Gertrude Bell’s Hints to Travellers: Scientific and General

Gertrude Bell (1868-1926) was a writer, archaeologist, and colonial diplomat who played a significant role in the creation of the Kingdom of Iraq in 1921. Although Bell spent the latter years of her life living in Baghdad, her archive and book collection were donated to our library by her family following her death in 1926. Bell’s archive remains one of our most heavily used collections and has recently been made available on our dedicated Gertrude Bell website after being digitised and catalogued to current archival standards. Bell’s book collection, which comprises her working and personal library, complements the archive by contextualising her activities and providing an insight into the way she worked and learned throughout her life.

Although Bell’s own output is impressive (the archive contains over 12,000 unique items), her book collection reflects her diverse interests and shows us the ways in which the work of others supported and inspired her travels. Additionally, Bell’s books are often annotated with notes which document the learning process whilst also serving as reminders of key information she regarded as important. The selection of books in her library and the copy specific information they contain can be interpreted by researchers looking to further understand the work and methods of this unique historical figure.

One item within Bell’s book collection which illustrates the way she used and interacted with her books is her copy of Hints to Travellers: Scientific and General (B910.2 REE) published in 1906 by the Royal Geographical Society. Hints to Travellers was originally created by the Society for,

“a person who, proposing to explore a wild country, asks what astronomical and other scientific outfit he ought to take with him, and what observations he may attempt with a prospect of obtaining accurate results”.

The guide included sections on a wide variety of topics including climate, geography, anthropology, and astronomical observations as well as comprehensive lists of pieces of equipment a traveller would need to take with them on their journey.

Front cover of Hints to Travellers: Scientific and General (Vol. 1)
Bell’s copy of the ninth edition of Hints to Travellers: Scientific and General (Vol. 1) [Gertrude Bell Collection, B910.2 REE]

Bell owned a copy of the ninth edition of the Guide (above), which was published in 1906 and split into two volumes. The first volume, which focused on “Surveying and practical astronomy”, is particularly special as Bell has filled many of the pages with handwritten notes and diagrams. These notes document both her learning process and her use of the methods explained within the book.

Pages from Hints to Travellers: Scientific and General (Vol. 1) showing Bell's handwritten notes and diagrams
Pages from Hints to Travellers: Scientific and General (Vol. 1) showing much of the blank space in the first section of the book filled with Bell’s handwritten notes and diagrams [Gertrude Bell Collection, B910.2 REE]

Bell has also included the latitude and longitude of locations in Lebanon (“Beirut”) and Iraq (“Baghdad Citadel”), which she has presumably been able to calculate using the guide.

Pages from Hints to Travellers: Scientific and General (Vol. 1) showing Bells handwritten notes
Pages from Hints to Travellers: Scientific and General (Vol. 1) [Gertrude Bell Collection, B910.2 REE]

Many of the books within Bell’s library, such as language and grammar books as well as works focusing on history and culture within the Middle East, provide a unique insight into the ways in which Bell prepared herself for her travels across the region. They also indicate the voracious appetite she had for reading and learning, and the wide variety of subjects in which she took an interest.

2 pages from Hints to Travellers: Scientific and General (Vol. 1), left page depicts an advert for 'Norris' Boots for Travellers, and the right page depicts an advert for 'Benson's £25 'field' watch
Pages from Hints to Travellers: Scientific and General (Vol. 1) [Gertrude Bell Collection, B910.2 REE]

Bell’s copy of Hints to Travellers: Scientific and General can be requested here.

The Gertrude Bell Collection can be viewed online using Library Search.

Benjamin Zephaniah

Photograph of Benjamin Zephaniah
Photograph of Benjamin Zephaniah (BXB/1/1ZEP/1/5, Bloodaxe Books Archive)

In honour of the life and works of Dr. Benjamin Zephaniah (1958-2023), March 2024’s Treasure of the Month is his work from the Bloodaxe Books Archive. Benjamin Zephaniah was a dub poet born in Handsworth in Birmingham who rose to become Britain’s third favourite poet, according to a BBC poll in 2009. He was known for his hard-hitting performance poetry about race, class and injustice in modern Britain as well as his portrayal of preacher ‘Jeremiah Jesus’ in Peaky Blinders.

Benjamin Zephaniah reading his poem Money in Newcastle City Centre in 1991

Zephaniah also famously rejected an OBE (Officer of the British Empire) in 2003, his response was a decisive, honest commentary focused on his relationship with empire:

“Me? I thought, OBE me? Up yours, I thought. I get angry when I hear that word “empire”; it reminds me of slavery, it reminds of thousands of years of brutality, it reminds me of how my foremothers were raped and my forefathers brutalized. It is because of this concept of empire that my British education led me to believe that the history of black people started with slavery and we were born slaves, and that we were born slaves, and should therefore be grateful that we were given freedom by our caring white masters. It is because of this idea of empire that black people like myself don’t even know our true names or our true historical culture. I am not one of those who are obsessed with their roots, and I’m certainly not suffering from a crisis of identity; my obsession is about the future and the political rights of all people. Benjamin Zephaniah OBE – no way Mr Blair, no way Mrs Queen. I am profoundly anti-empire.”

Benjamin Zephaniah, Gaurdian (2003)

The self-proclaimed anarchist’s commitment to his views extended to work that was consistently radical. Zephaniah used the controversy he inspired to fuel his work and draw attention to injustice. Of the artifacts kept in the Bloodaxe Archive, one such document is the information sheet for his 1992 collection City Psalms. In this Zephaniah actively acknowledges the racist prejudices levelled on him by tabloids such as The Sun, which is quoted directly.

City Psalms Information Sheet, includes an image of Zephaniah at the top with 'BENJAMIN ZEPHANIAH' across the image in capitals and then descriptive text underneith.
City Psalms Information Sheet (BXB/1/1ZEP/1/4, Bloodaxe Books Archive)

The archival material on Benjamin Zephaniah at Newcastle University contains proofs of Zephaniah’s collections: City Psalms; Propa Propaganda; Too Black, Too Strong and To Do Wid Me. These collections were published by Bloodaxe Books and as such the material held also includes internal documents from within the publishing house concerning edits and forewords. These artifacts give both an insight into Bloodaxe Books’ workings and attitude to a radical poet such as Zephaniah.

Zephaniah’s social commentary covers key political conflicts over his lifetime; he was involved in Nelson Mandela’s campaign against apartheid, commented on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the 1990 poll tax riots, among others. His work covers all formats, printed, spoken word and digital, allowing for an accessible form of poetry that does not adhere to the traditional British literary cannon. Zephaniah commented on the need for accessibility in his poem “Dis Poetry” which he performed at Live Theatre in Newcastle in 2009.

Benjamin Zephaniah reading Dis Poetry at Live Theatre in Newcastle in 2009.

One of the collections held in the Bloodaxe archives is Too Black, Too Strong, published in 2001. This collection was born of a residency at Tooks Barristers’ Chambers funded by The Poetry Society and as such contains poetry that comments on legal systems and notable cases that occurred during Zephaniah’s residency there. One such poem is called What Stephen Lawrence has taught us, a poem commissioned by Independent Television News for Channel 4 News which discusses the well-publicized murder of 18 year old Stephen Lawrence whilst he waited for a bus in April 1993. This attack initiated a public enquiry, resulting in the Macpherson report, which deemed the Metropolitan Police Service institutionally racist and incompetent. Zephaniah’s poem talks about the state of Great Britain after Stephen Lawrence’s murder and declares that institutional racism “is now an open secret”. Despite this damming conclusion the poem has a thread of hope running through it, Zephaniah states,

“The death of Stephen Lawrence / Has taught us to love each other” and the final stanza of the poem contains a plea to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Paul Condon asking him to “Pop out of Teletubby land, / And visit reality”.

The vibrant life of Benjamin Zephaniah will leave an imprint on Britain’s art and literary scene for generations to come, his infectious passion for the work that mattered, for the future of the British people and for the potential they have, will, I hope, never be forgotten.

The artifacts surrounding Benjamin Zephaniah’s work are accessible via the Special Collections Reading Room at Newcastle University, and his spoken word poetry is available through Bloodaxe Books’ YouTube channel or Zephaniah’s own website.

Written by Charlotte Davison, PGR student at Newcastle University English Literature, Language and Linguistics.

Michael Chaplin – Newcastle United

If you have lived, worked, or visited the city of Newcastle Upon Tyne during match days, you may have seen the sea of fans, all wearing the iconic black and white shirts. You may have heard the roar of the fans emanating throughout the city whenever a goal is scored, or the fans disagreeing with a decision from the referee. Newcastle is a city proud of its football team. The stadium, affectionally known as the ‘church,’ is central to the culture of this part of the Northeast. As a one team city, the love and at times distain for the club runs deep through Geordie blood. For those new to Newcastle, it is easy to get caught up in the excitement and become an adoring fan. Newcastle United, for those not native to the city, can give a sense of belonging. Michael Chaplin, whose archive is located in Newcastle University Special Collections and Archives, is an example of just that…

Michael Chaplin, born in County Durham, moved to Jesmond in Newcastle as a young boy after his family moved back to the Northeast from Essex, where his father (Sid Chaplin) had been working as a writer. Although he attended schools in the area, his accent was different to those around him made, and often made it hard for him to feel like he belonged. But, whilst playing outside with a friend one day, he heard the Geordie roar from the stadium and became intrigued by what could cause such a sound that reached over a mile away. This was the beginning of his life-long love for Newcastle United and in the future would be the inspiration for some of his works in local live theatre, literature and tv dramas.

Fans of Newcastle United will be familiar with some of the famous chants, such as The Blaydon Races pictured below (part of the Michael Chaplin Archive and used as research material for the theatre production Beautiful Game: The Newcastle United Story). These chants fill the stadium grounds whilst the players are on the pitch. They fill the local pubs while the matches are shown on the tv, and they fill public transport across the country and worldwide when the black and white fans are travelling to support their team. They are vital to the club, urging the team to do well, cementing the love of the team between fans, and showing their rivals that they are serious.

‘The Blaydon Races,’ from United: The first 100 years (Michael Chaplin archive, MC/4/1/4/2)
‘The Blaydon Races,’ from United: The first 100 years (Michael Chaplin archive, MC/4/1/4/2)

In 1996, Chaplin’s live theatre production Beautiful Game: The Newcastle United Story, was performed at the Theatre Royal in Newcastle. The production told the story of his much-loved club through the eyes of three generations of the Purvis family and includes the trials and triumphs the team faced in the past through to present through affection, humour, and song. The period before had been a hugely successful year at the theatre. It became Newcastle’s first arts institution to receive a substantial National Lottery Award, and after a post-match pint between Robson Green and Max Roberts about Michael’s ideas for the new production, the history of the Newcastle United production was born.

The programme that was produced for Beautiful Game: The Newcastle United Story described how Michael’s love of Newcastle United evolved, with key images and special event dates included (see the images below). This biographical information was later developed into a book called Newcastle United stole my heart. It tells of the growing sense of belonging that was gained from hearing the crowds and attending matches. It tells the story of his own changing life and career. This book is currently on display within the Sid Chaplin and Michael Chaplin Archives exhibition case, near to the exhibition area on Level 2 of the Philip Robinson Library.

The theatre production of Beautiful Game: The Newcastle United Story, was a tremendous success and enticed those that would normally be at a football match, to come to the theatre and enjoy the ‘game’ in a format different to the usual venue.

Local newspapers wrote of the enjoyment of the production and reviewing Chaplin, Roberts and Green highly. These cuttings are a few of many which we hold in the archives. Many of them sing the praises of the trio and tell the individual stories that brought them together for this production.

Page from The Journal – Toon Barmy Mike on the Ball’ (Michael Chaplin Archive, MC/4/1/4/3/6)
Page from The Journal – Toon Barmy Mike on the Ball’ (Michael Chaplin Archive, MC/4/1/4/3/6)
Page from Evening Standard – ‘Curtain up on a tale of the Toon’ (Michael Chaplin Archive, MC/4/1/4/1/1)
Page from Evening Standard – ‘Curtain up on a tale of the Toon’ (Michael Chaplin Archive, MC/4/1/4/1/1)

Years later in 2009, a new play was written by Michael Chaplin and his son Tom, titled, You Couldn’t Make It Up. The production told of the story of the current turbulent events of the team they both loved. This ‘script in hand’ style of play was created in line with the theatres theme of real-life stories, with other plays such as From Home to Newcastle being an enormous success. This new production centred around key members of Newcastle United and included the characters of Mike Ashley, Kevin Keegan, and Alan Shearer. Key goals from across the seasons were shown on video during the interval. Unlike the previous Beautiful Game production, which was written as a ‘love letter’ to Newcastle United’s history, this new performance was written and performed in a manner to describe the most recent turmoil the club was facing and expressed how much the fans yearned for change. The programme sold during the performance (images below) was designed with the iconic black and white strips and the magpie (the Northeast icon for the nickname of the Geordie team), with the headline ‘Toon fans Vs the Management.’

'You just couldn’t make it up’ programme, themed in the style of a Newcastle United match day programme with the traditional black and white strips and and iconic magpie (Michael Chaplin Archive, MC/411/8/4)
‘You just couldn’t make it up’ programme, themed in the style of a Newcastle United match day programme with the traditional black and white strips and and iconic magpie (Michael Chaplin Archive, MC/411/8/4)
‘You just couldn’t make it up’ programme, short paragraphs describing the back story to the play (Michael Chaplin Archive, MC/411/8/4)
‘You just couldn’t make it up’ programme, short paragraphs describing the back story to the play (Michael Chaplin Archive, MC/411/8/4)

The Michael Chaplin Archive holds scripts, correspondence and some key research material used in the planning process of Chaplin’s journey writing the live theatre plays Beautiful Game and You Just Couldn’t Make It Up, alongside his other successful pieces of work.

Still on the theme of football, but with an entertaining story about a canine, we also hold the archival material for the wonderful drama of Pickles the dog (written by Chaplin and shown on ITV). The story is about the canine that found the stolen World cup in 1966. More information on this can be found here: Pickles – The Dog Who Won the World Cup – Newcastle University Special Collections and Archives (ncl.ac.uk)

If you are interested in Newcastle, football, theatre, television, literature, community and culture, the Michael Chaplin Archive is highly recommended. You can find more information and links below:

Bulletin on the state of King George III’s health – October 2011

The story of King George III’s illness, the repeated bouts of mental instability and derangement from which he suffered from 1788 until the end of his reign, known variously as “the Royal Malady” or “the madness of King George”, is a familiar one.

This bulletin, carrying the latest news on the status of George III’s illness, was issued from Windsor Castle by his doctors and physicians on 18th January 1811, during his final and longest bout of illness and just a few months after his final public appearance at a reception at Windsor.

A bulletin carrying the latest news on the status of George III’s illness, was issued from Windsor Castle by his doctors and physicians on 18th January 1811, during his final and longest bout of illness and just a few months after his final public appearance at a reception at Windsor.
Bulletin on the health of King George III, 18th Jan 1811 (Pybus (Charles Frederick) Archive, FP/2/7/10)

Bulletins on the king’s health were issued throughout his illness and were intended for public consumption as well as for the eyes of the queen and her council. At this stage the bulletins were being issued daily and deliberately lacked any real or valid detail about the king’s health, being designed to allay alarm rather than to record medical facts and to protect the dignity of the king as well as the feelings of the queen and the royal family. This bulletin, therefore, is a typical example of its type.

It is signed by Matthew Baillie, physician-extraordinary to the king, William Heberden the younger, the king’s physician-in-ordinary, and Robert Willis, who specialised in the treatment of mental disorders. Although the bulletin carries the signatures of all three men, it is known that, by this stage, the royal physicians had been ordered by the queen’s council to leave the daily management of the king’s illness to specialist “mad-doctors” and that to this task the council had appointed John and Robert Willis, sons of the reverend Francis Willis who owned a private asylum and who had been credited with bringing about the king’s recovery from his first bout of illness in 1789.

The Willises favoured the use of repressive and coercive forms of treatment such as the use of the strait-jacket and restraining chair, both of which the king was subjected to, as well as enforced confinement and a strict medical regime to bring down his “fever” and “turbulent spirits”, including vomits, purges, bleeding, blistering, the application of leeches and regular doses of medicine. During the king’s last illness both Baillie and Heberden sounded strong objections to the methods of treatment handed out to him by the Willis brothers, but were ignored.

At the time this bulletin was issued, the king had relapsed midway through the previous month and had been very ill over Christmas and New Year. The following month, he would be declared mentally unfit to rule and his eldest son, the future George IV, would be appointed Prince Regent to rule in his place. Thereafter the king would spend the last ten years of his life in a twilight world, deprived of visitors, conversation and outings under the Willises’ regime, losing his sight and growing increasingly deaf, until his death at Windsor on 29th January 1820.

Although George III’s symptoms were identified as insanity by contemporary doctors, it is now widely held that he was in fact suffering from the rare hereditary blood disorder porphyria. A classic physical symptom of porphyria is deep red or purple coloured urine, and this was found to be evident throughout the notes and observations contained in the journals and correspondence of the king’s physicians when they were re-examined in the 1960s. Furthermore, in its acute form, porphyria is known to produce neurological damage and mental instability. Further research in 2005 concluded that the king’s porphyria attacks were quite possibly brought on by a build-up of arsenic in his system (tests on a sample of his hair showed it to contain over 200 times the toxic level), thought to have been caused by one of his medicines, James’ Powder. The Powder, which, tragically, was administered to him several times daily, was made from antimony which in turn contains significant amounts of arsenic.

The bulletin is contained in a collection of medical manuscripts donated to the library by Professor Pybus (1883-1975) who donated his private collection on the history of medicine, including books, manuscripts, engravings, portraits, busts, bleeding bowls and research notes, to the University Library in 1965.

Proclaiming the Republic of Turkey

October 27th signals 100 years since the Republic of Turkey was proclaimed by Mustafa Kamal Atatürk following the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire in 1922.

An influential archive collection held by Newcastle University Special Collections is the UNESCO International Memory of the World listed Gertrude Bell Archive, a collection of personal correspondence and photographs of explorer, archaeologist and colonial diplomat Gertrude Bell, who witnessed and recorded many significant events involving the Ottoman Empire throughout her life.

In addition to this world famous archive, Special Collections is also custodian of the Sir Austen Henry Layard archive and book collection. Sir Austen Henry Layard was an archaeologist, politician and diplomat who was involved in the colonial administration of the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century. This blog post focuses on some items from the Sir Henry Layard Collection; it provides an additional perspective to elements of colonial administration inherent to understandings of the Ottoman Empire that is available for research through Newcastle University Special Collections

Before Sir Austen Henry Layard embarked on his diplomatic career, he was first and foremost an archaeologist working on excavations at Nimrud and Nineveh, former Assyrian cities in what is now present day Iraq. The following drawing of Lamassu, with handwritten annotations was located in a large red folder with other archaeological drawings and proofs for the publication, Monuments of Nineveh, along with annotated engravings in English and German.

Mounted drawing of the Lion from Nimroud
Archaeological Drawings, originally published 1849. Sir Austin Henry Layard Archive, LAY/1/5

Sir Austen Henry Layard had been on several unofficial diplomatic missions to Constantinople prior to 1845. However, in 1877 he took on the position of Ambassador of Constantinople which shaped  his attitude towards the Ottoman Empire and subsequent diplomatic career. Layard’s belief that Britain could encourage administrative reform in the Ottoman Empire through energetic diplomacy and capital investment and that Turkey should receive greater support from Britain as a bulwark against Russian influence in the region often brought him into conflict with prevailing government policy.

Correspondence in the archive details the connection that Layard had with the Turkish Parliament and the Sultan. Events are captured through the writings of Lady Enid Layard (née Guest) to her sister Charlotte Maria Du Cane (née Guest), which also describe elements of local life and family matters.

An excerpt from a letter from Lady Enid Layard to her sister, dated 29th December 1869, discussing how they are feeling settled in Constantinople now, and how she will endeavour to learn Turkish despite being concerned as to its difficulty
An excerpt from a letter from Lady Enid Layard to her sister, dated 29th December 1869, discussing how they are feeling settled in Constantinople now, and how she will endeavour to learn Turkish despite being concerned as to its difficulty. Austin Henry Layard Archive, Lay/1/1/1/106

The letters provide glimpses of a 19th century perspective to locations that would be encompassed by the modern republic of Turkey in the 20th century, whilst providing a flavour of statecraft conditions which would ultimately lead to the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire.

Ann Jane Thornton

The life and adventures of Ann (also spelled ‘Anne’) Jane Thornton, a woman who defied the prescribed gender roles of the nineteenth century, are commemorated in the popular broadside ballad The Female Sailor.

The Female Sailor Ballad
The Female Sailor ballad, Broadsides 3/1/1/137

Ann Jane Thornton resisted society’s gender restrictions by dressing in male clothing and going to sea as a sailor. She was born in 1817 in Gloucestershire and was the daughter of a shopkeeper. When Ann was just 6 years old her mother died, and her father moved the family to Donegal, Ireland.

The Female Sailor ballad captures Ann’s meeting and falling in love with an American Captain named Alexander Burke when she was just 15 years old. The two got engaged, but shortly afterwards, the Captain returned to New York to visit his father. Not wanting to be left behind, Ann needed a way to finance her travels to follow her beloved, and so she took the unconventional decision to become a female sailor, leaving her life in Ireland behind.

Anne Jane Thornton woodcut
Anne Jane Thornton by Unknown artist, woodcut, published 1835 (National Portrait Gallery, Reference Collection, NPG D13549). Used by permission of The National Portrait Gallery under the terms of a Creative Commons Licence: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/

In the nineteenth century, sailing was a male-dominated activity and women were banned from seafaring professions as many believed that having women onboard was bad luck. Women were also thought to be at risk of sexual harassment and violence from the male crew if permitted on board. As a result, the only way for Ann to pursue her goal of following her fiancé was to disguise herself as a man.

Ann proceeded to obtain male clothing and journeyed to England, where she then boarded a ship to New York as a cabin boy. Once in New York, Ann sought out her beloved fiancé but received the devastating news that he had died.

Whilst abroad, Ann needed an income to support herself, and so she took a job as a cook and steward onboard the Adelaide, earning nine dollars a month. The Female Sailor ballad stresses how Ann took part in every task the same as her male colleagues, doing her duty ‘like a man’, and convincingly taking on her new identity. As well as working on the Adelaide, Ann also worked aboard the Rover and the Belfast, before eventually heading back to London as a ship’s cook onboard the Sarah.

Ann Jane Thornton was far from the only woman to don male clothing and become a sailor. Another broadside ballad within Special Collections and Archives, called the Female Rambling Sailor, tells the story of Rebekah Young, who went by the name Billy Bridle. Whilst at sea, she died by falling from the top of the mast. This ballad perhaps served as a warning to any other women considering disguising their sex to become a sailor.

The Female Rambling Sailor ballad
The Female Rambling Sailor ballad, Broadsides 3/1/1/136

Ann lived in her new identity as a man for the whole three years she was away from home, going by the name Jim Thornton from Donegal. Conflicting accounts exist of whether it was upon her return to London, or whilst docked in Lisbon, Portugal, that Ann’s sex was revealed, but either way her identity was outed and her life as a sailor came to an end. The revelation happened as a result of a male colleague on board the Sarah catching sight of Ann’s breasts while she was washing.  He threatened to disclose her identity to the ship’s Captain unless she had sex with him. Refusing to submit to the sexual harassment, Ann’s identity was revealed to the Captain. Describing the event later, the Captain claimed he was the last to know and could barely believe it.

It is difficult to determine how much of these accounts are true, with many contrasting versions of the ballad existing. However, the very fact of so many iterations surviving demonstrates the extent to which Ann’s story captured the imagination of the British public. Her story was widely reported in newspapers as well as being popularised in The Female Sailor ballad. After reading the newspaper reports, the Lord Mayor of London allegedly sent a city police inspector to investigate her story. The mayor scolded Ann for leaving her father, but also praised her courage, offering to support her financially until she could return home to Ireland.

Engraving of Ann Thornton, the Female Sailor Going Aloft
c.1835 Engraving of Ann Thornton, the Female Sailor Going Aloft, by unknown artist. Image available via Wikimedia Commons

Ann’s story was told many times by other people. However, the autobiographical chapbook – Interesting Life and Wonderful Adventures of that Extraordinary Woman, Anne Jane Thornton, the Female Sailor, disclosing important secrets, unknown to the public, written by herself – offers a rare insight into the personal experiences of Ann’s life as a female sailor. The publication of this book ultimately provided Ann with the opportunity to reclaim her adventures and recall them in her own voice.

This Treasure of the Month feature was researched and written by Special for Everyone placement student Daisy Alys-Vaughan of the School of History, Classics and Archaeology. our Special for Everyone project.

Newcastle upon Tyne’s Mayors

In 1865-66, Joseph Crawhall II (1821-1896) set about creating a manuscript catalogue of all the Mayors and Sheriffs of Newcastle upon Tyne, as afternoon and evening recreation. He took his information from manuscripts and published records, such as Henry Bourne’s The History of Newcastle upon Tyne (1736). Crawhall’s manuscript comprises an index of names and dates, followed by chronological illustrations of the crests of those who served as Mayor and Sheriff. Some of the shields are left blank but Crawhall tells us “This M.S. is complete excepting finishing the colouring of the various shields which I reserve for my leisure”. The manuscript has been partially digitised and available on CollectionsCaptured.

Although Crawhall’s catalogue begins in 1401, with Roger Thornton (d.1430), Newcastle has had an elected mayor since 1216. In 1906, the city was awarded lord mayoralty in recognition of it being the principal town and seaport in the north of England. It wasn’t until 1956 that Newcastle had its first female Lord Mayor, Violet Hardisty Grantham (1893-1983) and it was only in 2021 that the first non-white Lord Mayor, Habib Rahman, was elected.

The title page of Crawhall’s manuscript is followed by a splendid hand-coloured coat of arms for the city. Three castles are supported by two seahorses. The castle motif has its origins in the new castle, built by order of Robert Curthose in 1080, from whence the town took its name. The seahorses serve to remind us that Newcastle is a seaport. At the top, is a lion holding the staff (flagpole) of the St. George’s pennant (flag); at the bottom, is the Latin motto which translates into ‘Triumphing by Brave Defence’. The motto was adopted during the English Civil War, after the town defended itself against the Scots in 1644.

Coat of arms for Newcastle upon Tyne.
Coat of arms, Newcastle upon Tyne: Crawhall, J. The Mayors & Sheriffs of Newcastle upon Tyne, from MCCCC to this Present Year, with their Coats of Arms (1866) (Crawhall 63)

As one would expect, those who have served as Mayor have been distinguished people. Thomas Horsley (1462-c.1545) was an agricultural merchant, magistrate, and Sheriff who defended Newcastle’s mercantile interests ensuring Newcastle remained an important centre of trade in the North East and who served as Mayor in 1514, 1519, 1524-25 and 1533. Today, he is remembered as the founder of Newcastle’s oldest educational institution, the Royal Grammar School (RGS), in 1525.

Crawhall has completed Horsley’s coat of arms under his term as Sheriff in 1512. It is a red shield with three horse’s heads (bottom right shield in below image). Next to it, Crawhall has sketched a bridled horse, with the annotation “horses reined or in w”.

A series of 6 hand drawn shields, each representing a different family.
Coat of arms of Thomas Horsley (1462-c.1545)

John Marlay (1590-1673) would later fall from grace and wealth but was Mayor 1642-44 and was appointed as military Governor for Newcastle by Charles I. A merchant, military commander, and politician, he held the town for seven months while it was besieged by the Scots army and fought in the streets when they stormed the town in 1644. He is also alleged to have saved the distinctive Lantern Tower of St. Nicholas’ Cathedral from destruction by ordering Scots prisoners into the tower.

Crawhall depicts the coat of arms of Sir John Marlay, knight, as a white shield with a black chevron and three black birds (top left shield in below image). He has based this on information contained in a manuscript by Ralph Waters.

A series of 6 hand drawn shields, each representing a different family.
Coat of arms of Sir John Marlay (1590-1673)

Sir Walter Calverley Blackett (1707-1777) was Mayor five times, in 1735, 1748, 1756, 1764 and 1771. He was born in Otley (Yorkshire) to Sir Walter Calverley and Julia Blackett but inherited estates from his uncle under certain conditions, which included his adoption of the Blackett coat of arms. He would later sell several of the estates and move to Cambo (Northumberland) where he improved Wallington Hall. (Upon his death, Wallington Hall passed to the Trevelyan family into which his sister had married, and Special Collections holds the papers of several generations of the Trevelyan family.)

Sir Walter was a philanthropist: he built a library; supported relief for people that found themselves unemployed by the harbour freezing; and regularly supported the Newcastle Infirmary.

It is the Blackett coat of arms that Crawhall has painted under the entry for Mayor in 1735: a white shield with a black chevron on which are arranged three shells. Three black stars are arranged above and below the chevron (top left shield in below image). Under the shield, Crawhall has written in red “Bourne ceases”, in reference to the publication of one of his aforementioned historical sources.

A series of 6 hand drawn shields, each representing a different family.
Coat of arms of Walter Calverley Blackett (1707-1777)

Crawhall has included his own family’s coat of arms as his father, Joseph Crawhall I (1793-1853) was Mayor in 1849-50. Crawhall I was also a magistrate, rope-maker, friend to the naturalist and wood engraver Thomas Bewick, and an artist. Unsurprisingly, Crawhall has rendered his family’s coat of arms with great care (second row, left shield in below image). The lower two thirds of the shield are red, with a stook of golden grain; the upper third is white with three crows. Above the shield, another crow is painted standing on another stook of corn. The family motto, below the shield, translates as ‘I have neither want nor care’.

A series of 6 hand drawn shields, each representing a different family.
Coat of arms of Joseph Crawhall (1793-1853)

Joseph Crawhall I was succeeded as Mayor by the industrialist, engineer, and philanthropist William Armstrong (1810-1900), after whom Armstrong College (now the Armstrong Building, Newcastle University) was named.

Coronations in the Archives

6th of May 2023 marks the coronation of King Charles III. Coronations are often associated with pomp, pageantry, music and tradition. New works are published and events are recorded by people attending or celebrating the coronation of a new monarch.

One example of this can be found in our Collection of books published in the 19th Century. In 1727 George II commissioned his favourite composer George Frederic Handel to compose new music for his coronation. Handel’s Anthems for the Coronation included The King Shall Rejoice, Let Thy Hand be Strengthened, My Heart is Inditing, and perhaps most famously, Zadok the Priest. Special Collections holds a copy of the music of the four anthems, published in 1843 by the Handel Society. Since George II’s coronation the anthems have been used in all coronations since.

1801-1850 Collection 786 HAN

Traces of the pageantry and celebrations of coronations past can also be found in our archives. In August 1902 King Edward VII was crowned at Westminster Abbey and London was well decorated for the occasion! In one of the photograph albums of our Plowden Archive we find several photographs, likely taken a member of the local Bell family of industrialists, of preparations for the event. This included the hanging of garlands in the City, the erection of temporary stands for spectators of the processions to and from Westminster Abbey, and a temporary annexe built at the West end of the Abbey to allow formal processions to assemble under cover.

Plowden (Bridget) Archive BP/30/4/10 – street scene in London
Plowden (Bridget) Archive BP/30/4/10 – street scene in London
Plowden (Bridget) Archive BP/30/4/10 – street scene in London

In our photograph albums, compiled by the Trevelyan family of Wallington we find another link to the 1902 coronation in the form of an admission ticket to 49 and 50 Parliament Street. This address is only a very short walk from Westminster and would have given the bearer a prime seat to see the king travelling to and from Westminster Abbey.

Trevelyan (Charles Philips) Archive CPT/PA/1 – Admission ticket to spectator seating

King Edward reinged until 1910, when he was succeeded by his son, who became King George V. His coronation was held on the 22nd June 1911. In our Plowden Archive we find evidence that members of the Bell family had an even closer view of proceedings than close by on the procession route. This is in the form of an official invitation to His Majesty’s Lieutenant of the North Riding of Yorkshire and Lady Bell to attend the coronation service in Westminster Abbey. They are better known as Sir Hugh and Lady Florence Bell, industrialists, and parents of explorer and political figure Gertrude Bell.

Plowden (Bridget) Archive BP/30/4/32 – Invite to attend the Coronation of George V at Westminster Abbey

In 1904 Hugh and Florence’s daughter, Molly (Mary) married Charles Philips Trevelyan a landowner and politician. His political career led him to joining the Privvy Council in 1924 and becoming Lord Lieutenant of Northumberland in 1930. In early 1936 George V died and he was succeeded by his son, Edward VIII. Edward’s reign was a short and controversial one which ended with his well-known abdication on the 11th of December 1936, without him being crowned in a coronation. His younger brother George VI succeeded him, and as a member of the Privvy Council Charles Trevelyan had a front row seat at the proclamation of the new king. As he wrote in a letter to his wife Molly “I am going to St James’ Palace to the signing of the Proclamation and whatever other formalities there may be in regard to the new king.”

Trevelyan (Charles Philips) Archive CPT/3/92/103 – Letter from Charles to Molly regarding Charles’ attendance at the proclamation of King George VI.

Later letters in the archive go on to document the celebrations surrounding King George VI’s coronation in 1937 which was attended by Charles and Molly, and the coronation of Elizabeth II in 1953. The archive was deposited with Newcastle University by Charles and Molly’s family following Molly’s death in 1966.

There are many other items in our rare book and archive collections which document celebrations around the crowning of a new monarch, ranging in date from the crowing of Queen Victoria in 1838 to the crowning of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. These include song books, Many of these have been digitised and can be found on our CollectionsCaptured site here: https://collectionscaptured.ncl.ac.uk/digital/search/searchterm/coronation

Dr Gibb at Sandyford Park: Then and Now

If you drive (or walk!) west out of Newcastle along Sandyford Road, you will pass John Dobson’s Jesmond Cemetery on the left. Look over the road and you will see a stone wall with a grand entrance featuring two large stone columns on either side. A modern sign informs you that this is the entrance to Sandyford Park. Entering the grounds, a narrow winding road passes sheltered accommodation and mature trees before arriving at the main entrance to the Newcastle High School for Girls. This appears to be a large old house, which, in the late 19th century, was the home of Dr Charles Gibb. Dr Gibb was a respected Newcastle surgeon immortalised in the Geordie anthem, ‘The Blaydon Races’:

Sum went to the Dispensary an’ uthers to Doctor Gibb’s,  
An’ sum sought out the Infirmary to mend their broken ribs.  

Photograph of Dr Charles Gibb (CG/3/14)
Photograph of Dr Charles Gibb (CG/3/14)

The Gibb (Charles) Archive contains papers relating to Dr Gibb’s career as a local GP. It also features some interesting photographs of his home at Sandyford Park. We’ve been along to Newcastle High School for Girls and they very kindly let us walk around the grounds so we could attempt a then-and-now comparison of locations. 

Here’s the entrance to Villa Real/Sandyford Park in the 1880s and a current (March 2023) view (seen below). The two original inner columns have disappeared (from this location) but the lamps appear to have survived or are reproductions of the originals. 

Sepia photograph of the original entrance to Villa Real, c. 1890s
THEN: The original entrance to Villa Real, c. 1890s (CG/4/2/1) 

The house was built by Newcastle architect John Dobson for Captain John Dutton in 1817 and was originally called Villa Real. It was one of Dobson’s earliest designs, set in 21 acres of land featuring a fishpond, fishing house, and spring. There was a lodge on Sandyford Road, and wide curved lawns edged with woodland, with glasshouses to the north-west and two pineries and vinery sheds with a chimney in the woodland behind. East of the house was a vast walled garden with a cistern at its centre. Further east there was a melon ground.

Sepia photograph of Sandyford Road lodge in the snow, c. 1890s
THEN: Sandyford Road lodge in the snow, c. 1890s (CG/4/2/26)
Colour photograph of the Sandyford Road lodge
NOW: Location of the Sandyford Road lodge, March 2023

The impressive entrance porch was supported by Tuscan columns. The house was designed with large bow windows which gave views onto an expansive lawn and across the field to a fishpond.

Sepia photograph of the entrance porch to Sandyford Lodge, c. 1890s
THEN: The entrance porch, c. 1890s (CG/4/2/7)
Colour photograph of the entrance porch to Sandyford Lodge
NOW: The entrance porch, March 2023. English Heritage draw particular attention to the dome on the roof
Sepia photograph of the entrance porch and bow windows of Sandyford Lodge,, c. 1890s
THEN: Entrance porch and bow windows, c. 1890s (CG/4/2/9)
Colour photograph of the house, with a wooden conservatory visible on the brickwork
NOW: The house in March 2023. The outline of the wooden conservatory visible in CG/4/2/9 can still be seen.
Sepia photograph of the a person in a both with their door at the side, boating on the fishpond, with the house in the background
THEN: Boating on the fishpond, with the house in the background, c. 1890s (CG/4/2/15)
Sepia photograph of workers’ buildings and sheds which have been converted to homes known as Nazareth Mews. They are now isolated from the main house, c. 1890s
THEN: Workers’ buildings and sheds which have been converted to homes known as Nazareth Mews. They are now isolated from the main house, c. 1890s (CG/4/2/19)
Colour photograph of Nazareth Mews
NOW: Nazareth Mews, March 2023

Dr Gibb had taken up residence in Villa Real after living and practicing in the centre of Newcastle. His home/surgery is now memorialised with a blue plaque as Gibb Chambers at 52-54 Westgate Road, where the injured Blaydon Races revellers went to seek treatment. Villa Real became Sandyford Hall in 1883 and then Sandyford Park. When Gibb died in 1916 the property was taken over by the Poor Sisters of Nazareth for nearly 80 years, and was renamed Nazareth House. In 1996 the Sisters transferred to London and for a while the house was managed by Catholic Care North East. It is now known as Chapman House, the main reception for the Newcastle High School for Girls.  It was given an English Heritage Grade II listing in 1987.

The Gibb (Charles) Archive also contains internal shots of the house, showing the high Victorian penchant for rooms with an (over-)abundance of paintings, ornaments, and furniture.

Sepia photograph of inside of the house, showing floor-to-ceiling walls of paintings and fine furniture.
Inside the house, c. 1890s (CG/4/2/25)
Sepia photograph of inside the house, showing a large glass cabinet with glassware inside.
Inside the house, c. 1890s (CG/4/2/21)

Science and stories from the British North Greenland Expedition (1952-1954)

Written by Robinson bequest student Becky Sanderson

Newcastle University Special Collections and Archives currently houses 972 transcripts which contain the detailed radio transmissions of day-to-day stories and science told by the members of the British North Greenland Expedition (BNGE) 1952-1954. The BNGE traversed north Greenland, exploring the great white landscape from Dronning Louise Land in the east, to Thule in the west. The team undertaking this feat ranged from glaciologists and geophysicists to naval wireless operators and naval medical officers. Within the team, familiar scientific names jump out including Stan Paterson, Colin Bull, Malcolm Slessor, James Simpson, and Newcastle University’s own Hal Lister.

Hal was an undergraduate student at Newcastle before, and an academic staff member after the expedition. Hal was also a member of many Antarctic missions and potentially one of the first people to overwinter in both Greenland and Antarctica. While on the expedition, he maintained his links to Newcastle University when applying for a Shell Studentship. Hal needed the reference of a senior academic at his institution and reached out to Professor Henry Daysh (head of the Department of Geography, now School of Geography, Politics & Sociology, up until his retirement in 1966).

My interest in the archive is driven through my love of glaciology. I am currently undertaking my PhD within the Physical Geography department at Newcastle University focusing primarily on Antarctic research. Therefore, my knowledge of the archive was very limited until reading the 1957 book ‘High Arctic’ by Mike Banks (one of the expedition members) and delving further into the archive. I was given the opportunity to transcribe and order the transcripts through the Robinson Bequest Bursary. Before I begin, my understanding was that I would be trawling through hundreds of pages of scientific reports and findings. However, much to my delight, not only does the archive contain scientifically important datasets, methods and polar expedition logistics, but the archive also contains heart-warming Christmas messages (Fig. 1), birthday messages, notifications of the birth of family members, requests for alcohol and cheese and many jokes about how cold the temperature is in the Arctic.

Handwritten message extract stating "SANTA CLAUS PASSED TODAY LOADED WITH PRESENTS THANK MUMMY FOR LETTER BOOKS DID YOU SEE MUMMY KISSING SANTA CLAUS VERY HAPPY CHRISTMAS TO YOU BOTH WARMEST LOVE DADDY // DADDY"
Fig. 1. Message reads: “SANTA CLAUS PASSED TODAY LOADED WITH PRESENTS THANK MUMMY FOR LETTER BOOKS DID YOU SEE MUMMY KISSING SANTA CLAUS VERY HAPPY CHRISTMAS TO YOU BOTH WARMEST LOVE DADDY // DADDY” (British North Greenland Expedition Archive, GEX/01-234)

Overall, the BNGE was a huge success. The research findings and data collected on the expedition (Hamilton, 1958 and references within) have contributed to long term quantification of ice sheet change studies (Paterson and Reeh, 2001) and generated scientific questions that are still relevant for those researching the ice sheets today. The way scientific findings were communicated through the transcripts vary from detailed glaciology reports (Fig. 2), to the self-proclaimed “trilling instalment” of direct measurements of scientific information (i.e. ice thickness: Fig. 3). Not only this, but throughout the expedition, the team built up strong international collaborations with the Americans, Danes, French, Australian and the Icelanders. By doing so, they were able to share and gain information on safe passage, weather reports or general advice. The successful logistic operation of the expedition is worthy of note. The partnership between those on the ice and the RAF worked effectively and efficiently. The RAF provided support from the air throughout the two years on the ice. The relationship flourished so well that the RAF dropped a Christmas hamper for those at main base in the first year.

Handwritten naval message glaciology report
Fig. 2. Detailed Glaciology report (British North Greenland Expedition Archive, 01-092)
Group of 4 images. Naval message listing of ice thickness measurements
Fig. 3. Naval message listing of ice thickness measurements (British North Greenland Expedition Archive, GEX/03-088, GEX/03-086, GEX/03-087, GEX/3-075

I have mentioned the huge success of the expedition, however, most polar exploration does not go without a few hiccups. For those on the BNGE expedition, there were certainly a few hiccups. Polar expeditions are often highly dangerous and the challenges that the team faced is highlighted throughout the transcripts. Although no specifics are recorded, the transcripts detail the gratitude of the family for the support they received after the death of Danish team member Captain Hans Jensen. Hans was the only fatality, however, there were several other “lucky escapes”. Weasels (snow tractors) often broke down in the middle of the ice sheet, exploded or fell into crevasses (Fig. 4). There were other incidents of fires breaking out in the engine room of their huts and bases. However, one of the most notable disasters was the “Ice Cap Crash” of 1952, that even made BBC news at home in the UK. Video footage of the crash site and drop operation was captured in this Ice Cap Men Return From Greenland (1952) video.

Handwritten extract containing details of when Pete Taylor and Mike Banks fell into a 40-foot crevasse in Weasel
Fig. 4. Details of when Pete Taylor and Mike Banks fell into a 40-foot crevasse in a Weasel (snow tractor) (British North Greenland Expedition Archive, GEX/02-086)

A large portion of the transcripts detail the rescue plans and effort of the members on the ice, the RAF and the collaborators at the American base in Thule. The rescue took eight days, the three injured members of the aircraft crew made a full recovery in the hospital in Thule.

The BNGE was one of few scientific polar expeditions that took place in the mid-20th century and can be viewed as the inspiration for many internationally important scientific and geophysical investigations that followed. The knowledge and experiences gained by those on the expedition has moulded our understanding of the physics of ice sheets. It has also shaped the way that I view my own work, the incredible challenges that the team faced in the field are often now taken for granted because of technological advances. It has been a privilege to read through the personal accounts of each members experiences and the uplifting messages that they were able to send home.