BLUE PLAQUE FOR EILEEN O’SHAUGHNESSY (1905-45)

The Word is a recent addition to the landscape of South Shields, a new cultural centre and library that was an appropriate venue for the start of a weekend of events to celebrate the life of South Shields born Eileen O’Shaughnessy.

Education was a big part of Eileen’s life her mother Marie had a teaching background and Eileen attended Sunderland Church High school where she was awarded a bursary to St Hugh’s College, Oxford.

It was 2012 when I first came across Eileen and March 2014 when the resultant documentary Wildflower was first shown in South Shields with Richard Blair and Quentin Kopp making the journey up the M1 to watch the film about Richard’s mother, and wife of author George Orwell (real name Eric Arthur Blair).

In 2018 a flurry of activity surrounded the story of Eileen – plans were made to publish the book by Canadian author Sylvia Topp and a nomination for a blue plaque in the town was proposed.

With the Orwell Society (OS) driving the project forward, South Tyneside Council agreed to the proposal and to get the ball rolling I added the local link.

Dave Harland is owner of 35 Beach Road, Eileen’s childhood home. I first met Dave in 2012 when we arranged to film in his house, he knew about the O’Shaughnessy family being previous owners making him a valuable addition to the documentary.

Newspaper cutting from The Shields Gazette, August 2002.

20 years ago local journalist Janis Blower told Dave about the previous owners and the article featured in a Shields Gazette double page spread (7 August 2002). “It’s a lovely old house and there are lots of original features we have tried to keep. I believe the house dates back to the end of the 19th century” said Dave.

I popped in to see him and suggest the idea of a plaque, of course he was thrilled about the news and had no objections “a plaque is a marvellous idea, absolutely wonderful”.

With this news the OS steamed ahead with the nomination and planned an event in March 2020, which would have been the 75th anniversary of Eileen’s death. But when covid brought lockdown in the UK, the pandemic scuppered plans.

‘The Round’ room ready for the celebratory event of Orwell Society talks & film in The Word (pic Alikivi collection).

We finally got to meet up at The Word on Saturday 26 March 2022 and planted a flag for Eileen. Led by the OS Chair Quentin Kopp, Patron Richard Blair (Orwell’s son) with around 30 members of the society from all parts of the UK including Richard Young from Epsom, Stephen and Margaret Ingle from Dunblane, Richard Keeble and Mariline from Lincoln, John Lloyd and Helen Davies from ‘a small town near Hereford’ plus special guest for the day, South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck.

In the large circular top floor room a screening of the documentary Wildflower was followed by a Q&A with Quentin Kopp and author Sylvia Topp, Tom Kelly read his poem ‘You, you, you’ then Richard explained the mission of the Orwell Society and his father’s legacy.

The Orwell Society in King Street, South Shields 26/3/2022 outside building where Laurence O’Shaughnessy worked as Customs Collector (pic. Alikivi collection).

Afterwards we walked over to The Customs House and King Street where Eileen’s father Laurence worked then went to her birthplace on Lawe Road 10 minutes away. Unfortunately the house is covered in scaffolding and hollowed out with only the front façade left.

Our MP Emma Lewell-Buck has raised this in the House of Commons and we are looking to work with South Tyneside Council to resolve this issue.

Outside Westgate House, Beach Road, South Shields 27/3/2022 l-r Quentin Kopp, Mayor Pat Hay, Richard Blair, Mayoress Jean Copp, Dave Harland, Gary Wilkinson (Alikivi) Sylvia Topp. pic. courtesy Shields Gazette.

On a bright blue Sunday morning in Beach Road, Dave Harland welcomed into his front garden the OS plus Mayor Pat Hay to unveil the blue plaque.

“It was a real honour to unveil a special blue plaque in tribute to a little-known local woman who shaped and supported one of the greatest writers of the 20th century”.

“George Orwell wrote masterpieces but Eileen’s influence over him and the impact she had on his creative writing is often overlooked. There’s no doubt she was a guiding force in his life”.

Quentin Kopp added “I’m delighted that after the enforced two year delay Eileen has been given great recognition at her family home”.

Richard Blair at his mothers grave St Andrews Cemetery, Jesmond 27/3/2022. (pic Alikivi collection)

Finally an emotional journey to St Andrews Cemetery, Jesmond, and the grave of Eileen Maud Blair. Kept in immaculate condition, OS member Brian Thompson from Newcastle regularly tends to the grave planting flowers and uses hand scissors to keep the grass trim, he also arranged for a small plaque to be added near the headstone.

For his work tending to his mother’s grave, Richard thanked Brian with a gift of a hardback graphic novel of 1984, I was also pleased to receive a copy of Animal Farm “for all the hard work you’ve put in recording my mothers life in South Shields” said Richard.

Richard Blair presenting gift to Gary Wilkinson (Alikivi) at his mothers grave St Andrews Cemetery, Jesmond 27/3/2022 (pic Brian Thompson, OS member).

He finally added “My mother played a vital role in Orwell’s life, not just as a supporter, but at times, when he had bouts of illness, a carer, and also as a creative inspiration. I am thrilled that we are finally able to celebrate the life of my mother in this way.”

Link to the film ‘Wildflower’  

George Orwell’s first wife, South Shields born Eileen O’Shaughnessy (Alikivi, 11mins edit) – YouTube

To find out more information and how to join The Orwell Society check the official website: www.orwellsociety.com

Alikivi  March 2022.

PICTURES OF AMY:  BLUE PLAQUE for MISS FLAGG (1893-1965)

After researching the life and making a documentary about South Shields historian & photographer Amy Flagg, I was impressed by Amy’s work and thought she deserved recognition so I put forward a nomination for a blue plaque to be placed in the town to celebrate her achievements.

Reported to be a shy and quiet person, Amy was one of only a few female photographers working in the UK when she started photographing the housing clearances along South Shields riverside in the 1930’s.

In addition to her love of photography, she had a passion for researching the town’s history and collated notes about the towns shipbuilding heritage which were later published in 1979.

Amy volunteered at the Ingham Infirmary and South Shields Public Library, she also enjoyed her garden at home in Chapel House, Westoe Village. In 1962, she gave the grounds of Chapel House to South Shields Corporation to enable the expansion of the Marine and Technical College.

On her death in 1965, she left a substantial sum of money to the infirmary and bequeathed her extensive collection of photographs and notes to the towns Library.

Bomb damage after an enemy air raid in South Shields Market Place. pic courtesy of South Tyneside Council.

Amy’s work is most notable for the haunting images she took in the aftermath of enemy air raids during the Second World War, they are an important and unique record of the impact of war on the town.

She was a very courageous woman, at nearly 50 years old she was climbing onto bomb sites and demolished houses to get the picture – where the bombs dropped she captured the scars with her camera.

Amy printed the photographs in her dark room at home and the images are her most precious legacy. When I first came across them back in 2008 in the Local History Library I thought they looked incredible and to find that a lady from South Shields took them was an inspiration.

So it was a great pleasure to be invited to see a blue plaque officially unveiled on 8 March 2022 to celebrate the life and work of Amy Flagg. The Mayor of South Tyneside, Councillor Pat Hay, unveiled the plaque at Chapel House.

“It was a great honour to unveil the blue plaque to commemorate Amy Flagg. She was an incredible photographer and historian. She also dedicated much of her time volunteering in her community”.

“This plaque is a tribute to Amy’s life, her remarkable contribution to the rich heritage of the area and the amazing legacy she left behind. She will be remembered for many years to come.”

The Mayor was joined by the Mayoress Jean Copp, Leader of South Tyneside Council, Councillor Tracey Dixon and Deputy Leader Councillor Joan Atkinson, two actors from Beamish Museum plus residents of Westoe Village also joined the celebration.

To mark the occasion South Shields Museum and Art Gallery is showcasing some of Amy’s photographs and her research, plus the documentary (link below) will be shown. The display is available until June.

There’s also a small display of Amy’s work in South Shields new cultural centre and library, The Word.

Thanks to South Tyneside Council and South Shields Museum & Art Gallery for additional information.

Alikivi   March 2022

DONE DEAL IN AMERICA with ex TYTAN & LYIN’ RAMPANT VOCALIST STEWARTIE ADAMS

Earlier this month in Tartan Spirit Stewartie Adams looked back on his time gigging in ‘80s London and recording an album Up and Cumin’.

He also mentioned an American record company had shown interest in re-releasing the album, he’s just received news they are going ahead with plans plus offering a three year deal.

“Yeh we are very pleased that the album is still getting interest after all these years, it’s great news for us. We are delighted that the album is getting another re-release by the company from across the pond”.

“Guitarist Eddie Trainer (ex-Heavy Pettin’) and myself would like to personally thank John W Edwards and Renaissance Records for giving our album ‘Up and Cumin’ another chance”.

“The album was originally recorded over three days at the Slaughterhouse studios at Prism Records in Great Driffield, Yorkshire, it was produced by a guy called Scott Peters who was known more for producing pop music for the record company – but we think he done a great job for us”.

1987 album cover for ‘Up and Cumin’

On the launch of the record in 1987 the Lyin’ Rampant official press release was based on a review of the album.

‘Every feminist instinct I possess demands that I denounce this heavy metal artifact for the unmitigated load of sexist crap but I find that I cannot, if only because the press release is redeemed by their publicist’s sense of humour? Well to an extent!’

The story of Lyin’ Rampant unfolds in 1983, when walking distillery Stewartie Adams returned North of the border. The Lyin’ goes from strength to strength – when it can stand up that is. The material is a lite-metal amalgam of Rush, Journey and REO Speedwagon.

The rockers and the requisite slow ones bear at least some resemblance to their equivalents on many other metal LP’s. However let us not forget Stewartie Adams one of the best new HM singers heard in ages, at least his vocals make this album worth a listen.

What are the rest of the band up to ? “I’ve lost touch with most of the members over the years, but I still keep in touch with our original guitarist and co-writer Eddie Trainer, we are hoping to get together and work on some new tracks in the future”.

Have you still got a bit of fire in the belly then ?

“We both have unfinished ideas recorded and it’s just finding the time to start working on them, but in my current situation of caring for my 95 year old father who has dementia, makes it a bit difficult but I’m sure we will get there in the end”.

For further info contact the official websites:

www.stewartieadams.co.uk

www.renaissancerecordsus.com

Interview by Alikivi  March 2022

SHEARER STRIKES FOR WOR BELLA

pic. courtesy Shields Gazette

Writer and Theatre producer Ed Waugh and ex-professional footballer now TV pundit Alan Shearer, who were both brought up on the Grange Estate in Gosforth, are involved in a new stage play touring the North East.

The former Newcastle United & England striker has filmed a piece to-camera talking about Bella Reay the Blyth Spartans Ladies centre forward who scored an incredible 133 goals in 30 games while working as a munitionette to save the WW1 effort.

Alan said “The story of the munitionettes – working 60 hours a week in dangerous and physically demanding conditions – and still found time to play football for wartime charities, is both incredible and inspirational. I’m proud to be part of this excellent play.”

Bella Reay

Ed Waugh, writer of Wor Bella, said “Bella has been described as ‘the Alan Shearer of her day’, so who better to ask for his half-time analysis than the great man himself. It’s a massive coup for us”.

Ed added “Alan has been tremendous. As soon as he heard about the story he came on board and provided his time for free. We would like to thank Alan for his support, and are delighted to do post-show collections for the Alan Shearer Foundation”.

“The Foundation was set up to support the Alan Shearer Centre in Newcastle which  provides a range of specialist respite, residential and social facilities for people with complex disabilities.”

The stage play Wor Bella, starring Lauren Waine as Bella Reay, tours the North East from March 25 taking in Blyth Phoenix Theatre, Hexham Queen Hall, Newcastle Theatre Royal, Alnwick Playhouse, Whitley Bay Playhouse and ending at South Shields Westovian Theatre on Saturday April 2.

For more information visit www.worbella.co.uk for tour dates & venues.

For further details about the Alan Shearer Foundation visit:

www.alanshearerfoundation.org.uk

Alikivi  March 2022

TARTAN SPIRIT with former Tytan & Lyin’ Rampant vocalist/guitarist Stewartie Adams

Stewartie packed his guitar jumped on the overnight coach and left his hometown of Glasgow for what he hoped were better times in the capital….

In 1981 I got a call to go down to London for an audition as one of my drummer friends was the drum roadie for Dave Dufort of Tytan. The audition was at Edwin Shirley Trucking where we had a rehearsal room – out of all the guitarists I was the lucky one and got the gig with Tytan.

Heavy metal band Tytan formed in 1981 out of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM), the original line-up was former Angel Witch bassist Kev Riddles, drummer Dave Dufort, vocalist Kal Swan with guitarists Steve Gibbs and Stewartie Adams.

Unfortunately the gig didn’t go according to plan… It was a shame as I was so privileged to get the guitar job and loved the band and the music we were playing. I got on great with the other guys but had to leave as one of my parents was diagnosed with a terminal illness so decided to go back home.

It’s something I felt I had to do even after all the hard work we put in rehearsing, photo shoots, etc. Unfortunately I never recorded or got the chance to play any live shows and I’ve lost touch with the guys but I still keep in touch with bass player big Kev Riddles now and then.

After leaving Tytan I was in Scotland this was roughly about 1983 and I teamed up with ex-Heavy Pettin’ guitarist Eddie Trainer, an old bass player friend Cami Morlotti and a couple of other musicians and we eventually became Lyin’ Rampant.

We recorded our debut album Up and Cumin around 1985 with Independent record company Prism Records in Great Driffield, Yorkshire. We were stable mates with a band called The Mission along with a few others, after a long delay the album eventually got released in 1987.

We were delighted how the recording and the cover turned out considering it had only taken three days recording tracks in the studio. To promote the album that summer we filmed a video in Glasgow Mayfair nightclub for a Cable TV station where I was singer and played some guitar parts on the album.

As far as I know the photo on the front cover of the album was a London model who was hired by the record company. We had given them a rough idea of what we wanted and they done the rest – unfortunately she wasn’t a girlfriend of any of us and we never met her !

We had some great times recording in the studio at Prism Records and gigging in venues like The London Marquee which we played a few times, also recording at BBC studios for The Tommy Vance Rock show for BBC Radio One. But the final nail in the coffin for Lyin’ Rampant was in 1991 after our record company went into liquidation.

What are you doing now ? I’m not having a great deal of luck. Unfortunately I’m back in the same situation as I was with Tytan, only this time caring for my 95 year old father who has Dementia. I have no other family and don’t want to see him going into a care home, so once again my musical career has been put on hold.

Funnily enough I’ve been in touch with a record company in Phoenix USA who may be interested in re-releasing the Lyin’ Rampart album again, that would be great if it happens. I’ll just have to wait and see and just hope that I have better luck this time around. When I get the chance I still write and record new songs but it’s hard in the present situation I’m in.

Original line up of Lyin’ Rampant

Looking back it was great during the NWOBHM times in London, we used to hang out in places like The Marquee club and pubs like The Ship Inn and The Intrepid Fox in Wardour Street in Soho, it was full of rock fans and musicians it had a great atmosphere. We managed to see bands like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Motörhead, Girlschool – yeh good times.
There were some great bands to come out of the NWOBHM movement which have stood the test of time. One of them are Tytan who have reformed and are back on the road again with a new line up just like a few other bands from back then that are doing well.

For more info check the official website:  www.stewartieadams.co.uk

Interview by Alikivi  March 2022

JUST AN ILLUSION – South Shields Street Art

For the next couple of days South Shields town centre is hosting Joe and Gavin two street artists from London, Joe took five minutes out to explain their latest project.

We’re painting a large picture on the ground which is filled up with sea water, lots of sea life and a mini lifeboat, it’s a 3D illusion and the French call it trompe l’oeil meaning a trick of the eye. Hopefully when it’s finished people will look at it and see a big hole in the pavement and interact with it and get their pictures taken.

If it rains we should be alright as it’s acrylic paint which is pretty durable and we’re going to put a bit of a matt varnish on it at the end so that will keep it looking good for a while.

We’ve done a few of these since 2005, not in this area but we done two pictures in Newcastle in summer last year. This is part of the Cultural Spring which is to get people interested in art because if you wouldn’t normally go in a gallery you can see it in the street – and we can hopefully get people excited about it and help lift the spirits after the bad times we’ve gone through over the last few years.

For more info check the official website:

3djoeandmax.com

Interview Alikivi  2022

WHAT DID THE ROMANS DO FOR US ? in conversation with Alexandra Croom, Keeper of Archaeology at Arbeia South Shields Roman Fort

Alexander Croom at Arbeia Roman Fort, South Shields (pic. Alikivi 2022)

By the end of the first century AD, the Roman army was firmly established in the North East. Hadrian had built an 80 mile long wall by AD128, some years later a fort was built on barren land in what became Newcastle and on the coastline overlooking the river Tyne a fort was built in South Shields.

Living a stone’s throw away I’ve been interested in the Roman fort so I popped over to the museum met Alex Croom and asked ‘What did the Romans do for us ?’

When expanding the Roman empire across the world Emperor Septimius Severus arrived in the UK from Rome and started his Scotland campaign so the South Shields fort was converted into a supply base. He brought over his two sons Caracalla and Geta, we aren’t sure of the reason but it might have been to drag them away from the flesh pots of Rome and learn to be warriors rather than playboys.

After multiple successful military campaigns was Emperor Septimius Severus the first rock star of Rome ? I’m not sure of that (laughs). Sadly in the middle of fighting Septimius died of sickness in York in 211AD. We think his sons left South Shields quickly after his death to get back to Rome as we have an altar which is inscribed To the gods the Preservers the unit at Lugudunum paid its vow for their safe return.

What attracted you to archaeology ? I love archaeology and finding out how people lived many years ago, the Greeks and Romans have a lot in common but it’s the Romans I’m more fascinated with.

I’m originally from Berkshire and have worked at South Shields Roman Fort for over 30 odd years now. When I finished studying at Newcastle University I came here and started work as a trainee in 1986.

It was an exciting time as a lot was going on with the reconstruction of the West Gate. South Shields is also unique in the Roman Empire as the only supply base that’s been excavated.

Why is there a fort in South Shields ? Forty years after Hadrian’s Wall was built a stone fort at South Shields was positioned on the Lawe Top. They would look out to check who’s coming into the North Sea and river Tyne thus making it difficult to get past. Directly across river is North Shields, there is no evidence of a fort there but you never know.

Roman Fort with surrounding houses and school (bottom of pic) being demolished in 1966 at the Lawe Top next to the river Tyne.

Today the Roman Fort is surrounded by a modern school and housing are there plans to reveal more of the remains ? There is only one row of houses left that are built on remains, they are near the East Gate, but there is plenty of unexcavated areas inside the fort that we can work on. Of course outside the fort there are all the other houses built over the civilian settlement, temple, baths, cemetery and training ground.

After the Romans left, the area was open fields until 1875, the Victorians knew there were Roman remains here as pottery, tile and coins were found during ploughing, and there were various bits thrown under hedgerows.

They wanted to dig the fort up because they thought it was going to be lost for ever when housing was built over it. After the dig mounds of soil was placed on top so it preserved the remains, a Roman Remains Park was set up in the 1880’s.

From the 1900’s the Lawe Top was built up by the Victorians, rows of housing, churches and a school were built in the area, after a number of years some houses were demolished in 1966.

As houses were being demolished the remains of the North gate were exposed with a lot of stones surviving, by 1977 the Victorian school was ready to be demolished and the south east corner of the fort excavated.

You never know how much there is until you dig down to the Roman layers, they would have been surprised to see how much was there.

Victorian school ready to be demolished in 1977 with the Roman fort south west corner being excavated.

The curve on the corners of the fort are original, Roman forts always had curved corners although the buildings inside had 90 degree corners. They may have been built that way for the watchtowers which were two to three stories high and rather similar in size to the reconstructed West Gate, also they were wide enough for soldiers to walk the wall.

I remember in 2005 TV’s Time Team (Tower Blocks & Togas, series 12 episode 12) came in to film a dig and we were in the area of the Lawe Top where the Roman cemetery was. We knew this because we had dug there before and the Victorians had found graves but Time Team only found one bit of human bone. It was so frustrating because we were in the area where the Regina tombstone was found.

What building would you like to find ? I’d like to find the bath house. All forts have a settlement outside with a temple, cemetery, houses and bath house but unfortunately we don’t know where it is.

What object would you like to find ? Any find is a great find on a dig but I would like to find an inscription of the name of the fort. We’ve got an altar here with what we think is the first name but it’s very worn so we would like something to confirm Lugudunum as the original name.

In the third or fourth century the fort was attacked and parts of it were burnt down, it was rebuilt and its new name which remains to this day, Arbeia, means ‘the place of the Arabs’ after the arrival of a unit of Tigris Bargemen.

Reconstructed barracks on the south west corner of Arbeia Roman fort. (pic Alikivi 2022)

What would you like for the future of the Roman Fort ? What we’d really like is a new museum, our existing museum on the Lawe Top was built in the 1950’s and is limited in exhibition space. We’ve had a lot of excavations over the years and there is a lot of objects that we would love to display.

Arbeia, Roman Fort is open from 28 March – 2 October 2022.

Tel: 0191 277 1409 or check the official website

Arbeia South Shields Roman Fort (arbeiaromanfort.org.uk)

Interview by Alikivi  March 2022