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?”

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.


Brancepeth & Hexham Trip Report

If you asked me at the start of last term what I knew of Brancepeth and Hexham my response would have been a resounding ‘not much!’ and now I find myself having too much to say for one blogpost. Brancepeth Castle and Hexham Abbey both have Anglo-Saxon origins – with Hexham Abbey even retaining its c.674 crypt – and from then on long and varied histories featuring many famous families and a fair share of notable incidents. Aside from their remarkable past they are both still actively used sites in their communities. Hexham Abbey retains its religious function while Brancepeth Castle, in stark contrast to the tales of murder and intrigue Dr. Susanna Phillippo recounted to us, was in the middle of a Christmas market at the time of our visit.

Hexham trapdoor Saxon apse

Hexham Abbey – a suitably ominous trapdoor to the Anglo-Saxon crypt

While the castle is perhaps the most immediate association with Brancepeth, there is also a small church to St. Brandon which dates back 900 years. Sadly, the original building and its impressive woodwork burnt down in 1998. It has since been rebuilt and it does retain its original stone features including an effigy of Robert Neville the ‘peacock of the North’ whose family owned Brancepeth Castle for nearly 400 years. It was confiscated from them in 1569 as a result of their involvement in the ‘Rising of the North’. While the church is open to the public, the castle is now a private residence but due to the Christmas market we were able to look around the interior.


Inside Brancepeth Castle – a busy Christmas market!

Hexham also has a number of interesting buildings including the Old Gaol and the Moot Hall. The undisputed highlight however is Hexham Abbey, a stunning building which dominates the town centre. It is worth visiting for aesthetic reasons alone!  Inside there are many points of interest which speak to its extensive history. Beside the ‘Night Stairs’ (c. 13th century in origin) which once led to the canons’ dormitories sits a Roman gravestone to the standard-bearer Flavinus which was discovered in the foundations of the cloister in the 19th century. While in the onsite museum there is a series of remarkable wooden 16th century ‘Passion Paintings’ whose vibrant colours are still visible today. These are just a few of the remarkable items viewable at the abbey.


A roman cavalryman and a unfortunate ‘barbarian’

So far, the trip series has really given me an appreciation for the rich history of Northumbria.  My only real association with Newcastle before moving here was Hadrian’s Wall, but as I have seen and learnt there is so much more than that to explore! Hexham and Brancepeth are both a short trip from Newcastle city centre and are easily accessible by public transport.


Walltown Crags trip, Hadrian’s Wall: eight things we learnt

1. Dr Phillippo has never yet cancelled a trip due to bad weather…

  • …and clearly wasn’t going to start now despite warnings of gales and possible flooding. Walltown in the windShe did say the programme and route were kept under careful review, and she did ask local advice in a café before attempting Walltown Tippalt burn floodto take the group across local small river the Tippalt Burn (in spate) — even if the bridge by which we crossed the Burn was now only about 6 inches above the water level!
  • She comes from NE Scotland, and by her own confession “my standards for passable weather are not high”.  However, there is also the useful lesson no. 2:



2. Travel hopefully: Weather forecasts are not infallible.

  • Ever since Michael Fish declared there was little risk of the 1987 UK hurricane that battered the south of England, TV weather forecasters have tended to err on the side of caution. While they can be right, quite often things turn out less bad than predicted. Travel hopefully. We even ended up with some patches of blue sky in the afternoon rather than the warned-of torrential rain.Greenhead flooded river 1








On the other hand:

3. Timing is everything.

  • 3 weeks ago we strolled pleasantly along the banks of the Tyne from Corbridge to the nearby Roman site of Corstopitum. If we’d left it to today, we’d have been swimming: the week’s rainfall had swollen the Tyne to a racing torrent and the riverbank path was totally submerged. Even the ducks seemed to have moved on.Corbridge river path
  • Luckily for our being able to continue our journey, that bridge has stood since the 17th century and survived a flood in 1771 which disposed of every single other bridge on the Tyne including the one at Newcastle… so wasn’t likely to give way now.

4. The Romans believed in doing things thoroughly

While there’s not much left to see of Magnis/Carvoran, the big Stanegate fort at Walltown, the site has yielded some remarkable finds, including inscriptions showing that among the fort’s garrisons was a cohort of archers from Syria  (what they thought of the climate is not recorded).  Perhaps the most famous find is the Carvoran modius, a huge 20-pint bronze corn measure (probably for paying taxes), discovered sticking out of marshy ground, so the story goes, by an Irish postman on his local round in 1915.  It dates to the reign of the Emperor Domitian (late 1st century AD), as can be told from its inscription; but when the decision was taken after Domitian’s death to erase him from all records (damnatio memoriae), this was carried as far as erasure of his name even on a bronze utensil in the farthest NW reaches of the Empire.  This is either impressively thorough or disturbingly vindictive (or possibly both!).  The modius is now in the museum at Chesters Fort, further east.

(For more on the Romans not doing things by halves, see also Hadrian’s Wall (7 below!).)

5. It’s dangerous territory north of the Wall.

  • Actually, despite the many popular conceptions and presentations of the Wall ‘separating the Roman Empire from the barbarians’, it’s not quite so simple: even when Hadrian’s Wall did mark a frontier (rather than, for a time, the Antonine Wall up in really Dangerous Country, i.e. Scotland (joke —I’m Scottish!)), there was a considerable Roman presence north of the Wall. But:
  • on a windy day, crossing to the outer side of the Walltown Walltown steep climb cropped for blogstretch of Wall is a little hazardous. After about 60 seconds, Dr Phillippo realised she was in danger of contravening her own Risk Assessment (“advise students to take reasonable care”) and ordered the troops back to the S side before anyone could be blown off the cliff edge.


6. Sir Walter Scott is the only person to have a major railway station named after one of his novels (Edinburgh’s main station Waverley). His connection with this trip: he proposed to his wife at the “Popping Stone’, Thirlwall castle 1a bit further up the river from Thirlwall Castle, and helped popularise Romantic Ruins including this castle through his historical novels and collection of ballads Minstrelsy of the Scottish Borders. However…

  • …when imparting this fact, it helps if your audience knows who Walter Scott was. Following recent chastening experiences assuming knowledge of Robert the Bruce and the spider (go and look it up!) and English Romantic poetry, Dr Phillippo again found herself describing as really, really famous someone not everyone had heard of.
  • For those who don’t know, he was an early nineteenth-century publishing phenomenon akin to J.K. Rowling, and is often credited with having practically invented Scotland’s tourist image and industry.

7. Not even the Romans were mad enough to build a wall leading over the edge of a cliff.

  • At Walltown Quarry, Hadrian’s Wall seems to stop in mid-air high Walltown crags and studentsabove you at the top of the quarry face. This is not the Romans’ fault, but due to the well-known tendency of industrial development not always to be over-concerned with cultural heritage.Walltown Crags
  • However, the Romans were mad (or determined, or dogmatic) enough to build a 4–5 metre-high wall on top of sheer cliffs 40–60+ feet high. Because they could. And to show that they could, even if they didn’t need to. As the Walltown Crags stretch of the Wall shows.

8. Sheep have right of way (or will assert it even if they don’t)

  • In a scene straight out of Sean the Sheep, our bus to Hexham was held up between there and Corbridge on the A695 by a galloping flock of sheep, herded by a couple of small motor vehicles and one very bedraggled-looking sheepdog. Presumably their usual across-the-fields route was under water. They were clearly determined to stop for nothing, not even a large Stagecoach bus.

Walltown Corbride to Hexham sheep2

Picture acknowledgements: Naomi Aldridge (Q800 Stage 1); Pengpeng Wang (QV31 Stage 2); Daisy Doncaster (BA Hons History 2015)

A Jazzy Vacation Scholarship in the eastern USA

Me enjoying a boat ride in Charleston, South Carolina this summer, where my research is based
Me enjoying a boat ride in Charleston, South Carolina this summer, where my research is based

Hi! I’m Emily Needle, an undergraduate student reading History at Newcastle University going into my third year in September 2015. I found my love for American History at GCSE when studying a course on the American West, and no other area of History has ever been as exciting to me since.

I’m really fortunate to have been awarded a vacation scholarship from Newcastle University which gives me a grant of money to carry out some research on a project I have designed myself. To anyone reading who is a student at Newcastle University (but not a final year student), I highly recommend that you look into the vacation scholarships and apply. It is a really incredible opportunity and one you won’t regret but will always have as fantastic research experience, whether you stay in the UK or use the money to travel to carry out your research like I did. You decide what you are going to study and plan the project yourself, so you can do it on anything related to history that interests you; and then go on to focus more on the topic in your dissertation as I am doing now.

My research project utilizes the Jenkins Orphanage Band from Charleston (South Carolina) as a case study to explore some of the bigger questions surrounding the development and dissemination of Jazz in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century United States. I am examining the ethnic and economic profile of Jazz audiences in an attempt to assess the reception of Jazz, and the extent to which Jazz, developed in the segregated environment of the ‘Jim Crow’ South, was able to cross class and racial divisions among national audiences.
The title of my project is ‘From Rags Through Race to Ragtime: The Jenkins Orphanage Band and American Audience Response to Jazz in Turn of the Century Charleston’.

With the scholarship money I travelled down the east coast of America for 5 weeks (9th July – 15th August 2015) and made a blog documenting my research which can be found here –

Picture 2The whole project was an absolutely amazing experience and enabled me to see lots of America alongside spending some time in archives. I drove up the Shenandoah valley, went down the biggest caverns in Virginia, viewed New York City from the top of the Rockefeller centre, rode the big wheel in Maryland’s National Harbour, sat in the room in Philadelphia where the constitution of America and the Declaration of Independence were signed, walked part of the Appalachian trail, paddled in the James River which America was founded upon, met ‘Thomas Jefferson’ in Williamsburg and saw a musket and cannon-fire demonstration, travelled on a water taxi in Charleston, experienced New Orleans’ famous nightlife, and went on a swamp tour down the Louisiana bayou where I fed marshmallows to alligators. Some of the other amazing animals I saw in the wild on my trip include beavers, deer, turtles, dolphins, pelicans, hawks, eagles, chipmunks, herons and hummingbirds.

My research this summer aimed to try and answer some of the questions I have about the connections between Jazz and race, and hopefully to enlighten other people too. My findings will form the basis of my dissertation as I start my third and final year of my undergraduate degree in September. For the vacation scholarship you are required to produce an academic poster from your findings, and a 1,000 word report, which I am currently working on before I start my third year.

New York City from the top of the Rockerfeller center
New York City from the top of the Rockerfeller center

 Archives I visited include the Library of Congress, and in Charleston the College of Charleston collections, and the Avery Research Center which holds the original documents from the Jenkins Institute and the archives of the Charleston Jazz Initiative. I met some incredible lecturers, archivists and scholars whilst in the US who are very high in their respective fields.
The band itself was formed in the 1890s and came out of an orphanage founded in Charleston in 1891 by Reverend Daniel Joseph Jenkins. He discovered some young black boys sleeping on the street who said they had no parents, and he took them home and gave them some food. This continued, with more and more boys from around the city coming for food, until he managed to purchase a warehouse and turned it into Jenkins Institute, a building I was fortunate enough to be able to visit this summer.

Me outside the Jenkins orphanage building at 20 Franklin Street, Charleston, which is now a housing authority building.
Me outside the Jenkins orphanage building at 20 Franklin Street, Charleston, which is now a housing authority building.

To raise funds for the orphanage Jenkins asked for people to donate old instruments, and the boys began to play on the streets of Charleston. At first they played traditional American tunes that the people would know, but the influence of their ancestors and the African Gullah rhythms they had been taught naturally infused in the music as they played. This new sound was something the American people had not heard before, and they loved it. The popular dance ‘The Charleston’ originated in this city and came from a series of steps known to African-Americans as they danced to this new type of music which eventually became known as ‘Jazz’. The band soon became so popular that they toured all round the US, and visited London and Paris. Famous musicians such as Jazz trumpeters William ‘Cat’ Anderson and Jabbo Smith were Jenkins orphanage alumni. The band disbanded in the 1980s.

Picture 5It is this band that forms the core of my research. So little is known or has been written about them and I feel it is so important for their story to be heard. As a musician myself and a lover of Jazz music, it seemed natural for me to combine my love of American history and music to discover the history of these orphan boys who captured so many hearts. The backdrop of the US South during this period is one of extreme racial tension and violence. The civil war ended in 1865 and slavery was deemed unconstitutional, and yet black people’s lives were scarcely much better than their ancestors’ had been. Laws against their freedom and citizenship were introduced and the increasingly segregated South became known as ‘Jim Crow’. It fascinates me how the American public could love this band so much, and yet at the same time a few streets away white mobs were murdering black people for crimes such as simply living in the same area as them. Finding a newspaper from 1911 advertising a concert the Jenkins band were doing in New York, underneath an article about the first lynching in Pennsylvania the previous day, really put everything in perspective for me.
Of course only a few weeks ago nine people were shot in one of Charleston’s oldest black churches, by a white man associated with beliefs about white supremacy. This hate and racial prejudice still continues. It is bizarre and wrong that in 2015 the subject I am researching as ‘history’ has been brought alive again in such a raw and painful way.

The view from the Lincoln memorial in Washington D.C, where Martin Luther King delivered his very moving ‘I Have a Dream’ speech in 1963.
The view from the Lincoln memorial in Washington D.C, where Martin Luther King delivered his very moving ‘I Have a Dream’ speech in 1963.

 I do have some answers from my research, but I also have even more questions. I applied for my scholarship stating that I was looking into audience reactions to Jazz music, and the hundreds of newspaper articles I’ve read have given me just that.

The research I undertook was situated in the social context of race relations and the development of musical styles in South Carolina. I found that Reverend Daniel Jenkins used the fear of black crime throughout his lifetime to persuade the town of Charleston to provide money for the orphanage to educate young black children and keep them under control, which illustrates the fear white people had, and the tense racial climate of the time period. The Jenkins orphanage band played a very significant and under-appreciated role in the expansion of jazz music throughout the United States. This was mainly through the infusion, not hybridization as many people thought, of African culture with European styles (African retentions in American music include syncopation, blues notes, call and response patterns, and improvisation.) The originality and unique syncopation of the orphanage musicians was highly praised and recognised by accomplished Jazz performers before anything of the form was even recorded, and though it is not definite that the band’s specific musical style can be called ‘jazz’ in the first decade of the twentieth century, the players were already using the swing rhythms that came to define American music in the so called ‘Jazz age’. I think my research highlights how much there is to uncover on the influences upon Jazz music from areas other than New Orleans which is credited as the birthplace of Jazz.

Without looking through all my research, off the top of my head, I think it was the music and the Jazz that saved these people and brought them away from the negative connotations of slavery. I’ve found the musical heritage of America absolutely fascinating, how black people were able to be seen as more than just their skin colour; in a way, music allowed them to be seen as people. They were not just ‘negros’ to be looked down upon and pushed out of their homes. They had skills that impressed, and made white people want to emulate them. Perhaps this is why music is featured so heavily in the civil rights era of the 1960s; because music gives people a voice that otherwise might not be heard. I’ve often heard similar phrases to that, but to really understand you have to experience it yourself, and now I really understand what music can do. In a way I started my musical journey through American history by volunteering with the organization Journey to Justice ( and being involved in their events and the exhibition at Newcastle’s Discovery museum earlier in 2015 that showcased the power of music in the 1960s American civil rights movement. And my personal journey of course has only just begun, I have the rest of my life to keep on learning, and to keep on singing and playing and delivering the joy of music to others. I am excited now to start my third year and turn my research into a dissertation. Please have a look at my blog for much more information on my travels, the many famous history sites we saw, and my findings!

A quote from Sarah Finley Dowling who was the orphanage matron for over 50 years, perhaps sums up best these children I have never met but now mean so much to me. Though I wasn’t there, I can close my eyes and hear their music:

Holding Elvis, a baby alligator, on a swamp tour in New Orleans
Holding Elvis, a baby alligator, on a swamp tour in New Orleans

”The music lessons, the practice sessions, the beat of the drums, the shining horns, the colorful uniforms, the flash and dash, the excitement of those marching bands exist only in the reminiscences of those in whose lives they played such a memorable part.”