Hexham – The Descent!

On our first trip this term we went to Hexham. Although it was lovely and sunny, it was quite cold, especially with the wind! Despite the temperature, we had a lovely time exploring the town with Dr Phillippo.

DSC_0057After we got off the bus and Dr Phillippo had given the obligatory safety talk, we went to the Old Queen Elizabeth Grammar School. This is a grade II listed building which was built in 1684. It consists of both the school and the master’s house and was purpose built for the school which had previously operated from private houses. Various later additions are also visible on the building. Eventually, the school was closed in 1881 when it and the master’s house were converted into a private residence. More recently, it has served as local authority offices.

Although in previous years we could walk around the building, this time sadly the gate was locked so we were unable to look at it so clearly.

Next, we looked at the Old Gaol. Although we were unfortunately unable to go in as it isDSC_0060 closed on Sundays we were still able to view the outside. The building is tall and imposing so it’s easy to imagine it intimidating prisoners. The gaol was ordered to be built in 1330 which makes it the oldest purpose-built prison in the country. The prison was used until the 1820s when a new gaol was built at Morpeth. More recently, the gaol has had a variety of different uses including a bank, a solicitors’ office, a home for the Rifle Volunteers, a billiards club and a place to firewatch in World War II. Following major and much needed repairs in the 1970s, the gaol reopened as a museum.

DSC_0072After the Old Gaol, we looked at and walked under the Moot Hall. The Moot Hall was originally a gatehouse guarding the Hall of the Archbishops of York. It was a heavily fortified building which was later used for the Quarter sessions of county magistrates and for meetings of the Borough’s courts. Since then it has been called the Moot Hall.

After passing under the arch of the Moot Hall, we were in the market. On the day we visited, it seemed entirely peaceful, only filled with people doing their shopping or simply walking around the town like we were. However, in contrast to this picture, Dr Phillippo told us some far more exciting stories about riots and beheadings!

Finally, we reached the final destination of our trip (aside from the entirely necessaryDSC_0077 café visit for cake and tea, of course), Hexham Abbey. The building was finished in 678 on land granted to Bishop Wilfred by Queen Etheldreda, making it one of earliest centres of Christianity in England. The Abbey, like many churches in the area, has more exciting history than might be expected, especially as it seems so peaceful today.

In 1296, for example, Scottish raiders set fire to it, causing the destruction of shrines, books and relics, while in the following year, William Wallace led another raid and destroyed what was left. In fact, some melted lead can be seen on a set of stairs in the Abbey!

Further building work took place in the 19th century, including some by John Dobson, an architect who designed vast amounts of Newcastle and the surrounding area. Finally, the nave was rebuilt in 1907-8, in the same layout as the 13th century. When inside the building, the different ages of each section are easily seen in the walls as the stone in the nave is clearly far newer.

DSC_0142Inside the Abbey is very beautiful, with many stained-glass windows and intricately carved screens. There are also various pictures. For example, next to the pulpit are several screens painted with pictures of local saints such as Oswald, Etheldreda and Wilfred. Near the altar are paintings of death dancing with men of varying ranks of power such as a priest, a king and an emperor. This sort of imagery shows not only that death comes to all but also how inDSC_0114 previous times people were much more comfortable with the idea of death than we perhaps are today. Elsewhere, there are carvings of animals and people including amongst them: a sheep stealer, a pig playing bagpipes and a fox preaching to geese.

We also looked at a Roman gravestone featuring a standard bearer upon his horse in a fight with a Gaul. At first the Gaul seems to be defeated since he is prostrate on the ground while the horse rears above him. On closer examination, however, he is getting ready to gut the horse. This gravestone was found face down in the floor and originally came from Corbridge.

The two most exciting aspects of the Abbey, however, were the crypt and the trapdoor. The trapdoor is located behind the throne and gives access to remains of the old Saxon church as well as containing two coffins.

DSC_0130The crypt at Hexham Abbey is one of the best preserved in the country. This is because it was forgotten and not rediscovered until 1725. Originally the crypt was used by pilgrims who would come in from the outside and move through a dark passage until they came upon the shrine which was bathed in light and contained a relic of St. Andrew. There they would worship before ascending into the Church. The monks also had their own entrance. After tackling some rather steep stairs, we could explore it for ourselves. From the use of old Roman stones, carved with Latin, it’s clear the builders were keen on recycling!

Finally, we finished our visit to the Abbey by exploring the museum which not only has information and artefacts relating to the building but also activities such as building a Gothic arch with foam blocks!





Walltown Crags and Roman Army Museum – Hadrian’s Wall

On one of our most recent weekend trips we went to the Walltown Crags and Roman Army museum (along with a crucial stop at a tearoom for tea, delicious cake and advice):

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Things we learnt:

  1. Apparently it is possible to enjoy consistently good weather at Hadrian’s Wall after all

For the first time in several trips to Hadrian’s Wall we had good weather all day! This Sunday we were very lucky as the sun shone all day although it was very cold, with frozen ponds and frost being present.  This was a definite improvement on previous visits involving varying degrees of rain and, once, flooding requiring an alternate route!

  1. There will be frontier sheep:

Throughout our walk up to, along, and away from the Wall, there were consistently frontier sheep of varying colours, sometimes seeming to challenge us on who could be on the path! Luckily they moved on before we reached their position so all was okay.

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  1. Even when Dr Phillippo herself is not present, adventurous routes will still be taken:

Although this particular trip was led by Dr Claire Stocks, due to Dr Phillippo being away, we still took routes of which she would have approved. In order to access Thirlwall Castle, we scrambled up a steep and slippery slope. While descending the same way, it took effort to ensure we didn’t simply slither to the bottom. At other points, we clambered over stiles even when gates were available. Nevertheless, Dr Stocks made sure that we followed ‘health and safety’ regulations!

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  1. Sadly there’s no treasure to be found at Thirlwall Castle:

At Thirlwall Castle, Dr Stocks informed us of legend that there was treasure hidden somewhere around the site, along with secret passages. Sadly, despite a quick search we managed to uncover neither of these. Nor did we run into any ghosts, in spite of rumours that the castle was haunted.

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Thirlwall Castle was built at a time when the border disputes between England and Scotland meant that living in such a location could be fairly dangerous and as such was a fortified building, protecting its residents. It was built around the 12th century although it was added to over the years. It also happened to boast a prison.

  1. The Wall was some kind of vanity project:

In various places (including the Walltown Crags section), Hadrian’s Wall is built at the top of a rather high cliff. Less because the Romans needed to have a six-foot high wall at the top of a cliff to keep people out, than to show that they could build one – even if that wall was built at the end of the world, as the British Isles were seen by the Romans. This was also a prestige project for Hadrian, so that no one would get ideas about assassinating him if he spent his time on expanding the Empire.

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In any case, with various gates along the Wall and forces regularly stationed beyond it, the Wall was less an attempt to keep people out (or in, for that matter), and more akin to Ancient Roman Border Control. That is, it was more a method to control movements rather than to halt them altogether.

  1. 3D Cinema can be found even at the end of the world:

Within the Roman Army Museum, along with having the opportunity for lunch (a nice and warming soup, considering the frostiness of outside) and to wander the museum itself, we were also invited to watch their film.

This film was a short, twenty minute affair, entitled ‘Edge of Empire’. It concerned the life and training of the soldiers and how the Wall and the forts surrounding it may have looked. The film followed the life of one of the soldiers posted at the Wall and an eagle who, of course, provides us with an “eagle’s eye view” of the area, including the fort of Magnis/Carvoran.

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The café area of the museum also provided “food” for thought. On the wall is a pictorial representation of records detailing the whereabouts and status of the men stationed at the fort. This includes things such as illness and absence. From this record, it is clear that a large number of men were, at the time, away from the fort, some of whom were in Gaul. It is strangely specific in some ways since, although some men are simply listed as being ill, others are revealed, specifically, as having conjunctivitis.

Overall, we had an excellent day led by the lovely Dr Stocks, in which we learnt many things (such as how to navigate slippery slopes without losing our footing) along with enjoying delicious cake, before managing to safely return to Newcastle for a good night’s sleep!

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Barnard Castle – My Final Trip!

When I applied for my work placement with the Department of Classics and Ancient History, one of the interview ‘tasks’ was to write a blog post. I did mine on The Bowes Museum, so what a coincidence then that my last trip with the department, and also the last trip of the academic year, would include a stop here!


The ruins of Barnard Castle

Before our visit to Bowes, however, we stopped by Barnard Castle. Founded in the 12th century, the castle eventually passed into the ownership of Richard Neville. He is also known as Warwick the Kingmaker and is sure to be a familiar figure for anyone who has been on these trips! As well as offering excellent views of the town and river, the castle has also inspired many poets and authors including Walter Scott who includes it in his great work Rokeby.


Testing out the Castle’s facilities.

After a stop for lunch, we ventured on to The Bowes Museum; located a short walk from the centre of town. Within this magnificent French chateau style great house lies a vast and varied collection of items covering textiles, paintings, archaeology, children’s toys and pottery – to name but a few. While I had visited the museum within the last few months, nevertheless there was plenty to explore including a new temporary exhibition on the life of one of the museum’s founders Josephine Bowes. This exhibition also included a silver clock which many of us expressed a desire to steal!


The clock in question. If you look very closely you may notice each book has been given a title.

Of particular interest to the classically inclined is the silver statue of Sappho, the plaster casts of Greek statues on the first floor, the many paintings inspired by classical myth and history, and the large collection of neo-classical items which can be found dotted throughout the museum. All visitors can also definitely enjoy the Silver Swan, a 18th century automaton, which still operates today. You can see it in action every day at 2.

After we had all done being serious students there was as always time for fun. While not advertised as such, we discovered that the grounds of the museum also house one of the world’s greatest slides! The Bowes Museum would do well to include it on all of its marketing materials from here on out. Finally to finish our day out, what else but some ice cream!


World’s Greatest Slide in action!

While I undoubtedly learnt so much about British history from this trip series and there are some stories which I am sure to never forget – from poisoned jam tarts to horses holding on to church pews – what will really stick with me is the sense of fun brought to every occasion. Whether in pouring rain, strong wind or on the rare occasion sunshine, Dr. Susanna Phillippo led us through. Over the weeks the adventure, the enjoyment and the opportunity to stop for tea never died!

Please note: the header and the slide image are borrowed from Elizabeth Cooper.

Lindisfarne Trip Report

Cut off by the tide twice a day, Lindisfarne makes for an unforgettable trip. The island is only accessible at certain times, across an atmospheric causeway, which made it a natural fit for a solitary monastery.

The priory was founded by St. Aidan, an Irish monk, in 634AD. He was granted the island by Oswald, King of Northumbria. The remains visible today are from its later occupation in the 12th century. The original monastery comprised mainly wooden buildings. Lindisfarne is most famous as the home of St. Cuthbert whose life there was immortalised by the Venerable Bede.

The remains of the priory are undoubtedly the main site of historical interest. Understandably as they are the dictionary definition of a picturesque ruin! The still standing ‘rainbow arch’, which dates to c. 1125-50 is particularly impressive.

rainbow arch

The arch as photographed in 1864 by Stephen Thompson

The ruins are supported by a small but excellent museum which along with telling the story of St. Aidan and Cuthbert also explores the day to day life for a monk at the monastery. A short walk from the priory is St. Cuthbert’s Island, where he is said to have retreated for extra solitude. Be careful of the tide as you may end up having to take a paddle! If you’re lucky you may even spot one of St. Cuthbert’s famous ducks, also called Cuddy ducks, which he is said to have befriended.

view of priory from st cuthberts island

View of the priory from St. Cuthbert’s island

Aside from this, the island also sports a church where you can see replicas of the Lindisfarne Gospels, a 16th century castle (unfortunately closed for conservation work at the moment but you can still walk around the outside freely) and a small nature reserve where you can learn about the wildlife on the island.

The island boasts a selection of cafes (which we took good advantage of!), craft shops and even a winery where you can try some of the famous Lindisfarne Mead. Lindisfarne is an incredibly beautiful island and the relatively dull day of our visit only added to the atmosphere. It is worth visiting just for the drive across the causeway; on the return journey we were able to see the beginnings of the tide coming in to cover it once more. Dr. Susanna Phillippo’s warning that if we missed the bus we’d be stuck there overnight didn’t really seem much of threat!

students with doggo

If you’re lucky you may even spot some friendly dogs!

Servi Publici in Rome: Regular or Privileged Slaves?

Three important occasions for disseminating the preliminary outcomes of the Servi Publici: Everybody’s Slaves’ (SPES) research project took place over the last few months.

Dr Franco Luciani, the SPES project Fellow, attended the International Conference ‘Romains ordinaires / Regular Romans /Romani ordinari. La fragmentation socio-économique de la plèbe romaine’, which was held in Rome at the École Française de Rome and the Academia Belgica on October, 17th-18th 2016.

His paper was entitled Les esclaves publics chez les Romains, 120 anni dopo Halkin’.


Continue reading “Servi Publici in Rome: Regular or Privileged Slaves?”

Mabel Atkinson: Newcastle University’s Pioneering Lecturer

This year Newcastle University has been celebrating its connection with civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Fifty years ago the university awarded him with an Honorary Degree; the only UK university to do so in his lifetime and at a time when, as Professor Richard Davies Pro-Vice Chancellor for Engagement and Internationalisation notes, he was becoming “an increasingly controversial figure”[1]. However this is not the only instance of Newcastle University’s pioneering spirit. Sixty-three years prior to Dr. King’s acceptance speech, in 1904, the university (then known as Armstrong College) appointed 28-year-old Mabel Atkinson to the position of Lecturer in Philosophy and Assistant Lecturer in Classics. This was at a crucial time for the University; they were in the middle of construction of the Armstrong Building which still hosts the Department of Classics and Ancient History today. It was also at a crucial time for the women’s movement.

Continue reading “Mabel Atkinson: Newcastle University’s Pioneering Lecturer”

The ‘Servi Publici: Everybody’s Slaves’ (SPES) Project: the Six-Month Secondment at the Institute of Classical Studies (ICS), University of London

A six-month secondment for the Servi Publici: Everybody’s Slaves’ (SPES) project is scheduled from April, 1st to September, 30th 2017 at the Institute of Classical Studies (ICS), which is part of the School of Advanced Study (SAS) of the University of London.


As a Visiting Fellow at the ICS, Dr Franco Luciani will conduct a crucial part of the SPES project, i.e. the creation of a freely accessible online database. He will work under the mentorship of Dr Gabriel Bodard.

Every relevant piece of information for the study of public slaves and freedmen in Rome and in the municipalities of the Empire will be gathered and organised in the database: textual (literary, legal, and epigraphic), iconographic and archaeological sources.

Following the model of Roman Inscriptions of Britain (RIB) and Inscriptions of Roman Tripolitania (IRT) online, each textual source on public slaves will conform to the EpiDoc guidelines.

At the end of the project, the database will be available online for public use, hosted by the Newcastle University website, and will be linked to other existing epigraphic databases, such as EDCS, EDH, and EDR.