The Alnwick Corn Exchange Archive – The William Dickson Papers

These papers were originally accumulated by the office of William Dickson, overseer of the Alnwick Corn Exchange from its opening in 1862 until 1880. Dickson, a solicitor in Alnwick and local benefactor, in fact raised the money for the building of the Alnwick Corn Exchange, and then oversaw the building of the Exchange, before then taking responsibility for its running for the next twenty years.

The Alnwick Corn Exchange Archive contains correspondence and legal agreements relating to the purchase of the site and the subsequent building programme; correspondence about similar markets in Berwick and Kelso, a Broadside announcing the opening and detailing the functions of the new Exchange, as well as accounts and correspondence for the period 1862 – 1880.

These papers are particularly fascinating as the Exchange was used not only as a market but also as a venue for entertainment, and both the accounts and correspondence files contain much information about the acts which were booked during this period.

Images below are from the Alnwick Corn Exchange Archive.

A fundraising pledge letter for the building of the Alnwick Corn Exchange, 1860. W Dixon of Warkworth pledges to take one £50 share in the Exchange building.
A fundraising pledge letter for the building of the Alnwick Corn Exchange, 1860. W Dixon of Warkworth pledges to take one £50 share in the Exchange building (ACE/01/01-1).
Official declaration of the opening of the Exchange by the Keeper of the Exchange (Robert Wardhaugh), 7th May 1862.
Official declaration of the opening of the Exchange by the Keeper of the Exchange (Robert Wardhaugh), 7th May 1862 (ACE/02/01-1).
Scale of Charges at Alnwick Corn Exchange, 1862.
Scale of Charges at Alnwick Corn Exchange, 1862 (ACE/02/01-2).
A letter from the National Opera Company to Alnwick Corn Exchange, 1876. The Managers of the Company ask if they can book the Exchange for March 10 to 15 inclusive.  They go on to write that if those nights were available they would be happy to give up the room during the day time, and that if the full six nights were not available would three or four consecutive nights be possible.
A letter from the National Opera Company to Alnwick Corn Exchange, 1876. The Managers of the Company ask if they can book the Exchange for March 10 to 15 inclusive.  They go on to write that if those nights were available they would be happy to give up the room during the day time, and that if the full six nights were not available would three or four consecutive nights be possible (ACE/05/01/02-1).
A flyer for an act playing in Barnstaple, part of correspondence making arrangements for the act to visit Alnwick.
A flyer for an act playing in Barnstaple, part of correspondence making arrangements for the act to visit Alnwick (ACE/05/01).
A mixed review for the Dunbar and Cogan Theatre Company, 1869!  The cutting accompanied a letter from William Cogan to the Alnwick Corn Exchange requesting a booking at the Exchange later in the year, "for a period of two to three weeks for theatrical performance".
A mixed review for the Dunbar and Cogan Theatre Company, 1869!  The cutting accompanied a letter from William Cogan to the Alnwick Corn Exchange requesting a booking at the Exchange later in the year, “for a period of two to three weeks for theatrical performance” (ACE/05/01/05-1).

The Sinking of the Titanic

The 15th April 1912 was a dark day in maritime history. RMS Titanic sank during her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York City, after hitting an iceberg. The Titanic was built at Harland and Wolff, Belfast and was the largest passenger liner in the world at the time. The accident resulted in the loss of over 1500 lives. 

News of the tragedy spread around the world and the sinking was huge news in the media. Punch included a dedication to those who drowned.  

“Tears for the dead, who shall not come again
Homeward to any shore on any tide!
Tears for the dead! But through that bitter rain
Breaks, like an April sun, the smile of pride.

What courage yielded place to others’ need,
Patient of discipline supreme decree,
Well may we guess who know that gallant breed
Schooled in the ancient chivalry of the sea! O.S.”

Page from Punch magazine showing two women holding hands dressed in Roman attire with a dedication written underneith.
Toll of the Sea [Dedicated to the memory of the brave men who went down in the Titanic], dated 15th April 1912. Punch, 20th Century Collection, 052 PUN, v. 142, 24th April 1912.

People wrote of the Titanic’s sinking in their diaries and in letters. The M. P., Charles Philips Trevelyan wrote to his daughter, asking if Miss Clarke had told her of the accident. 

The letter reads,

“Has Miss Clarke told you the dreadful story of the ship-wreck of the Titanic? It struck on an ice-berg and went down and hundreds of people were drowned.”

Letter from Charles Philips Trevelyan to Pauline Trevelyan, 20th April 1912.
Letter from Charles Philips Trevelyan to his daughter, Pauline Trevelyan, 20th April 1912. Trevelyan (Charles Philips) Archive, CPT/4/1/9/73.

His wife, Mary Trevelyan, known as Molly, wrote in her diary of the tragedy,

“The last week has been overshadowed by the most terrible shipping disaster that has ever happened. There are two giant White Star ships, The Olympic and The Titanic, the biggest liners afloat. The Titanic with 2,200 on board, started on her maiden voyage at the end of last week and on Sunday night, just before midnight, she struck an iceberg, 600 miles from the American coast and sunk in 2.5 hours. All the women and children were saved, but hardly any men. There were 13 lifeboats full, and overfull. The titanic marconied for help, and the Carpathia came under full steam, and arrived at dawn to fill the boats but no Titanic. The accounts are heartrending, and one could hardly read them without tears.” 

Diary entry extract of Mary Trevelyan, 20th April 1912
Extract from Mary Trevelyan’s diary, 20th April 1912. Trevelyan (Charles Philips) Archive, CPT/2/1/13

The former Professor of Classics at Armstrong College, John Wight Duff, wrote of how the disaster was mentioned in the Church service he attended at Croft, on 21st April 1912.

The diary entry from 21st April 1912 reads,

“The Rector’s sermon was on Exod. [Exodus] XV. 5. “The depths have covered them: they sank into the bottom as a stone” and touched on “the week of eclipse when it was dark at noonday” and shadowed with the gloom of the loss of the Titanic on an ice field and the drowning of over 1400 passengers and crew.”

Extract from Professor John Wight Duff’s diary
Extract from Professor John Wight Duff’s diary, 21st April 1912. Duff (Professor John Wight) Diaries, JWD/01/01/03

The journalist and author Frederic Whyte, mentions the event in a letter to his then future wife. Included are cuttings about another passenger who perished, the journalist W. T. Stead being aboard the ship, as well as information of a special service held in his memory.

Press cuttings on W. T. Stead in a letter from Frederic Whyte to Karin Lija, 21st April 1912
Press cuttings on W. T. Stead in a letter from Frederic Whyte to Karin Lilja (later Whyte), 21st April 1912. Whyte (Frederic) Archive, FW/2

There has always been a lot of interest in the Titanic, partly as it was known as the “unsinkable” ship. The wreck of the Titanic was eventually discovered in September 1985, when it was discovered to have split into two., but due to deterioration the ship has never been raised.  There have been further expeditions to the wreck to recover items, leading to various exhibitions about it around the world. 

Many books, fiction and non-fiction including Clive Cussler’s Raise the Titanic and films, including James Cameron’s Titanic.

In recent years a Titanic Quarter has been developed in Belfast which is proving to be a popular visitor attraction and ensuring that the name Titanic lives on.

Crawhall and the Big Birdwatch – January 2022

Each year the last weekend of January is time for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds’ (RSPB) annual Big Garden Birdwatch. It’s a time when we’re all encouraged to go and count the birds we see – maybe in your garden, from a balcony or window, or in a local park, and submit the results online. The initiative helps monitor the bird population in the UK.

There’s lots of opportunities to spot birds and other wildlife in the North East of England, and our archives and rare books reflect people’s interest with the natural world across history. One example of these is this fabulous bird illustrations from our Crawhall (Joseph II) Archive.

Watercolour illustration of a trio of goldfinches.
Watercolour design, likely for a decorative plate, featuring goldfinches, c.1875, Crawhall (Joseph II) Archive JCII/6/1/64, Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186

Joseph Crawhall II (1821-1896) was a businessman, artist and patron of the arts. His artistic achievements including wood engraving, watercolours and contributions to Punch magazine. The pursuits of himself and his family contributed to the thriving cultural environment of 19th Century Newcastle.

However, the illustrations we’re highlighting here were not created by Joseph. They are pages from illustrated diaries and sketchbooks attributed to his brother, George Edward Crawhall (1821-1896). This generation of Crawhall siblings were all artists – George and Joseph but also brother Thomas and their sister Jane. George’s legacy is not as celebrated as his brother Joseph’s, but he also contributed to some of Joseph’s most famous works, including the Compleatest Angling Booke, for which George contributed the trout tail which features at the end.

Watercolour illustration of a magpie sitting in a branch.
Watercolour design for a decorative plate featuring a magpie, 17 December 1873, Crawhall (Joseph II) Archive JCII/6/1/59, Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186.

These diaries/sketchbooks reveal George’s travel in England and Scotland between 1867 and the 1890s. Many of the images depict scenes from the North East, such as the image below of a coot and moorhen fighting in Brandling Park – just around the corner from the Philip Robinson Library, home to Newcastle University’s Special Collections and Archives.

Page from a diary containing three watercolour illustrations of a coot and moorhen on a pond.
Watercolour illustration showing a coot and a moorhen fighting in Brandling Park, 25th April 1888, Crawhall (Joseph II) Archive JCII/6/2/10, Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186

The diaries record many of scenes of hunting and fishing, alongside natural history studies. Birds feature heavily, although frequently under the gaze of armed hunters.

The beautiful circular designs featured in this blog post each showcase a different bird native to the UK, and were likely intended to appear on decorative plates.

Watercolour illustration of a trio of bullfinches sitting in a bush.
Watercolour design, likely for a decorative plate, featuring bullfinches, c.1880, Crawhall (Joseph II) Archive JCII/6/2/3, Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186

Will you see any of these birds in this year’s Birdwatch?

You can read more about the Big Garden Birdwatch and sign up to participate on the RSPB’s website.

You can read more about the fascinating Crawhall family history and their relationship with the North East in this blog.

The Gunpowder Plot: The Northumberland Connection

Bonfire Night is synonymous with the name Guy Fawkes and the failed plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament. Fawkes was one of the five main conspirators, but not the leader. This was Robert Catesby, and another eight men were recruited later. Another of the main conspirators was Thomas Percy, second cousin once removed from the 9th Earl of Northumberland, Henry Percy.

The South East View of Alnwick Castle, the Ancestral Home of the Percy family, Earl of Northumberland, 1800–1899, Local Illustrations ILL/1/32, Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186.

Thomas Percy was a tall and “wild” man whose conversion to Catholicism calmed him. It was said by Gerard that he was a bigamist having one wife in London and another in the provinces.

Portrait of Thomas Percy, from Gerard, What was the Gunpowder Plot? The traditional story tested by original evidence, Research Reserve 941.061 GER, Newcastle University.

He was employed by his relative, Earl of Northumberland to collect rents, and later became Constable of the Castle in 1596.

Percy despised King James for the continued persecution to Catholics, despite verbal reassurances to the contrary. In 1604 he became the fifth member to join Catesby in the Gunpowder plot.  His role was to rent a property in Westminster and obtain a lease underneath the first floor of the Houses of Parliament. Guy Fawkes was “appointed” as a “servant” to the property.

When the gunpowder and Guy Fawkes were discovered, it was Thomas Percy’s name given on the first arrest warrant, as Fawkes declared he was Thomas’s servant.

When the plot was discovered most of the conspirators escaped from London, however Thomas Percy and Robert Catesby were killed at Holbeche House, Staffordshire. Their bodies were later exhumed, and their heads displayed outside Parliament House.

Henry Percy became Earl of Northumberland after his father’s suicide in the Tower of London in 1585. Although a protestant, the Earl was a Catholic sympathizer and sent his cousin Thomas on missions to glean any information from the King about being more tolerant to the Catholics.

 After the failed Gunpowder Plot, Henry Percy was arrested as it was thought he knew about it, as he had met with Thomas on 4th November. As it couldn’t be proven either way as Thomas was killed on 7th November, Henry was charged with lesser offences and imprisoned in the Tower of London and fined £30,000 where he remained for 16 years.

The charges brought against the Earl of Northumberland, extract from Markland, J. H.  Instructions by Henry Ninth Earl of Northumberland to his son Algernon Percy, touching the management of his estate, officers &c. written during his confinement in the Tower with prefatory remarks and notes, Communicated to the Society of Antiquaries, White (Robert) Collection W942.82 PER, Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186.
Extract about his confinement and fellow prisoners, extract from Markland, J. H.  Instructions by Henry Ninth Earl of Northumberland to his son Algernon Percy, touching the management of his estate, officers &c. written during his confinement in the Tower with prefatory remarks and notes, Communicated to the Society of Antiquaries, White (Robert) Collection W942.82 PER, Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186.

The legacy of this event is the annual celebration through the lighting of fires and fireworks which takes place on 5th November.

Frederick Douglass: From Enslavement to Abolitionist

Frederick Douglass, photograph by an unidentified artist, c.1850, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, https://npg.si.edu/object/npg_NPG.80.21

Frederick Douglass’ story as a black American started in the same way as many others of his era, born into slavery. Thanks to his determination and good luck he was able to escape the lifelong toil that many of his fellow black Americans endured, educate himself and then tell his story highlighting the plight of fighting for the rights of black Americans. The story of his life includes a journey to the UK, and Newcastle, where he would meet a local family that had a lasting impact on his ability to live a free life in America.  

Frederick Douglass was born into slavery in 1818 on a plantation in Talbot, Maryland. His father was white, and possibly the ‘owner’ of his mother. He was removed from his mother as a young child, and only had limited contact with her prior to her death, while Douglass was still a child. After being a slave for a number of years he escaped from his owner in Baltimore on the 3rd of September 1838 and travelled to New York. Once there he set about educating himself and eventually telling his story through an autobiography.

In 1845 ‘The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave: written by himself’ was published. This detailed his early life, escape from slavery, and new life as a free manAcross the Atlantic and during the early years of Douglass’ life, the Whig government in Britain (led by Earl Grey II who hailed from Northumberland) passed the Slavery Abolition Act in 1833. This act would make owning a slave in much of the British Empire illegal by 1840.  

In August 1845 Frederick Douglass sailed across the Atlantic to Great Britain to promote his cause. A review of his book was published in July 1846 in the Newcastle Guardian. The review highlights in critical terms, the American ‘institution of slavery’ and introduces his story and selected quotes from his work.

 Excerpt from pg5 of Review of the Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass, written by himself, 19thCentury Collection 942.8 REV The full review can be found at https://cdm21051.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p21051coll23/id/96/rec/15
Plaque at 5 Summerhill Grove, Newcastle upon Tyne commemorating Frederick Douglass and the anti-slavery activists with whom he stayed whilst in Newcastle

During his 19 month stay in Britain he toured the country giving public lectures detailing his life, slavery in America and promoting abolition. This included a short stay in Newcastle, at the home of Henry and Anna Richardson and their sister-in-law Ellen. They were Quakers who lived in a house on Summerhill Grove near the city centre. His stay, and the impact the family had on Douglass’ life is commemorated by a plaque on the house. He made such an impact on the Richardson’s that they set about raising £150 and instructed a lawyer in America to formerly buy Douglass’ freedom from his former enslaver in late 1846. 

Near the end of his tour of Britain Douglass was invited to give a farewell speech at the London Tavern on the 30th of March 1847 by the Council of the Anti-Slavery League.  They later published a transcript of the speech he gave, a copy of which forms part of Special Collection’s Cowen Tracts Collection, collected by Joseph Cowen, a 19th Century reformist MP from Newcastle. You can read more about the life of Joseph Cowen here

In his speech at the London Tavern Frederick Douglass covers a number of topics. He covers the American constitution, the slave keeping system and references the abolition of slavery in Canada which had been enacted by Earl Grey’s government.

Caption: Excerpt from Farewell Speech of Mr Frederick Douglass previously to Embarking on Board the Cambria, upon his Return to America March 30, 1847, pg14, Cowen Tracts, Vol.17, No.12, https://collectionscaptured.ncl.ac.uk/digital/collection/p21051coll85/id/58/rec/1 

He went on to talk about the purchase of his freedom by the Richardson’s saying:  

… As to the kind friends who have made the purchase of my freedom, I am deeply grateful to them. I would never have solicited them to have done so, or have asked them for money for such a purpose. I never could have suggested to them the propriety of such an act. It was done from the prompting or suggestion of their own hearts, entirely independent of myself…. (Cowen Tracts, Vol.17, No.12, pg16) 

Later in his speech he went on to recount his feelings and experience of the 19 months he spent in Britain, contrasting it with the conditions he encountered in Boston before he boarded the Cambria and travelled across the Atlantic: 

… I say that I have here, within the last nineteen months, for the first time in my life, known what it was to enjoy liberty. I remember, just before leaving Boston for this country, that I was even refused permission to ride in an omnibus. Yes, on account of the colour of my skin, I was kicked from a public conveyance just a few days before I left the “cradle of liberty”. (Cowen Tracts, Vol.17, No.12, pg19) 

He also recounts his experience of being refused entry to churches in Boston and not being permitted to “even to go into a menagerie or theatre, if I wished to have gone there” (Pg 19) and that “I was not granted any of these common and ordinary privileges of free men.” (pg 20).  

He concluded his speech by explaining his hopes and plans for his return to America saying: 

…I go, turning my back upon the ease, comfort, and respectability which I might maintain even here, ignorant as I am. Still, I will go back, for the sake of my brethren. I go to suffer with them; to toil with them; to endure insult with them; to undergo outrage with them; to lift up my voice in their behalf; to speak and write in their vindication; and struggle in their ranks for that emancipation which shall yet be achieved by the power of truth and of principle for the oppressed people… (Cowen Tracts, Vol.17, No.12, pg21) 

The speech he gave at the London Tavern gives us a valuable insight in Frederick Douglass’ own words of his experiences of slavery, how he valued the time he spent in Britain and the people that met and supported him while here. It also demonstrates that though he was now free himself he saw his future in helping his enslaved brethren, using his platform to promote their cause and work towards their emancipation, even if that meant experiencing the racial prejudices of 19th Century America.  

On the 4th of April Frederick Douglass embarked the Cambria to travel across the Atlantic back to the United States. On boarding he was informed that the birth he had booked was occupied and that he would not be allowed to mix with the other passengers on account of his colour. After returning to America he would go on to spend the next 50 years working and campaigning for the rights of black Americans and women. He died in Washington DC, aged 77 in February 1895. Newcastle University’s Frederick Douglass Building, close to where he stayed during his time in Newcastle, is named in his honour.  

Excerpt from Farewell Speech of Mr Frederick Douglass previously to Embarking on Board the Cambria, upon his Return to America March 30, 1847, pg14, Cowen Tracts, Vol.17, No.12, https://collectionscaptured.ncl.ac.uk/digital/collection/p21051coll85/id/58/rec/1 

Pilgrim Street, Roads and Robert Burns Dick

Newcastle seems to be experiencing an endless period of building and regeneration. The Evening Chronicle recently reported that a ‘run-down corner of Newcastle city centre is currently being redeveloped to bring new office buildings, a public square, shops, bars, and restaurants. ‘Pilgrim Place’ is currently being built in an area on the eastern side of Pilgrim Street, after the scheme was approved by Newcastle City Council’s planning Committee in July 2021. 

As a main route into (and out of) Newcastle, Pilgrim Street has been the centre of many similar schemes in the past. When construction of the Tyne Bridge commenced in 1925, the lower end of Pilgrim Street was cleared of many historic buildings dating back to the Sixteenth Century. 

Two pages from a Charles Philips Trevelyan family album, dated 1925. They feature photographs of the bottom of Pilgrim Street, which was being cleared for the construction of the Tyne Bridge. The note informs us that ‘Some houses there were dated 1575’. CPT/PA/12, Trevelyan (Charles Philips) Archive, Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186.

When the Swan House roundabout was built between 1963 and 1969, more buildings were demolished, including the ‘revered’ Royal Arcade which many people still mourn, even though it was never a commercial success and had fallen into disrepair due to its location outside the main shopping area of the city. 

A view up Pilgrim Street in the Nineteenth Century. The Royal Arcade is the large building on the right. ILL-11-268, Local Illustrations, Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186.
Interior view of the Royal Arcade. ILL-11-270, Local Illustrations, Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186.

The imposing Pilgrim Street police, magistrates court, and fire station building, the work of local architectural firm Cackett, Burns Dick & MacKellar, is a central landmark in the new development. Built between 1931 and 1933 to replace a previous station, it was Grade-II-listed in 1999 and is earmarked for conversion to a five-star hotel. 

Thomas Cackett & Robert Burns Dick contributed greatly to the appearance of Pilgrim Street; further up the road, they were responsible for the design of the stately Northern Conservative Club at 29 Pilgrim Street, near the Paramount cinema (later the Odeon). This was later demolished to make way for one of the city’s most-disliked buildings, Commercial Union House. Blame T. Dan Smith!

Robert Burns Dick enjoyed a larger-than-life reputation in his adopted home town of Newcastle. Born in Stirling in 1868, his family had moved south when he was very young and Burns Dick always regarded himself as a Geordie. 

Family portrait of the Dick family, showing Robert (Seated third from left), his siblings, and his mother. His father and a brother are present in the two framed photographs. RBD-1-1-3, Burns Dick (Robert) Archive, Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186.

After attending the Royal Grammar School and art school, he moved through various architectural firms before entering into partnership with another Scot in Newcastle, Thomas Cackett. Burns Dick provided the creativity while Cackett looked after the business. The company went on to design many of Newcastle’s most important buildings, including the Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle University Students’ Union building, the Pilgrim Street police and fire station, the Bridge Hotel, and the extension of the Northumberland County Council offices, now the Vermont Hotel. Away from Newcastle, Burns Dick was the man behind Whitley Bay’s recently-reopened Spanish City buildings and Berwick-upon-Tweed’s old police station (regarded by many as the model for the Laing Art Gallery). An advocate of the Garden City movement, in the 1920s he helped design west Newcastle’s low-rise, low-density and landscaped Pendower housing estate.  

The Burns Dick (Robert) Archive 

Our Burns Dick (Robert) Archive was collated after a 1984 exhibition about the architect, held by the Royal Institute of British Architects Northern Region. Although instrumental in the design of some of the area’s best architecture, it was felt that Burns Dick had been ‘forgotten’. The archive comprises photographs of Burns Dick and his family, two University dissertations about him, and a collection of press cuttings about Burns Dick and the exhibition. These provide a good overview of his life and outline some of his ambitious plans for Newcastle. 

Copy photographs of Robert Burns Dick and his wife Margaret. RBD-1-1-4, Burns Dick (Robert) Archive, Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186.
Photograph of Millmount, the Dick residence in Cowgate, Newcastle upon Tyne. The house was designed by Robert Burns Dick with a large garden which was drastically reduced when the Cowgate bypass was built in front of it in the 1960s (hence the metal fence). RBD-2-1-1, Burns Dick (Robert) Archive, Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186.

In 1924 Burns Dick was a founder member of the Newcastle upon Tyne Society to ‘Improve the Beauty, Health and Amenities of the City’. He advocated a green belt around Newcastle and drew up a list of city centre historic buildings to be saved from any future demolition or decay.

Newcastle’s pre-eminent Victorian architects, Richard Grainger and John Dobson, had created an architecturally beautiful city but its roads were designed for horses and carriages. Burns Dick, although appreciating the pair’s work, said,

‘Is not Newcastle still trading on the brains of Grainger and Dobson and Clayton? . . . It has done nothing since worth mentioning in the same breath.’

He drew up plans for new roads to accommodate the arrival and proliferation of motor vehicles in the city, including a development of his partner Cackett’s 1905 plan for a south to north axial road running from the new Tyne Bridge to Barras Bridge to the east of Northumberland Street, and then to his proposed civic buildings on a site near Exhibition Park.

One of the articles shows a 1936 proposal for a new town hall and office space in the Haymarket. This appears to be in the space now occupied by offices over Haymarket metro station. RBD-3-1-6, Burns Dick (Robert) Archive, Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186.

Had Newcastle Council not suffered a funding shortage and a change in political power, Burns Dick’s plan for roads, and his grand entrance arch at the northern end of the Tyne Bridge, may have gone ahead. The arch would, of course, have led onto Pilgrim Street, which became the Great North Road (later the A1).

Article from The Journal, 1 November 1982, showing Burns Dick’s plan for a grand archway entrance into Newcastle upon Tyne, dated 1925.RBD-3-1-5, Burns Dick (Robert) Archive , Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186.

Maybe as compensation, Cackett & Burns Dick were handed the contract to design Newcastle’s new fire, police station and courts.

Burns Dick eventually moved to Esher, Surrey, and died there in 1954. His body was returned to Newcastle and he was buried in Elswick Cemetery.

In Newcastle, the city’s 1960s planners sat and planned a new north-to-south road running to the east of Northumberland Street. This was eventually opened in 1970 and named after one of the Newcastle’s Victorian architects, John Dobson.

T. Dan Smith, Leader of Newcastle City Council from 1960 to 1965 and the city’s ‘bogeyman’, is often credited with the destruction of Newcastle’s historic buildings and their replacement with ugly concrete blocks, even though much of what he is held responsible for was built after his period in office.

The Black Feather Falls: A Comic Book Series of Interwar Mysteries, Crime and the 1920s

The front cover of comic book, Lindner, E. The Black Feather Falls, book one 2013, Wylie 741.5 LIN (used by permission of Soaring Penguin Press), Wylie (Terry) Comic Books, Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186.

Ellen Lindner’s The Black Feather Falls is part of the recently-acquired collection of comic books that were formerly owned by Terry Wiley.

The Black Feather Falls was originally published in three volumes that were collected and published as a single-volume graphic novel under the same title in 2015. The series is set in the 1920s and features as its main character Tina Swift, a young American woman, who has recently moved to England and works in a dress shop in London. The street outside the shop becomes a murder scene where Tina discovers a black feather – a clue to the crime, but one that the police dismiss. Tina decides to solve the crime herself with the help of Miss McInteer, a stenographer at the local paper, which leads her back into the past, to events of the First World War. The series was nominated for the Ignatz award for Outstanding Series in 2014; the awards recognise outstanding achievements in cartooning and comics and are held annually in the United States.

Page 21 of comic book, Lindner, E. The Black Feather Falls, book three 2014, Wylie 741.5 LIN (used by permission of Soaring Penguin Press), Wylie (Terry) Comic Books, Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186.

This work is of particular significance for its blending of literary genres. The interwar mystery that comprises the action of the plot relates to the interwar ‘Golden Age’ of detective fiction that occurred both in Britain and the United States. Lindner’s choice of a main character that is both a professional woman, working to live independently, and amateur detective also relates to the growing number of women embarking on careers in this period. The artwork for this series demonstrates a use of limited colour palette and strong outlining to characters and scenes, showcasing Lindner’s distinctive style whilst detailing many aspects of the 1920s setting such as the clothing fashions and interior designs. The appearance of cosmetic items such as lipstick and compacts, along with ‘flapper’ style dresses of a looser fit and shorter hairstyles with cloche hats relate to the specific context of the 1920s that saw these changes in dress styles, accessories and millinery.

The Wylie (Terry) Comics are currently being catalogued. These three volumes are part of a collection that spans several decades of comics and graphic novels, and many artists, authors and cartoonists. These are not the only examples of the use of crime and mystery genres; there are also many volumes of Paul Grist’s Kane series about a detective working in a precinct of a fictional American city and works set in previous decades and fantasy worlds are also well represented. Special Collections and Archives also has many items relating to independent publishers, including the archives and collections of Iron Press, Bloodaxe Books and Flambard Press, and of illustrators including satirical prints, such as those in the James Gillray Collection, and children’s books.

The Roots of Vaccination – 300 Years of Variolation in England

Title page to A Dissertation on the method of inoculating the small-pox … (1721) Medical Tracts v1(7), Medical Tracts, Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186

While we are all familiar with vaccination, its predecessor variolation is less well known. The goal is the same – to use a medical procedure to induce immunity to a disease. Before the invention of vaccination, variolation was the only preventative against smallpox available. This pamphlet, from our Medical Tracts Collection, is one of many English publications on the subject from 300 years ago in 1721. A translation of a Portuguese pamphlet by Jacob de Castro Sarmento, it outlines the variolation process ‘as it is practised in Thessaly, Constantinople and Venice’. The process is relatively simple – warm pus from someone suffering with smallpox is applied to a freshly made incision on the variolation patient. This triggers an immune response in the patient, which renders them less susceptible to future infection.

1721 was a key year in the history of variolation in England. While the practice had been taking place in Asia and Africa for some time, in the early 18th Century its adoption in England was cause of much debate. Since the 1710s the Royal Society of London had explored and discussed its use, but the high level of risk involved had prevented it from being introduced to English society. Arguments for and against the process continued to be published. Then in 1721, several events took place which contributed to its greater acceptance in England.

In April of that year, a smallpox epidemic led Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, an aristocrat and writer, to have her daughter Mary “engrafted”. Montagu had first encountered the procedure while in Turkey some years earlier. She had written about it to friends and had her son undergo the process whilst there. Back in England, Mary’s inoculation was observed by three members of the Royal College of Physicians, becoming the first documented inoculation in England. After the successful inoculation of her daughter, interest in variolation rose sharply amongst her aristocratic friends (which Montagu strongly encouraged. It came to the attention of Caroline of Ansbach, then Princess of Wales, who wished to inoculate her three children.

It was felt that more evidence of the safety and effectiveness of the procedure was required before risking the health of the heirs to the British throne, and so in July, the royal physicians finalised arrangements to conduct variolation trials on inmates at Newgate prison in London. Seven inmates were offered the choice of participating in exchange for their sentence of transportation to the Americas being remitted. Those who accepted (which was all of them) underwent “engrafting” on the 9th of August 1721. The initial procedure was heavily attended by observers and the participants’ progress was discussed in newspapers and pamphlets.

Watercolour drawings of the left arm showing smallpox inoculation (variolation) on verso and cowpox inoculation (vaccination) on recto. Wellcome Library number WMS 3115. Reproduced under Creative Commons.

The Newgate trial was deemed a success, with all the participants recovering well and displaying immunity. One of the participants, Elizabeth Harrison (originally sentenced to death for the theft of 62 guineas), was taken to a school which was suffering a smallpox outbreak to demonstrate her immunity. The royal children were eventually inoculated, but not until April 1722 after further trials on orphan children had taken place. While debate continued around the safety and effectiveness of variolation, these events contributed to its increased acceptance and by the 1740s, charitable inoculation hospitals were being established. It became common practice to use variolation to reduce the impact of smallpox outbreaks in rural areas. Variolation continued to be used in England until the invention and introduction of the safer vaccination process eventually led to the Vaccination Act of 1840. This entitled everyone in England to smallpox vaccination free of charge and banned the use of its riskier predecessor.

Read the whole pamphlet on CollectionsCaptured.

Crawhall: Family History

Joseph Crawhall, Morpeth, 1865 , JCII-8, Crawhall (Joseph II) Archive, Newcastle University Special Collections & Archives, GB 186.

‘The accompanying letter from the late John Hodgson, the Historian of Northumberland, to Mr. Thomas Sopwith having only been partially answered, induced me to prosecute further enquiry into our family history, & the result of such enquiry, with the authorities will be found in this volume’.

Joseph Crawhall II is perhaps best-known as a wood engraver of idiosyncratic illustrations which adorned books published by, among other, local printer Andrew Reid and London-based Andrew Tuer at his Leadenhall Press in London.

With a great interest in local history, folklore, and traditions, Crawhall seized upon the opportunity to research his own family after reading clergyman and antiquary John Hodgson’s queries to local mining engineer Thomas Sopwith, for whom he was carrying out family history. Crawhall, with both the time and resources to do so, began gathering together a large selection of family historical material. This is now referred to as the Crawhall Genealogical Scrapbook (JCII-8).

The Crawhall Geneaological Scrapbook open at a page about Joseph Crawhall II’s brother Thomas, JCII-8, Crawhall (Joseph II) Archive, Newcastle University Special Collections & Archives, GB 186.

The c.150-page volume is a treasure trove of family history collected by Crawhall. Its contents include notes and family trees transcribed by Crawhall, sketches and paintings of family members, family photographs, newspaper cuttings, sale catalogues, letters. The historical material is drawn from a range of sources including Hodgson’s extensively-researched History of Northumberland, where the Crawhall family is traced back to the Twelfth Century (where the name is spelled ‘Crauden’, ‘Craweden’, or ‘Crawenden’). The 16th Century Crawhaws lived at Crawhall near Thorngrafton in Northumberland and were responsible for governorship of the Middle Marches “From Hexhamshire to the Water of Irdin (Irthing) on both sides of the Tyne”, near Hawteswell (Haltwhistle).

Page from the Genealogical Scrapbook with transcriptions by Crawhall from Hodgson’s History of Northumberland, JCII-8, Crawhall (Joseph II) Archive, Newcastle University Special Collections & Archives, GB 186.
Heugh Crawhaughe, Commissioner for Enclosures upon the Middle Marches, JCII-8, Crawhall (Joseph II) Archive , Newcastle University Special Collections & Archives, GB 186

The majority of the material traces the history of the Crawhalls after the family was established in Allendale, Northumberland. Joseph II’s grandfather, Thomas was a lead mining agent, and married Ann Bownas in 1771. Their son, Joseph Crawhall I, (born in 1791) was apprenticed at a Newcastle ropery to learn the trade and eventually bought the St. Anne’s Ropery near the Newcastle Quayside. The company earned a commendation at the 1852 Great Exhibition for ‘Improved Patent Rope Machinery’.

Commendation awarded to St. Anne’s Ropery at the Great Exhibition 1851, JCII-8,Crawhall (Joseph II) Archive , Newcastle University Special Collections & Archives, GB 186.

A shrewd business man, Joseph I held shares in the family’s lead mine at Rotherhope, near Allendale and, in his spare time, was a keen amateur artist. He eventually became mayor and sheriff of Newcastle. Joseph I lived (and died) at Stagshaw House, near Corbridge, with his wife Margaret.

Sketch of Thomas Crawhall by Joseph II, JCII-8, Crawhall (Joseph II) Archive, Newcastle University Special Collections & Archives, GB 186.
Sketch of Stagshaw Close House by Joseph II, 1852, JCII-8, Crawhall (Joseph II) Archive, Newcastle University Special Collections & Archives, GB 186.
A watercolour painting by Joseph II(?) of his birthplace, JCII-8, Crawhall (Joseph II) Archive, Newcastle University Special Collections & Archives, GB 186.

Joseph II was born at West House, St. Anthony’s, Newcastle, on 16th May 1821 and quite early on exhibited a talent for art which he was able to pursue throughout his life. An adept, skilful draughtsman and watercolourist with a distinctly Northumbrian sense of humour, he is now best-known for his wood engravings in the chapbook style.

Watercolour and engraved cards by Joseph Crawhall II, JCII-8, Crawhall (Joseph II) Archive, Newcastle University Special Collections & Archives, GB 186.

His work was not restricted to paper – a certificate in the scrapbook was awarded to Crawhall for commended work in an 1873 exhibition of paintings on china for the Art-Pottery Galleries in London.  

Certificate awarded to Joseph Crawhall II for painting on china, JCII-8, Crawhall (Joseph II) Archive, Newcastle University Special Collections & Archives, GB 186.
A china plate painted by Joseph Crawhall II, Crawhall (Joseph II) Archive, Newcastle University Special Collections & Archives, GB 186.

More information about the Genealogical Scrapbook and other Crawhall items can be found in our collections.

Gertrude Bell and the 1921 Cairo Conference

March 1921 marked a key milestone in the history of the Middle East and Iraq, and one in which Gertrude Bell played an important role. The key event was the Cairo Conference, where British officials met to discuss the political situation and agree on the future political makeup of the region.

Photograph of riders on camels with the Sphinx and pyramids in the background.
Photograph of Gertrude Bell and group on camels involved in the Cairo Conference (1921) GB/PERS/F/002

The conference took place between the 12th and 30th of March in Cairo, Egypt. Key attendees included (Sir) Winston Churchill (at the time Secretary of State for the Colonies), T.E. Lawrence (Special Advisor to the Colonial Office), Sir Percy Cox (High Commissioner of Iraq) and Gertrude Bell herself who had previously been appointed as Oriental Secretary for the High Commissioner of Iraq. Gertrude Bell already had a working relationship with Percy Cox dating back several years to their time spent together in Basra and Baghdad during the First World War where she worked under him using knowledge gained over the preceding years of the local tribal populations and their politics to advise the British leadership.

We know a great deal of Gertrude’s thoughts, opinions and involvement in the conference and middle eastern politics thanks to the letters she wrote throughout her life to family members which were retained, and then passed to Newcastle University after her death in 1926. The university also holds several thousand photographs and diaries chronicling her time travelling and working overseas, often in a great deal of detail. 

Gertrude’s letter of the 12th of March 1921 includes detail of her arrival in Cairo and the Semiramis hotel, and her first evening spent reacquainting with some of the other attendees at the conference:

T.E. Lawrence and others met us at the station – I was glad to see him! We retired at once to my bedroom and had an hour’s talk after which I had a long talk with Clementine while Sir P. [Sir Percy Cox] was closetted [sic] with Mr Churchill. The latter I haven’t seen yet, for he was dining out. I had Gen. Clayton to dinner and a good talk, with an amusing evening afterwards.

Part of a letter written by Gertrude Bell on the 12th March 1921. GB/LETT/1921/3/12

Busy with conference proceedings, and a visit from her father who had travelled to Cairo to see Gertrude, her next letters were written after the end of the conference whilst travelling back to Baghdad. In a letter to Lieutenant Colonel Frank Balfour Gertrude writes of the conference:

Mr Churchill was admirable, most ready to meet everyone half way and masterly alike in guiding a big meeting and in conducting the small political committees into which we broke up. Not the least favourable circumstance was that Sir Percy and I, coming out with a definite programme, found when we came to open our packets that it coincided exactly with that which the S. of S. had brought with him. The general line adopted is, I am convinced, the only right one, the only line which gives real hope of success. We are now going back to find Baghdad, I expect, at a fever pitch of excitement, to square the Naqib and to convince Saiyid Talib, if he is convinceable, that his hopes are doomed to disappointment – it’s a disappointment which will be confined to himself. But I feel certain that we shall have the current of Nationalist opinion in our favour and I’ve no doubt of success.

First page of a letter from Gertrude Bell to Frank Balfour, 25th March 1921. GB/LETT/1921/3/25
Second page of a letter from Gertrude Bell to Frank Balfour, 25th March 1921. GB/LETT/1921/3/25

As Gertrude suggests in her letter written on the 25th of March, the plan that was agreed for the future of Middle East and in particular the formation of the country of Iraq aligned closely with her own vision and ideas including the appointment of Faisal I bin Hussein bin Ali al-Hashemi as the first king of Iraq. Indeed a month later on the 17th of April, when back in Baghdad, Gertrude wrote to her father saying “I’m happy in helping to forward what I profoundly Bellieve [sic] to be the best thing for this country and the wish of the best of its people”. In the same letter she also described her role in the arrest and subsequent exile of Talib al-Naqib who had objected to the British plan for Iraq and threatened a rebellion.

While the extent to which her input influenced the eventual solution can be debated, that the solution she advocated closely reflected the outcome of the conference is reflected in her writing from the time of the conference and the preceding months and years.

Gertrude Bell achieved much as a woman in the early 20th Century, including exploits in mountaineering, travelling and recording middle eastern culture and archaeology, enabled greatly by her privileged upbringing which allowed her the time, finances and social connections to develop her interests. Despite her many remarkable achievements in spheres dominated by men, she was also a prominent anti-suffrage campaigner. This aspect of Gertrude Bell’s life has been explored through an online exhibition curated by a student studying an English Literature ‘Exhibiting Texts’ module and can be found here.

Transcripts of Gertrude Bell’s letters and diaries, and the digitised versions of Gertrude Bell’s collection of photographs can be found on our dedicated Gertrude Bell website by clicking here.

Other blog posts focussing Gertrude Bell and her archive include a post featuring a letter written in 1920 including her thoughts on the Middle Eastern political situation at the time, found here, and a longer post exploring Gertrude’s involvement in the the First World War, found here.