Samuel Ferguson Davidson


Samuel Ferguson Davidson was a Freemason and founding member of Lodge Temperance 2557, which after its consecration in 1895, met at the Masonic Hall, Shakespeare Street, Newcastle-upon-Tyne. He was a member of St Nicholas Lodge No. 1676, where he was initiated on the 7th December 1892, passed to the 2nd degree on the 13th January 1893 and raised to the Sublime Degree of Master Mason on the 22nd February 1893.

In early 1895 a few freemasons thought it desirable to form a Masonic Lodge, which amongst other things would have no intoxicating drink at any of its meetings. A preliminary meeting convened by Brother Lewis Forsyth Allan a Past Master of Tyne Lodge No. 991, was held in the office of the North of England Temperance League, 131, Pilgrim Street, Newcastle Upon Tyne.

Present were Brother John Armstrong, Inner Guard of Industry Lodge No., 48, Brother Lewis Forsyth Allan, Brother Robert Womphrey Junior Steward of Tyne Lodge 991, Brother Guy Hayler (unattached), Brother Samuel Ferguson Davidson and Brother Andrew Christopher Messer Junior Deacon of Tyne Lodge No. 991. After discussion it was agreed to sign a petition and forward it to Grand Lodge which shows Samuel as a subscribing member and Master Mason of St Nicholas Lodge 1676, living at 53, Falmouth Road, Heaton and working as a Builder. It was also agreed at the meeting that Samuel would become the first Inner Guard of Lodge Temperance and to minimise costs and ensure the lodge started without debt, several brethren promised to donate items of furniture and Samuel’s contribution was a chest to keep the Lodge property safe, which is still in use today.

Samuel was also a founding member of Holmes Lodge No. 2571, consecrated together with Lodge Temperance and Delaval Lodge 2568 on 30th October 1895. He resigned from Holmes Lodge on 29th November 1899 but remained as a subscribing member of St Nicholas and Temperance Lodges until 1914. The Lodge Temperance records show he did not occupy any other Office in the Lodge after his year as Inner Guard.

Samuel was the son of Newcastle born Thomas Davidson, a Master joiner and later manager of a brick works, and Agnes Ferguson, a Scottish lass from Urr, Kirkcudbright, Scotland who were married there on the 28th December 1865. They had at least 6 children including:

  • Samuel Ferguson (1866 – 1964)
  • Eliza Grace (1868 – 1955)
  • Agnes Dick (1873 – 1944)
  • James Edwin (b 1878)
  • John Joseph (b 1880)
  • William George (b 1883)

Samuel married Mary Frances Durkee, a Welsh lady from Glamorgan, in Newcastle upon Tyne in 1913. The records show they had at least two children including:

  • Alan Ferguson (b 1919)
  • Mary D. (b 1921)

Today the national speed limit in built up areas is 30 mph but in 1908 it was only 14 mph and 25 to 26 mph was considered a very dangerous speed as Samuel found out to his cost. The Morpeth Herald of 31 October 1908 reported:

Samuel Ferguson Davidson, contractor, Moor Crescent Gosforth, was charged with having driven a motor car to the danger of the public, at Walbottle, on October 4th. Mr John A. Williamson defended. – P.C. Robson said the defendant drove his car through the village at 25 to 26 miles an hour. There were a number of people about, and a horse and trap was standing in the road. The speed was very dangerous, as the car had to pass the cross roads. – Several civilians gave corroborative evidence. – Defendant said he passed the cross roads at a little more than nine miles an hour, and he then increased the speed to 13 miles an hour. He was going at that speed when the policeman signalled to him to stop. He denied that there was a lot of traffic about, or that here was any danger. Witness had a speedometer in his car.  – Two gentleman and a lady, who were in the defendant’s car, corroborated his evidence. – A fine of £2 and costs was imposed.

Not sure that many could judge how fast a vehicle is travelling but P. C. Robson seems confident. It would also be nice to think that the lady in Samuel’s car was his future wife Mary.

Samuel started his building company in 1890 with a capital of £16 (about £1500 in today’s money). S.F. Davidson, Builders and Contractors offered a wide variety of services from building work to plumbing, painting, glazing and decorating and specialised in the construction of Theatres and concert halls. He had a strong association with a well-known Newcastle Upon Tyne firm of architects, William Hope and Joseph Charlton Maxwell who are particularly remembered for their design of theatres, not only locally, but as far afield as Glasgow, Margate and Southampton. We know that William Hope was also a Freemason and member of Percy Lodge No 1427, Tyne Lodge No 991 and St Oswin Lodge No 2327.

These are but a few of Samuels accomplishments:

One of his early buildings was the Grand Theatre on Wilfred Street, Byker which opened on 27th July 1896 and was described as a very fine building, which could seat 2,500 people. Occupying a corner plot, there were separate entrances for the pit and gallery with a large handsome marble staircase to the circle. The stage measured 58 ft by 44 ft 6 inches and it could accommodate the largest productions. It had “a commodious suite of dressing rooms on each side fitted with every convenience for the comfort of the artistes”. The principal entrance was surmounted by an imposing turret. Inside the main entrance was a spacious vestibule. The tip-up chairs were upholstered in “terracotta plush”. The theatre closed in August 1954.

This was followed shortly by the building of the Metropole Theatre on High Street, Gateshead, which opened on 28th September 1896 and was the largest theatre to be built in Gateshead with seating for over 2000. Samuel was congratulated on the speed with which he accomplished such a gigantic task as the entire building was erected in some five months. The theatre only had a short life in this form however, as in 1919 it was converted for cinema use and would later be renamed the Scala. Sadly the theatre was demolished in 1960 although the Metropole Hotel which formed part of the building still survives today.

In 1897, Holder Hotel and Concert Hall in Coleshill Street, Birmingham, was partially demolished and reconstructed by Samuel. The ERA theatrical weekly newspaper reported on the reconstruction in their 25th of September 1897 edition saying:  ‘The New Gaiety Palace, Birmingham, is arising Phoenix like out of the ruins of the old building, which has been partially demolished to make room for a new and more sumptuous edifice. Some £30,000 is being spent on the new building, and every effort is being made to make it one of the finest concert halls in the kingdom.” The Gaiety finally closed in 1920 and was then turned over to Cinema use, known as the Gaiety Picture House, and ran as such until it closed on the 29th of November 1969 and was then demolished and the site was grassed over by the University.

In 1898, Samuel was involved with the construction of the Grand Theatre in Cecil Road, Margate, Kent, later called the Margate Hippodrome. The Theatre was actually a reconstruction of the former Royal Assembly Rooms which had been destroyed by fire in 1882. The Theatre eventually became a Cinema and ended its days as a Bar before it was demolished in 1958.

The Queen’s Theatre at the corner Meadow-road and Jack-lane in Leeds was built by Samuel and opened in 1898 and could accommodate 3,500 people. As reported in the Leeds Mercury, ‘the interior decorations, and the appearance of the theatre will be found not only handsome, but essentially artistic, tasteful, and grateful to the eye.’ The building also contained refreshment rooms, sixteen drawing rooms, and two shops. The Queen’s closed as a theatre in 1924. It was converted to a cinema but numbers continued to decline. After the war, audience numbers were further reduced by competition from television. The Queen’s theatre closed in 1957, and was demolished in 1968.

His next venture appears to be the construction of the Palace Theatre in Jubilee Street, Blackburn, Lancashire which opened its doors on Monday night the 11th December 1899. The theatre was finally demolished in December 1989 to make way for a car park.

In 1906 he started work on the King’s Theatre in Crowtree Road, Sunderland. It took seven months to build; opening on Christmas Eve 1906 and at the time was the ultimate in luxury. It included a revolutionary piece of construction using a cantilever principle for the circle and gallery. This allowed everyone in the 2500 capacity audience an unobstructed view of the stage. The seating arrangements were different to other theatres of the day in that there was no pit area, the traditional part of the theatre known as the stalls.  In its place were the balcony stalls, with comfortable tip-up seats. The Theatre was destroyed by German bombs on 16th May 1943 and the remaining walls were converted into a market in 1947, and it was totally demolished in 1954. Today the Crowtree Leisure Centre stands on the site.

In 1909, Samuel was involved with the construction of the Dome of another well-known building, the Spanish City, a fun fair in Whitley Bay. It still stands today and after many years of neglect and decay is undergoing regeneration.

Other buildings that Samuel was the main contractor for included: the two storey offices in the eastern portion of the Hebburn Quay in 1900; the Kursaal Theatre at Whitley Bay in 1903 which later became the Whitley Bay Playhouse; The Princess Theatre, Dawdon, Co. Durham in 1913; The Church of St Margaret, Scotswood, Newcastle in 1915; The Almhouses at the Hospital of St Mary the Virgin, Rye Hill, Newcastle in 1917.

Sadly, Samuel declared bankruptcy in 1924. The Yorkshire post of Friday October 17 1924 reported:

The public examination in bankruptcy took place at Newcastle yesterday of Samuel Ferguson Davidson, builder, whose liabilities were returned at £20,268, the deficiency being £9,903….. He had had troubles with bricklayers and plasterers, and suffered from competition taking contracts at what he thought meant a loss. Debtor was questioned as to his liabilities in respect to theatres in Glasgow and Sunderland and said he did not know until a day or two before he filed his petition that he was insolvent. In July last he expected to realise £4,500 by the sale of properties, and if that had occurred he would have been all right. The examination was adjourned.

In 1928 Samuel applied to have the bankruptcy discharged. The Yorkshire Post of Friday, July 20 1928 reported:

When at the Newcastle County Court yesterday, Samuel Ferguson Davidson, of Killingworth, Northumberland, applied for his discharge from bankruptcy, the official receiver reported that sufficient had been received to pay 10s in the pound to all unsecured creditors, as the cost of the bankruptcy.

The debtor attributed his failure to “bad trade, competition, workman not working as they out to have worked, and a strike”; but it was suggested that he ought to have added to the causes, speculative enterprises in a theatre and insufficient working capital.

On a contract for the building of the King’s Theatre at Sunderland the debtor lost £6,000 and in an endeavour to recoup himself he attempted to run the theatre, and lost a further £20,000.

His honour Judge Sir Francis Greenwell ordered the discharge to be suspended for 18 months.

We know that his company continued for many years and understand it was eventually run by his son Alan. Samuel died on the 12th February 1964 at the age of 97 in 30, Church Avenue, Gosforth. He left money to his son Alan Ferguson Davidson, builder in his will.