Exhibition: “People don’t know about them…”

Exhibition Open! “People don’t know about them…”

Ground Floor – Marjorie Robinson Library Rooms

28th October 2016 – 15th January 2017

And then 1914, obviously the First World War is declared and she came back to England, and she’d been working as a surgeon. She offered her services to the War Office and the War Office accepted her and said yes and then she got her kit together and turned up at Victoria Station in London to join her group to go out to France to the military hospital out in France and the doctor in charge said I’m not having a woman. I’m not taking her.

Rosemary Nicholson

The Universities at War project is a volunteer project based in the Special Collections Department at the Philip Robinson Library.  Its aim is to tell the stories of the staff and students of Newcastle University who fought in the First World War.

In 2015 Sam Wagner, an archaeology student in her final year of study at Newcastle University, joined the Universities at War project as part of her Career Development Module.  For her final project, Sam chose to conduct an oral history interview, and that is where our story starts …

Ruth Nicholson, Rosemary Nicholson and Sam Wagner

Ruth Nicholson, Rosemary Nicholson and Sam Wagner

Rosemary Nicholson had previously contacted the Universities at War project to tell us about her husband’s aunt, Ruth Nicholson. Ruth was a Newcastle University medical graduate who worked under the direction of the French Red Cross throughout the First World War, as a surgeon in a military hospital in France.

A female medical graduate?

A military hospital staffed entirely by women?

And why the French Red Cross?

Sam’s exhibition is the result of her own historical research and interviews with Rosemary –  capturing her memories of family stories about Ruth, as told through Ruth’s sister, Alison, who was still alive when Rosemary married into the family.

Panel on the Royaumont women in the Scottish Diaspora Tapestry, stitched by Andrea Cooley.

Panel on the Royaumont women in the Scottish Diaspora Tapestry, stitched by Andrea Cooley.

 It is the fascinating story of an amazing woman, passed on by the women in her family who wanted her story to be told.

“ I felt she never got the credit she should have had, or the recognition she should have had, or Alison.  People don’t know about them, I mean I write to everybody. I heard the programme on Women’s Hour about the women’s hospital in London and I rang right in to them saying, you know, What about Royaumont?! It was a matter of pride! ”

Rosemary Nicholson

Royaumont Hospital, image kindly provided by the Imperial War Museum.

Royaumont Hospital, image kindly provided by the Imperial War Museum.


All images in the exhibition have been kindly provided by the Nicholson family or other priviate owners, for the purposes of exhibition only.

The exhibition can be seen in the Marjorie Robinson Library Rooms, Newcastle University, 28th October 2016 – 15th January 2017.  A poster version of the exhibition can be seen here.

The Beauty of the Illustrated Book: Open Day at the Hancock Library

Date: Friday 9 September

Time: Between 11.00 a.m. and 3.30 p.m. (Tours at 11.00,  2.00 and 3.00)

Where: 2nd floor of the Great North Museum: Hancock

Cost: FREE!

Image courtesy of the NHSN

Image courtesy of the NHSN

The Great North Museum: Hancock Library and the Natural History Society of Northumbria are holding a free  joint Heritage Open Day Event on the 2nd floor of the Great North Museum: Hancock on Friday 9 September.

The Great North Museum: Hancock  Library is hosting a unique opportunity titled “The Beauty of the Illustrated Book”. On display will be a range of rare and fascinating  volumes containing lavish illustrations of the natural world and historical local scenes. Tours take place at 11.00,  2.00 and 3.00.   To book a place on any of these sessions please email Ian.Bower@newcastle.ac.uk.

The NHSN are opening the doors to its prestigious Council Room allowing visitors to view the historic paintings and furnishings. You will also be able to see some of the Society’s fascinating archive material , including manuscripts and artworks relating to its Great Auk collections. As a rare one-off the specimens of the Society’s two Great Auks will also be on display. The Archivist of the Society will be on hand to talk to you. The event will take place between 11.00 and 15.30.  No booking is required.

Newcastle University Open Day: Welcome from the Special Collections Team!

A big welcome from Special Collections at the Philip Robinson Library, archives and rare books in the heart of the Newcastle University campus.

What will you be looking at in three years time?!

Ideas For Your Dissertation! #1

Ideas For Your Dissertation! #2

Ideas For Your Dissertation! #3

Ideas For Your Dissertation! #4

Ideas For Your Dissertation! #5

Ideas For Your Dissertation! #6

Ideas For Your Dissertation! #7

Ideas For Your Dissertation! #8

Ideas For Your Dissertation #9

Ideas For Your Dissertation! #10

Ideas For Your Dissertation! #11

Ideas For Your Dissertation! #12

Ideas For Your Dissertation! #13

Ideas For Your Dissertation! #14

Ideas For Your Dissertation! #15



The Fallen Fusiliers of the 1st July 1916

The first day of one of the most well-known battles of the Great War, the Battle of the Somme, saw tremendous losses for the allied forces. The 1st July, 1916 is documented as the day when the highest number of casualties in Britain’s military history took place. This day gravely affected the Tyneside Irish and the Tyneside Scottish battalions of the Northumberland Fusiliers, who suffered some of the highest casualties, amounting to around 8,000 in total.

During my second year of my History and Archaeology course at Newcastle University, I applied for a research scheme that the university runs which takes place over the summer vacation before the final year of daunting dissertations. Students have to come up with their own project idea in which they are to research independently over a period of either 6 or 8 weeks.

Due to the centenary of the First World War, in which commemorations began in 2014, I wanted to make my own contribution to the fallen that Britain will be remembering over the next three years. Therefore, my supervisor Dr. Jane Webster and I, came up with the idea of contributing to the ‘University’s at War’ project which looks into the soldiers that are commemorated on the Armstrong War Memorial. On the memorial there are 222 names. This in itself is a mammoth task to complete detailed research on each individual in 7 weeks; therefore I have narrowed my work down to focus on those who fought for the Northumberland Fusiliers, amounting to 67 men.

The day I began my research, my second supervisor, Ian Johnson (an archivist in Newcastle University’s Special Collections and one of the founders of the ‘Universities at War’ project) showed me which materials I would be using to complete my research. These included archives such as the Durham University Journals, Roll of Service and the vast scope of the census records, military records and medal rolls which the Ancestry website provides.

Probably the most exciting archive material I looked at was the Durham University Journal. It wasn’t so much the articles in the journal that was interesting, but the advertisements for things such as medical equipment (with Durham University having its own medical school). The adverts were for shops and stores on well-known streets in Newcastle, such as Northumberland Street and Blackett Street. It made me go back in time and imagine what our bustling Geordie city centre would have looked like 100 years ago, with the vast array of marvellous merchandise for sale; a world away from what we see today.

William William - (136) - Image 1 - Source Durham University Gazette, Vol II, 1912-1929

William Nixon – (136) – Image 1 – Source Durham University Gazette, Vol II, 1912-1929

When it came to exploring the individuals of the Northumberland Fusiliers from Durham and our very own University (formerly part of Durham University and known as Armstrong College) I found that there were a total of five men who all died on the same day, the 1st July, 1916. These individuals were John Macfarlan Charlton (whose only sibling died only six days before he did), Henry Sibbit, Arthur Cecil Young, Patrick Austin Murray and William Nixon. When I searched the date of the 1st July 1916, I found that it was the very first day of one of the most famous battles of the War, the Battle of the Somme. Further reading highlighted to me that this was one of, if not the most devastating days in Britain’s history, in terms of the casualties sustained in battle.

Percival William Murray

Percival William Murray

Regarding the stories of our University’s fallen comrades, John Macfarlan Charlton is the only man where there are specific details about his death. On his 25th birthday, John was killed by a bullet through the head while leading his company near La Boiselle, France. We also know that William Nixon was killed during the first wave of the attacks on the 1st, but unfortunately all we know for the remaining three men is they were killed in action on this disastrous day.

Thank you to our ‘Universities at War’ Volunteer Rosie Setford for this piece of reseasrch.

Universities at War – The Newcastle University Digital Memory Book

Universities at War Project: The Battle of The Somme

The 1st July marks the 100 anniversary of first day of the Battle of the Somme.  Lasting from the 1 July to the 18 November 1916 it was the largest battle of the First World War on the Western Front.  More than one million men were wounded or killed.

Here we remember John Charlton who died on the 1st day of the Somme, and his brother Hugh who was also killed in action in the same year.  Both brothers were former students of Armstrong College (later to become part of the University of Newcastle).

John Macfarlan Charlton and Hugh Vaughn Charlton

Captain John Macfarlan Charlton was killed on July 1st 1916, on the 1st of July, the first day of the Battle of the Somme.  He was 25 years old. Seven days earlier is elder brother Hugh had also been killed in action.

Charlton John Macfarlan. Image kindly provided by Alice Barrigan and available at northyorkshirehistory.blogspot.co.uk

John Macfarlan Charlton. Image kindly provided by Alice Barrigan and available at northyorkshirehistory.blogspot.co.uk

Both brothers were talented ornithologists and artists and after their death the magazine British Birds published a heartfelt obituary for both brothers, writing that:

“The writer deeply deplores their untimely death, a feeling that is shared by all who knew them, and lovers of natural history will regret that ornithology has lost two students of great promise.”

Their father John was an artist and renowned painter of rural life and many of his paintings are still held by galleries in the local area.  Both sons went on to develop their own artistic careers and also to share their father’s love of the natural world.  At the outbreak of World War One John Charlton Snr he completed two paintings recording the early days of the war, French Artillery Crossing the Flooded Aisne (1915 – owned by Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne) and  Retreat from the Marne  (1915 – owned by Shipley Art Gallery, Gateshead).  Shortly after his sons’ deaths however, on the 10th November 1917, he himself died at the age of 68.  “He felt the loss of his two sons profoundly,” read his obituary in The Graphic.

French Artillery Crossing the Flooded Aisne and Saving the Guns, John Charlton (Snr), 1915, Laing Art Gallery Collection

French Artillery Crossing the Flooded Aisne and Saving the Guns,
John Charlton (Snr), 1915, Laing Art Gallery Collection

John was a Captain in the Northumberland Fusiliers, 21st Battalion (2nd Tyneside Scottish), enlisting on 11th November 1914.  Hugh meanwhile received his commission in August 1915 as Second Lieutenant in the Northumberland Fusiliers, 7th Battalion and entered France on 13th March 1916. Hugh was killed in action on 24th June 1916 aged 32 in West-Vlaanderen, Heuvelland, Belgium. He was struck by a bomb from a trench mortar near Whychaate.   Seven days later, John was killed in action, on his 25th Birthday.

Family Memorial

Family Memorial

Thank you to our ‘Universities at War’ volunteer Sam Mitchell for researching the Charlton brothers for this project.

Universities at War – The Newcastle University Digital Memory Book

Research our Children’s Literature Collections for your PhD

Newcastle University are offering over £1million in PhD funding through the Research Excellence Academy scheme for students to start a full-time PhD in autumn 2016. The University’s Children’s Literature Unit would particularly welcome applications for this funding to study our children’s literature collections.

Newcastle University’s Research Excellence Academy PhD Studentships

Each studentship covers tuition fees and living expenses for the three years of your PhD studies. There are two schemes available:

Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences: This scheme covers a number of academic subjects, including English Literature. This funding would particularly suit cross-disciplinary research proposals. The deadline for applications is 30th April 2016. See: http://www.ncl.ac.uk/postgraduate/funding/sources/allstudents/hrea16.html

School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics: There are a number of studentships available and your main supervisor will be based within the School of English. The department are also offering extra support to international applicants. The deadline for applications is 5pm on 16th May 2016. See: http://www.ncl.ac.uk/elll/study/postgraduate/funding/reastudentshipslitandcw.htm

Our Children’s Literature Collections

Our children’s literature collections hold great potential for academic research. As well as the Booktrust collection of contemporary children’s books, we hold a number of Special Collections children’s literature.

Britnell Collection A collection of late 19th and early 20th Century children’s literature, focusing on literacy, language, and moral instruction.

Burnett Collection A collection of children’s books and annuals published in the early to mid-20th century. Includes Timothy’s Quest (1900) and Girl’s Fun Annual (1952).


Butler Collection Includes 18th century pamphlets, books by the likes of Daniel Defoe and J.M. Barrie and titles illustrated by Randolph Caldecott.


Davin Collection Contemporary editions of popular children’s literature largely from the early 20th Century. Also includes catalogues and critical responses to children’s literature.

Chorley Collection Children’s literature chiefly from the 19th century. Includes Kate Greenaway’s Almanack for 1884, R. M. Ballantyne’s The Coral Island and the work of Randolph Caldecott.


Meade Collection Around 180 books by L.T. Meade which were published between 1878 and 2003. Titles include: The Autocrat of the Nursery, Kitty O’Donovan and The Scamp Family.


If you are considering applying for either of Newcastle University’s Research Excellence Academy studentship opportunities in children’s literature, please contact Dr. Lucy Pearson, lucy.pearson@newcastle.ac.uk / +44 (0) 191 208 3894.

To find out more about our holdings please refer to the Collections Guide. To discover how you can consult materials see Using our collections.

Dissertations and Projects – Tips from the Special Collections Team!

Fancy using some primary source items in your dissertation or project?  An original edition print or records from the archives?  Here are some tips to get you started.

Research Tip # 1: Primary → Secondary → Primary

OK so this is slightly against normal advice, which is to start with your secondary sources before you move to your primary sources, but I promise I have a reason!  You don’t have an unlimited amount of time to complete this dissertation … there is some danger in deciding on a very specific topic and trying to find evidence to prove a specific point: you may draw conclusions that are not supported by the sources, or miss more important or interesting information, and perhaps most importantly waste a lot of time looking for something very specific which simply does not exist, or which does exist but which can only be accessed in person in Australia, not that convenient…


  • Then step away, and go to your secondary sources and start reading around your subject: books, journal articles, trusted websites, your lecture notes! This is going to give you the background knowledge you need in order to get the best out of your research.  You will acquire a general knowledge of your topic, you will develop a sense of the areas that have been thoroughly covered and those aspects that need further study, you will begin to formulate the questions and ideas that will provide the focus for your work and you will also pick up the names, places, events and dates which will be essential for providing the access points to the primary source material you consult.  Importantly you will also be able to see what primary sources published authors have used in their own research.
  • Then return to our archival and rare book collections and start to find and choose the primary sources which you will use.

Research Tip # 2: Finding Rare Books

Our rare book collections here at Newcastle University have been entered onto the library catalogue, so that can often be the best way to start your topic search.  Subject search terms work as they would for modern books, and then refining your search using ‘date of publication’ or ‘location’ (“Special Collections”) will get you to those rare and unique, old or limited print run titles. To locate rare books beyond the Newcastle region, the best place to start is the Copac website, where you can search the rare book catalogues of 90 specialist research libraries in the UK.

Research Tip # 3 Finding Archives

Archives are business records, diaries, letters, email threads, photographs, research notes, government publications, annual reports, web pages…  They are not published books and they are not stored and catalogued in the same way that books are.  All those great tricks for finding books, which you have got really good at over the last few years, will not necessarily help you to find archive records.  Don’t panic!  You just need to learn some new tricks.

Subject searches sometimes work, but not always.  Why?  Imagine someone’s diaries. They might have written about your topic once, on the 3rd of April, a long and fascinating account perhaps, but it is unlikely that anyone has subject indexed every single page of every single diary.  So how will you find this precious page?

Well what do you know?  Imagine you are interested in an event held in Newcastle and you are interested in the public response and reaction.

  • You know the date of your event, so that’s the first useful piece of information.
  • You know the location of the event, so that’s the second useful piece of information.
  • You know you are interested in the public reaction, not the official record. So what type of archive will contain this?  Well newspapers might, someone’s diary might, a letter might.  You’re nearly there, but not quite!
  • Who will have created these things? Individuals will have produced letters and diaries, whose names you do not know, so you are probably at the end of this line of enquiry.  You could therefore try to find a letter or diary collection, using ‘diary’ as a search term and making sure that you include your specific date range.  For newspapers you can go a little further.  Do you know the names of newspapers for your time period?  Is there an archive for that newspaper title?  Who holds it?

So that’s the general idea, don’t rely on search terms, think things like:

  • What type of archive am a looking for (letters, a government document, a political pamphlet, company minutes or annual reports, scientific research notes …)?
  • Who, or what type of person or type of company, produced this type of record?
  • What sort of archive or museum or library holds records for that type of person or company?
  • What is my date range?
  • Do I have a geographical limit?

And if you are new to this type of search process, remember that the staff in Special Collections are happy to give advice.

Good luck and here are some collections held here at Newcastle University to get you thinking.

Ideas For Your Dissertation! #1

Ideas For Your Dissertation! #2

Ideas For Your Dissertation! #3

Ideas For Your Dissertation! #4

Ideas For Your Dissertation! #5

Ideas For Your Dissertation! #6

Ideas For Your Dissertation! #7

Ideas For Your Dissertation! #8

Ideas For Your Dissertation #9

Ideas For Your Dissertation! #10

Ideas For Your Dissertation! #11

Ideas For Your Dissertation! #12

Ideas For Your Dissertation! #13

Ideas For Your Dissertation! #14

Ideas For Your Dissertation! #15

20th December – The Pear-Tree


The Pear-Tree. Pyrus.

1. There are several kinds and Varieties of Pear Trees cultivated in our Gardens; the Blossomes are white and the Leaves a grass Green.

2. It is planted in Gardens, and flowers in April and May.

3. The Fruit is esteem’d cooling and restringent. Dioscorides says it is very useful in Repelling Cataplasms and recommends the Juice boil’d as good to stop the Fluor Albus.

4. Latin, Pyrus sativa. Spanish, Peral. Italian, Pero. French, Poirier. German, Birn = Baum. Dutch, Peer = Boom.

Taken from Volume 2 of Elizabeth Blackwell’s Herbals found in our Rare Books Collection available here.

16th December – Professor Duff 25th December Diary Entry

Sunday 25th December 1892

I went with Mamma + Willie to the South Church.  We walked there with the Rubislaw Terrace people who with their guest, Aunt Helen, came to wish us a Merry Christmas morning. The Assistant preached on the adoration if the Magi, and we had chiefly Christmas paraphrases and Hymns al singing.

Uncle Aleck + I walked a few miles out the South Deeside Road in the afternoon. The air was keen, and owing to the iron touch of Father Christmas, the roads were in excellent condition for walking. Everything looked crisp in its whiteish covering: and the walk proved exhilarating.

This diary is part of Professor John Wight Duff Diaries Collection. Find out more here.

6th December – ‘Esto perpetua’

History of British Birds figures engraved on wood by Thomas Bewick - Volume I (History and description of land birds) - 1797

History of British Birds figures engraved on wood by Thomas Bewick – Volume I (History and description of land birds) – 1797

Apprentice, Robert Johnson (1771-1796) was given a sketch of this design which he worked-up into a coloured drawing to cut the wood-engraving from.

The vignette features as a tail-piece on page 78 of History of British Birds by T. Bewick (printed by Sol. Hodgson for Beilby & Bewick, 1797) and depicts boys, possibly including Bewick and his brother, John, building a snowman at Bewick’s birthplace — Cherryburn in Mickley, Northumberland.

‘Esto perpetua’ is Latin for ‘let it be perpetual’, or, ‘let it endure forever’.

Find this item for yourself here as part of our Bradshaw-Bewick Collection.