Famous people from North East England
Surnames beginning with:
Folk singer and songwriter born South Bank, Teesside. Especially noted for his protest songs in the traditional mould of political folk singing. Garbutt’s Irish roots inspired some of his noted songs including The Troubles about the political situation in Northern Ireland.
See also the Garbutt surname.
Gazza the footballing Great
Gifted England, Newcastle United and Middlesbrough footballer known as ‘Gazza’ who was born at Dunston near Gateshead. Noted as much for his comic antics on and off the pitch and his personal problems as for his exceptional football skills.
See also the Gascoigne surname.
Sedgefield-born actor, comedian, screenwriter and novelist. Gatiss is the writer, co-creator and producer of the TV drama ‘Sherlock’ starring Benedict Cumberbatch in which Gatiss appears in the role of Sherlock’s brother, Mycroft. Raised in School Aycliffe, where his father worked in a psychiatric hospital opposite their home, Gatiss was educated in County Durham at Heighington and Newton Aycliffe. He has many TV acting credits and is a comedy actor as part of the League of Gentleman team. Gatiss is a also a screenwriter for Dr Who.
See also the Gatiss surname.
Steve Gibson OBE
Businessman and Football Chairman
Middlesbrough-born and raised millionaire businessman who became a Labour Councillor and successful businessman in his home town in his early twenties. His company, Bulkhaul Ltd was established in 1981 and now has offices worldwide. As a young man Gibson was a friend of Chris Kamara (see also) who is now a well-known sports presenter. Gibson was on the board of directors of Middlesbrough Football Cub from the age of 26, helped save the club from liquidation in 1986 and became the club chairman in 1994, overseeing the move to the club’s new Riverside Stadium from Ayresome Park in 1995. Brian Robson (see also) was the first manager appointed at Middlesbrough under Gibson’s regime.
Guinness is Good For You
Whitley Bay-born and Durham University educated artist and illustrator famed for his iconic advertising posters that he designed for the Guinness brewery’s Irish stout. He developed the designs while working for the S.H. Benson advertising agency in London which he joined in 1925. The images often appeared on tin plate posters and featured animals such as sea lions, a toucan and occasionally a zoo keeper, sometimes accompanied by phrases like ‘Guinness is Good for You’ , ‘Guinness for Strength’ and ‘My Goodness My Guinness’.
1935 – 2001
Geordie Folk Songs
Low Fell-born singer songwriter and scriptwriter. Wrote songs and music for Alan Plater’s Close the Coal House Door. He was the writer of alternative lyrics to Geordie folk song Dance Ti’ Thy Daddy as the theme tune for TV series When the Boat Comes In.
Godric of Finchale
Pirate, Saint and Hermit
Often known as St Godric, Godric of Finchale was a former sea pirate and pedlar who became a hermit. He was born in Walpole, Norfolk and spent much of his early life at sea. He is said to have encountered a magical vision of St Cuthbert on a visit to Lindisfarne and decided to pursue the life of a hermit, residing for a time at Wolsingham in Weardale. He persuaded the Bishop of Durham, Ranulf Flambard to grant him land on the banks of the River Wear at Finchale north of Durham City. Here he would stand for long periods naked in the river with the water up to his neck and beat himself with bushes as a kind of penance. He lived to the grand age of 105 so it did not seem to do him any harm. A monastery affiliated to Durham was built at Finchale after Godric’s death.
Sunderland-born publisher, writer, historian and international brigade soldier. As a young man and staunch Communist he fought against the Fascists in the Spanish Civil War where he was wounded. In the 1950s Graham began publishing and writing books on North East history mainly focused on Northumberland and Tyneside. His 387 titles included books on castles, and publications on Roman forts and Hadrian’s Wall which was brought to life with the illustrations of Robert Embleton, as well as reprints of historic books. Graham’s works were mostly scholarly, yet accessible, although his best seller as a publisher was the light-hearted Larn Yersel’ Geordie by Scott Dobson.
See also the Graham surname.
Grainger Town Man
The son of a Quayside porter, Grainger was a Newcastle builder who transformed the landscape and central focus of Newcastle upon Tyne with developments that included Eldon Square, Blackett Street, Leazes Terrace, Leazes Crescent, Leazes Place, Grey Street, Grainger Street and Clayton Street. Saved from virtual bankruptcy in his later years by Newcastle Town Clerk, John Clayton, Grainger never reaped the financial rewards to match the scale of his developments and retired as a man of relatively modest means.
See also the Grainger surname.
Inventor of the Lifeboat
Inventor of the lifeboat who was born in Richmond, North Yorkshire and raised in South Shields. Fellow lifeboat designer William Wouldhave (1751-1821) of North Shields should also be acknowledged and should probably receive much of the credit for the lifeboat’s development.
See also the Greathead surname.
Andy Green OBE
Land speed record
Wing commander Andrew Green is the holder of the world land speed record which he broke in 1997 in the British-built Thrust SuperSonic car. Later that year he broke the land speed record again, this time becoming the first to break the sound barrier on land at a speed of more than 763 miles per hour. Green was born in Warwickshire but grew up partly in Hartlepool and at Marske-by-the-Sea.
The Monuments Men
Big Fish from a Grand County
Actor, TV presenter and extreme fisherman, born in Dudley Northumberland. His acting career includes roles in Soldier Soldier, Wire in the Blood, Casualty and Grantchester as well as being the TV presenter of Extreme Fishing and Tales from Northumberland which highlights the wonderful features of his home county. In the 1990s he was a number one selling singing artist in a duo with fellow actor Jerome Flynn.
Crook Town to Barcelona
Footballer and football manager born at Crook in County Durham. Greenwell, the son of a miner, played for Crook Town from 1901 to 1912. He played as a guest in the West Auckland team in their famous ‘World Cup’ final win in Turin, Italy in 1909 (the Sir Thomas Lipton trophy). Greenwell signed for Barcelona in 1912, winning two Campionat de Catalunyas titles before he retired as a player to become the club’s manager from 1917 to 1923 and again from 1931-1933, after managing a number of other Spanish clubs. As manager of Barcelona, Greenwell lead the side to two Spanish Copa de Rey Cup final wins (1920 and 1922) and they were champions of the Campionat de Catalunya league in 1919, 1920, 1921, 1922 and 1932. He also secured a cup final win and championship win as manager of Barcelona rivals RCD Español in the 1928-29 season. Later, Greenwell was manager of Valencia before heading to Peru, where he managed the Universitario club side and the Peruvian national side from 1939-40. Under his management in 1939, the club side won the Peruvian Primera División and the national side won the South American Championship. In 1942, Greenwell managed Colombian side Santa Fe whom he took to the final of Torneo de Cundinamarca and lost. He died of a heart attack later that year.
Canon William Greenwell
Noted antiquarian, archaeologist, Durham Cathedral canon and angler from Lanchester in County Durham. Though he was a highly esteemed and respected antiquarian he is perhaps best-known as the inventor of the Greenwell’s Glory fishing fly.
See also the Greenwell surname.
John Robson Gregg
Known as Jack Gregg, John Robson Gregg was the founder of the Greggs bakery business which has outlets all over the United Kingdom. Gregg was born in Newcastle upon Tyne’s Canada Street and joined the family egg and yeast business, often selling the produce from his bicycle. After inheriting the business from his father in the 1930s he established a bakery in 1938. The first Greggs shop opened in 1951 in the High Street of Gosforth, Newcastle upon Tyne. Expansion began in the 1970s and today Gregg has outlets in more than a thousand locations across the United Kingdom.
Charles Grey (the Second Earl Grey)
Tea Man Prime Minster
Northumberland-born British Prime Minister and Whig party member. Remembered for Earl Grey Tea (his favourite kind of tea), for the Great Reform Act of 1832 and by the famous monument in Newcastle city centre. Grey’s Reform Bill was a major step in democracy as it gave MPs to large towns like Manchester, Birmingham and Leeds that previously had no parliamentary representation and abolished Rotten Boroughs’, such as Old Sarum in Wiltshire, where virtually no one lived and where two MPs were elected by the owner of a ‘green mound and a well’.
See also the Grey surname.
Tanni Grey-Thompson (Baroness Grey-Thompson of Eaglescliffe)
An adopted North-Easterner, Grey-Thompson was born in Cardiff in 1969 and is a highly successful Paralympian, who is a wheelchair user with spina bifida. She is a member of the House of Lords; is a TV presenter and has been the Chancellor of the University of Northumbria since 2015. Teesside is now her adopted home Grey-Thompson was the Gold medallist in the 100 and 400 metres in the 2005 Paralympian World Cup and Silver medallist in the 200 metres in 2007.
Poet, Anglo-Saxon scholar who was fluent in Old English, a biker and one time Hell’s Angel. A writer and expert on North East dialect. Born in Middlesex, in his later years he lived in Seaham and worked at the University of Northumbria’s Centre for Northern Studies. Widely published as a poet, in the North East he is principally known for his work on the region’s dialect. Publications include: North East Dialect: Survey and Word List, A Dictionary of North East Dialect, Pitmatic : The Talk of the North East Coalfield.
Actor born Thornaby-on-Tees, the son of a Teesside steelworker. Movie appearances include Gandhi, Withnail and I, The Naked Gun Two and Half, The History Boys, Pirates of the Caribbean and as Victor Dursley in the Harry Potter films. His countless TV roles included the lead role in Pie in the Sky.
59 Rounds and Lost
Yorkshire-born champion boxer, Derby winning racehorse owner, Durham coal owner, Pontefract MP and father to 24 children. He lived near Durham Cathedral in Durham City and at Cocken, County Durham. As a boxer he once went 59 rounds with Henry ‘the Game Chicken’ Pearce and lost.
Goal Guy Gurney
Footballer born in Silksworth, Sunderland, Gurney is the all time highest goal scorer for his home town club with 204 goals in 348 appearances. Gurney had previously played for amateur side Bishop Auckland FC. After retiring as a footballer he became manager of Peterborough United, then Darlington and then Hartlepools United.
See also footballers from North East England
Steam locomotive engineer born in Wylam, Northumberland who was based at Shildon in County Durham. Hackworth assisted the Stephensons with the building of Locomotion Number One (1825) and developed the Royal George locomotive (1827). He constructed the Sans Pareil locomotive for the Rainhill Trials which competed against Stephenson’s Rocket. The Sans Pareil can be seen in the National Railway Museum in Shildon.
Hadaway and Write
North Shields-born TV scriptwriter and playwright. Scriptwriter for some episodes of When the Boat Comes In. Hadaway worked extensively with Amber Films and Newcastle’s Live Theatre Company working with many well-known North East actors who performed his scripts. Noted for his Prison Plays edited by Val McLane.
Emperor of Rome
Born near Seville in what is now Spain but then part of the Roman Empire, Hadrian whose full name was Publius Aelius Hadrianus became Emperor of Rome in 117AD. Pons Aelius (Bridge Aelius), the Roman fort at Newcastle upon Tyne which formed part of Hadrian’s Wall’s defences commemorated Hadrian’s family name. The year 122AD is given as the date at which Hadrian’s Wall was commenced by the Romans to Hadrian’s orders in the hope of containing and delimiting the northern frontier of his Empire. The Roman wall may have already been planned before this date but it was in 122AD that Hadrian visited Britain. We cannot be certain he ever visited the frontier zone in which the famous wall that bears his name was built or that he even stepped foot within the land we now call North East England, but Hadrian has left an indelible mark on the region’s history.
Many roles to play
Gateshead-born actress who grew up in the Wrekenton and Leam Lane area. As a youngster she appeared in Byker Grove with later TV work as an adult including major roles in Coronation Street, Eastenders, Waterloo Road and Peak Practice. She was the winner of the second series of Strictly Come Dancing.
Sir John Hall
Making the MetroCentre
North Seaton, Ashington-born businessman and former Chairman Newcastle United. Principally known for building the MetroCentre shopping mall through his company Cameron Hall Developments. The son of a miner, Hall started out as a mining surveyor. As owner of Newcastle United he appointed Kevin Keegan as a manager which was a major turning point in the club’s fortunes. He is the Life President of Newcastle United FC.
Billy Elliot’s Tale
English playwright and screenwriter from Newcastle best known for the movie Billy Elliot (2000). The story was partly inspired by baritone singer Thomas Allen (see also) and the A.J Cronin novel The Stars Look Down.
Albany and John Hancock
1806-1873 and 1808-1890
Newcastle born brothers and naturalists who helped establish the city’s Hancock Museum (now the Great North Museum) which opened in 1884. The older brother, Albany Hancock (1806-1873 and pictured on the left) was a noted biologist and supporter of Darwin. He was known for his study of marine animals and fossils from the region’s coal measures. John Hancock was a biologist and skilled taxidermist as well as a landscape architect who was partly responsible for the layout of Newcastle’s Town Moor. Both men were educated at Newcastle’s Royal Grammar School and lived in St Mary’s Terrace, Newcastle along with their sister, Mary Jane.
Stephen and Christopher Hancock
1925-2015 and 1928-2004
Soap Acting Brothers
Bishop Auckland-born brothers who played memorable roles in two of Britain’s most popular TV soaps. Stephen Hancock (1925-2015 pictured left) was educated at Durham Chorister School and Darlington Grammar School. He played the character Ernie Bishop, the husband of Emily Bishop, in Coronation Street from 1969 until his character was killed off in a fatal shooting at Mike Baldwin’s factory in 1978. Stephen’s brother, Christopher Hancock (1928-2004) played the role of conman Charlie Cotton, the husband of Dot Cotton and father to Nick Cotton in EastEnders from 1986 to 1990. In addition to his EastEnders role Hancock played several other roles in theatre and TV.
Inventor of Domestos
A Newcastle dental mechanic and chemist, William Handley developed the household cleaner, Domestos in his garden shed at Byker in 1929. He purchased Sodium Hypochlorite from the ICI chemical works at Billingham for creating his product. It was sold by salesmen who travelled door to door on bicycles selling to housewives in stoneware jars. Domestos was sold as a product for whitening cotton, cleaning household surfaces and drains. The advertising slogan “kills all known germs dead” was introduced in the early 1950s and in 1961 the product was acquired by Lever Brothers – now Unilever.
Inventor of Plasticine
Born in North Shields, William Harbutt was an artist who is best remembered as the inventor of plasticine. An associate of the Royal College of Art, Harbutt was trained in London and became the headmaster of the Bath School of Art in the 1870s. It was in Bath that Harbutt developed, in 1897, the non-drying clay called ‘Plasticine’ for use by his students and its manufacture commenced in 1900 after a patent was obtained. Harbutt died of pneumonia on a trip to New York in 1921.
Wallsend-born actress. Best-known for playing Val Pollard in the TV soap Emmerdale. Played the mother of Duncan (Declan Donnelly) in Byker Grove. Movie appearances in Purely Belter and Billy Elliot. Charlie is a regular member of the team of Geordie actors and entertainers who perform in the biennial Sunday for Sammy event in commemoration of fellow Tyneside actor Sammy Johnson (see).
Footballer with Middlesbrough and Oldham Athletic. Born at Saltburn-by-the-Sea, he made 143 appearances for Middlesbrough as a footballer. He was later the manager of Oldham Athletic, the Netherlands national side, PSV Eindhoven, Sunderland and Gateshead FC.
Sunderland-born Bantamweight and Featherweight boxing champion. There is a sports centre in Sunderland named after him. Hardy held the European and Commonwealth Featherweight titles.
Sir Henry Havelock
Hero of Lucknow
Sunderland-born Major General and son of a wealthy shipbuilder. Considered a hero for his part in the recovery of Cawnpore during the Indian Mutiny. Havelock recaptured Lucknow but died of dysentery while it came under siege. Towns in the USA, Canada and New Zealand are named after Havelock as well as dozens of streets and pubs in Britain. Today the Indian Mutiny is seen as the avoidable result of British ignorance and disrespect for Indian traditions.
See also the Havelock surname.
Happiness and Hilarity
Much-loved Newcastle-born stand-up comedian, actor and musician. Educated at St Cuthbert’s Grammar School, Newcastle and Newcastle College of Arts. A keyboard player, he performed as a musician with Lindisfarne and Goldie. TV roles included appearances in Catherine Cookson’s The Black Velvet Gown, Spender and Auf Wiedersehen, Pet.
Actor and Comedian. Became a household name playing Dennis Patterson in Auf Wiedersehen, Pet he also appeared in The World Cup a Captain’s Tale about the extraordinary world cup winning achievement of amateur football side West Auckland. Actor with Newcastle’s Live Theatre. TV roles include Benidorm, Waterloo Road, Boys from the Bush. He was formerly the husband of Denise Welch.
Painter, woodcarver and illustrator born near Richmond, North Yorkshire and raised in Newcastle upon Tyne. His rich works capture the remarkable social history of the region in the nineteenth century in a vivid and romantic style.
Puffing Billy Billy
Railway engineer of Wylam who built the Puffing Billy and Wylam Dilly locomotives. He was born at Newburn near Newcastle upon Tyne.
See also the Hedley surname.
Charles Napier Hemy
Newcastle-born marine artist. Associate of The Royal Academy. His most renowned marine paintings are part of the Tate Collection.
Thomas Madawaska Hemy
Born on a ship between England and Australia. Later residing in Newcastle upon Tyne. Marine artist and younger brother of the more accomplished Charles Napier Hemy. Thomas is principally known for his 1895 painting of Sunderland v Aston Villa, the oldest painting of association football which hangs in Sunderland’s Stadium of Light.
Uniting the Miners
English trade unionist, born Pelton near Chester-le-Street in County Durham. Hepburn established ‘The Colliers of the United Association of Durham and Northumberland’ trade union. He was a pioneering figure in the trade union movement.
It Shouldn’t Happen to a Vet
Sunderland-born writer and vet (real name Alf Wight) famous for his semi-autobiographical novels about the life of a Yorkshire vet. TV and film versions of Wight’s work include All Creatures Great and Small and It Shouldn’t Happen to a Vet. Although his life and story is most closely associated with Yorkshire and he was raised in Glasgow Herriot retained a close connection with his birthplace as a keen supporter, like his shipyard worker father before him, of Sunderland football club and was appointed the club’s Life President in 1992.
Composer who discovered Uranus
Famed German-born British composer and astronomer who was a resident of Sunderland in the 1760s during which time he was the head of the Durham Militia band 1760–61. In 1781 Herschel discovered the planet Uranus, the first planet to be discovered since ancient times. Herschel was subsequently appointed Court Astronomer by King George III.
Richard Oliver Heslop
Newcastle-born historian, writer of Geordie songs and Northumberland/Tyneside dialect expert. He was the joint owner of an iron merchants and engineering business in Newcastle’s Sandhill. His two-volume dialect dictionary entitled Northumberland Words was published in the 1890s. It was initially serialised in the Chronicle newspaper.
See also the Heslop surname.
The Higgs Boson Particle
Newcastle-born (Elswick) Nobel Prize Laureate theoretical physicist of ‘Higgs Boson’ particle fame. Bosons are a kind of subatomic particle and can overlap each other – occupying the same point in space. When bosons clump together they form a field (the Higgs Field). Without this field there would be no mass and no atoms. The particles are named from Higgs because he predicted their existence and they became an important aspect of theoretical physics, eventually proven by the Large Hadron Collider (particle collider) near Geneva in Switzerland in 2012-13.
Woman of Wisdom
Hild or Hilda, was an influential Northumbrian saint who resided at Hartlepool and later Whitby. She was successively the abbess of the monasteries at both places, being the second abbess of Hartlepool and the founding abbess of Whitby. Brought up at the court of King Edwin of Northumbria, Hild was noted for her wisdom and the kings of Northumbria often sought her advice.
US Security Council
Bishop Auckland-born former member of the United States Security Council noted for her expertise on Russian and European issues. The daughter of a Durham miner Hill was educated at St Andrews University in Scotland and at Harvard. She gained prominence as a witness in President Donald Trump’s impeachment inquiry in 2019.
Wearside Woman TV Star
Sunderland-born actress known for Waterloo Road, Bread, Playing the Field, The Syndicate and for playing the role of Cathy Matthews in Coronation Street as well as several other TV credits and a role in the movie Brassed Off. She was educated at Monkwearmouth School and RADA. Although she is extremely proud of her North East roots, Hill is perhaps best-known for playing the role of Aveline in the Liverpool sit-com Bread. She was formerly married to the actor Sean Bean.
Rev John Hodgson
A Man of History
Clergyman at Heworth, antiquarian, mine safety campaigner and author of the classic History of Northumberland. Hodgson presided over the funerals of the Felling mining disaster victims in 1812. He came up with the name of the village of Wrekenton, now part of Tyneside which he named from the local Roman road called the Wrekendike.
See also the Hodgson surname.
John Henry Holmes
Inventor of the Electric Switch
Newcastle electrical engineer, noted for making dynamos and motors. He invented the quick break electrical switch in 1884. All modern wall-mounted light switches are still based on the principal of his invention. The first switches were manufactured by Holmes’ Newcastle-based motor and dynamo business which he established at Shieldfield in 1883.
Inventor of the Eighties
Durham born and Houghton-le-Spring raised record producer, songwriter, musician and singer. He was the singer with Buggles whose music video called Video Killed the Radio Star was the first video shown on MTV. Horn has been called ‘The man who invented the eighties’.
The Railway King
George Hudson was a Yorkshire-born MP for Sunderland, known as ‘the Railway King’. Born near York, Hudson was a wealthy banker who invested heavily in the development of the railway network across England with the work often undertaken by George Stephenson. Hudson was the MP for Sunderland from 1845 to 1859 and is remembered in the name of Sunderland’s Hudson Dock. He came to control a significant portion of Britain’s rail network but was engaged in fraudulent business activities. When he lost his Sunderland seat he lost the protection that being an MP gave him and he went into exile before his eventual arrest and imprisonment.
1945 – 1995
Run for Home
Singer-songwriter and founder of North East rock group Lindisfarne. Born Benwell, Newcastle. Fog on the Tyne, Meet me on the Corner, Lady Eleanor and Run for Home are among the band’s classic songs.
Cardinal Basil Hume
Roman Catholic cardinal and bishop, who as Archbishop of Westminster was head of the Catholic church in England and Wales. Born Newcastle upon Tyne. A prominent statue can be seen of Hume outside Newcastle’s Catholic cathedral near the Central Station.
See also the Home and Hume surnames
Sir George Burton Hunter
Sunderland-born shipbuilder. Started as a shipbuilding apprentice to his Wearside cousin William Pile. After a partnership with Sunderland shipbuilder C.P Austin, Hunter moved to Tyneside forming a partnership with the widow of Wallsend shipbuilder Charles S. Swan to form the famed Swan Hunter shipbuilders.
King Ida of Bernicia
Lived in the sixth century AD
Founder of a Kingdom
The first king of Bernicia, the North East based kingdom that would later merge with Deira to become the Kingdom of Northumbria. Ida, a pagan, was an Angle whose people hailed from an area now on the borders of Denmark and Germany. He captured the Celtic coastal fortress of Din Guarie (Bamburgh) from the native Britons in 547AD and made it his capital. He has sometimes been referred to by historians as Ida the Flameberarer.
Monty Python Man
Comedian, actor, songwriter of Monty Python fame. He was born at Harton, South Shields to which his mother had been evacuated from the North West during the Second World War. One of his best-known contributions to Monty Python was as the singer of Always Look on The Bright Side of Life.
See also our North East surnames pages
The surnames Graham, Hall, Hedley, Hepburn, Hodgson and Hume