Tag Archives: WW2

The Bard of Stratford (Grove Terrace)

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Twilight

Across the sky with outstretched wings

Of ev’ry colour blest,

A mystic bird of paradise

Is speeding to the west,

Upon its wings the night gods ride

To yonder burning glade,

 That they might crowd and give to earth

That sweet magenta shade. (Alex Robson, November 1929)

To commemorate the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death, Heaton History Group has been researching the many interesting people who have lived in those of our streets that were named in his honour (Hotspur, Bolingbroke, Malcolm, Mowbray, Warwick and the Stratfords, as well as Heaton Park Road, which it had originally been intended to call Shakespeare Road) and which, since the 1980s, have been overlooked by a magnificent brick artwork of the man himself.

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Brick Shakespeare on  South View West gable end

Aware that, like other parts of Heaton, these streets are now home to many talented writers, artists and musicians, we wondered whether we might find anyone from the past who had followed in the bard’s footsteps. We were not to be disappointed. Our researcher, Michael Proctor takes up the story:

While searching for stories about the residents of Heaton’s ‘Shakespeare Streets’, I came across a poem by a Mr Alex Robson of 13 Stratford Grove Terrace, published in the ‘Berwickshire News and General Advertiser’ in 1929, then I came across more, and more, each of them attributed to ‘Alex Robson, formerly of Crag Mill Belford’.

Being 1929, there was no recent census information available, but I did manage to track Alex down in the 1930 Electoral Register, along with his wife, Gertrude Winifred and William and Mona Mushett (who subsequently turned out to be his second daughter and her husband), also living at the same address. Beyond there I could go no further, as I couldn’t locate an Alex Robson in Belford on any previous census, so decided simply to publish a selection of his poetry.

Until, that is, I decided to search for his name, rather than his address ,on the British Newspaper Archive. A search that turned up many, many more poems dated from the early 1920s through to the mid 1940s and a potted biography published on 27 November 1923, which gave me the key to the story of this remarkable self educated man: a war hero; a significant figure in civic society; a musician and poet; a patriot and royalist; and a great believer in physical and mental activity and wellbeing. And, from 1929 to around 1939, a resident of Stratford Grove Terrace.

Lowest rung

Alexander Robson was born on 30 January 1884 in Gateshead. His father, Robert, aged 42, was an engine fitter, most likely working at the North Eastern Railway’s engine works at Greenesfield, situated between the High level Bridge and the current Redheugh Bridge. His mother was called Mary and he had three brothers.

Alexander left school at the age of 11, having passed the ‘labour exam.’ The 1923 article describes his parents’ lot as ‘not very brilliant’ meaning that further schooling was out of the question, so the young Alex found himself working for a J W Kent, a grocer, where he stayed until at the age of 16, when he was old enough to follow his father and elder brothers into the Greenesfield depot of the North Eastern Railway.

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By 1901 Alex was working as a railway engine cleaner, the lowest rung on the railway ladder.

Volunteer

Right from his early days, the young Alex seems to have had a strong commitment to physical fitness as well as public service. In the newspaper article he speaks of the great evils he witnessed in Gateshead, brought about by the ‘drink traffic’. Although it’s not clear whether this was a personal experience or a general comment, he clearly took a different path, becoming a member of the St James’ Physical Culture Society, (what we’d now think of as the gym) which he attended most nights. He also joined the Tyne Division Submarine Miners Electrical Engineers as a volunteer. In this capacity he was present at King Edward VII’s birthday review in June 1906 and was part of the guard of honour when the King opened the RVI in Newcastle later that summer. Alex’s duties included searchlight operator, signaller, and member of the Special Services Division as well as being in a bugle band for 3 years. He particularly recalled being in charge of the searchlight at the Spanish Battery.

During this time, Alex briefly left the railways and started as a labourer for John Abbot and Company, Steam and Hydraulic Engineers, at the Park View Iron Works, Gateshead.

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Here he was promoted to Traffic Manager, a position that was short-lived as the firm closed in 1907 and he found himself back at the Greenesfield depot.

This must have been a difficult time for him, as he had married Gertrude Winifred in 1905 and the couple had a rapidly growing family. However over four years, he got promoted to the position of freight guard at Tyne Dock, South Shields, where he was still working at the time of the 1911 census.

Poet

It was around this time that he began to pursue his musical and poetic interests. He’d long been interested in learning the violin and had purchased one for 7/6 while still living with his parents, but he ‘hadn’t been encouraged’ so sold it. Now though, he was able to spend 5 or 6 hours at a time ‘annoying the household and probably the neighbours’.

The circumstances in which he took up poetry were quite bizarre. Around this time, he was approached by a fireman at the goods yard who told a story of an old widower who’d fallen in love with a barmaid. He asked Alex to ‘make a bit of poetry about it’. He thought the request was very odd, but didn’t say that he hadn’t ever written a poem, nor did he refuse. Instead, he wrote a poem called ‘The Chocolate King’, which was to be the first of very many.

War hero

When war came he joined the 9th Yorks, 23rd Division, Kitchener’s Army on 1 September 1914 and was among the first to be sent to France, writing his first war poem, ‘For Honour and Glory’, which was recited in the recreation marquees at the camp.  It was subsequently printed and sold at 1d per copy, with proceeds to the YMCA. His initial spell in the army was short-lived as he was discharged on 2 October due to a bout of bronchitis, having just been promoted to lance corporal.

A year later, he joined the military hospital service, stationed at Richmond, where he not only borrowed a violin and formed an orchestra to cheer the wounded, but continued his poetry, with a set of three patriotic poems: To Nurse Cavell; L Battery; and British Vengeance published in a pamphlet to raise funds for the Blinded Soldiers Funds. Copies were sent to Queen Mary and Queen Alexandra, from whom he received letters of thanks.

By 1917, he was posted to a range of hospital stations at the Somme, Ypres, Rouen, Passchendael, and Amiens. En route he received a dose of gas, yet continued after a short break, moving from the hospital service to maintaining the light railways, which served the front. In June 1918 he was appointed yardmaster on the light railways. It was here, on 12 June,  where an ammunition train was fired and he was blown up with a wounded colleague whom he attempted to save. For this, he received the Meritorious Service Medal for ‘Conspicuous Services and Gallantry’.

After a month’s convalescence, spent in the band at the 72nd General Hospital, he was sent to Calais as Orderly Sergeant, conducting troops to different parts of the line, where he was to be injured again, when a train carrying troops crashed into a coal train. He was recovering at Etaples, when the armistice was signed. Orderly Sergeant Alex Robson was demobbed on 29 November and arrived home on 4 February 1919.

Of course surviving a chlorine gas attack, an explosion and a train crash had taken a toll on his health and he was no longer fit enough to take up his former position as freight train guard and shunter, which is heavy physical work. This is most likely how he ended up at Crag Mill.

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Crag Mill was a small railway station about 2 miles north of Belford on what is now the East Coast Main Line. It opened in 1871 and appears to have closed again in about 1877, probably as it was too close to Belford to be viable. However a coal yard and signal box remained. It is likely that Alex moved here to take up lighter duties, probably as signalman or crossing keeper. It was here where his publishing career in the ‘Berwickshire news and General Advertiser‘ took off in earnest.

Civic duty

The newspaper biography notes that he’d not only written many poems while on active service, but that he’d had plenty of opportunity to recite them and had made a deep theoretical study of elocution, passing his first exam in Berwick on his return. It also notes that Belford people and school children had very much enjoyed his recitals and invited him back repeatedly.

Alex’s deep sense of civic duty was made clear in the article when it listed the organisations he’d had to resign from on moving to Crag Mill. These included:

-The South Shields War pensions Committee, where he represented the railwaymen of South Shields

-Governorship of the Ingham Infirmary

-The Town Mayors Committee on the United Services fund, where he represented the Comrades Club

-Chairmanship of Tyne Dock Railwaymen’s Holiday Association

-West End War Memorial Committee

-Tyne Dock National Union of Railwaymen’s No 1 Branch Committee and various sub-committees.

To Heaton

Although the Robsons only stayed at Belford for about six years, Alex clearly made a significant impression on the local community, as indeed he had in South Shields. By 1925, he was in Newcastle and we can track his movements by the addresses on his published poetry. 1925 sees him living in 20 Stanton Street; 1927 at 5 Finsbury Avenue and in 1929, the Robsons, along with their second eldest daughter, Mona and her husband, moved to 13 Stratford Grove Terrace, Heaton, where they seem to have stayed until 1939.

 

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Alex Robson with grandson, Max, 1932

 

For a short time during World War 2, Alex was living in Haggerston Barns, Beal, most likely as a crossing keeper or signalman once again. But by 1943, he was back in Newcastle once more. In a perfect piece of serendipity, the newspaper article records that he was a great admirer of Burns, Pope, Tennyson, Kipling and, of course, William Shakespeare. Alex Robson died in 1969.

 

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Alex Robson (2nd left) with members of his family in the late 1960s

 

We also know that Alex wrote music but his greatest legacy was his poetry, which, never apparently having been published in a book, is lost in the back copies on newspapers, so it seems fitting to honour the man and his achievements by publishing a short selection.

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Michael Proctor for Heaton History Group’s Historic England funded ‘Shakespeare Streets’ project in which we are working with Hotspur and Chillingham Road Primary Schools to explore both Heaton’s theatrical heritage and the people of the streets named in William Shakespeare’s honour. Additional information and photographs were supplied by Janet Robson, the wife of Alex’s grandson, Chris Robson. Many thanks, Janet! 

Can you help?

If you know more about Alex Robson or his family or have any photographs 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

 

 

The Night Bombs Rained on Heaton: expanded second edition

To commemorate the 75th anniversary of one of Newcastle’s worst nights of World War 2, Heaton History Group member, Ian Clough, wrote: ‘The Night Bombs Rained on Heaton: 25th April 1941’.

Ian researched the event of that night, in which 47 people died when a parachute mine and a high explosive device destroyed many houses and lives in Guildford Place and Cheltenham Terrace, just yards away from his parents’ shop (still, of course, Clough’s Sweetshop to this day). He interviewed both survivors and relatives of those killed and gives us an insight into the victims’ lives, so tragically cut short.

Since the publication of the first edition, many more stories have come to light and have been incorporated into an expanded second edition, making it an even more tribute to everyone who died in Heaton that night.

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Obtain a copy

The 28 page, black and white A5 book, which contains both historic and modern photographs is available only from Heaton History Group, either for £2 at any Heaton History Group talk or £3 to include postage and packing (cheques to be made payable to ‘Heaton History Group’) from Heaton History Group, c/o The Secretary, 64 Redcar Road, Heaton, Newcastle upon Tyne NE6 5UE.

More

You can read an earlier article by Ian here

Can you help?

If you know more about the night of 25-26 April 1941 or have memories, family stories or photographs of Heaton during WW2 to share, we’d love to hear from you. Either write directly to this website, by clicking on the link immediately below the title of this article or email the secretary of Heaton History Group,  chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

 

 

Heaton Olivers

This photograph of Heaton’s North View School choir with their teacher, Miss Brown, taken outside Newcastle’s City Hall in 1948 was sent to us from Canada by Alan Oliver.

 

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North View School Choir, 1948

 

The children had just won the title of Best Infant School Choir in Newcastle. Alan is the boy third in from the post in the middle, right hand side. He told us that his family’s connections with Newcastle and Heaton, in particular, go back much further and we wanted to know more:

Three Andrews

We have used census records and trade directories to trace the Oliver family back to 1841 when Alan’s great great grandfather, Andrew Oliver, was a coalminer in Ford. He lived in the North Northumberland village with his wife, Ann, and their 11 year old son, also called Andrew, and their daughter, Isabella.

By 1851 son, Andrew, now 21, had moved to the nearby village of Branxton, where he was apprenticed to a shoe maker, Thomas Pringle and  lodged, along with two other apprentices (the younger of them just 12 years old) at the home of Thomas, a widow, and his  24 year old daughter, Euphemia, along with a servant. Andrew soon fell in love with and married Euphemia.

By 1861 the couple, now living in the nearby village of Crookham, had two young children, William, aged two and one year old (you guessed), Andrew. They had a servant and a boarder, who was also a shoemaker.

By 1871 the family had moved to the nearby town of Wooler, where Andrew senior (or middle) was still a shoemaker and all the children went to school. They were still in Wooler in 1881, by which time the youngest Andrew was aged 21 and also working as a shoemaker. By now he had younger siblings, Isabella, Gilbert and Hannah.

However by 1891, the whole family, 60 year old Andrew senior, his wife, Euphemia, sons Andrew junior, now aged 30, and Gilbert, aged 23, with sisters Isabella and Hannah, had moved to 101 Tynemouth Road in Heaton. We don’t know why the family relocated but, if it was for financial reasons, it seems to have been a sound decision. Heaton was rapidly expanding and becoming more prosperous so there was a growing demand for footwear.

The younger Andrew and his wife, Jessie and their family continued to live on Tynemouth Road and run a shoemaker’s shop, first at number 101 and, by 1911, at number 91, now with three sons, Thomas, aged 13, Sidney, 9, and Harold, 6.

Longevity

This Chillingham Road School class photograph shows Sidney, Alan’s father, aged about 7, so it must have been taken around 1908. Sidney is on the right hand end of the back row.We wonder whether anyone else had inherited a copy and could name anyone else in the class.

 

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Chillingham Road School, c 1908

 

By 1930 the family shop was in his mother Jessie’s name but the long standing business on Tynemouth Road was soon run by Sidney and his wife and their son,  Alan, and his brother (yes, Andrew!) grew up above the shop. .

And this one shows a VE street party on Denmark Street in 1945.

 

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Denmark Street, 1945

 

Alan’s brother, Andrew, is third boy from the left on the back row. We haven’t been able to find out exactly who Fearon and Hickford were and why they are named on the banner in the centre but Alan says that Mr Fearon is the man on the right holding a small child and he thinks that Mr Hickford is the man on the left, also holding a child. He remembers the Fearon family, with children John, Kenneth, Sandra and Dennis, living on Denmark Street. If you know more about the two men or recognise anyone else in the picture, please get in touch.

The family business eventually closed when Sidney retired. He eventually left Tynemouth Road for Killingworth in the mid 1970s when the street was demolished prior to redevelopment. He died on 10 September 1989, the day after his 88th birthday.  Three generations of Olivers had helped keep the people of Heaton shod for over 50 years.

Lord Mayor

But another Heaton Oliver made an important contribution to the life of the city. Gilbert, Alan’s great uncle, the brother of his father, Sidney’s father, you may remember, was a tailor when he moved to Heaton with his parents and siblings sometime before 1891, when he was 23 years old.

Gilbert went into partnership with a Thomas Walton in a business they operated from 1 Molyneux Street. Later he ran his own tailor’s shop at 39 Second Avenue, then 53 Balmoral Terrace and in Clayton Street in town.

By 1911, Gilbert had moved with his wife, Mary, and 15 year old son, Welsley Herbert, to 55 Cartington Terrace.

 

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Cartington Terrace

 

We don’t yet know when Gilbert became interested in politics or was first elected to serve as a councillor but if you read through the list of Lord Mayors, displayed in the current (November 2016) Newcastle City Library exhibition, you’ll find the name Gilbert Oliver, holder of that ancient and prestigious office in 1937.

The photograph below was taken at Heaton Assembly Rooms in 1935 when Gilbert was Sheriff and Deputy Lord Mayor.

 

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Deputy Mayor Gilbert Oliver of Heaton (second from the left)

 

Gilbert is second from the left. Also in the photograph are the Duke of Northumberland (extreme left), the Lord Mayor, Councillor Dalglish and the Duke of Kent. We haven’t identified the person on the extreme right.

Sadly Gilbert died of pneumonia in 1939 after being taken ill on a civic trip to York.

Canadian correspondents

Our correspondent Alan left Heaton and England in 1964. He joined the Norwegian merchant navy and in 1967 settled in Canada. His sons, Kevin and Ian, were born in Richmond, British Columbia. Kevin told us he has been to Heaton and Newcastle three times to visit family and see where his ancestors lived – and, of course, ‘to watch Newcastle United and Whitley Bay Warriors play’.

Acknowledgements

A big thanks to Alan for permission to publish his photographs and for adding a little more to our knowledge of Heaton’s history – and to Kevin for patiently acting as go-between!

Thank you too to Hilary Bray (nee Bates) who gave us permission to digitise and use the photograph of Cartington Terrace from her postcard collection.

Can you help?

If you know more about anyone or anything mentioned in this article or can identify anyone in the photographs, we’d love to hear from you. You can contact us either through this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or by emailing chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

 

Harry, Heaton Park Road Hairdresser

Although life in the east end of Newcastle is very different now to that of a hundred or even fifty years ago, most of our streets and terraces would be instantly recognisable to any of our forebears from back then who had happened upon the secrets of time travel. An exception is the southern end of Heaton Park Road, especially the section from the railway to Shields Road, so we were especially delighted when Yvonne Shannon wrote to tell us about her grandad, who had a barber’s shop at number 60 in the 1930s.

New Road

Originally the road north towards, but not extending all the way to, Heaton Hall was called Cook Street but after the opening of Heaton Park, the road was completed to allow access to the park from Byker, with the new section called Heaton Park Road (though originally it had been intended to call it Shakespeare Road) and the original Byker end renamed Heaton Park Road South.

Below is a photograph of this older section which extends from the High Main pub, beyond Molyneux Court to the railway. You can just see the railway bridge in the background. The photograph was taken in 1962 just before these houses and shops were demolished and replaced by one of Heaton’s few tower blocks. Number 60 would have been immediately next to the shop on the extreme right and just off the photograph.

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Heaton Park Road, 1962 (courtesy of Newcastle City Library)

 

First occupants

The first occupant of number 60 Heaton Park Road South that we know of was Robert Gristwood, who ran a grocery there round about 1890. This may well have been the same Robert Gristwood who emigrated to Canada in 1911 and served with the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force in WW1.

Robert was succeeded by 1900 by Mrs Jessie Eadie, who continued to run the shop as a grocery, while her husband worked as an insurance agent. The 1901 census records their grown up daughters’ occupations as ‘girl in confectionary shop’, so presumably they helped run the family business too.

Jessie had been born in Carluke, Lanarkshire but by 1881 was living on Cook Street with her husband, William Algernon Eadie, who was at this time a ‘potter (bowl maker)’ and their two young daughters, Susan (aged 4) and baby Elizabeth. After William died in 1908, leaving the then quite substantial sum of £2305 14 shillings in his will, Jessie and her daughters moved to 221 Chillingham Road, later to become a bank, now Lloyd’s.

After World War 1, the confectioner’s was run first by Miss Mary Tabrah and Elizabeth, her sister, two of nine children born to John Henry Tabrah, a boilermaker, originally from Scotland, and his wife, Mary, a Liverpudlian. In 1901 Mary was nine and Edith ten years old and the family lived in Byker

Barber’s shop

The shop then became a hosiery briefly, run by Mrs Sarah Scott, and then in the late 1920s a men’s hairdresser’s, with the first proprietor A R Humphrey, before Yvonne’s grandad took over around 1930. Yvonne takes up the story:

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Harry, Willie and Joseph Pickering outside 60 Heaton Park Road, c1930

 

‘Henry Robson Pickering (known as Harry, who was my Grandad) is the man standing to the left of the photograph, next to him is his younger brother Willie and to the right of the photograph is their father and my great granddad, Joseph Pickering.  The address is 60 Heaton Park Road, and in the window to the right you can read the notice ‘This shop is now open under new management’.

Joseph’s story

Harry’s dad, Joseph, my great grandad, was the original hairdresser or barber of the family. He learned the trade either in Cumbria, where he was born, or in Gateshead, which was the first place he lived when he moved to the North East, and taught the skill to Harry and Willie.  

He had fought in WW1 enlisting with one of the four Tyneside Scottish units (not sure which one but he did wear a kilt in uniform). He came through the war unscathed but never talked about his experiences.

The conditions for working people between the wars were very hard, and Joseph eked out a living for his family by getting his sons Harry and Willie to find wood, chop it into sticks then try to sell the bundles around the neighbourhood. Joseph himself used his barbering experience to cut neighbours hair for a few pennies, and, often worked at the RVI to shave and cut the hair of male patients. His other duties at the hospital were a bit macabre: he used to ‘dress’ the hair of people who had died.  So, I think being proprietors of a shop would have been a real step up for the whole family.

In the late ‘30’s Joseph was the marching instructor of a juvenile jazz band, The Byker Imperials and was very proud to march with them in the parades.  There is a wonderful old photo first printed in the Evening Chronicle of the jazz band including Joseph posing on the steps of Heaton Park.

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Byker Imperial Juvenile Jazz Band in Heaton Park

 

Joseph is pictured on the far right directly under the letter J. Also on the photo, in the front row, fourth from the right (just above small cross under photo), is Jimmy Pickering, the youngest child of Joseph, and brother of Harry and Willie.            

Joseph was too old to enlist for WW2 but he went to work in the shipyards at Walker and he didn’t retire until the age of seventy.

Harry’s story

Joseph’s son, Harry, was about to get married at the time of taking on the barber’s shop and I’m sure it meant a great deal to him, i.e. a new start and a reliable means of supporting his wife at their new home which was to be in Albion Row, Byker.

But, by 1932 they had given up the tenancy which would,  I think , have been a big loss to them. Harry’s daughter (Doreen, my mother) thinks the short tenancy was due to the terrible recession of the 1930s when thousands of men were out of work and was the time of the famous ‘Jarrow March’. The Wall Street Crash happened in 1929 so in a way it was the worst possible time at which to try and set up a new business.  People, ie customers, just couldn’t afford the luxury of paying for a haircut so they couldn’t earn enough to pay the rental for the shop. 

Throughout the recession Harry found it very hard to make ends meet and during winter he would volunteer (along with other men) to work for the corporation (council) to clear the snow from the streets using only shovels and was probably paid a pittance.   He kept the barbershop chair from the shop though and did the odd haircut from his house to earn a bit of money to keep them going.

World War Two   

To make a little extra Harry and Willie both joined the Territorial Army – The Royal Engineers – therefore, when war was declared in 1939 they were called up immediately and their first posting was to France.  Harry had four children by this time and it was left to their mother, Martha, to bring them up.  On his call-up papers, dated September 1939, he gives his ‘trade on enlistment’ as ‘hairdresser’ so he obviously still saw this as his main occupation.

Both Willie and Harry survived the Dunkirk evacuation and we are really sorry that we didn’t ask them about how they were brought out and on which boat they were rescued. 

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Harry Pickering (right) with topi hat on his knee

 

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Five of Harry’s WW2 medals – one was lost!

 

By 1942 both brothers embarked in Southampton and were sent to Burma. At the same time Harry’s fifth child was born but he didn’t see her until 1946 when he was demobbed.

The brothers were amongst the last to be demobbed, Both survived unhurt except for bouts of malaria contracted in Burma. They continued to have periodic episodes of this debilitating disease throughout the remainder of their lives.  Harry was also hospitalised because of Dengue fever in 1942 but recovered well.

Post war

In 1947 Harry’s family were allocated a council house   The Homes fit for Heroes’ initiative was instigated after WW1 in 1919 but there was still a lot of appalling housing in Newcastle.   All the family thought it was fantastic, it enabled them to move from what had been slum housing in Byker to a new house in Walker where the street was planted with trees and it is here where their sixth and last child was born in 1951.  They regularly visited Heaton Park and Jesmond Dene for leisure outings throughout their lives and this continues with Harry’s great grandchildren today.

Jobs were plentiful after the war and Harry’s final job was at the George Angus Factory where he was a semi-skilled machinist until he retired at the age of 65.  He still did the odd hair cut though including one memorable time when his daughter (Doreen) asked him to style hers, she requested a ‘tapering cut ‘ into the sides and neck.  Unfortunately his idea of ‘tapering’ was not quite the same as hers and ‘I nearly died when I saw it’ and ‘burst into tears’.

The photograph of 60 Heaton Park Road depicts a snapshot in time not just in the photographic sense but in the way individuals were and are swept up in much bigger events taking place around them and over which they have no control i.e. Joseph sent to the trenches in WW1, followed by the recession which led to giving up their shop in Heaton, and also their hopes for a financially secure future as a small business.  Poverty led Harry and Willie to join the Territorial Army which in turn meant they were among the first to be called up in WW2 – another event over which they had no control.’

After Harry

Another barber, George Gunn, succeeded Harry but the property seems to have been mainly empty after the war and eventually most of the block was demolished. The last few properties, once part of Beavan’s drapery, which occupied the corner site, are now part of Wetherspoon’s High Main pub.

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Edwardian photograph of  Beavan’s, showing the now partly demolished terrace on Heaton Park Road (South)

 

The rest of the block was redeveloped from the mid 60s. A modern tower block, Molyneux Court, was built on the site and alongside it there is now also a NHS walk-in centre.

Can you help?

If you can provide further information about anyone or anything mentioned in this article please contact us, either by clicking on the link immediately below the title of this article or by emailing chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org .

Acknowledgements

This article was researched and written by Yvonne and Doreen Shannon, Harry’s granddaughter and daughter and Chris Jackson, Heaton History Group. It forms part of Heaton History Group’s ‘Shakespeare Streets’ project, funded by Historic England.

Rex Hart, The Man with the X-Ray Eyes

Knowing that we’re always on the look out for stories of interesting Heatonians from times past, Allan Robinson of High Heaton has contacted us to tell us about Jack Arthur Elvidge, who some older readers may remember as Rex Hart, ‘The Man with the Monocle’ or ‘The Man with X-ray Eyes’. Allan, who himself has an alias ‘Clogs the Clown’ takes up the story:

‘Rex was born Jack Arthur Elvidge on 6 August 1906 in Byker . But he moved to Heaton at an early age. On census night 1911, he was aged 4 and living at 98 Spencer Street, Heaton with his widowed grandmother and her two sons and two daughters plus a boarder.

Jack was a passionate entertainer. He started his stage career in Whitley Bay at the age of 10. This was followed by a lifetime entertaining his North East audiences as magician, Rex Hart. Rex had excellent manipulative skills and wonderful humour. He was always in demand on the dinner circuit as many of his programmes, that I have show. In busy times he would go from one venue to another carrying his act in a briefcase.

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Rex was a founder member of the Newcastle Branch of the Institute of Magicians, an organisation founded in London in 1934. In the 1940s, the Newcastle branch held its meetings in the County Hotel.  He later became a member of the Northern and the Newcastle Magic Circle.

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Rex married his wife Hilda on the 6 November 1935. The reception was held at the County Hotel, where he used to meet his magical friends. While Hilda never performed herself, she had a very keen interest in magic and gave Rex every encouragement and ensured that his clothes were clean and pressed before every show. 

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Even during World War 2 as a Sergeant in the Royal Air Force, Rex was in demand, entertaining the airmen. Rex served time in West Africa and was demobbed from the force on 25 December 1945 having been awarded two medals.

Whilst Rex and Hilda never had any children, they had many friends with whom they enjoyed annual holidays camping at Coldingham Bay in the Scottish Borders. The locals also enjoyed their company as even on holiday Rex would give performances.

 I first met Rex in the 1980s and, whilst he had retired by then due to ill health, his passion for entertaining never left him and he would accompany me to my own magical shows. We would also meet weekly on a Saturday night at his home, 17 Ivymount Road, where in his front room with Hilda we would discuss and perform magic tricks. It was here that I would learn all about his magic life and hear tales like the time he lent Max Bygraves who was performing on the Empire Theatre in Newcastle, his ventriloquist doll. Amongst my collection of Rex’s items I have a signed photograph that Max gave him as a thank you.’

Rex died on 23 February 1992.

Thank you to Allan alias Clogs the Clown for telling us about Jack / Rex.

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Can you help?

If you have any more information or memories of Jack Elvidge / Rex Hart or would like to tell us about any other interesting Heatonian, please either leave a comment here by clicking on the link below the article title or email chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

 

The Night Bombs Rained on Heaton

On Friday 25 – Saturday 26 April 1941, Newcastle endured one of its worst nights of the Second World War, with terrible consequences in Heaton. The area had suffered bomb damage before and would again, as the Germans targeted railways, factories and shipyards – but this was a night like no other.

Earlier in the evening, incendiary bombs had fallen around the Heaton Secondary Schools in High Heaton and damaged properties on Stephenson Road, Horsley Road and Weldon Crescent. Two had fallen onto the eaves of the Corner House Hotel, where civilians scaled a drainpipe and threw them to the ground to be extinguished with sand.

The Lyric Cinema (now the People’s Theatre) was also hit. And on Jesmond Park East, two houses ‘Denehurst‘ and ‘Wyncote’ (which was occupied by the military at the time) suffered fire and water damage. There was other minor damage right across the east of Newcastle. But none of these episodes, as terrifying as they were to those in the vicinity, prepared the people of Heaton for what came next.

Devastation

At 10.20pm a high explosive device seriously damaged numbers 20 and 22 Cheltenham Terrace. Two people were seriously injured at number 20 and were taken to First Aid post Number 6. Another ten people were treated at the scene. Simultaneously, incendiary bombs  hit the nearby Heaton Electric cinema.

Ten minutes later, another high explosive completely demolished numbers 4 and 6 Cheltenham Terrace. Two bodies were recovered before rescuers had to give up for the night due to the threat of the gable end collapsing. There was considered to be no chance of any survivors.

And at the same time, a parachute mine fell on the adjoining Guildford Place, demolishing several houses and causing severe damage to many more. Although water was immediately sprayed over the area, a fractured gas main caught fire.

 

Bomb damage on Guildford Place

Bomb damage on Guildford Place

And still the raid continued. A high explosive device made a huge crater at the junction of Algernon and Shields Roads, with three men injured when another gas main exploded. And nearby a gents’ lavatory at the junction of Shields Road and Union Road was completely destroyed. Yet another bomb fell on the main walk of Heaton Park but here only greenhouse windows were broken.

This  detail from a German map of Tyneside, dating from 1941, illustrates how vulnerable Heaton and, in particular Guildford Place and Cheltenham Terrace were, squeezed as they were between key Nazi targets, marked in red, purple and black.

German map of Heaton, 1941

German map of Heaton, 1941

You can see the full map on the Library of Congress website.

Heaton History Group member, Ian Clough, remembers that his father, who even then kept the sweetshop that still bears the family name, was one of the many overstretched emergency workers and volunteers on duty. He was a volunteer fireman and had to pass his own bomb-damaged shop to help others.

When we asked Ian if he could find out more about that awful night, he interviewed three survivors of the Guildford Place / Cheltenham Terrace tragedy. Here are their accounts:

Muriel’s story

‘I was at home with my parents Arthur and Elizabeth and Uncle George Shaw, Dad’s younger brother, at number 14 Cheltenham Terrace, together with two friends. We were having supper when the air raid siren sounded at approximately 9pm.

Muriel Shaw

Muriel Shaw

For some strange reason this was usually a cue for my mother to see that everything was tidy and that the dishes were washed. Father declared ‘That’s close’ and, after donning his black greatcoat, went upstairs to see if he could get sight of anything from the landing window. There was a whoosh sound initially, then a silence accompanied by a tangible pressure and then the force struck home – literally; father was propelled down the stairs without a button remaining on his coat.

The back of our house had been completely blown off. This was in the direction of the explosion so it was mainly through a vacuum effect. Father had erected stout doors to cover our dining room windows to comply with the blackout regulations and they may have offered protection from any flying debris from outside. I first realised that I was a victim in all that was happening when a wavering door in its frame threatened to fall on me but just missed. It gave way to a shower of bricks falling from upstairs which left lasting scars on my legs. Mother and I were showered with plaster dust and it seemed to take many weeks of hair washes to finally remove all of its traces. Strange things had happened; a teapot that was on the table was now on the mantelshelf in one piece. The piano was no longer an upright one as it had somersaulted over the settee and was now upside down and resting on a completely unharmed china cabinet with contents intact.

Dad’s other brothers also lived with us but were out at the time. Thomas was an air raid warden and William was a lay preacher and had been sick visiting. It wasn’t until the next day that we were told that both of them had been killed. At 4 Cheltenham Terrace, the Robson family of four had perished.

Guildford Place, the one-sided street that was back to back with us and overlooked the railway had taken a direct hit. Most of the occupants of numbers 8 through to 15 were killed. The Luftwaffe was targeting the marshalling yards at Heaton Junction but released their payload prematurely while following the line of the railway.

Our house was now uninhabitable but because the resources of the Council were overstretched we had to find temporary accommodation in Osborne Road, Jesmond. This happened immediately and so, what with that and working, I had little chance to witness the horrors that the authorities had to endure in recovering and identifying bodies and demolishing what was left of the houses.

After a year we moved back into our house (which by now was renumbered as 18). A gas pipe had burst in the blast and we were greeted by a bill for all that had leaked. Initially there was still scaffolding inside the house and as compensation was so inadequate we had to clear the mess and clean everything out ourselves. When we asked for wallpaper, which was in short supply, we were given enough to cover one wall. Our property now had become the gable end of one row of surviving terrace houses as the line of neighbouring homes on either side of us were deemed irreparable and pulled down.

On the night of the air raid my brother, Albert ,was away serving in the Army and brother Arthur was on fire watch for his firm on the Quayside. The devastation and annihilation of his neighbours prompted Arthur to join the R.A.F. and become a pilot but that, as they say, is another story.’

Ian discovered that the two friends who were having supper with Muriel and her family were Nell and her mother.

Nell’s story

Mother and I were sitting at the table after being invited to supper by Muriel and her family when suddenly we found ourselves in this nightmare situation. Both of us were being propelled backwards by the blast of an enormous explosion and then the ceiling came down on top of us. There was nothing we could do but lie there until the wardens came and dug us out. It is funny how strange things stick in your mind but as we were assisted out of the house via the hallway a musical jug was happily giving us a rendition of ‘On Ilkley Moor Ba Tat’.

Nell and her mother

Nell and her mother

Skirting around all of the amassed rubble that was once people’s homes we were taken to an air raid shelter in the cellar of Charlie Young, the butcher, on Heaton Road. When the ‘all clear’ was sounded, we discovered, through her covering of ceiling plaster, that mother’s face was covered in blood. Firstly she was taken to a first aid post at Chillingham Road baths and put on a stretcher. Then we both got into an ambulance and were turned back from many a hospital until mother was eventually admitted to the Eye Infirmary.

We asked a local policeman if he would get a message to my Uncle Jack who was also in the police and lived in the west end. Uncle took me in and the following day I realised that our handbags and other belongings had been left behind at Cheltenham Terrace. Walking along Heaton Road to see if I could retrieve them, I cannot recall how many people approached me with the same words; ‘I thought you were dead!’ Mother had lost the use of her left eye and had to wear a patch for the rest of her life and we had suffered a most traumatic experience. Yet we were the fortunate ones as for 45 members of those neighbouring families that night was to be their last.

Footnote 1 I believe that what Mr Shaw, Muriel and Arthur’s father, saw from his vantage point was something that at first looked like a large balloon which, on reflection, was a land mine on a parachute, floating down.

Footnote 2 I went to Heaton High School in the 1930s and one of my subjects was German so we were invited to meet and socialise with a group of German schoolchildren who were on a school visit hosted by Newcastle Council. They were given a list of Newcastle’s favourite tourist attractions and maps of Newcastle and the transport system to help them to get about. Many of us took up the offer of being pen pals and one girl even went on a visit to the home of one of the students and came back full of what she had been told of how Adolf Hitler was going to be such a wonderful leader of the German nation. When my pen pal remarked that he had heard that Newcastle had a large and important railway station and asked to be sent details, my dad told me not to write to him anymore. It was not long after that that we were at war with Germany. We then wondered if there had been something sinister behind the visit and were the children and their school teachers, innocently or otherwise, sent over on more than just a cultural mission.

Arthur’s story

I was on fire watch for my firm of importers at No14 Wharf on the Quayside when the air raid sirens started wailing and we were on full alert. I heard the noise of bombs exploding, repeatedly exploding, and I thought to myself ‘Somebody’s got it.’ I had a rough idea of the direction of the hits but nothing prepared me for the spectacle of devastation I was to see.

It was 9am, and daylight, as I approached Guildford Place; the one-sided terraced street overlooking the railway. Little was left of the houses nearest to Heaton Road and my heart raced as I hurried up to the corner of my own street Cheltenham Terrace. The first thing that greeted me was a ribbon strung across the road at the entrance to my street with a policeman on duty to prevent any looting. He stopped me going any further and I explained that I lived here. Well, I had lived here!

I was in a state of shock – astounded at what was all around me. I’m still vague as to how I found my family but they certainly weren’t there anymore. Muriel worked as secretary to the manager of Bitulac Ltd and he offered us temporary accommodation in his home on Osborne Road. Dad found us a house to rent on Chillingham Road and he borrowed a van to collect some of what was left of our furniture. When loaded up I got in the cab and father said ‘Have you locked the front door, son?’ He had to smile when I said ‘What’s the use of that, man? We’ve got no wall on the back of our house!’ We lived in Chillingham Road until our house was repaired.

Muriel and I were young and felt that we had to fulfil our duty to the nation. Muriel trained as a nurse and, at one time, she worked in a hospital where wounded soldiers were coming back from France. I had made my mind up that I wanted to be a pilot and joined the RAF.

Arthur Shaw

Arthur Shaw

The initial training procedure would astound anyone now. We were introduced to a de Havilland Tiger Moth and, within eight hours, were flying solo. The instructor would watch us from the ground – take off, fly around and then land. If you couldn’t do it you were no longer a pilot.

Then it was off to Canada to gain our proficiency. Why Canada? Well, most of the British airfields were being used for war operations and could not be spared for pilot training. We were taught navigation and how to read approaching weather conditions and understand the various cloud formations. We would normally then fly twin engine planes – Airspeed Oxfords in particular. One of the most difficult things to master was flying in formation and then banking to left or right. The outer pilots had to increase their speed slightly just to keep in line. It was important to be taught ground recognition and the open spaces of Canada did not challenge us enough and we had to come back home over towns and cities to gain experience in that skill.

I served abroad for a while and was then privileged to be asked to train as a flying instructor and was sent just over the Northumbrian border into Scotland for that. It was then my job to pass on my knowledge to the new recruits – young lads who were then sent out on dangerous missions where the mortality rate was so high.

When the war was over we queued up for our civvies (civilian clothes) it was almost a case of one size fits all and it did feel strange to be out of uniform. But we had done our bit and were thankful that we were the lucky ones – lucky to still be alive.

(You can read about Arthur’s later contribution to Heaton’s history here )

Roll of Honour

Bodies were still being recovered five days later. The final death toll was reported to be 46 with several bodies still unidentified. Those which remained unidentified were buried in a common grave in Heaton Cemetery.

As you can see from the following list, the ages of the known victims ranged from 9 weeks to 77 years and in several houses whole families died together.

William Aiken aged 43

Ethel Mary Airey, aged 23

Amy Angus 17

Edna Jane Angus 28

Hannah Angus 49

Ian Angus 13

Maureen Angus 15

Robert Nixon Angus 29

Mary Elizabeth Glass Balmer 17

William Blenkinsop 38

John McKnight Erskine 20

James Falcus 45

Albert George Fuller 37

Gordon W T Gardner 25

Elizabeth Glass 53

Edith Rosina Hagon 8

Joan Thompson Hagon 30

Joyce Hagon 16

Raymond Hagon 7

Isabella Harrison 77

William Henry Hoggett 39

Mary Jane Moffit 62

Archibold Taylor Munro 29

Ethel Mary Park 60

Francis Park 58

Mavis Park 31

Alice Jane Reed 64

Joseph Dixon Reed 68

Joseph Lancelot Reed 9 weeks

Eliza Margaret Robson 70

Ella Mildred Robson 43

Evelyn Robson 38

James Kenneth Robson 19

William Robson 72

Thomas Shaw 48

William Atkinson Shaw 40

Robert Smith 27

Edwin Snowdon 17

Henry Snowdon 12

Nora Snowdon 46

Victor Snowdon 48

Charles Thomas Thompson 62

David Harkus Venus 27

Alexander Henry White 54

Blanche White 43

Thank you

Roy Ripley and Brian Pears, whose website is an amazing resource for anyone researching the WW2 home front in the north east;

Heaton History Group member, Julia McLaren, who drew our attention to the German map of Tyneside.

Can you help?

if you know more about the night of 25-26 April 1941 or have memories, family stories or photographs of Heaton during WW2 to share, we’d love to hear from you. Either write directly to this website, by clicking on the link immediately below the title of this article or email the secretary of Heaton History Group,  chris.Jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

 

The Gilhomes of Heaton

Gwen Usher of Gosforth has kindly shared with us the history of her family, who lived, worked and went to school in Heaton. And she told us about the parts various members played during the First World War.

Isaac

Isaac, the third of four children of  William and Sarah Elliott Gilhome, was born in 1860 in Embleton, where his father had a butcher’s shop. After leaving school, Isaac went on to become a butcher himself and the 1881 census records him, aged 20, working in his father’s shop. By 1891, the family’s circumstances had changed completely. Sarah Gilhome had died, leaving William as a widower, aged 64. He had moved to Jesmond, where he was living in a toll-house and working as toll collector. By this time, Isaac had met and married Mary Isabella Porter, which is when the family’s connection with Heaton began.

Isaac Gilhome

Isaac Gilhome

To Heaton

Mary Isabella Gilhome nee Porter was born in Newcastle on 29 November 1857, daughter of a mariner, but she grew up with her paternal grandmother, Mary A Porter, in Cley, Norfolk. But by 1881, aged 23, she had returned to Newcastle and was living in Jesmond as nursemaid to the children of the Sopwith family.

Mary Isabella Gilhome in later life

Mary Isabella Gilhome in later life

Isaac and Mary Isabella married in 1887 and lived in Bensham before, some time around 1891, moving to 35 Tenth Avenue, with their two eldest children Dorothy and Sarah Elizabeth.

Sisters Dora, Lizzie and Mary Gilhome

Sisters Dora, Lizzie and Mary Gilhome

The family continued to grow, with John Porter, Mary Isabella and William born in the 1890s. At some point before 1911, the expanding family moved to a bigger house at 31 Cheltenham Terrace. Isaac eventually opened his own shop. By the time of the First World War, he had three shops in Dalton Street, Gibson Street and Shields Road. Isaac died in 1924 and Mary Isabella in 1930. This is the story of their children, all of whom grew up in Heaton.

Dora

Dorothy, known as Dora, the oldest of the Gilhome children, was born in 1888 and in 1894 was in the first intake of children to the new Chillingham Road School. When she left school, aged 14, Dora stayed at home to help her mother with the family home and care for the younger children. She married Jack Denmead in 1923 and the couple eventually settled in Romford, Essex. Dora died of cancer tragically young in 1942.

Lizzie

Sarah Elizabeth, known as Lizzie, was born in 1890. When Lizzie left school in 1904, she trained as an upholstress, working for Robson’s furniture store, on Northumberland Street, where she was joined, four years later, by her younger sister Mary. Lizzie married Robert Davidson from Berwick, a plumber who worked for the gas company, before opening a sweetshop next to one of Isaac’s butcher’s shops. Their only daughter, Mary Isabella, was born in July 1918. Gwen clearly remembers being allowed to play in the sweet shop when it was closed. Lizzie died in 1976.

John

John Porter was born on 7th January 1892. Like his father before him he worked in the family butcher’s shops in the evenings and weekends from the age of 8. At the outbreak of war, John joined the Navy and in May 1916 was involved in the Battle of Jutland, the only major naval battle of World War One. It’s not clear whether John Porter’s ship was one of those lost in the Battle of Jutland. We do know, however, that in 1917, he joined HMS Caledon, when it was commissioned on 6 March 1917. The Caledon saw action in the second battle of the Heligoland Bight. It was struck by a 12” shell, but fortunately not seriously damaged.

John Porter Gilhome (front right)

John Porter Gilhome (front right)

After the war, John married Edith Wilkinson. He died in June 1947 in Hexham of TB.

Mary

Mary Isabella was born in 1894, leaving school in 1908 to work as an upholstress with her sister. At the start of the war, when John signed up for the Navy, Mary was also keen to do something to help the war effort. There was a particular call for young women to train as nurses and Mary responded, starting her two year probation period at Lemington Infectious diseases hospital.

Mary Gilhome

Mary Gilhome

Whilst at the hospital Mary set up the Newburn Isolation Hospital War Savings Association. The War Savings Movement was established in March 1916 as a way to bring in much needed revenue to fund the war effort. The National Savings Committee was supplemented by volunteer local committees and paid civil servants. Posters encouraged workers to invest in the National Savings Scheme and would buy stamps for 6d, with a promise that each 15/6 saved would be repaid as £1 in six years time. Interestingly, the movement used the swastika as its logo, although this was subsequently abandoned by the government.

War Savings Association membership card

War Savings Association membership card

The National Savings Movement continued to thrive after the war and was instrumental in providing funds in World War 2. It continued until 1978, before becoming National Savings and Investments, which still operates today and runs, amongst other things the Premium Bond scheme. Mary’s role as Honorary Secretary of the association was recognised in a letter from Lloyd George after the war.

Letter from Lloyd George to Mary Gilhome

Letter from Lloyd George to Mary Gilhome

After the war, Mary briefly gave up her nursing career to nurse her father. She then studied midwifery, qualifying in 1928, and she continued her career as a nurse, moving to the West Riding of Yorkshire, where she worked as a district nurse, until she retired in 1959 (some five years later than she should have) when she returned to Newcastle to live. Because of the isolated nature of her caseload, Mary replaced the district nurse’s bike for a motorbike. Mary died in November 1992.

William

William, the youngest child of the family, was born on 29 June 1898 and like all of his siblings went to Chillingham Road School. Unlike his siblings, he was in the first cohort not to have to make a contribution to the school board, receiving free education. At the age of 8, William had a severe bout of diphtheria and was nursed at home, in part by Mary, which may have helped spark her interest in both nursing and working with infectious diseases.

Like his brother, William helped out in the shop and was keen to join the war effort. The family legend is that he joined the Northumberland Fusiliers at the age of 16 and was sent straight to fight in Italy, along with a battalion of the Royal Muster Fusiliers from Ireland. However this story raises some questions. Firstly, the army only recruited young men aged 18 or over and didn’t send them to the front until they were 19.

Secondly, Italy was not a major focus for fighting in World War 1. The 10th and 11th service battalions of the Northumberland Fusiliers were deployed to Northern Italy to strengthen local resistance, but not until November 1917, when the first garrison battalion of the Royal Munster Fusiliers were also deployed to the area to defend lines of communication. It seems likely that this was when William was deployed, although he never spoke to the family about his wartime experiences. There is a photo of him in Italy with his Lance Corporal and his medal records show him as having fought in both the Northumberland and Royal Muster Fusiliers, which supports this position.

William Gilhome

William Gilhome

William would have been involved in the battle of Vittorio Veneto, which was instrumental in the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the end of the war.

After the war, John and William completed their training as butchers and after their father’s death in 1924, jointly took over the family shops. This proved not to be a successful arrangement and John subsequently bought William out of his share. William then went on to manage a shop in Gateshead before opening his own store in Low Fell. He married Ann Armstrong at St Silas’ Church, Byker in 1928 and the couple settled in Gateshead. Their daughter Gwen was born in Gateshead in June 1936. During World War 2, William served in the Home Guard as a Private in E Company of the 8th Cumberland Battalion. William died on of a heart attack in 1964, having suffered from heart disease since 1945, thought to be as a result of his childhood diphtheria.

Thank you

Thank you to Gwen Usher for sharing the Gilhomes’story with Heaton History Group member, Michael Proctor, who carried out additional research. If you have information, memories or photographs of Heaton to share, please contact Chris Jackson

Educating High Heaton

This photograph of pupils at High Heaton Infants School was taken in 1935.

High Heaton Infants School Pupils, 1935

High Heaton Infants School Pupils, 1935

Geoffrey Wedderburn, formerly of 60 Swaledale Gardens, is the boy at the end of the back row and he wonders whether anyone can help him out with other names. He remembers Dennis Hill, Leslie Fox and Tom Fineron from his schooldays but isn’t sure whether they’re in the picture.

The wooden school

High Heaton Infants School first opened on 20 August 1929 with 164 children on the roll. The school records are in Tyne and Wear Archives so we know the names of the first head, Mary L Ken, and her staff that day: Ethel Cooper, Joy Thompson, Alice Bertram Hodgson , Minnie Watts and Jeanie Richardson. Geoffrey remembers Miss Venters, Miss Hopkins and Miss Darling from his own schooldays. We found in the archives that Miss Caroline Isobel Venters joined the school on 7 April 1934.

The school was situated close to where the Spinney flats are now in a wooden building which later became High Heaton library. It was known simply as ‘the wooden school’. Geoffrey recalls that the buildings formed 3 sides of a square and that the open side gave access to a grassed play area. He remembers maypole dancing there on one occasion.

High Heaton in the early 1930s with the school in front of the trees of the Spinney

High Heaton in the early 1930s with the school in front of the trees of the Spinney

The wooden buildings which housed High Heaton Infants School and then, until 1966, the library

The wooden buildings which housed High Heaton Infants School and then, until 1966, the library

Geoffrey says that despite the fact the headmistress ruled by terror, he was ‘quite happy at the school and rather sorry when I had to leave’. The log book confirms it was considered a good school. An inspector is quoted in 1935 as saying ‘Good use is made of the adjacent hall for dancing and physical training and the neatly cultivated garden is a valuable addition to the amenities of the premises’.

In 1931 another inspector said ‘The children are of a good educable standard, thus some of the handicaps imposed by a poor environment are not felt here’.

Reading the entries in the log book, you’re struck by the number of days the children had off to commemorate royal occasions. The investiture of the Prince of Wales in February 1934 was especially noteworthy as the head teacher was invited to the ceremony at Buckingham Palace and was granted three days leave to attend. The lord mayor, director of education and chief ‘inspectress‘ visited the school the following week to congratulate it on behalf of the city on the honour bestowed on the head by the king.

Later in the year, the school shut again for the marriage of the Duke of Kent in 1934; in 1935 there was the wedding of the Duke of Gloucester and then the Royal Jubilee; and the funeral of King George V followed in 1936. All these on top of the usual general and local elections: it’s surprising any of the children learnt to read!

Cragside and war

But with the population of High Heaton growing as the city expanded and cleared inner-city ‘slums’, the ‘wooden school’ was too small to cope and it finally closed at midday on 25 March 1937 with Cragside Infants School opening its doors on 5 April. Geoffrey recalled that the opening ceremony ‘was carried out by the very young Princess Elizabeth’.

At Cragside, we read of a measles epidemic in 1938 and, of course, the disruption caused by World War 2. On 1 September 1939, the school evacuated to Morpeth. It reopened in High Heaton on 1 April 1940 but on 7 July some children were evacuated again – this time to Westmorland.

There were numerous air raid warnings ‘Children went to the shelter provided. No panic or fear or upset of any kind‘ (28 June 1940); ‘Air raid during the night from 1.10-3.00am. No school this morning’ (12 August 1940).

On 4 September 1940: ‘Air raid damage near school. Four window panes splintered. the three covered with net did not fall out’.

On 1 March 1941 a temporary headteacher was appointed ‘owing to the evacuation of the head mistress, Miss J S Nattress with the school party’. Miss Nattress returned a couple of months later. And in 1944 the school admitted evacuees of its own – from London.

Rain and snow

After the war, things slowly got back to normal. In 1946, the Education Committee granted the school £15 as a victory prize. Garden seats were purchased.

The following year brought one of the worst winters in living memory. On 26 February ‘Very heavy snowfall this week; snow drifting on the verandah makes movement very restricted’ On 14 March ‘Storm continues’.

And with normality, a resumption of royal occasions:

On 27 November 1952, children walked with teachers to Stephenson Road, where they saw HRH Princess Margaret passing on her way from launching a ship at Walker Naval Dockyard to Alnwick Castle.

But on 5 June 1953 the weather intervened: ‘a coronation celebration picnic on the school playing field was planned but impossible because of the rainy weather. Games were played in the school hall’. A familiar scenario to generations of Cragside children looking forward to sports day!

Children and Teacher at Cragside School by Torday

Children and Teacher at Cragside School by Laszlo Torday

Thank you

Geoffrey Wedderburn for his photograph and memories

Tyne and Wear Archives for their help

Newcastle City Libraries for permission to use the photograph by Laszlo Torday

The photos of the wooden school were taken from ‘Bygone High Heaton and district’ by William Muir, Newcastle City Libraries and Arts, 1988

Can you help?

We’d love to hear your memories and see your photographs of High Heaton Infants or Cragside School. Please either click on the link immediately below the title of this article or email chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

S in Ringtons, Tea in Heaton

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

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

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

In fact the story starts much earlier than that.

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

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

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

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

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

Sam Smith, founder of Ringtons

Sam Smith, founder of Ringtons

Tea to Newcastle

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

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

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

On the other hand:

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

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

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

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

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

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

RingtonsShieldsRdc1910ed

Ringtons, Shields Rd c1912

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

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

Struggle for survival

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Loyal servant

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

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

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

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

The Somme

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

Bravery award

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

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

Newcastle Journal 18 November 1916

Newcastle Journal 18 November 1916

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

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

Post-war

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

Ringtons, Algernon Road c1930

Ringtons, Algernon Road c1930

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

Heaton Avenues in Wartime

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

Find out more

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

Can you help?

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

The signalman and his daughter

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

Olive as a young child

Olive as a young child

The signalman

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

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

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

NorthViewSchool? incFrank Topping

North View School, 1890s?

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

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

Frank Topping, Home Guard, 1942

Frank Topping, Home Guard, 1942

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

Frank Topping officially opening railway cottage in Topping Close, Hartlepool

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

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

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

Francis Topping died in 1957.

Olive’s childhood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Olive on the cannon in Heaton Park

Olive on the cannon in Heaton Park

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

Scala cinema Chillingham Road

Olive attended Chillingham Road School and later Heaton High:

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

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

The original buildings of what became Heaton Manor School

The original buildings of what became Heaton Manor School

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

King and Queen open Heaton Secondary Schools, 1928

King and Queen open Heaton Secondary Schools, 1928

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

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

Coincidence

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

Isabella and David Wood

Isabella and David Wood

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

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

Olive with daughters, Julia and Margaret in 1953

Olive with daughters, Julia and Margaret in 1953

And here in 2015:

Margaret, Olive and Julia, 2015

Margaret, Olive and Julia, 2015

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

Can you help?

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