TALKS 2020

9 March 2020 – The Half Shilling Curate

Sarah Reay gave the society a fascinating and personal story of her grandfather affectionately known as the Half-Shilling Curate by his family.  The Reverend Herbert Butler Cowl was an Army Chaplain during WW1 from Xmas Eve 1914 to 1919.  At the outbreak of war he volunteered to become a Weslyan Army Chaplain.  Whilst serving on the frontline he suffered a severe injury, and was sent back to England on the hospital ship Anglia.  Unfortunately, the ship hit a German mine in the Channel. As a result of Herbert’s actions on that day, he became the first of the Weslyan Army Chaplains to receive the Military Cross for exemplary gallantry.  He recovered but was never fit enough to carry out overseas duties.  Twenty years later, Herbert and his family was living in Acton.  He then found himself in the centre of another conflict – WW2.  He stayed in London during the blitz and continued his vital role in helping the local community in and around Acton.  Sarah has written a book ‘The Half-Shilling Curate’ – a personal account of war and faith 1914-1918.

10 February 2020

Sophia Stovall from Tyne and Wear Museums, gave a very interesting and informative talk on the origins and history of Tynemouth Priory.  Tynemouth priory and castle is located on a rocky headland (known as Pen Bal Crag).  Viewed from Tynemouth pier it shows the dramatic nature of its headland setting.  The priory was founded early in the 7th century, perhaps by Edwin, King of Northumbria, who was an Anglo Saxon and the first Christian King of Northumbria.  The moated castle-towers and gatehouses and keep are combined with the ruins of the Benedictine priory where the early Kings of Northumbria were buried.  The Coat of Arms of the town still includes the three crowns commemorating the tradition that the priory had been the burial place for the three kings.  The three kings were St Oswin,, Osred II and Malcolm III, King of Scotland, who was killed at the Battle of Alnwick in 1093.  This is the same Malcolm, who appears in Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

Throughout the 9th century the Danes attacked and plundered the priory.  Even though the monks who were located there strengthened 
the fortifications, it didn’t stop the eventual destruction.

Under Norman rule Earl Tostig made Tynemouth his fortress during the reign of Edward the Confessor.  By that time, the priory had been abandoned and the burial place of St Oswin had been forgotten.

During the Reformation, the priory and its lands were taken over by King Henry VIII.  The castle remained in royal hands and new fortifications were built.  The parish church remained in use until 1668, and its ruins can still be seen.

At the end of the 19th century the castle was used as a barracks with several new buildings being added.  Many of these were removed after a fire in 1936.  The castle played an important role during World War II when it was used as a coastal defence installation covering the mouth of the river Tyne.  These include a guardroom and the main armoury where visitors can see how munitions were safely handled and protected.

Tynemouth Castle and Priory is now managed by English Heritage, and there is an admission charge.


TALKS 2019

9 December 2019

Anthony Atkinson gave us a very enjoyable talk as part of our Christmas celebrations on the Top 100 Geordies as voted by Evening Chronicle readers a few years ago.  They are from all walks of life including sport, entertainment, music, science and the arts.

The top ten were: (10) Lord Armstrong (1810-1900) born in Newcastle.  He was an engineer, industrialist, eminent scientist, inventor and philanthropist.  Lord Armstrong built Cragside in Northumberland, the first house in the world to be lit by hydroelectricity.
(9) George Stephenson (1781-1848) British civil and mechanical engineer.  Renowned as the Father of Railways.  He also helped to develop the miners safety lamp. (8) Richard Grainger (1797-1861). Builder in Newcastle.  He worked with the architects John Dobson and Thomas Oliver and Town Clerk, John clayton, to redevelop
 the centre of Newcastle in the 19th century.  Grainger Street and Grainger Market are named after him. (7) Grace Darling (1815-1842) a Lighthouse Keeper’s daughter in Northumberland.  She is famous for her part in the rescue of survivors from the shipwrecked Forfarshire in 1838 that ran aground on the Farne Islands off the coast of Northumberland. (6) Adam Wakenshaw (June 1914-June 1942) born in Newcastle.  He was awarded the Victoria Cross for gallantry.  He was killed in combat on 27 June 1942 in Mersa Matruh in Egypt. (5) Alan Shearer, CBE (born in 1970, a retired footballer.  He played as a striker in the Premier League for Southampton, Blackburn Rovers and Newcastle United and the English National Team.  He is Newcastle United and the Premier League record goal scorer. (4) Colin Veitch (1881-1938).  He was a football player in the early 20th century for Newcastle United and Manager of Bradford City.  He was an FA cup winner and FA cup finalist several times throughout his career, and also represented England.  He co-founded the People’s Theatre in Newcastle in 1911. (3) Dame Catherine Cookson, DBE (1906-1998) was a famous author.  She is in the top 20 of the most widely read British novels.  Her books were inspired by her deprived youth in South Tyneside.  She wrote nearly 100 books. (2) Sir Bobby Robson, CBE (1933-2009) footballer and football manager.  His career included playing for and later managing the England National Team.  From 1999 to 2004 he was Manager of Newcastle United. (1) Jackie Milburn (1924-1988) known affectionately as Wor Jackie.  He was mainly associated with Newcastle United and England.  His cousin was the mother of Bobby and Jack Charlton.  He played for England from 1948-55 and Newcastle United from 1943-1957, and remains United’s second highest goal scorer.  A statue of him is located on Strawberry Place outside St James’ Park.


11 November 2019

A Northumbria Quiz by Geoff Hughes.  Geoff gave us a thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining evening with stunning photographs of Northumberland’s famous landmarks and some not so well-known, and seemed very impressed with the Members knowledge.  These are just some places referred to.

Holy Island dates back to the 6th century AD.  It was an important centre of Celtic Christianity.  Since 635 when King Oswald gave the Holy Island of Lindisfarne to Irish monk, St Aidan, to establish his monastery, the island has been a place of pilgrimage.

Lindisfarne Priory was founded around 634 by Irish monk, St Aidan.  Northumbria’s patron saint, Saint Cuthbert, was a monk and later became abbot of the monastery.  In the early 8th century, the famous illuminated manuscript known as the Lindisfarne Gospels is said to have been made there.

Lindisfarne Castle was built in 1550.  Henry VIII ordered the Earl of Rutland to fortify the site against a possible invasion by the Scots.

Bamburgh Castle.  There is evidence of Roman occupation there.  During the 17th century it fell into disrepair.  It was finally purchased by the Victorian industrialist, Lord William Armstrong, in the 19th century.

Black Bull pub in Etal.  It’s the only thatched pub in Northumberland.

Chillingham Castle is a medieval castle in the village of Chillingham.  It’s renowned for its rare breed of white cattle.  But it’s also famous for its ghosts and is marketed as the most haunted castle in Britain.  The most famous ghost is the “blue boy”, who is said to have haunted the Pink Room.  It’s claimed that the hauntings stopped after renovation work revealed a man and a young boy inside a 10-foot thick wall.

Cragside (a 19th century mock Tudor mansion) and home of Lord Armstrong.  It’s famous as the first house in the world to have lights powered by hydroelectricity.  It’s also said to have had the largest rock garden in Europe.

Cheviot is the highest summit in the Cheviot Hills.

Dunstanburgh is a 14th century fortification on the Northumberland coast, and used to be the largest castle in Northumberland.

Bothal Castle is also a stately home in the village of Bothal on the river Wansbeck in between Ashington and Morpeth.  It was fortified before the Norman Conquest, and has been remodeled several times.  It’s a grade 1 listed building, and classified as an ancient monument.

Elsdon, a village in Northumberland. It’s famous for its grisly relic known as ‘Winter’s Gibbet’.  The original gibbet was erected in 1792 to suspend the body of William Winter, who had murdered an old woman, Margaret Crozier.


9 September 2019

Mike Greatbatch gave us another excellent talk illustrated with old photographs and ordnance survey maps on the Mills, Mines, Foundries and Factories of the Ouseburn Valley from around 1750 to 1850.  He described the early industries such as glass making and potteries.  A small glass industry existed in Newcastle from the mid-15th century.  In 1615 restrictions were put on the use of wood for manufacturing glass.  However, it was found that glass could be manufactured using the local coal, and so a flourishing glass making industry grew up on Tyneside.

By 1619, three glass houses were established at the mouth of the Ouseburn.  French Huguenots such as the Henzells and Tyzacks, who were escaping religious persecution in France, set up glass making factories in the area.  The pottery industry started up in 1782, and culminated in the establishment of Maling Pottery on Ford Street in the early part of the 19th century.  Other industries in the Lower Ousburn started to develop, which included shipping, masonry, lead works, iron foundries, soap manufacturers, tanners, rope makers and flint mills.  Inevitably, the population expanded as the new industries created many employment opportunities.  By the mid-19th century, main roads were well established and new housing was built in the form of brick terraces and tenements plus schools and public houses for the working population.

Ballast Hills, an important landmark, is named after the mounds of ballast that was deposited in that area.  The ballast, which was made up of rocks, stones, clay, etc., was used to balance the empty ships that came into the Tyne to take on cargoes.  The ballast was unloaded and replaced by the cargoes, which had the effect of stabilising the ships once again.  The site became an important burial ground from the 17th century until its closure in 1853.  Apart from plague victims, many non-conformists were buried there including the Henzells.

8 July 2019

Professor John Derry gave us another fascinating historical talk, this time about James II – the King who lost three Kingdoms. James II, born on 14 October 1633 at St James’s Palace, London, was the second son of King Charles I and his wife, Henrietta Maria of France.  He is said to have had a happy early life. During the Civil War, James accompanied his father at the Battle of Edgehill in 1642, and narrowly escaped capture by the parliamentary army.  He eventually fled to France, like his brother, Charles, and served in the French army.  It was during his time in France that he was drawn to the Roman Catholic faith, and became a convert.  Despite his conversion, he continued to mix with Anglicans.

In 1660, Charles II was restored to the English throne.  On his return to England, James married Anne Hyde (a commoner) who was the daughter of Charles’s Chief Minister, Edward Hyde.  Many of their children died in infancy.  Only two daughters survived, Mary and Anne, who later became Queens of England in their own right.  Mary married William of Orange and Anne married Prince George of Denmark.  Both were committed to the Church of England.  Like Charles, James had many mistresses including Arabella Churchill.  In 1671 Anne Hyde died.  In 1673, at the age of 40, James married a 15 year old Italian princess, Mary of Modena. James succeeded his brother, and was King of England, Scotland and Ireland from 1685 to 1688. He attempted to move the country to Catholicism that led to the ‘Glorious Revolution’ and his removal from the throne.  Threatened by a Catholic Dynasty, a group of Protestants invited the Prince of Orange to come to England with an army.  Instead of resisting, James fled to France under the protection of Louis XIV.  Mary, his daughter, was declared Queen to reign jointly with her husband, William. James worked to build an army in Ireland, but was defeated at the Battle of the Boyne.  James was the last Stuart and Catholic monarch.


10 June 2019

Freda Thompson gave a thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining talk about what Picture Houses used to be like in Newcastle upon Tyne and the surrounding area.  Today we have multiplex cinemas with multiple screens in one building where you can get all kinds of food including hot dogs, burghers, souvenirs and sweets.  How times have changed!  Back in the 40s and 50s, the screen was always covered with thick velvet curtains, and there was a distinct smell of Woodbines and Capstan Full Strength cigarettes.  Many people smoked in those days.  An usherette would lead you to your seat, and out came the boiled sweets and Tudor crisps.  Trailers for the coming weeks, advertisements and cartoons were shown before the main pictures, and there were normally two.  The first usually an adventure film with Cowboys and Indians.  The cinemas in Newcastle had the first showing of a film, and then it would move to the suburbs.  Every community had a cinema.  The public used to flock to see films starring Doris Day, Lauren Bacall, James Cagney, Carey Grant and Howard Keel, who starred in the popular musical ‘Seven Brides for Seven Brothers’.  Children’s morning matinees were always popular, and sometimes you just needed to turn up with a clean jam jar or two to gain entry!

During the immediate post-war years the cinema industry was threatened by the increasing popularity of television, and as people’s living standards started to improve, there wasn’t the need to go to a cinema for some escape.  As the numbers started to decline, many cinemas converted to Bingo halls.

Freda took us on a journey of past cinemas that included the following.  The Paramount Theatre opened in 1931 on Pilgrim Street, Newcastle.  It was art deco in style and quite luxurious.  In 1939 all of the Paramount Theatres were bought by Odeon.  In 1954 the theatre was altered for cinemascope presentations beginning with “The Robe”.  During the 70s, some rock bands played there.  It was demolished in 2017.  In the East End of Newcastle there was Blacks Regal on Shields Road, Byker, re-named Odeon in 1955 and illuminated at night.  It closed in 1972.  In the West End there was The Embassy that was part of the Whickham View Housing Estate, and now sheltered housing, and The Plaza on the Milvain Estate.  Wallsend had the Ritz (art deco) which opened in 1939.  It closed in 1962, became a Bingo hall until 2011, and since 2015 a Wetherspoon’s.  In Gosforth there were two cinemas, the Royalty on the High Street and the Globe on Salters Road.  The Royalty closed its doors in 1981, and the Globe became a bingo hall.  It is now Poon’s Chinese restaurant.


13 May 2019

J Michael Taylor, MBE, gave the society an excellent presentation on the Stephensons – George and his son, Robert.  Both of them worked together on many engineering projects.

George Stephenson, renowned as the Father of Railways, was a civil engineer and mechanical engineer.  He was born in Wylam, Northumberland, in 1781.  His chosen rail gauge, sometimes referred to as the ‘Stephenson gauge’ 4 feet 8 1/2 inches (1,435 mm) standard gauge is used by most of the railways across the world.  Railway transport was one of the most important inventions of the Victorian age, and was pioneered by George.  He also invented a safety lamp, which was used in many mines in the area.

George married Francis Henderson and moved to Willington Quay in Wallsend.  Their first child, Robert, was born in 1803.  Robert was baptised in the Old School House on Wallsend Green, which was being used as a temporary church as Holy Cross was closed.  In 1804 they moved to Dial Cottage, Westmoor, near Killingworth, where George worked as a brakeman at Killingworth Pit.  Sadly, George’s wife died a couple of years later.  George was determined that Robert was going to have a good education.  In Robert’s early years he went to a village school in Longbenton, and then attended the middle-class John Bruce Academy in Haymarket, Percy Street, Newcastle.  He travelled from Killingworth to Newcastle on a donkey!  From there he spent some time at Edinburgh University before working as an engineer in Columbia for a few years.  On his return, he was to build on the tremendous achievements of his father, and was hailed as the greatest engineer of the 19th century.

Robert’s projects included the Rocket (which was built at the Forth Street works of his company in Newcastle; London and Birmingham Railway; High Level Bridge (Newcastle) and Royal Border Bridge (grade 1 listed railway viaduct spanning the River Tweed between Berwick upon Tweed and Tweedmouth in Northumberland) on the east coast line; Britannia Bridge (Wales) (wrought iron tubular bridge); and the Victoria Bridge in Montreal, a similar design to the Britannia, and for many years the longest bridge in the world.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel was a contemporary of Robert’s and a friend.  His railway designs included the Great Western Railway, the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol, and the steamships SS Great Britain and SS Great Easton.

George died in 1848 and Robert died in 1859.  Robert was deeply mourned across the country, and was buried in Westminister Abbey next to another great civil engineer of the time, Thomas Telford.

8 April 2019

Hilary East and Hazel Graham took us on a fascinating historical journey of the Cullercoats Fishwives – ‘Will ye buy ma Fresh Fish’.  In 1530 Cullercoats was owned by Tynemouth Priory, but in 1588 was purchased by the Delaval brothers.  It was later owned by Thomas Dove.  The name of Cullercoats is said to originate from ‘Culfre-cots’ meaning dovecotes or dove house, from whom the name might have derived.  By the 1670s Cullercoats was developing as a small port for the shipment of coal from the nearby Whitley collieries and salt from the local pans.  A quay was built between 1677-1682 and a primitive waggonway laid down to transport coals.  Unfortunately, in 1710 a storm demolished the end of the quay, and was too expensive to repair.  This, together with other factors during the period, contributed to the loss of these industries, which led to the population having to find another resource.  By the end of the 18th century, Cullercoats was reported to have the best fish in the North East, and ideally placed to become a thriving fishing industry, which it became in the late 19th century.

Hilary described the life of a fish wife.  The wives and daughters of the Cullercoats fishermen searched for the bait, digging sandworms, gathering mussels or seeking limpits and dog crabs.  They also helped with the baiting of hooks, mended nets, and carried the fish to market in their baskets or creels to sell.  They frequently carried a load on their shoulders between three and four stones.  The Cullercoats fishlass became a popular subject for many of the Cullercoats artist colony.  Winslow Homer, the American water colour artist, lived in the town from the spring of 1881 to November 1882.  He painted many portraits of the town’s folk, but in particular of the women cleaning fish, mending nets and standing at the water’s edge anxiously awaiting the return of their men folk.

The fishing cottages were tiny, some of them had just one room where all the family lived.  As well as being hard working, the fish wives were very houseproud.  On summer days they sometimes sold dressed crabs and lobsters from small tables outside their front doors, and winkles or ‘williks’ as the locals used to call them.  They would sit and chat, smoke their clay pipes and knit Ganseys (jerseys) for their husbands.  Clogg dancing was a popular pastime.  They had a unique style of dress – a jacket or bedgown that covered the top half of the body and a wool shawl.  It was worn crossed over at the front, wrapped around the body, tucking in at the back of the waist.  The skirt was above the ankle or mid-calf.

We were also entertained by some live music and local songs relating to Cullercoats, which made it a thoroughly enjoyable and interesting evening.


11 March 2019

Malcolm Byrne gave an excellent well-researched and interesting talk to the society on World War 2 – war in the Pacific.  He began his talk by describing what life was like in Japan in the early part of the 19th century.  They were quite isolated from the west in that they possessed very few natural and mining resources of their own such as coal and iron, and relied on imports from abroad.  But they did export ceramics to the west.  However, it was during the mid-19th century that Japan opened up to western commerce and influence, and economic development rapidly expanded from 1868 through to World War 2.  Before WW2, Japan built an extensive empire that included Taiwan, Korea, Manchuria and some parts of northern China.  Japan’s large military force was regarded as a success and essential to the empire.

At the beginning of the Pacific war in December 1941, the Imperial Japanese Navy was the third most powerful in the world.  Some of their ships had been built in the UK.  On 7 December 1941, the Japanese launched a surprise air strike on Pearl Harbour in Honolulu, which crippled the US pacific fleet, and followed this up with heavy defeats on allied forces in South East Asia.  These attacks led to the US, UK, China, Australia and several other states to formally declare war on Japan.  The battles of the Coral Sea and Midway were highlighted as decisive battles in the war, which were a contributing factor to Japan’s surrender in 1945.


11 February 2019

Rob McGinley took us on a visual tour and overview of the coal mines and waggonways of Wallsend and Willington.  His presentation included some excellent maps from as early as 1787 that linked one Willington colliery and Biggs Main, contemporary engravings and etchings including one of the Wallsend B-pit in 1835, illustrations and aerial photographs.

It is probable that the North East is the oldest intensive coal mining district in the country, and evidence suggests that the Romans burned and excavated coal in the region.  Although it would not have been in vast quantities, and they would have used coal on the surface.

The Willington Waggonway was the collective name for a series of waggonways, which was used by horse-drawn waggons to transport coal from collieries at Willington Quay and Bigges Main on the edge of Wallsend to the Tyne for shipment.  During the 18th century, the North East was at the centre of mining technology and world renowned for the skills of its engineers and miners.

Wallsend Colliery consisted of 7 pits and was active between 1778 and 1935.  There was a major disaster at the colliery in 1835, which led to the deaths of 102 men and boys.  The Rising Sun Colliery near Wallsend began in 1908 and closed in 1969.  It now forms part of the Rising Sun Country Park. Some of the pits covered in the talk were the A and B pits, Bigge-pit, William-pit and George-pit.  The Wallsend Steam Elephant locomotive was used for a number of years to transport coal on the Wallsend Waggonway from the B-pit to Wallsend Staiths.  A replica of the Wallsend Steam Elephant operates at Beamish, and pulls carriages of visitors along a short waggonway.  The Elephant was built around 1815, and it is thought to have been designed by John Buddle and William Chapman rather than George Stephenson as originally thought.

Rob referred to the excavation that took place in 2013 and the discovery of the remains of a section of a wooden waggonway, which is the most complete and best preserved section of an early wooden railway that was built to what became known as the standard gauge (4’8 1/2″ or 1435m).  Dominique Bell, Project Co-ordinator for the Willington Waggonway Research Programme at Tyne and Wear Museums, gave a talk to the society in February 2018 on this.


14 January 2019

There was no talk as this was the society’s AGM, and members and visitors were able to view the archives.


TALKS – 2018

10 December 2018

This was the last meeting of the year.  As part of the Christmas festivities, Robert Moon entertained us with a talk on ‘A Victorian Sunday’ with music.  He described the different aspects of a Sunday in Victorian times.  Church played a big part.  There was church in the morning, Sunday school for the children, and evening worship.  Robert played some of the popular Victorian hymns including The Holy City; Christians Awake; Onward Christian Soldiers; What a Friend we have in Jesus (a favourite in a Victorian sitting room) as recorded on mechanical pipe barrel organs, harmonium, musical boxes and organettes.

12 November 2018

A very interesting and factual talk was given by Anthony Atkinson on Vice-Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood (26 September 1748 – 7 March 1810).  Collingwood was an admiral of the Royal Navy, and notable for his liaison with Lord Horatio Nelson.  He is most remembered for the battle of Trafalgar in 1805 where he was Nelson’s second in command.  Anthony  described Collingwood’s early life and association with the North East. He was born in Newcastle upon Tyne and educated at the Royal Grammar School.  At the age of 12, he went to sea as a volunteer on board the frigate HMS Shannon under the command of his cousin, Richard Braithwaite.  In 1777, Collingwood first met Horatio Nelson when both served on the frigate HMS Lowestoffe,

In 1786 Collingwood returned to England and in 1791 he married Sarah Blackett, daughter of the Newcastle merchant and politician, John Erasmus Blackett.  In 1805, Collingwood was promoted to Vice-Admiral of the Red and given a peerage – Baron Collingwood of Caldburne and Hethpool in Northumberland.  He also received a pension of £2000 per annum.  When ashore, he lived with his family at Collingwood House in Morpeth, Northumberland and Chirton Hall in Chirton, North Shields.  Whilst in Morpeth, he loved going out with his dog, Bounce, over the Northumbrian hills.

Collingwood was totally against impressment and flogging, and was called ‘father’ by common sailors because of his kindness and consideration to them.  He enjoyed a close friendship with Nelson throughout their early lives until Nelson’s death at the Battle of Trafalgar.  In one of the most decisive battles in history, a British fleet under Lord Nelson and second in command, Lord Collingwood, defeated a combined French and Spanish fleet.  During the battle Nelson was shot and died before the battle ended.

There are many memorials dedicated to Collingwood in his honour across the world.  In Georgian Bay, Ontario, Canada; the suburb of Collingwood in Melbourne, Australia; and the town of Collingwood in New Zealand.  Closer to home there is a large monument of him overlooking the Tyne and Tynemouth.  His grade 1 listed statue was sculpted by John Graham Lough and the pedestal designed by John Dobson.  The four cannon on the walls came from his flagship, Royal Sovereign.  One of the four houses at the Royal Grammar School in Newcastle is named after him.  There are also plaques at Milburn House in Newcastle and at his home in Morpeth, Northumberland.

His health deteriorated, and in 1809 he was due to return home.  Tragically, he died on board the Ville de Paris as it sailed for England.  He was laid to rest beside Nelson in the crypt at St Paul’s London.


8 October 2018

The talk by Ken Hutchinson, the society’s chairman, was about his latest book, the A-Z of Newcastle.

In his introduction, he referred to some of the famous people who had links with Newcastle such as railway pioneers George and Robert Stephenson; the invention of the light bulb, Joseph Swan; King of Coal, John Buddle; and the inventor of the turbine, Charles Parsons.  In more recent times, sporting legends such as Alan Shearer and Paul Gascoigne, and musicians and entertainers like Sting, Cheryl and Ant and Dec and many others, who are linked with the Tyne, get a mention in the book. Ken highlighted one or two listings from A right through to Z.  These included Dame Allan, who founded a school in 1705 for forty poor boys.  The school is now sited in Fenham. John Buddle (known as King of Coal) who was a modern mining engineer, and was always looking to improve safety in the collieries; China Town and Chinese Arch, developed around the 70s; Marks and Spencer’s Penny Bazaar, opened in 1895 and still going strong in the Grainger Market; the old Oxford Galleries, a famous dance hall built in 1925 and featured in the film “Get Carter”; Sir Charles Parson’s (inventor of the steam turbine) – there is a piece of artwork known as the Parson’s polygon sited near the Monument metro station on Blackett Street; finishing off with Z for Zoo – Newcastle in the 1960s had a winter zoo based in the old Town Hall in the Bigg Market. 

It was a thoroughly enjoyable and interesting talk that was very well received by members and visitors, and highlighted some of the amazing architecture, landmarks  and people associated with Newcastle and the Tyne both past and present.


10 September 2018

An excellent entertaining talk and presentation of days gone by was given by John Moreels, MBE, titled “Nostalgic Views of the North”. John introduced the talk by providing some historical background of two well-known printing companies in the North East – Ward’s and Philipson’s.  Robert Ward started the business in 1845 in St Nicholas Churchyard, Newcastle, which happened to be next door to Robert Elliott Bewick the son of the famous wood engraver, Thomas Bewick.  In 1885 Thomas Bewick’s memoirs were produced by Robert Ward and Sons.  Phillipson’s established their business in the early 1900s.  In 1996 Ward and Philipson amalgamated, and it was during this period that a large photographic collection in various formats including lantern slides, glass plates in varying sizes, negatives and photographic prints was discovered in a loft in the centre of Newcastle.  Major changes in the printing industry were starting to take place due to the advances in technology, and the company ceased trading in 2007.  As part of the presentation, John gave a brilliant slide show from the collection that included photographs of historic buildings and places, different types of transport, maritime and coal mining history.  More fascinating photographs and facts can be found on  The project continues with volunteers continuing to scan and restore parts of this vast collection.


13 August 2018

There was no talk in August, as it had been decided to have an experimental meeting/discussion with Members on their thoughts and memories of what life was like in Wallsend during the heyday of the shipyards, which dominated work in Wallsend.  The yards such as Swan Hunter, North East Marine, Wallsend Slipway and Clelands were situated in Wallsend with Palmers and Redheads over the river and they employed generations of families, and brought fame to the region.  Ships such as the Mauretania, Esso Northumbria and Ark Royal were all built in Wallsend  and even the ship that rescued the survivors of Titanic, the Carpathia originated from Swan Hunters yard.  Large crowds assembled to see the launch of all these magnificent ships many of which were launched by royalty over the years.   Some of the Members had skilled jobs in the yards such as Shipwrights, Riveters and Fitters and Turners, and described what life was like working and living in Wallsend when the yards were thriving.  The discussions led to many personal accounts of both the work and from a family perspective as almost everyone had direct links to someone who worked in the shipyards. It turned out to be a successful evening, and it is hoped to have more in the future.


11 July 2018

Tonight we had the pleasure of having Freda Thompson give us a talk on Laurel and Hardy.  Freda talked about Stan Laurel’s early life.  Arthur Stanley Jefferson was born in 1890 in Argyll Street, Ulverston, Lancashire.  His education included attendance at King James 1 Grammar School in Bishop Auckland, County Durham; Kings School in Tynemouth and Rutherglen, Scotland.  His parents were involved in the theatre.  In the early 1890s Arthur, his father, began to renovate old theatres starting with the Eden Theatre in Bishop Auckland and more followed.  In 1897 the Jeffersons moved to Dockwray Square, North Shields, and Arthur managed the Theatre Royal in Wallsend.  It was while living in Scotland that Stan joined Fred Karno’s, and did a bit of music hall.  He travelled with Karno’s to the United States and stayed there.

Oliver Hardy was born in 1892 in Harlem, Georgia, USA.  In 1910 he worked in a movie theatre, and it was there that he became obsessed with the new motion picture industry.  In 1927 Laurel and Hardy shared screen time together, and went on to star in many short movies, feature films and cameo roles.  Among their finest work during the 1930s were the films – The Music Box; Way out West (featuring the famous “In the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia…on the Trail of the Lonesome Pine”), and Sons of the Desert.

There are statues of Stan in Dockwray Square, North Shields and Bishop Auckland Town Centre, and a statue of both Stan and Ollie in County Square, Ulverston.  Laurel and Hardy left behind a great legacy and became one of the greatest duos of all time.


11 June 2018

Professor John Derry gave another excellent and factual talk to the society on the American Civil War – “The Blue and the Gray”.

The two sides are often referred to by the colour of their official uniforms, blue for the Union and gray for the Confederates.  The Civil War was fought between the USA and the Confederate States of America, a collection of eleven southern states that left the Union in 1860/61 and formed their own country in order to protect the institution of slavery.  Abraham Lincoln played a big part as he wanted to keep the United States as one country, and refused to recognise the southern states as one nation.  At the beginning of the Civil War, 22m people lived in the north and 9m in the south (4m of whom were slaves).  The bloodiest battle of the civil war was the battle of Gettysburg in 1863.  Confederate General, Robert E Lee, launched an attack on the north.  He was defeated by the Union in a three day battle.  After the battle, President Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg addess, which became one of the most famous speeches in American history.  The war ended in 1865 with the surrender of the Confederate armies to the United States, and slavery was abolished nation-wide.


14 May 2018

Derek Goodacre took us on a magical journey with his Magic Lantern show. The magic lantern was an early type of image projector before the arrival of TV and computer games.  It was one of the greatest devices instigating social change in Victorian Britain.  Derek’s slides included a Victorian melodrama, illustrations of some well-known authors, and sketches of Victorian humour.  Derek has been collecting and studying magic lantern material for many years, and sharing his knowledge and collection with people.

9 April 2018

Elizabeth Finch gave an excellent overview on the National Trust in Northumberland, which also included Gibside Chapel in Tyne and Wear and Ormsby Hall in North Yorkshire  She explained as well as the big historic country houses, the Trust also looks after coastline, beaches, forests, woods, archaeological remains and nature reserves.  The talk covered Cragside, Wallington Hall, Seaton Delaval Hall, Lindisfarne (Holy Island), Farne Islands, Housesteads on the Roman Wall and Allenbanks.  As well as providing a brief history on the places she highlighted, Elizabeth gave an update on Lindisfarne castle’s conservation project;  Wallington Hall’s walled garden is being redeveloped, and facilities and cafe at Seaton Delaval Hall are to be improved, and some ‘puffins’ have already arrived on the Farnes!

12 March 2018

Malcolm Byrne gave a well-researched and informed talk to the society on WW2 European Theatre, which was well received by Members and visitors. He described the causes of the war going back to the assassination of Franz Ferdinand of Austria in Sarajevo in 1914, which led to the First World War, through to the Treaty of Versailles and its reparations that affected Germany’s economic stability.  He also covered pre-war events that led to the rise of Fascism in Europe, and the rise of Hitler and the National Socialist party in Germany.  The main events throughout the war were highlighted leading up to the allied victory in 1945.

12 February 2018

Dominique Bell, Project Co-ordinator for the Willington Waggonway Research Programme at Tyne and Wear Museums, gave a most interesting and informative talk to Wallsend Local History Society on Willington Waggonway.  The remains of a section of a wooden waggonway were discovered underneath the former Neptune Shipyard not far from Segedunum Roman Fort in the summer of 2013.  The site was investigated by archeologists due to its close proximity to Segedunum.  The Willington Waggonway was the collective name for a series of waggonways which were used by horse-drawn waggons to transport coal from collieries at Willington Quay and Bigges Main on the edge of Wallsend to the river Tyne for shipment.  This discovery was of international significance as it was the most complete and best preserved section of an early wooden railway, which was built to what became known as the standard gauge (4′-8 1/2″ or 1435m) linking the waggonway to Stephenson and the development of modern railways.