Bells, Boats and Councillors The Story of Fawdon House aka The Northumbrian Piper – Nichol Morton

Fawdon Hall Newcastle Libraries - Discovering Heritage blog post

Another BBC Production

We were delighted to receive the following message from Nichol Morton


“Hi thought you might like this post about a house in Gosforth I put together for a local history FB group.”

Discovering Heritage

Hi Nichol – yes we do like this We are always looking for guests to post on our blog, would you fancy sharing this? Really enjoyed reading it.”


Yes, it’s my Xmas gift to you for all the interesting stuff you’ve put out over the year.

So here we are already at April and really excited to be able to share Nichol’s article on our website!

I do love when a snippet of information leads you on a journey of discovery, and you learn something new about a property in Newcastle that you thought you knew.

The Grey Lady of Fawdon Hall

A lady from Ibiza posted a query on a local history FB group. Her great uncle Vince was a landlord of the Northumbrian Piper, in Red House Farm next to Fawdon. When she was young and stayed there for a holiday, she stated that she had seen a ghost! A lady in white dressed in old clothes and with an old fashioned parasol, and wondered if anyone knew anything more or had she just imagined it all? Several regulars replied that they hadn’t heard of anything. However after a bit of digging around I found out that The Piper had previously been a property called Fawdon House or Hall and there was indeed a ghost attached to it called the Grey Lady!

A Potted History of the Occupants of Fawdon House

A bit more digging revealed some interesting stories of the occupants of Fawdon House, so here’s a potted history of them.

Mathew Bell 1793-1871

Honest Matty, his gt grandfather, also Matthew Bell, of Mersington Berwickshire became a Newcastle draper. Through a series of marriages with good families including the Ridleys of Blagdon, the Loraines of Kirkharle and Walsinghams, the Bells had risen in the world. Matthew’s own father had married Sarah Frances, daughter of Charles Brandling of Gosforth, and his uncle was Charles Brandling MP.

Matthew was educated at Eton, then Christ Church Oxford. The family home was Woolsington Hall and Matthew inherited it at 21 his father dying in 1811. He also became one of the “Great Northern Coal Owners” at the same time. He became Sheriff of Newcastle at 23 and married at 25. In 1826 he took command of the Northumberland Hussars, previously commanded by his uncle Charles Brandling who had died in January that year, and also stood for his seat in Parliament. He later transferred to being MP for the newly created South Northumberland constituency 1832 – 1852.

He built Fawdon House in 1848 allegedly as a dower house, presumably for his mother Sarah who died in 1866.

After Sarah’s death Fawdon House was let out see advert below.

The property was halfway between Woolsington and Gosforth Park. Matthew died in 1871 and the house’s ownership passed through a brother then nephew of the Bell family then the Watsons. Woolsington Hall was sold in 1923 and presumably Fawdon House shortly after that.

Fawdon House shown as Bell House

Other houses we have researched

Sanderson Hospital

Coxlodge Hall

Sandyford Park

Captain Herbert Babington Robin Rowell

Captain Herbert Babington Robin Rowell 1894-1981 Shipbuilder

Owned Fawdon House 1929-49

Born in Hebburn on 28th May 1894, educated at Repton School and City and Guilds Engineering College, University of London. In 1911 his family were living at Cleugh Brae, Jesmond Park East, his father Herbert was was a shipbuilder and his mother was Mary Dobree (Robin).

He began an apprenticeship with shipbuilders Hawthorne, Leslie and Co of Hebburn in 1912.
On WW1 commencing, he joined the Royal Engineers in 1915, but then transferred to the Royal Flying Corps, also in 1915, and served in UK with 1 Reserve Aeroplane Sqn. Then with the BEF in France with 8 and 12 Sqns, 1915-1916. Made Captain in 1916 his family were now living at Manor House Jesmond. Immediately after the war he worked as experimental pilot for the Aircraft Directorate, and later Designs Department of the Air Board, [1918-1921].

He carried out the first tests on man-dropping parachutes from an aeroplane! A brave man!

He also designed the necessary casting-off gear. Later he returned to shipbuilding and joined the staff of Alfred Holt and Company, where he was involved in repairing and reconditioning company ships. He rejoined Hawthorne, Leslie and Company, becoming a director in 1922. He then married Hilda Dobell in Cheshire in 1924. He became Managing Director in 1936 then the Vice Chairman of the Shipbuilders Employers Federation in Nov 1939. During 1939-45 Hawthorne Leslie launched 55 ships, 42 warships including HMS Kelly and 13 merchant marine ships.

Rowell , as head of Hawthorne Leslie, presenting a bouquet of flowers to a Wren Officer at a launch on 13th April 1945 at the yard in Hebburn. Photo from the Imperial War Museum.

In 1945 he was made one of 6 Deputy Lieutenants for Co Durham and left Fawdon House in 1949. He would serve as chairman of Hawthorn Leslie 1943-1965 appearing regularly in the local newspapers. In 1968 the Company’s interests were merged with Swan Hunter.

He died on 19th Dec 1981 at Wylam Cottage, Wylam leaving an estate of £189k.

Robert Mould-Graham

Robert Mould-Graham 1894-1979
Councillor and Lord Mayor of Newcastle

Owned Fawdon House 1949-68

Born on 11 Dec 1895 in Elswick to a chemist father Joseph Graham from York and his wife Annie. In 1901 they were living at Cambridge St then in 1911 Kenilworth Rd, with his father unemployed at the time. He was serving his articles as a chartered accountant when war broke out. He joined up in 1915 and received a commission after a stint with the Officer Training Corps.

A genuine war hero he receives the Military Cross for his actions at Le Cateau with the Northumbrian Brigade of the Royal Field Artillery

This was a Territorial Army brigade and he also received a Territorial Decoration allowing him to use the initials TD after his name. As well as accountancy ( He was a partner in the firm Graham, Proom, Smith) he became involved in local politics. He served Elswick as a councillor in 1933. In 1937 he was a widower with a 10yr old daughter.

He would marry for a second time that year to the remarkable Jocelyn EK Saunders. Born in Dublin 11th Oct 1911 and raised by grandparents in Fitzwilliam Square Dublin until the age of 10. Her father was a naval officer and her mother suffered from arthritis. She moved to Cerne Abbas in Dorset in 1921, learning to sail and ride. She also learnt to fence and was shortlisted for the British Olympics Fencing Team in 1928. She met Thomas Hardy on his walks, a wood nearby was a setting in Tess of the D’Urbevilles. She lost her mother and grandparents by 1935, trained as a political agent and was sent north to Newcastle where she met Robert.

In 1939 they were living at Causey House, Elmfield Rd Gosforth. Robert went off to war again with the Artillery serving right through the war in Dunkirk, North Africa and Salerno, leaving behind us daughter 12 and a newborn child Joanna. He returned in 1945 with an OBE. In the December he stood for Arthur’s Hill Ward for the Progressive Party. They had 2 more children 1947-9. In 1954 he became Lord Mayor of Newcastle and Jocelyn his Mayoress.

Despite having heart problems brought on by the war and an 80 a day John Players cigarette habit he worked until 1966. His wife had inherited a manor in Alton Pancras in Dorset in 1955 and they retired there, finally selling the house and grounds in 1968 to S&N and the land now divided by a main road.

Robert died and was buried in Dorset on the 3rd February 1979 aged 85. His wife Jocelyn died aged 101 in a Dorchester care home in Sept 2013.

S&N opened the Northumbrian Piper in 1968 with the Duke of Northumberland’s official piper Jack Armstrong playing. His portrait was placed on the first pub sign for the Piper.

Duke of Northumberland’s piper Jack Armstrong who opened the Northumbrian Piper in 1969

Jack Armstrong (1904 – 1978) was an authoritative and influential performer on the Northumbrian smallpipes. Born in Wideopen, North Tyneside, five miles north of Newcastle upon Tyne, in 1904. He and his father, both coal miners, worked at Dinnington colliery, but Jack managed to get a job as a chauffeur shortly after World War I.

In 1926 Jack married, and he was living at Skipton in North Yorkshire when he taught himself to play the pipes. His style, influenced by his father’s playing, was steady and controlled; he favoured slow airs, which he played on a set of pipes with a rich, resonant tone. This style was in strong contrast to the faster, more virtuosic playing of Tom Clough and his followers, exemplified by Jack’s friend and contemporary, Billy Pigg. His repertoire consisted largely of simple dance tunes and slow airs, from Northumberland and elsewhere, the latter often being given local titles. He also composed some tunes in traditional style, some of which are still played.In 1948 Jack was made official piper to the Duke of Northumberland. He held this post for many years, retiring in 1971.

So there we have it, a tour round the byways of Newcastle and one house in particular with interesting owners from a snippet of information. Isn’t history wonderful? ©Nichol Morton

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2 thoughts on “Bells, Boats and Councillors The Story of Fawdon House aka The Northumbrian Piper – Nichol Morton

  1. Anonymous says:

    Hello. A good informative read especially for old Fawdoners. As an observation I think on the map used in your piece Bell House is not Fawdon House as captioned. Fawdon House is on the road bend where the word Fawdon disappears off the right edge of the map . The map at the following link below clearly shows both house marked in the north west quarter of the map

    regards Lez

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