and 42 councillors.

In the 1820s and 1830s, the … While he had relations in Rothbury — members of the extensive and long-lived Donkin family were prominent in Rothbury and Great Tosson from the late 1600s — Armorer Donkin was born in North Shields in 1779, the son of a timber merchant, also with the unusual first name of Armorer. He was articled to William Harrison, of Dockwray Square, North Shields, and like William Armstrong Junior later, he moved to London. Donkin was a friend of corn merchant William Armstrong, corn merchant. In 1824 the pair were on a committee appointed to inquire whether a railway or a canal was the most desirable means of effecting communication between Newcastle and Carlisle. (Armstrong favoured a canal.) Donkin was elected a member of Newcastle’s Common Council in the mid-1834s. He was one of the twelve old members who were returned by the extended electorate, in 1836, to the new Town Council. He was later appointed an alderman. He was, like Armstrong Senior, a Liberal of the Whig school.

In 1826 Donkin bought a small property and over some years created a ‘spacious domain’ by erecting the mansion known as Jesmond Park.

‘Being a bachelor, he was able to exercise a generous hospitality without derangement of his domestic affairs, and the entertainments which he gave to members of his social circle every Saturday were appreciated far and wide. Few strangers of eminence came to Newcastle without partaking of the hospitalities of Jesmond Park. Among them was that burly politician, William Cobbett, who in his ‘Tour in Scotland and the Four Northern Counties of England in the Autumn of the Year 1832‘, penned a characteristic note of what he saw: —

‘This morning [October 4th, 1832] I left North Shields in a post-chaise in order to come hither through Newcastle and Gateshead, this affording me the only opportunity that I was likely to have of seeing a plantation of Armorer Donkin, close in the neighbourhood of Newcastle; which plantation had been made according to the method prescribed in my book called the ‘Woodlands’, and to see which plantation I previously communicated a wish to Mr. Donkin. The plantation is most advantageously circumstanced to furnish proof of the excellence of my instructions as to planting. The predecessor of Mr. Donkin also made plantations upon the same spot; and consisting precisely of the same sort of trees. Those of the predecessor have been made six-and-twenty years; those of Mr. Donkin six years; and incredible as it may appear, the trees in the latter are full as lofty as those in the former, and besides the equal loftiness, are vastly superior in point of shape, and, which is very curious, retain all their freshness at this season of the year, while the old plantations are brownish, and have many of the leaves falling off the trees, though the sort of trees is precisely the same.’

Donkin retired in 1847, and died on 14 October, 1851. He was buried in Jesmond Cemetery, and six years later he was joined, in a similar looking next-door tomb, by his friend William Armstrong Senior.’

From: ‘Men of Mark Twixt Tyne and Tweed’ Richard Welford, Walter Scott Ltd. 1895.

Young William developed a …Armstrong bought some moorland near Rothbury in Northumberland in 1863. He transformed it into a beautiful park and gothic house, Cragside. He created a hydraulic system that pumped all the estate’s water and drove its farm machinery. The house — now a National Trust property — had hydro-electric light, and even a hydraulic kitchen spit.

From a young age, he … ‘Lord Armstrong,’ A. Cochrane, ‘Northern Counties Magazine’, Vol. 1. 1900 – 1901

After leaving school, Armstrong took … The law firm of Donkin, Stable and Armstrong was headquartered in offices in the a Royal Arcade on Pilgrim Street. Designed by John Dobson and built between June 1831 and May 1832 by Richard Grainger the classical building was demolished in 1963 to make way for the Central Motorway and Swan House.

Portions of some of the columns from the Royal Arcade can be found scattered throughout Armstrong and Heaton Parks, including by the Shoe Tree. The numbered pieces were stored at Warwick Street until the 1970s.

Still, his real vocation was … In an 1893 magazine interview, Lord Armstrong said: ‘The law was not, of course, of my choosing; my vocation was chosen for me, and for a good many years I stuck to the law, while all my leisure was given to mechanics. But the circumstances were peculiar. A great friend of my family’s, Mr Donkin, had a very prosperous attorney’s business. He was childless. When I entered his office, I was practically adopted by him; I was to be his heir. Such an opening in life was, of course, most attractive; here, it seemed, was a career ready made for me. As it turned out, of course, it meant the waste of some ten or eleven of the best years of my life – and yet not an entire waste, perhaps, for my legal training and knowledge have been of help to me in many ways in business. And at the time, although I had no idea of abandoning the law and regularly attended to my professional duties, I was an amateur scientist, constantly experimenting and studying in my leisure time.’

From ‘Notable Men and Their Work. Lord Armstrong, C.B., and Newcastle upon Tyne,‘ F. Dolman, ‘Ludgate Monthly’, October 1893.

William Armstrong founded W.G. Armstrong and Company in January 1847. Among the board members and investors in this new business were his mentor Armorer Donkin and his uncle Addison Langhorn Potter. Both had earlier been board members of the Whittle Dean Water Company for which Armstrong was a co-founder and secretary.

While Armstrong started his manufacturing career by fabricating the clever hydraulic cranes he had invented, it was the manufacture of weapons of war which secured the greater part of his fame and, of course, his fabulous wealth. Armstrong was said to have sold guns to both sides of the American Civil War. He was mocked in 1862 by the satirical magazine Punch as ‘Lord Bomb.’

Jesmond Park was famous among … In the parlance of the time, an ‘ordinary’ was a portion of food available for a fixed price and later became the place — such as a tavern or an inn — where such meals were served.

For more on Donkin see, ‘William Armstrong: Magician of the North‘, Henrietta Heald, Northumbria Press, 2010.

Jesmond Park was famous among … Brunel was likely invited by Thomas Sopwith, a land-surveyor and engineer, seven years older than Armstrong. Sopwith and Armstrong were friends and business associates. As a surveyor, Sopwith was involved with the planning for the reservoirs of the Whittle Dean Water Company. He left in 1845 to become chief manager of the Beaumont lead mines at Allenheads in the North Pennines. Sopwith corresponded with or otherwise knew many of the leading engineers and scientists of the day, including George and Robert Stephenson, Michael Faraday, and Charles Babbage.

Starting in 1822 and continuing until his death 57 years later, Sopwith kept a journal written in copperplate, which survives today as 168 leather-bound volumes. These contain his sketches, details of his personal life and note of the activities of his friends and neighbours, including Sir William Armstrong and his wife, Margaret.

There’s a linear feature … OS first edition 31 August 1864<. OS Six-inch Northumberland XCVII Surveyed: 1858. Published: 1864

… little stream which runs … ‘Newcastle Daily Chronicle’, 21 August, 1884.

Could the channel on Donkin’s land …  Armstrong’s first hydraulic device — which converted a column of water into motive power by means of an automatic hydraulic wheel acted upon by discs made to enter a curved tube — was first tested in Skinner’s Burn next to the brewery of Armstrong’s uncle, Addison Langhorn Potter.

The transient produce of useless … Newcastle’s Literary and Philosophical Society was founded in 1793 to promote a wider interest in literary and scientific subjects. William Armstrong Senior joined the Society in 1799, and took an active part in its management, while his son, whose membership dated from 1836, was its President for almost 40 years, succeeding Robert Stephenson. The Lit and Phil’s present building dates from 1825.

permanent source of mechanical power. William Armstrong experimented with improvements to overshot waterwheels from about 1835 and had a paper on the subject published in ‘Mechanics’ Magazine’, December, 1838.

A report of the meeting in …‘Newcastle Daily Chronicle‘, 4 December, 1845.

‘Suppose,” posited Armstrong to …  ‘On the employment of a column of water as a motive power for propelling machinery,’ by W.G. Armstrong read before the Literary and Philosophical Society of Newcastle upon Tyne, 3 December 1845, reported in ‘Newcastle Daily Chronicle’, 4 December, 1845.

‘I do not mean to contend that in a locality like this, where the expense of fuel and consequently of steam power are, relatively speaking, extremely small, that it would be expedient so to deal with the stream I have mentioned,’ continued Armstrong at the Lit & Phil meeting, ‘but there are multitudes of situations where streams are to be found possessing far greater capabilities than the Ouseburn, and where, if I mistake not, important manufacturing towns will eventually spring up, when the mechanical agency of water collected and supplied in the manner I have described shall be sufficiently appreciated.’

At the end of same year he gave this presentation he became one of the founding partners in a water company that would dam the Whittle Burn, a tributary of the Tyne, to construct high reservoirs 15 miles west of Newcastle beside the Military Road south of Matfen. The Whittle Dean Water Company supplied fresh drinking water to Newcastle (and later, and not coincidentally, water to power Armstrong’s hydraulic cranes on the Quayside). It became, in time, the Newcastle and Gateshead Water Company and is now Northumbrian Water.

‘The stream of water,’ reported the … ‘Newcastle Daily Chronicle’, 24 July, 1880.

‘Ingenious drainage [in Armstrong Park] has in …’ ‘Newcastle Daily Chronicle’,16 June 1880.

‘Smith o’ Deanston’s the man!’ exclaimed … Surtees was the second son of Anthony Surtees of Hamsterley Hall, Rowlands Gill. Much like William Armstrong in the following decade Surtees was articled in 1822 to a Newcastle solicitor. Hillingdon Hall is reminiscent of Hamsterley Hall.

‘Who ever ‘heard o’ drainin’ afore … The adventures of Jorrocks were first published in serial form in an early 1830s magazine and were the inspiration for publisher Chapman & Hall to commission illustrator Robert Seymour to produce a rival series — this became ‘The Pickwick Papers’.

After going ‘boldly at the Government loan’ another …Major Yammerton in ‘Ask Mama’ Robert Smith Surtees, 1858.

Between 1809 and 1879, 88 percent …  ‘The Decline and Fall of the British Aristocracy’, David Cannadine, Pan, 1992.

Heaton landowners such as Colonel Addison Potter, Sir … In the 1880s and 1890s this was a different Sir Matthew White Ridley to the farming one. Since the White and Ridley families had joined together in marriage some generations earlier, the eldest sons were called Matthew — so, there are lots of Sir Matthew White Ridleys down the years! Today’s incarnation is the columnist and science writer.

‘The more he bestows, the … ‘The Monthly Chronicle’, January 1889.

In 1878, Armstrong instructed his …  ‘It is in contemplation to lay out villa residences upon the land to the eastward of the park … ‘Newcastle Courant’, 4 October, 1878.

Rich — the designer of Armstrong Bridge — had … Frank West Rich designed St. Gabriels’ Church, Heaton; the pagoda-style Ouseburn School; the Real Tennis Court on Matthew Bank; and, in 1876, also designed some alterations to Millfield House. He frequently worked for Lord Armstrong and did so soon after he set up his office in Grainger Street in 1872.

Solution: “The water … is now ...’Newcastle Daily Chronicle’, 7 October, 1878.

perhaps to be used as hidden-from-view passageway for servants or tradespeople … There are several other examples of “servant tunnels” in the UK and Ireland. Usually they were built for large houses and stately homes and were to keep “family” members separate from servants. Cromarty House in Scotland has a 200-foot-long tunnel leading from the road to the house. It was built in the 19th Century. Other examples include a tunnel at Uppark House in West Sussex, also built in the 19th Century, and the so-called Snobs’ tunnel at Hanbury Hall in Worcestershire. In Ireland, there’s a tunnel at Emo Court in County Laois. In his 1942 novel set at Emo Court, Fr. M. Bodkin, a Jesuit priest, described the servants’ tunnel:

On the east side of the house there was a basement out of which an underground tunnel led to the gardens…though its first forty or fifty yards were completely covered, the roof then disappeared and the tunnel changed into a trench which grew shallower and shallower as it approached the garden…[I]ts purpose was simply to prevent the lawns and terraces of the gentry being polluted by the print of a peasant foot, or the eyes of real ladies from resting on the unpleasant sight of one of the tradespeople who supplied their needs. As the family and their guests sat upon the marble benches under the yews or walked down the paths that led to the pleasure grounds or stepped into their carriage at the front door they were blissfully unconscious of the helots who, laden with fruit and flowers, the fish and game for their table, entered their house through the arched tunnel, groping in the narrow darkness like animals in a burrow.’ Borrowed Days, Fr. M. Bodkin, Browne and Nolan, 1942.

‘Other parts of the would-be development lay fallow …’ These are the houses clustered around the Peoples’ Theatre on Broxholm Road, Ivymount Road, Beatrice Road, Holderness Road and Crompton Road. When he died in 1900, Lord Armstrong’s fortune was inherited not by his nephew John William Watson (1827-1909) who did not want either the estates or the responsibilities of Lord Armstrong but by his son, William Henry Fitzpatrick Watson, who had adopted the name Watson-Armstrong in 1889.

In 1903 Lord Armstrong’s great nephew was raised to the peerage as the First Lord Armstrong of Bamburgh and Cragside.

Watson-Armstrong’s second wife was Beatrice Elizabeth Cowx and she was perhaps the inspiration for Beatrice Road?

‘Heaton Park Estate never made the …’ ‘Newcastle Daily Chronicle’, 1 August, 1894. It’s likely that Rich was acting as a sales agent for Lord Armstrong.

‘When Lord Armstrong presented the beautiful …’ See: ‘The Enigmatic Architect’, John Penn FRIBA, ‘Archaeologia Aeliana’, Fifth Series, Volume XXXVIII, The Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne.