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Family History Research

Robert Whitfiled Falconer Gosforth resident

Portrait of Robert Whitfield Falconer (1885-1916).

Family History Research

Family History research is a fascinating topic. We are a team of specialist historical researchers with expertise in researching family history. We present our research in bespoke illustrated, recycled card folders with individual pages so you can build your family history in small steps. Discovering Heritage also produces individually designed family trees and individual ancestor profiles.

Family History Appraisal

We have been researching the story of Robert Whitfield Falconer who lost his life in France in the First World War. This family history research arose through our interest in our local community, the suburb of Gosforth, Newcastle upon Tyne. Although not strictly a piece of family history research this appraisal demonstrates the volume and detail of information that can be discovered about a family member within a relatively short period of time. Robert’s memory lives on through his generous posthumous gift of two bells to Gosforth All Saints Parish Church.

Read Robert’s Story Here.

Visitors to All Saints church in Gosforth may notice a memorial plaque that reads

‘To The Glory of God and in the memory of Lieut. Robert Whitfield Falconer, 16th Northumberland Fusiliers, one of the original bellringers of this church who fell at Thiepval, France, 1 July 1916, aged 31 years. In his will, he made provision for two new bells to be added to the existing peal in the tower’.

Family History Research

Contemporary photograph of All Saints Parish Church, Gosforth, Newcastle upon Tyne.

The Family History of Robert Whitfield Falconer

The family history of Robert Falconer is not widely known. Robert Whitfield Falconer was born in Gosforth and baptised at St. Nicholas church on 29 March 1885. He was the son of James William, a clerk, and Isabella Falconer. The family had strong links to St. Nicholas Church which at the time of Robert’s baptism was the only Anglican church in Gosforth. Robert’s parents James William Falconer and Isabella Nixon were married there in 1884. At the time of Robert’s baptism, the family were living at 29 High Street, Gosforth.


In 1890 there was an addition to the family with the birth of Robert’s sister, Mary Isabella. By 1891 the family were living at 38 Ivy Road, Gosforth with a female live-in servant. When tracking the family through the census we found, by 1901 the family had moved to 4 Linden Terrace, Gosforth, (a misrecording of Linden Road), again sharing their home with a female servant.

By 1911 they had moved to 22 Linden Road. In both the 1901 and 1911 census James Falconer’s occupation is recorded as a shipbroker. A shipbroker is an intermediary between the owner of a ship and a client who wishes to have goods carried by sea. Robert’s occupation was noted as a shipbroker’s clerk. James is recorded as a clerk in a number of trade directories.


Directories are regularly produced printed lists of businesses and residents produced on a countywide basis. Using trade directories it has been possible to discover something about James’ employment history. His place of employment throughout the 1890s was J.G. Charlton & Company, shipbrokers, of Cails Buildings, Newcastle. The first reference to his own shipbroking business, Falconer, Ross & Company based in Sandhill, Newcastle, can be found in Ward’s Directory of 1906.

Family History Research

1911 census returns showing Robert Falconer, his parents, James and Isabella, and sister, Mary, living at 22 Linden Road, Gosforth.

The New Parish Of Gosforth

The new parish of Gosforth All Saints was established in 1906 and the Falconer family appear to have worshipped there from that point. James William Falconer, Robert’s father, served as a member of the parish vestry from 1906-1917. For some of this time he served as People’s Warden. Robert Falconer was a keen bell-ringer.

The All Saints parish magazines include numerous references to bellringing including some specific references to Robert. As an example, an article of August 1913 records a quarter-peal of triple bells being rung to mark the departure of one of the ringers. Mr A.M.C. Field, was leaving for South America. It records Robert as one of the ringers. Robert was an active bell ringer.

We know from the Annual Report of Durham and Newcastle Association of Change Ringers that in 1913 he rang at churches in Gateshead and Whitley Bay as well as Gosforth.

Northumberland Fusiliers

The memorial plaque in All Saints Church records that Robert Falconer served in the 16th Battalion of the Northumberland Fusiliers. The Battalion was raised in Newcastle in September 1914 by the Gateshead and Newcastle Chamber of Commerce. It is likely that Robert served with friends and professional colleagues.

This Battalion was one of twelve Pals Battalions raised by the Northumberland Fusiliers. Pals battalions were made up of groups of colleagues, friends and neighbours many of whom were acquainted with each other. The already close relationships that existed amongst the recruits was believed to increase camaraderie.

The downside of this form of recruitment was that when large-scale losses began to take place the male population of some families and communities were decimated. In November 1915 the Battalion began service in France. Robert Falconer lost his life on 1 July 1916, the first day of the Battle of The Somme. Five fellow officers also lost their lives with over three hundred and fifty men.

Last Will And Testament

On 3 September 1915, just two months before the 16th Battalion began their service in France, Robert signed his will. The executors were his father and John Frederick Bird, a friend and fellow bell-ringer. The beneficiaries of the will were the two executors, John Bird’s infant son and Robert’s sister, Mary. One clause of the will related explicitly to his wish to endow two bells at All Saints church :

I give and bequeath the sum of one hundred and seventy-five pounds to my said Trustees upon trust that they shall as soon as conveniently after my decease communicate with the Vicar and churchwardens of All Saints Gosforth and offer to provide and install two additional Bells … 

Robert’s father ensured that his wish was met. Two bells were dedicated to his memory by Bishop Wild on 3 October 1920.

The Peel of Bells

Extract from the Annual Report of Durham and Newcastle Association of Change Ringers, 1920,

Extract from the Annual Report of Durham and Newcastle Association of Change Ringers, 1920, reporting on presentation of the bells to All Saints Parish Church, Gosforth.

Robert Falconer is remembered on the Thiepval War Memorial. His full-service record can be accessed at The National Archives, Kew, London. The record provides a full account of Robert’s service from the date that he signed up until his death. Today bell practice in All Saints Parish Church takes place on a Monday evening. Ringing for services takes place on Sundays when the peel of bells ring out over the Gosforth community.

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Researching British Army Soldiers.

Following on from our article about Robert Falconer we’d like to share some tips about researching British Army soldiers who served in the first World War. ©Discovering Heritage

The Service Medal

  • If you are lucky enough to have any medals awarded to the soldier the service number of the soldier should be engraved on the medal. This is a vital piece of information that may allow you to discover more about his army service.
  • If you don’t have access to the service number you may be able to discover this by looking for a Medal Roll Index Card. The Cards record the award of service medals. These are available on the two main commercial sites, Ancestry and FindMyPast. This is easier if you are researching a more unusual name or if you know the name of the regiment the soldier served in.
  • If the soldier was awarded a gallantry medal a citation which included the service number was  placed in  The London Gazette

The Service Record

  • Once you have the service number you can try to locate the service record. The remaining service records of non-commissioned officers and other ranks can be found on Ancestry and FindMyPast. Only about 40% of the records survive, the remainder were destroyed during WWII.
  • The same sites can be used to access the pension records of those non-commissioned officers and other ranks who were discharged from the Army with a disability and claimed a pension as a result of their WWI service.
  • Service records of officers all survive but are not currently viewable online. Copies can be accessed via The National Archives 

Researching British Army Soldiers Who Served In WW1

Other Sites That May Help With Your Research

  • If a solder lost his life details of his date and place of death ought to be recorded on the website of The Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
  • The Imperial War Museum’s site Lives of The First World War includes information about many service personnel.
  • The Long Long Trail, a website dedicated to WWI, provides much useful context about ranks, regiments, campaigns etc.
  • Regimental magazines record acts of bravery and deaths in action although generally the magazines tend to focus on officers.
  • Regimental museums may hold useful research information 

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Dr Gibb Of Sandyford Park

Dt Gibb Discovering Heritage

Dr. Gibb is immortalised in lines of the famous Geordie song ‘Blaydon Races’:

Some went to the dispensary
And some to Doctor Gibbses
And some to the infirmary
To mend their broken ribses

Dr Charles John Gibb was born in Newcastle in 1824, son of Joseph Gibb, a surgeon, who practised in the Ouseburn area of Newcastle for about forty years. After completing his school education Charles Gibb was apprenticed to Mr. Common, resident surgeon at Gateshead Dispensary. He completed his apprenticeship at Newcastle Infirmary. Dr. Gibb then furthered his studies at medical schools in Edinburgh, London, Vienna and Paris. He then returned to Newcastle to take up the post of house surgeon at Newcastle Infirmary, then at Forth Banks. He then went into private practice as well as lecturing at Newcastle School of Medicine and Surgery, then part of Durham University.

Dr. Gibb lived at 52-54 Westgate Road, Newcastle, from about 1861. The property now known as Gibb Chambers is marked by a black plaque. By 1891 Dr. Gibb and his family had moved to Sandyford Park, Jesmond. The property originally known as Villa Real was designed by architect John Dobson. It was re-named Sandyford Hall, later Park, by Dr. Gibb. The house today forms part of the buildings used by Newcastle School For Girls.

Black Plaque at Gibb Chambers Newcastle

Discovering Heritage mission – to discover, share and re-tell stories that enhance peoples association with their houses and communities through recognition of the history.

We have come across an interesting entry in local records which attends to the moral character of Charles Gibb. On November 16th 1871 the Directors of the North Eastern Railway compensated Dr Gibb 100 guineas. Dr Gibb had sustained an injury in a railway collision at Brockley Whins. Charles Gibb donated the money equally between 10 local institutions including Deaf and Dumb, Industrious Blind, Idiots and Imebeciles and the National Lifeboat Institution.

In our possession we have a number of photographs relating to the Gibb family and Sandyford Park. The first is a photograph of Frances, wife of Dr. Gibb. Charles Gibb married Frances Elizabeth Gilbert Galaher in 1866. The couple went on to have four children. This image thought to have been taken in the 1890s shows Mrs. Gibb in formal dress. Her dress, fan and jewellery all reflect the status of the family.

Dr Gibb of Sandyford Park. Photo of wife Elizabeth - Discovering Heritage
Francis Gibb c1890

The status of the family was also reflected in the size of their household. This photograph, again believed to have been taken in the 1890s, shows the household staff. The 1891 census records a lady’s companion, a nurse, a cook, two housemaids and a page living with the family. Living in adjacent properties were three gardening staff and a coachman.  

Dr Gibb of Sandford House Staff. Discovering Heritage
Dr Gibb’s staff

The third of the photographs is an internal view of the Sandyford Park property. The room is decorated in high Victorian style as befitted a family of means and status.

Dr Gibb of Sandyford Park dining room. Discovering Heritage
Dr Gibb’s House

This is a real treasure of a post. Photographs that have survived from the 1800s are few and far between. The Gibb photographs give us a tantalising glimpse into the life of this well respected and eminent physician.

©Discovering Heritage

We thought it appropriate to end as we began with a reference to the Blaydon Races Geordie anthem. We have chosen this particular video because it commemorates another well respected and much loved Newcastle man, Sir Bobby Robson. This year is the 10th anniversary of Sir Bobby Robson Foundation.

We enjoyed watching this video we hope you do too!

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