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.
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.
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.
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.
77 year old Norman from Hebburn, who started work as a fitter at Wardley & Follonsby Collieries in the ‘60s,has been collecting Tyneside photographs and postcards for over 20 year.
‘I started collecting because I asked my old aunt if she had any old photos and she said ‘We had a lot of photos, but when we moved to a new Council house, we just binned them’. How many other families did that when they moved home, not realising the value of a photo ?’
‘Over the years I’ve helped three authors with photos for their books, and I’ve often sent photos to be used in the Shields Gazette and Evening Chronicle. Now it’s my time to publish, but not just one book – I’ve published four’.
‘I’ve wanted to compile this set of books whilst my enthusiasm and memory is still good. I’ve always been interested in local history that’s why I decided to compile the photo’s into books’explained Norman.
A number of years ago I volunteered on a South Shields Library project digitizing thousands of photographs from their archive, so recognise some of the images.
Photographers Amy Flagg, James Cleet and William Emmett done an excellent job capturing Tyneside images and left behind a marvellous legacy.
A glaring omission in this book is apart from Dunn’s family photos, no photographer’s names are credited or where they were obtained originally. South Tyneside Council hold a lot of the original images and are available to view on their official website. https://southtynesidehistory.co.uk/
‘I’ve collected photos for many years but unfortunately never kept a list of people who loaned me them. I just want to share them with people’ said Norman.
‘I always told my contributors that their photos are valuable. They want to share their photos with others, and often said ‘what use is a photo stuck in a drawer under the bed or in a cupboard’.
‘If they sell I might do another set of books. So far I’ve had marvellous feedback from people who’ve already bought books. They all said fantastic value with so many photos in it’.
‘Good Old Shields’, ‘Good old Hebburn’, ‘Good old Jarrow’ & ‘Good old Bill Quay, Pelaw, Wardley, Felling & Heworth’ are priced at £15 each plus £3 p&p.
In 2012 when researching a documentary about the impact of the Second World War on South Tyneside residents, I found a number of Tyneside men who served in the British Army who were awarded one of the highest awards, the Victoria Cross.
The VC is the highest and most prestigious award for courage in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces. One of those men was Adam Wakenshaw, a private in the 9th Battalion of the Durham Light Infantry. This is his story.
I was born on 9th June 1914 in Duke Street, Newcastle. Life was really hard. My ma’ Mary, and Thomas my da’ had to feed six children. They struggled on his labourers wage so to help the family I left school at 14 to work at the local colliery.
When I got married it was to Dorothy Douglass in 1932 and our first place was 19 Rye Hill. Not far from Newcastle Central Station. When the War started I left the pit and joined the Durham Light Infantry. In 1940 I was one of the lucky ones to leave Dunkirk.
It was in 1942 we were battling against the Germans at Mersa Matruh on the coast at Egypt. They were coming at us hard. The ground was heavy and rocky we couldn’t dig in – so we hid behind boulders. We had around nine tank guns with us.
I saw a vehicle it was in close range so fired and made a direct hit. It stopped them dead. The Germans fired back, and blew my left arm off, right above the elbow. They also hit my gun aimer, Eric Mohn, seriously wounding him. The whole crew were injured or killed. The Germans came back in to finish us off.
So me and Eric managed to crawl back to the gun and load the shells. We fired five more rounds and one direct hit which damaged their gun. They fired again I was threw away from the blast but it killed Eric. I managed to drag myself over the rocky ground to the gun and loaded up again.
Sadly, a direct hit killed Adam instantly. That evening, Durham soldiers searched the battlefield. Among the wreckage of his gun, they found Wakenshaw, and buried him where he fell.
He was later re-buried in El Alamein War Cemetery, Egypt and posthumously awarded the VC. The medal was presented to his widow, Dorothy, and passed through the family to his daughter, Lilian. The medal was then donated to the Durham Light Infantry Museum.
Today in St Mary’s Church, Newcastle, where Adam was baptised and married, there is a stained glassed window commemorating his life and sacrifice, from his upbringing in Newcastle to his death in North Africa. Also included is the motto of the Durham Light Infantry 9th Battalion ‘Be faithful until death and I will give a crown of life’.
Gary Alikivi August 2020.
Sources: Ancestry, DLI South Shields, London Gazette 8th September 1942, The Comprehensive Guide to the Victoria & George Cross, Imperial War Museum.
The blog is read in countries around the world including USA, Brazil, Japan and Russia, along with ex pats checking in from Australia, France and Spain – the stories travel far and wide. But closer to home a number of Tyneside residents have sent in stories about working class characters they remember.
Geordie Pantsman, Tinwhistler and Dan Green have contributed, and this memory from Archive the Noo is the latest. At their request I am posting it today as it’s the anniversary of the death of the big man who is featured.
My memory of him was when drinking in South Shields pubs in the ‘80s you would often come across this guy – believe me you couldn’t miss him. It was on a hot sweaty Friday night we piled into a packed Scotia pub and saw he was at the bar for last orders.
With his big white bucket at his feet he had been collecting for the miner’s strike. I could see he was getting frustrated and angry as the barmaids refused to serve him shouting ‘Time’s up’ as they rang the bell.
He was sweating heavily, gritting his teeth and with tears in his eyes, he gripped tightly on the handrails of the bar, stamped his feet, let out an almighty roar and led his fellow drinkers to… ‘Sing yer hearts out, Sing yer hearts out, Sing yer hearts out for the lads’.
Hollered out like a defiant last breath – he only wanted a pint man.
So who was he ?
Featured today is a story from Archive the Noo and his memories of one of Tyneside’s Charity Champions, Big Hec…..If you were approached by a 6 foot 8 inch 20 stone Geordie, lurching from side to side, asking you for money with that characteristic gap between his front teeth, I wager you’d most likely think about handing it over.
You might be a bit confused by the sight of him carrying a bucket and wearing gold painted boots (size 18). But in time you would realise you’d just had a close encounter with Tyneside resident Brian Dowson, known as Big Hec.
Throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s Big Hec, raised in approximation of £1million pounds in the name of charity, walking around Tyneside pubs, shops, metro trains and collecting donations in his bucket, taped over at the top with a slit.
He also made a cover version of Nancy Sinatra’s song ‘These Boots are Made for Walking’….
(Recorded in 1990 at Brian Johnsons place (AC/DC) Lynx Studios in Newcastle, ex-Angelic Upstart Mond Cowie was studio manager and let Big Hec have the studio for nothing because it was for a charity record).
There are many endearing stories surrounding Hec. In the mid ‘70s he worked as a glass collector at the Kismet Club in Laygate and after a few beers would take to the dance floor producing incredible shapes and moves, a wondrous sight to behold.
I recall being a tad bit envious when he managed to meet his very own hero, the Dynasty starlet Stephanie Beacham, at a charity presentation.
Apart from the fact that Hec was for me a true character beyond criticism and a charitable legend worth a movie about (one of his favourite charities was the NSPCC), the essence of Big Hec is contained in my fondest story.
He once set out to beat the existing world pie eating record, held at the local Hintons supermarket store. Local TV were there and when the cameras began to roll he was presented with a tray of pies. He complained that they were too hot so filming stopped and restarted after a period of cooling.
Commencing, he ate only a few and then gave up, blaming it on the big tea he had before coming out. He then burst into singing Elvis songs.
Brian had a short and colourful life, passing away from natural causes, some say a heart attack. He was born in 1957 and sadly died on 13th March 1996. May he, buried in his boots, rest in a well earned peace.
Brought to you by Archive the Noo.
Today if you go to the Laygate area of South Shields there is a plaque on the wall of Lloyds Bank – a memorial to Big Hec’s charity work. (pic. Kennie Chow)