History in the landscape fascinates me. I love to explore the architectural forms built by our ancestors, from castles to abandoned coal mines and from intact and preserved structures to stray bricks found in a stream bed. Whether I am exploring ‘virtually’, through maps and photographs, or physically on the ground, a question that I often ponder is, “Why was it built here, in this particular location?”
With the Nine Arches Viaduct, in Gateshead’s stretch of the Derwent Valley, it is possible to answer my question definitively. When the Derwent Valley Railway was built in the 1860s, the Earl of Strathmore refused to allow the railway to cross his land on the south side of the river and this meant two sizeable viaducts were needed to route the railway onto the north side to avoid the Earl’s Gibside Estate. I can appreciate that to keep the railway on a level route would have taken the railway rather close to the grand Georgian house and besides, the Earl’s coal interests didn’t require this railway line, so why would he help out his competitors?! Arguments of this sort were commonplace as Victorian coal mine owners sought routes to transport their coal to the River Tyne and so increase their fortunes.
The Nine Arches Viaduct now carries the Derwent Walk Railway Path, a multi-user route that is very popular for walking, cycling and horse-riding. This route is part of the C2C long distance trail between the east and west coasts of England.
Many people must travel over the rather unassuming concrete surface of the viaduct without ever knowing the reason for its existence and those who never venture from the main path down to the river bank would also never know the huge scale of this amazing piece of Victorian engineering, 500 feet (152 metres) long and rising 80 feet (24 metres) above the River Derwent.
As you’ve probably guessed, the viaduct is known as the “Nine Arches” because it has nine arches, though only one of them actually spans the River Derwent.
Looking up from the meadow and the river bank is the best place to see the impressive scale of this sandstone and brick bridge structure. The fence under the trees and the trees themselves in the above image give you some idea of the height of the railway viaduct. Now let’s take a look at the Nine Arches Viaduct from an elevated viewpoint.
Here we can see the Nine Arches Viaduct in context. You can see it is dwarfed by its own landscape setting, taking its small-scale place in this wooded valley. I think the view over this part of the Derwent valley is wonderful when the woodland is in its Autumn colours.
The natural world is so rich with patterns, from tiny patterns on leaves or insects to patterns in the landscape or even skyscapes. I have chosen a few of my favourite kinds of pattern for Cee’s Black and White Challenge this week.
The header image to my post is something I love to look out for on snowy winter walks. I love the way soft snow settles on every branch and twig and creates a snow image of the tree. This hazel has many slender branches creating a classic outline to this coppiced shrub. The criss-crossing twigs coated in snow are like sugar strands decorating a giant cake.
Ferns are fascinating in Spring. I love the way they gradually unfurl and stretch their out fronds. I can imagine them as circles of delicate ballet dancers dancing on the Springtime woodland floor, creating graceful patterns against the darker trees.
Shadows are another favourite of mine. I love the way light and shade create their own shapes and patterns. The angle of the sun here in early Autumn creates longer shadows and draws exaggerated patterns of the trees upon the path as we walk through the woods.
Sometimes we spot very striking patterns that have been built into our landscape. This wrought ironwork forms the fencing along either side of a narrow Victorian railway viaduct. I love the simple classical elegance of this pattern as it recedes into the distance. I think the Victorians were good at creating designs that were very practical yet aesthetically pleasing too.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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’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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.