There is a lot that is fine about Tyneside, but who or what constitute the finest? David Whetstone finds plenty of suggestions in a new book launched yesterday.
It was a great idea for a book, but one that would inevitably bring grumbles along with grunts of approval. The first came yesterday as Tyneside's Finest was launched by the Lord Mayor of Newcastle at the Civic Centre.
"My only complaint," said Diane Packham, "is I think there's scope for another book."
Moments earlier, Anna Flowers, who not only runs but almost is Tyne Bridge Publishing, had confided: "I'm never doing another one."
Circumstances may force her to backtrack. Any book with such a contentious title demands a sequel, maybe several, although there is the danger that a book called Tyneside's Finest II - or perhaps Tyneside's Finest Too - could be construed as a collection of the not-quite-as-fine.
The idea was to ask a host of local writers to contribute to a miscellany of things of which any Tynesider could be proud - the finest things.
Vanessa Histon, who with fellow part-timer Shawn Fairless constitutes the Tyne Bridge Publishing staff, recalled that the book was seen as a winner from the start. Its contents would be provided by the contributors and it would be really popular with the public. The idea for the book captured the imagination of the writers. Fifty four are represented in the book, including three of us who work for The Journal - myself and colleagues Tony Henderson and Ken Smith - along with Journal columnist (plus novelist and broadcaster) Denise Robertson.
As the contributions came in, said Vanessa, "it was like opening a Christmas stocking because you never knew what you would find next".
The mammoth task of selection and editing meant some tough decisions had to be made. This is a hard enough task when you only have one author to deal with, but 50 plus is quite another matter. Not every contribution could make the published pages and others had to be cut but Anna pressed on, buoyed by the experience which comes with publishing more than 100 titles under the auspices of Newcastle City Council.
It hardly helped that half way through the project, Newcastle Central Library closed down and Anna and staff had to move to the former Lemington Middle School.
But the book, launched yesterday with most of the contributors present, has to be one of Tyne Bridge Publishing's finest. It certainly puts Anna in line - should the sequel materialise - to feature as Tyneside's Finest Publisher.
Broadcaster John Grundy, in the foreword, writes: "This book is like a kaleidoscope. The history of Tyneside, its experience, influence, greatness and variety is presented as a picture made up of more than a hundred little fragments."
It is a great book to dip into, with sections devoted to places, war heroes, ships, inventors, artists, monuments and even secrets. Along with the obvious (Grey Street, Charles Parsons, Jackie Milburn, Turbinia) are some that might not have occurred to you. Here's a personal selection:
Police Horse Chubby
Ian Jackson recalls the loyal and hard-working mount of Sergeant David Roythorne, head of the Northumbria Police mounted section.
The grey gelding was born in Ireland but came to Tyneside as a six-year-old. Sgt Roythorne explains that he had all the qualities required of a police horse in that he was "as brave as a lion but as placid as a lamb". His real name was Paris but he was nicknamed Chubby because of his favourite hobby - eating. In the excitement which accompanied Alan Shearer's testimonial on May 11, few realised that this was also the last professional appearance by Chubby who had put in 19 years' loyal service which included 1,000 appearances at football matches. He is now in retirement on a Northumberland farm.
Nominated as Scotswood's finest photographer by Liz Rees, Jimmy Forsyth documented life in the Newcastle suburb in the 1950s and its demolition in the early 1960s.
Now in his 90s, he attended yesterday's book launch - not as a contributor but as a contribution. "Always smile in the face of misfortune," he advised from his wheelchair.
Jimmy, who was born in South Wales in 1913 but settled on Tyneside in the 1940s, started taking photographs after being blinded in one eye while working at a lathe. Liz chose his portrait of a boy in a new cowboy outfit, posing in the Scotswood snow in 1958, as representative of Jimmy's finest.
Tyneside's Chilliest Loo
Alex Croom imagined the shiver-inducing experience of using a multi-seat stone latrine in Roman times.
Part of such a convenience was found at Segedunum Roman Fort in Wallsend.
"Stone seating, often of marble, is known from elsewhere in the Empire.
"But very few examples are known from this country, and this is the best example of them all," writes Alex.
Mary Ann Cotton - poisoner
Well, Alan Morgan thought she was worthy of inclusion, although Finest Poisoner is not a title most people would aspire to.
Cotton, he explains, is "probably the region's most notorious serial killer".
She was born in 1832 in a Durham mining village and grew up to be an ambitious and charismatic woman. She worked as a Sunday School teacher and then a dressmaker and nurse.
An extraordinary number of people who came into contact with her didn't live into old age. According to Alan, she was responsible for killing at least 17 people, mainly relatives. At least 11 of her 18 children and stepchildren died in suspicious circumstances before the age of 10.
She was hanged in 1873 and was remembered in a children's playground rhyme: "Mary Ann Cotton, she's dead and she's rotten ..."
Nominated by Brian Bennison as Tyneside's finest footballer, Byker-born Veitch played for Newcastle United in Edwardian times when the club won three championships and five cup finals between 1905 and 1911.
He made over 300 appearances in nine different positions for the club.
What's more, he was also a performer and musical director with an operatic society, conducted choirs and was a founder of the People's Theatre where he acted, produced and wrote pantomimes.
After he died in Switzerland in 1938, The Guardian said his name had been "synonymous with honesty and good fellowship".
* Tyneside's Finest (Tyne Bridge Publishing, £9.99)