Great North Museum celebrates 200 years of Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle-upon-Tyne

By Culture24 Reporter | 27 February 2013

Exhibition preview: Tales of Antiquarian Adventure – 200 years of the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne, Great North Museum: Hancock, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, until April 13 2013

a photo Hadrian's Wall
The earliest scientific excavations at Hadrian’s Wall were by the Society of Antiquaries' founder member John Hodgson. All subsequent excavations have involved Society members© Courtesy the Society of Antiquaries
Visitors to the Great North Museum’s current exhibition celebrating one of the oldest antiquarian societies in the UK, The Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne, will find much to surprise and inspire them.

Among the more unusual artefacts, which range from reform Bill notices to ancient stone inscriptions, is a rare Napoleonic animal bone model guillotine carved by French prisoners of war, complete with a bloody guillotine blade, gory bucket and tiny headless prisoner.

This morbidly fascinating is just one of the rarely seen objects plucked from a bewilderingly eclectic collection of a society which this year celebrates its 200th anniversary.

Some of Britain’s most important treasures have survived and thrived under the Society’s watchful gaze – Hadrian’s Wall, Tynemouth Priory and Newcastle Castle Keep are all examples of their successful efforts at preservation.

The earliest scientific excavations at Hadrian’s Wall were by the Society’s founder member John Hodgson, and all subsequent excavations have involved Society members.

an illustration of a medival man playing bagpipes
Crawhall Chapbook Chaplets. Used as an emblem of the Morpeth County Bagpipe Museum.© Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne
When the Society began in 1813 it was the only institution collecting and preserving archaeological and historical artefacts in the north of England.

These days it continues to promote the history and heritage of the region through a regular programme of monthly lectures, organised walks and visits. Tts world-class collections of antiquities, coins, bagpipes and archives is housed in museums across the region, and its library comprises more than 30,000 antiquarian and contemporary books and journals.

As one might expect from two centuries of cultural accumulation, the collection covers all periods from the Palaeolithic to the present day, but in an area rich in Romano-British remains, it is most famous for its Roman material.

Much of this Roman material is on permanent display in the galleries of the Hancock, but some of the more unusual objects make a rare appearance here. They include the Aemilia Finger-ring, possibly the earliest Christian artefact from Roman Britain, which the Society bought in 1991 to stop its purchase by an American Museum.

Other treasures include the earliest fiddle tune book dated 1694, a late 8th century runic inscription from Falstone, a 19th century man-trap and a handwritten note by Abraham Lincoln. An eclectic line up and the fruits of two centuries of collecting and care for a region’s varied cultural heritage.

  • Open 10am-5pm (1pm-5pm Sunday). Admission free. Follow the museum on Twitter @GNM_Hancock.

More pictures:

an inscribed stone with Roman writing on it
A 38 Stone Inscription at Milecastle© Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne
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