Tag Archives: WW1

King of Swing: Heaton’s champion golfer

Asked to name the world’s greatest golfers and you’ll probably mention Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus and perhaps, if you know your sporting history, Bobby Jones. But did you know that a young Heaton man coached the latter and, before his untimely death, was known as one of the great golfers of his age? In fact, James Douglas Edgar still has a place in the record books, as a century ago this year, he won the Canadian Open, by a record 16 strokes, a margin of victory still unsurpassed for any PGA Tournament.

Google Edgar’s name and you’ll find plenty of information about this remarkable sportsman but what you won’t read is that he was a Heatonian. Now, thanks to the painstaking research of Heaton History Group’s Arthur Andrews, we can put that right.

Town Farm

The story of the Edgar family of Heaton Town Farm has already been published on this website. In 1871 two nephews, John and Thomas, described as agricultural labourers, were living at the farm. One of them, John, would later become the father of James Douglas Edgar, who was born on 30 September 1885.

In 1891, John Edgar (40), a foreman land drainer on Christopher Laycock’s Estate, his wife, Ann (38) and their four children, Margaret (17) a dressmaker’s apprentice, John (15) a cricket club assistant groundsman, James Douglas (6) a scholar and Edward, recently born, were living in an upstairs flat at 45 Seventh Avenue. All four children had been born at Heaton Town Farm, so the family may have moved to Seventh Avenue soon after Edward’s birth.

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The Edgar’s Seventh Avenue upstairs flat

James lived in Seventh Avenue until his mid teens when the family moved to Gosforth.

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1 Heathery Lane Cottages, the Edgars’ Gosforth home, 1901

Pro

From a young age Edgar had caddied and played golf on the Town Moor. By the age of 16, he was working at a golf club and a year later was winning competitions with the United Workmen’s Club. He caught the eye of J S Caird, the professional of the City of Newcastle Golf Club, based on the Town Moor. Caird saw potential in Edgar and took him under his wing, inviting him to be his assistant at the ‘City’ club. Part of the job would have been making and repairing the wooden golf clubs of the time.

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City of Newcastle Golf Club HQ

In 1907 Northumberland Golf Club were looking for a new professional and J S Caird put forward J Douglas Edgar’s name for the post and so, in his 20th year, he took on this important role. By all accounts Edgar settled in well and was the complete professional – a competent player with a good swing and a powerful drive, a good teacher, golf club maker and golf club repairer. It is said that he was well liked but had a taste for drink – and women.

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Northumberland Golf Club

Edgar’s first big win as a professional was the 1914 French Open, which he  won in style with a score of 244 after 72 holes, beating some notable players of the time, including six time (still a record) Open winner,  Harry Vardon.

It was reported in The Journal of 10 August 1914 that Northumberland Golf Club presented Edgar with a gold half hunter watch, suitably inscribed and also a cheque from the members. At another presentation by South Gosforth Golf Club, Edgar was presented with another gold watch and a brooch for his wife in appreciation for his great achievement.

 WWI

But by this time, Britain was at war. At first, Edgar’s involvement was confined to playing in charity tournaments to raise money for soldiers but the following year, aged 30, he enlisted as a Private in the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC). He was based locally, attached to No 1 Ambulance section.

Later in the war, Edgar was released to carry out munitions work at William Dobson Ltd, the Walker shipbuilders. However, on 24 January 1918 in reply to a letter from the Regimental Paymaster, Dobson’s stated that, while J D Edgar was still employed at the firm, he had not been seen for over four weeks. Edgar had submitted a medical certificate stating he was unable to work suffering from adhesions of the tissues to his left hip. The doctor’s note also mentioned that he was developing arthritis of the left wrist. The following month, the RAMC enquired as to whether Edgar had been admitted to the military hospital at Newcastle Barracks but he appears not to have been. Finally, in March 1918, Edgar was discharged, having been deemed unfit to serve due to an arthritic left hip. At this time, he was living in Gosforth Park.

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School House, Sandy Lane, J Douglas Edgar’s home in 1918

On discharge, Edgar stated that he was a professional golfer but that his plan was to become a farmer at Brunton, Northumberland. At first, however, he returned to Northumberland Golf Club but after a dispute with members of the club’s committee following complaints about offensive behaviour, Edgar handed in his notice and he took the huge step of emigrating to America with his family.

USA

 J D Edgar, his wife and two children, Rhoda (10) and Douglas (9), emigrated to the United States of America on 16 December 1919. They sailed from Southampton on the SS Adriatic and in 1920 were lodging with the Morse family in Atlantic City, Georgia.

Edgar secured a job at the new Druids Hill Golf Club in Atlanta, where he settled in well, being popular and amenable with the men and women of the club. This was also a time of unprecedented tournament success. He won the Royal Canadian Golf Championship in both 1919 (by 16 strokes, still a PGA tournament record) and 1920 beating the great Bobby Jones. He also won the US Southern Open Championship and was runner-up in the American PGA Championship, losing only by one stroke (Jim Barnes had won in 1916 and 1919 but no Englishman has won it since).

Understandably Edgar was also in great demand as a coach. He was credited by the great Bobby Jones as a key reason for his own success. He was also mentor and coach to Tommy Armour, who later won 3 majors and Alexa Stirling, arguably America’s greatest female amateur golfer.

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James Douglas Edgar

And Edgar’s influence went far beyond those he was able to coach in person. His book ‘The Gate to Golf’, privately printed by Edgar & Co in St Albans in 1920,  had a big impact on golf instruction right up to the present day. In particular the abbreviated golf swing Edgar had perfected because he was restricted by his arthritic hip, became the norm.

Ever innovative, Edgar had invented a device that he called the ‘Gate’, consisting of two pieces of shaped wood, placed on the ground, one piece being a modified tee. The idea was to get the golfer’s swing ‘Movement’ to address the golf ball without hitting either side of the ‘Gate’. As the golfer’s swing and accuracy through the ‘Gate’ improved, the two pieces could be moved closer to each other so that the golfer’s swing was finely tuned and perfected.

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Edgar’s ‘Gate’ invention

Unfortunately, despite Edgar’s success, his wife and children did not settle in the USA. After less than a year they returned to Newcastle while he stayed in America.

Early Death

Sadly, within a few weeks of winning his second Canadian championship and before he could have another shot at the PGA he had so narrowly missed out on the previous year, the golfing world was shocked to hear that James Douglas Edgar was dead at the height of his golfing career, aged only 36.

He was found near the steps of his boarding house late one night by his room mate, golf caddie and assistant, Thomas Mark Wilson (also from Newcastle). Edgar had blood gushing from a severed femoral artery in his leg, (probably by a knife wound). He died on 9 August 1921 before reaching hospital. It was reported that Wilson had said that Edgar had tried to tell him something before dying but he could not make out the words.

At first it seemed that the golfer had been involved in a car accident but there was no impact bruising on his body. It was surmised that he had been involved with a woman, possibly married, and some person or persons sought revenge. Nobody was ever charged with the murder.

J Douglas Edgar is buried in Westview Cemetery, Atlanta. His epitaph was quite an accolade from his peers in the world of professional golf.

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J Douglas Edgar’s grave, Atlanta

Had he not died in his prime and overseas, J Douglas Edgar would surely have been widely remembered as yet another Newcastle, indeed Heaton, sporting great.

Can you help?

If you know more about James Douglas Edgar or have photographs or anecdotes you’d like 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

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Arthur Andrews of Heaton History Group. Thank you too to Jordan Cook, City of Newcastle assistant golf professional, for being so helpful on Arthur’s visit to City of Newcastle Club and arranging a meeting with David Moffat, winner of International and County Honours, as well as being five times Northumberland Champion. Also to the office staff of Northumberland Golf Club.

Sources

  • The Northumberland Golf Club Story’ / George Harbottle, 1978
  • The ‘City’ Centenary 1891-1991’ – 100 years of Golf at the City of Newcastle Golf Club’ / John Sleight,1991.
  • To Win and Die in Dixie: the birth of the modern golf swing and the mysterious death of its creator’ / Steve Eubanks, 2010
  • British Newspaper Archive
  • FindMyPast
  • Ancestry
  • https://archive.org/details/gatetogolf00edgagoog/page/n7

 

 

Windows Shopping: 111 years of Tyneside music

We’re all familiar with JG Windows’ music store in the fabulous Edwardian Central Arcade.

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J G Windows, 2019

Heaton History Group’s Michael Proctor first knew it from searching for records on teenage trips to Newcastle and later from drooling over impossibly expensive hi-fi systems. Others may remember it as the place to buy tickets for almost any conceivable concert or event, from Shakespeare at the Theatre Royal to rock music at the City Hall and even the circus on the Town Moor, but when it first opened its doors it was to sell musical instruments and sheet music. The shop was opened by James Gale Windows, a long term resident of Heaton, so Michael decided to delve a little deeper.

Beginnings

James Gale Windows was born in October 1870 in Headington, Oxfordshire. He was the fourth son of Joseph Windows, a police sergeant and his wife, Fanny. The 1881 census shows the family still living in Cowley, with two more children, a fifth son and a daughter, with Joseph having been promoted to inspector. James’ eldest brother, Alfie, had left home by this time, but William, 18, was a tailor’s apprentice and Herbert, 14, a carpenter’s apprentice.

In his late teens, James moved to Newcastle, where he started work as a music seller’s assistant. The 1891 census shows him boarding with Annie Turnbull in Elswick.

In 1896 James returned home to Cowley to marry Maud Frances Hind, with the couple returning to Newcastle to set up home in Heaton. Maud, born in 1873, was the youngest daughter of Jonathon, a monumental mason, and his wife, Thirza. It seems likely that the families were close and James and Maud knew each other as children, as Jonathon’s death in 1910 shows his address as 17 Princes Street, the former home of Joseph and Fanny Windows.

Heaton

James and Maud’s early family life seems to have involved a lot of movement between houses, but always in Heaton. In 1899, they were living at 57 King John Street; in 1902, they’d moved to 124 Warton Terrace; in 1905 it was 21 Stratford Grove; 1908 saw them at 69 Cardigan Terrace and 1914 has the family living at 8 Norwood Avenue, where they stayed until at least 1927.

The couple’s first son, Maurice James, was born in July 1897 and their second son, Hedley Arnold, was born nine years later on 13 February 1906.

But it was in 1908 when the family’s fortunes really changed and the family name became synonymous with music on Tyneside. That was the date when James opened his own store in the highly prestigious, newly opened Central Arcade.

Exchange

The building itself had had a troubled history. The Central Exchange was intended to be the flagship of the Grainger town development. An unusual triangular shaped building it had facades on Grainger Street, Grey Street and Market Street and was intended to be the visual and commercial centrepiece of Newcastle’s Neo-Classical streets. It was built by Richard Grainger and designed as a Corn Exchange, but by the time it was completed in 1838, there was no need for an exchange. Instead, it opened as a subscription newsroom, where the wealthy gentlemen of the day could come to read newspapers gathered from around the world. Coffee rooms occupied space in the corner drums and the building became a focal point for Newcastle’s social elite.

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Central Exchange newsroom

The fact that the building was not proving to be a great commercial success became apparent in March 1846 when a hand written share prospectus from Richard Grainger proposed to raise additional funds by selling 1,700 shares at £50 each. The prospectus notes that the news room had 1,300 subscribers paying 1 guinea each and produced an annual rent of £674 per annum. It then goes on to propose that a small increase in subscriptions of ½ guinea (50%) would allow the rent to increase to £1356. Grainger then set out the rent from shops, offices and coffee rooms as £1,340. However the premises were not fully occupied. As the additional rent he estimated would come from having the building fully occupied was £2,416, that suggests only about a third were occupied.

In the event, the share scheme was also a failure. Two years later, on 7 April 1848, the Durham County Advertiser reported that shareholders called a meeting with Grainger to hear the findings of a committee appointed to investigate the scheme. The committee recommended the immediate reimbursement of the shareholders. In the event, only 536 shares had actually been sold, with Grainger holding the remainder.

The first incarnation of the Central Exchange ended on Sunday 11 August 1867 when the building was ravaged by fire. When it reopened in 1870 the bulk of the building was occupied by the Institution for Promoting the Fine Arts and included an art gallery, concert hall and theatre.

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Art gallery, Central Exchange, 1880

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Central Exchange sign, 2019

This appears to have been more successful, but was again brought abruptly to an end by another major fire in 1901. This time, the building was completely redesigned to form an elegant shopping arcade with a barrel vaulted glazed roof, decorated using the full arsenal of Edwardian techniques with lustrous faience tiling, double arched entrances and a mosaic floor.

Arcade

Towards the end of the 19th century, public concerns were raised about the safety, hygiene and moral integrity of the city. One response was to build shopping arcades exclusively to display luxury and novelty goods to the city’s elite customers. The peak of arcade building was around 1890, so the new Central Arcade, which opened to the public in 1906, was unusual in being Edwardian rather than Victorian.

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Central Arcade, 1906

This early photograph shows the arcade lavishly decorated for Christmas with an advert for a cafe on the balcony and even the latest technological advance, a public telephone.

It was into this luxury shopping arcade that James Windows opened the doors of his new business in 1908, just two years after the arcade opened. Originally, he appears to have had only the middle one of the three shopping units that the shop now occupies. Even so, this seems like a massive leap for a music seller’s assistant to open his first shop in such an environment. It’s not clear where he got the funding to do this as there doesn’t appear to have been wealth on either his or his wife’s side of the family that he may have inherited.  By 1911, it is obvious that the shop was doing well as the census shows the family had acquired that most essential of Edwardian middle class assets, a servant, Maggie Calder. The census identifies James as a seller of music and musical instruments and an employer. In 1909, James joined the Novocastrian lodge of the Freemasons, further establishing his position within the middle class elite of Newcastle.

War

With the coming of the First World War, James and Maud’s elder son, Maurice, signed up and fought as a private with the Cyclist Battalion. A vital part of the army that subsequently became the Signal Corps, cyclist battalions passed messages to and from the front line. His medal card also shows him having fought with the Northumberland Fusiliers. JG Windows’ own website records that both sons also fought in the Second World War, but no details have emerged. Obviously by the time of the war, the business had branched out into selling gramophones (and presumably records), as the Newcastle Daily Journal of 29 September 1915 records the donation of a gramophone from JG Windows for the use of the troops. It continued to expand to include radios in the 1930s and even provided for music and singing lessons. (The Newcastle Journal on 1 November 1940 records the success of a child prodigy, Maurice Aitcheson aged 14, passing the LRAM Performer exam at the Sigmund Oppenheimer Pianoforte School at JG Windows.)

After the war, Maurice Windows joined his father in the family business, as did Hedley when he was old enough and, later, Hedley and his wife Marjorie’s son, James Bowen Windows, who joined the business in 1961.

Legacy

James Gale Windows died on the 21 June 1933 aged 63. His address is given as 43 Oaklands, Gosforth, having finally moved on from Heaton. He left £7,997 16s 4d (around £380,000 in today’s money) to his widow, Maud, and to Percival Frederick Barras, Accountant. It’s not clear who Mr Barras was, but as he clearly had a call on James’ estate, it’s possible that he may have provided some of the financial backing to set up the business.

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James Gale and Maud Frances Windows’ memorial at Gosforth Parish Church

The business continued to thrive, led by Maurice, Hedley and James Bowen, expanding ultimately to three shop units in Central Arcade over three floors. At one point, they also had stores in Darlington, York and the Metro Centre, although Darlington and York are now closed.

Maurice died on 12 February 1962 and Hedley on 13 February 1996. In 2006 the company was purchased from the Windows family by three current and former employees and long-time associates. Although the Windows family are no longer involved in the day to day running of the company, J G Windows Ltd has stuck to the principles which have kept the company central to musical life in the North East for more than a hundred years.

Can You Help?

If you know any more about James Gale Windows or the Windows family and especially if you can help us find photographs of any of the people mentioned in this article,  we’d love to hear from you. You can contact us either through this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or by emailing chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Michael Proctor of Heaton History Group.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Percy Forster: a short life well-remembered

John Percival Forster was born on 12 April 1888, the son of  Londoner, John Forster, who had moved to Newcastle as a young boy and later married Elizabeth Best, a Geordie girl. John Percival (known as Percy) their first child, was born in the west end but soon the family moved to Heaton. In 1901, they were living at 62 Heaton Road and, by 1911, at  37 Heaton Grove, opposite the railway line.

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Forster family home on Heaton Grove

By this time both Percy and his younger brother, Stanley, were working as assistant mercers (ie they were dealers in silk, velvet and other fine fabrics) in their father’s firm on Grainger Street.

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John Percival Forster

The family were churchgoers and worshipped at St Gabriel’s on Heaton Road. Percy had attended Rutherford College and had learned to play the organ.  He became the organist at St Paul’s Church in Whitley Bay and assistant organist at St Andrew’s Church in Newgate Street.

Primrose League

The Forster family were politically active and belonged to the Primrose League (apparently named after the favourite flower of Benjamin Disraeli). Founded in 1883, its aim was to promote Conservative principles. By 1910 there were over 2 million members, organised into 2645 local groups or ‘habitations’. Percy and his brother, Stanley, were secretaries of their local habitation. They attended political and social events, such as whist drives and dances, held in places such as the Assembly Rooms in Heaton. Their sister, May, also took part in these events, as well as being a member of a theatre group associated with the local habitation. The Primrose League closed only  in December 2004, after 121 years, with the £70,000 in its coffers transferring to the Conservative party.

World War 1

At the outbreak of war, Percy joined the Northumberland Fusiliers (Tyneside Scottish) on a temporary commission. He was given a reference by Mr Gaunt, his headmaster at Rutherford College, who vouched for Percy, saying he had ‘attained a good standard of education’. The Reverend Robert Trotter, vicar of St Gabriel’s, in another reference, said that Percy had been of ‘good moral character’ in the 12 years that he had known him.

Military Wedding

It was reported in the ‘Nottingham Evening Post’ on Saturday 7 August 1915, that Miss Sybil Margaret Round had married Captain John Percival Forster at All Saints Church, Nottingham that afternoon in the presence of a large congregation. The officiating clergymen were the bride’s father, Rev W Round, vicar of St Peter’s in Radford, assisted by Rev C R Round and Rev H Lowell Clarke, vicar of All Saints. On leaving  the church the bride and groom walked through an archway of swords, formed by officers of the 3rd Line Unit of the Robin Hood’s, of which the Rev W Round was acting chaplain.

There were two bridesmaids, one of whom was May Forster, Percy’s sister. The best man was Heaton’s Captain Henry Sibbit, soon to be promoted to Major Henry Sibbit. Percy’s new brother in law was William Haldane Round, soon to become a captain in the 7th (Robin Hood’s) Battalion of the Sherwood Foresters.

Battle of the Somme

Less than a year later on 1 July 1916, the first day of at the Battle of the Somme, Percy Forster was killed in battle, aged only 28. His death was confirmed by two comrades:

Private R Roxburgh, 22nd Northumberland Fusiliers, said ‘On 1 July near La Boiselle close to the German second line of trenches I saw Captain Forster killed. I was wounded a yard from him and lay for five hours beside him. I was his signaller.’

Corporal W Willis stated that he was killed just beyond the German second line between La Boiselle and Fricourt. ‘I saw him dead but I do not know how he was killed.’ Second Lieutenant Purdey also saw him dead.

Percy’s father was only informed unofficially, so he wrote to the War Office to say that he had not been officially told of his son’s death and so did not want to believe he had been killed. A gold ring, a writing case, a leather case containing photos and two badges and a leather case containing photographs were returned to Sybil, Percy’s wife. However, his father had difficulty obtaining the death certificate needed to obtain probate and wind up Percy’s financial affairs. There were also several letters to the War Office requesting that his war pension be approved so that Sybil, could manage financially.

Fateful day

On the very same day that Percy lost his life, 1 July 1916, his new brother in law, Captain William Haldane Round also died on the Somme. as did Percy’s best man, Major Henry Sibbit of 21 Rothbury Terrace, formerly of Chillingham Road School and a fellow parishioner of St Gabriel’s, who had been Percy’s close friend in Heaton.

Percy’s brother, however, Stanley McKenzie Forster served in the navy and survived the war.

Remembered

 Percy is commemorated on six separate war memorials

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St Gabriel’s Church, alongside his best man Henry Sibbit and Henry’s brother, Bert.

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St Andrew’s, Newcastle

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St Paul’s Church, Whitley Bay

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Also St Paul’s, Whitley Bay

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Whitley Bay war memorial

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Whitley Bay (detail)

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Percy Forster and Henry Sibbit of Heaton remembered together at Thiepval

Not forgotten.

Can you help?

If you know more about Percy Forster or his family or have photographs or anecdotes you’d like 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

Acknowledgements

Written and researched by Arthur Andrews, Heaton History Group. Thank you also to Ian Clough, Heaton History Group, who has researched WW1 Heaton’s church war memorials.

 

Matron Lily Atkinson Royal Red Cross

When Heaton History Group’s Ian Clough was researching the names on Heaton’s many WW1 church war memorials, one name stood out, that of Matron L Atkinson RRC. Few females are listed on first world war memorials but it now appeared that we had another Heaton woman to commemorate alongside that of Kate Ogg, who had grown up on Bolingbroke Street and given up her life in the war effort when she caught influenza from the servicemen she was nursing. But who was Matron L Atkinson and what did RRC stand for?

Matron L Atkinson’s name appears on two WWI memorials associated with Leighton Primitive Methodist Church which then stood on Heaton Road.

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Leighton Primitive Methodist Church war memorial

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Leighton Primitive Methodist Church war memorial (detail)

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Leighton Primitive Methodist Church

A broad search of census information did not bring up any L Atkinson living in the Heaton area and without any idea of her birthdate, there wasn’t much more to go on and Ian had hundreds of names to research so he called on Heaton History Group’s research team for assistance and Arthur Andrews helped unravel the mystery. After some time researching variant spellings of both first name and surname, Arthur managed to get to the nub of the problem: it turned out that although she was always known as Lily, our WW1 hero was officially an Elizabeth.  It helps to be psychic to be a local history researcher!

Nurse

It could now be established that Lily (ie Elizabeth) was born in 1874. For many years the family lived at 24 North View, a terraced house with 7 rooms, in Heaton, overlooking the railway cutting, where the Newcastle to Edinburgh steam trains would rush by. Lily’s father, Ralph, was a butcher, and later an insurance agent. Her mother was called Catherine. The 1911 census tells us that there were ten Atkinson children, two of whom had already died. There were,  at this time, at least five living daughters and three sons.

Nothing more is known of Lily’s childhood or whether she had any other jobs after leaving school but by 1901, aged 26, she was working at Carlisle Infirmary as a probationer nurse. By 1909, the Nursing Register indicates that Lily had become a certified nurse, working at the Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle and by 1911 she had been promoted to hospital sister and moved to Liverpool Infirmary to take up the post of assistant matron. By 1915 she had moved again to take up the post of matron at the historic Northampton General Hospital. Here she became responsible for the nursing of many badly-wounded soldiers and she also had links with the nearby Duston War Hospital.

Royal Warrant

It was for her outstanding WWI nursing work at Northampton that Lily was awarded the Royal Red Cross (RRC). The award, established by Queen Victoria in 1883 and awarded by Royal Warrant, is still made to ‘a fully trained nurse of an officially recognised nursing service, military or civilian, who has shown exceptional devotion and competence in the performance of nursing duties, over a continuous and long period, or who has performed an exceptional act of bravery and devotion at her or his post of duty.‘ The first recipient was Florence Nightingale and the award was so prestigious that it was often presented by the monarch at Buckingham Palace. Sadly, this was not to be the case for Lily.

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Royal Red Cross award

Lily’s Royal Red Cross Register entry, pictured below, does not give the date the award was registered and Lily’s name appeared in The London Gazette only on 9 April 1919, almost 5 months after she died. In the register it is noted that she was ‘deceased 22.11.18’ and that the medal was sent to her mother on 3 March 1920. (In fact, Lily’s mother, Catherine, had died in 1914).

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Royal Red Cross Register

Lily herself passed away in her prime on Friday 22 November 1918, during her tenure as Matron of Northampton General Hospital. She was only 44 years old and the cause of death was registered as breast cancer with other complications. Three of her siblings were with her at the time: Miss Annie Atkinson, Mrs Mary Smallwood and Mrs Margaret Shuler.

Moving scenes

A short obituary appeared in the Northampton Daily Echo on 22 November 1918. Another, more informative, obituary appeared in the Northampton Mercury a week later.

It was reported that as war work increased, Lily’s nursing and organizing abilities and devotion to work not only maintained the efficiency of the hospital but she was ‘rapidly establishing its reputation as one of the leading, provincial institutions in the country’.

It was also reported that ‘deeply moving scenes’ were witnessed when her body was removed to the railway station, for cremation at Leicester. A brief devotional service was performed by the hospital chaplain. Nurses lined the corridor singing ‘On the Resurrection Morning’, as the coffin was carried by Hospital staff. From the main entrance to the gates, an avenue was formed of 24 wounded soldiers and many other staff, who then followed the cortege to the station and lined the platform until the train left with Lily’s coffin and many wreaths.

Other members of her family met the train at Leicester. After the cremation, Lily’s ashes were taken back to Newcastle. They were buried in the family grave at All Saints Cemetery in Jesmond, after another well attended ceremony. This was reported in another obituary in the Newcastle Daily Journal on 29 November 1918.

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We join Lily Atkinson’s contemporaries in celebrating the short life of a highly respected matron from Heaton, whose professionalism and devotion to duty made a great impact during hard times.

Can you help?

If you know more about Lily Atkinson or her family or have photographs or anecdotes you’d like 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

Acknowledgements

Written and researched by Arthur Andrews, with additional research by Ian Clough, both of Heaton History Group. Thank you also to Sue Longworth and Julia Corps, Northampton Hospital archivists.

Sources

National Archives, Kew

FindMyPast

Ancestry

National Newspaper Archive

 

 

Heaton Secondary Schools: the beginning

You may be surprised to learn that Heaton Secondary Schools were officially opened  by the Right Honourable Grey of Fallodon, Chancellor of the University of Oxford. Surprised because a visit some weeks later by the King and Queen is often mistakenly referred to as the opening. Here’s what actually happened!

The schools. which had provision for 500 boys and 500 girls,  were erected at a cost of £140,000 and claimed to be the most up to date and best equipped in the country. The opening ceremony on 18 September 1928 was big news and covered in newspapers from Aberdeen and Belfast to Gloucester and beyond.

Quadrangle

The original plan, agreed before World War One, had been to build the school on 25 acres of land adjacent to Ravenswood Road but this project had to be shelved due to the war. Afterwards, a price could not be agreed with the landowner. Compulsory purchase was set in motion but eventually the council decided that this would mean unacceptably long delays so a site of equal size opposite the housing estate being built on the other side of Newton Road was negotiated.

The original buildings of what became Heaton Manor School

The original buildings of what became Heaton Manor School

The layout of the school was said to be reminiscent of a Cambridge college with the design of open loggias around a quadrangle.

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Heaton Secondary Schools West Gateway

The classrooms were ‘of the open air type, with sliding partitions along the sunny side, the north side being used for science laboratories, gymnasiums etc.’

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Heaton Secondary Schools’ ‘open-air classrooms’

There were two schools each with their own hall, dining room, library, labs, a commercial room, staff room and classrooms but the two halls were adjacent and so could be ‘thrown into one to form a great hall 80 feet long by 90 feet wide’. There was a craft room in the boys school and needlework and domestic science rooms in the girls’.

The first head teacher of Heaton Secondary School for Boys as it was first known was Mr F R Barnes, formerly of Barrow in Furness Secondary School for Boys. He started with a staff of 17 graduates and five specialists.  Miss W M Cooper, formerly of Benwell Secondary School, had 13 graduates and four specialists working for her in the girls’ school, Heaton High School as it became known.

As for pupils, initially there would be 291 boys and 414 girls, 455 of which would be free scholarship holders. The remaining pupils were fee-paying. At the outset, their parents were charged £8 a year. The programme for the opening event announced that ‘Mrs Harrison Bell has very kindly endowed a history prize in memory of her husband, the late My J N Bell, who was elected in 1922 Member of Parliament for the east division of the city. The prize will be awarded in the boys’ and the girls’ school in alternate years.’

Viscount Grey

At the ceremony, there were prayers and songs including ‘Land of Hope and Glory‘ and Northumbrian folk song  ‘The Water of Tyne’ and lots of speeches, not only Viscount Grey’s but also those of numerous local politicians, including the Lord Mayor, and presentations by the  architect, H T Wright,  and the contractor, Stanley Miller.

Viscount Grey is better known as the politician, Sir Edward Grey, who was Foreign Secretary from 1905 to 1916, the longest tenure ever. He is particularly remembered for the remark he is said to have made as he contemplated the enormity of the imminent World War One: ‘ The lamps are going out all over Europe. We shall not see them lit again in our time.’

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Viscount Grey

In his speech in Heaton, Viscount Grey, a Liberal, said ‘The ideal system would be one in which the highest, most advanced and most expensive education was devoted solely to the youthful material of the country who were most capable by their abilities to profit from it. We have not reached that point today. A great deal of the highest and most expensive education in the country is given…. to <those> whose parents are able to pay for it… but… every school like that at Heaton is bringing higher education within the reach of those whose parents cannot pay for it. This is an advance towards a better system’.

And tackling another topic which has resonance today, the former tennis champion and keen fisherman and ornithologist spoke about the variety of entertainment available to young people, reminding the audience that  in his day, there ‘was no electric light, no motor cars, no telephones, no wireless and no moving pictures’. But he reminded his young audience that the things which interested people most through life were those in which they took some active personal part. ‘Take part in games, rather than be mere spectators’ he urged. ‘It will give you more pleasure than all the other entertainments that come to you without trouble.’

Live Radio

For any locals lucky enough to have one, the whole ceremony was actually broadcast on the wireless from 3:00pm until 4:30pm. Radio station 5NO had been broadcasting from Newcastle since 1922 and its signals could reach up to about 20 miles. With broadcasting still in its infancy, many newspaper listings came with detailed technical instructions on what to do if the signal was lost: radio was still far from being a mass medium but it was catching on fast and those early local listings make fascinating reading. You can view them here.

Royal Visit

Just over three weeks later, 23,000 pupils from all over Newcastle were invited to Heaton for the visit of King George V and Queen Mary to the school before the royal couple went on to open the new Tyne Bridge. And it’s this historic event which many people assume to have been the official opening. It was certainly a momentous occasion – and an excuse for more speeches!

King and Queen open Heaton Secondary Schools, 1928

King and Queen open Heaton Secondary Schools, 1928

‘Their majesties will drive round the school grounds where 23,000 children of the city will be assembled and on entering the school hall, the loyal address from the City of Newcastle will be presented by the Lord Mayor. Numerous public representatives will be presented to their Majesties, who will be asked to receive gifts from scholars.’

There were also displays of physical drills and country dancing by pupils.

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Every school pupil present was given a commemorative booklet which included a photograph of the new school at the back but which was mainly about the opening of the new bridge.

‘To the boys and girls for whom these words are written, who have just begun their passage on the bridge of life, and who will go to and fro on the bridges of the Tyne, there is the lofty call to carry forward to future generations the progress which has brought them their own proud inheritance.’

A bouquet was said to have been presented to the Queen by the head girl and a book to the King by the head boy.

This made a lifelong impression on pupil Olive Renwick (nee Topping), who was 12 years old at the time, but at the age of 98 recalled;

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

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

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

Again the event was broadcast on the wireless. A full day’s programming began at 10:50am with the ‘Arrival of the royal party at Heaton Secondary Schools’. And the excitement of arrival of the king and queen’s carriage pulled by four white ponies in front of thousands of handkerchief waving school children (along with hair raising footage of workers on the still incomplete Tyne Bridge) was captured on film by Pathe News.   

And it shows a girl presenting a book (rather than ‘a bookie’) to the royal party. A last minute change of plan or an extra for the cameras?

After World War 2, the boys’ schools was renamed Heaton Grammar School and the girls’ Heaton High School. The two schools merged in September 1967 to form Heaton Comprehensive School. In 1983, this school merged with Manor Park School on Benton Road to form Heaton Manor. And in 2004, after the building of the new school on the Jesmond Park site, the Benton Park site closed to make way for housing.

The next instalment of ninety years of school history will have to wait for another day.

Can You Help?

If you have memories or photos of any of the above schools or know more about notable teachers or pupils, 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 Chris Jackson, Heaton History Group. Thank you to Brian Hedley for a copy of the official opening programme and the family of Olive Renwick for the souvenir of the royal visit. Thank you also to Muriel La Tour (nee Abernethy) for correcting the subsequent names of the schools.

Sources

British Newspaper Archives

Heaton Secondary Schools: official opening Sept 18th 1928 programme

Visit of their majesties King George V and Queen Mary, October 1928 (souvenir booklet)

Miscellaneous online sources

 

Wrong Place, Wrong Time: Heaton WW1 civilian prisoners of war

They say that every picture tells a story, that it’s worth a thousand words even. But, in this case, the few words on the board in the foreground of the photograph enabled us to look past the polished boots and smart suits and ties; beyond the forced smiles and resigned expressions into the sixteen pairs of sunken eyes and imagine what these men and thousands more like them, Heaton men and boys among them, were going through far from home.

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SS Juno

The SS ‘Juno‘ was a 1,311 ton vessel built in 1882 and acquired in 1904 by the Tyne-Tees Steamship Company, newly formed in a merger of the Tyne Steam Shipping Company, the Tees Union Shipping Company, Furness Withy and Co and the Free Trade Wharf Company. The new company’s headquarters were in the building we now know as Hotel du Vin on City Road and it also had an office in King Street, just off the Quayside. You can still see a large advert for it on the wall of Sabatini’s restaurant.

The company operated passenger and cargo services to Dutch, German, French and Belgian ports. SS ‘Juno’ had the misfortune to be in Hamburg on 4 August 1914, the day World War One started.  The crew, almost all from Tyneside, were immediately arrested and interned at first in or around the port. Among them was John Rowe of Heaton.

Donkeyman

John was born in West Hartlepool in 1856, the son of John senior, a sailor, and Mary Ann Rowe of Stockton. In 1874, he married Cicely Jowsey of Hartlepool and by 1881 they had three children: Dorothy, Rose and Maude. By 1891, a further five had been added to the family: Jowsey, Cecily, Daisey, Jessie and John junior. John gave his occupation as stoker on a steamship. In 1901, John was absent and there was a younger daughter, Gladys. By 1911, John and Cicely and three of their younger children plus a grandson  had moved to 5 Addison Street in Heaton. Cicely reported that she had been married for 37 years and had given birth to 11 children, nine of whom were still alive. Again John was away from home, presumably at sea once more.

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In August 1914, John, by this time living at nearby 60 Addison Road, would have been 58 years old. He was the ‘donkeyman‘ on SS Juno. His job would have been to oil and grease moving engine parts and to stoke the boiler. After their capture and a short time under arrest in Hamburg, John and the rest of the crew of SS ‘Juno’ were transferred to Ruhleben prison camp just outside Berlin.

Ruhleben

A prison camp to house Germany’s civilian prisoners was established at the outset of the war on a harness racing track in Ruhleben, 10k to the west of Berlin. As soon as war was declared, nationals of the Allied Powers and anyone suspected of sympathising with them were arrested. Most of the 4-5000 prisoners were British, all were male but they came from all walks of life. There were merchant seamen, like John, but also fishermen, businessmen and sportsmen.

Among the detainees were a number of very famous footballers, including Steve Bloomer, who had starred for Derby County ( 291 goals in 473 appearances)  and Middlesbrough (59 goals in 125 appearances) and had scored 28 goals in 23 appearances for England. He had begun a coaching job in Berlin just weeks earlier.

Composer Edgar Bainton was another famous prisoner. He was piano professor and principal of Newcastle upon Tyne Conservatory of Music and a leading figure in the Tyneside music scene and later nationally and internationally. He had travelled to Germany to the Bayreuth Music Festival, where along with other foreign performers and concert goers, he was arrested. Bainton is credited with introducing Tynesiders to composers such as Holst and Vaughan Williams. He is best remembered for his church music but he composed a wide range, neglected for a long time, but  now increasingly heard.

Although life and conditions in the camp weren’t easy, prisoners were allowed to administer their own affairs and were allowed letters, sports equipment, even a printing press. The prisoners organised their own police service, postal deliveries, magazine, library – even businesses. There were football, rugby, cricket and golf tournaments; concerts, opera and drama performances; lectures; a garden club affiliated to the Royal Horticultural Society and many other diversions. But there were also accounts of a class divide, racial segregation and other social problems.

Most prisoners stayed at Ruhleben, far away from their worried family and friends, for the entire duration of the war but a few were lucky enough to have been released early. Perhaps because of his age, illness or a swap with a German prisoner in Britain, John was freed on 22 December 1915 and so does not appear on the photograph, which was taken in the camp in 1916 or ’17. From research carried out by Marcus Bateman and published on the MT9 Project website, we know the names of the crew members and their home address at the time of capture but not who is who in the photo.

John Rowe was awarded the Mercantile Marine Medal and the British Medal in 1921. He and Cicely continued to live in Heaton. He died in December 1929, aged 73.

Marine Engineer

Another former Heaton resident detained was John Cyril Vasey, a marine engineer on board the SS ‘Indianola‘, a Liverpool registered ship. Records show that he was arrested on 16 October 1914 and, after a short period of confinement on the Hamburg hulks, was sent to Ruhleben.

Vasey was a Freemason: we have membership records from 1913 and he was one of 112 Ruhleben prisoners who signed a message of greeting to Sir Edward Letchworth, Grand Secretary of English Freemasons, postmarked 9 December 1914 and printed in ‘The Times’ on 28 December. He was also a keen footballer: his name appears in the ‘Handbook of the Ruhleben Football Association, Season 1915‘.

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John Cyril Vasey’s merchant navy ID card, 1923

John was born in Newcastle on 28 June 1885. By 1891, aged 11, he was living in Jesmond with his father Henry, a Londoner, part owner of Hawks, Vasey and Ridley, iron and steel merchants; his mother, Louisa, a Yorkshire woman; three older brothers, Henry, Arthur and Thomas and younger siblings, George, Frances and Nora, along with a servant.

In 1901, he was an eighteen year old marine engineering clerk, living at 192 Heaton Road with his mother Louisa, older brothers Henry and Arthur, both students, and younger siblings, George, Frances and Nora, along with a servant, Elizabeth Barnes. By 1911, the family had moved to Leyton in Essex, although John did not appear on that year’s census. Possibly he was at sea.

John returned to the merchant navy after the war. He died in 1936 at Papworth Village Hospital, Cambridgeshire, aged 50.

First Engineer

And Edwin Henry Perry was First Engineer aboard the SS ‘Sheldrake’, a Sunderland built steamer, when it was shelled and sunk on 8 November 1916 by the German U-Boat, ‘U 34’, 20 miles WSW of Marittimo Island in the Straits of Sicily. The crew survived but two senior members, Edwin Perry and the Master, Charles Stanley Johnson, were taken prisoner and transported to a prisoner of war camp at Furstenberg, north of Berlin.

In 1911, Edwin was living with his wife, Leila, and their two young children, John (3) and Henry (2) in Catford, SE London. Edwin gave his occupation as ‘seagoing engineer’. By January 1914, when he was admitted to the freemasons, he was recorded as a ‘chief engineer’.

All the family were born in the London area but they were soon to move north to Heaton. At the time of his capture in 1916, Edwin’s address was given as 18 Third Avenue, Heaton. Leila died in 1917, leaving three young children. Following the war, Edwin was married for a second time to Mary Elizabeth Gwinnett, with whom he had three more children.

Edwin was also awarded medals for service as a merchant seaman during WW2 at the start of which he would have been 60 years old. He died in 1950 in Poole, Dorset.

Apprentice

Our final Heatonian and the youngest, 17 year old William Martin Henry, was detained when the ship on which he was serving his apprenticeship, the ‘French Prince‘, was captured and sunk by the German auxiliary cruiser, ‘Mowe’, off the coast of Brazil on 15 February 1917. This time, the crew were taken to Gustrow prisoner of war camp in Northern Germany, where William was interned for the remainder of the war.

William was born at 49 King John Street, Heaton on 8 July 1899, son of Aberdonian Robert Martin Henry and Banff born Isabella Robertson Henry (nee Farquharson). On census night 1901, aged 1, he was at the home of his widowed grandmother, Annie Henry, originally from Scotland but by now a boarding house keeper  at 62 North View, Heaton. Also in the house on census night were her daughter, Mary, a ‘contralto vocalist‘ and four boarders from around the country.

On census night 1911, aged 11 William was staying with his 16 year old brother, Robert Farquharson, a clerk, who was described as head of household; his 13 year old brother Norman Charles, a ‘scholar’ and a 21 year old servant, Annie Stephenson, at 64 Rothbury Terrace. (We haven’t yet discovered where the brothers were in 1901 or where Isabella, William’s mother was in 1901 or 1911. Please let us know if you can help.)

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William Martin Henry’s 1st Mate’s certificate, 1921

After the war, William returned to the family home on Rothbury Terrace, where his mother and father lived until they died in 1924 and 1932 respectively. He was granted his Second Mate’s Certificate on 29 December 1919 and his First Mate’s Certificate two years later.  (We know from this that he was 5 feet 8 inches with blue eyes, brown hair and a fresh complexion.) On 11 September 1924 William was granted his Master’s Certificate.

We have found records showing that, after his release, he continued to enjoy a life at sea. On 8 July 1932 (aged 33), he sailed from Liverpool to Boston on the SS ‘Nova Scotia‘ as a passenger. On Feb 1935, he was a crew member aboard the SS ‘Javanese Prince‘, which sailed from Halifax in Canada to Boston.

We haven’t found WW2 records relating to William but his older brother, Robert, is honoured on panel 29 of the Merchant Seamen’s Memorial at Tower Hill in London, which commemorates losses in WW2. It names his ship as SS ‘City of Canberra’ (Liverpool) although he didn’t actually die until 28 May 1947 in Withington Hospital, Manchester, aged 52.

William himself died at the former home of his brother, Robert, in Manchester in 1962. Probate was granted to Nellie Grace Henry, named as his widow. She had previously been married to Robert.

So a photograph that, as far as we know, doesn’t include anyone from Heaton has helped uncover an often forgotten aspect of WW1, the detention of civilians by both sides, and the stories of a number of Heaton residents, caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Can you help?

If you know more about any of the people mentioned or in the SS ‘Juno‘ photograph , have photos you are willing to share or can add to our list of Heaton WW1 civilian prisoners of war, 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 Chris Jackson, Heaton History Group. Thank you to Colin Green of Water Orton, North Warwickshire, who kindly sent us the photograph along with others from his collection which he believes to be relevant to this area. And also to Marcus Bateman of the MT9 project for additional information about the SS Juno, John Vasey and John Rowe.

Sources

MT9 Project

The Ruhleben Story

Ancestry UK

and other online sources

 

 

 

 

Sir Vincent Litchfield Raven: railway legend

Even among railway enthusiasts, Sir Vincent Litchfield Raven is one of the less well known names, yet he was hugely influential in shaping the railway system as we know it today. Rising from an apprentice to Chief Mechanical Engineer, he only ever worked for the North Eastern Railway and for a short while, early in his professional career and newly married, he lived on Heaton Road.

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Vincent Litchfield Raven

Early Life

Vincent Litchfield Raven was born on 3 December 1858 in the village of Great Fransham, North Norfolk, the third of 10 children born to Vincent and Anne Raven. His father was the Rector of All Saints church in the village and the family were clearly wealthy middle class, as Vincent and five of his six brothers went to Aldenham Grammar School in Hertfordshire, a small private school, where he would have received a conservative Anglican flavoured education. The 1871 census shows him boarding there as a scholar, aged 12.

He moved straight from school to an engineering apprenticeship with the North Eastern Railway. Such a move may seem odd to our minds, but at the time, with the rapid Victorian growth of industry and commerce, careers in science and engineering were increasingly regarded as acceptable to the middle classes. Clearly, young Vincent’s family supported his move to the North Eastern Railway, as a five year apprenticeship, would typically cost the family around £50 per year, over £4,000 in today’s money.

North Eastern Railway

The NER was established in 1854 from the merger of a number of smaller companies. The early years of the railways had seen numerous companies established, often operating often relatively small routes or branches, each with their own locomotives and rolling stock. The North Eastern Railway was unusual in that it recognised early the benefits of larger scale operations and over the 50 years from its establishment bought numerous smaller companies, so that by the early 1900s, it had a virtual monopoly east of the Pennines from south of Doncaster right up to the Scottish border at Berwick. By the time Raven joined the company, there were around 1,500 miles of track. The NER also owned docks at Hartlepool, Hull, Middlesbrough and Tyne Dock as well as staithes at Blyth and Dunston (still the largest wooden structure in Europe) and hotels in York and Newcastle.

Apprenticeship

In making the long move north, the young Vincent undoubtedly found an employer that was at the leading edge of railway development. Unusually, for someone who was, 35 years later, to take on the post of Chief Mechanical Engineer, he only ever worked for the NER, although it’s obvious that he put considerable effort into furthering his knowledge and education throughout his career, including a number of foreign visits. He retired when legislation forced the merger of railway companies into the big four (LNER, LMS, GWR and Southern) in 1923.

Vincent left school at Easter 1875, taking up his apprenticeship at the North Eastern Railway’s Greenesfield works on the south bank of the Tyne, between the High Level and the modern day Redheugh bridges.

He was apprenticed directly to Edward Fletcher, the Locomotive Supervisor (the most senior engineering position at that time) to whom the apprenticeship fees would have been paid directly.

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NER’s Greenesfield works

As the picture shows, the Greenesfield works were vast and incorporated the original Gateshead station, the northern terminus of the line from London before the building of the High Level Bridge, as well as five turntables and 18 roads of track, as well as massive cranes that could lift a whole locomotive. As an apprentice, Vincent would have gained experience of every aspect of railway engineering, from cleaning, firing, driving and maintaining locomotives, through to making technical drawings of engines, carriages and wagons. He would also have been required to work with the railway’s engineers, labourers and managers at all levels of the organisation, giving him a sound grounding in engineering, before starting work as a junior engineer in 1880.

Throughout his apprenticeship, Vincent seems to have lodged with the Swallow family, George and Isabella and their young daughter Maria in Elswick, which is where the 1881 census shows him living.

The Heaton connection

Having completed his apprenticeship in 1880, Vincent’s first job was as fireman, where he appears to have been based at the Heaton depot. Opened in 1875 to provide extra capacity for the overstretched Greenesfield works, the Heaton Depot was the home base for locomotives and carriages, where they would be stored maintained, serviced and repaired – a role that it still plays today with the modern fleet.

It appears that Vincent was based here in his early working career as it was 30 Heaton Road that Vincent made his first family home on his marriage to Gifford Allan Chrichton on 15 February 1883. Gifford was born on 13 August 1859 and was the eldest daughter of John Taylor Chrichton and his wife Emma of 13 Catherine Terrace, Gateshead. Her father is described as a chemical agent, and Raven’s biographer describes him as working for the Walker Alkali Company. Although the company had closed by the time of the Raven’s marriage, the Walker Ironworks shared the same address and both seem to have been overseen by Isaac Lowthian Bell, a wealthy Ironmaster and Director of the NER. That would no doubt have been a very valuable connection for the young Vincent to make as his career progressed.

The 1884-5 electoral roll for Newcastle shows the family at 30 Heaton Road, a quite substantial terraced house, then relatively newly built. It was there that the couple’s first child Constance Gifford Raven was born later in 1883.  The couple would go on to have a further four children over the next six years, one of whom, Annie, died in infancy.

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30 Heaton Road

Their stay in Heaton though was short-lived, as in 1884, the family moved to Gateshead with Vincent’s first promotion to workshop foreman back at Greenesfield.

Career progression

Vincent’s career progressed rapidly through a number of promotions as he continued his study through the North Eastern Railway’s own Literary Institute, where he quickly became a committee member of the Gateshead branch, as well as attending lectures at the newly established Rutherford College in Arthur’s Hill. It seems likely that this is where he developed his interest in the electrification of railways, which was to become a feature of his career as well as the source of much frustration.

By 1891, Vincent was Assistant Locomotive Superintendent at Greenesfield and the family were employing two resident domestic servants.

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Commemorative plaque near the High Level Bridge, close to the site of the Greenesfield works.

His next promotion was to the post of Chief Assistant Locomotive Superintendant, which saw the family move to Darlington, where the NER’s main locomotive works was sited. The 1901 census shows them employing three resident staff, ‘a hospital sick nurse’, cook and domestic. The nurse was most likely employed for the Raven’s second daughter Guendolin (born 1884), who had suffered from glandular fever and was left with subsequent heart problems. The family stayed in Darlington for the next 30 years, taking on an increasing role in the civic life of the town, even hosting balls in their home.

Vincent’s next promotion was to the post of Assistant Chief Mechanical Engineer in 1902, eventually taking over from his boss, Wilson Worsdell, when he retired in 1910.

Chief Mechanical Engineer

On 1 June 1910, Raven took up his new position, responsible for the design, construction, repair and operation of rolling stock and all outside machinery for the railway. At that time, the railway had 2,000 locomotives, 4,600 coaches and 11,200 wagons as well as the various docks, staithes etc. His salary was £2,500 (about £276,000 in today’s money). In addition, he had his own locomotive and six wheeled carriage, available to take him wherever he wished on the network as well as his own chauffeur driven car. This was a post of the highest status within both the railway and society. He was based, from 1911 in the newly built Palladian style Stoopergate building.

RPMI, Stooperdale Offices, Darlington, Previously the London &amp; N

NER’s Stoopergate, Darlington

 

Part of a wider new development that included boiler shops and a paint-shop that could accommodate 24 locomotives, the new offices had every modern convenience and were described as draught proof, floored with Terrazzo marble Venetian mosaic and oak panelled. The complex included sidings for the delivery of coal and a garage for his car and were equipped with telephones.

The family business

Railway engineering was obviously in the family blood. Both of Raven’s sons went on to work on the railways. Norman Vincent Chrichton Raven, the eldest, was apprenticed to the Great Northern Railway, which was responsible for the section of the east coast mainline between London and Doncaster and would have worked under Nigel Gresley, who became the first Chief Mechanical Engineer of the LNER after grouping in 1923. Ultimately, he moved on to the steel industry.

Frederick Gifford Raven, the youngest of the four surviving Raven children, did his apprenticeship in the UK before working on the railways in Brazil and India before the start of the First World War. With the onset of war, he joined the Royal Engineers Railway Operating Division as 2nd Lieutenant, where he would have been responsible for the railways that moved troops and equipment to and from the front. Badly injured by shell fire on the Somme, he was evacuated to a military hospital in Le Havre, where he sadly died of infection on 24 March 1917.

Even Guen, the second eldest daughter married into railway royalty. She married Edward Thompson, a protégé of her father in 1913. Thompson would go on to become the LNER’s second Chief Mechanical Engineer. Only Connie, the Raven’s eldest daughter moved out of the business, marrying solicitor George Newby Watson in 1910.

Sir Vincent Raven

The First World War saw Raven’s skills as an engineer and leader put to different uses. On 15 September 1915 he was appointed Chief Superintendent to the Royal Ordnance Works at Woolwich, released from his position at the NER for the duration of the war. Sir Frederick Donaldson, the holder of the position had gone to the US and Canada to work increasing their production of weapons and Raven took over. He very quickly had a positive impact on production, which was falling dangerously behind the army’s needs. Lloyd George, Minister of Munitions, reported to the House of commons in December 1915 that he had increased production by 60-80% while staff had only increased by 23%. When Lloyd George became Prime Minister of the wartime coalition government, he rewarded Raven for his efforts with a Knighthood in the 1916 New Year honours.

Civic life

Aside from his professional life, Vincent Raven always played a significant wider role and maintained a particular interest in education. Right from his early days he’d been involved on the committee of the NER Gateshead Literary Institute and remained their honorary president throughout his career. He also became involved in the education committee of Darlington Technical College and was active in both the Institute of Civil Engineers and the Institute of Mechanical Engineers, who elected him Honorary Life Member in 1932. In 1915 Raven was elected Councillor in Darlington and quickly co-opted onto the tramways committee and in 1917 he became a Justice of the Peace.

Raven the innovator

What is apparent from his long and successful career is Vincent’s detailed and methodical approach to improving efficiency, problem solving and, in particular, his passion for electrification of the railways. One of his early tasks as assistant CME was to do a detailed analysis of the steam engine fleet, which he did in meticulous detail, identifying numerous improvements. It was this attention to detail that led to his success in the Royal Ordnance Works and to improving efficiency across the NER network. As Chief Mechanical Engineer, he focused his attention on compounding and superheating as means of improving the efficiency of steam locos and his own designs were elegant and efficient, but he always had his eye on the longer term goal of electrification.

As Assistant Chief Mechanical Engineer, he would have been involved in the 1904 electrification of the North Tyneside commuter network, only the second electrified network in the UK outside of London. In 1905, he electrified the Quayside branch from Manors Station, which was notoriously difficult for steam engines, with a steep incline, 90 degree curves and a 2 mile, poorly ventilated tunnel. In 1911, he gained approval for his most ambitious venture in electrification, the 15 mile mineral line from Shildon to Newport, Middlesbrough. When the line opened in 1916, the Newcastle Journal listed the many advantages of electrification in an article on 26 May. These included much greater efficiency and control as well as a more comfortable environment for the crew. The electric locos were designed by Raven, with the electrification of the route done by Newcastle firm Merz & McLellan. This was the first industrial railway line to be electrified in the world and continued operating until the 1930s, when it reverted to steam operation!

Of course the big prize was to electrify the east coast main line and Raven had plans to do so as early as 1910, although he may well have been ahead of his time, as he himself recognised as the real problem was the transport of electricity from power stations. Before the widespread adoption of alternating current, the direct current supply could only be transported a short distance without a drop in voltage, meaning lots of small local power stations close to the track would have been required.

The war prevented him from further pursuing his plans and when he returned in 1919, the financial position of the railways after four years of diverting all resources to the war effort was too poor to consider investment on this scale. With the approaching grouping of the railways in 1923, Raven set out a clear and detailed case for electrification of the LNER main line, but it was rejected.

Whether because of this or the prospect of being based at Kings Cross, Raven decided not to stand for the post of Chief Mechanical Engineer for LNER, which was taken by Nigel Gresley and when NER became LNER he retired, having started at the bottom and reaching the top of his chosen profession while only ever having worked for the North Eastern Railway.

The final years

Leaving NER didn’t mean the end of Raven’s work with the railways, but gave him the opportunity to pursue his passion for electrification as well as applying his knowledge as an independent expert. In 1923 he was appointed to the board of Metropolitan Vickers, who made electric trains for the London Underground and South East Network and also joined the Institution of Electrical Engineers. He took part in Royal Commissions to report on the railways in New South Wales and New Zealand and was frequently consulted as an expert, particularly on electrification. In 1925, he became president of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

The Ravens moved in 1923 from Darlington, as Grantley, their home in recent years, belonged to LNER. Their new home in Hook, Hampshire was nearer to London, the centre of most of Raven’s work.

While on holiday with Gifford at the Felix Hotel Felixstowe late in 1933, Vincent fell ill, heart problems were suggested and he died there on 14 February 1934.

Probate records show that he left £20,036 14s 6d. His legacy to the railways that were his lifelong passion was incalculable, even if it were to take another 50 years before the east Coast Main Line was finally electrified.

Can you help?

If you know more about Vincent Litchfield Raven, especially his time in Heaton, 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

Written and researched by Michael Proctor, Heaton History Group.

Sources

Everett A (2006) ‘Visionary Pragmatist, Sir Vincent Raven North Eastern Railway Locomotive Engineer’

Ancestry.co.uk

Wikipedia.org