This month's Ouseburn Heritage Blog is written by volunteer Sue Syson. This is her first contribution to the blog and we really enjoy her personal perspective where she combines her different volunteering experiences into one piece of research. 

July 2022

I have recently started learning the history of the Ouseburn Valley to become a Back to the Future walking guide (guided walk of Ouseburn Valley, Newcastle). I was previously the chair lady of Newcastle Dog and Cat Shelter so I have combined my interest of both local heritage and animals to write this piece on William Lisle Blenkinsopp Coulson, the person who founded the shelter and whose memorial is on Horatio Street near the valley.

William was a forerunner of the modern animal rights movement. A statue of him is located on Horatio Street opposite the Sailors’ Bethel. The bust, sculpted by Arnold Frederic Rechberg and cast by the Alexis Rudier foundry in Paris, is made of bronze and stands on a concrete and stone pedestal which in turn stands on a pink granite base with drinking troughs on either side of the statue, the smaller for dogs and the larger for horses and cattle. The lion carvings are a more recent addition and are thought to have come from a fountain which stood on the square of the Roman town of Corstopitum which was near the modern-day village of Corbridge.

On the front is inscribed:
William Lisle Blenkinsopp Coulson 1841- 1911
Erected by public subscription in memory of his efforts to assist the weak and defenceless among mankind and the animal world.

On the reverse is a quote from William:
“What is really needed is an all-round education of the higher impulses, true manliness, and womanliness, justice and pity. To try to promote these has been my humble but earnest endeavour, and until they are more genuinely aroused, the legislator is useless, for it is the people who make the laws.”

After William’s death, George Graham, the 1st secretary to the British Embassy in Paris who was the stepson of William, proposed the building of a memorial and donated £300 towards the costs. A committee was set up to raise the rest. It was originally erected on the Haymarket near the Boer War memorial and was unveiled on 27th May 1914. The Lord Mayor performed the ceremony and the Pipe-Major of the Kings Own Scottish Borderers (William’s old regiment) played a selection of music. Due to congestion it was moved further down Percy Street in the 1930s then to Horatio Street in the 1950s. The statue looks a little out of place in its present position and poor William is facing the Bethel opposite rather than the glorious view down the Tyne.

The monument in its original location.

William’s family, the Blenkinsopps, owned the ancient manor of Blenkinsop near Haltwhistle from the 13th century. In 1727, the heiress to the estate, Jane Blenkinsopp, married William Coulson who owned Jesmond Manor House and the estate passed to the Coulson family. Blenkinsop Castle was part of the estate and by 1832 was in disuse. William renovated it in 1880 but most of the land and castle was sold to the Joicey family probably because of financial difficulties.

Blenkinsopp Castle

William was married to Sophia Lydia Dixon who was the widow of Richard Graham with whom she had a son, George. In 1879 they had a son, Lisle and a year later a daughter, Dorothy. He served in the army from 1860 to 1892 rising to the rank of colonel. When he left the army, he became a magistrate and served on the boards of several charities concerned with the welfare of children and animals including the RSPCA and the NSPCC. He was a founding member of the Humanitarian League and chaired it’s first meeting in 1891. He campaigned to abolish vivisection and hunting for sport, particularly otter hunting and toured schools and borstals giving lectures on morality. He published essays promoting the welfare of women and children. He wrote ‘Musings on the Moor and Fell’, a book of local and natural history.

William established Newcastle Dog and Cat Shelter which was originally based near the RVI then later moved to Claremont Rd from where it still runs its Arrival Centre. Its main operations are based at Benton North Farm where you’ll find the rehoming centre that opened in the 1980s. The shelter celebrated its 125th year in 2021.

Most of the causes that William championed are still very relevant today. Although animal welfare has improved enormously there is still a long way to go; unfortunately, the North East has the highest number of animal cruelty cases in the country. At the shelter I saw far too many occasions when the staff have been in tears witnessing the distress of neglected animals; fortunately they are able to save and find loving new homes for the majority. Each year they rehome hundreds of dogs, cats, birds, rabbits and other small animals and even the occasional snake. I’m sure William would be very proud of the work they do under quite challenging circumstances.

I don’t think I can express my appreciation of William’s tireless work to help both disadvantaged humans and our furry friends as eloquently as the Lord Mayor of Newcastle who presided over the unveiling of the memorial.

Addressing the assembly, the Mayor said:

The late Colonel Coulson was a typical Northumbrian gentleman and a particularly fine character. Newcastle could claim him to be one of their sons, inasmuch as he was a member of the Coulson family of Jesmond, permanently associated with the affairs of Newcastle nearly 200 years ago. After leaving the army, the gallant colonel devoted himself to work of a purely humanitarian character. The protection of women and children and the prevention of cruelty to animals became his first cares. He established the Newcastle Shelter for Dogs and Cats, and consistently, for a long period of years identified himself with all kinds of efforts on behalf of our dumb friends of the lower creation. As lecturer for the Borstal Society, he paid hundreds of visits to the prisons in various parts of the country, and many criminals must have been reformed and made all the better for his words of advice and encouragement. Colonel Coulson was a truly noble character. The fountain has been erected by his friends and admirers, and surely no more fitting memorial could be instituted to keep green the memory of one who so long and so incessantly laboured in the interests of those who needed protection. In accepting the memorial on behalf of the city, it might with confidence be stated that it would be well kept by the Corporation and would be cherished by the people of Newcastle as a constant reminder of the good deeds of one of Newcastle’s noblest sons.

Until recently, even with my ties to the Dog and Cat Shelter, probably like most Newcastle’s residents I had not heard of William Lisle Blenkinsopp Coulson. As I learned more about him it became obvious what a good man he was. Although I’m not too keen on “the dumb friends of the lower creation” phrase!