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Wor Bella in Schools

Peter Sagar is a teacher and local historian with an M.Phil in the regional identity of North East  England. 

Prior to Covid-19, Peter taught day sessions in primary schools (Year 5 and year 6 pupils) in North Tyneside and County Durham about local and regional history and heritage. 

Such was their success, Peter is now involved with the Bella Reay School Project. Schools in South Tyneside, North Tyneside, Sunderland, Gateshead, County Durham, Newcastle and Northumberland are discussing with him to deliver these much-sought sessions.


Peter explained: "The work is usually conducted over two days. I teach the children local songs and some of the great stories from the North East's Victorian heyday. 


"The pupils have responded to the songs and stories by writing their own songs, writing short pieces of drama and working with me to produce a music hall-type show telling stories from the past, through presentations, old songs and their own songs and drama."


Pupils are so enthused and inspired by Peter's teaching that many bring in artefacts from home or tell him stories that their parents or grandparents have told them. 


He continued: "The work is aimed at helping to raise the pupils' self-esteem and aspirations by telling them about the great things that were done in their local area in the past, including some of the many great inventions and innovations. 


"Students will also learn about other aspects of life in the North East in the years leading up to the First World War, such as how people worked together to solve their problems and the great personal achievements."


Peter added: "I think it is important for pupils to get a good understanding of their own cultural heritage which can then act as a bridge into other cultures and help them to understand themselves as well." 


The final outcome of the sessions - the music hall event - has often been attended by parents and grandparents and is usually performed in front of the rest of the school, so helping more pupils to benefit from the work he does.  


Peter has created sessions tapered towards women (Munitionette) footballers in WWI: their dangerous work-place conditions, the songs, the fashions and how the women overcame prejudices (football was seen as a "man's game" and "unfeminine").  He also leaves follow-up materials for the schools.

Jarrow Cross Primary School

Peter Sagar spent a couple of days with 44 members of Year 6 in Jarrow Cross Primary School in September.


In addition to talking about Wor Bella, Peter taught them a couple of old North East songs and lots of other fascinating topics, including the history of Jarrow and the region.


Peter said: "It was a really enjoyable two days. The pupils were tremendously responsive and worked hard, writing a short play about Bella as well as a song about her, the pit in Jarrow and how we have to use renewable energy now. The children produced a great power point presentation.


Additionally, in arts and crafts, the pupils created and produced their own designs for football strips in the green and white colours of Blyth Spartans and some other football-related work. 


St Matthew’s primary school in Jarrow produce a Wor Bella film

We are delighted and proud of this tremendous film made by Maddy Wiblin and the Year 6 students at St Matthew’s Primary school in Jarrow, after a two-day course lead by Peter Sagar.  


The film tells the story of female footballer Bella Reay " Wor Bella", and how unfair it was that her brilliant football career was cut short when she was just 21 years old, when women’s football was banned by the Football Association in 1921.


The film also tells us about life in Jarrow and the North East in the second half of the 19th century and first half of the 20th century, including the mine at Jarrow, the Co-operative movement, the development of the Yemeni community in South Shields and, of course, Palmer’s shipyard and the Jarrow Crusade of 1936. 


It also features two old music hall songs and….a new song and a play about Wor Bella written and performed by the hugely talented students!


Well done to Maddy Wiblin and all the students of Year 6 at St Matthew’s in Jarrow for all their hard and excellent work.


Top marks for St Matthew's School football banner


Having worked closely with pupils at St Matthew’s Primary School in Jarrow, Peter was delighted when the youngsters produced their own banner as part of the excellent two-day session he spent with the pupils.


Peter explained: "The banner represents a number of different themes in connection with the story of Wor Bella and the school.


"It includes references to Bella Reay herself, to the First World War, to a female referee and to Blyth Spartans football teams, both men and women's teams."


Peter continued: "The banner also shows Bobby Moore lifting World Cup for England at Wembley in 1966, Ronaldo with the European Cup, and amention of the Europeran Chmpionship (Euros) , which were taking place when we were working on the Wor Bella project at St Matthew’s in June 2021."


Peter added: "There is also reference to St Matthew’s Primary School itself,  and to the Jarrow Crusade in 1936."


Once again, the pupils from St Matthew's have excelled themselves. Top marks!

"Our pupils benefited greatly from this project. There was something for everyone. Purposeful activities included script and song writing, performing, computing, arts and crafts. We loved it!" -  Tim Shenton, Headteacher, East Boldon Junior school. 


"Peter really made local history come to life. They [the pupils] thoroughly enjoyed their work with him and gained a really good understanding of the issues of the time" - Susan McBeth, Headteacher, Jarrow Cross Primary School.

"Thanks for all your hard work. It was great to see the children gain an real in depth knowledge and insight into their cultural heritage. It was good also to let the children being given the chance to express themselves in a more dramatical and expressive format." - Steve Bowler, Headteacher of Monkton primary school.

Peter is working with our education partners: 








2021/2022 School Sessions


South Tyneside


June - 23 & 30 2021 - St Matthew’s RC Primary, Jarrow


September - 21 & 28 2021 - Jarrow Cross C of E Primary


October - 6  & 13 2021- East Boldon Primary School


November -  3, 4, 10 & 11 2021 - Cleadon Academy

November -  19 & 26 2021- Monkton Academy



TO BE REARRANGED - Seaburn Dene Primary School 

More dates to be added. If you know of a school which may be interested and want further information, please contact us here.


January 25 & February 1 2022 - Eastlea Primary School, Skipton Close, Cramlington, Northumberland.

February 10, 11, 14 and 15 2022 - Blyth Academy


We are collating a small exhibition that will be used for educational purposes at Phoenix Theatre Blyth and then to accompany the tour. If you have any WWI football artefacts we can use please contact us here

If your arts, craft, photography group or organisation wants to be involved in creating artefacts for the Wor Bella project don't hesitate to contact us.


Illustrated Talks

A series of illustrated talks about Munitionettes football during WWI will be held in the run-up to the play next March. More dates and information to be added soon. If you are part of an organisation/history society and would like a talk or further information, please contact us here.


The 100th anniversary of women's football being banned by the FA (1921)

Tuesday May 18. 2021. 10am to 11am.

Our good friends Martin Peagam, secretary of the Cleveland & Teesside Local History Society and Robert Nichols, editor of the excellent Middlesbrough FC fanzine Fly Me To The Moon, are speaking at the Middlesbrough and Stockton Local History Month celebrations to commemorate the heroic Munitionettes who played football during WWI and the 100th anniversary of women's football being banned by the FA. A disgraceful, political, decision that was only overturned by the FA in 1971.

There is no cost for this excellent session. For tickets click here.

More Events:
WEA - podcast with Ed Waugh is online now! 

   [Listen via WEA]

   [Listen via BuzzSprout]
   [Listen via Spotify]

   Also available through Apple and Google platforms.

August 5 - Washington Village U3A

August 9 - Cramlington Hub [FREE tickets]

September 9 - Ashington WI 

Carrying David Tour:

   Post show Q&A  sessions (all with Micky Cochrane):

   September 14 -  Queen's Hall Arts Centre, Hexham

   September 18 - Alnwick Playhouse

   September 19 - The Witham, Barnard Castle

October 12  - Whitley Bay Comrades Club. 7pm. (14 The Links, Whitley Bay NE26 1PS)

October 20 - 2pm -Whitley Bay U3A, Linskill Centre, North Shields, NE30 2AY 

Thursday, October 21 - Ponteland Local History Society. St. Mary's Parish Centre, Thornhill Road. 7.30pm

Wednesday, October 27 - Cramlington Knit and Knatter group. John The Clerk of Cramlington. 10.30am.

Wednesday, November 3 - Ponteland U3A. 2pm

November 18 - Friends of Newcastle theatre Royal, Newcastle Theatre Royal @ 2pm (Geordie Plays: Volume 1)

December 6 - Newcastle Lit & Phil Society, Westgate Road. 6pm (Geordie Plays: Volume 1)


Wednesday, January 5 - Cramlington Community Choir. The Hub, Cramlington.  7:30pm
Thursday, January 13 - South Ridge W.I. (Whitley Bay). 7.30pm 

Friday, January 21 - Westoe Miners Welfare. 8pm

Wednesday,  January 26 - Morpeth Ladies Luncheon Club.  12.30pm

Wednesday, February 2 - Blyth U3A. Blyth Town FC. 1pm

Thursday, February 3 - Blyth Rotary Club. Noon

Monday, February 7 - Phoenix Theatre, Blyth. 2pm & 7pm

Wednesday, February 9 - Wickham U3A. 2pm.

Monday, February 14 - Felton and Thirston WI, Felton Village Hall. 7.30pm.

Wednesday, February, 16 - Sunderland U3A. 1.30pm

Tuesday, February 22 - Killingworth Local History Society (Harry Clasper talk). 7.30pm

Wednesday, February 23 - WHIST, South Shields. 1pm

Wednesday, February  23 - Blyth Library. 5.30pm

Friday, February 25 - Morpeth Antiquarian Society

Tuesday, March 1 - Stannington W1. Stannington Village Hall. 7.30pm

Wednesday, March 2 - North Shields Library. 2pm. Women's football in North Tyneside and the region during WWI.

Thursday, March 3 - Newcastle & Darlington Retired Rail Staff, Gateshead Bowling Green Club @ 1.30pm

Thursday, March 3 - Blyth Spartans FC. Croft Park. 7pm. (If you are attending, please confirm time with venue)

Sunday, March 6 - A celebration of International Women's Day with South Tyneside Council at The Word, South Shields. 1pm to 3pm. From women's football in WW1 to the present day. Tickets only £2 via The Word website.

Tuesday, March 8 - Whitley Bay Library. 2pm International Women’s Day talk on Wor Bella

Wednesday, March 9 - Gateshead Local History Society. 1.45pm

Thursday, March 10 - Seaton Deleval Arts Centre public talk. 7pm.

Monday, March 14 - Blyth Library. 7pm (online).

Tuesday, March 15. 3.45pm - Blyth Community Hub.

Wednesday, March 16 - Wednesday Heritage Club. The Word, South Shields. 2pm.

Wednesday, March 16 - Thropton WI. Thropton Village Hall, Northumberland. 7.30pm

Monday, March 21 -  Jesmond WI. 7.30pm

Tuesday, March 22 - Blyth Phoenix Theatre, 1pm (open/public rehearsal). All welcome. No charge.

Tuesday 22, Wideopen WI, St Columbas Church

Thursday, March 24 - Whitley Bay FC - The Seahorse Pub, Hillheads Park, Hillheads Road, NE25 8HR. 8pm.

Saturday, May 7 - Newcastle City Library. Local History Month. 1pm. Talk on Geordie Heroes (Volume One)

Friday, May 13 - The Friday club. Broadway Methodist church, Cullercoats (Harry Clasper talk). 7pm

Saturday May 14 - Local History Day. (Geordie Plays Volume One). North Shields Library. 11am

Thursday, May 19 - Guidepost and Sheepwash W.I.

Tuesday, May 24 - Killingworth Local History Society (Harry Clasper talk)

Thursday, June 9 - West Denton Dollies (WI)   - TBC

Monday, July 11 - Belford WI

Wednesday, September 14 - Cramlington WI. 7pm. The Hub, Forum Way, Cramlington.

Tuesday,  September 20. Hepscott WI. Village Hall. 2pm

Wednesday, October 19 - Peterlee u3a. 10.30am


Wednesday, March 15. Croft Lecture Association (North Yorkshire)

If you are interested in attending these talks, please contact us here.

The Devil's Porridge Museum

The award-winning Devil’s Porridge Museum in Eastriggs (DG12 6TF), Scotland, is only 70 miles from Newcastle, just north of Carlisle, and commemorates HM Factory Gretna - the largest munitions factory in the world during WWI.


"Devil’s Porridge" derives from the cordite explosive used in shells. To produce it, gun cotton had to be mixed with highly unstable nitro-glycerine. The conditions must have been horrendous. 


Up to 12,000 Munitionettes worked at the vast Gretna complex, including a large number of women from the North East.

When Blyth Spartans Ladies played Carlisle Munitionettes at Brunton Park (home of Carlisle United) on April 20, 1918,  many of our North East-born Munitionettes turned up to support Blyth - who won 3-0 courtesy of a Annie Allen goal and a brace by Bella Reay.


On War Service Medals

In May 1916, the War Office's (Ministry of Munitions) Committee On War Service Badges issued a badge exclusively for women workers to recognise their tremendous work in the war effort - despite a lot of opposition to its issue.


Women were already wearing private company badges (although these were made illegal in 1915) and it was felt that the wearing of an official badge would recognise the valuable contribution "munitionettes" were making to the war effort.  If nothing else, it would mean the wearer would get a seat on a bus!


The women’s badge wasn't technically a badge; it was a triangular brooch (women didn't have button holes on their clothes).  From May to December 1916 more than 270,000  On War Service badges were issued to skilled and unskilled factory workers, clerical staff, charladies and canteen workers.


By mid-1918, around 1 million women were to be employed in the munitions industries.

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Hebburn munitionettes, South Tyneside.

Notice the triangular brooches.

They would most likely have been

"On War Service" badges.

Munitions workers. 1914.

Armstrong Whitworth 43 Shop, Scotswood Works, Newcastle


Life on Blyth Docks
Munitionettes' Working Clothes

There was no set uniform for munitions workers - they were provided with clothing felt to be suitable for the job they were undertaking.


On their head they'd wear a (mop) cap to keep their hair back and out of harm's way. 


The heavy tunic usually had a cloth belt with buttons down the front. The darker coloured tunic and trousers of the Munitionettes (below) indicated outdoor, dirty or physical work. In contrast, a white, ankle-length dress usually denoted indoor work in the food, health or pharmaceutical industry.

If they were allowed (health and safety was strict), the Munitionettes would add personal touches to their uniforms, like lace collars, bows and sweetheart brooches.

Few photographs exist of individual munitionettes posing for the camera. Most images are of groups in the workplace. 

It is difficult for us today to appreciate just how daring and revolutionary it was to see women wearing trousers. If you look at pictures of the suffragettes immediately prior to WW1 you'll see even they wore long skirts.

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Munitionette Workers

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The photograph above shows Munitionettes at Blyth's South Harbour unloading the ammunition boxes full of spent cartridges salvaged from the front. Bella Reay and her Blyth Spartans Ladies team mates are likely to be among them.  


Blyth was one of five salvage depots established by the Ministry of Munitions. The others were in Immingham (Lincolnshire), Manchester (Trafford Park), Renfrew (near Glasgow) and Ridham (Kent). The depots were used for the recovery, storing and sorting of cartridge cases, boxes, heavy artillery ammunition and anti-gas equipment.


Ships taking coal to France returned with salvage cartridge cases to Blyth.


The conveyor belt we see in the photograph would have started from a ship at the dock. The railway line in front would have been used by trains to convey the boxes to a shell repair and then filling factory on Tyneside (probably in Newburn) to be sent back to the front. Some ammunition would have gone to Blyth Battery which guarded the coast. 

Some of the boxes (perhaps those stacked high in the middle, left-hand side of the photo) were loaded on to wagons on Links Road and transported by road. 


A closer look shows the women wearing clothes similar to the munitionettes pictured above. The photograph also includes a couple of men (far right-hand side). Given the latter have their hands on their hips (no boxes in hand), they were probably supervisors.


It was back-breaking, manual work  - carried out in all weather conditions. The winter of 1918 was particularly severe. In addition, used cartridge cases were dangerous because some still contained explosive.  


Notice the house with the distinct windows in the bottom right-hand corner of the photograph. The house still exists today (see image below). It is on the corner of Chamberlain Street and Links Road/Wensleydale Terrace. On the map (below), Blyth historian Gordon Smith has indicated (with red spots, right-hand side, middle) where the image was taken. It is marked as being in front of the site of the Royal Northumberland Yacht Club.

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Blyth Harbour Commission Tallies


Above we can see the tallies used by the Blyth Munitionettes during WWI. A personalised "tally number" would have been punched into the centre. 

When anyone started work for the Blyth Harbour Commissioners (BHC) they were given a tally number. This would remain with them for as long as they were employed by the Commission.  


A worker, before the start of the working day, would collect their tally from the time-office before proceeding to their place of work. Time clocks and time-cards were not used.  


Each person had two tallies, one brass, one Aluminium. On a Monday the brass tally was issued, Tuesday the Aluminium one, and so on.  


The tallies were kept on a board in the time office, so that the store-keeper, who issued the tallies, would know who was at work and know if they had left the premises at the end of the day (when the tallies were handed in). It was a system similar to that used at the collieries.

The time office was in the Stores, downstairs at the left side of the building shown below.

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Workshop area (about 1984)  The  buildings annotated were built about 1914.  Ballast jetty was built earlier.

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Brass tally No 115.

The above tally originally belonged to William Allan, who was born in Chester-le-Street on February 2, 1873. William started work for the BHC on April 8, 1891, as a general labourer. He lived at 75 Northumberland Street, Blyth.   


William worked at the port for three years and left to become a school caretaker on  November 28, 1913.  By August, 15, 1919, he was back working at the port. We know this because his record shows he lost the end of his finger on that date!


The tally was re-issued to Samuel John Doy (born Lowestoft, August 24, 1881) on April 4, 1923, as a deckhand on the dredger “Viscount Ridley”.  Samuel resided at 10 Arcadia Terrace, Blyth,


The tally was issued to another 6 people, until the system fell into disuse in the 1980s. 


By this time the harbour had developed the former shipyard area as part of the port and the workmen would start in different locations, including the former dry docks and the west yard of the old shipyard, known as Wimbourne Quay.

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This tally was issued to Thomas Weir in September, 1912.  Then to Charles R. Wilkins in March, 1914, until he left in September, 1920, after serving an apprenticeship with the BHC as a fitter. It was last issued to R. H. Walker on June 27, 1949, when he started as a labourer.


The above information regarding the tallies is from BHC record cards that were used from 1915 until the records were transferred to computer in the 1970s.  


These record cards were not all transferred to computer, but kept in the cellar of the old offices on Bridge Street and forgotten about - until two friends of Blyth historian Gordon Smith copied the details, which he transferred to a database.

Aluminium tally No 278

Munitionettes Uniform and Mop Cap

This original vintage munitionette work uniform and mob cap recently (July 2021) sold on EBay for £510.

Notice the bone buttons rather than metal. This was to prevent sparks around the cordite and "devil's porridge". It's possible this was a uniform from the HM Factory Gretna.


Sweetheart Brooches

Our thanks to Kevin Wearn from Killingworth who sent us this wonderful image of his maternal grandmother and her two younger sisters when they were munitionettes at Armstrong munitions factory on the Tyne in Scotswood. 

Kevin, 66, explained: "My grandmother, Mary Calder (nee Hume), and from memory, her siblings, Frances and Margaret, were sent down from Alnwick where they lived at 4 Lisburn Street. They were three of, I believe, a family of 13 children."


Grandma at work.jpeg

Mary was born in 1893  so she was 19 when war broke out and older than both Frances and Margaret. Given Armstrong Whitworth lost around 2,000 men to the army as early as autumn 1914, it's possible Mary joined the company around that time and encouraged her siblings to later join her at Armstrong's.


Mary is on the top, second from the right, Frances is sitting in the centre and in the front Margaret is sitting on the right hand side. Notice how both Mary and Frances are sporting sweetheart brooches on their uniforms. We don't know what they actually did on the shop floor but their dark overalls show it was a dirty, manual/physical role.

Kevin believes the picture was taken in 1916 or 1917 when his grandmother was aged 23 because Mary married James Calder in December 1917, so they must have been courting, hence the sweetheart brooch.


"My grandfather joined the Navy in March 1915 and when they got married in December 1917 James was serving on the HMS Dreadnaught. He was demobbed in March 1919."


Kevin continued: "My grandma and granddad lived in Heaton/Byker and had one daughter, my mam Evelyn, who was born in 1921. I came  across this photograph when my mam died in 1987.


My grandma died in 1956 when I was one year old so I don't remember her at all, sadly. However, I do recall meeting my Aunty Margaret ("Meggie") and Aunty Frances when I was a boy, and being taken my mam to Alnwick to visit family.


"I was obviously too young to remember them in any detail. Having seen this photo, it would be fantastic just to have an hour with the three sisters to talk about their incredible role in WWI." 

Historic Blyth Battery

If anyone is interested in sampling life during WWI we'd highly recommend a visit to the Blyth Battery which is sited on South Beach in Blyth, Northumberland, and portrays the importance of WW1 sea defenses.


Now a wonderful museum [entry free!], the impressive array of six separate buildings acted as a lookout, armaments, storage and  assembly point during World War 1. Built in 1916, it also boasted two a six-inch guns for coastal defense, guarding the mouth of the river Blyth in its North Sea location.  


Lindsay Durward,  secretary of Blyth Battery Volunteers, explained: "We are an enthusiastic group who maintain, conserve, research and open Blyth Battery to members of the public.


"We also put on displays commemorating the history of Blyth Battery at events around the region throughout the year."


Lindsay, continued: "We're based in Links Road on South Beach in Blyth and have a high physical profile. We're also on the walking route between Blyth and Seaton Sluice, so  it's really easy to pop in for a tour either as individuals or an organised group."


Blyth Battery Volunteers chairman, Colin Durward, added: "If people want to learn about the history of Blyth, we are always looking to welcome new members to our group. We have no minimum commitment, any help no matter how small would be welcome.


"It's amazing how many people come along and are so enthused by the place and the history that they want to get involved as a volunteer, either with the public or behind the scenes."


Blyth Battery operates on a week-end basis and will be open until the end of September.


Opening hours are 11am to 4pm. Last orders in the tea room are at 3.45pm.


Guided tours are free and rely on donations to preserve this crucial legacy of Blyth and Northumberland's WW1 history.


For further details about visits, contact or telephone (01670) 368816 or 07904 778 477.


Colin and Lindsay at Blyth Battery with a replica of the Munitionette's Cup

A few years ago Lindsay and Colin helped organise a football match at Croft Park to commemorate the Blyth Spartans Ladies' victory in the 1918 Munitionettes Cup.  Below are a few photographs from the occasion which will give an idea of what took place at Croft Park in the 1917/18 season. Imagine 4,000 spectators in the ground!

These excellent articles give an insight in to the work conditions and lives of WW1 Munitionettes:

Women's First World War Taste of Freedom (The Guardian)

Women and Work 1914-1918

Women and Work 1918-1939

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North Benwell Youth Project

The Young People's Committee at North Benwell Youth Project (NBYP) has taken Wor Bella to heart, producing this excellent bunting depicting Bella Reay and the story of Blyth Spartans Ladies.


The NBYP exists to work with - and empower - people up to the age of 25 living in that particular catchment area of Newcastle. More than 90% of attendees come from an eastern European Roma background, bringing their rich and diverse ancestral culture into the Geordie culture to create new and exciting happenings and fusions.


Margaret Ridley, lead Youth Worker at NBYP explained: "The young people's committee have been inspired by the story of Bella Reay and what she achieved through her footballing talent.  They also admire the fact that women took on what were deemed as "men's roles" during World War 1 in the munitions' factories."


Members of the NBYP will be attending the Saturday matinee at Westovian Theatre, South Shields, on Saturday, April 2. 

North Tyneside Arts Studio and Wor Bella

North Tyneside Arts Studio have created a terrific Wor Bella exhibition at Tynemouth Metro Station.  

The organisation, based at the Linskill Centre in North Shields, specialises in art for mental health, with more than 30 years experience in the field.

The exhibition runs throughout April and is on the footbridge that straddles the two platforms in Tynemouth station.


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