Blackhill Cemetery is a big place. Very old and split into two halves, separated by the busy Durham Road.

A good observational stroll around it can take a fair while. A lot of Consett illuminaries are buried here. The Annandale
family of the Shotley Grove paper mills and various members of the Derwent Iron Company are just some of the individuals laid to rest in its leafy confines.

Yet on a recent stroll around it, I’ve only just realised it has within it the resting place of a man who wrote over 20 books, was a friend of H.G. Wells (The Time Machine, War of the Worlds) stayed with Pablo Picasso in his youth and classed George Bernard Shaw as a drinking buddy. His name is Baron Avro Manhattan.

Born in Milan, Italy on April 6th, 1914 to American and Dutch/Swiss parents of Jewish extraction, Manhattan was educated at the Sorbonne and London School of Economics and it was in London where he met his wife, the future Baroness Anne Manhattan but before meeting
her, his life was already somewhat remarkable.

Amongst the first of his considerable literary output was “Towards the New Italy” which he wrote in 1943 with a preface written by his good
friend H.G. Wells.

Some of his books were highly critical of the Vatican and Roman Catholicism and during World War Two, Manhattan found himself in prison for refusing to serve in Mussolini’s fascist army.

He was imprisoned in a jail high in the Alps and whilst there, wrote his first book on astronomy.

Upon his release, he operated a radio station called “Radio Freedom’, broadcasting to nations that were occupied by the Axis powers — for this he was made a Knight of Malta.

Already possessing aristocratic roots, he was already a Knight of the House of Savoy as well as a Knight Templar and Knight of the Order of Mercedes.

He was also a member of the Royal Society of Literature, Society of Authors, Ethical Union and British Interplanetary Society.

He was also highly regarded as the world’s foremost authority on Roman Catholicism in politics.

Following his release from prison and settling in London, he met his wife to be — the Shotley Bridge-born Anne, who was working as a nurse there.

After a lifetime of adventures in literature and creativity, they settled in the unlikely location of a humble terraced house in Nelson Street, South Shields in 1979, once owned by Anne’s mother.

A well-known and extremely popular couple in South Shields, they never had children and were always highly regarded on the social scene in the area and Avro relished in recounting tales of him staying with Picasso and his many other adventures and experiences.

He passed away in 1990 and was followed by his wife Baroness Anne Manhattan, in a care home in Hebburn in 2008 where she was always a popular figure with the staff and had many visitors during her time there.

A bust of Avro Manhattan sits in the foyer of South Shields library.

Both he and his wife were interred at South Shields but buried next to each other in Blackhill to be close to the place of Anne’s birth.

A post, Artist, Philosopher, writer and Knight
Templar. A truly remarkable and fascinating man.

If you find yourself in Blackhill Cemetery, pay your respects to the Baron and Baroness.

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