19th Century Coal Mining in Newcastle: An Archives and Theatre Project

Newcastle University Library’s Education Outreach Team worked with Year 6 students from Chillingham Road Primary School and Year 5 students from Carville Primary School on an exciting project about coal mining in Newcastle the nineteenth century.

After doing some introductory work on this topic in school, the children visited Newcastle University Special Collections. Here they used primary source material from the archives to find out about local mining disasters including the flooding of Heaton Main Colliery in 1815 and the explosion at Wallsend Colliery in 1821.

The students then spent five days working in school with Cap-a-Pie theatre company. Taking inspiration from the material in the archives, the children from each school created their own play showcasing what they had learnt about coal mining in Newcastle in the nineteenth century.

The project was celebrated through a performance of the two plays at an outdoor theatre at Hedley West Farm, Gateshead, hosted by Challenge Northumberland Ltd events, to which parents and guardians were invited.

“It [the project] enhanced their cultural capital and gave them experiences that they would not normally have

Quote from teacher

“The children were incredibly proud of their achievements, and it was great to see the child-led learning take place.”

quote from teacher

We would like to say a huge well done to the children and a big thank you to Cap-A-Pie Theatre Company, Challenge Northumberland, the teachers and other staff involved as well as to those parents/guardians who attended the performance!

Creative Writing

Taking inspiration from the rare books held in our Special Collections and Archives, this project enabled Key Stage 3 and 4 students from Prudhoe Community High School, Walker Academy and Bedlington Academy, to develop their creative writing skills. Their experiences of bushcraft and orienteering enabled them to add context and detail to their writing whilst challenging themselves to complete the assault course allowed them to write about emotions and experiences. They had the opportunity to develop their oracy skills by reading their work aloud to their peers in an open air theatre. Delivered in collaboration with Northumberland National Park and Challenge Northumberland, the students took part in three activities delivered over a three week period.

“It was a memorable and enjoyable project where the students did something useful for their English course. It also had excellent experiences for post 16 study.”

quote from english teacher

“It was fun and helped my confidence to write about the characters’ emotions.”

One of the students talking about what they enjoyed about the project

“I would [reccomend this project to other students] because it’s a great opportunity to expand your understanding of creative writing.”

A student explaining why they think others would benefit from taking part in a similar project

On day one the students visited the University where they learned about some of the rare books in our Special Collections. They also experienced a mini lecture in the School of English about creative writing techniques, and learned how nature has inspired many famous authors, before taking part in a creative writing workshop.

On day two the students visited Walltown Country Park in Northumberland, where they took part in bushcraft activities including den building and lighting fires as well as orienteering.

On the third and final day of the project, at Hedley West Farm in Gateshead, the students completed a very muddy assault course, finishing with a giant waterslide down a hill!

These activities were designed to push the students out of their comfort zone and encourage them to harness some of the emotions they experienced for their creative writing. After some quiet writing time in the countryside, the students shared their work by reading extracts from their stories to their peers in an outdoor theatre in the woods.

“It helped me as I feel more confident in my writing.”


“It gave me an experience to write about.”

A student explaining how this project will help with the creative writing aspect of GCSE ENGLISH