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

Pandemics Through Time

This project gave students, from Southmoor Academy and Sandhill View Academy in Sunderland, the opportunity to discover how archives can help us learn about past pandemics and epidemics.

Students from Southmoor Academy and Sandhill View academy in Durham.

It also gave them the chance to think about what they would want people in the future to know about their experiences of the Covid-19 pandemic.

To do this they created and catalogued their own archive. Their archive contains creative work, along with objects and documents selected by the students.

This digital exhibition below showcases the work of the students.

The students who took part in this project wrote the project overview, chose the photographs and objects, and produced the creative responses featured in the exhibition.

A Sense of Place 2: A Wellbeing Project

This project was inspired by the beautiful landscape, house and grounds of Wallington, as well as the archival collections of Thomas Bewick and the Trevelyan family held at Newcastle University.

Funded by Historic England, Newcastle University and the National Trust, students aged between 14-16 from three North East schools (Benfield School, Ferryhill Business and Enterprise College and Walker Riverside Academy) were invited to take part in the project and enjoyed three days of activities.

Activities throughout the three days included:

A poetry and art session in school.

Art walk with an artist from the Hatton Gallery focusing upon observing nature and heritage. Tips for drawing, writing poetry and taking photos were shared.

“The art is something I will carry on doing”
-Year 11 student

The students also received a tour of the property and talks from National Trust staff on the history of Wallington.

It’s an inspiring place with a story behind it”
-Year 10 student

They also got to toast marshmallows with the rangers in the grounds of the Wallington estate.

“I loved hearing the Ranger’s story and the marshmallows were delicious”
-Year 11 student

Each school also worked with a creative practitioner to create their own Bewick-inspired prints, photographs and willow sheep sculptures which you see in the exhibition below!

“I found it very enjoyable to take some really nice photos of different objects”
-Year 11 students

Click on the image below to visit the online exhbition!

A Tale of Two Sieges: A Collaborative Education Outreach Project

“It was fun”, “It was really fun”, “I really enjoyed it”, “When you’re learning things, but you do it in a fun way you learn more”. These are just a few of the comments from Ponteland High School’s Year 8 students, who took part in an Education Outreach Project with Newcastle University Library. Teaming up with The National Civil War Centre (located in Newark), this was our first long distance project involving a school local to ourselves and one in Newark. 

Taking inspiration from our Special Collections (this time our Civil War Tracts), we worked with two classes of Year 8 students from Ponteland and Newark. We challenged them to conceive, write and perform a play inspired by the archives on the sieges of Newcastle and Newark during the English Civil War. 

For both schools, day one began with a visit to Newcastle University’s Special Collections. Professional evaluation (which was undertaken to measure the impact of the project), highlights many students commented that this was “their favourite part of the whole project”, and it was ‘really cool’. One student summed it up by saying “I liked looking at the old stuff”; whilst another commented “you know that these things happened, but it makes it more real seeing them…”. The students then experienced other parts of the campus; enjoying a lecture from Dr Rachel Hammersley (from the School of History), along with a comics workshops (based on the political comics in the Civil War Tracts) led by Lydia Wysocki of Applied Comics Etc

Being a collaborative, distanced project, both schools worked separately on their play. Ponteland High school worked with ourselves, the Time Bandits (historical re-enactment group) and Cap-a-Pie theatre company. Uniquely the students were given a week off normal timetable to focus on the project. This meant Cap-a-Pie took the students on an amazing journey, ensuring all the script, soundscapes and directions were developed by the students. Consequently, the students felt a sense of ownership over their work, with one teacher commenting “You can see how engaged they are – it’s brilliant”. Newark Academy worked with The National Civil War Centre’s Learning and Participation team, committing to rehearsals after school, and created their own separate play based on one of the three sieges of Newark. One of the benefits of the project was the excellent links it created and cemented between the local secondary school and the museum, with both sides firmly committing to build upon this in the future. 

Students performing their plays at the National Civil War centre

To bring the project together and celebrate the student’s success, both schools visited The National Civil War Centre where they took part in an education workshop on warfare during the Civil War. They then had the amazing opportunity to perform their play to each other on a professional stage at the Newark Palace Theatre. As their teacher commented “Opportunities like this are brilliant – they’ll remember this for years and years”. 

The joint video shows the highlights for both schools and the two separate videos trace the journey taken by each school during this project.  

A video celebrating the English Civil War project carried out between Newcastle University, the National Civil War Centre, Newark Academy and Ponteland High School.
Ponteland High School students visit to Newcastle University Archives and the National Civil War centre, inspired them to create a play on the English Civil War.
Newark Academy students visit to Newcastle University Archives and the National Civil War centre, inspired them to create a play on the English Civil War.

We’d like to say a huge well done to all the students who took part for their hard work and enthusiasm which resulted in two great performances! 

For more information about the services offered by the University Library Education Outreach Team please visit our website: https://www.ncl.ac.uk/library/services/education-outreach/