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

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/

Sir Lawrence Arthur Pattinson: The Story of a First World War pilot

This project, inspired by letters written by First World War pilot, Sir Lawrence Pattinson, and made possible due to a grant from the National Heritage Lottery Fund, enabled a group of Year 9 and 10 school children from two Northumberland schools to find out what is was like to be a pilot during the First World and put their own design and engineering skills to the test.

Day 1

The project began with the students visiting Newcastle University Special Collections and Archives where they were able to handle and read the letters written by Pattinson to his mother during the First World War. In his letters, Pattinson describes his experiences of flying over the Western Front, including for reconnaissance, and gives detailed accounts of his encounters with enemy aircraft, flying in bad weather and a mission to retrieve a broken down aircraft. The students were particularly interested in one letter, pictured below, in which Pattinson included detailed sketches of the aircraft he had encountered.

The students then visited the Armstrong Building where they saw the Armstrong College Memorial, a war memorial which commemorates the staff, students of Armstrong College, who lost their lives during the First World War. Here, the students learned about some of the individuals named on the memorial who lost their lives whilst serving in the Royal Flying Corps, including some who were shot down by the infamous Red Baron.

Next, in the School of History, the students had a mini lecture on aviation during the First World War. In the lecture they learned about the development of aircraft during this period, including the advances in aeroplane design, the use of zeppelins by the Germans and the role of individuals including the Red Baron.

‘I learned that each plane had a specific job, they couldn’t multi-task’

‘Planes developed very quickly due to war’

‘Planes were unreliable’

A talk by the RAF gave the students an insight into how much things have developed over the last 100 years, with the students noting how much more sophisticated and reliable aircraft are nowadays, how much more training pilots are given and enjoying the chance to try out some of the kit worn by pilots today.

Day 1 of the project finished with the children having a tour of the School of Mechanical Engineering where they got to see machinery in action in the different workshops. This visit was designed to get them ready for the next phase of the project which would see the students start to think like engineers.

Day 2

The second day of the project saw the children visit the North East Land, Sea and Air Museum in Washington to see a replica First World War aircraft, the Morane-Saulnier and learn about its pilot, local man Claude Ridley.

‘I enjoyed seeing old planes and the history behind them’

‘I found it interesting that the replica plane was hand built but part of it was 3D printed’.

‘The most interesting thing I learned about the replica First World War plane was that it had rotating wings’

‘The fabric around the plane is hardened and shrunk using dope’

‘It’s surprisingly cheap to make a non-working replica’

‘The most interesting thing I learned was that Claude Ridley was head of an airbase at 19 [years old]’

In the afternoon, the students had a tour of the nearby Rolls Royce facility to see how aircraft turbine discs are manufactured today.

‘I enjoyed the factory tour’

‘I enjoyed seeing the machines’

‘I enjoyed learning about a new job experience’

Day 3

Day 3 of the project saw the students participate in some workshops led by STEM practitioner Technology Tom. The students took part in some experiments to show them the basic principles of flight, before having a go at designing their own First World War aircraft, inspired by the sketches in Pattinson’s letters.

Day 4

The final day of the project was a Challenge Day held at Newcastle University in which the students worked in teams to research, design, build and improve their own World War I style aircraft. They then had a competition to see which aircraft could glide the furthest, and which looked most like the sketches in Pattinson’s letters. Judging was done by the University’s STEM Outreach Team and the students reflected on their learning and received a CREST Discovery award in recognition of all their hard work!

Have a go yourself!

An education pack has been created to enable other schools to have a go at the same activities as the students in this project, from using extracts from Sir Lawrence Pattinson’s letters to discover what it was like to be a pilot in the First World War, to carrying out experiments to learn about the principles of flight and designing their own model aircraft. You can download the education pack here: https://www.ncl.ac.uk/library/services/education-outreach/resources/sir-lawrence-pattinson

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/

A Sense of Place

Bedlington Academy, Haydon Bridge High School, Prudhoe Community High School standing underneath the sycamore tree at Sycamore Gap in Northumberland.

The Education Outreach team teamed up with Historic England, Northumberland National Park, English Heritage and colleagues from the Newcastle Centre for the Literary Arts and the School of Fine Art to provide a unique educational experience for 90 Year 9 students from Northumberland.

With funding from Historic England we worked with Bedlington Academy, Haydon Bridge High School and Prudhoe Community High School to challenge Year 9 students to write a poem and create a piece of artwork inspired by our Bewick images held in our Special Collections and the majestic beauty of Northumberland National Park.

Each student enjoyed three days of activities…

Day One – Newcastle University

Firstly, the students visited the University Library where they studied the Bewick images held in Special Collections. Next, they walked across campus to the Percy Building where award winning published poet, Sinéad Morrissey delivered a lecture on poetry and Sense of Place. Finally, the students took part in a poetry workshop led by published poets and lecturers from Newcastle University.

“I liked to look at all the different books and materials. It gave me a lot of ideas about what to write”

“I learned how to form a poem through structure and developing a deeper meaning which otherwise I would have struggled with’”

“The poetry workshop helped me have new ideas and it made it easier to get creative and write poems”

Day Two – The Sill, Northumberland National Park

On the second day of the project the students travelled to The Sill where they spent the morning exploring artwork and poetry inspired by the landscape of Northumberland National Park. In the afternoon, a National Park Ranger led them on a walk to Sycamore Gap. On the walk, the ranger and an Education Officer from English Heritage talked to the students about the landscape, heritage, flora and fauna. Then students then took some time out to be inspired by their surroundings and to write poems and do some sketching, which they were able to take home to work on some more.

“It was really fun and I’ve left feeling inspired!”

“I really enjoyed it and the weather was good for the walk! I thought that the opportunity and freedom we had to make notes helped me with my finished piece”

“To walk around allowed me to explore the meanings of art and poetry related to Northumberland”

Day Three- Newcastle University

The third and final day of the project took place back at Newcastle University. The students enjoyed a guided tour of the Hatton gallery and the School of Fine Art before taking part in a Print Making workshop led by Northern Print.

“Fantastic, messy, I loved the painting techniques the most”

“It makes me feel as though I can be crowned with the title of Artist officially – and proud”

“It made me enjoy art more and feel more creative and better at art”


The student’s poetry and artwork was displayed at The Sill, Northumberland National Park throughout August. Several of the students commented on how much they enjoyed the project and how proud they felt of their work.

“It’s a new experience that opens your eyes to things you hadn’t known before”

“It makes me feel proud that my work is good enough to be exhibited”

“I’m very proud that my work can be seen by anyone at the Sill”

Their teachers also felt the project had been extremely successful.

“Our students will take life long memories from this project. It has been incredibly rewarding”

Click on the links below to download the exhibitions in PDF format;

Prudhoe Community High School clickable box to download the exhibition
Haydon Bridge High School clickable box to download the exhibition
Bedlington Academy clickable box to download the exhibition

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/

A Local Tommy

To commemorate the end of the First World War and made possible with funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, Year 5 children from Star of the Sea Primary School and Carville Primary School worked with Newcastle University and Cap-a-Pie Theatre company to research, produce and perform a play commemorating the First World War through the archive of a local solider, Thomas Baker Brown.

Our teacher resource pack has been created by Newcastle University Education Outreach team and Cap-a-Pie Theatre Company, to provide a mix of History, English and Drama activities for you to recreate in your classroom.

Download ‘A Local Tommy’ resource pack

The Time Bandits, an historical interpretation group, visited the children in school to teach them about the First World War.

“The thing I enjoyed the most about today was meeting new people and learning new things”

The children visited Newcastle University Library, where they were able to see and handle items from Thomas Baker Brown’s archive including his signallers’ badges, a matchbox, and some of the letters he wrote home to his family.

They worked with comic artist Lydia Wysocki to create their own comics based on the information they had learnt from the archive.

“The thing I enjoyed the most about today was we got to feel objects and listen to experts in History”

“My favourite item in the Thomas Baker Brown archive was the photo of Thomas in his uniform because it meant I could see what he looked like and that makes it all very real”

“The one thing I learned about life in the trenches was that the weather was very liquefied so the trenches were very wet and muddy”

“My favourite item in the Thomas Baker Brown archive was the button cleaner to clean the buttons because I never knew that they cleaned their uniforms’”

“The thing I enjoyed most about today was that we touched really old things!”

“The thing I enjoyed the most about today was making a comic about Thomas Baker Brown”

Back at school, the children worked for a full week with Cap-a Pie Theatre company to co-write and produce their own play about Thomas Baker Brown.

“I am looking forward to being the most perfect actor in the playhouse because I have never acted before in my life!”

“I am most looking forward to performing my play at Whitely Bay Playhouse because of being in front of people doing drama and because my mum will be so proud!”

“Cap-a- Pie theatre company just make it all very enjoyable, like somehow they just make you so happy!”

“The thing I have enjoyed most so far about working Cap-a-Pie Theatre Company is doing the soundscape because it was super fun!”

“I am looking forward to performing our play at Whitley Bay Playhouse because I think I will nail-it because I’ll know what I am doing!”

Related Sources

Thomas Baker Brown

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/

Votes for Women: Stop-Motion Animation

Taking their inspiration from the 1910 book, ‘Votes for Catharine Susan and Me’ by Kathleen Ainslie, Year 7 students from George Stephenson High School created their own peg doll style puppets and worked with a professional animator to tell the stories of key people involved in the women’s suffrage movement in the United Kingdom in the early 20th century.

Firstly, the students visited Special Collections where they saw the anti –suffrage book ‘Votes for Catharine Susan and Me’ (RB 823.912 AIN) and other items, including a banner belonging to Ethel Williams used in pro-suffrage processions.

Next, the students experienced a mini-lecture to learn about the 1918 Representation of the People Act, had a guided walk around Newcastle City centre and used the internet to find out more about of the individuals, places and events associated with the campaign for women’ suffrage in the North East of England.

Finally, with support from their Design and Technology and Art teachers, and from Lesley-Anne Rose, a professional puppet maker and animator, the students designed and made their own puppets and created stop-motion animations about women including Emily Davison, Emmeline Pankhurst and Ethel Williams and events such as the so-called ‘Battle of Newcastle’, 1909.

The Battle of Newcastle (1909)

Ethel Williams

Emmeline Pankhurst

Emily Wilding Davison

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/

Our Wallington: Victorian Scrapbook

The Trevelyans were a wealthy influential family who lived at Wallington Hall in Northumberland. They played an important role in politics, culture and education in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Cambo First School sits on the lands of the ancestral home of the Trevelyan family of Wallington Hall now bequeathed to The National Trust. In this project the Education Outreach team at Newcastle University Special Collections worked with Cambo First School to investigate the Trevelyan photo albums. This involved the children visiting the archives, completing various Victorian entertainments during a Victorian day in school, orienteering to re-create the original Trevelyan photos and much more.

Front cover of 'Our Wallington' by Cambo First School and Newcastle University Library
Cambo First School album
Front cover of a Trevelyan family album, Volume 1 (1894-1903)

Click on the Cambo album to turn the pages of the Victorian album produced by the children at Cambo First School in Northumberland.

Click on the original Trevelyan album to get a glimpse of the materials that inspired the Cambo album.

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/