The Craxford Family Magazine Blue Pages

{$text['mgr_blue1']} Simpson 4

The Simpsons: A century of printing in South Shields

by Donald Simpson, Alan D. Craxford, Andy Simpson and Natalie Thorne


Robert Simpson

Robert Simpson

Robert Simpson was born, as far as we can tell, in 1832 in the bustling port town of South Shields which stands on the south bank of the estuary of the River Tyne. So far no definitive information has been discovered about his parents and little concrete evidence survives of his early family life. He married a local girl, Hannah Elliott – who was also born around 1832 – in the Summer of 1859.

The census return of 1861 shows that the young Simpson family had moved to the area near Stoddart Street in the All Saints district of Newcastle upon Tyne. The 28 year old Robert was working as a printer-compositor and pressman for the company that printed and published the Newcastle Journal. Hannah was busy as the homemaker and looking after her infant son, Robert Anthony, at their house in a courtyard behind Ingham Place.

Over the course of the next ten years Robert Simpson prospered and he reached the position of foreman printer. He and Hannah had a second son, Joseph Austin Simpson, in 1866 who was also born in Newcastle upon Tyne. Then, prior to the date of the next census Robert had moved the family back to South Shields. Their address was given as 80 King Street in the centre of the town which was also described as 'North & South Shields Gazette Printing Office'.

Ingham Place, Newcastle upon Tyne

Ingham Place 1861 and 2013

The riddle of Robert's father

The course and events in Robert's later life are not in doubt. As mentioned above he can be accurately placed any time after his marriage to Hannah Elliott in 1859. All that is known for certain is that he was born sometime between the autumn of 1831 and the spring of 1832. The problem arises from the declaration he made on his marriage certificate that his father was one Thomas Simpson, a cooper. No suitable candidate has been found in the family's immediate locality.

It is of interest to study a series of maps of the area and track the development and spread of the settlements on the south side of the River Tyne. In the first half of the nineteenth century, South Shields, Westoe, Harton, Tyne Dock and Jarrow were distinct entities although by the century's end their boundaries were becoming merged. South Shields occupies a fairly narrow strip along the Tyne with occupations devoted to shipbuilding, seafaring and heavy industry. It is also divided colloquially into subdivisions such as High Shields, Corstophine Town and Temple Town.

Early on, Westoe was a separate village lying to the east of South Shields. Jarrow was an ancient settlement along the river bank to the west. Confusion is easily wrought by documentation of the time. In the 1871 census, for instance, a resident in Commercial Road, High Shields found himself in the Civil Parish of Westoe; the Municipal Borough, Parliamentary Borough and Improvement Commissioners District of South Shields; the Municipal Ward of Jarrow and the Ecclesiastical Division of Holy Trinity. To complicate research even further, the whole area was part of the County of Durham until the reorganisation brought about by the Local Government Act 1972. Now it forms the Metropolitan Borough of South Tyneside which itself is part of the County of Tyne and Wear.

George, the father in law

St Hildas Church

St Hilda's about 1901 (2)

Our main theory suggests that Thomas was not Robert's father at all; indeed that Robert was born illegitimate. The root of this postulate is circumstantial but as it develops the weight of evidence becomes increasingly compelling. All documents state that he was born in South Shields. A report in a local newspaper (1) at the time of his death noted that he had recently completed fifty years connected with the printing trade. Perusal of the 1851 census returns for South Shields shows only one Robert Simpson born in 1832, a 19 year old printer and compositor. He was living in the household of George and Ann Farrow where his relationship was described as son-in-law. There were also two daughters and a son (Mary, Sarah and John) in the house at the time. Ten years previously, the 1841 census confirms the 9 year old Robert in the same household, although this time the couple had three daughters (Mary, Agnes and Sarah).

George Farrow originated from a small village near Retford, Nottinghamshire. For a time he worked as an assistant in an alkali manufacturing firm. Later he became a gardener. Ann Simpson was born in South Shields. The date of her birth has not been confirmed with any certainty, but most documents suggest that she was several years older than George.

They were married at St Paul's Church, Jarrow on April 23rd 1834. The relationship of the two witnesses (W B Simpson and Sarah Ann Simpson) to Ann has not yet been established. Just over two years earlier, an Ann Simpson had given birth to a boy she named Robert, who was baptised at St Hilda's Church, South Shields on December 18th 1831.

The Farrow's first home was in Deer Lane, a narrow alley off Tyne Street adjacent to the Graving Dock, north of the Market Place in the centre of South Shields. Ten years later they had moved about half a mile east to Oliver Street. The North and Shields Gazette was founded in 1849 as a weekly newspaper printed every Thursday. In 1858 it was under the proprietorship of Henry A. Yorke, printer and publisher, whose officers were at 8 Dean Street, South Shields (3). This would have been only a short walk away for the young Robert, just beginning to learn his trade.

Robert's future bride, Hannah, was the daughter of master mariner Joseph Elliott. In 1851, the family were living in North Street, just to the north of King Street, in the town. She had been baptised at St Hilda's Church on September 7th 1831. The couple may have met through the auspices of same Henry A. Yorke, who was also secretary of the Northumberland and Durham Deep Sea Fishing Company.

Holy Trinity Church

Holy Trinity about 1900 (4)

The next question is why the wedding of Robert Simpson and Hannah Elliott took place at Holy Trinity Church, which stood on the corner of Commerical Road and Laygate Lane. The church was built in 1834 and became a separate parish in 1848. Prior to this the whole area was within the parish of St Hilda's. Again, study of the map of South Shields shows two distinct clusters of residences and places of interest for this family. Around this time the Elliott household had moved south to Railway Terrace whilst George and Ann Farrow had moved to Barnes Cottages, both of which lay in the area known as High Shields and now within the parish of Holy Trinity Church. We have also traced the two witnesses to the marriage ceremony, both of whom lived close to the church. George Dempster, a shipwright, was firstly resident in Cornwallis Square and then Robson Street. Isabella Dales, the widow of another mariner, was in her mid 50s at the time of the wedding. In 1851 she was living in Windmill Hill and then later in Barrow Street. Is it possible that she was related to either the bride or the groom?

George and Ann Farrow's middle daughter, Agnes, had returned home by the time of the census of 1861. She was reportedly married to a mariner by the name of Willough although no further details of this have ever been discovered. George and Ann's son, John, and youngest daughter, Sarah, both still unmarried, were also at home. Sarah married Robert Dryden in Tynemouth in 1866. She became pregnant and gave birth to a daughter, Ann, in the last quarter of the following year but died soon afterwards, presumably from complications of the confinement.

Death announcement

Death notice (5)

Robert Simpson's mother, Ann, died on August 19th 1869. After her death, widower George moved into one of the Waggonway cottages on Railway Terrace taking with him his granddaughter, Ann Dryden. At about the same time, Agnes Farrow married John Hymers in Gateshead in 1871. This marriage, too, was shortlived and to make ends meet, Agnes opened an eating house on Thornton Street in Corstophine Town. As he grew older, George Farrow's health failed and by 1881 Ann Dryden had moved from his house to join her aunt Agnes in the cafe. Sadly, both George and Agnes died in 1883. Where Ann went after this is not known.

Thomas, the Cooper

A discussion in a recent family history journal (6) noted that 'just because it says something on an official Certificate, does not make it true'. The article cited census returns as potentially unreliable but marriage certificates were found to be the main area where respondents had been most economical with the truth. It is by no means rare to find that the name of a father had been invented to hide the spouse's illegitimacy. There are two or three examples of this in our own database. There are times, too, when it is the grandfather's name that is used as a substitute - although usually this follows when the child has been brought up by its grandparents.

Whether by accident or design, George Farrow's description of the 19 year old Robert as a son-in-law cannot be right. Ignoring dates and ages, this would have implied that he and his wife had a daughter that Robert had married. The best explanation is that Robert was George's stepson which would fit the facts outlined in the previous section.

So, were there any barrell makers named Thomas Simpson in the North East of England at the time? There is apparently only one. He was born about 1825, the son of George Simpson of Gateshead. He was deaf and dumb and attended the Blind, Deaf and Dumb Asylum in Willington Place, Newcastle upon Tyne in the late 1830s. Apart from being too young, he remained unmarried.

There were several as yet unrelated Simpson families living in South Shields in the opening decades of the nineteenth century. Perhaps the most intriguing was living in Cornwallis Square at the time of the 1841 census. Thomas (born about 1791) and Sarah (born about 1795) Simpson were living there with their 20 year old son, George. Thomas' occupation was listed merely as 'Navy'. Could they have been Ann Simpson's parents? If so, this Sarah could have been the Sarah Ann Simpson who witnessed George Farrow's marriage. Also, this Thomas would have been Robert's grandfather and would then have satisfied his marriage certificate conundrum.

A revolution in printing

A Linotype machine

Linotype machine

"Ottmar, you've done it again! A line o' type!" Whitelaw Reid, publisher of the New York Tribune, exclaimed on July 3, 1886, when Ottmar Mergenthaler demonstrated his new Linotype machine. The Linotype quickly brought about a revolution in the printing industry.

More than 400 years after Johann Gutenberg invented moveable type, a process that allowed printers to set type by hand a letter at a time, the Linotype allowed printers to set a complete line of type, using the Linotype's 90-character keyboard. Because the Gutenberg process was so slow, most large newspapers consisted of no more than eight pages. But with the advent of the Linotype, that was to change quickly, and within 20 years Linotypes were in use in every state.

Mergenthaler's invention measured 7 feet tall, 6 feet wide and 6 feet deep. It allowed newspapers to compose pages four to five times faster and caused thousands of hand compositors to lose their jobs. A skilled Linotype operator could cast four to seven lines of type a minute. The Linotype operator's key strokes told the machine which letter molds to retrieve from the magazines and the machine assembled a row of metal molds, or matrices, that contained imprints of those characters. Then, the machine poured molten lead into the matrices and the result was a complete line of newspaper type, but in reverse, so that it would read properly when it transferred ink to the page. The machine automatically restored the matrices to the magazines after the lead was poured.

In 1882, Mergenthaler began designing the early versions of the Linotype. Mergenthaler reportedly got the idea for the brass matrices that would serve as molds for the letters from wooden molds used to make "Springerle," which are German Christmas cookies. As a boy he had carved a Springerle mold for his stepmother. Even though the Blower Linotype functioned effectively, Mergenthaler continued to refine the design. In 1892, he developed the Simplex Linotype Model 1, which became the prototype for more than 100,000 Linotype machines. (7)

Linotype in Shields

By 1881, the Simpson family had moved from King Street to a house at 6, Baring Street. This thoroughfare ran from Ocean Road (the western extension of King Street) northward to the shipyards at the mouth of the Tyne. Both sons followed their father into the printing trade; Robert Anthony a letterpress printer and Joseph a compositor printer.

Newspaper page

The Simpsons

During this time Robert Simpson acquired a linotype printing press which was one of the first to be commissioned in the North East of England and with it started the publication of his own periodicals from the company’s new registered offices at 4 Dean Street, South Shields. During the middle years of the 1890s, the family bought a house in Chapter Row, a narrow lane which ran from the south east corner of the Market Place parallel with King Street. The property was demolished and a new red brick building was constructed to house the printing plant and offices.

The first of his periodicals was the monthly The Tyneside Review which initially appeared on October 1st 1887 with a cover price of sixpence. It carried a weighty diet of articles ranging from (in Volume 1 Number 3) 'Hamlet: A Character Study' and 'Philosophy and Philosophers: Plato' to 'A Geological Ramble Through Tyneside'. There was also a selection of poems and a chess puzzle. There was no news or current affairs as such although one article 'A Moot Point: Free Education' (See EXTRACT below) contained some eerily familiar arguments that would haunt present day politicians.

During the same decade Robert set up the local newspaper 'The Free Press and Advertiser'. Its inaugural issue was in December 1895 and it was published regularly until 1904. The paper is celebrated in a limited edition volume 'The Linotype' which appeared in 1901. The page is a reproduction of the front page of the newspaper. Superimposed on this are the portrait photographs of the three printers (father and two sons) and their signatures.

Copies of the newspaper can still be found in the Public Library in South Shields and in the archives of the British Library, Colindale. Competition and the introduction of new technologies contrived to make the Free Press uneconomic and later that year it was absorbed into the Shields Gazette.

Extract: A moot point in education

“Up to that period (prior to 1869) educational facilities here were inferior to those of continental nations. Dr Lyon Playfair said in a speech in Newcastle upon Tyne: ‘While other nations in Europe have spread primary and secondary education in well-organised systems throughout their lands, England has not even laid the foundation stone of a national system till the present year and so we have the disgrace of being the worst educated people as a whole of any country which professes a high civilisation’.

According to statistics the sum of £4,755,299 was paid out of local rates throughout the United Kingdom towards the cost of education in 1881; and no doubt since that time this amount has increased. A considerable part of this is paid for by small property owners who comprise thrifty working men, tradesmen and the middle classes generally. The question is how are we to obviate this evil? It is evident however from the facts that Free Education is not to be dealt with in the simple manner suggested by Mr Chamberlain viz; the payment of school pence by the addition of three farthings in the pound Tax. This would be taxing one part of the community for the good of the another; and would be increasing an admittedly iniquitous tax, created to meet special war expenditure, and still considered by many only a temporary source of revenue.

Mr Chamberlain’s idea of a Graduated Income Tax seems a more equitable method of exacting this revenue and by its adoption the £15,900,000 now derived from this source might be increased to an extent sufficient to meet the increased cost of primary education.”

Ravensbourne Terrace

Meanwhile, Robert and Hannah Simpson moved again, this time to 4 Ravensbourne Terrace. This was a row of houses on what was then called Bent House Lane (it was subsequently renamed Beach Road) and which backed onto the complex of Mariners Cottages on Broughton Road. It was close by Westoe Vicarage. Younger son, Joseph Austin, moved with them. In 1891, their 11 year old niece Sarah Ann Bennett was living with them too.

Hannah Simpson died on November 21st 1898, probably brought about by the complications of an episode of gastroenteritis. Robert survived her by six months. After a short illness caused by influenza he died on May 23rd 1899. They were both interred in Westoe Cemetery, less than half a mile away from the family home. An obelisk was raised at the site, the inscriptions on which commemorate various members of the family. Although the cemetery is now closed to further burials, the grave site can be accessed from Erskine Road.

Robert left the house and the printing business in his will in equal measure to his two sons.

The Simpson obelisk, Westoe Cemetery, South Shields

The family grave and obelisk

Continued in column 2...

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First added 10 May 2005
Updated and Expanded October 1st 2013

A tragedy at the end

Joseph Simpson

Joseph Simpson

Joseph Austin Simpson married Dorothy Anderson at Christ Church, North Shields during the winter of 1896. She was the daughter Thomas Anderson and Dorothy Rochester. Her father was a master mariner and the family had lived for many years in Rudyerd Street in the town. Almost immediately after the marriage, they moved to Salmon Street, South Shields where they had four children by the time of the 1901 census.

As the new century flowered Joseph became distracted from the printing business. He spent more time with a M. Leuliette (a frenchman) after whom he named one of his sons. One day at home he met with an accident and fell several feet from a ladder. He subsequently succumbed to his injuries. There was no inquest and the offical cause of death was given as 'uraemia'. In parenthesis was written 'cannot state' which neither confirms nor denies the family's collective memory of this traumatic demise. The business passed to the control of Robert Anthony Simpson; the heirs of Joseph looked to the sea and the merchant marine or to education for their careers.

Elder son Henry Leuliette Simpson was born in 1897. In his late teens, he joined the merchant navy. Over the course of six years he undertook Board of Trade examinations and gained successively his Certificates of Competency as second mate, first mate and ultimately Master of a foreign-going steamship in July 1924. He married Ellen Welch in South Shields in 1924 and had four sons. During the second world war he became an assistant harbourmaster at Northumberland Docks in North Shields. A fuller account of Henry's story can be found in the article Me and my brothers: Chapter 1: Formative years by Donald Simpson.

Joseph and Dorothy Simpson also had two daughters, Elsie Elizabeth (born 1899) and Dorothy (born 1901). They were to marry brothers, two of the sons of George and Isabella Wallace: Elsie to Matthew Frederick Wallace in 1932 and Dorothy to George Wallace in 1951. Henry Leuliette Simpson gave his lastborn son, Brian, the middle name Wallace.

R. Simpson & Sons, Printers

Robert A Simpson

Robert Anthony Simpson

Robert Anthony Simpson was the first of the sons to marry. His bride was Mary Ann Liddell, the daughter of a cabinet maker. The wedding took place in Newcastle upon Tyne on February 18th 1886. Their first home was 62 Broughton Road, South Shields, a mid terrace house situated between Selbourne Street and South Woodbine Street. Their first two sons, Robert and Thomas Liddell, were born there. They moved to 4 Ravensbourne Terrace, South Shields and between 1892 and 1901 they had three more children: Mabel (1892), Harold (1896) and Leonard (1901). Although the newspaper publishing business has been subsumed they continued to operate the printing concern. In the early years of the new century he became a founder member of the South Shields Royal Permanent Building Society.

Oldest son Robert, who had been born in November 1886, married Ellen, the daughter of Charles Allen and Mary Rewcastle in 1909. Her father had been a railway carpenter but had died before the turn of the century. Ellen gave birth to their first son, Leonard, on June 4th 1910. By 1911, Robert and Ellen had moved into a house at 21 Saville Street along with Ellen's mother and older unmarried sister, Margaret. Three more children followed: a second son, Robert (born 1916) and two daughters Mary (1912) and Yolanda (1923). In the last years of his life, Robert moved to Rugby, Warwickshire. He suffered from diabetes and poor circulation from which he died on July 20th 1959.

Leonard Simpson

Leonard Simpson (10)

By 1914, the printing business was operating fully from the premises in Chapter Row, South Shields (8) and had added the capacity for book binding. Robert Anthony Simpson's oldest son, Robert, joined the company, and during the war years was working as a printing engineer. In due course, Robert Anthony Simpson's youngest son, 21 year old Leonard, joined the company and, when his father's health began to fail, took over control of the firm in 1924. For the best part of another forty years, the presses continued to operate (9) and the business remained a family concern. In 1946, Leonard's 16 year old son Thomas joined the concern. At its height, R. Simpson & Sons had contracts for printing the minutes of both South Shields and Tynemouth Town Councils as well as the Borough's electoral register.

Leonard Simpson married Hannah Arthur in South Shields in 1926. As well as son Thomas, they had a daughter, Marjorie, in 1929. He served as a weapons training officer with the 8th Battalion Durham Light Infantry Home Guard during the second World War. Leonard succeeded his father as chairman of the South Shields Royal Permanent Building Society which had its offices in Fowler Street. In 1969, it merged with the Hadrian Buiding Society and he became a vice-chairman of the new concern.

In February 1960, Leonard was faced with town centre redevelopment plans from South Shields Council. The company premises were placed under a compulsory purchase order to allow the demolition of Chapter Row and make way for the widening and development of Keppel Street. The printing business had seen a slow rundown in its activities and by this time had only 13 employees. The costs of acquiring and setting up new premises were prohibitive and the level of compensation offered for the old was low. Therefore Leonard felt he had no option but to wind up the company. (11)

For nearly twenty years the family lived at Cleaside Avenue near Cleadon Park in the south of South Shields. Leonard Simpson died in Deans Hospital in July 1979 after a long illness. He was 78 years of age.

Thomas Liddell Simpson MC

Thomas Liddell Simpson was the second son of Robert Anthony and Mary Ann Simpson, born on May 25th 1889. Little is known of his early years or education but records suggest that he qualified as an chartered accountant. Prior to the first World War, he became something of an international traveller on company (possibly the family's) business. In 1912 he visited Brazil and the United States of America (12). The following year saw him in Mexico (13).

The riddle of Lily's father

Thomas married Lily Oswald Crossman 1917. She had been working as a sales assistant in a drapery shop. Lily was born in 1889, the daughter of Mary Ann Crossman but her lineage is not straightforward. Her marriage certificate declares that her father was Henry Oswald Crossman, a commercial traveller. Her mother was born Mary Ann Kay in Tynemouth in 1852. Mary Ann married Royal Artillery bombadier, Reuben Crossman, at Holy Saviour's Church, Tynemouth on May 9th 1870. Over the same weekend, Reuben was charged with assaulting a woman who claimed he was the father of her recently born child. The proceedings before the local magistrates, which corroborate the wedding, were reported in the local press (14), a transcript of which is available at The Tynemouth Artilleryman: His Sweetheart and His Bride . He was cleared on all counts.

Reuben Cross Regimental Board

Reuben Crossman: Proceedings of a Regimental Board Page 1: Introduction and Page 2: Service

Reuben had been born in Wells, Somerset in 1835. He enlisted with the Royal Artillery in 1853 and spent nearly 25 years on active service rising to the rank of sergeant (15). Part of this was with the Bengal Artillery in the Far East and in India. He was transferred to Tynemouth in July 1869 where he was part of the battery at Clifford's Fort. He was nearly six feet tall with grey eyes and dark brown hair.

Over the following seven years, the couple had four daughters - the youngest born in the summer of 1879 being named Aquariana Melinda. Reuben was formally discharged from the Army on July 20th 1878. He died in Tynemouth during the winter two years later. His widow moved with her four daughters back into her parents house in Newcastle Terrace, Tynemouth.

Mary Ann Crossman had crossed the River Tyne sometime before 1884. Between that year and 1901 she had given birth to another four daughters: the youngest three (Sarah - born 1888, Lily - born 1889 and Daisy - born 1891) all being given the second name, Oswald. In the census of 1891, she was living in Robertson Street (which ran west from Baring Street in the tip of the South Shields peninsula near the docks on the Tyne estuary) working as a dressmaker. She had five of her daughters with her. Her two eldest daughters, Sarah Annie and Henrietta were both in domestic service elsewhere in South Shields. At the turn of the century, Mary Ann (still a widow) and her family were living at 126, Baring Street, South Shields. She had become a domestic servant herself.

Lily was born at 22, Robertson Street on April 10th 1889. Although the identity of the father of Mary Ann's four youngest is not, as yet, known, it was a well recognised Victorian device to give an illegitimate child the presumptive father's surname as a second given name. Lily's birth certificate does indeed confirm this as the father's name has been left blank. In what may be merely a coincidence, John Oswald, a marine engineer from Seaton Delaval, was living six doors along Baring Street in the 1880s from what was to become the Crossman household.

Mary Ann Crossman died in Newcastle upon Tyne in 1917.

Thomas' war service

In the war years, Thomas enlisted with the Durham Light Infantry (Regimental number 30739) and soon gained the rank of acting corporal. He subsequently underwent officer training was promoted to the rank of temporary 2nd Lieutenant. This was announced officially by the War office on May 30th 1917 (16). He embarked for front line duty in the Ypres Salient, Belgium and joined the 15th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry on April 21st 1917 (17). The German forces had begun their major Spring offensive (which became known as the Battle of the Lys) on April 7th. The objective was to capture Ypres and drive the British back to the Channel and out of the war. The Battalion had been holding a defensive line with the 1st East Yorkshire Battalion in the Wytschaete sector, south of the town of Ypres and Thomas' arrival was in the middle of this action. The battle raged until April 27th with the front line being pushed westwards. German gains and the extent of the British retreat can be seen on the accompanying map.

Over the following fortnight, the Battalion was relieved from the front line and relocated by train to Bouleuse, in the area west of the town of Riems, France. By the middle of May they were assigned to the front line at Cauroy where once again they were subject to heavy shelling and gas attacks. Towards the end of the month the Battalion continued to move south. At the beginning of July, the Battalion moved north to Puchevillers, an encampment between Amiens and Arras and west of the town of Bapaume. They spent the month in training and relaxation. During this time it appears that Thomas was assigned to the 64th Trench Mortar Battery.

At the beginning of August, the Battalion were sent to the front line at Mailley Mallet. As the month progressed they were moved progressively eastwards, first to Beaucourt and then to the village of Miramont. This action was the opening round of the second battle of Bapaume - the town falling on August 29th 1918. As the German Army retreated, the Battalion pushed further eastwards. By early early September they were placed at Manancourt, about 9 miles south of Bapaume. Battalion Headquarters were established in a wood called Elsom Copse. On September 8th orders were received to attack and capture a nearby high point, Chapel Hill.

The following account of the day's action comes from the Battalion's War Diary: "ELSOM COPSE. September 9th 12.30am. Battalion moved up to assembly point. Eastern edge of GENIN WELL COPSE No 2 had been selected for the assembly position as the copse had been reported clear of the enemy, but as the leading Coys (companies) arrived immediately west of the copse they came under heavy M.G. fire from the western edge. Orders were then issued for Coys to assemble west of the copse. At ZERO the Battalion (Less B Coy in reserve) moved forward to the attack -- C + D Coys leading, A Coy in support. Heavy M.G. fire was met with as the Coys neared the objective. CAVALRY SUPPORT was captured after heavy fighting and attack was held up here by heavy M.G. fire from CAVALRY TRENCH. At 5.30pm, in accordance with orders received, the Battalion continued the attack on CAVALRY TRENCH and captured same after heavy fighting. The enemy immediately made a strong counter-attack from the direction of CHAPEL CROSSING but failed to recapture the trench. A second strong counter-attack deliverd later drove us back into CAVALRY SUPPORT."

The Battalion was finally relieved at 11pm the following day. In the action 3 officers and 21 other ranks were killed or died of their wounds; 4 officers and 171 other ranks were wounded - 16 receiving gas injury.

Although not mentioned by name in the War Diary, Thomas Liddell Simpson was awarded the Military Cross for his part in the action at Elsom Copse. The citation reads: "For conspicuous gallantry when the enemy counter-attacked and obtained a footing in the front line. This officer, having fired all his Stokes mortar ammunition, placed himself at the head of twenty men and led them over the open to a fire position and opened fire. His courage and initiative contributed in a great measure to the enemy being driven back with loss" (18).

Through the latter part of September and into October, the Battalion passed through the Hindenburg Line and reached Beaurevoir, often under heavy bombardment and gas shelling. From there, they moved further east to Wallincourt, Vendegies-au-Bois and ultimately Limont Fontaine (south west of Maubeuge on the France-Belgium border) when the Armistice was signed on November 11th 1918. Thomas became ill during this time and was evacuated to the 3rd Forward Clearing Station at Caudry. His condition deteriorated and he died on November 30th 1918. The official cause of death was 'lobar pneumonia due to military exposure'. Although by no means certain, this expression could indicate he had been the victim of gas exposure. Alternatively, pneumonia could have been caused by the particularly insanitary conditions of life in the trenches and on the move or by the Spanish Influenza pandemic which raged across the world in 1918 to 1919. He was buried at the British Cemetery situated in the eastern outskirts of Caudry. He is also commemorated on the north face of the Simpson family obelisk in Westoe Cemetery, South Shields.

His wife, Lily, did not remarry and continued to live in South Shields. She is mentioned alongside her husband on the Simpson family obelisk. She died in 1961.

Footnote: Robert's niece

Sarah Ann Bennett was the granddaughter of Hannah Simpson's sister, Sarah. Sarah was ten years older than Hannah. She married Joseph Henderson at St Hilda's Church on October 28th 1837. They were to have six sons and two daughters. Joseph and several of his sons were employed in the foundaries and heavy engineering works in the southern part of South Shields near Tyne Dock called Corstophine Town. For more than ten years they lived in Haddock Street.

Their youngest daughter, Sarah Ann, was born in 1862. Shortly afterwards the family moved to a cottage on Garden Walk, a close off Wreken Dike Lane. Sarah Ann Henderson married George Bennett in the autumn of 1879. Their daughter (baptised Sarah Ann Henderson Bennett) was born at 7, Lee Street South Shields, on November 1st 1879. Little is known of George Bennett apart from his occupation at the time of the birth as a labourer at the glass works which was situated on the corner of Station Road and Coronation Street. The census of 1881 confirmed Lee Street as the Henderson's home. Both mother and baby were living with Joseph and Sarah - and both were registered with the Henderson surname.

Joseph and Sarah both died in the middle years of the 1880s. Neither George nor Sarah Ann Bennett have been traced in the 1891 census at the time when their 11 year old daughter Sarah Ann Bennett was in residence at Ravensbourne Terrace with Robert Simpson and his family. There does appear to have been genuine affection for the young girl and she became known locally as Annie Simpson. Robert left her a piano and some items of furniture in his will (19).

Wedding announcement

'Annie Simpson' married (20)

Sarah married George Thomas Forster at St Aidan's Church, South Shields on September 2nd 1899 (just a few months after Robert Simpson's death). Curiously, Sarah described her father's occupation 'gentleman', deceased. The ceremony was witnessed by Robert Anthony Simpson. She was still living at Ravensbourne Terrace and the announcement in the local newspaper gives her alternative name in brackets. Also of interest is that Sarah Ann's mother, now declared a widow, remarried - to Joseph Grey - just six weeks later on October 16th 1899.

George and Sarah Ann Forster spent a short period after the ceremony in Ilkley, Yorkshire, where their first child, a daughter they named Marguerita, was born in 1899. They then moved back to Hexham in Northumberland where George took up work as a clerk for a firm of solicitors. He had been born into the large family of quarryman John Forster in 1875 in the hamlet of Whitfield some ten miles south west of the town. They named their house 'Ravens Bourne'. They were to have two more children, although one died in infancy. Their son, George Bennett Forster, was born in 1902. During their marriage Sarah was known as 'Annie'.

Prior to the outbreak of the first World War, George moved the family to a property just off Gallowgate in Newcastle upon Tyne. In 1911 he was working as a book-keeper. Their daughter, now known as Rita, was living with George's youngest sister, Minnie who was an assistant school mistress, in Murton, County Durham. At the age of 39 years, George enlisted with the Northumberland Fusiliers in August 1915. He was assigned to the 524 Home Service Company of the Labour Corps which means he probably did not seen active foreign service. At the end of the war he returned home to the family in Pilgrim Street, Newcastle upon Tyne.


The authors would like to express their thanks to Lynn Maughn, South Tyneside Council for her help identifying the Simpson interments in Westoe Cemetery and to Nicola Lamb, Local Studies Department, South Shields Central Library, for clarifying the end of printing in Chapter Row.

Further reading

The book 'Hot Blood & Cold Steel' (1993)

The book cover

Andy Simpson has written several books, articles and papers on the Great War. 'Hot Blood & Cold Steel' tells the story of what it was like to live and fight in the trenches on the Western Front. The book is particularly relevant to the Thomas Liddell Simpson section of this article as it contains a graphic account of the men who held the front line in France and Flanders, often in their own words by using extracts from their memoires and letters. His other titles include 'The Evolution of Victory' and 'Voices from the trenches: Life and death on the Western Front'.

Simpson, Andy, 'Hot Blood & Cold Steel: Life and death in the trenches of the First World War' Spellmount Ltd, Staplehurst, Kent (2002) ISBN 1-86227-154-2.


1. 'Death of local printer' Shields Daily Gazette Wednesday May 24th 1899: British Library Newspaper Archive
2. St Hilda's Church, South Shields 1901: Old postcards and photographs of South Shields South Shields Sanddancers
3. North & South Shields Gazette in Newspaper: Post Office Directory of Northumberland & Durham, Page 490. Historical Directories, University of Leicester
4. Trinity Church, High Shields before 1904: Old postcards and photographs of South Shields South Shields Sanddancers
5. Death notices Shields Daily Gazette Friday August 20th 1869: British Library Newspaper Archive
6. 'Certificates never lie' in Journal No 153, the Leicestershire and Rutland Family History Society 6 September 2013
7. The Linotype Machine: Thomas Edison called it the 'Eighth Wonder of the World': Ottmar Mergenthaler Hot Metal Linotype.
8. Commercial addresses, South Shields: Kelly's Directory of Durham 1914 Page 372 Historical Directories, University of Leicester
9. R. Simpson & Sons, Printers, Chapter Row. South Shields 73: Middlesbrough / Newcastle / York February 1959: British Phone Books 1880-1984 BT Archives
10. Leonard Simpson: 'Print Pioneer Dies After Long Illness' Shields Gazette July 11th 1979: © Central Library, South Shields Coucil
11. 'Old Shields Print Firm Is Closing': Shields Gazette: February 27th 1960: © Central Library, South Shields Council
12. 'S.S. Tennyson sailing from Santos, Sao Paulo (May 4th 1912), Arriving at New York (May 24th 1912)': New York Passenger Lists 1820-1957: National Archives and Records Administration
13. 'Ypiranga sailing from Vera Cruz, Mexico to Plymouth England (arriving December 25th 1913)': UK Incoming Passenger Lists 1878-1960: The National Archives
14. 'The Tynemouth Artilleryman, his sweetheart and his bride': Shields Gazette and Daily Telegraph. Thursday May 19 1870. British Library Newspaper Archive
15. 'Proceeding of a Regimental Boad' Royal Artillery July 20th 1878: The National Archives
16. Regular Forces. Cadets to temporary 2nd Lts (attd): The War Office in Supplement to the London Gazette 6393 June 28th 1917
17. The War Diary of the 15th Battalion Durham Light Infantry. September 1915 - April 1919: The National Archives
18. Citation for the award of Military Cross: Supplement to the London Gazette Issue 31119 Page 643 January 11th 1919
19. The Will of Robert Simpson: Probate granted March 26th 1900 at Durham: England & Wales National Probate Calendar (Index of WIlls and Administrations) 1858-1966
20. Marriage announcements: Newcastle Courant: Saturday September 9th 1899: British Library Newspaper Archive


Donald Simpson, who wrote the original draft of this article, was the grandson of Joseph Austin Simpson. He died in August 2007. Donald was the uncle of Judith, Alan Craxford's wife. Andy Simpson is Donald's son. Natalie Thorne is the great great granddaughter of Robert Anthony Simpson and now lives in Australia.

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