Discovery Museum @ Newcastle, United Kingdom

February 6th, 2011 31 Commented

Sorry guys, it has been a while since I last updated my blog. I just came back from U.K. again not long ago and rushing with my backlog at work. Anyway, I hope to start catching up with my blog.

I gave an overview of the Newcastle city in my last post. Now, I’ll share with the specific places I visited while I was there. In this post, we will look at and experience the Discovery Museum.

Discovery Museum is the North East England’s most popular free museum and the place to find out about life on Tyneside. From the area’s renowned maritime history to world-changing science and technology, it has something for everyone.

This museum contains several sections introducing to us the lives and history of Newcastle. They include Working Lives, Fashion Works, Newcastle Story, Tyneside Challenge, Story of the Tyne, Science Mace, Turbinia, and a few more. I’ll only be covering a few of them (or probably one) in this post. I’ll leave the rest for you to experience it! yourself.

As you can see, it was snowing, the roads were covered with snow. Yep, I visited my wife during Christmas for a good long three weeks. Man… I miss my wifey!

Dominating the entrance to the museum, is the gem of the collection — Turbinia. She is the world’s first boat to be powered by a steam turbine engine. Invented on Tyneside, this 35-metre vessel was once the fastest ship in the world and her history is brought to life in the Turbinia Story display. She sets the standard for a day out that is guaranteed to be filled with breathtaking discoveries.

[Click on the image for the larger version]

Next, we look at the Newcastle Story section. It introduces us the history of Newcastle from Roman times to the present day in a walk-through reconstruction of the streets, homes and communities of the past. The exhibition includes Roman Newcastle, the Norman castle (that gave the city its name), its Victorian past, two world wars, the depression of the 30s, and the arrival of the welfare in the 40s, the swinging 60s and affluent 80s.

<1265 – 1385> Defensive walls are built around Newcastle surrounding the whole town.

<1339> Newcastle’s stone bridge is washed away in a flood.

<1349> Black Death kills a third of the population of England.

<1399> Henry IV grants Newcastle the right to self-government.

<1455> Rival claims to the English throne lead to the Wars of the Roses.

<1485> Henry Tudor kills Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field and becomes King.

<1492> Christopher Columbus discovers America.

<1509> Henry VIII becomes King.

This model show how well placed the castle is to defend the surrounding region. The people living in the castle can see for miles around and the steep hill makes it difficult for enemies to attack. The river provides water and is also a good route for ships bringing supplies.

The brown shading shows the extent of the town in Norman times.

During violent times, lives in Newcastle were dominated by conflict as the area had always been unsettled. It had been non-stop trouble ever since King William conquered England. There was no fixed border between England and Scotland, and those Scots raided Newcastle whenever they liked.

As a knight, he wore a mail suit, a helmet, and carry a large shield. His main weapons were a sword and a lance, which was good for throwing at the enemy. His horse was also trained to kick, leap and rear at opponents.

This is an example of a commoner life, being interrogated by a soldier.

This is the model of St. Nicholas’ spire. The descriptions say, "Many rich people believe that they can buy a place in heaven by paying friars like me to say prayers for their souls. Other give money to church buildings. We have our Member of Parliament, Sir Robert Rhodes, to thank for funding St. Nicholas’ magnificent tower and spire. I am sure God will reward him!"

In the Middle Ages, the River Tyne was the centre of most industry from dyeing and brewing to shipbuilding. Wool was the biggest export to be shipped out from the Tyne, but coal was important too. In 1272, the King gave Newcastle permission to dig coal.

Back then, there were many craftsmen, such as the barrel makers, blacksmiths, and shoemakers, who traveled to Newcastle to practice their craft. Families following the same craft often lived in one street with their workshops on the street front and their living quarters behind. Most craftsmen belonged to a guild, an organization which controlled prices and standards of work and supports members who fell during hard times.

As for leather workers, they were kept away from town as their work was so smelly.

The short description says, "Most of our food is grown on small plots of land in town or brought to market from nearby farms. Wheat, barley, oats and peas are all grown locally. Some townspeople kept cattle for milk. They graze on the Town Moor at day but are herded inside the town walls at night for safe-keeping."

Those jugs, imported from Germany, were use by merchants. They loved to show off their money; drinking wine from fancy jugs, and eating with silver knives and spoons.

This is the model of the Tyne Bridge. It was a centre of activity in medieval Newcastle, with many shops, houses and a chapel on it. Money for repairs was raised by the Church selling indulgences (pardons for sins). The bridge was destroyed by flooding in 1771.

[Click on the image for the larger version]

This large wooden chest, known as the ‘Town Hutch’, was used by the Corporation, or town government, for the safe-keeping of money, books and important documents.

Every year eight men were elected to hold a key for the one of the nine locks on the Hutch. The Mayor held the ninth key so that the Hutch could only be opened when all nine men were present.

The Hutch stood in the Guildhall, the seat of government from medieval times. In 1740, the keelmen ransacked it in protest about the price of grain. They distributed over £1,000 from the Hutch to the poor.

Members of Newcastle’s Corporation also controlled the town’s weights and measures.

The ‘Newcastle Coat’ (on the left) or ‘drunken cloak’ is given as a punishment to drunkards in Newcastle. They have to walk the streets wearing the barrel for everybody to laugh and stare at.

The right side describes the dark side of Newcastle. During those days, the splendor and wealth of Stuart Newcastle was enjoyed by the lucky few. Most people lived in grinding poverty. Many of them relied on the shipping of coal for work so when trade was poor they fell on hard times.

Disease was also a constant threat to the people of Newcastle, particularly for those living in crowded housing on the quayside. The bubonic plague struck the town in 1636, 1647, and 1651 claiming thousands of lives. People of all classes fled the quayside and trading ships were warned not to approach the town.

Women do not escape punishment and public disgrace. Women accused of being gossips by magistrates are paraded through the streets wearing a scold’s bridle or are ducked in water. Fear of witches in Stuart Newcastle is also rife. In 1650 fourteen women are charged with witchcraft and hanged on the Town Moor.

Do you know?

  • In the 1600s, Newcastle is said to be the ‘second city of the land’.
  • In 1625, 4000,000 tons of coals is shipped out of Newcastle.
  • More than 5000 people are killed by the plague in 1636.

This is a reconstructed scene of a print shop.

"You might be wondering what a woman is doing running a print shop. Several years ago my husband passed away and, with no son to inherit the business, it fell to me to take over. I was always involved in the business when my husband was alive so I am familiar with the workings of a press room. I am assisted by my young apprentice who came to Newcastle from a nearby village to follow this trade. Our print shop is mall and we print mostly leaflets, tickets, posters and song sheets on our old fashioned wooden press."

It is 1822 and Newcastle is in the grip of a bitter strike by the keelmen. A striker is trying to persuade the print shop owner to print a leaflet in support of the keelmen and against the coal owners.

The Keelmen of Tyne and Wear were a group of men who worked on the keels, large boats that carried the coal from the banks of both rivers to the waiting collier ships.

[Click on the image for the larger version]

During the late 1700s, the residents of the town watched the steady demolition and declined of medieval Newcastle. Parts of the town wall were pulled down, many buildings were cleared and, in 1771, the medieval bridge was swept away in a flood. Yet more dramatic changes took place a few decades later. From the 1830s onwards the town centre was re-modelled to a classical design by developer, Richard Grainger and a group of architects including John Dobson. The grand sweep of Grey Street links the upper and lower parts of the town and elegant buildings such as Grainger Market, the Central Exchange and the Theatre Royal transform the town centre.

The Great Fire

In the early hours of the 6th October 1854, fire broke out in a factory in Gateshead. The flames soon spread to a warehouse full of explosive chemicals. A tremendous explosion sent blazing timber, chemicals and brickwork across the river, setting alight warehouses on the Newcastle quayside. By six o’ clock in the morning the overcrowded buildings between Newcastle quay and Butcher Bank were almost completely destroyed.

Do you know?

  • By 1900, the coal trade employs 75,000 men in Tyne and Wear.
  • There are 700 pubs in Newcastle in 1900.
  • In 1854, 85% of Newcastle’s houses do not have toilets.
  • In 1860, the Tyne is the second busiest river in Britain.

These are some collections from the Victorian Newcastle. They include a cashier machine, a bell, a one-seater-sofa, paintings and the list goes on. Of course, there are few more panels showcasing other victorian furniture and items, but I’ll only show one here.

[Click on the image for the larger version]

Here are some of the advertisements, pamphlets, sketches, cups, glasses and watches used during the Victorian Newcastle.

This exhibition case includes:

  • a copy of the Post Office Savings Deposit Book opened in 1917.
  • a copy of the souvenir of the Armistice at the end of the Great War in 1919.
  • miners’ lamps.
  • razor, bullet, uniform badge and button
  • medals, awarded to Sapper A. Orde of the Royal Engineers for service in the Great War 1914-1918.

Man v.s. Woman?
In this period, your opportunities in life depend on your sex. Men and women are expected to do different things.

Arthur Bella
The Vote Yes. The working man’s got to look after himself. We need our lads in Parliament. It’s not really for us women, is it? It’s more to do with his work, you see.
The War Not what I expected. Volunteered to be a hero: came back nervous as a kitten. The clay clagging up your boots, the sound hammering in your head, hunger, pain and death. It drives you mad. Stayed at home, alone with the children. Had a lot of time for thinking.
Factory Work 6 days a week: cutting metal, chiseling, lifting, hammering, wrenching, filing down, sweeping up the dirt. Never. It’s a man’s job to go out to work.
Housework Not likely! That’s women’s work! 7 days a week: scrubbing, dusting, beating carpets. taking clothes to wash-house, carrying coal, polishing knives, sweeping up the dirt.
Cooking That’s the wife’s job. Yes: how would the family eat otherwise? The only ready-to-eat food you can buy are penny pies and fish suppers — but we can’t afford that every day.
Going to the Pub Yes. See mates from work. Talk about work. Never. Send the boy to the pub for a jug of beer sometimes to drink at home.
Dancing Yes. That’s where I met her. Yes. He looks canny done up in his best.

These are the children’s clothes, shoes, toys and school books from the time around the First World War. The boy’s velvet costume is fancy dress, not an everyday wear.

The major events happened in Britain and Newcastle between 1914 to 1925 are described here.

For the first time in Britain’s history more people live in towns and cities than in the countryside. For most ordinary people, life in the city is far from comfortable:

  • working hours are long
  • housing standards are low
  • ill health is common
  • death often comes early

In 1914, Britain is on the brink of more than one war:

  • industrial warfare is breaking out between masters and men
  • civil war is looming in Ireland
  • suffragettes call for a ‘sex war’ to gain women’s rights to vote

However, everything is overshadowed by the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914.

Meanwhile, Newcastle has a lot to be proud of in 1914. It is a strong, working class city which has doubled in size over the past 50 years. Newcastle is proud of its industries, particularly the mighty Elswick Works. The Elswick Works is the biggest industrial complex in Europe. It includes factories, foundries, a shipyard, and engineering workshops. During the first World War, the Elswick Works produces 13,000 guns, 12,000 gun carriages and 14.5 million shells of ammunition.

Besides, Newcastle is also proud of its modern building and institutions and also, its football team!

Although Newcastle has a lot to be proud of in 1914, it also has a shameful side. Many Newcastle people live in conditions that are squalid and unhealthy. As more people and industries arrived in Newcastle, pollution levels increase to match. By 1914, the City has only just begun to tackle its enormous problems of health, housing and pollution.

Well-off v.s. Hard-up?
Then, as now, the way people live depends on their income. Hard-up families and well-off families see a different side of Newcastle.

The Well-offs The Hard-ups
Home Two years ago, we bought a new three bed-roomed house in Fenham. We pay 13s a week for the mortgage. It’s nice to feel settled. When they put us out of the digs in Maple Street, we got this room. It’s no good with the bairns and the rent is too much. 5s 6d a week. So, we’ll be on our way soon. No rest for the likes of us.
Clothes New from Fenwicks and Bainbridges. We don’t like running up debts so we purchase with cash. Credit makes ends meet! We can buy on credit at Wenger’s and pay the ticket man back every week. Sometimes I’ve pawned clothes before I’d finishing paying for them because we needed the cash. We can always get second-hand clothes from the Church Hall.
Food Good cuts of meat.
Fresh milk.
Fresh bread.
A beast’s heart from the Grainger Market will last all week as broth. Condensed milk — 3d a tin. Day old break — 1d a loaf.
Entertainment We like musical comedies at the Newcastle Empire: 3s 6d a ticket. We like the King’s Head cinema at Marlborough Crescent: 1d a ticket.
Christmas At home, all together. Toys for the children. Full turkey dinner with all the trimmings. Tarts and cakes for tea. The lad goes to Prudhoe Street Mission’s Christmas party. He gets iced buns and nougat. He brings us an orange home.
Death We’ve reserved an exclusive burial plot in Elswick Cemetery with headstone and rainlings:£14 10s. When Mrs Doyle died, her Billy had to find £1 10s, and that was only for an unmarked plot.

This reconstructed scene is a tribute in memory to the War that lasted 5 years and 345 days. During that time:

  • 119 bombs fell on Newcastle,
  • 141 Newcastle residents were killed,
  • 110 Newcastle residents were seriously injured,
  • 476 Newcastle residents were injured, and
  • 100s of Newcastle men were killed in action.

This is a model of the early double-decker bus available in Newcastle. It looks retro, doesn’t it?

Most people associate iron lungs like this one with the treatment of polio, an infectious disease which affected many people in the 1940s and 1950s. Vaccinations have virtually wiped out the disease today, but there were many cases of it in Newcastle, particularly in 1950 when 100 cases were reported. This machine was used in the city’s Royal Victoria Infirmary until 1989. It helps people who can’t breathe on their own due to paralysis, by drawing air into their lungs.

Welcome to the 60s

In 1959, Britain had never had it so good. By 1969, Britain has never had it so different. Cosy old Britain will never be the same again after the swinging ’60s.

The 1960s is the age of:

  • Technology, the appliance of science brings exciting new consumer goods into people’s homes that include washer, dryers, televisions, record players, frozen foods…
  • Prosperity, … and ordinary people can afford new things because wages are high. The new growth industry of advertising encourages people to Spend! Spend! Spend!
  • Pop Culture, teenagers declare independence!
  • Permissiveness, there is greater freedom in people’s lives as old laws are repealed: divorce is made easier, censorship is relaxed, attitudes to sexual behavior loosen.

1960s, Britain takes a leap into the future. So, does the leap change Britain for the better or the worse?

For many families, the 1960s brought a higher standard of living. The things in this case could all have been bought by ordinary families in the 1960s.

The design of many goods changed in the 1960s to make them look appealingly modern, streamlined and smart. New materials, such as plastic, affected the look and price of many goods, including children’s toys.

[Click on the image for the larger version]

Newcastle is badly hit by the recession that begins in the late 1970s. 44,000 jobs are lost on Tyneside between 1978 and 1981.

  • Some firms disappear:
    Tress Engineering in East Newcastle closes in 1978 with the loss of many jobs.
  • Some firms lay off workers:
    When Vickers restructures in 1979, 700 men and women are put out of work.
  • Even smaller firms struggles:
    F.H. Tulip, a long established Newcastle toy wholesaler, closes in 1976 with the loss of 8 jobs.

For those who lose their jobs, unemployment affects everything: health, living standards, family life, self-confidence.

This case shows items from the 1970s, including hippy clothes from the early 1970s and punk clothes from the mid to late 1970s.

I can only cover the information and facts of the Newcastle Story section briefly. I’ll need to put up five times more photos in order to make a more complete coverage of the section. As that said, I won’t be covering other sections too, unless the post is divided into several parts. However, I don’t want to bore some of you out there who don’t enjoy visiting museums.

Last piece of advice, if you like visiting museums, do remember to go as early as possible to avoid disappointment. For this one, it took us about 4 to 5 hours to complete patronizing most of the sections.

After a long walk, from section to section, you can take a rest at the museum cafe to have a bite. For me, I had minestrone soup and a tuna panini for tea-break.

[Click on the image for the larger version]

[Click on the image for the larger version]

Also, I wanna take this opportunity to wish those of you celebrating Lunar New Year… a happy blessed Lunar New Year.

For a good choice of hotels with discount prices, visit Where to stay in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne for more information.

Official Discovery Museum website

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31 responses to “Discovery Museum @ Newcastle, United Kingdom”

  1. Aya says:

    Welcome Back :D

    Awesome,Normal history book explain like this ;)

    anyway Happy Lunar New Year :D

  2. h4mster says:

    Nice, a city with such a long history is always interesting. How many hours did you spent on this museum? You know, with this many contents there I don’t think a day would be enough LoL

    • softz says:

      You are right. The photos that I put up here are only a very small portion. I spent almost a day (4-5 hours) in this museum. There are many interesting facts and information. However, time permitted no procrastination. I had to snap most of the info and read them later. Actually, this museum is quite small if compare to British Museum. It (British Museum) is so big that I could only glance and read some.

  3. Fabienne says:

    Hi, nice to have you back and active =)

    thx for the interesting informations ;)
    I guess living in ancient times was no fun for the people, at least not for the normal or poor population. “You are a witch!” now youre done, for example :(

    glad I live in modern times :D

    • softz says:

      Thank you Fabienne. I really want to stay active in blogging but sometimes there are just too many things to be done in life. How about 48 hours a day? LOL!

      I totally agree with you. It’s great to be in modern times. But now, the standard of living is much higher. It’s better to be living in rich condition. (^_^)

      Does the witch thingy apply to Germany as well? It was a serious thing in U.K. (probably Europe too?).

  4. Fabienne says:

    Np, thats completely understandable :)

    Yeah I guess it was in Germany as well.
    A very dark chapter in the history of mankind, the book of dark chapters is actually pretty big :p

  5. Fabrice says:

    Omg, hisashiburi!!
    long time no speak =) i guess i had my hiatus then came back then you went on it. anyway nice to see your back!
    Ive always liked mediaval age but its so much information that i wouldnt manage to remember, the only place ive been to n england is london…newcastle is too far away and too cold! XD

    • softz says:

      It’s definitely great to see you again Fabrice! How have you been?

      Medieval, the age of knights. I like those information. However, I prefer mythological information more… The Gods an Goddesses of Greek never fail to amaze me. More of U.K. coming up soon… (when I find the time though).

  6. Yi says:

    The museum looks very… educational. It’s always nice to learn about cultures.

    Anyways, very late, but I wish you a belated happy lunar new year too!

  7. Nopy says:

    That’s such a rich history, certainly much more than where I live. It’s always fun to learn about how a region has grown over the centuries.

  8. rockleelotus says:

    i can see why that is such a popular museum. thanks for taking the time to bring us all this interesting information about how life was like in newcastle… it must have taken you a long time to write this up!

    we should keep the “newcastle coat” idea for drunkards though lol

    happy CNY softz, wish you much happiness and good health :D

    • softz says:

      Hey rockleelotus,

      Had been busy and still busy though. I must say that you’ve got it right. It really took me some time to come up with this post. There are hundreds of photos to choose from. Picking and deciding the one which readers may find them interesting, or rather we don’t see it often. Also, the information is a pain too. But, I’ll have more travel posts coming up when I’m done with my crunch time in the office.

      Also, thank you. Do you celebrate CNY too? Anyway, I wish you a prosperous new year too.

  9. BioToxic says:

    Haha, it’s like being back at primary/secondary school, learning all about our past and visiting the museum. We used to visit New Lanark as part of our Victorian studies. And there’s the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh that’s always worth checking out.

    13th century Scotland was quite different to England. We tended to be little clusters of clans and such, whereas England was more structured, such as Newcastle. That would explain why Scots would raid Newcastle, and it’s close by :lol:. Not long after that is the War of Scottish Independence; you know Braveheart, William Wallace etc.

    Then when we get to Victorian times pretty much what happened down south happened up here; history is more taught from the point of view where the UK is a single unit. We’ve got the Industrial Revolution, the welfare state, the world wars etc. I used to study history, but I decided engineering was much more interesting for a future career.

    I noticed the snow returned over Christmas down south – you got to make a snowman? We seemed to get all our snow in a huge lump just before Christmas, then it slowly disappeared. Does it still count as a white Christmas if the previous weeks snow still hadn’t cleared up :lol?

    • softz says:

      Hey BioToxic,

      Guess what! I visited Scotland too, particularly Edinburgh and the Highlands. I went Britiania, Hollyrood Palace, etc. I guess, I’ll share them as travel posts too. I bet you can give me some pointers if I’m sharing them correctly.

      I heard of Sir William Wallace a lot while I was there. Also, the sad history of the Weeping Glen. It was really lots of information. I even went to the Hogmanay. :) Which part of Scotland are you in?

      I didn’t make a snowman because I saw one while walking around. But,I had snowball-fight against my wifey though. ;) It was fun and cold. The train service did have a bit of problem, had several delays here and there due to track faults, etc. Nevertheless, we had white Christmas. I wish we had traveled to North or South. Newcastle is like a dead-city during Christmas, no subway and bus services at all. Only the some Chinese restaurants are opened.

      • BioToxic says:

        Ah cool you came up to Scotland. I live not too far out from Edinburgh, a 10 minute drive or so. I actually go to university in Edinburgh (not Edinburgh uni though :P). Edinburgh is definitely the home of Hogmanay, although I can’t say I’m a huge fan of it myself. I suppose when you witness it every year it can get a bit dull.

        Snowmen round these parts don’t last long. The temptation to give one a good kicking gets the better of us :lol:. Luckily I don’t use the trains to get in and out of Edinburgh, although our bus service was out for several days. Most places are dead for Christmas up here too.

  10. heathorn says:

    a very informative and educational article. Thx for sharing this with us!

    Bad internet connection, most of the photos failed to load >.<
    Will check back first thing tomorrow morning :D

  11. AS says:

    Nice info you got there. Must have took you a while just to compile the information and pick what to choose.

    I find museums interesting but I tend to go through them fast as I don’t like to linger around looking at one thing when there’s ton’s around me.

    Happy Belated New Years ^^.

  12. Love your site says:

    I think your sight is wonderful and easy to get into.
    My photo is up in the museum along with My Sister and My best friend when we were young.
    We lived in Byker and a Chronicle reporter was walking around Byker in the East End of the City and taking photos as it was being re-developed and torn down and the community dispersed.
    So I am in the museum and have been a long time which seems odd, but I am proud to be there , Although My Sister hates the photo.
    My Son and Daughter in Law recently took My Grandaughter and took her photo in front of mine it was a proud moment.
    Thank you for your site.

    • softz says:

      Thank you, Alan. I’m glad to hear from you and you’ve definitely been a long way. I enjoy learning and studying about the re-development of Newcastle too. It’s an eye-opener to me. I’ll try to update more about my visit in U.K. Once again, thank you for the comment. I really appreciate it. :)

  13. star says:

    That would explain why Scots would raid Newcastle, and it’s close by :lol: . Not long after that is the War of Scottish Independence; you know Brave heart, William Wallace etc…:)

  14. barbieanne5 says:

    Great museum! Thanks for sharing this site.

  15. naruto0506 says:

    Great Great Great! Love your article, thanks for sharing this blog.

  16. rain0506 says:

    I find museums interesting but I tend to go through them fast as I don’t like to linger around looking at one thing when there’s ton’s around me.

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