LOOKING FOR LUCIFER #6

The continuing search for author, artist & historian Baron Avro Manhattan (1914-90)

For a number of years I’ve researched the life of Baron Avro Manhattan, who I first came across in 2012, he spent his last years in a terraced house in my hometown of South Shields. ‘Secrets & Lies’ documentary was produced in 2018, a link is at the end of the post.

Avro’s original name was Theophile Lucifer Gardini, the name change is looked at in post #2. This post focuses on Avro and the Second World War and includes research used to script a second documentary about this fascinating character.

In 1938 Gardini was in the UK listed as a Landscape painter living in Machynllech, Wales, and exhibiting his art in galleries including Bloomsbury Gallery in Mayfair, London.

On 10 June 1940 Italy declared war on Britain resulting in thousands of resident Italians being interned, and in Wales, the Aberystwyth police caught up with Gardini. Added to the prisoners of war, another 4,000 Italians were known to be members of the Fascist Party and this increase led to a problem within the UK.

Following offers from Canadian and Australian governments, more than 7,500 internees were shipped overseas aboard SS Ettrick, Duchess of York, Dunera and Arandora Star. Gardini left port on 3 July 1940 onboard the Ettrick bound for an internment camp in Canada.

Record of transfers overseas of aliens and prisoners of war.

Eight month after arriving he suddenly returned to the UK aboard the S.S. Georgic, then two month after that in May 1941 he was released as a ‘special case without restrictions’. A number of questions arise about this period.

Why did he return to the UK from Canada, where was he for the two month before release and why was an Italian who was looked upon as an enemy deemed ‘a special case’ four years before the war ended ?

There is a report that Gardini worked with British intelligence during the Second World War – was he recruited in the internment camp in Canada ? Was this the ‘special case without restrictions’?

Previously Gardini was imprisoned in Italy for refusing to swear to the Fascist oath, I imagine he would have rejected his Italian citizenship and was in hiding from any fascists still living in the UK, we can only speculate until concrete evidence turns up for this period.

During research there has been reports that have been misleading, especially the number of titles on his gravestone. But one he received was confirmed by a reputable organisation.

Listed on his headstone is the title Knight of Malta, reported to be awarded by the British Government for work during the war. To check whether he received this title, I got in touch with Debretts of London – if you’ve got a gong, you will be listed with them.

Friday 7 August 2015 email from Debretts.

I’ve been able to find very little about Baron Manhattan with only the Maltese decoration accredited and recorded – quite rightly too, given his admirable behaviour during WW2. Other than that I’m sorry not to be more help – I was hoping to discover something far more mysterious about him!’  

Debretts, 16 Charles Street, Mayfair, London.

After the war Avro didn’t return to Italy, he settled in the UK and on 3 October 1949 took an oath of allegiance and became a British National. The certificate read – Teofilo Lucifero Gardini, also added was Avro Manhattan, born in Milan, Italy, 6th April 1910 – although on his death certificate in 1990 he was 76. It wasn’t until December 1953 when he was living in Wimbledon, London that he officially changed his name by Deed Poll.

If you have information about Italian born artist, author & historian Baron Avro Manhattan (1914-90) please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Link to film:

South Shields, Italian born Baron Avro Manhattan – SECRETS & LIES – doc.film (Alikivi,12 mins 2018). – YouTube

Check the other posts about Baron Avro Manhattan :

LOOKING FOR LUCIFER #3 – Art for Sale. | ALIKIVI : NORTH EAST UK (garyalikivi.com)

LOOKING FOR LUCIFER #2 – Ciao, Avro. | ALIKIVI : NORTH EAST UK (garyalikivi.com)

LOOKING FOR LUCIFER – The continuing search for author & artist, Baron Avro Manhattan (1914-90) | ALIKIVI : NORTH EAST UK (garyalikivi.com)

Alikivi  April 2021 & update April 2022

LOOKING FOR LUCIFER #5

The continuing search for author, artist & historian Baron Avro Manhattan (1914-90)

For a number of years I’ve researched the life of Baron Manhattan, who I first came across in 2012, he spent his last years living in a terraced house in my hometown of South Shields. ‘Secrets & Lies’ documentary was produced in 2018, a link is at the end of the post.

Avro was originally named Theophile Lucifer Gardini, the name change is looked at in post #2. Looking for Lucifer #5 includes extracts from diary entries and notes taken when talking to his friends and neighbours which helped script the first documentary.

Avro & Ann Manhattan November 1986.

Friday 12 June 2015

I asked an auld fella who was walking near the house where Avro last lived in South Shields “You didn’t know The Baron did you”? He turned as he was shutting his gate, “Yes, Avro”. I introduced myself and told him what I was doing.

Mr H told me “We regularly talked with him. He was a good talker, friendly, interesting in conversation. We think he had money in Russia, he couldn’t bring it into Britain so spent it there, Ann came back with all these fur coats and hat’s. When he died he left money to put students through college in U.S.A.”

In the photo of Avro and Anne’s wedding in November 1986 at Kensington & Chelsea Registry Office, Anne is wearing furs – are these from Russia as Mr H said ?

After checking the American college link there was a Bob Jones University in Greenville where four scholarships in history, humanities or political science were available at $2,500 paid by the Baron Avro Manhattan Trust Fund.

Wednesday 17 June 2015

Mr & Mrs M were Avro’s neighbours, they talked about how the couple loved entertaining and had champagne cocktails at their parties and barbecues.

“He was interested in what you were saying and would never try to belittle you. He wasn’t a name dropper, a gentleman through and through. He spoke good English with a little Italian accent, didn’t drink much, had a little wine, he did like the Broon Ale though” said Mr M.

Mrs M added “We think he liked it here because he could concentrate on work, go for walk’s and relax. But sadly he died in their home. We went to the funeral at St Aiden’s, there was a Princess there, she looked like Jackie Onassis, very glamourous.”

Lord Weymouth opening an art exhibition in South Shields by Avro Manhattan in 1983.

Saturday 27 June 2015

A phone call back from Mr C (who I contacted earlier in the week) he said he and his parents got to know him through various social gatherings.

“We got to know them around the 1980’s, they were an eccentric couple, she was well dressed and he always wore his suit and bow tie. We always enjoyed each other’s company, I found him very charming, charismatic and witty”.

Mr C recalls the death of Avro “He died in the passageway of the house, just dropped down with a heart attack. Although after reading some articles about his book about the underhand dealings of the Vatican I’m not sure”.

Mr C had a few calls from an Englishman living in France who was investigating Avro.

“He was very persistent, obsessed. This was after his book ‘The Vatican’s Billions’ was released, and apparently the Baron was going to release more revealing information about the Catholic Church. He was implying that there was a conspiracy against him. It was all very weird”.

Avro Manhattan & Northern Ireland’s loyalist politician Ian Paisley.

Tuesday 28 July 2015

Mrs A, 91 years old, kindly gave me one of Avro’s paintings she had. The signed artwork is titled ‘Chelsea Embankment’. Mr and Mrs A knew the Manhattan’s socially. She recalls that Avro corresponded with Lord Weymouth and Ian Paisley from Northern Ireland

He didn’t brag about it, he was fairly modest really, but he was very anti-establishment”.

In 1983 Viscount Weymouth of Longleat opened an art exhibition by Avro at the Metal Art Precinct in South Shields, Ian Paisley and Avro had their photograph taken after discussing ‘Terror in Ireland’ authored by Manhattan in 1970.

Sadly Mrs A was at the Manhattan’s house the night he died, 26 November 1990, and added that sometime before this Avro had a stroke. “It’s like being imprisoned in your own body” he told her.

If you have information about Italian born artist & author Baron Avro Manhattan (1914-90) please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Link to film:

South Shields, Italian born Baron Avro Manhattan – SECRETS & LIES – doc.film (Alikivi,12 mins 2018). – YouTube

Check the other posts about Baron Avro Manhattan :

LOOKING FOR LUCIFER #3 – Art for Sale. | ALIKIVI : NORTH EAST UK (garyalikivi.com)

LOOKING FOR LUCIFER #2 – Ciao, Avro. | ALIKIVI : NORTH EAST UK (garyalikivi.com)

LOOKING FOR LUCIFER – The continuing search for author & artist, Baron Avro Manhattan (1914-90) | ALIKIVI : NORTH EAST UK (garyalikivi.com)

Alikivi  April 2021 & update April 2022

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LOOKING FOR LUCIFER #4 – The Scientist Marie Stopes & continuing search for Italian born author, artist & historian Baron Avro Manhattan (1914-90)

For a number of years I’ve researched the life of Baron Manhattan, who I first came across in 2012, he spent his last years living in a terraced house in my hometown of South Shields. ‘Secrets & Lies’ documentary was produced in 2018, a link is at the end of the post.

Avro was originally named Theophile Lucifer Gardini, the name change is looked at in post #2 (June 2021). Looking for Lucifer #4 includes research used to script a second documentary about this fascinating character.

Lately I’ve come across some of his books and art being sold on EBay, Jonathan Frost Rare Books Limited of Liverpool had a book for sale ‘The Dollar & The Vatican’, inside it’s inscribed by the scientist Marie Stopes:

‘To Harry Stopes-Roe with love from his mother, Marie C. Stopes. To be published in September 1956’.

Rare Books added a description of the sale:

‘Marie Stopes formed a close friendship with Avro Manhattan during the last years of her life, and he scattered her ashes with Harry her son after she died in 1958. Tucked into the book is a promotional leaflet, a copy of ‘The Vigilant’ from December 1956, which contains a review of the book which has been annotated by Stopes, and a two page draft letter from Avro Manhattan to ‘The Editor of The Times’ on the subject of the U.S.A.’s military and colonial ambitions, which has also been corrected and annotated by Stopes’. 

Author/Artist Avro Manhattan & the scientist Marie Stopes

Avro met Stopes in 1952 at an exhibition of his paintings in London and they got on well with strong rumours of a love affair. At the time Avro was thirty nine, Stopes was 72.

She wrote in her book…

“Truly I was afraid to see your pictures but the reality was so glorious. I’m looking forward to making a bonfire and dancing with you, could you arrive prepared for staying the night and for dancing in the house. My heart is still beating extra hard with the joyous excitement of all the beauty you showed me……you are a genius…..dearest, most precious one, all the gods and angels guard you”.

I contacted Rare Books on Merseyside and asked if they had more information to add about the sale of the book. Jonathan Frost replied…

‘He’s quite an elusive character. Stopes and Manhattan were close for quite some years I believe, which makes sense, there was plenty of crossover in their interests’.

If you have information about Italian born artist & author Baron Avro Manhattan (1914-90) please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Link to film:

South Shields, Italian born Baron Avro Manhattan – SECRETS & LIES – doc.film (Alikivi,12 mins 2018). – YouTube

Check the other posts about Baron Avro Manhattan :

LOOKING FOR LUCIFER #3 – Art for Sale. | ALIKIVI : NORTH EAST UK (garyalikivi.com)

LOOKING FOR LUCIFER #2 – Ciao, Avro. | ALIKIVI : NORTH EAST UK (garyalikivi.com)

LOOKING FOR LUCIFER – The continuing search for author & artist, Baron Avro Manhattan (1914-90) | ALIKIVI : NORTH EAST UK (garyalikivi.com)

Alikivi  April 2021 & updated April 2022

UNDER HER SPELL : Eileen O’Shaughnessy (1905-45)

Memories of events years ago can sometimes be sketchy but after checking my diaries and emails it was March 2012 when I was shown a South Shields birth certificate for Eileen O’Shaughnessy by the Local History Librarian Ann Sharp.

We bumped into each other near South Shields Registry Office where I was going to collect a family research certificate. The Orwell connection peaked my interest but was more intrigued when I noticed her birth address was Park Terrace, now re-named Lawe Road – just two minutes from where I live.

I wasn’t a fan of Orwell’s writing then, I heard about him – who hasn’t? Over 20 year ago I went to see a theatre production of 1984 at Newcastle Playhouse, and have since read 1984, Homage to Catalonia, Down and Out in Paris and London plus selected essays and journalism but it was more from a local history angle that I first approached this story.

In May 2012, May being Local History month in South Tyneside, a display appeared in South Shields Library and an earlier blog from October 2018 mentions this –

There were three large boards. On the left was a birth certificate and census records. To the right was a photo of George Orwell and a picture of a cemetery in Newcastle. In the middle was a large black and white photograph with about a dozen men standing near sandbags and a machine gun at the front, obviously a war image. Then I noticed a dark haired woman crouching behind the machine gun. I looked closer and got goose bumps’.

Who was this woman who was born in South Shields married to one of the most controversial writers of the 20th century, buried in Newcastle and had a photo taken on the front line of a war ?

Ann mentioned that Eileen had been to the Spanish Civil War explaining the photograph, also “an American lady has been in she is researching for a book about Eileen”. That was Sylvia Topp and she left note looking for any help searching locations where Eileen lived.

Sylvia Topp outside The Customs House, South Shields 10 May 2012 (pic Alikivi collection)

We arranged to meet and I took Sylvia down to South Shields riverside and The Customs House where Eileen’s father worked as a Customs Collector, then into the town centre where he had an office then onto her childhood home in Beach Road.

Afterwards we had a meal in the Italian Restaurant on Winchester Street and left it where I would look into Eileen’s North East life. This proved difficult because there wasn’t much information out there about Eileen.

As the months passed the research grew and in the blog Oct. 2018 –

There wasn’t much information out there just a few bits and pieces that had been mentioned in Orwell books. So there was extensive research over the next year or so. Phone calls, letters, checking and re-checking details.

Interviews on camera were arranged around the country. One led to another, and another. It felt like being gently nudged along to find more about her. I never came across any obstacles, everybody asked wanted to be part of the documentary and were only too happy to help’.

I remember the time I was filming in Sunderland Church High School where Eileen was a pupil. I phoned reception who passed on my number to former Head of English, Sylvia Minto. Next day she rang and we arranged to meet at the school.

We filmed in the main hall where the walls were full of honours boards with names of pupils who went onto higher education. Eileen read English at St Hugh’s College, Oxford and her name was on a board. That same board is now in a room in my house.

A couple of years ago the school was closing down and the receptionist remembered me and got in touch – “of course I’ll have it” not realising the sheer weight and size of the board at 5ft x 3ft !

Someone else who was also captivated by Eileen was South Shields born Professor Robert Colls who had just published his book George Orwell – English Rebel.

pic courtesy of The Shields Gazette

Then teaching cultural history at De Montfort University, Leicester, Colls featured in an article in The Shields Gazette (25 October 2013) by local journalist Terry Kelly.

Colls said “One of the pleasures of writing about Orwell was not only getting to know him, but getting to know Eileen. The evidence is sparse but I really like her and Orwell’s spirit was lifted after meeting her. Her letters show great fun and sharp wit. Getting to know Eileen was an unexpected treat”.

In the October 2018 blog I finished off with –

‘Who knew that a library visit in 2012 would take me and my camera, from South Shields to Sunderland, Newcastle, Stockton, Warwickshire, Oxford, London and finally Barcelona. I remember I had the camera in my backpack walking through Barcelona Airport thinking how did I get here. It seemed so effortless, the whole process just fell into place’.

Link to a short edit of the film ‘Wildflower’  

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

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

Alikivi  March 2022.

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

JUST AN ILLUSION

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

POWER TO THE PEOPLE: Former South Shields Councillor, Alderman & Mayor, James Dunlop 1865-1938

The blog has featured highlights from the life of Tyneside born international musician Chas Chandler, little known South Shields born musicians Kathy Stobbart and Jack Brymer, a brave war story from North Shields hero Tommy Brown, also a profile of my Great Uncle, Richard Ewart MP, a committed socialist from the south of the Tyne. His story ‘From Coal Mine to the House of Commons’ is on the link below.

The latest story researched and put together from a number of print sources features the colourful life of South Shields Mayor James Dunlop, it also includes crossing points in my family research.

James Dunlop with his wife Marie pic. courtesy South Tyneside Council.

Glasgow born Dunlop spent a short time in Canada then returned to England where he worked in Barrow in Furness and Middlesbrough before moving to South Shields at the end of the nineteenth century finding employment in Tyneside shipyards.

Soon he was an active member of the Independent Labour Party but found their brand of politics a little tame so joined the Social Democratic Federation where he became a leading figure in the South Shields party. Dunlop was quickly gaining a reputation as a fiery character who fought for what he thought was right for the working class people of the town.

Being successful at fighting local elections the Labour party took note and called him in, James agreed to become Tyne Dock ward councillor in 1906. He retained strong links with the Social Democratic Federation party who were supported by the Russian Socialist Democratic Workers Party.

Through political and social gatherings Dunlop is likely to have met two Russian comrades – Tyneside shipyard worker Heinrich Fischer and my Great Uncle Alexander Alikivi who made the journey from Russia to the North East as a Merchant Seaman and settled in South Shields.

Family research is yet to point to a definite political affiliation for Alikivi but it was highly likely he was a member of the Russian Socialists, a party with someone speaking his mother tongue would be welcoming to someone so far from home.

Fischer was a confirmed member of the Russian Social Democratic Workers Party, useful reading about his life is an interview with author Vin Arthey who wrote an excellent book, The Kremlin’s Geordie Spy (link below).

Russia was in turmoil as a workers revolution raged across the country, to help the struggle in overthrowing the ruling Tsar regime and form a socialist government, arms were smuggled from the river Tyne to St Petersburg using established Baltic trade routes.

Along the riverside the boat building yards of Tyne Dock and Holborn would be suitable access points for smuggling. Was suspicious activity seen and reported ?

Upshot was a major police operation was launched on Tyneside leading to a number of arrests being made and Dunlop held on suspicion of gun running – this won’t look good for a recently elected councillor of Tyne Dock.

A search of his home revealed a box in the cellar which the police suspected had previously held guns and bullets. An Edinburgh address was on the box which led them to the ringleaders of the organisation. How much involvement Dunlop had isn’t known, but fortunately for him he escaped any charges.

During the next decade Dunlop’s political career took off – employed as a boilermaker at Readheads shipyard his rallying calls for socialism won a strong following, he was promoted to Chairman of the Housing and Town Planning committee and made Alderman of the town. James became a senior member of the Labour council with one of his proudest moments in 1928 becoming South Shields Mayor.

pic. November 3rd 1920 Alderman Dunlop laid a stone at the entrance of Cleadon Park Housing Estate, South Shields.

Sadly after a 32 year membership and service to the Council, James passed away aged 73. A full council meeting was held to remember a valued colleague, Mayor Harris, councillor Gompertz, and my relative and brother in law of Alexander Alikivi, Councillor Richard Ewart, were some who attended.

Local newspaper The Shields Gazette featured the story –

“One could not but admire his courage, persistency and unshakeable belief in what he thought was right. I am sure the working class people of this town will remember with gratitude his fight for better housing conditions” said the Mayor.

Councillor Gompertz added “Alderman Dunlop’s work had a standing monument in the Cleadon Park Estate. People who had travelled the country looked upon Cleadon Park as the finest homes for working people in the whole country”.

“A pronounced Socialist, he laid the foundations of the party and we thank him for the enormous amount of spade work he did. In this Council chamber we miss his voice, which at times was raised against injustice and always in the cause of freedom”.

South Shields Corporation minutes of proceedings July – Dec 1938.

‘We Do Not Want the Earth’ – The History of South Shields Labour Party by David Clark.

‘The Kremlin’s Geordie Spy’ by Vin Arthey.

The Shields Gazette.

RUSSIA’S GEORDIE SPY with author Vin Arthey | ALIKIVI : NORTH EAST UK (garyalikivi.com)

THE LAMPLIGHTER’S SON – Richard Ewart M.P. 1904-53. The long hard road from North East coal mines to the House of Commons. | ALIKIVI : NORTH EAST UK (garyalikivi.com)

Gary Alikivi   February 2022.

FRAMING HISTORY #2 Photos Capture a Decade of Changes

In an earlier blog – Framing History, 11 January 2022 – I posted about being invited to add my photographic collection to the South Tyneside History website managed by the library. The site celebrates the heritage of the borough by preserving photographic and printed history.

For over 25 year I’ve taken photographs around South Tyneside and this first collection that is being added to the site holds over 2,000 images from 2008 onwards – a unique documentary record of a decade of changes in South Shields.

Photographs were taken all year round to capture demolition of buildings and new construction work at different stages. There was also a lot of early morning and evening visits to locations avoiding people and cars.

‘Constance Ellen’ shipwreck, Herd Sands, South Shields.

Finding the right angle or getting close to the subject meant climbing a fence or plodging in the sea to get close to the Constance Ellen shipwreck who ran aground on Herd Sands near the South pier over 100 year ago.

On a cold wintry morning you need to get out of your nice warm bed like the time I turned up at the seafront on a bitter December day. Over the past year I’d taken hundreds of images showing a new seawall and promenade being constructed on South Shields seafront.

‘Littlehaven Eye’ being lifted into place with a sunken trawler in the background.

There was a large crane taking the ‘Littlehaven Eye’ off the back of a lorry and putting it in place. Also adding to the landscape, framed by the North and South piers, was a sunken trawler in the sea, plus ten minutes later a large car carrying ship entered the river Tyne.

If I didn’t turn up that morning I would have missed an important part of the development.

Thanks to Catrin Galt, Community Librarian based at The Word, South Shields, and her team of volunteers who work on the project to keep history alive.

Check out the website:

https://southtynesidehistory.co.uk/