The following group of historical insights have been compiled by the wonderful Bamburgh Bones volunteer researcher Carol Griffith. Carol delights in scouring archives and ancient documents to gather information about Bamburgh and it’s impressive castle through the ages.
(Transcript of Tape recording of interview with Norah Balls 25/06/1975, held at Woodhorn Archive-T108 )
NB was a sailor’s daughter, her grandfather and gt-grandfather were sailors. On a visit to the Cutty Sark, she saw 4 prints of ships her ancestors had sailed. As a baby she was taken to Norway, so she grew up with the sea.
School day experiences were mixed. She attended a school in North Shields – the Miss Masons in Duckney(?) Square. The Misses Rebecca and Hannah were fearsome. 250 years earlier, Duckney Square was high class, where Solicitors, Ship owners and the wealthy lived. She attended this school for 8 years, walking I mile down Kings Street 4 times a day. She remembers the children in King Street having no shoes. The Police Federation gave out boots and shoes each year. All these streets have now vanished, condemned. Her second school was in Tynemouth, the Miss Herbert’s. There are no other pupils still alive from those days. It was a board School in a large house
NB family lived in Tynemouth. When her father came to retirement, he built a house opposite Holy Saviours church, with a view over the Cheviots; there were no other houses nearby. NB took their dog out in the fields every morning. She remembered a cross in the field, next to Monk House Farm. It was erected in memory of a monk who had been killed by Lord Deleval. The monk had left Tynemouth Priory, having stolen a cooked pig head. Lord Deleval had pursued the errant monk, and killed him. The cross was engraved “O horrid deed to kill a man for a pigs head”. The shaft of the cross is now in Tynemouth Priory, blackened due to pollution, and with the engraving eroded.
When NB was about 12, her mother took her to a Suffragette meeting on Votes for Women. Years later, she saw a lorry parked by a fountain, when 2 women were talking about Suffrage. A new Association re Votes for Women had been initiated; NB joined to become an active member. As a member of the Women’s Socialist Union, she attended a By-Election, opposing a Liberal Candidate (The Liberal Party paid lip service to the cause, but did nothing). At Hawick Burrows (?) the wagon was parked by the Works, and NB was asked to take the chair. She was very nervous! She then went to more By Elections, and realised there were many ardent Suffragettes in Northumberland – Lady Parsons, wife of Sir Charles, Mrs Taylor etc. It was a busy time – a By Election in S Shields, attended by Mrs Pankhurst, and her daughter Christabel. Mrs Pankhurst asked NB to take the Chair – a Baptism of Fire! No one said no to Mrs Pankhurst, not even NBs mother. Mrs Pankhurst’s daughters Sylvia + Adela were plain, but Christabel was bonny and well dressed, an excellent speaker.. Mrs Pankhurst had wonderful eyes and a beautiful voice, also the gift of repartee. When a man threw a cabbage at her, she retorted, “This gentleman has lost his head”. Outside the Works, the men would often shout “Darn your husbands socks”. Some missiles thrown were heavy.
Were many men supporters? Yes. A Petition was raised to send to Mr Asquith – who opposed the Movement. Mrs Brown, NB, Christabel went to present it at the House of Commons and were imprisoned, although Mrs Brown was delicate. They marched from Caxton Hall to the House of Commons, but police would not allow access. NB hung onto the railings; she has never returned to Parliament. The women refused to go unless they saw Mr Asquith; they were arrested and taken to a police Station. This was 1910. They lay on the floor of the police Station to sleep, but were bailed out by a Mr Lawrence to appear in Court the next morning. They were then sent away without charge.
This happened again three times. The police got rough with Mrs Brown. NB was arrested for assault. Sir A Roots (?), Magistrate described NB as “a most dangerous woman”. They demanded to be treated as political prisoners, and took pre-packed suitcases on marches. Once, NBs case was carried for her by a Vicar!
During WWI The Suffragettes got involved in War Work. NB started a Canteen. After the War, Lady Parsons and NB founded the Girl Guide movement – she found it very rewarding. Phyllis Craster, Lady Howick +NB went to the first Camp. NB also got onto the town Council in Tynemouth. Following a meeting in North Shields, she succeeded over three male candidates. She was Councillor for a poor Ward, and visited some awful places. She remembered a large house split into tenements, women shaking filthy mats, a lot of drink.
When she became 60 she decided to retire to the country. During WWII she worked hard as an Air Warden; bombs fell in her garden. She retired from the Guides, and was asked to Chair Young People’s clubs. She is now President of the Women’s Electoral Association, but has no other public duties. She loves the Guide/Brownies! Now she feels on the shelf!
NB Norah Balls lives at Bamburgh Castle, having been invited there, it is believed by the third Lady Armstrong. In the Castle hangs a splendid tapestry given by Norah Balls, when she left the Castle in old age, to live in supported accommodation. She said it was given to her by Noel Coward, and whilst she could hang it in her rooms in the Castle, there was no where large enough in her new accommodation! Guides at the Castle also tell of Norah lowering a basket from her rooms at the Castle, from the windows, for groceries to be loaded into it, then retrieved into her apartment!