My great great great grandfather, George Dodds (1810-1888) had an extraordinary life when looking through a 21st Century lens. He was born at Ouseburn, Newcastle Upon Tyne on 19 November 1810. He had to start work at 10 years old because his family had become impoverished. He eventually became a campaigner for Temperance, and on behalf of the poor. For the last year of his life he was Mayor of Tynemouth.
It’s fortunate for the researcher of family history to find such a high profile ancestor, because there are several newspaper articles, published during his lifetime, that tell about his life. It is even more fortunate that such articles are easily accessible for those with Internet connections these days. I accessed articles about George Dodds’ life from the Auckland Libraries’ Digital Library.
According to his obituary (Newcastle Weekly Courant, Saturday, December 8, 1888; Issue 11160), George Dodd’s father was a butcher and his first job was at a pottery, earning 1 shilling per week. By 14 years old, he was apprentice at the flax dressing mill of Messers Plummer & Co., at Ouseburn, Newcastle Upon Tyne (the mill is part of Ouseburn’s industrial history).
On 9 October 1833, George married Frances Middleton at All Saints Church. Frances continued with her dressmaking business after marriage, but also encouraged George to give up the booze. He signed the pledge on 24 September 1836. George was eventually able to pay back the publicans he’d owed money to as a result of the “drunken sprees” of his youth.
Following this, he became a member of the Newcastle Upon Tyne Primitive Methodist Chapel, where he rose to be a “prominent member”.
His ready wit, and great command of simple, but effective language, made Mr. Dodds a capital speaker…
Some gentlemen financially sponsored George to travel the north of England for three years as a temperance missionary .
… Mr Dodds was compelled to travel hundreds of miles on foot; and to Mr P.T. Winskill, the author of “The Temperance Reformers”, he once remarked, “You may judge I could not get rich out of it; sometimes I arrived at home penniless, and had it not for my dear Fanny we could not have lived.”
George also worked three years in Scotland “in the same cause”. Later, back in Newcastle, he became a temperance hotel keeper, and then started a business as a coffee roaster. Meanwhile he continued to campaign actively and intensely for the temperance cause.
A profile of George Dodds following his election as Tynemouth mayor, included the following image of him (Newcastle Weekly Courant 18 November 1887).
The article accomanying the image, says that, when he was a flax mill apprentice, Dodds did not take an active part in the trade union movement, because he did not agree with the often adopted method of using physical violence. It says that, when he tramped the villages of the north to deliver his temperance message, George
[proclaimed] his own meetings by means of a handbell, and …[spoke] from a chair or any other impromptu platform…
As a result of his wife’s illness, they moved to Cullercoats in 1864, where he
… laboured with great success among the fishermen.
George was also chairman of the directors of the Newcastle Permanent Benefit Building society.
When the announcement of George’s election as mayor was pending, a snippet in the Newcastle Weekly Courant ( Friday, November 18, 1887; Issue 11105) stated that many, especially publicans, in Tynemouth were opposed to Dodd’s stance on temperance.
W. M Patterson, in “The Metropolis of Four Counties: Newcastle and Gateshead”, from Northern Primitive Methodism (1909), stated:
And there are the two renowned Georges! Mightier men in the temperance world have been rarely produced than George Charlton and George Dodds. They had their hands on State affairs, too, and lived to see the enfranchisement of the workers and other reforms for which they laboured incessantly and with commanding force. The growing municipalities on the river also claimed their attention, and each borough in which they resided gave them the highest seats, for George Charlton was Mayor of Gateshead and George Dodds was Mayor of Tynemouth.
The two George’s were together prominent members of the middle period of Primitive Methodism in Newcastle Upon Tyne, and both opposed policies of the British Conservative Party.
“The Monthly Chronicle of North Country Lore and Legend” (January 1889), said this of George Dodds. He,
was elected a member of the Tynemouth Town Council in 1877, and had thus served eleven years as an efficient and useful member of that body. He had been a Guardian of the Poor in the Tynemouth Union for fifteen years, and was connected with most of the philanthropic and benevolent institutions in the borough.
It added that, on his death, George had been “the last surviving member of the original committee of the Newcastle Temperance Society”. This image accompanies the text:
George died on Wednesday 7 December 1888, a couple of weeks before his granddaughter, Fanny Jane Sinclair (née Brignal), died.
George Dodds led a very worthy life, walking the talk of temperance and service to the poor and to workers.
Alan Heath’s 2009 video of Cullercoats: includes several shots of Beverly Terrace where George and Francis Dodds lived at one time. It is also the street where John Sinclair (James Sinclair’s father) had one of his residential properties.
A fuzzy amateur video of Cullercoats in the 1950s: