Category Archives: liberal party

Edge of Tyne: border crossings in the industrial age

Now the whole river began to boom. Coal-based, this prosperity took in iron and later steel, shipbuilding, chemicals, light and heavy engineering.  This was the era of invention, and the Tyne was at the forefront.  From her banks came the first railways, the first electric lamp, the first big guns, the first Dreadnoughts, the first life boats, the most daring bridges … Now on both banks Tyneside filled with windmills and pits and factories.  The gaps between, and the long sweeps up the hillsides behind, were crammed with terrace rows of brick to house the thousands of workers who were streaming in from all over the kingdom to get richer than all but a few of them ever really did.  The salmon twitched in liquid poison and gave up the ghost.

[David Bean’s Tyneside: A Biography (1971), cited in Tyneside: A History of Newcastle and Gateshead from Earliest Times, by Alistair Moffat & George Rosie, Mainstream Publishing: Edinburgh and London, 2005: pp. 281-2.]

This came a couple of pages after Moffat and Rosie began their chapter, entitled “Workshop of the World”, on Tyneside in the first decade of the 20th Century  (Moffat & Rosie: p. 279), with this:

It’s a venerable saying, but it’s worth repeating: in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it was not Queen Victoria and her son King Edward who ruled over Britain, it was Old King Coal.

The period between 1850 and 1905 was when part of my family history shifted from Scotland to Tyneside, prior to my great grandfather (James Sinclair) and my grandmother (Marion Margaret Skelton, née Sinclair) immigrating to New Zealand. Many Scots have a long history that shifts between the Scotland and the border territory north of Tyneside.  For many centuries, there was not a clear demarcation between the two countries.  Hadrians wall was built from along the banks of the River Tyne across to Bowness-on-Solway (east of Carlisle, on England’s north east coast).

Between Benwell and Newcastle City Centre Hadrian’s Wall more or less ran along the course of what is now the Westgate Road.

“Between Benwell and Newcastle City Centre Hadrian’s Wall more or less ran along the course of what is now the Westgate Road.” (Going Glenn blog)

Hadrian’s Wall was a defence built to help keep the borderland and Scottish clans out of England.  Some of my other ancestors originally lived and fought in that border territory (the Skeltons and the Nobles) at least as far back as the 16th Century. The Scottish clans ceased their attempts to annex Northumberland and Tyneside after their defeat by James IV at Flodden Field in 1513 (Moffat & Rosie, p. 153).  Following this, bandits (or “Border Reivers”) raided and terrorised others in the border territory and Scotland.  The Nobles were bandits that terrorised many families, including the Skeltons.

Later, in the 19th Century, with Scotland part of Britain, many Scots travelled to the Tyneside area to participate in the acceleration of industrialisation in the region.  My great great grandfather, John Sinclair (1826-1895), and his brother Robert Sinclair (1836-?) migrated to Tyneside in the mid 19th Century, where they began getting experience in the tobacco industry.  They opened a small tobacco shop in Newcastle Upon Tyne in 1856.

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Robert Sincalr Tobacco Factory (c.1919), top floor of the Westgate Road building.

Robert Sinclair Tobacco Factory (c.1919), top floor of the Westgate Road building.

The coal industry developed early in Tyneside because coal was relatively close to the earth’s surface and easily mined.  As industrialisation gathered steam, the ship building industry developed around the Tyne. This provided a context out of which associated industries and commercial activities developed. With the relatively quick rise in population, activities arose that supported urban living and city life: arts and education for instance.

Migration from places like Ireland and Scotland and other places contributed to religious diversity. The Anglican Church was dominant, with a significant amount of political/social “dissenters” in Presbyterian, and non-conformist churches such as Congregationalist and Methodist churches (Moffat & Rosie: p. 268).  Working classes tended to be associated with non-conformist churches such as the Primitive Methodists (A New England? Peace and War, 1886-1918,  G.R. Searle, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 2004: p. 104).

Industrial development, urban rural shifts, and the rise of the popular press in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries (Searle p110-111), resulted in a shift from local towards more nationally focused politics.  From 1885 to the mid 90s, the (Gladstone) Liberal Party supported Home Rule for Ireland (Searle: pp. 119-169).  This was a signficiant issue which at times split Liberals.  The very active Temperance movement also was associated with the Liberal Party.

It was into this context that James Sinclair was born (1861) and married (1882) at a Primitive Methodist Church in North Shields, Tyneside.  This evangelical church was associated with the Temperance movement and working class culture.  It adopted the popular culture practices of “Chapel”, as opposed to the more classical style of the Anglican Church.  It is not surprising, then, that my grandmother, (born Marion Margaret Sinclair in 1883) was teetotal throughout her life, and advocated an abstemious lifestyle along with strict observance of Sunday as a religious day.  Nevertheless, perhaps reflecting the context of religious diversity on Tyneside where she grew up, she also supported middle and upper class culture in the form of music, literature and the arts.

The Newcastle band, Lindisfarne, achieved popular success in the 1970s, drawing on the Celtic culture that was, by then, an important part of the Newcastle heritage.

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Filed under heritage, history, james sinclair, john sinclair, liberal party, marion margaret sinclair, newcastle upon tyne, temperance