“People don’t know about them…”

The story of Dr Ruth Nicholson and the women of Royaumont Military Hospital

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

This is an online version of the exhibition People don’t know about them…, which was on display in the Marjorie Robinson Library Rooms, Newcastle University, 28th October 2016 – 15th January 2017.  The exhibition was the result of a collaborative oral history project based at Newcastle University Library, and part of the Universities at War programme.

Many thanks to the creators of the original exhibition, Sam Wagner and Rosemary Nicholson.

Three Women

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

A female medical graduate?

A military hospital staffed entirely by women?

And why the French Red Cross?

The story caught the eye of Sam Wagner, an archaeology student in her final year of study at Newcastle University, who had joined the Universities at War project in 2015.

A combined image of Ruth Nicholson, Rosemary Nicholson and Sam Wagner
Ruth Nicholson, Rosemary Nicholson and Sam Wagner

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.

It is the fascinating story of an amazing Newcastle woman, whose story had been almost forgotten – passed on by the women in her family who had never forgotten and who wanted her story to be told.

The College of Medicine – Newcastle upon Tyne

Ruth Nicholson completed her high school education at Newcastle upon Tyne High School and registered as a student at the College of Medicine in 1904.  After graduating in 1911 she worked in a dispensary in Newcastle before going to Edinburgh where she became an assistant to Dr Elsie Inglis in the Bruntsfield Hospital.  As Rosemary states, she then worked in Palestine before returning to England at the outbreak of the First World War.

Ruth (seated far left) with her brother and five sisters

“There were seven of them all together, one brother and Ruth the eldest.  This was taken at Newton Vicarage where they lived later on in their father’s life. Their father was a vicar.

Their mother was rather a remarkable woman I think for her time because she wanted all her children to get professional qualifications regardless of whether they were men or women … So Ruth qualified as a doctor in Newcastle, and then the youngest, Wyn, also qualified as a doctor.  The only one who didn’t get special qualifications is Alison. She was always rather a joke in the family. She had a lover in Romania and that’s what distracted her!”

Ruth’s Graduation photograph, 1909.

“That picture’s Ruth in 1909 when she qualified … she qualified as the only woman in her year.  And I think that she probably was quite a convinced suffragette. I don’t know whether she was a suffragette or a suffragist but you know Newcastle was a centre for a quite militant suffragette movement … Newcastle had some quite militant women!

It was quite difficult I think for women to get work as doctors in England. She went to work briefly in Edinburgh with a very distinguished woman doctor called Elsie Ingles and then she went to work out in Palestine in Gaza, which was before the First World War.”

The start of the First World War

“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”.

So she was very, well according to the family, she was terribly terribly angry and upset. And she went back to Elsie Inglis in Edinburgh … she’d [Inglis] started a 100-bed hospital entirely with women, it was called the Scottish Women’s Hospital and she had also offered her 100-bed hospital to the War Office but the War Office said – I’ve forgotten what it is exactly they said – something like “Go home and sit down”.

She didn’t like that!”

Elsie Inglis, image kindly provided by the Imperial War Museum

Rosemary’s family stories appear to be entirely correct.  Research by the National Archives confirms that Inglis was told by an official “My good lady, go home and sit still”.  In her 1928 book, The Cause, Ray Strachey found evidence of accounts that suggested the commanding officers had told Inglis they “did not want to be troubled with hysterical women”.

The Hospital at Royaumont

“ So they offered the hospital to the French in London – the French Ambassador and he said “yes please” the French would like them, because apparently the French, this is again just through the family myth probably, the French were very aware of the deficiencies in their medical services and they were worried when the war was declared.

The president of the [French] Red Cross found them Royaumont, but Royaumont, the abbey hadn’t been inhabited for quite a long time; been used as stables and it had no, I don’t think it had electricity and it didn’t have any lifts, which they found really really difficult for dealing with stretchers and trolleys and things like that when they opened the abbey.  The abbey was full of nuns, they were kind of helping out, but it was an empty shell of a building and it was in a terrible state. So, quite how they managed to get it open by 1915, I don’t know what they did.”

Royaumont Hospital, image kindly provided by the Imperial War Museum

Royaumont was the largest continuously-operating voluntary hospital in France at the end of the First World War – over 10,000 patients were treated at Royaumont and its mortality rates were better than its army-run equivalents.

Frances Ivens at Royaumont, by Norah Neilson Gray, image kindly provided by the Imperial War Museum.
Royaumont – by Norah Neilson Gray, image kindly provided by Helensburgh Public Library.

“ They started with 100 beds and by the end or at some stage, they had 600 beds. You probably know that, and some of the wards had 100 beds in them… I mean, I just don’t know how they coped, I don’t know how they did it…They were tough, I think, really tough.”

“ Unfortunately, I never met Ruth because she lived in Devon and she died in 1963, and my husband and I got married in 1962 and I never met her… but I knew Alison because she lived locally [Ruth’s sister Alison had also served in the Royaumont hospital, as an orderly, from September 1916 – March 1919].  I knew her quite well. And she used to talk about it all – they went on having Royaumont reunions right on until the sixties, the middle sixties, you know, which is a long time, you know… She talked about how traumatised people were, nightmares, they continued to have nightmares about it and things.  And the doctors too, I think.  I think it must have been awful. Really awful.”

“ I make it sound all gloom … but obviously in the First World War they had times of terrible crisis and awful fighting and then other lulls and really not much happening.  And apparently, the nursing staff and the doctors, I supposed they were very used at home to providing their own entertainment and things and they would put on shows … Well Ruth, apparently had learnt how to do, while she’d been in Palestine, Dervish Dances, I think she called them her scarf dances!  I think the patients liked them a lot!”

The Scottish Women’s Hospitals depended on an extensive network of fundraising, much coming from the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) whose London units provided an x-ray van.  Newnham and Girton colleges in Cambridge provided both money and volunteers, as did women in the USA and around the world.

Frances Ivens was the first foreign-born woman to be awarded the Legion d’Honneur, France’s highest honour, and thirty of her Royaumont colleagues were awarded the Croix de Guerre.

Ruth (standing far left) and Frances Ivens (seated) receiving their Croix de Guerre medal.
Frances Ivens, image kindly provided by the Imperial War Museum.

“ And then at the end of the war, these are some of the doctors who got French medals. They got the French Criox de Guerre. This is Frances Ivens … she was the first non-French person ever to get the Legion d’Honneur.”

“ There were two surgeons, Ruth of course, second in command of the hospital I think they called her, and the boss was called Frances Ivens. She was … the rather inspirational woman in charge … I think it’s incredible that quite a lot of the women who came out to be ambulance drivers actually brought their own cars, and had them slightly transformed I think! So, quite a lot of quite rich, I think, young women who could provide their own vehicles. ”

After the War

After the war Ruth specialised in obstetrics and gynaecology and became Gynaecological Surgeon and Clinical Lecturer at the University of Liverpool and was one of the earliest Fellows of the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. She became the first woman President of the North of England Society of Obstetrics and Gynaecology and played a prominent part in the Medical Women’s Federation. Dr Ruth Nicholson died in Exeter on 18 July 1963.

Staff of Royaumont, Francis Ivens is Centre, with Ruth to her right.
Ruth’s sister, Alison Nicholson, who went to the Royaumont Hospital in 1916 to serve as a nurse.

“ 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!”

Ruth later in life, thought by her family to have been taken when she lived in Liverpool.

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.

The Herschel Building and Spiral Nebula

Biochemistry Opening 5th May 1967, NUA 16/7/1/9, Newcastle University Archives, Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186

The Herschel Building is home to the School of Mathematics, Statistics and Physics. Opened in 1962, the building was named after the astronomer Alexander Stewart Herschel, who was known for his work relating to meteors and comets. Between 1871 and 1886, Herschel was the first Professor of Physics and Experimental Philosophy in the University of Durham College of Science, one of the institutions which formed Newcastle University.  

The Herschel building was a response to a post-war demand for skilled physicists, and provided state of the art laboratories. The Architect, Sir Basil Spence, tried to anticipate developments in research by ensuring the workshops were not too specialised, and that the building itself allowed for improved electrical supplies. 

Spence also commissioned the imposing Spiral Nebula sculpture which stands in front of the building. It’s sculptor, Geoffrey Clarke designed the piece to reflect the pioneering research focussing on space which was taking place at the University at that time. When first installed, Spence disliked the sculpture, feeling that it distracted attention from the building itself, so Clarke re-finished the sculpture in a less striking grey. Restoration work undertaken by Clarke’s son Jonathan in 2012 returned the sculpture to its intended appearance. 

Installation of Spiral Nebula sculpture 1963, NUA/025892/1, Newcastle University Archives, Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186
Installation of Spiral Nebula sculpture 1963, NUA/025892/5, Newcastle University Archives, Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186

Visit CollectionsCaptured to see more photographs of Newcastle University campus from the University Archives.


Historic England (2021) Spiral Nebula outside the Herschel Building, off Haymarket Lane, University of Newcastle, Newcastle upon Tyne. Available at: https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1437126.                               

Newcastle University Collections Captured (2021) Department of Biochemistry opening leaflet. Available at: https://cdm21051.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p21051coll2/id/1155/rec/2

Sitelines (no date) Tyne and Wear HER(11003): Newcastle, Newcastle University, ‘Spiral Nebula’ – Details. Available at: https://twsitelines.info/SMR/11003

Want to learn more about the history of Newcastle University campus? Why not explore all the articles in our Campus Tour blog series.

Stephenson Building

Aerial photograph showing the Stephenson Building on Claremont Road,
NUA/005670/2, Newcastle University Archives, Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186

The Stephenson building, named in honour of inventor of the steam locomotive and local resident George Stephenson, was officially opened by H.R.H Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh in December 1951. Design work began after the end of the 2nd World War with the intention of creating new purpose built accommodation for the School of Engineering which had previously been located in the Armstrong Building and other temporary spaces around the university.   

The space incorporated laboratories and workshops that were designed to be easily accessed for the handling of heavy equipment and machinery. The new building included space for Mechanical, Electrical, Chemical, Agricultural and Marine Engineering and mathematics. After a period of expansion Chemical and Electrical Engineering and Mathematics moved to the newly built Merz Court on the other side of Claremont Road in 1964. 

Photo of the Heat Engines Laboratory in the Stephenson Building 1954, NUA/003405/4, Newcastle University Archives, Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186

Starting in 2021 a multi-year project is underway to largely redevelop the Stephenson Building to create an eye-catching new entrance to the campus and provide cutting edge facilities for the Department of Engineering. The project will double the building’s floor space by demolishing the two storey wings of the building and replacing them with a striking new four storey facility.  

Visit CollectionsCaptured to see more photographs of Newcastle University campus from the University Archives. 


McCord, Norman (2006) Newcastle University Past, Present and Future. Newcastle: Third Millennium Publishing.  

Newcastle University (2021) Engineering Facilities. Available at: https://www.ncl.ac.uk/engineering/who-we-are/facilities/

Newcastle University Press Office (2021) Stephenson Building enters a new stage in its rich history. Available at: https://www.ncl.ac.uk/press/articles/latest/2021/04/stephensonbuildingapproval/

Pamphlet commemorating the official opening of the Stephenson Building 1951-11, NUA/16/007/01/22, Newcastle University Archives, Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186

Merz Court

Merz Court viewed from the entrance to Exhibition Park 1965,
NUA/039700/3, Newcastle University Archives, Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186.

Merz Court was officially opened by then Prime Minister Harold Wilson on the 7th of May 1965. Ever since the building has been home to the departments of Chemical Engineering, Electrical Engineering and Mathematics. Chemical Engineering and Mathematics were previously housed in the Stephenson Building on the other side of Claremont Road. The Department of Mathematics dates to 1871 and the foundation of the University of Durham’s College of Science in Newcastle. The department of Electrical Engineering was previously housed in a disused church on King’s Walk, where the Northern Stage building now stands. 

Harold Wilson Speaking at the Official Opening of Merz Court 1965, NUA/038227/12, Newcastle University Archives, Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186.

Merz Court stands over the route of the Barras Burn and the Victoria Tunnel, a wagonway formerly used to transport coal under the city centre to the River Tyne. The design was influenced by the idea of allowing occupants views out rather than letting light into the large labs and other spaces required. This led the long narrow lines of windows on each floor that make the building distinct.  

The building is named after Theodore Merz and his sons Charles and Norbert. Theodore founded the Tyne Electric Supply Company and was a member of College Council for 39 years. Charles, born in 1874, established the successful Merz and McLellan engineering firm which contributed to the planning of the National Grid in the 1920s, he was killed during an air raid on London in 1940.    

Visit CollectionsCaptured to see more photographs of Newcastle University campus from the University Archives.


Art UK (no date) John Theodore Merz (1840-1922), Chemist, Historian and Industrialist. Available at: https://artuk.org/discover/artworks/john-theodore-merz-18401922-chemist-historian-and-industrialist-57384#

Newcastle University (2021) Engineering Facilities. Available at: https://www.ncl.ac.uk/engineering/who-we-are/facilities/

Pamphlet commemorating the official opening of Merz Court 1965, NUA/16/07/01/16, Newcastle   University Archives, Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186.

Wikipedia (2020) John Theodore Merz. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Theodore_Merz

Want to learn more about the history of Newcastle University Campus? Why not explore all the articles in our Campus Tour blog series.

Daysh Building

The site of the Daysh building in 1965 shortly before construction began, NUA/036153/2, Newcastle University Archives, Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186.

At the time of its construction the Claremont Complex was the largest single building project ever undertaken by the University. The complex incorporated Claremont Tower, Claremont Bridge, the Daysh Building and an extension to the Fine Art Building. The complex, which was officially opened in 1968, was built to house 13 departments including languages, law and geography. These departments had previously been housed around the campus, including the terraced houses on Kensington Terrace, Devonshire Terrace and Sydenham Terrace.  

External view of Claremont Tower, Claremont Bridge and Daysh Building 1968, NUA/059200/1, Newcastle University Archives, Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186.

The original design included a 20 storey Claremont Tower, however objections from city planners led to a decision to build a smaller Claremont Tower and the bridge over Claremont road which exist today. On its completion in 1968 Claremont Tower included a relatively rare paternoster lift (a chain of compartments that move up and down in a continuous loop inside a lift shaft). These lifts can move higher volumes of people of than standard lifts, however unreliability and safety concerns caused the paternoster to be replaced with two standard lifts in 1989. 

An extensive refurbishment of the complex completed in 2021 has created a new modern and cohesive building containing teaching and research space for schools including Geography, Politics, Sociology and Architecture. The combined building is now known as the Henry Daysh Building. Daysh led the Geography Department for 36 years from 1930, became Pro Vice Chancellor in 1963 and the university’s first Deputy Vice Chancellor in 1965. He retired in 1966 before the completion of the building that would be named in his honour. 

Page from the pamphlet published for the official opening of the Claremont Complex showing spaces inside the building 1951, NUA/16/07/01/11, Newcastle University Archives, Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186

Visit CollectionsCaptured to see more photographs of Newcastle University campus from the University Archives.


King’s Courier (1954) ‘Profile Professor Daysh’, 11th February, p.4.

Newcastle University Press Office (2018) Work starts on bringing a Newcastle landmark into the 21st century. Available at: https://www.ncl.ac.uk/press/articles/archive/2018/09/claremontanddayshrefurb/

Newcastle University School of Geography, Politics and Sociology (2021) History of Geography at Newcastle. Available at: https://www.ncl.ac.uk/gps/about/about-geography/our-history/

Pamphlet commemorating the official opening of Claremont Tower and associated buildings 1951, NUA/16/07/01/11, Newcastle University Archives, Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186.

Want to learn more about the history of Newcastle University campus? Why not explore all the articles in our Campus Tour blog series.

Great North Museum: Hancock

Photograph of the front of the Hancock Museum 1963, NUA/028473/1, NUA 16/7/1/9, Newcastle University Archives, Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186

In 1834 the Natural History Society of Northumbria opened their first museum to the public after a successful fundraising effort. As their collections grew they required more space and raised funds to build the present museum building which opened in 1884. In the 1891 the museum was renamed to honour John Hancock. Hancock was born in 1808 near the River Tyne and grew up with an interest in wildlife and nature. He developed skills in taxidermy, for which he would become nationally known, after contributing a collection of mounted birds to the 1851 Great Exhibition. Many of the specimens he prepared are owned by the Natural History Society of Northumbria to this day. 

A struggle to raise funds after the Second World War saw the building and collections leased to Newcastle University in 1960. Since 1992 the museum has been managed by Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums on the University’s behalf. 

In 2006 a £26 million programme was started to extend and refurbish the museum which included moving Newcastle University’s Museum of Antiquities and Shefton Museum collections into the extended building. The project, completed in 2011, included an extension designed by the practice of renowned architect, and Newcastle University graduate, Sir Terry Farrell. His extensive archive is now cared for by the University.  

Drawing of the proposed eastern elevation of the Great North Museum and extension, Farrell (Sir Terry) Archive, Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186, kindly reproduced with the permission of the Terry Farrell Trust
3d visuals of the proposed extension of the Great North Museum, 2006, Farrell (Sir Terry) Archive, Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186, kindly reproduced with the permission of the Terry Farrell Trust

Learn more about the Great North Museum: Hancock on their website.


Great North Museum Hancock (2021) About the Great North Museum: Hancock. Available at: https://greatnorthmuseum.org.uk/about-us/about-gnm

Natural History Society of Northumbria (2020) John Hancock: A Biography by T Russell Goddard (1929). Available at: https://www.nhsn.org.uk/john-hancock-a-biography-by-t-russell-goddard-1929/

Natural History Society of Northumbria (2020) Our story so far. Available at: https://www.nhsn.org.uk/timeline/

Want to learn more about the history of Newcastle University campus? Why not explore all the articles in our Campus Tour blog series.

Urban Sciences Building

The Front of the Urban Sciences Building, image by Graeme Peacock

The Urban Sciences Building is a £58 million ‘living lab’ located on the Newcastle Helix development. Completed in 2017, the Urban Sciences Building was opened in 2018 by Matt Hancock former MP and Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. 

The Urban Sciences Building is home to Newcastle University School of Computing Science, one of the world’s leading schools of computing. It also home to Newcastle Institute for Research on Sustainability (NIReS).  

An ‘intelligent building’ with 4,000 in-built censors providing data about its performance, the Urban Sciences Building is one of the most monitored and high-performance buildings in the country. 

It is the central hub of the UK’s first Urban Observatory which collects data from across the city about energy use, rainfall, flooding, air pollution (and even tweets!) to enable evidence-based decisions to be made about the future development and management of our cities. 

The building’s unique design has won it the Collaborative Built Environment Award and Digital Project of the Year Award. 

Interior of the Urban Sciences Building, image by John Donoghue

Learn about the Urban Sciences Building’s Virtual Opening on the University Website.


Newcastle helix (no date) Urban Sciences Building.  Available at: https://newcastlehelix.com/about/urban-sciences-building

Newcastle University Press Office (2021) Urban Sciences Building takes shape on Science Central. Available at: https://www.ncl.ac.uk/press/articles/archive/2015/12/urbansciencesbuildingtakesshape/

Newcastle University Press Office (2021) Virtual opening for award winning Urban Sciences Building. Available at: https://www.ncl.ac.uk/press/articles/archive/2018/06/usbopening/

Want to learn more about the history of Newcastle University campus? Why not explore all the articles in our Campus Tour blog series.

Northern Stage

Northern Stage is a theatre and producing theatre company, situated at the heart of Newcastle University’s city centre campus.  

Originally the University Theatre, the building opened in 1970. This photograph taken in 1969 shows the site prior to the theatre’s construction. 

In the late 1980s, the Northern Stage Theatre Company, who had been resident at the theatre before temporarily moving, returned to the venue, and the theatre was renamed Newcastle Playhouse and Gulbenkian Studio, home of Northern Stage. 

After it closed for major refurbishment work in 2004, it was decided to amalgamate the venue (Newcastle Playhouse) and resident theatre company (Northern Stage) into one organisation. The building reopened its doors in 2006 under a new name, Northern Stage

Photograph of the Northern Stage, photograph taken by John Donoghue

Northern Stage is widely regarded as one of the top producing theatres in the UK and, each year, as well as their own in-house productions, Northern Stage presents work from visiting local, national and international companies and artists. 

See more information about Northern Stage on their website.

To see more photographs of Newcastle University campus from the university archives, visit CollectionsCaptured.


Co-Curate (no date) Northern Stage. Available at: https://co-curate.ncl.ac.uk/newcastle-playhouse/

Newcastle University (2018) Art on Campus. Available at: https://www.ncl.ac.uk/art-on-campus/iconic-buildings/#viewdetails

NorthernStage (no date) Northern Stage. Available at: https://www.northernstage.co.uk/

Want to learn more about the history of Newcastle University campus? Why not explore all the articles in our Campus Tour blog series.