Cleadon born Chapman has enjoyed a varied career – educated to Master’s degree level leading to a housing career in London. He’s devoted time to being chair of a number of charities – manuscript restoration in Egypt, Archaeology & Anthropology in Cambridge and even found time for a local youth football team – The Kensington Dragons.
But Chapman, who lives in London, still retains close links to the North East…
The South Shields Local History Group invited me to give a lecture on the lives and public service of my grandparents, Sir Robert and Lady Chapman. It was their lives, and their exceptional contribution to South Shields and Tyneside, which inspired me to write ‘A Tyneside Heritage’.
It was quite an undertaking and took me six years. My research into family and Tyneside history was fresh in my mind and if I didn’t write the book now it would never get written.
As a teenager I became fascinated by my grandparents’ collection of scrapbooks at Undercliff, their house in Cleadon where I was born. These scrapbooks recorded family events over three decades from the 1930s, and some newspaper articles covered events in early nineteenth century Tyneside.
The 424 page book weaves the Chapman family story with local history. He features the boom on Tyneside of the industrial revolution and the bust that followed culminating with the Jarrow March of 1936 and Ellen Wilkinson MP taking the Jarrow platform in one of her speeches “The unemployment rate was over 80 per cent, 23,000 are on relief out of a total population of 35,000”.
With his family heavily involved in local politics I mentioned to Peter about my Great Uncle Richard Ewart who, after working at Whitburn Colliery, was Sunderland MP in 1945.
He and my grandfather would have known each other on the South Shields Borough Council in the late 1930s.
My Grandfather was Col Sir Robert Chapman (1880-1963), at the time of the First World War he was Major Robert Chapman. He became a South Shields Borough Councillor, MP for Houghton-le-Spring 1931-1935 and Chairman of the Team Valley Trading Estate. He had numerous business and charity directorships and chairmanships.
Richard Ewart’s life, including at Parliament, was extremely interesting to read about, and there would have been numerous Parliamentary bills on which he would have brought his ‘real life’ experience to bear – no full time professional politicians in those days.
He would have been in good company in the House of Commons, with many former miners representing County Durham constituencies, including Jack (later Lord) Lawson at Chester-le-Street and Bill (later Lord) Blyton at Houghton-le-Spring. Both feature in my book, which has a good index.
Chapman features the invaluable work of South Shields historian & photographer Miss Amy Flagg (1896-1965), who I made a documentary about in 2016.
Yes I watched it, a really good film, and Amy Flagg’s history writings and World War Two photos feature in my book I am very pleased to say. When researching the book I also came across some unusual stories including the one about new potatoes during the Battle of the Somme, in World War One.
Food rations were basic during the Battle of the Somme in 1916. Major Robert Chapman told his junior artillery officers that a field of potatoes had been discovered nearby. Under the pretext of searching for a ‘forward observation post’ they dug them up and enjoyed their first new potatoes since leaving England eighteen months earlier.
Are you working on any other projects?
I have one or two ideas for future projects. Meanwhile I am writing articles and am busy preparing for upcoming lectures and events.
I have already had what my wife Joan and I called a ‘book warming’ party for ‘A Tyneside Heritage’ in London. However, the focus of book events will be in the North East with a launch in the afternoon of October 20 at a venue to be confirmed.
A talk has been arranged in Sunderland at 2.30pm on Monday 18 October during Sunderland Libraries Literature Festival and a talk at the Lit & Phil in Newcastle at 6.00pm on Thursday 21 October.
The cover price for the book, published by History Press, is £25. Peter Chapman is offering it to followers and their friends in the UK for £15 including package and postage (payable on delivery).
If you live overseas contact Peter for a p&p quote.
email: firstname.lastname@example.org or
write to: 53 Highlever Road, London W10 6PR.
Provide your full name and postal address. Peter will send the invoice with the book.
Interview by Gary Alikivi August 2021