Visiting Vindolanda & Hadrian’s Wall

On our first trip of the final term, we made another visit to Hadrian’s Wall. Throughout the day, we were really lucky with the weather, as we were with our November trip, it was gloriously hot and sunny but with a breeze, making the weather perfect for our walk as it prevented it being too hot.  On this trip we walked along a section of the wall beginning at Housesteads Fort and finishing at Steel Rigg. After enjoying a delicious and much needed lunch at Twice Brewed, we took the AD122 Hadrian’s Wall bus to Vindolanda where we spent the afternoon exploring.

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We began by taking the train to Hexham where we caught the AD122 bus to Housesteads Roman fort, making use of the combined bus and train ticket that is available in the summer. After arriving at Housesteads Fort, we looked around outside, sadly not having time to examine it in more detail. We were, however, able to view the things surrounding the fort, including the murder house. Here, Dr Phillippo explained to us that two skeletons had been found beneath the floorboards, one with a broken blade embedded in his ribs: a plot that was, in fact, in the most recent Death in Paradise series, showing it still comes to mind! Since the Romans would bury their dead outside of the town walls, this sort of burial suggests that someone was covering up the death.

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From Housesteads we began our walk along the wall itself. From the fort, there’s a short section where it’s possible to walk on the wall itself, which is normally not possible for reasons of conservation. After reaching the end of this section, the walk became more difficult with vast ups and downs, adding more of a challenge! Along the way, we explored the remains of Mile Castle 37 (and a couple of others!).

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During the walk, we were able to enjoy the excellent views of the surrounding countryside. This is in part because various sections of the Wall are built along the edges of large cliffs, including one section with a lake at the bottom of the cliff. This really highlighted the fact that rather than being designed to keep people out, the Wall was, in part, a prestige project to show that yes, the Romans could in fact build a fifteen-foot wall at the edge of the known world, even if it was completely unnecessary in parts due to sixty-foot cliffs. It was a display of power.

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We finished our walk with a delicious lunch at Twice Brewed, well-earned after traversing several steep ups and downs to get there. Following lunch, we climbed back onto the AD122 bus for the next stage of our trip, visiting Vindolanda. At this point disaster almost struck, since the bus driver seemed to forget that it was part of the route! Luckily, Dr Phillippo realised we were heading the wrong way and alerted the driver.

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After we eventually reached Vindolanda, we explored the museum and the fort. In the entrance building to Vindolanda there was a model of the fort, showing us how large it was in its prime.

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First, we came to the remains of the fort, still an active archaeological site, worked on by a team of professionals and volunteers. Many different buildings were visible, allowing us to appreciate the large size of the fort and town, despite many being little more than foundations. The fort was built prior to Hadrian’s Wall although it went on to become important as a base for both construction and garrisons, to become a Hadrian’s Wall fort. During this time, it was demolished and rebuilt several times, with each rebuild leaving its own mark. After the Wall and Britain were abandoned by the Romans, it remained in use for more than 400 years before being abandoned in the 9th century. The fort also included a wooden reconstruction that we were able to go in, showing us the size of the buildings. Outside the museum itself were a reconstruction of a temple and of a house. The house had pictures following the daily life of a girl living in the fort. The temple had paintings of Roman scenes.


Within the museum, there were many fascinating exhibits including numerous shoes, a calendar fragment and armour for a horse! The museum also contained several writing tablets, voted Britain’s top treasure. These tablets are on thin pieces of wood akin to postcards and are the oldest handwritten documents to survive in Britain. Nearly 2,000 years old, they act as window into the past, shedding light on the lives of those living here almost two millennia ago. Despite being from such a distant era, some of the subjects are not dissimilar from those of today’s texts and emails, such as one woman inviting another to her birthday party!


Finally, after a long day out, we returned safely to Newcastle. Luckily, when we came to leave the fort, the bus-driver remembered the existence of Vindolanda.


For more information:

Housesteads    Vindolanda    AD122


Women’s industrial work during the nineteenth century and its impact on working-class female identity in Northern towns and cities: project completed.

I have now reached the end of my research project and am in the process of submitting my final poster and the summary of my findings.

The most important conclusion I can draw from all the secondary and primary research I conducted is that working-class female identity during industrialisation in the nineteenth century was hugely varied. The poetic and autobiographical writing of the women I examined revealed that their social, political and economic identities were multifaceted, unstable, and often conflicting. They did however consistently reveal a desire for self-definition and self-representation amid an environment of uncertainty and repression propagated by middle-class Victorian society.

The most significant thing I learned from conducting archival research for the first time was that there was much more information than I expected, and definitely more than I could process and analyse for this project. Furthermore, my research often left me with more questions to answer. Below are two of the major questions that I could look into if I took this work further:

  • This project aimed to look at working-class women in specifically Northern towns and cities, but I have found that some of the most prominent working-class female writers were from different parts of the country, Many women also moved to different parts of Britain several times during their working lives. I would like to look more closely into the relationship between place and identity for working-class women.
  • During my visit to Huddersfield University’s archives, I examined archival collections from the Huddersfield Female Educational institute, which claims to be the first of its kind in England established for working-class women. My research has focused primarily on working-class women who were able to write and furthermore were fortunate enough to have their work published, but I would like to look further into working-class women’s education during the 19th century to find out more about the impact of literacy and education on working-class women’s identities.

This project has been a great way to improve my independent research skills. Getting used to compiling my own blibliography, conducting a literary review, and undertaking archival research are all valuable skills I will take forward into my 3rd year at uni. I have also really enjoyed the freedom of being in charge of my own academic research and am looking forward to pursuing this topic further for my dissertation.

The image attached is a print screen of my final poster for the presentation evening in November.

  • Isabel SykesScreenshot 2018-09-16 14.44.59

Belsay Hall

On our final trip of the spring term, we explored Belsay Hall, guided by the knowledgeable Dr Phillippo. Currently, Dr Phillippo is working on a collaboration with English heritage called ‘The idea of Greece at Belsay Hall and Gardens’. As part of this, we were used as handy guinea pigs for her material.

Belsay Hall enhanced by picturesque sheep

Belsay was first recorded as being owned by the Middleton family in 1203; they left the hall in 1962, although they still own the estate surrounding the hall, garden and castle.  Belsay Hall was begun in 1807 and completed in 1817, and the family moved in in December (some sources say on Christmas Day!) that year. Prior to this, the family lived in the manor and castle that are located on the other side of the gardens.


The castle dates from the 14th century while the adjoining manor wing was added in the early 1600s after England and Scotland were united under James I in 1603. The castle part of the building is a pele tower which was a type of fortification built in this region in the Middle Ages as a means of defence due to the border conflict between England and Scotland.

Stuart and revett Temple Olympian Zeus
Drawing of Temple of Olympian Zeus

From the outside, Belsay Hall house shows a strong Classical influence. It was designed by the owner, Sir Charles Monck, who was inspired by the Classical architecture that he saw during his honeymoon in 1804–6, when he, and his wife, went on a tour of Greece, along with Germany, Switzerland and northern Italy (for two years!!).  He was very taken with the Theseion, calling it ‘beautiful in the extreme’. Now known as the temple of Hephaestus, it inspired the columns of the Hall’s entrance. Monck was interested in visiting Greece both because more usual grand tour destinations such as France or Italy were inaccessible due to the Napoleonic wars and because he had admired the Greek architecture he had seen in illustrated books.DSC_0309We began the trip by exploring the house briefly. Since Belsay, unlike many similar properties, is mostly unfurnished due to the terms of the guardianship agreement, it’s easy to appreciate the space and architecture of the building. The entrance of the house leads into inner courtyard-type space, although it is roofed over, a concession to the English weather. This courtyard is two storeys high with pillars around the edges. On the first floor, the decoration along the railings looking into the courtyard was designed by Monck’s sister. For me, the most impressive room was the library which has built-in, although empty, book shelves and giant floor-to-ceiling windows, allowing you to look out across the grounds. The windows allow lots of light in, creating a sense of airiness and space.  The proportions of the bookcases are said to have been based on those of the Erechtheion temple in Athens!DSC_0310Following this look around the house, we began to explore the grounds. The gardens at Belsay Hall were also inspired by Monck’s visit to Greece, as well as by the famous Quarries of Syracuse in Sicily (which he visited later) and the ideas of the Picturesque movement. The Quarry Garden makes use of the space left when stone was quarried to build the Hall, not dissimilar in idea to lakes being created in disused quarries today, repurposing the empty space.

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Watercolour sketch of the Great Arch

The Quarry Garden contains many different species of plants, some of which are not normally suitable to be grown so far north. These various varieties of plants cover the rock of the quarry in greenery, rambling and climbing all over. The ‘wild’ feeling of the Quarry Garden contrasts with the precise and severe lines of the house. This ‘untamed’ look was partially influenced by the Picturesque movement which preferred more natural and rugged landscapes to neat and orderly ones. It was also influenced by the idea of the ‘sublime’, which described things that were beautiful and imposing while also slightly terrifying, a reminder of the insignificance of a single human in the vastness of the universe, such as great mountains.DSC_0332The path through the Quarry Garden is often enclosed by vast walls of rock, sometimes bare but sometimes covered with plant life. Through the garden, you discover a grotto that almost feels as though it should have a waterfall. Elsewhere there are hidden shelves in the cliff faces. At one point the path passes beneath an arch. This arch is situated at the top of the cliffs and was added later in 1832, following Monck’s trip to Sicily in 1830-31. Looking up towards the arch emphasises the height of the rocks, something further added to by the planting of yew trees along the tops of the cliffs.DSC_0321During the 1830-31 trip to Sicily, Monck visited the quarry gardens of Acradina. However, the Quarry Garden at Belsay was created prior to this trip. Despite this, it was still probably inspired by Syracuse, from what Monck had heard and from pictures. The Garden was probably also inspired by his earlier travels during his honeymoon. In his diary entry regarding the Temple of Aphaia at Aegina, (‘Jupiter Panhellenicus’), he appears to be very impressed with the setting of temple, ‘across this [valley] on another range, the ruins of the temple of Jupiter Panhellenicus show themselves most beautifully’. He then goes on to describe how the mountains are overgrown. The Quarry Garden, through its somewhat wild appearance also seems overgrown, perhaps suggesting that it was inspired by this view particularly since the path eventually leads to the Jacobean Manor and medieval tower, although this is unclear until you emerge and they stand in front of you.

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Quarries of Acradina

After returning from the Gardens, we explored the house again. Sadly, we were unable to go down into the cellars. Finally, we finished our trip by heading to the tea room for well-earned refreshments before heading home!



More information:

Belsay Hall

Picturesque movement


Picture credits:

‘Belsay enhanced by picturesque sheep’ taken by Dr Susanna Phillippo

‘Drawing of Temple of Olympian Zeus’ by James Stuart (1794, Antiquities of Athens vol. III)

‘Watercolour sketch of the Great Arch’ from the Middleton Archive, Northumberland Record Office (NRO).

‘Quarries of Acradina’ from W. Wilkins, The Antiquities of Magna Graecia, 1807

All others by N. Aldridge

A Jaunt through Jesmond Dene

On our final trip of the term we visited Jesmond Dene. This trip was on the last Sunday before the exam period started so taking the afternoon off to walk through the Dene served as a refreshing break from revision!

Both Jesmond Dene and Armstrong Park were originally owned by Lord William Armstrong who eventually gave them to the city. He also owned Cragside and is who the University’s Armstrong Building is named after.

This trip began in South Gosforth. After meeting at the metro station we began our walk. We started by discussing William Armstrong and whether or not his Jesmond Dene House is the same as the current Jesmond Dene House hotel (it isn’t). We were lucky enough to meet a retired park ranger who was able to shed some light on our conundrum (and who also had a very cute dog).


As we walked through the Dene we came across several interesting locations! There was a former quarry, with remains of a barbeque suggesting other people also thought it was a good spot to hang out in, and a grotto. The grotto was a small area surrounded by rocks with steps to enter and exit. Since that Sunday was pretty warm, it was lovely to stop here for a bit as it was lovely and cool due to all the rocks and the shade from the trees.

After leaving this spot we came to the waterfall. I personally have seen signs for it many times but have never actually visited it before so this was probably more exciting for me than it should have been. With a bridge across the stream, there was a great view. The waterfall itself, although fairly small, was very scenic, as evidenced by the number of people taking pictures of it (including us). However, despite its appearance of looking au naturel, we were surprised to learn that William Armstrong actually created it by using explosives. Thus creating the waterfall equivalent of no-make-up-make-up.


After marvelling at the waterfall, we explored an old watermill nearby before heading to Lord Armstrong’s Banqueting Hall (house not included). Armstrong had this dining room built as he felt the one in his house was not large enough. Although it is somewhat dilapidated and now seems to be used to store plants, it is clear that it was a large and airy space.

We briefly left the Dene, as around the corner from the Banqueting Hall, there are the remains of St Mary’s, the oldest church in Newcastle. Although only parts of it remain today and mostly later additions, it was still wonderful to visit this calm and peaceful spot which is not immediately obvious from the road. From here we visited the holy well, which was considered to have healing properties. People used to bathe in its waters although that seemed impossible today and not very enticing to us.

After returning to the Dene, we headed to Pet’s Corner. Here we visited the animals, although Dr Phillippo was sad to see her favourite wasn’t present. I particularly liked the goats and thought they were very cute! After this we had a necessary refreshment stop for ice cream before we set off again.

We finished our walk by exploring Armstrong Park which is on the other side of the Armstrong Bridge to Jesmond Dene. We saw the cattle run (useful for continuing to allow traditional cattle routes without having the cattle too close) and the remains of the windmill, although sadly roofless and without sails now, before heading to the shoe trees – three trees containing a multitude of shoes. Also scattered throughout the park were various faux classical remains, which were originally from a neo-classical building that was disassembled to be rebuilt but in the end never was.

Finally, we headed to Chillingham Road metro to go home (and, for many of us, return to our revision).

Women’s industrial work during the nineteenth century and its impact on working-class female identity in Northern towns and cities.

Hi! My name is Isabel Sykes and I’ve just finished my second year studying English Literature and History at Newcastle University. This summer I’m undertaking an 8-week research project as part of the Uni’s Vacation Scholarship scheme.

The title of my project is: ‘Women’s industrial work during the nineteenth century and its impact on working-class female identity in Northern towns and cities.’ My research takes an interdisciplinary approach to examine the impact of the industrial revolution on working class women’s social and political identities. I am looking at the writing of and pertaining to working-class women (both historical/archival and fictional) during the mid-nineteenth century to examine how women’s perceptions of themselves and their roles in society were affected by the rise of female labour in mills and factories. In particular, I am interested in how women’s work influenced perceptions of their domestic roles, their position in society in relation to men, and their political consciousnesses.

By familiarising myself with the historiography surrounding this subject, I discovered that historical research into the impact of industrialisation on the working-class has been largely male focused. Feminist historians such as Barbara Taylor, Dorothy Thompson, and Florence Boos have sought to rectify this by examining the work of working-class women poets and autobiographers, their contribution to political movements such Chartism, and representation of them in contemporary popular culture and dominant middle-class discourse. Some key questions/points of historiographical uncertainty and conflict to come out of this review of historiography were:

  • Why did women’s involvement in working-class politics (particularly the Chartist movement) appear to fade in the latter half of the nineteenth century? Most historians I looked at asked this question and pointed to the pervasiveness of middle-class domestic ideology as an explanation, among other factors.
  • Was there a sense of collective working-class identity in the 19th century? How did it change as the century progressed?
  • Was there a collective ‘female’ identity throughout the 19th century? How did class divisions play into this?

With these questions in mind, I started to do my own research using primary sources. So far, I have primarily been looking at working-class women’s poetry published in nineteenth-century periodicals such as The Poor Man’s Guardian, the Northern Star, and Eliza Cook’s Journal. I have been able to access a lot of these through online databases that the Uni subscribes to, such as 19th Century British Library Newspapers, but I have also conducted archival research in the People’s History Archives in Manchester, and Newcastle University Special Collections.

Having never conducted archival work independently before, this was a great experience for me to get more familiar with using primary material. I was very impressed with the People’s History Museum, which had numerous volumes of a variety of nineteenth-century periodicals; a lot more than I had expected. Using Special Collections in the Phillip Robinson library was also a new experience for me, and they gave me access to four volumes of the poetry of Eliza Cook (a prominent nineteenth-century female poet associated with the Chartist movement), which has provided valuable insight into how working-class women perceived their social and political roles in that period.

Next, I plan to visit the University of Huddersfield’s archive collection, Heritage Quay. It has records from the Huddersfield Female Educational Institute 1846-1883, which claims to be the first such institute for working women in the country. So far I am thoroughly enjoying having the opportunity to independently research a topic that really interests me outside my degree and am excited to see what the rest of the project will bring.

blogphotoImage: ‘A Song for the Workers’ by Eliza Cook.

Modern European History Seminar 2018/19

We are pleased to announce that in the 2018/19 academic year, as part of Newcastle History Seminar, there will be a series of papers examining aspects of Modern European History.  These seminars will run alternately with other papers on the History Seminar.

Details of the Modern European History Papers can be found at: 

But, we can also preview the papers that are planned for 2018/19:

16 October 2018 (note this date is a Tuesday).

Professor Stathis Kalyvas (University of Oxford): The Changing Landscape of Political Violence.  This presentation will take place [in co-operation with Insights-Lecture Series, Newcastle University’s flagship public lecture series]. Link to Abstract

7 November 2018

Dr Franziska Exeler (University of Cambridge/Freie Universität Berlin): Wartime Ghosts: Nazi Occupation and Its Aftermath in the Soviet Union [in cooperation with the Conflict & Revolution Research Strand].

28 November 2018

Ben Partridge (Newcastle University): From Forced Labourers to Displaced Persons: Experiences of Poles in the British Zone of Occupation, 1945-1951.  Link to Abstract

6 February 2019

Professor Johanna Gehmacher (University of Vienna/German Historical Institute London): Modern women and politics around 1900: transnational contacts between radical women in Europe [in cooperation with the GHI London].

27 February 2019

Dr Heather Jones (London School of Economics): Belgian Cousins, Prussian Tyrants and British Windsors: Changing perceptions of European Monarchy in Wartime Britain, 1914-1919.  Link to Abstract

13 March 2019

Dr Svetozar Rajak (London School of Economics): The Balkans in the Cold War: Security, conflict and cooperation in the contemporary world.

Papers start at 16.00 in a room in the Armstrong Building to be confirmed.  Everybody is welcome, not just staff, or postgraduates, but anybody who is interested in the paper.  We look forward to seeing you at one of these great papers in the new academic year.

Castles, Carvings and Cetaceans

Setting the tone

On our second trip of the term, we spent a day in Carlisle! During our visit, we discovered lots of fun things there. After taking the train to Carlisle, we began our trip by walking through the town to our first destination, the castle. In fact, the first building we saw after stepping out of the station was the citadel. It was a very impressive building — originally built for Henry VIII — and set the tone for our visit, although we didn’t go inside.

Besieging the castle

At the castle we learnt lots of exciting facts, such as the fact that not only is it the most besieged castle in England but, fittingly, it was also the last castle to have a proper siege. We also learnt that Mary, Queen of Scots, was imprisoned here at one point (imprisoned but still living fairly comfortably, considering —

Queen Elizabeth I was here

she used to watch her attendants playing football!) The thing I liked most about the castle however were the animal carvings in the prison which are thought to have been done by the guards! Clearly nothing has changed, then, since bored students still doodle all over their lecture notes today. Many of the carvings are of animals or shields associated with the families the guards were affiliated with, my personal favourite was one of a super cute boar!


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Doodles or carvings? (photo by Dr S Phillippo)

Following our visit to the castle, we headed to Tullie House museum. First, we had lunch in the café, involving (as normal on our trips) some delicious cake. Afterwards, we began exploring. The Museum had lots of different exhibitions, all focussed on the history of the area. Many of the exhibits concerned the Romans and included a model of a street that we could walk along! However, I particularly liked the one focussing DSC_0184on a whale that was washed up on a beach nearby. I found it fascinating to learn how they cleaned and preserved the skeleton since the details of the process were new to me.

Pleasingly pink

Finally, we finished our trip by visiting the cathedral. Like many of the buildings, it’s made from red sandstone, making it an attractive pink colour. Although it’s definitely not the largest cathedral, it is still a lovely building. We were able to explore both the grounds of the cathedral and to look at the fratry although we unfortunately weren’t able to go in. My favourite part of the cathedral however, was the amazing ceiling, originally 14th–15th century but restored in the 19th, painted blue and covered with stars.

Seeing stars

Finally, we returned to Newcastle, after a long and informative day, led by Dr Phillippo.

DSC_0203Find out more:

Carlisle Citadel

Carlisle Castle

Tullie House

Carlisle Cathedral