Famous people from North East England
Surnames beginning with:
Discovered Addison’s Disease
Born in Longbenton near Newcastle, Addison was a physician and scientist. The son of a grocer and flour dealer, he was educated at Newcastle’s Royal Grammar School and the University of Edinburgh’s Medical School. After studying medicine he went on to work at Guy’s Hospital in London and became a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians. He carried out researches into diseases and in 1855 discovered Addison’s disease – a disease of the adrenalin gland which takes its name from him. Famous sufferers of this disease have included US President, John F. Kennedy. Addison is buried in the churchyard at Lanercost Priory half way between Carlisle and the Northumberland border.
See also the Addison surname
Kate Adie OBE
War Zone Reporter
Former TV news reporter for the BBC best-known for her seemingly fearless war reports from scenes of conflict. War reporting was very much a male-dominated field at that time. Born in Whitley Bay, Adie was adopted as a baby by new parents in Sunderland where she was raised. Educated at Sunderland Church High School and Newcastle University, Adie began her broadcasting career at BBC Radio Durham, progressing to BBC regional TV news in the south of England and then national TV news. She was the first TV reporter on the scene for the Iranian Embassy siege in 1980 from which she reported live.
Sir George Airy
Greenwich Meridian Man
Mathematician, astronomer and Astronomer Royal, born Alnwick. Airy was important for studies of planetary orbits, for calculating the mean density of the earth and for establishing Greenwich as the Prime Meridian.
Poet and Physician
English poet and physician, born in Newcastle upon Tyne. His most notable work as a poet was The Pleasures of Imagination published in 1744 and inspired by a visit to Morpeth. He is remembered in the Newcastle street-name, Akenside Hill and in the caricature of a republican doctor in Tobias Smollett’s Adventures of Peregrine Pickle.
Charles W. Alcock
Inventor of the FA Cup
Sunderland-born sportsman and sports administrator who dreamt up and instigated the FA Cup competition. The Harrow-educated Alcock also organised the world’s first football international and the world’s first cricket international.
Zoologist and cheesemonger
Joshua Alder was a cheesemonger in the Newcastle street called Side but was also a respected amateur zoologist noted for his expertise on sea creatures, in particular Tunicata of which he produced intricate and beautiful illustrations in a published work he co-authored with Albany Hancock. Alder was a one time resident of number 5 Ravensworth Terrace in the Summerhill area of Newcastle near the Westgate Road. The remarkable story of this house and the residents who preceded and succeeded Alder was told in the second series of David Olusoga’s wonderful House Through Time produced for BBC television and first aired in 2019. A plaque on the house commemorates Alder’s occupancy. Alder had to move from this home after suffering hardship resulting from a financial crash involving a bank in which he had invested. Fortunately, in his later years, Alder was awarded with a pension from the civil list in recognition of his contribution to natural history.
See also the Alder surname
Sir Thomas Allen CBE
Singer of Seaham
Renowned baritone opera singer and the Chancellor of Durham University since 2011. Educated at Ryhope Grammar School and the Royal College of Music. Allen was born in the mining town of Seaham Harbour and although he is a singer rather than a dancer, his story provided the inspiration for Lee Hall in creating the character Billy Elliot in the movie of that name.
Wayward Gipsy Piper
Gipsy piper of the Northumbrian pipes who was born near Rothbury in Northumberland. Allen was an adopted member of the Faw gipsy clan of the Scottish Borders. Often falling on the wrong side of the law, Allen was a cattle thief, horse-thief, bigamist and gambler. He was also a piper to the Countess of Northumberland and despite his wayward ways was esteemed for his great talent at playing the pipes and is thought to have composed pipe tunes such as Salmon Tails. In 1803 he was arrested at Gateshead for horse theft and imprisoned in a cell beneath Elvet Bridge in Durham City for the rest of his days. His ghost reputedly haunts this cell (now part of a pub) where he died shortly before a pardon arrived for his release.
See also the Allan and Allen surnames
Football manager and commentator
Born at Hurworth-on-Tees and educated at Stockton, Allison was a footballer, football manager and the BBC’s first sports commentator. He is best-known as one of the two longest-serving managers of Arsenal Football Club, the longest being Arsene Wenger. He won two league titles and one FA Cup for the north London side.
David Almond OBE
Words for the young
Writer of books for children and young adults, born in Newcastle upon Tyne. His debut novel Skellig was published in 1998. Winner of the Hans Christian Andersen Award (an esteemed award for authors of books for children and young people) in 2010.
Northern Folk Man
North East folk musician and composer. A Northumbrian piper and renowned English concertina player. He is the founder of Folkworks at Sage Gateshead, a founding organisation of Sage which hosts workshops, summer schools and festivals promoting and encouraging folk music. Anderson has performed in numerous tours across Europe, the USA and Australia.
Paul W. S. Anderson
Resident Evil Director
Full name Paul William Scott Anderson, is a film director whose movies include the Resident Evil series, Mortal Kombat and Alien vs Predator. He was born in Wallsend and educated at Gosforth and Newcastle’s Royal Grammar School.
See also the Anderson surname
Richard Annand VC
Victoria Cross Winner
Born in South Shields, Annand was the first member of the British army to be awarded a Victoria Cross in the Second World War. He was a 2nd Lieutenant in the Durham Light Infantry serving in Belgium. During the night of May 15-16, 1940 he defended an attack from opposing forces across a river, by solely venturing onto a broken bridge amidst heavy fire. Armed with grenades he took out a German party involved in repairing the bridge. Following a further attack he ventured again into enemy territory with grenades and was wounded. After his troops were ordered to withdraw he learned his wounded personal servant was left behind so returned to rescue him using a wheelbarrow before losing consciousness from his own wounds. He was awarded the VC in 1940 and promoted to Captain in 1948. A Deputy Lieutenant for County Durham from 1956, he lived in retirement in Durham City.
TV presenter, comedian and actor born in Rothbury, Northumberland. He was educated at Stocksfield and at Durham School. He is the presenter of the popular quiz show Pointless and President of the esteemed ‘Lit and Phil’: The Literary and Philosophical Society of Newcastle upon Tyne.
Quintessential North East Actor
Prolific, instantly recognisable and versatile TV and film actor born Annfield Plain in County Durham. He made his film debut in Get Carter in 1971 and has appeared in countless TV and movie roles since then as well as many appearances as a stage actor. In addition to portraying characters with a distinctly North East flavour, Armstrong has appeared in a wide range of dramas and theatre productions including Dickensian TV adaptations and Shakespearean roles and has extensively performed with the Royal Shakespeare Company. Les Misérables and the title role in Sweeney Todd are amongst the many roles that Armstrong has tackled in a long and distinguished career.
The Pitman Poet
Tommy Armstrong of Tanfield Lea, born in Shotley Bridge, was a songwriter known as the ‘Pitman Poet’ or ‘Bard of the Northern Coalfield’. His songs include Wor Nanny’s a Mazor, The Trimdon Grange Explosion, The Durham Lockout and Durham Jail where he was briefly imprisoned for drunkenly stealing a pair of stockings from a shop because he thought they would suit his bandy legs. Another song, The Oakey Strike Evictions recalls the eviction of striking miners at Stanley from their homes by police (pollises) assisted by candymen – rough, hardened men, who were often dockside down and outs paid to undertake the brutal work.
Sir William Armstrong
Born in Shieldfield in Newcastle, William Armstrong, later Lord Armstrong, was a genius engineer, an armaments manufacturer, a hydro-electricity pioneer, an international businessmen, an inventor, a scientist and the owner of Cragside House and Bamburgh Castle in Northumberland. He was educated at Whickham and at Bishop Auckland where he developed a keen interest in the activities of a local engineering works operated by William Ramshaw. He also showed a keen interest in Ramshaw’s daughter, Margaret, who he would marry in 1835. Armstrong trained as a solicitor for five years but his career in law was short-lived and he pursued his interests in engineering, developing a rotary engine which he employed a friend to manufacture at a works in High Bridge, Newcastle. Further developments by Armstrong led to the manufacture of a piston engine and a hydraulic crane that proved a great success. He purchased land at Elswick to establish a business manufacturing hydraulic equipment and cranes. His customers included the docks at Liverpool and Grimsby. Armstrong turned his attention to making armaments at Elswick developing a breech loading gun (he would supply both sides in the American Civil War). Branching out into making naval guns necessitated the movement of ships up river to Elswick, bringing about the removal of the old stone-built Tyne Bridge which Armstrong replaced with the Swing Bridge in 1876. From 1835 Armstrong had resided in a house (since demolished) in Jesmond Dene but in 1863 he purchased land near Rothbury where the architect Richard Norman Shaw would develop the spectacular mansion of Cragside. With its magnificent landscaped grounds set within the Northumbrian hills, Cragside was the first house in the world lit by hydro-electricity, using lighting developed by Joseph Wilson Swan (see). Armstrong donated the beautiful grounds of his old home of Jesmond Dene to the people of Newcastle upon Tyne, as a park, in a philanthropic gesture.
See also the Armstrong surname
Boro Boy Singer
Middlesbrough-born singer and songwriter. Raised in Redcar, nearby Brotton and in Bahrain. He made his name through TV talent show The X Factor in 2012 and regularly tops the music charts.
Influential architectural and structural engineer born in Newcastle upon Tyne to a Danish mother and Norwegian father. One of his most notable works is the Kingsgate footbridge in Durham City.
Æthelfrith, King of Bernicia
First King of Northumbria
Æthelfrith was the grandson of King Ida (see also) whose kingdom of Bernicia was based in North East England. Æthelfrith’s capital was Din Guarie, a coastal fortress that was renamed Bebbanburgh meaning Bebba’s fort and now called Bamburgh. It was named from Æthelfrith’s wife, Queen Bebba. Æthelfrith seized control of the rival kingdom of Deira (in east Yorkshire) in 604AD to effectively become the first king of all Northumbria – a name given to all the land north of the Humber. Æthelfrith was killed in battle at Bawtry (near Doncaster) fighting Raedwald, King of East Anglia. Æthelfrith’s young son, Oswald (see) fled into exile in Scotland and Æthelfrith was succeeded by Edwin of Deira as king.
First English feminist
Feminist philosopher, writer and campaigner, born in Newcastle upon Tyne to a coal merchant. Astell has been described as ‘the first English feminist’ being an advocate of the then revolutionary idea that women should have equal opportunities in the field of education. Her works were published anonymously. She was a good friend of the Anglo-Saxon scholar and feminist Elizabeth Elstob.
Frank Atkinson CBE
Yorkshire-born visionary founder of the award-winning Beamish Museum in County Durham. Atkinson had a great passion for industrial archaeology and social history. He was previously curator at the Bowes Museum in Barnard Castle when he developed his vision for an open-air museum. Initial collections for the new museum were stored there and at an army camp at Brancepeth near Durham from 1970 before the Beamish site finally opened to the public in 1972.
Award Winning Chef
Newcastle-born Michelin star-winning chef. Educated at Newcastle College, Atkinson won his first Michelin star as a head chef at a restaurant in the Scilly Isands and followed this up with another as head chef for a restaurant at Seaham Hall in County Durham. He was named Chef of the Year in the Catey Awards of 2009. In 2014 he opened his own restaurant House of Tides near Newcastle’s quayside which was awarded a Michelin star in 2015. Kenny has appeared on the BBC’s Great British Menu and on Saturday Kitchen.
Rowan Atkinson CBE
Bean and Blackadder
TV actor, movie actor and comedian whose title roles include Mr Bean, Blackadder and Johnny English. Born Consett in County Durham, his parents were farmers. He was educated at Durham Chorister School near Durham Cathedral at the same time as Tony Blair and pursued a higher education at Newcastle and Oxford Universities. Atkinson first gained prominence on the BBC comedy sketch show Not the Nine O’ Clock News (1979-1982).
See also the Atkinson surname
Newcastle-born English composer of the Baroque and Classical period and a friend of Wiliam Herschel (see) and William Shield (see). Avison was organist at St Nicholas Church – now Newcastle Cathedral. His best known works are the 12 Concerti Grossi after Scarlatti and his written work on music criticism entitled an Essay on Musical Expression.
See also our North East surnames page