Inspirations from history

We couldn't present the North East's most influential people without studying who and what has gone before.

We couldn't present the North East's most influential people without studying who and what has gone before. Alastair Gilmour looks at some of those who have shaped our lives and moulded the region's determination.

What an influential lot we are – and have been for hundreds of years.

Research into The 500 Most Influential... has uncovered some amazing people involved in a huge variety of areas, from politics to church pews and from football pitches to boardrooms.

But would some of our 500 be where they are today without lessons from the past?

It's a subject for debate and there is no doubt that there are thousands of worthy individuals who have left their mark on the North East's spirit of enterprise, adventure and endeavour, and bequeathed us the results of their influence.

Some of them are well known, such as Lord Armstrong, the Stephensons – George and Robert – Grainger and Dobson, but other noteworthy personalities from the region's history deserve to be remembered equally for their significant contributions, their effectiveness, persuasive powers and authority.

Emperor Hadrian

And, taking the subject as far as we can, could we describe Emperor Hadrian (AD 76-138) as the North East's first inward investor?

The wall he had built to protect the Roman Empire's northern flank from marauding Picts and Scots is the most popular tourist attraction in Northern England.

It was made a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1987 and as English Heritage describes it as "the most important monument built by the Romans in Britain", we have got to take his contribution to present-day society into account.

Construction of its 80 Roman miles (73.5 statute miles or 117 kilometres) probably started in AD 122 – from east to west – and was largely completed within eight years.

The route chosen paralleled the nearby Stanegate road from Luguvalium (Carlisle) to Coria (Corbridge), which was already defended by a system of forts, including the remarkably well-preserved Vindolanda.

In time, the Romans left and the wall was abandoned and fell into ruin.

Over the centuries and even in relatively recent years, a large proportion of the stone was reused in local buildings, such as farmhouses.

Hadrian's influence, therefore, spans 2,000 years.

Venerable Bede

Hadrian's Wall had been standing for 500 years by the time The Venerable Bede (623-735) was born.

The author and scholar was a Benedictine monk at the monastery of Saint Peter in Monkwearmouth – today part of Sunderland – and of its companion monastery, Saint Paul's, in modern Jarrow.

His most famous work, Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum (The Ecclesiastical History of the English People), gained him the title "The father of English history".

He was trained by abbots Benedict Biscop and Ceolfrid, whom he accompanied to Jarrow in 682 where he spent his life, with daily activities being teaching and writing.

It is thought the library at Wearmouth-Jarrow contained between 300 and 500 books, making it one of the largest and most extensive in England.

He died at Jarrow and his body was transferred to Durham Cathedral in the 11th Century.

Lord William George Armstrong

If Lord William George Armstrong (1810-1900) were alive today, he would be worth billions and probably have his own television series.

Born in Shieldfield, Newcastle, the son of a corn merchant, he initially planned to become a lawyer until his interest in engineering led him into a number of inventions in the 1840s, which included a hydrauliccrane.

One of his more important later inventions was the Armstrong breech-loading gun.

He set up a factory at Elswick in Newcastle in 1847, which made electrical mechanisms and engines, and was made engineer to the war department, then gained a knighthood.

His company started building ships in 1882, by which time it was the biggest employer on Tyneside, with more than 20,000 employees.

In 1897 the firm amalgamated with Joseph Whitworth and later became Vickers Armstrong.

He used his great wealth to restore Bamburgh Castle and to build Cragside Hall near Rothbury in Northumberland which became the first house in Britain to be lit by hydroelectric power.

Although engineer and philosopher Sir Ove Arup (1895-1988) was born in Newcastle, he spent the majority of his life outside the North East, but the region can assume some credit for the impact he had on the world.

He is generally considered the foremost engineer of his time and a man who made an enormous impression on the design and built environment sector.

He studied in Copenhagen, specialising in reinforced concrete, and simply wanted the man-made world to be a better place.

He formed Ove Arup & Partners and was the design engineer for the iconic Sydney Opera House (1957-1973).

In the North East he personally supervised the design and construction in 1963 of Durham's Kingsgate Bridge and became so attached to the project that his ashes were scattered from it.

The Ove Arup Foundation has been set up to continue the stimulation and education of students working in engineering.

Gertrude Bell

The story of Gertrude Bell (1868-1926) could have come straight from an adventure album.

The explorer, archaeologist and writer was born in Washington, County Durham, then moved with her family to Redcar in Cleveland.

She gained a first-class honours degree in modern history at Oxford and from that time on her life was governed by a love of Arab peoples.

She learned Persian and Arabic, investigated archaeological sites in the Middle East and wrote about her findings and her travels in 16,000 letters and 16 diaries.

She also took 7,000 photographs – some of which record structures which have since been badly eroded or have disappeared altogether.

Her knowledge of the region brought her to the attention of the British intelligence services during the First World War and she joined the Mesopotamia Expeditionary Force in Basra and Baghdad in Iraq.

When the Ottoman Empire collapsed in 1919, she was assigned to conduct an analysis of the situation in Mesopotamia and to study the options for future leadership in Iraq.

Her influence led to the creation of a country inhabited by a Shi'ite majority in the south with Sunni and Kurdish minorities in the centre and north respectively.

By denying the Sunni Kurds a separate, autonomous area or state, the British tried to balance the heavy predominance of Shia in Iraq and keep control of the potential oil fields in their territory.

There are some who consider the present troubles in Iraq to be derived from the lines Gertrude Bell helped draw to create its borders.

In 1920, she became Oriental Secretary to the British High Commission in Iraq and was influential in establishing the Hashimite Dynasty when King Faisal I became the country's first monarch in 1921.

She also established the Iraq Museum in Baghdad and is buried in the city.

A Gertrude Bell Project has been set up at the University of Newcastle library to check and complete the transcription of her manuscripts and to catalogue and digitise the photographs of a remarkable woman.

The early years of the 20th Century saw times of great social upheaval reflected in women staking their claim for equality and Gertrude Bell was by no means alone in striking out fearlessly in a male-dominated environment.

Suffragette Emily Davison (1872-1913) was buried in the graveyard at St Mary's Church in Morpeth, Northumberland, following her death in 1913 after she had run out from the crowd at that year's Epsom Derby.

She died from injuries sustained while apparently trying to pin the suffragette colours to the bridle of King George V's horse, Anmer, as the Derby field raced past her on Tattenham Corner.

It's thought the idea was that the horse would be seen by the world literally carrying the colours of women's suffrage as it passed the winning post.

Emily, who was brought up near Morpeth, gained a first-class honours degree at Oxford and became appalled at the lack of opportunities for women in late Victorian society, including a denial of the right to vote.

She joined the suffragettes, took part in attacks on property and was sent to prison for her activities – on one occasion barricading herself in her cell to escape force-feeding.

Sixteen years ago Labour councillors in Morpeth launched a fundraising campaign to restore her grave to its original design to make it more of a visitor attraction.

A commemoration service was held in the church on June 12, 2008, when members of Emily's family were invited to attend and inspect the refurbished grave.

Its headstone is inscribed with the motto, Deeds Not Words.

Grace Darling, Earl Grey, Basil Hume, Catherine Cookson, Archie Jones – influential North-East names to conjure with; hushed tones accompany their delivery and eachis cloaked in reverence, admiration, respect and esteem. Except one.

Newcastle Brown Ale

Archie Jones could be considered the equivalent of Michael Collins, the third man on the 1969 Apollo 11 space mission to the Moon – the chap who had to stay in the spaceship whilst Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin gravitated into history.

On April 25, 1927, Newcastle Brown Ale was advertised for sale for the first time in the Newcastle Daily Journal.

Archie Jones, chief chemist at Newcastle Breweries Ltd, along with assistant brewer Lieutenant Colonel James Herbert Porter DSO had been working on a secret project for three years – the introduction of a new bottled beer with the levels of strength, colour and flavour that would suit the demands of the region's drinkers.

During 1924, directors of Newcastle Breweries had taken note of the rising popularity of bottled beers and a decision was made at that year's annual general meeting to begin experimenting with a new product.

An updated bottling facility had already been commissioned in Bath Lane, close by the Tyne Brewery in Newcastle, and the company was gearing up for expansion.

Porter and Jones were handed a terrific opportunity to combine their complementary skills and eventually came up with a malt-rich, caramel-influenced beer that slides effortlessly into a slightly nutty aftertaste.

As it turned out, Jim Porter got virtually all the credit; he was promoted to head brewer the following year and by 1962, the First World War commander of the 6th Battalion of the North Staffordshire Regiment had been elevated to company chairman.

Archie Jones got the Michael Collins treatment of the supporting role – so near yet so far and virtually forgotten.

These days, Newcastle Brown Ale is a global success story with a presence in 40 countries.

We have a lot to be thankful for to Colonel Jim Porter - and, of course, the forever-orbiting Archie Jones.

No history of the North East would be complete without a bus trip taken almost 150 years ago.

"Aw went to Blaydon races, 'twas on the ninth of Joon, Eiteen hundred an' sixty two, on a summer's afternoon," wrote balladeer Geordie Ridley.

His song – more often than not sung with words in the wrong place, but always with great pride and gusto – has become the Geordie national anthem.

It tells the story of a Victorian day on Tyneside – Whit Monday, June 9, 1862 – and a bus trip to the annual race meeting held on Blaydon Island in the Tyne.

It was performed for the first time at Balmbra's Music Hall (then officially known as The Wheatsheaf Inn) four days earlier at a concert in aid of a testimonial to the famous Tyneside oarsman Harry Clasper.

"Aw tyek the bus frae Balmba's, an she was heavy laden, Away we went alang Collingwood Street, that's on the road to Blaydon." Geordie Ridley was born in Gateshead on February 10, 1835.

Perhaps the most well-known of Tyneside composers, he began his working life in a local pit before a near-fatal accident prevented him from carrying out any further manual work.

He turned to performing as a means of support, beginning his singing career at the Grainger Music Hall in Newcastle and had a good voice, a natural wit and a talent for writing dialect songs.

He is also remembered for the other classic Tyneside song, Cushy Butterfield, about the fish lass who liked her beer.

But his influence from St James's Park to Women's Institute will for ever be summed up with:

"Oh lads, ye shud only seen us gannin',
We pass'd the foaks upon the road just as they wor stannin';
Thor wes lots o' lads an' lasses there, all wi' smiling faces,
Gawn alang the Scotswood Road, to see the Blaydon Races."
(Words first published in Allan's Book of Tyneside Songs in 1862.)

The song has long been an accompaniment to North East sporting success and must surely be of huge benefit in spurring athletes on – none more so than the man with the initials that helped shape his life.

Jackie Milburn

There are fewer football players anywhere held in greater affection than John Edward Thompson Milburn – JET by name and, through his turn of foot, jet by nature.

"Wor Jackie", as Newcastle United fans dubbed him, was the most famous member of the great Magpies team of the 1950s, a tremendous controller of a ball at speed and a sliding tackle style that took the ball cleanly from opponents but which would be grounds for dismissal these days.

He was born in Ashington, Northumberland, in 1924 and from an early age, it was clear that he was destined to be a great sportsman.

After leaving school at the age of 14, he tried his hand at a variety of jobs, then having been granted a trial with Newcastle, scored six goals in one game.

He was instantly signed up for the first team for the statutory £10 registration fee, and quickly became a favourite with the supporters.

He achieved a scoring rate of a goal every other game -–178 goals in 11 years at St James's Park.

He led the forwards as Newcastle won the FA Cup three times in five seasons, in 1951, 1952 and 1955, scoring both goals in the team's 2-0 win over Blackpool in the 1951 final, and put away a classic header to set up a 3-1 win over Manchester City four years later.

His first-minute header in the 1955 final remains one of the quickest-ever in the FA Cup.

He succeeded Tommy Lawton as England centre-forward, and scored 10 goals in only 13 international appearances, a scandalously poor haul of caps for such a talent.

He retired as a player in 1963 after a short career in Ireland with Linfield, scoring more than 100 goals in only two seasons and appearing in European Cup matches, a rare distinction for anyone connected with Newcastle United.

He was briefly manager of Ipswich Town before taking up a successful career in journalism.

He was made a Freeman of the City of Newcastle and a statue outside St James's Park is a permanent reminder of his enveloping presence.

Earl Grey

Mention Earl Grey today and it's more likely what springs to mind is a blend of tea rather than one of our most influential prime ministers.

Earl Grey, born at Falloden in Northumberland, was a solidly Whig politician and oversaw four years of political reform that had an enormous impact on the development of democracy in Britain.

His political experience before becoming prime minister, however, was limited.

He first took office briefly under William Grenville in 1806, but it was nearly a quarter of a century before he returned as top man.

Earl Grey's most remarkable achievement was the Reform Act of 1832, which set in train a gradual process of electoral change, sowing the seeds of the system we are familiar with today.

Around 130 years of parliamentary reform began with this act and culminated in universal suffrage for men and women over 18, alongside secret ballots and legitimate constituencies.

The battle to pass the historic act was a difficult one.

Grey resigned after the Lords rejected it, although he later returned to office and was able to push the bill through.

His other reforming measures included restrictions on the employment of children and the abolition of slavery in the British Empire in 1833.

The influence is a lasting one – Grey's Monument in Newcastle is about to be the subject of headlines in every corner of the world.

Japanese artist Tatzu Nishi has come up with the exciting idea of installing a hotel suite around the city-centre figure that stands high above Grey Street.

If planning permission is granted, the room will operate for a month this summer as part of the

NewcastleGateshead Culture 10 festival. As for the tea, Earl Grey reputedly received it as a gift, probably a diplomatic present.

It became so popular that he asked British tea merchants to recreate it.

Grey Street was previously known as New Dean Street and a report from The Newcastle Journal on October 31, 1835, outlines the "great interest amongst the inhabitants of Newcastle... of the groundplans accompanied by elevational and sectional drawings of Mr Grainger's projected improvements of the town".

Builder Richard Grainger and architect John Dobson were setting out plans to transform Newcastle into a grandly eloquent but utterly functional city, aided by town clerk John Clayton, whose knowledge of the machinations of planning committees would become invaluable.

On New Dean Street, The Journal noted: "This magnificent street will be 80ft wide, the flagged path on each side being 12ft and the carriageway McAdamised."

Grainger, Dobson and Clayton all deserve recognition for the creation of the centre of Newcastle in the Neoclassical style which, in the main still exists, at least on the frontages.

Dobson provided much of the creative input to the scheme, whereas Grainger provided the essential drive to get the project completed.

However, without Clayton's influence, the scheme would not have been accepted in the first place.

It is ironic that Grainger's plan for a new commercial centre for Newcastle only lasted a short time, as the building of the new railway terminal on Neville Street in 1849 drew trade away from Grey Street.

The development of Northumberland Street as a new shopping centre further accelerated Grey Street's decline as the commercial focus.

But it is an outrage that in the 1970s, in the push for modernisation, most of old Eldon Square and about a quarter of the original scheme were demolished to make way for modern buildings, some of which have been replaced since.

However, much remains, including Grey Street, which was voted England's finest in 2005 in a survey of BBC Radio 4 listeners and overlooked by the tea-supping Earl.


David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer