A new exhibition, organised by the brilliant Heaton History Group as part of their Heritage Lottery Fund-supported ‘Heaton Avenues in Wartime’ project, will look at Jack Common’s lively, vivid descriptions of growing up in the working class avenues of Heaton, Newcastle upon Tyne. Here, group member Chris Jackson draws on Common’s writing to look at experiences of war, community and childhood relationships in Heaton during wartime:
Jack Common was born at 44 Third Avenue on 15 August 1903. In his autobiographical novels,‘Kiddar’s Luck’ and ‘The Ampersand’, he wrote about growing up in Heaton. Although ostensibly fiction, Jack’s writing is clearly based on his own experience and his vivid memories. It tells us about aspects of life in the avenues, before and during World War One, that often we’d have no other way of knowing. Jack describes his milieu, life as a ‘corner boy,’ and gives us a rare (pupil’s) insight into life at Chillingham Road School. He writes with feeling, humour and from the perspective of the socialist he became. While we have to remember the fictional element and the personal viewpoint, Jack Common’s work is an important source for our Heaton Avenues in Wartime research.
Some of the places Jack describes have changed, of course, but to anyone familiar with Heaton, the streets (or avenues) of terraced houses and Tyneside flats are instantly recognisable over a hundred years later:
…’ the south side started with a grocer’s shop on the corner, ran straight past some eighty front doors arranged in twos, one for the upstairs flat, one for the down, and each pair separated from the next by the downstairs garden.’
…’when you could crawl and totter, you always made for the street whenever the door was open. Over the rough cement path, down the step onto the wonderfully smooth pavement, perhaps on again to the cobblestones in the middle of the road.’
So far, we’ve traced only one photograph of the Avenues taken during this period. it shows Heaton History Group member, Arthur Andrews’ great aunt, Ruth Castle, outside her home at 47 Tenth Avenue and it chimes with Jack Common’s description of his ‘territory’.
The ‘Heaton Avenues in Wartime’ exhibition will be in the lounge bar of the Chillingham pub from 16 February to mid April 2015. It contains digital copies of documents from the Jack Common Archive at Newcastle University and Tyne & Wear Archives as well as illustrations by local artists.