Special Guest Blog – The Great North Museum: Hancock Library

Interested in using archives and rare books? Newcastle University Library’s Special Collections isn’t the only local resource with rich unique and distinctive material to support original research.

In this guest blog, our heritage partners shine a light on their collections.

Great North Museum: Hancock Library

The Great North Museum: Hancock has a unique Library that is located on the second floor of the Museum.  It is open to everyone and free to use and the collections contain a wealth of fascinating information on the history, natural history and archaeology of the northern region and beyond.

It is a fantastic resource for Newcastle University students and anyone else who would like to pay us a visit.

The Great North Museum: Hancock Library has four unique collections that were brought together under one roof when it opened in 2009. Further information about these are as follows:

The Library of the Natural History Society of Northumbria

The Natural History Society of Northumbria was established in 1829 and the Library has been housed in the museum since it was opened in 1884. It contains one of the largest collections of specialist natural history material in northern England. The collection focuses on the wildlife of the northern region and contains over 10, 000 books and around 500 journal titles.

It has books on zoology, botany, ornithology, geology, biodiversity and ecology. It contains the entire Collins New Naturalist series.

A wide range of rare and important books form part of the collection, including first editions of books published in the 16th – 18th centuries. Some examples of these include William Turner’s “A New Herbal” published in 1551, and Pierre Belon’s early ornithological work “Histoire de la nature des oyseaux” published in 1555. The library is also proud to possess a first edition of Charles Darwin’s seminal work “On the origin of species”.   One of the strengths of the collection is the beautiful images contained in a number of books, including Edward Lear’s ”Illustrations of parrots” published in 1832.

Natural History Society of Northumbria Archive

The archives hold the Society’s own records dating from its foundation in 1829, including the history of the Hancock Museum.  Also available are manuscript letters, diaries, notebooks and other material relating to renowned northern naturalists such as Abel Chapman.  A nationally important and unique collection of original watercolours, drawings and proof engravings by the famous wood engraver and naturalist Thomas Bewick form a key part of the collection.

The collection contains many impressive images of the natural world, including beautiful watercolour drawings of British and foreign shells by the local artist George Gibsone.

The archive material is available to view by appointment only. Please contact the Library for details of how to do this.

Further information about the NHSN Library and Archives can be found by using the following link http://www.nhsn.ncl.ac.uk/resources-overview.php


Cowen Library

The library of Newcastle University’s School of History, Classics and Archaeology is named after John D Cowen, an eminent amateur archaeologist who donated his personal library to the University in 1976.  The collection was moved to the Great North Museum: Hancock Library in 2009 and consists of around 9000 books and a range of specialist journals. The main subject areas include archaeology, ancient history and classics. Areas of particular strength are Roman Britain, local archaeology,   archaeological history and methodology and the Byzantine Empire.

Also available are a wide range of archaeological excavation reports and books on all aspects of Hadrian’s Wall and other regional antiquities. The library contains material from the 18th century to the current day, including a first edition of John Warburton’s “Vallum Romanum” published in 1753.

This impressive collection is complemented by the Library of the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle Upon Tyne.


Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle Upon Tyne Library

The Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle Upon TYNE is the oldest provincial society of its kind in the UK. Established in 1813 the Library of the Society is a wonderful resource for anyone with an interest in the history and antiquities of the northern region. The Library contains 10.000 books, 300 journal titles and 1700 tracts on local history, architecture and archaeology with a particularly strong collection of material on Hadrian’s Wall and Roman Britain.  The Library has many books dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries and includes treasures such as Henry Bourne’s “The History of Newcastle” published in 1736,

And the 19th century Newcastle artist Joseph Crawhall’s beautifully illustrated “Chap book Chaplets” published in 1883.

Primary source material including local directories and Poll Books dating back to the late 18th Century can also be viewed.

Further information about the Society’s Library can be found at the following link



A great place to study

The Great North Museum: Hancock Library is a terrific place to study, especially for Newcastle University students.   Full details of all the books and journals are available on the University’s online catalogue, Library Search  http://www.ncl.ac.uk/library/resources/library-search/

There is a dedicated online catalogue in the Library, as well as three computers that can be used by Newcastle University students to access their accounts. The University’s wifi service is available as well as a free public wifi service.

The Library is open during term time from 10 – 4, Monday to Friday and on the same days during vacations from 1 – 4.

We hope to see you at the Great North Museum: Hancock Library – please drop in when you get the chance.