“The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them on again in our lifetime.” Sir Edward Grey, British Foreign Secretary, 4 August 1914.
At 11pm on August 4, 2014, millions of people put out their ‘lamps’ across the UK to mark the centenary of Britain entering the First World War.
Drawing inspiration from Sir Edward Grey’s famous quote, an exhibition at Discovery Museum, Newcastle, offers a glimpse into what life was like on Tyneside across the duration of the First World War.
It shows that by Christmas 1914, more than 21,000 men in Newcastle had signed up to support King and Country, meaning life for many Tyneside families would change beyond recognition - as would the industrial landscape.
The exhibition looks at a number of changes that occurred across various industries including retail.
Fenwicks’ on Northumberland Street carried the national campaign of ‘Business as usual’, but put a programme of patriotic activities in place including competitions for best food rationed recipes and appeals for war charities.
Women’s fashions saw a noticeable change with knee length skirts becoming fashionable due to material shortage.
Another trend from the war was heraldic china with thousands of different models made.
The purchase of such an item meant that not only did you have a souvenir but you were also supporting the war effort. The exhibition features a collection of this type of china, on loan, courtesy of John Shipley.
As Newcastle became a recruitment centre for Kitchener’s men, there was a very visible impact to the city with many buildings given new purposes.
A stand at St. James’ Park became a temporary home for new recruits as did Tilley’s Dance Hall in New Market Street, whilst Newcastle’s Royal Grammar School became the headquarters for the Newcastle Citizen’s Training League, with its games field turned into a drill yard and rifle range.
With an influx of new recruits to the region plus the close proximity to the sea, Tyneside became a target and the threat of invasion was ever more real.
Three raids happened on Tyneside during the war with the most devastating being in June 1915 which saw prime industrial targets of Wallsend, Hebburn and Jarrow hit.
The industrial powerhouse of the North East was a major supplier of munitions and equipment to the front line during the First World War. The journey of Armstrong-Whitworth and Co. is explored throughout the exhibition with particular attention on the additional pressures placed on the business.
Armstrong-Whitworth and Co. employed large numbers of women who became more commonly known as munitionettes. Although hours were long and the women worked in dirty and dangerous conditions, it was truly liberating and social with pay being three times greater than domestic service.
One of the more unusual consequences of the war on Tyneside was the creation of a Belgian community in Birtley, Gateshead. The community know as Elisabethville, after the Queen of Belgium, came about after a flood of Belgian refugees came to the area following the brutal repression in their country.
Elisabethville became home to a new munitions factory, built in 1915 to cope with the demand. Skilled Belgian workers were withdrawn from the front line to train volunteers and injured soldiers who had come to work at the new factory. The village grew and boasted houses, a school, hospitals, church, shops and a police station. At its peak more than 8,000 Belgians lived there.
As rumours circulated that the war was coming to an end celebrations on Tyneside began with people flocking the streets, speeches being made and effigies of the Kaiser burned.
On November 12, more than over 3,000 people packed into St Nicholas’s Cathedral in Newcastle for a thanksgiving service. In the summer of 1919 a Victory Festival opened on the Town Moor to coincide with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on June 28.
Carolyn Ball, Discovery Museum Manager says: ““Visitors will have the chance to see how the war affected various generations from a young school girl to a mother whose son and husband have joined the army.
“There are interesting stories throughout the exhibition, but a personal favourite of mine is about the Birtley Belgians and how this community lived in Tyneside having come into the country as refugees.”
When the Lamps went out: Life on Tyneside in the First World War is on show until June 28, 2015 and is part of Tyne & Wear Archives and Museums Heritage Lottery funded ‘Wor Life 1914-1918’ programme. For more information visit www.worlife.org.uk