No. 93 Summer 2022
Editor: Mark Benjamin
It is my pleasure to yet again welcome you to our summer newsletter. Well, this year hasn’t quite gone quite to plan so far but there have been some real highlights and I am sure there are still more to come from the society in 2022.
It was great to be able to host our first in person talk in two years this March with Dr Andrea Dolfini enthralling his audience and bringing along some replica weapons for us to see and, while the subsequent talks had to return to Zoom due to Covid related issues, they were still fascinating. One plus side of temporarily moving to talks via Zoom is that it has meant that we now have seven recorded talks available to our members, access to these can be gained through your account on our website. I also hear from Jennifer that the sun came out for the recent long delayed society outing to Blyth Battery (see the report from Hugh Dixon below). I hope those members attending the fully-booked Walk in the Park: The History of Hexham Park in July are similarly fortunate.
Continuing to look ahead to the rest of the year, my predecessor as Chair, Greg Finch, has somehow found time to come up with another great book, this time on the landscapes of our very own Shire. This should be with us (and in all good book shops I’m sure) before Christmas, more information about which will be with you later in the year. Our talks are also set to return after the summer break on 13 September with a bang, or should it be a splash, as Gordon Scorer takes us through the worst flood in Tyneside’s history.
That leaves me to wish you all the best for the summer, oh and to shamelessly plug our Facebook page (facebook.com/HexhamHistorian). If you are not already one of our 2,500+ followers, why not check it out and catch up with our weekly photos highlighting some of the gems in our photo archive. While you’re online, why not test your Hexham knowledge with June’s Platinum Jubilee special (and the other 44 brain teasers available on our website).
Please note that the phone number for our Secretary, Yvonne Purdy, is now 07543308023. The previous landline number should no longer be used to contact Yvonne.
Would any members like to talk about their local history interests in a short presentation as part of the 2023 programme?
We are inviting members to make a 15-20 minute talk on topics they find engaging or they have been researching. As a guide this short talk could comprise of 10-15 slides each taking 1½ -2 minutes to explain.
You would be part of a small group each presenting on the same evening to make up our usual 1-1.5hrs talks session.
Some ideas from our recent survey include St Giles Hospital, Workhouse, Trades & Industry, Market, Abbey, Living conditions and life in Hexham through time, Archaeology, Rural Life and House and Church Histories but anything is possible – it’s up to you!
If you are interested please email me at: email@example.com
Dates for your diary
Please note: we hope that our Autumn talks will be at Trinity Church, as in the past, but this may change nearer the date. For those unable to attend, we also hope to be able to provide recordings in our Members’ Library after the event.
A wide variety of exhibitions and events commemorating Hadrian’s Wall 1900 continue throughout the year. Details can be found at https://1900.hadrianswallcountry.co.uk/events/
Wed Jul 6th. Roman art series: the faces of Ancient Rome: Talk by Gail-Nina Anderson. Literary & Philosophical Society of Newcastle upon Tyne. 6pm. Tickets: £5 www.litandphil.org.uk/events/roman-art-series-the-faces-of-ancient-rome
Wed July 13th. Roman art series: sex and scandal at the highest level: Talk By Gail-Nina Anderson. As above
Friday 15th to Sunday 17th July. Songs, stories & stones with Brampton Chamber Choir and Max Loth-Hill. St. Martin’s Church, Brampton CA8 1SH 2) St. Augustine’s Church, Alston, CA9 1QW 7.30pm Free.
Wed July 20th. Roman art series: representing the Romans: Talk By Gail-Nina Anderson. As above
Fri Aug 5th. 21 years of Isaac’s Tea Trail: Talk by Roger Morris. Studio II, Allendale Forge Studios, Market Place, Allendale. 6.30pm The accompanying exhibition runs in the Studios throughout August; open 10am-5pm.
Tues Sept 13th. The flood of 1771: Talk by Gordon Scorer. 7.30pm
Tues Oct 11th. The rise and fall of the West Gallery: popular religious music in the eighteenth & nineteenth century. Talk by Dr Vic Gammon. 7.30pm
Tues Nov 8th. AGM, and Edwardian explorations: discovering Roman Coria. Talk by Dr Frances McIntosh. 7.30pm
New exhibition on Newcastle Gaol
Fascinating stories behind Newcastle’s Victorian prison at Carliol Square are being brought together for the first time thanks to research by local historians.
A new exhibition at City Library, Newcastle, reveals details of the conditions inmates were kept in, the crimes they were being punished for and what everyday life was like. It includes archive photos of many of those who were detained, alongside a whip used to punish offenders and a book containing the skin of a man executed in Newcastle in 1850.
“The Life and Death of Newcastle Gaol, 1822-2022” is based on research carried out by Dr Shane McCorristine, from Newcastle University, HLHS member Dr Helen Rutherford and Dr Clare Sandford-Couch, Northumbria University, and Dr Patrick Low, a graduate of Sunderland University. The exhibition will also feature photography by local artist and Newcastle University graduate Lorna MacKay.
The exhibition is the next phase in a long-term project to gather research, ideas, memories, images and other content that can help tell stories about the gaol and, more broadly, the East Pilgrim Street area and its history. Many of the same discussions about regeneration and urban reform that were occurring in 1822 have been echoed recently as bulldozers pulled down the Dex Garage, Worswick Street Bus Station, and Commercial Union House.
Among the stories in the exhibition is that of a group of 12 suffragists who were serving sentences of up to a month for their role in the ‘Battle of Newcastle’. The ‘battle’ was a series of protests to coincide with the visit of the Chancellor, David Lloyd George, to the Palace Theatre in Haymarket, Newcastle, in October 1909.
Their imprisonment attracted public support, and crowds gathered outside the gaol to sing and shout encouragement. One of the women imprisoned was Kitty Marion, a former actress and music hall star. As soon as she was led into her cell, Kitty barricaded herself in with the bedstead and refused to let the guards in. She set fire to her bedding, causing pandemonium throughout the prison and began a hunger strike. In letters she sent to The Times, she described the horrors of being force-fed during her incarceration.
The exhibition covers the double execution, in November 1919, of Ambrose Quinn and Ernest Bernard Scott – the last ever to take place in Newcastle. Scott and Quinn were both 28 years of age and murdered women, in Scott’s case an unrequited love named Rebecca Jane Quinn and in Quinn’s case his wife, Elizabeth Ann Quinn (the victims coincidentally shared a surname). The local press detailed Scott’s unshakeable and unmoved countenance until his execution. Newspaper reports discussed how Scott ‘spent his time singing, whistling and humming hymn tunes’ while Quinn was weeping in the cell next door.
Dr Shane McCorristine said: “The story of the gaol and those who were imprisoned there in many ways reflects the changing story of Newcastle. The area between Manors and Pilgrim Street, where Carliol Square is, was once the main route between the city and the Quayside, but soon after the gaol was demolished in 1925, the area began to be transformed. There are few signs of the gaol’s existence visible today, so the exhibition provides a way for people to remember a piece of the city’s history.”
As part of the project, the researchers have asked the public to gather any memories or information about the prison and visitors to the exhibition can share these.
Dr McCorristine added: “We had a great response to our request for the public’s help, with people sending us a range of stories about the prison and those who worked there or were detained there – including some rare letters written by some of the prisoners themselves, which give a great insight to their thoughts and feelings about being in gaol.”
The exhibition includes rare items loaned from Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums, including a bale of oakum, handcuffs, and the original key. Revealed are stories of some of the daring escapes made by prisoners, including 27 year old Mary O’Neil, who had been arrested in 1870 for stealing a purse on Clayton Street. Within a few weeks of starting her sentence, she removed the iron bars from the window in her cell and climbed on to the roof before disappearing over the imposing, 25 foot high boundary walls. She evaded capture for six months. She was caught in Liverpool when a policeman recognised her from a photograph.
The gaol was designed by John Dobson and replaced Newgate, Newcastle’s medieval prison. Opened in 1828, it was among the first prisons to use a radial ‘panopticon’-style system, a modern and progressive design that would reform rather than punish offenders.
However, only five of the six radial wings were built due to high construction costs, and the number of inmates quickly increased due to the population growth in Newcastle and an increase urban and poverty-related crime. Within ten years of the opening, it was condemned for being damp and overcrowded. There had been numerous escapes. Violence among prisoners was a problem in the early decades. Eventually, in 1858, Dobson was asked by the Council to pull down the wings and replace them with a single four-storey block of 144 cells.
The exhibition is free of charge and will run on Floor 6 (Local Studies), City Library, Newcastle, from June 7 to July 31 2022.
The gaol website can be visited at www.newcastlegaol.co.uk
Clive Seal asks via Facebook:
I am a coal mining historian now based near Penrith and am following up a story from 1957 and wondering if anybody can supply any information on a Mrs Vernon Taylor who lived in Hexham at the time.
There was a political uprising in Hungary causing many refugees to come to the UK, many found work with the National Coal Board who put them on a training scheme which involved them staying at the Abbey Hotel in Hexham where Mrs Taylor taught them English and it is clear that a strong bond grew between teacher and pupils.
The men were eventually found work in the collieries at Barnsley but the locals refused to work with them, so many returned to Hexham and Mrs Taylor took it upon herself to find them homes and work. The WVS then joined in with the task. One family were found work and employment in Croglin, Cumbria which sadly ended in tragedy and that is where my research is based.
If anybody knows anything about Mrs Vernon Taylor, who I believe lived on Elvaston Rd I should be really grateful if they got in touch. Many thanks.
If you can help, Clive can be contacted via the Rossendale Collieries Facebook page or through the Editor
Laura Hutton asks via Facebook:
I’m doing family research with my mam and wandered if you would know anything ..My grandmother was born at Holly Hall in Sandhoe in 1930 where her mother and grandparents worked and lived while farming. We’ve a notebook of her families which has their Holly Hall address in from 1925 so we know they must have been there a few years.
My great grandmother was single when she became pregnant with my grandmother so my grandmother ended up in a children’s home for a few years we don’t know how many but she told the family she was around 5 years old when she was taken back out by her mother and grandmother. It was always said that she was the daughter of the farmer of Holly Hall. One of those Telfers owned Holly Hall farm and another who lived there moved to Waterside farm, Humshaugh Mollersteads. We would love to know any history of Peter or Christopher Telfer or even their father John. Holly Hall or Waterside farm, Mollersteads farm, Humshaugh. We would love any old photos too.
If anyone can help either Laura, please reply directly through Facebook or contact the Editor.
Currently being extensively renovated under the High Street Heritage Action Zone scheme, the Coach & Horses – one of Hexham’s oldest pubs – was open to interested members of the public for guided tours and several members took advantage of the opportunity.
Of particular interest was the revealed cobbled pathway under the original central arch, sadly to be re-concealed, albeit under conservation conditions, by the new floor. At one point, the Tax Office was housed in the pub and the coach would pause under the arch to allow the takings to be lowered directly into it, presumably through a trap door. It was fascinating to see the barred windows to the relevant room near the rear arch.
Although the frontage will be undergoing considerable alteration from its recent appearance, it was pleasing to see that quite a few of the historical elements will be retained, including the old bar and the bowed window in the right-hand room looking out into the passageway.
The customary good weather, organised with everything else by Jennifer Britton, greeted the fourteen members and friends who formed rather irregular ranks for a tour of the Battery. Our guide, Colin Durward, Chairman of the remarkable Blyth Battery Volunteers, whisked the party with expert enthusiasm across the centuries and the sand dunes to a series of structures, all of historic interest and many with wonderful views. Those expecting a series of damp, empty concrete spaces were in for a shock. As well as a bewildering collection of weapons, technical apparatus, uniforms, documentation, photographs and less warlike items, the buildings are furnished in a most successful “how it was” way. Most of what the visitor sees relates to the first half of the 20th century but this is very far from being a celebration of war and story begins much earlier.
Around 1800 naughty children were warned to behave or Nappy would come for them. Country-wide fear of invasion by the Napoleon was real enough and not least on the Northumberland coast where the broad beach between Seaton Sluice and Blyth, offered good landing, and the possibility of establishing a defensive base remote from major garrisons. Blyth with its sheltered dock would have been seen as part of the prize. Defensive forts were built. In later European conflicts the location only increased in importance. By the time of the Great War, Blyth’s strategic importance had grown. It was a shipyard large enough to build the Ark Royal, a coaling station for a Royal Navy now under steam; and a submarine base. Furthermore its great open beach, stretching southward, still offered a tempting landing place for a force aiming at the shipbuilding and armaments stronghold on Tyneside. Despite warnings, however, permanent construction of the battery was not started until 1916. With the threat of zeppelin bombing raids, search lights were installed and guns on temporary mountings commanded both the harbour mouth and the beach. Yet full fortifications were barely completed before the armistice. The usual dismantlings after the war went swiftly into reverse from 1939. Emplacement which had been filled had to be re-excavated and new guns mounted to meet the Nazi threat. Again, however, the perceived strength of the defences proved crucial for the 6-inch guns with their seven-mile range were never fired in action. From the Observation Posts we scanned the misty horizon; but enemy dreadnoughts were keeping their distance again.
What happened between the wars and after World War II was quite as important to the eventual saving of the site. With the increase in seaside holidays many of the buildings found new uses as stores for tents and deck chairs and holiday chalets. So they were not seen simply as reminders of hard and dangerous times; and more of the complex was left intact than most such coastal defences. The progress towards long-term conservation and presentation was a triumph of peacetime recognition and steady endeavour. Through the intervention of the Fortress Studies Group, with its national perspective, the rarity of the surviving buildings at Blyth was recognised and in 1987 the Battery was Listed Grade II. The local council’s initial reaction was to apply for Listed Building Consent to clear the site; but well-organised opposition with much local support prevented this. From 1995 the battery was opened on Heritage Open Days and the site then became integral to a local strategy for ‘Enhancement of Blyth and Hartley Links’ (2000). The site’s reputation was consolidated by the production of a conservation plan by the North of England Civic Trust (2004); and in 2008, through the combined efforts of Blyth Valley Borough Council and English Heritage, a Heritage Lottery Fund grant enabled the battery to be repaired and opened to visitors. The whole process had taken twice as long as the two World Wars combined. Much of the success of what visitors now see is owed to our hosts, the Blyth Battery Volunteers Ltd, a charity registered in 2000.
Their sustained efforts have produced a thoroughly satisfying achievement. And the same must be said of Jennifer Britton for her excellent organisation. The visit ended in the former duty shelter with tea and excellent cake provided by the ladies of the BBVs – descendants of those who over seventy years ago, and over a century and more did much the same on the home front waiting for their loved ones to come home.
For those who were unable to join the company on this occasion, there is the strongest recommendation to visit in person (telephone for information on guided tours 07881462284) or through the website blythbattery.org.uk. There is also a very sensible guide book produced by the Volunteers: Blyth Battery Defending Our Port, a model of clear writing and blessedly free of military and technical jargon. It is available on request or through email: firstname.lastname@example.org
[Editorial note: Having myself to confess to a slight queasiness about WW2 relics, I was struck by the guide’s comments that we happily celebrate the region’s Roman and medieval military remains, so what’s the difference? I suppose that, divorced from any nationalistic connotations, there is none!]
The recent and most rewarding exhibition of historic photographs by J P Gibson held in the Queen’s Hall, Hexham, served to remind me that I had acquired – by chance – some interesting information concerning his early education, and I feel I should share this with the Hexham community in order to add to knowledge of his life and experiences.
When John Pattison Gibson died in 1912, the Obituary Notice issued by The Society of Antiquaries stated that he “was educated at Hexham Grammar School, and later Newcastle Grammar School.” This slightly unusual educational format appears to have been accepted without question ever since.
However, a few years ago I made a fortuitous discovery of part of a letter from J P Gibson published in the “Journal of the Camera Club, London” on January the 7th 1892, this being associated with an exhibition of his photographic prints on the 4th of January at which he had been unable to speak in person – perhaps because it was the occasion of his 54th birthday. A member of staff in the Records Section of Newcastle Central Library produced for me a press-cutting, dated the 7th of January 1892, in which J P Gibson spoke of his early experience in art and photography.
In what are evidently extracts from a longer letter, he described how his early introduction to “landscape art” took place at about nine years old, and revealed how “in January 1850 I was sent to the School of Art, Newcastle, where for two years I studied under the late W. B. Scott, the painter poet; but making poor progress in freehand and figure drawing, I worked for some months during the latter part of the time at mechanical perspective drawing. Before I was 14 years of age I left school, and commenced work, serving my apprenticeship with my father as chemist and druggist, a trade that I still follow.” The extracts from the letter are given in one corner of a photocopy of an A4 sheet of a number of unrelated press cuttings, which I have reproduced herewith in a larger format in order to improve legibility.
William Bell Scott was a Scottish artist in oils and watercolour who was also a poet and art teacher. Between 1843 and 1864 he was principal of the Government School of Art in Newcastle upon Tyne, one of the objectives of which was apparently to remedy a perceived shortage of portrait painters at that time. Notwithstanding the valuable knowledge which Gibson was able to gain in perspective drawing and composition when attending the art school, he may have regarded his manner of departure as reflecting adversely on his abilities, and consequently he might have been reticent in speaking about it to colleagues in the photographic world and also in The Society of Antiquaries and elsewhere.
One might also speculate that there could have been some fraternal rivalry between J P Gibson and his younger brother William. Census information for the year 1861 shows the latter to have been a scholar aged 16 and boarding as a Scholar at the School Frigate “Conway” at Tranmere, Birkenhead, whilst J P Gibson was aged 23, living at home and working as a “Druggist’s Assistant.” Twenty years later, William was living in Gateshead with his wife and four sons, and was described as “Solicitor, Fellow and MA of Queen’s College, Cambridge” whilst J P Gibson was living in Hexham with his wife, seven daughters and two sons and was described as a “Chemist and Druggist Employing 1 Man & 3 Assistants.” The younger of his two sons became the highly-regarded Northumbrian poet Wilfred Wilson Gibson; his father J P Gibson’s legacy speaks for itself.
The Victorians knew how to build a graveyard: long winding paths through green glades; picturesque views of the chapel of rest. Not places to be feared, but facilities where the living could mingle amongst the dead and commemorate lives well lived. Today, graveyards can be an oasis of calm in a busy world, ironically full of life: wild flora and fauna. Some are overgrown with intriguing headstones and inscriptions that hint at mysteries long forgotten – others are mowed like municipal parks with uniform headstones laid in neat rows. (A friend once took their grandchildren to picnic in Saltwell Cemetery, mistaking it for the adjacent park).
This useful book, written by the aptly named Celia Heritage, is an essential companion for anyone wishing to explore a cemetery, either locally or further afield. It is a physically slender book – but not a page is wasted, and each is packed with information, illustrations and good advice. Cemeteries and Graveyards – A Guide for Family and Local Historians in England and Wales, is both useful and a fascinating read. If you are researching your family or local area it is invaluable. Heritage provides ideas for new lines of inquiry – using the rich evidence in graveyards and registers to break through seemingly dead-ends. For the family historian, grave markers and burial records can offer new lines of inquiry and, for the local historian, a window into the social scene of the past.
Heritage enables the reader to make the most of the information which places, and records of burial, can offer to the family historian and the merely curious. She sets out a comprehensive guide to places of burial and how to research and interpret memorials. The book opens with an introduction to rituals of death and burial from the earliest times, providing an historical framework for the chapters that follow. The book then guides the reader through parish churchyards, municipal cemeteries, grave markers and records – both online and paper-based. The author includes practical tips, such as how to prepare for a visit, a list of the meanings of symbols on gravestones, and case studies to demonstrate how to put the theory into practice. There are warnings of pitfalls and of how to overcome challenges. The appendix contains a comprehensive list of useful websites.
Having read this book, I think a picnic in a graveyard would be much more interesting than the usual wasp-bothered sandwich on a rug in a park. The opportunity to explore the past whilst taking tea and cakes – what’s not to like? My friend had the right idea.
I first became aware of the former Prisoner of War camp at Featherstone Park many years ago when a local film maker came into Hexham Library asking what we had on the camp as he had plans to make a film about it. Gathering from my colleagues that previous enquiries had fallen foul of the Official Secrets Act, I said that I would see what I could find. Little did I know what I was letting myself in for! Co-incidentally, the Hexham Courant was having a clear-out of its upper floor and wondered whether the library might be interested in a complete run of Die Zeit am Tyne (Time on the Tyne), the newspaper created by the camp’s inmates and printed on the Courant’s presses.
The story of the ensuing research project and subsequent exhibition has been told elsewhere but, as the research developed, I soon became aware of the pivotal role played in the unique nature of Featherstone Park camp by one Herbert Sulzbach. A well-educated, fully-integrated German Jew from a prosperous and cultured family, Herbert had served his country with distinction in WWI, being awarded the Iron Cross. Interestingly, during his time in France, he was very taken with a small town, so much so that he late referred to it as his “beloved Noyon” – now Hexham’s twin town! Sadly, like many German Jews, Sulzbach was forced to flee his beloved homeland in the 1930s, enlisting in the British Army when hostilities recommenced. Although initially joining the Pioneer Corps, Sulzbach’s talents were soon recognised and he was appointed as translator to deal with the increasing number of German prisoners. Serving first in a camp at Comrie in Scotland, he then transferred to Featherstone, where he built a very productive relationship with the visionary commander, Lt Colonel Vickers.
Sulzbach’s work at Featherstone, re-educating thousands of German officers, paved the way to his later post-war work reconciling the two nations, working tirelessly between the UK and new West German governments, for which he was eventually awarded an OBE.
Ainslie Hepburn’s book paints a vivid portrait of Sulzbach’s early life in Kaiserine & Weimar Germany and then the building of a new life in England, before exploring Sulzbach’s work, first in Comrie and then, in greater detail, at Featherstone. His success at Featherstone can be witnessed by the existence of a group of former inmates who, once repatriated to Germany, formed the Arbeitskreis Featherstone Park; a group dedicated to keeping the spirit of the camp alive. This group lasted until the mid-1970s and many former prisoners kept in touch with members of the Haltwhistle community with whom they had worked or entertained with the camp’s touring drama and music concerts!
The film never did get made – but the resources resulting from the research continue to attract interest, often from the descendants of the camp’s residents; a fitting tribute to the work of Herbert Sulzbach, well described in this book.
Q: How many historians does it take to change a light bulb?
A: There is a great deal of debate on this issue. Up until the mid-20th century, the accepted answer was ‘one’: and this Whiggish narrative underpinned a number of works that celebrated electrification and the march of progress in light-bulb changing. Beginning in the 1960s, however, social historians increasingly rejected the ‘Great Man’ school and produced revisionist narratives that stressed the contributions of research assistants and custodial staff. This new consensus was challenged, in turn, by women’s historians, who criticized the social interpretation for marginalizing women, and who argued that light bulbs are actually changed by department secretaries. Since the 1980s, however, postmodernist scholars have deconstructed what they characterize as a repressive hegemonic discourse of light-bulb changing, with its implicit binary opposition between ‘light’ and ‘darkness,’ and its phallocentric privileging of the bulb over the socket, which they see as colonialist, sexist, and racist. Finally, a new generation of neo-conservative historians have concluded that the light never needed changing in the first place, and have praised political leaders like Boris Johnson and Joe Biden for bringing back the old bulb. Clearly, much additional research remains to be done.