Bizarre stories featuring a potted head, a turtle hat and Dylan on a shopping spree might just make you think twice about Newcastle’s past
Hidden Newcastle reveals twisted and unexpected tales from the city’s past.
Bizarre stories featuring a potted head, a turtle hat, Queen Vic’s unpaid bill and Dylan on a shopping spree might just make you think twice about Newcastle’s history.
These tales from across the centuries are drawn from old books and documents housed in Tyne & Wear Museums & Archives and also feature in the Hidden Newcastle app developed with help from NE1 Ltd.
Take a step back in time to discover things you never knew.
The shirts they are a changin’
Shoppers and staff at Marcus Price, Newcastle’s premier fashion store, would have been forgiven for thinking someone was playing a joke on May 6, 1965 – because in walked Bob Dylan. He was accompanied at the Groat Market shop by his manager and musician Alan Price, where he bought a black jacket, pink shirt and multi-coloured tie. Owner Marcus Price said: “Good sellers were three-buttoned, straight-fitting jackets with narrow lapels and muted stripes, ‘flower power’ shirts and ties to match.” Shop manager David Bell recalls that Dylan was very well-mannered and polite. He said: “The teenage assistants were very excited, but didn’t hassle him for autographs.” Keen observers said Dylan wore the jacket that night on stage at the City Hall.
The self-proclaimed genius of William Martin
William Martin, brother of the printer John Martin, was a man of science and established himself as a local eccentric in the early 19th century.
He became publicly known for denouncing famous inventors of the day and famed for his unusual hat – a turtle shell framed in brass. Martin falsely claimed to have designed the High Level Bridge.
When it was announced that on September 27, 1849, Queen Victoria would be passing through Newcastle by rail on her way from Balmoral to London, city dignitaries decided to use the occasion for a Royal opening of the newly-completed High Level Bridge. The city had never seen a monarch since Charles I in 1647. But Victoria’s train was late and although she listened to addresses from the corporations of Newcastle and Gateshead in the centre of the bridge she would only look out of the west-facing window – much to the disappointment of the majority of the 60,000 crowd who had waited in the rain for hours. A civic reception and lunch had been organised in the Banqueting Room of the Old Castle where a window had been removed to provide an entrance from the bridge via a platform. The queen, however, had lunched at Howick in Northumberland. Indignant councillors, aldermen and burgesses nevertheless went ahead with the celebrations – and sent the bill to the royal household. It was never settled.
Potted head on Amen Corner
“Ann Seth respectfully informs her friends and the public that she has begun to make sausages, black puddings and that she prepares potted head and various other articles in the eating line. Customers may rely on the utmost neatness and cleanliness being observed in dressing and victuals; and all favours will be gratefully received and punctually attended to. Newcastle - 1802”
A gunboat takes up position
A general strike was called by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) on May 4, 1926, to support the miners in their quarrel with the mine owners, who wanted to reduce their wages by 13% and increase their shifts from seven to eight hours. Huge numbers of transport workers, dockers, printers, builders, steel and power workers stayed off work. The government declared that Britain was “threatened with a revolution” and attempted to take control of the BBC, while the Roman Catholic Church called the strike “a sin”. On May 5, a warship was despatched to the Tyne in a demonstration of authority. A few days later, police had to quell a major riot in the Bigg Market and strikers in Northumberland derailed the Flying Scotsman train.
A tragic rooftop chase
In the early hours of August 29, 1932, street musician Robert William Hall died after a dramatic rooftop chase by police. He fell from the Benwell Hotel, on the outskirts of Newcastle city centre, after an attempted burglary. During the pursuit, Hall – also known as Robert Dodds and William Jones– had knocked down a chimney pot and threw slates and masonry on to the crowd gathered below. In attempting to knock off another stack, he fell into the hotel’s back yard, fracturing his skull. An accomplice was arrested. Hall’s criminal career included a shooting in Chicago for which he served an 11-year term in Sing Sing Prison in New York, and threatening police with a razor during a break-in at The Forth Hotel.
Lewd houses and night walkers
Men and women suspected of living off immoral earnings and criminal gains in the 1700s were listed in what was called The Rogue’s File. They included alleged prostitutes, “brothel keepers” and publicans who lived around Castle Garth, Castle Stairs and the Quayside.
At one house, “lewd persons pay 12d for the use of beds in the daytime plus half-a-crown for the night”. Jane Turner, “common and of low plight”, was reputed to visit soldiers frequently at the Guardhouse but the later companionship of “gentlemen” led to her adopting “an improved appearance”. John Reed Smith of Bank Side reported “he has several times lay with her”. John Reed Smith was obviously no gentleman.
Mary Smith kept the “very disorderly” Goat Ale House at the Quayside and on marrying Charles Cadwell, moved to Gateshead where they opened another tavern “with the sign of the Goat” (now displayed in the Shipley Art Gallery, Gateshead). It was “not only a bawdy house but a residence of Cadwell’s gang and other thieves and pickpockets”.
Howay the president
On May 6, 1977, Jimmy Carter, 39th President of the United States received the honorary freedom of Newcastle. The Civic Centre, where the presentation was made, had seen nothing like it – the president had been in the White House for only a few months when he elected to make Newcastle his first stop on a European tour.
To a huge roar of appreciation, Coun Hugh White, Lord Mayor of Newcastle, welcomed Mr Carter – whose roots are in Georgia– saying: “Mr President, sir, you are a Georgian; you have now become a Geordie.” An even greater roar went up when the president, clearly relishing the occasion, replied: “Howay the lads”. He continued: “I’m very grateful to be a Geordie now, and I’m deeply grateful at the tremendous welcome that you’ve extended to me.”
A Newcastle joiner was challenged to an eating and drinking wager at a public house in 1742. Skipper Clarke, “the gormandising eccentric”, tucked into a 10lb (4.5 kilos) leg of mutton, a large loaf and six pints of ale – the last of which was laced with snuff. Undeterred, he polished off the lot inside two hours. On another occasion, at a Christmas dinner, he was presented with seven sheep’s plucks (internal organs) originally intended for the family’s dogs, plus a pound of bread, three quarts (3.4 litres) of broth mixed with an ounce of jalap (a laxative), a quart of small beer – low alcohol normally given to servants and children – and a pint of ale.
He ate four of the plucks and had he been alone, Clarke would have finished all seven, but was deterred by his host’s scrutiny. From then, people with a voracious appetite were known as Skipper Clarke.
He was found dead in 1779 in Folly Chare, Sandgate, “through want and the inclemency of the weather”. He had by then been long regarded as a mean and miserly beggar, but in his room, hidden in a marrow bone, were 95 guineas and £24 in Portuguese gold.
Miss D Jeck - the Siamese elephant
As an opener for a stage show, an elephant walking from Edinburgh to Newcastle takes some beating. It took four days for Miss D Jeck the Siamese elephant and her entourage “preceded by her keeper without rope or chain and with perfect indifference”, having set off from Edinburgh on August 25, 1830. Bad weather had prevented her being brought by sea.
Crowds had gathered all along the 120-mile route to witness the unique occasion and several thousand greeted her arrival in the town at Barras Bridge. Straight away, “this noble animal” was taken to the Theatre Royal (then located on Mosley Street), entering through a specially-widened stage door.
That evening “she exhibited her wonderful performances” without showing any signs of fatigue. Included in Miss D Jeck’s daily diet were 76 pounds (34 kilos) of potatoes, 60 pounds (27 kilos) of hay, 11 quarter loaves and a bushel (36 dry litres) each of bran and oats. As well as water, she was allowed as much beer and wine “as anyone chose to give her”. After her Newcastle performances, Miss D Jeck was taken by steamer to her next engagement in London.
The Spanish mistress of a pub landlord on Side, Newcastle, is celebrated in several ways. He changed the name of the Crown to Crown Posada – Spanish for inn or lodging house – while, hidden under the wallpaper, are paintings depicting flamenco dancers and other Spain-inspired scenes. The murals, painted in 1927 by an unknown hand, come to light only when the pub near the Quayside is being redecorated.
Harry Hotspur - football’s hot-head
A Scots army led by the Earl of Douglas entered Newcastle in 1388 only to be met by the forces of Henry “Hotspur” Percy – renowned as a fierce warrior and son of the 1st Earl of Northumberland. The two sides engaged in a skirmish at Barras Bridge, which included hand-to-hand combat between the leaders.
Douglas captured the Percy family pennant before riding west to join the rest of his army. Harry Hotspur – so called because of his impetuous nature – became the hero of Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part One and gave his name to Tottenham Hotspur FC – the Percy family had an estate in London. Hotspur died at the Battle of Shrewsbury in 1403, shot in the eye by an arrow – a scene portrayed on The Hotspur pub sign on Percy Street.
Get well soon
Long before it was marketed as an energy drink in several flavours, Lucozade was aimed at people who were ill. Lucozade was created by chemist William Owen in a shop in Barras Bridge, Newcastle, in 1927. He already operated a mineral water factory and had worked for several years developing the glucose syrup carbonated tonic drink to provide a pleasant tasting, easily digestible, quick source of energy. It was soon made available in hospitals throughout Britain under the name Glucozade until 1929 when its name was altered to Lucozade.
The world’s first dog show
The regular Poultry Show at the Town Hall and Corn Exchange was boosted on June 28-29, 1859 with the addition of a Sporting Dogs section. What has become to be recognised as the world’s first dog show was restricted to setters and pointers only, judged on symmetry of shape and purity of breed, and attracted 60 entrants from across the country.
Local gunmaker William Rochester Pape supplied two valuable guns as prizes. Winner of the best setter was owned by William Jobling of Morpeth and best pointer belonged to J Brailsford of Knowsley in Lancashire. Later that same year another dog show was organised in Birmingham.
Police mount chastity patrols
Freezing early-winter weather wasn’t going to stop 4,000 Beatles fans queuing for a whole weekend to buy tickets to see the Beatles. They started lining up at the City Hall on October 25, 1963 for the concert that November – and waited patiently for the next 48 hours. While friends and families kept up a constant supply of soup and sandwiches, worried parents asked police to mount “chastity patrols” to protect the morality of the young girls camped out on the pavement. When the box office finally opened, 130 people were hurt in the stampede.
Ali meets the Geordies
“With your butterfly stance
And your sting like a bee
The Geordies say welcome
To Muhammad Ali.”
At Eldon Square, Ali said that Geordie welcome was the one of the greatest he’d ever experienced – anywhere – and the people made him feel like a king.
Women in men’s clothing
Women are undeniably entitled to be regarded on equal terms to men – although we all agree their legal and moral rights still have some way to go, even in the 21st Century. So, what of the two women in 1417 who dressed in male clothing to enable them to approach the shrine of St Cuthbert at Durham Cathedral closer than was legally permitted for females?
Matilda Burgh and Margaret Usher’s bold plan was thwarted and the punishment handed down was for them to walk on three holy days in front of the procession in St Nicholas’ Church and on three other festival days at All Saints Church “habited in the dresses in which they committed the offence”. Both women were in service to Peter Baxter and his wife in Newcastle and the pair were ordered to attend the spiritual court at Durham to answer a charge of being complicit in the affair.
An explosion at Barras Bridge Post Office in the early hours of June 10, 1913 bore all the hallmarks of an attack by suffragettes. Alterations were being made to the building and the timing of the incident suggests that damage to property to raise awareness of their cause was preferable to human casualties.
Two policemen in the area saw a bright flash “followed by a report”. Burnt fuses and gunpowder were later discovered, as was some damage to stone facings and brickwork.
The attack was part of a long campaign for equal rights for women and Newcastle at the time was a breeding ground of radical activity. In 1909, Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, had a visit to the city constantly interrupted by protestors, as did Chancellor of the Exchequer David Lloyd George a few months later.
The family who bought freedom
On August 3, 1846, escaped slave Frederick Douglass, invited by the Newcastle Anti-Slavery Society, gave a talk in the Salem Methodist Chapel on Hood Street. Douglass, born into slavery, had borrowed papers from a free black sailor to escape to New York and from there sailed to Britain.
At the lecture, “Slavery, the Free Church and British Agitation against Bondage”, the influential audience included Quakers Ellen Richardson and her sister-in-law Anna who were so moved they set up a fund and began negotiations to buy his freedom from slave-master Thomas Auld.
Douglass later wrote: “Without any suggestion from me, they… bought me out of slavery, secured a bill of sale of my body, made a present of myself to myself, and thus enabled me to return to the United States and resume my work for the emancipation of the slaves.”
And the price of freedom? £150 (then $750).
If you enjoyed this, why not try out Hidden Newcastle City Walk, or our ghoulish Hidden Newcastle Halloween special, featuring even more tales of the bizarre and the unexpected.
Andrew 'Jimmy' Gibbons, known to one and all as Jimmy Giblets, was, for many years, the toast of Victorian Newcastle. This Jarrow-born lad rose to the top of his trade as a butcher and his store dominated the Grainger Market for over two decades. His chicken pies were nominated to represent the city in the prestigious Tartes du Monde competition in Paris in 1882 and he was rewarded for his services by receiving the royal stamp of approval when he was made Pie-Maker to the Queen in 1884, after which he revelled in his local nickname, the Butcher of Newcastle.
He was a personable, not to say jovial, man and many people swore by his products. No-one thought anything of his high turn-over of staff, until the morning that young Alice Fentiman, who, it was claimed, had a crush on Mr Giblets, arrived early for work to help him prepare for the day. To her horror, she saw him slipping an eyeball into one of his famous chicken pies. She screamed for help and the rest is history.
In court, when asked to account for 13 missing members of his staff, he sought to blame his behaviour on the pressures of the job, but his sort always do, don't they?
Sentenced to death by hanging, he was being transported to Durham Jail when a wheel came off his coach and it crashed into an embankment. In the ensuing melee, Mr Giblets made clean his escape.
No-one knows for sure what happened to him, but it was rumoured he boarded a packet steamer for Morocco where he threw in his lot with the Barbary Coast pirates.
It is not thought that he ever returned to England, though if you are inclined to believe in the supernatural, the fate of Miss Fentiman might interest you. Shortly after her unfortunate discovery, she had moved out of Newcastle to the countryside around Hexham where she met and married a young farmer, James Henderson, but it would seem she was never able to exorcise those visions of horror that she had witnessed and she took to alcohol and then to the road. On the 13th of April, 1927, A local rector, walking to church, heard screaming from a field and when he looked up he saw, as he later described it, a black convulsing mass - so black it seemed to absorb daylight - covering the corner of a field. He ran towards it, but his vision was at first obscured by trees and when he entered the field, a ragged clamour of rooks broke in alarm from their scavenging and scattered into the sky. Curious as to what had attracted their attention, the rector, at first hesitantly, edged forward until he came upon the dead body of Alice Fentiman. Despite the undoubted presence of so many birds, he was careful to observe that the only signs of mutilation were that her eyes had been pecked out...
As late as the 1960s, renowned British folklorist Richard Mercer Dorson recorded young girls singing these words in a skipping rhyme in the Scotswood area:
"One, two, three, four:
Who's that knocking at the door?
It's Giblets Jim, Giblets Jim;
If there's eyes in the pies,
It's got to be him."
Food for thought, indeed...