Tag Archives: Newcastle upon Tyne

Discovery Museum, Newcastle upon Tyne

Discovering a Building of Bright Sparks for Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge

We love museums. One of our longtime favourites here in Newcastle is the Discovery Museum, our local museum of science, engineering and local history. Before it became a museum in the 1980s, this classic red brick Victorian building was the headquarters of the North East branch of the Co-operative Wholesale Society. Called “Blandford House”, the building first opened in 1899. The domes on the turrets are made of copper and have developed their distinctive green patina over the years.

Discovery Museum, Newcastle upn Tyne
This red brick Victorian building houses Newcastle’s Discovery Museum

The contemporary colourful entrance arch leads visitors to the glass entrance hall. The building has been partially modernised inside too, for example, the addition of glass lifts (elevators 😉 ) and a modern open aspect stairwell, but it does also retain some wonderful Victorian features such as the Great Hall on the fourth floor which is now used for special events and some visiting exhibitions.

Discovery Museum Newcastle entrance archway
The contemporary and distinctive arched entrance to Newcastle’s Discovery Museum

The modern features contrast with the solid painted brick walls and the old metal painted pipework that is still visible around the ceilings of the galleries. The building still has much of the feeling of a Victorian industrial workshop and this works well as the setting for a museum journey into the history of inventions and the lives and culture of the people of the North East.

In our family, we associate the Discovery Museum very much with the hands-on exhibits in the Science Maze – the numerous interactive science activities that demonstrate electricity, magnetism, light, pulleys, gears or sound. Many happy and informative hours have been spent in this part of the museum. There are also lots of interesting exhibits here, some of which celebrate the bright ideas of some of the North East’s home-grown inventors including Charles Parsons and William Armstrong.

Static steam engine in Discovery Museum Newcastle
Static steam engine, “Eunice”, worked in a commercial laundry in Gateshead

There are some suberb static steam engines that have seen service in industry and training colleges in the region alongside a range of technology ‘relics’ – from mid-20th century TV sets and reel to reel film to mini-disc players and Sony Walkmans. There are 19th century telegraph machines demonstrating the capacity to transfer information using electrical signals – a kind of pre-cursor to the internet, and there are telephones too, including such ‘old-fashioned’ things as car phones and mobile phones from the early years of this century. These exhibits show just how fast the technology aspect of our lives has changed in the last century or so.

The image below shows the huge metal amplifying horn that formed part of Charles Parsons’ early version of a music amplifier – the Auxetophone. The machine worked using an air control valve that was attached to the gramophone needle and then passed the pulses of air through into the horn to amplify the sound. It was extremely loud apparently at up to 90 decibels, with little in the way of volume control! Charles Parsons is rather better known as the inventor of the steam turbine and his first steam-driven vessel, the very impressive Turbinia, stands in her own gallery on the ground floor of the museum. The Auxetophone was merely a hobby project for Parsons. The horn stands around eight feet high (almost 2.5 metres).

The Auxetophone horn - part of the early music amplifier invented by Charles Parsons
The Auxetophone horn – part of the early music amplifier invented by Charles Parsons

The reason for our cultural caper to the Discovery Museum this week was to see a particular exhibition on one of our Victorian inventors from the North East, the chemist, Sir Joseph Wilson Swan. You may not be familiar with the name of Joseph Swan, but you are likely to be familiar with one of his most famous inventions – the lightbulb.

Early commercial lightbulbs on display in the Discovery Museum's Science Maze
Early commercial lightbulbs on display in the Discovery Museum’s Science Maze

As part of the exhibition, appropriately entitled “A Brilliant Mind: Sir Joseph Wilson Swan, 1828 – 1914”, the Science Museum in London had loaned several items including the original lamp that Joseph Swan used to demonstrate his invention in Newcastle and Gateshead in the early months of 1879. In 1880 Swan asked his friend, the inventor and industrialist William Armstrong, if he could try out his invention to light up Armstrong’s country house at Cragside in Northumberland. William Armstrong had previously created his own source of hydroelectricity using a stream that ran through the grounds of his house. I think it is very interesting that the first house in the world to be lit with electric lamps was also powered by renewable energy – and this was 1880!

By 1883 Joseph Swan had teamed up with American physicist, Thomas Edison, who had also been working to develop a filament lamp. You can see their lamps side by side on this link to the Science Museum. Together Edison and Swan formed the first company to produce lightbulbs commercially – the Edison and Swan United Electric Light Company which was located at Benwell in Newcastle. The Discovery Museum’s example of the first commercially available electric lamps of the type used at William Armstrong’s Cragside home is shown displayed as part of the Swan exhibition.

Swan's Patent Carbon Filament Lamp
The first commercially available version of Joseph Swan’s lightbulb … but what a price tag! £140 in today’s money (that’s $230)!

Another of Joseph Swan’s inventions that may be of interest to all you photographers out there was his Carbon Process that allowed photographers to print their photographs in permanent pigments, patented by Swan in 1864. Swan’s process for the first time provided photographers with a permanent printing process that could be carried out with readily available materials. Prior to this, early photographic prints had suffered with fading. The carbon powder was used in a thin film of gelatine and was sensitised with potassium chromate.

Swan Carbon Process Photographic Print c1867
A example of Joseph Swan’s Carbon Process for producing permanent photographic prints

Swan’s patent was bought up by the Autotype and Publishing Company in London and the process was used for around a hundred years to produce high quality photographic prints. Here is the example of Swan’s Carbon Process for photographic prints that was on display in the exhibition (with a reflection of my son and Charles Parsons’ Turbinia in the background 😉 ).

All in all, we enjoyed a fascinating visit to the Discovery Museum. From a parent’s point of view it was also interesting to see how our boys have ‘moved on’ from the hands-on interactive exhibits to being keenly interested in studying the technological developments displayed in the exhibition cases. My youngest son’s only criticism was that he wanted more information on each of the exhibits! Museums and art galleries are such a fabulous educational experience and I always consider us very fortunate to have access to so many of these education treasure houses locally to us, free of charge – though we do post a voluntary donation in the strategically-placed collection boxes, as we know such places do not run on fresh air. Thank you to Tyne and Wear Museums and Archives service for these wonderful resources!

This post is my entry for Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge on the theme of Buildings this week. Please do check out other entries to the challenge.

J Peggy Taylor

Victorian rural railway bridge in snow monochrome

Victorian Railway Bridges in Black and White

Clues to an industrial history criss-cross our now-green-and-peaceful landscape in the form of old railways and waggonways. These old transport tracks now serve as walking and cycling trails by which we are able to explore a significant amount of the north east region and also further afield. Throughout much of the nineteeth century railways and waggonways abounded in our region, particularly to enable the transportation of coal. Many bridges were built either to carry the tracks across the steep-sided streams that are a major feature of our valley, or to allow established roadways to cross the newly-built railways. Some of these bridges were lost during the later decades of last century when rural railways were abandoned on a huge scale here in the UK, but fortunately many bridges survived and now form historical features of the walking and cycling trails.

Thinking about black and white for Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge this week led me to remember and seek out images of some of these bridges I had collected a few years ago for another project.

Victorian rural railway bridge in snow monochrome
Victorian rural railway bridge in our local woods

The bridge in this first image carries the old road over what was the mineral railway line that carried coal from our village ‘pits’ down to the River Tyne. We often walk this way so we have seen it in all weathers. I think the snow seems to add something to the ‘by-gone era’ feeling of this Victorian stone-built bridge.

Victorian  railway bridge in monochrome
This hidden stone bridge carried the old mineral railway over a farm track

Only a short distance away on this same old railway there is another stone bridge, built in a similar style to the first. This one carried the single-track railway over a farm track that provided access to the fields and woods beyond. Now the bridge arch is largely filled with earth underneath, as on this stretch the old railway forms the boundary to a golf course. Unlike the first bridge which stands as a well-known landmark and proud historical reminder, this one is almost hidden away and overgrown.

Stone-built culvert in monochrome
This stone-built culvert was part of an old stream crossing

It’s not a railway bridge, I know, but it is a nineteeth century construction and it was built to aid travelling, so I decided to include it in this post. There are several of these arched stone-built or brick-built culverts dotted around our woods. As with this one, the culverts were used to carry the streams underneath paths and tracks. Earth would have been embanked on top of the culvert to help level out the path as it passed over the steep-sided stream, making it easier to walk, ride a horse or transport goods by cart through this part of the wood.

Stone bridge over an old railway monochrome
This stone bridge carries a farm track over an old railway line

Another Victorian railway line and another Victorian bridge. This lop-sided bridge still carries a farm road over the Derwent Walk Railway Path. No, it isn’t your eyes, or my dodgy photography [not this time!] … the bridge does slope downhill from left to right. This railway through the picturesque Derwent Valley formed the Consett branch line of the North Eastern Railway. Opened in 1867, it was a busy railway linking Consett to Newcastle, carrying passengers and goods. There are no rails on this track any longer but it remains busy as part of the C2C route of the Sustrans National Cycle Network – the C2C literally crosses the UK from coast to coast, east to west … or west to east depending on which direction you choose to cycle!

Stone-built Victorian railway viaduct in monochrome
Three of the nine arches that make up this impressive railway viaduct

I’ve saved the biggest bridge until last! The Nine Arches Viaduct is one of those marvels of Victorian engineering at 500 feet long and rising 80 feet above the River Derwent. One of four viaducts along the Derwent Walk Railway Path, the impressive Nine Arches Viaduct only came to be built because the Earl of Strathmore refused to allow the railway to cross his land at Gibside on the south side of the valley. Looking underneath the arches of the viaduct, you can see where a ‘second’ bridge has been added to allow a second track to be laid along the route. There are some marvelous views to be had from this vantage point – perhaps I can show you another day.

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

Tyneside icons for Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge

With Circles and Curves as this week’s theme for Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge, I decided to share some of my images of Tyneside’s famous curved landmarks – from ancient to modern.

Newcastle Castle Keep - external view of original entrance
This elaborately carved arched doorway is the original entrance to Newcastle’s Castle Keep

This Norman castle keep was built in 1178 on the site of the original wooden ‘New Castle’ built by William the Conqueror’s son, Robert Curthose, in 1080.

Bridges over the River Tyne
The iconic Tyne Bridge in the foreground, then the Swing Bridge, the High Level Bridge and the Queen Elizabeth II Tyneside Metro bridge.

Along just a short stretch of the River Tyne between Newcastle and Gateshead there are no less than seven bridges crossing the river! You can see four of them in this picture.

With its curved steel arches, the iconic Tyne Bridge is often used as the symbol of Tyneside. This bridge opened in 1928 and was much needed at the time for the increased road traffic between Newcastle and Gateshead.

The Swing Bridge, can turn 90 degrees on a central pivot to open for larger ships to pass upriver. It was designed by the Victorian engineer and inventor, William Armstrong, to allow ships to reach his engineering works. This bridge is built on the site of the original river crossing point. The Roman bridge, Pons Aelius, was the original starting point of Hadrian’s Wall – Pons Aelius translates as ‘Hadrian’s Bridge’.

Opened in 1849, the High Level Bridge and is another piece of Victorian engineering, designed by the famous railway engineer, Robert Stephenson. This double-decker bridge carries the railway on its upper deck and the road on the lower deck.

The Queen Elizabeth II Tyneside Metro Bridge opened in 1981 and carries the region’s light railway over the River Tyne on its journeys through Gateshead to South Shields and Sunderland.

Gateshead's Millenium Bridge across the Tyne
The Gateshead Millenium Bridge with the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art at the right-hand side of the bridge

The award-winning Gateshead Millenium Bridge is the newest bridge across the Tyne. This bridge can be opened by a tilting mechanism to allow river traffic through.

The Sage, Gateshead across the Tyne
The Sage centre for music is one of Gateshead’s newer iconic landmarks

The Sage, Gateshead (as it is known) was designed by Lord Foster. The curved steel and glass structure enhances acoustics for this world class music venue.

… and in case you are wondering, yes, they do clean all of those windows! … by abseiling down the outside!

J Peggy Taylor

The art of the ‘edge’ for Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge

When I saw Cee’s theme for this week’s Fun Foto Challenge was ‘Things with Edges’ I remembered some unusual artworks we saw earlier this year. The biennial AV Festival here in North East England brings us all kinds of artistic audio visual treats by locally based artists and from artists around the world.

Akio Suzuki is a Japanese artist who has been exploring the world of sound since the 1960s when he began what he has called “na ge ka ke” (‘to cast, to throw’) where he takes an action to affect nature and then listens to the resulting phenomenon. This listening part Akio Suzuki calls “ta do ri” (‘to trace and follow’).

We experienced several of Akio Suzuki’s installations in the Globe Gallery exhibition in Newcastle upon Tyne. Two of his installations involved ‘Edges’ – in this case, the edges were edges of upcycled metal sheets that the artist had used to ‘hold’ the sound vibrations of his artworks.

Akio Suzuki (artist) - hi zu mi, 2014
Akio Suzuki – hi zu mi, 2014

This new work by Suzuki is called “hi zu mi” (‘distortion’). The sheet metal balances upon stones and rocks selected by the artist from a local North East beach. The ‘distortion’ is the gradual absorption of sound as the steel plate bends. Only enough rocks are used to create the work so that the metal plate stops before it touches the ground.

Akio Suzuki - tsu ra na ri re-staged in the Globe Gallery 2014
Akio Suzuki – tsu ra na ri, re-staged in the Globe Gallery, Newcastle, 2014

A second, larger installation is a work that Akio Suzuki first created in 2003, called “tsu ra na ri”. This one is about rhythm and reverberations. A collection of ‘C-shaped’ tables are supported on their sides in a very careful arrangement. Beach stones of varying sizes were placed on the upper surfaces.

Akio Suzuki - tsu ra na ri, 2003
Akio Suzuki – tsu ra na ri. Beach stones are placed on the upper surfaces.

When the installation is pushed gently (very gently! … by the exhibition assistant!!), the tower sways and the stones dance, creating a musical rhythm that then gradually fades out to silence. This sound installation worked really well in the stark surroundings of the Globe Gallery. The sound was intriguing and experiencing this artwork definitely made me think of the rhythm of the sea.

Marsden Bay, N E England coast
Marsden Bay, South Tyneside, England. Akio Suzuki was inspired by his research visit to Marsden Bay.

Here is another set of related ‘edges’ – the cliffs and beach as the edge of the land; the edge of the sea; in the foreground we have rocks with edges that have tumbled down from the cliffs as part of coastal erosion. This is Marsden Bay, the beach where Akio Suzuki visited for inspiration and selected his stones for his artworks.

J Peggy Taylor

Winter sunrise

John Martin, Thomas Bewick and Chinese brush paintings

We are fortunate in North East England to have a wealth of wonderful art galleries and museums to feed our cultural souls. On a recent town trip we enjoyed some new artworks and some old favourites.

Our first stop was an exhibition of Chinese brush paintings in the Newcastle City Library. This was part of the city’s celebrations for Chinese New Year – The Year of the Horse. The paintings in this exhibition were the work of members of the Northern Chinese Brush Painters’ Society. Chinese brush painting is a very distinct style of painting, often featuring flowers and animals associated with China, as well as classical images of Chinese figures.

Viewing Chinese Brush Painting Exhibition at City Library
Viewing Chinese Brush Painting Exhibition at City Library

We like to take our time when we’re exploring an exhibition and really absorb the feelings different works evoke. Having visited previous exhibitions of Chinese brush painting we were ready to appreciate the skillful brushwork that goes into this style of painting and the artists of the Chinese Brush Painters’ Society really are very accomplished. The exhibition was a visual treat. There were wild birds, cockerels, peonies, roses, landscapes, waterfalls, a tiger (a favourite with our boys), and of course, a horse – all beautifully represented in Chinese brush work.

Our second stop was the 18th and 19th Century Paintings on the first floor of the Laing Art Gallery which is conveniently just across the road from the library. The Laing is one of our regular haunts so our boys are very familiar with many of the works in this part of the gallery. They feel at home here and happily wander off to study the various paintings. In this gallery we have works by John Martin, Thomas Gainsborough, Joshua Reynolds, William Holman Hunt and, one of my favourites, Laura Knight, among others. Then after we’ve wandered we meet up at particular family favourites and talk about something that has caught our eye.

On this occasion we were standing by John Martin’s “The Bard” – at over 2 metres high and a metre and a half across, it is an imposing and truly mesmerising painting that we never tire of viewing and discussing. It depicts the medieval story of Edward I and his armies conquering Wales, with the last Welsh Bard standing high on the mountainside from which he is about to leap to his death.

We also contemplated the smaller works by John Martin that are hung adjacent to “The Bard”. One in particular drew our attention, entitled “Solitude”, as it depicts a lone figure gazing out across woods and moorland towards the kind of glorious sunset we often see in winter across our own valley. The sunrise I’ve added as the header to this post demonstrates the amazing sky colours we experience. This is a raw image taken in early January.

The final part of this cultural tour was to view an exhibition currently at the Laing Gallery showcasing works by another very famous North East artist and his pupils, “Thomas Bewick and His Apprentices”. Thomas Bewick is renowned for his wood engravings, many of which were published as book illustrations.

Thomas Bewick's engravings
Thomas Bewick’s engravings

This exhibition partly showcased Bewick’s own work, but also that of the apprentices who worked with him at his workshop. There were engravings but also paintings by Bewick’s apprentices in the exhibition, including a wonderful watercolour of Tynemouth Priory by Luke Clennell. The following link takes you to part of the Tyne & Wear Museums website where you can see some of Luke Clennell’s work. We discussed how the subject matter and style of some of these paintings were similar to some of the works of John Sell Cotman.

We had a very enjoyable and informative day, experiencing and appreciating an interesting range of works by North East-based artists past and present. It was certainly a wonderful way to spend a damp winter’s day.

J Peggy Taylor

Chinese Dragon, Lion and Unicorn dance

Celebrating Chinese New Year in Newcastle-upon-Tyne

We always try to get along to the Chinese New Year celebrations in town and so off we went on Sunday morning. As usual, hundreds of other families turned out too. There is such a wonderful atmosphere at this event.

We normally start by taking a wander around the mini-fairground including some tastebud-tempting Chinese food stalls. Then we make our way up onto Stowell Street and join the crowds thronging the pavements to await the arrival of the traditional Dragon, Lion and Unicorn. Stowell Street is at the heart of Newcastle’s ‘Chinatown’ and is lined with Chinese restaurants and food shops, so the air is full of delicious aromas.

Chinese Dragon and Lion dance
The Dragon and the Lion arrive

Soon the dragon’s arrival is announced by the loud rhythmical beat of the huge drum that accompanies the parade. The Dragon appears and is closely followed by the Lion.

Chinese Lion dances by
The Lion dances by

As they dance their way along Stowell Street the crowd follows behind. Small children are hoisted onto adult shoulders as we all crane our necks and wave our cameras and phones in the air trying to snatch another glimpse of the dancing parade.

Chinese Dragon, Lion and Unicorn dance
Dragon, Lion and Unicorn dance

In the centre of the street, outside of the North East Chinese Association, the parade stops briefly and the Unicorn joins the Dragon and the Lion in their ongoing dance. The parade sets off again, the crowd follows and the dancing continues to the end of the street then finally round to the Chinese Arch. The following crowd doesn’t quite make it that far as the event stewards must carefully ensure everyone’s safety … and there’s another crowd already waiting by the Arch!

Chinese New Year parade
Dancing off to the Chinese Arch

The sights, the smells and the sounds all combine to create a truly memorable occasion. Having returned home with only photos, I wished I’d thought to record the fabulous drumming that accompanies the traditional dances. Also adding to the ‘official’ drumming are many children and families in the crowd joining in with their small Chinese drums too. The noise is amazing.

Kung Hey Fat Choi!

J Peggy Taylor