Tag Archives: Hadrian’s Wall

Learning by observation and photography

Caution! Children learning … for Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge

Watching your children learning about the world around them is one of the pleasures of parenthood. For Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge this week our theme is ‘Catching People Unawares’. As a home educating family, taking photographs is one way we use to record our children’s learning experiences. This means I take a lot of photographs of our boys getting involved in all kinds of interesting activities. For this week’s challenge I decided to pick out some unusual or fun images from my archives.

History and the out-of-doors are two favourite family themes for our educational excursions and sometimes they overlap, making double the learning fun.

Trying out blacksmithing
Trying out blacksmithing under expert guidance

A woodland and heritage skills activity day in one of our local woodlands gave Matt the irresistible opportunity to try out the old craft of blacksmithing. We have previously seen blacksmithing demonstrations and also visited a renovated blacksmith’s shop complete with working forge. Entering that old building was like stepping back in time!

In days long gone, every village would have had its village blacksmith to make or mend items locally in iron and steel. Nowadays, it is mainly by people blacksmithing as a craft and as an art form that has prevented this heritage skill from dying out. On this occasion Matt produced a rather impressive pendant under the patient guidance of the visiting blacksmith.

Learning to build a two-stroke engine
Where does this piece go? Learning to build a two-stroke engine.

At last year’s annual Heritage Skills Festival, Matt learned how to put together an old two-stroke engine with the helpful assistance of an engineer from the local museum service who was overseeing this activity. Learning to maintain two-stroke engines was once part of the standard apprenticeship training for young engineers and was a particularly useful skill in our north east region as two-stroke engines were widely used in industry and ships. Shipbuilding used to be a huge industry on Tyneside up to the late 20th century.

Studying Roman history -John Collingwood Bruce's bookcase
Learning about John Collingwood Bruce and Roman local history

The UK-wide Heritage Open Days are often a good chance to visit places and learn about things that are not always open to the public. One such event we enjoyed was at the end of our ‘Roman Summer’.

We’d visited special touring exhibitions and been on guided tours of Roman forts with a renowned expert on Roman history. We’d learned about “the oldest surviving handwritten documents in Britain” – the Vindolanda tablets, among many other Roman treasures at Vindolanda.

Then in September, the Heritage Open Days gave us the opportunity to spend a morning with the county archaeologist, learning about a very significant nineteeth century local historian with a keen interest in Roman history, John Collingwood Bruce. Bruce is best known for his systematic study of Hadrian’s Wall. His “Handbook to the Roman Wall”, now in its thirteenth edition, has continued to be the main academic guide to Hadrian’s Wall.

On our visit, we were able to examine a copy of Bruce’s original “Handbook to the Roman Wall” – the large brown tome you can see on the table in my photo is Part 1 of this work. We also saw other books, maps and artefacts belonging to John Collingwood Bruce, including the rather magnificent wooden bookcase at the end of the room. Incredibly, the bookcase is made from old bridge timbers.

While dredging work was being carried out on the River Tyne, Bruce arranged to have some old bridge timbers salvaged from the river bed. At the time, he believed these timbers were from the original Roman bridge across the Tyne – Pons Aelius. However, the archaeologist explained to us that it is now understood these old timbers were from medieval bridges that had subsequently been built in the same place. The timbers were then carefully dried out and Bruce had them made up into this elaborate bookcase. The bookcase now stands in the Archaeology Education Centre at Arbeia Roman Fort in South Shields.

Getting close to nature - ground level photography
Sometimes nature photography requires meeting the subject face to face

When studying the natural world, sometimes there is no better way than direct observation. For our boys, this often seems to include lying on the ground to capture the best view of the object or creature under scrutiny …

Getting close to nature - ground level photography
Getting a close-up on nature means getting down in the dirt

… especially when there is the possibility of a competition with your brother for ‘best shot’ 😉

The creature under scrutiny in these images was the rather beautiful, though predatory, Green Tiger Beetle Cicindela campestris.

Tiger beetle near its burrow on a sandy bank
Tiger beetle near its burrow on a sunny and sandy bank

This relatively large beetle is about 1.5cm (5/8th inch) long and is irridescent green with yellow-gold spots. Green Tiger Beetles have quite long, maroon legs that enable them to run around rather energetically on this steep sandy bank where we find them on sunny Spring days. These beetles choose bare earth or sandy banks for their burrows as it warms up faster in the sun and this is beneficial for the Tiger Beetle’s hunting technique.

I hope you have enjoyed my ‘candid camera’ shots of our boys engaged in active learning. For more images of ‘Catching People Unaware’ do please visit Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge this week.

J Peggy Taylor

Tyneside's historic bridges

Tyneside relics for the WordPress Photo Challenge

The landscape of North East England is rich in relics from past eras. The images I have chosen to share for this week’s WordPress Photo Challenge range from relics of the Romans and the Normans to reminders of the English Civil War and the wonders of Victorian engineering.

The bridges you can see in the image above are both ‘relics’ that were designed by giants of Victorian industry on Tyneside. I talked a little about these men in my previous post. Despite being relics of a bygone age, these two bridges remain in daily use. The Swing Bridge doesn’t swing open as often as it once did for ships to pass through but the roadway across it is still a popular route across the Tyne. After being closed for three years (2005-2008) for restoration work, the High Level is less used than it once was. The roadway on the lower deck of the High Level Bridge now only carries public transport but the two-track railway on the upper deck remains in regular use.

The site of the Swing Bridge also very closely marks the line of older Tyne crossings including the Roman bridge. Pons Aelius was named after the Emperor Hadrian whose wall marking the northern frontier of the vast Roman Empire originally started at this bridge before it was decided to extend the Wall along the north bank of the River Tyne to Wallsend.

Newcastle - Castle Keep, Black Gate
The Norman Castle Keep built on the site of the original wooden structure that gave ‘New Castle’ its name

The Castle Keep, founded by Henry II in 1168, is regarded as one of the finest remaining examples of a Norman Keep in Britain. Standing on a useful defensive position above the river, the Castle Keep also stands on the site of previous Roman fortifications. The first Roman fort on Hadrian’s Wall was located here. Underneath the stone-built railway arches immediately below the Castle Keep, you can still find some of the Roman foundations marked out.

Newcastle West Walls - Heber Tower
Newcastle’s medieval West Walls – Heber Tower

To the west of the city centre you can visit the remains of the Newcastle’s town walls. These historical relics are known as The West Walls. The town walls are first mentioned in a charter given by King John in 1216, though it is believed that Newcastle was walled from the same time that Robert Curthose built his motte and bailey on the site of the Castle Keep (around the end of the 11th century). Newcastle’s wall’s were renowned for their strength. The nineteeth century historian, Eneas Mackenzie, tells us, “These famed walls were twelve feet high, eight feet thick, and strengthened by a wide fosse.” As Newcastle was on the ‘frontier’ between England and Scotland, strong walls were needed in those days of frequent border warfare!

Newcastle West Walls - arrow slit close-up
The bottom part of this arrow slit was rounded out to accommodate a musket in The Siege of Newcastle, 1644

This extended arrow slit detail from the Heber Tower shown in the image above is another relic of Newcastle’s battle-scarred past. During the English Civil Wars, Newcastle was beseiged for a good part of the year 1644. The Royalists of Newcastle, fighting from the town walls, had evidently adapted the original arrow slit to allow their musket barrels to fit through.

Roman bathhouse at Chesters - Hadrian's Wall on the hill
Bath house at Chesters Roman Fort on Hadrian’s Wall, Northumberland

Moving from town to country, but staying on the banks of the Tyne – this Roman relic is the bathhouse at Chesters Roman Fort and is regarded as one of the best preserved Roman bathhouses in Britain. Chesters is one of the Hadrian’s Wall forts and lies about five miles north of the town of Hexham on the picturesque North Tyne river. Hadrian’s Wall runs along the ridge. Hadrian’s Wall is a World Heritage Site and the adjacent Hadrian’s Wall Path is a National Trail that runs the 73 miles from Wallsend in the east to Bowness on Solway on England’s west coast.

J Peggy Taylor