George W. Temperley and the bombardment of Scarborough in 1914 – A Guest Post by Ashleigh Jackson

George Temperley. Image courtesy of the Natural History Society of Northumbria (NHSN) Archive

George W. Temperley. Image courtesy of the Natural History Society of Northumbria (NHSN) Archive

My name is Ashleigh Jackson. I am a History undergraduate student from Edinburgh and I’m currently on a summer placement with the Natural History Society of Northumbria in their archives at the Great North Museum: Hancock.

“This morning Scarborough was touched for the first time by the Great War” – Marguerite Temperley, 16 December 1914

George W. Temperley was a member of the Natural History Society of Northumbria from 1906 until his death in 1967. Temperley was a talented naturalist, with particular interests in ornithology and botany. From 1913, Temperley lived in Scarborough, where he worked as Secretary to the Council of Social Welfare, witnessing the bombardment which occurred in 1914, killing 17 residents of the town.

© Library of Congress LC-USZC4-11361

© Library of Congress LC-USZC4-11361

The diaries of Temperley’s wife, Marguerite, offer a striking insight into the effects of the First World War on the Homefront. Her diary entry from 16 December 1914 records the fatal raid on Scarborough. The German Navy targeted the northern coast, including Scarborough, Hartlepool and Whitby in the early hours of 16 December  1914. The ships opened fire with giant naval guns, desolating these quiet, coastal towns. During the bombardment 137 people were killed, while hundreds more were left injured and homeless as a result of the damage waged by the German fleet. Notably, Scarborough was vulnerable as it did not possess any gun defences and the harbour was not suitable for warships. However, German intelligence led them to believe that Scarborough, like Hartlepool, was defended by gun batteries which rendered it a legitimate military target under the rules set out by the Hague Convention of 1907.

Although the attack on the northern coast was not militarily significant, it did lead to significant loss and distress for the civilian population. An important impact of this event was the rise of young men enlisting, in an effort to avenge the devastation inflicted on their home towns.

A further impact of the raid was a loss of confidence in the Royal Navy, after many blamed its failure to intercept German intelligence and the inadequacy of coastal defence, leaving Scarborough and the other towns involved defenceless.  In the immediate aftermath of the raid, there was an outpouring of public anger towards Germany, who they believed had broken the rules of war, for targeting undefended areas.

Tempereley was at home on the morning of the raid, preparing breakfast with his family when the bombardment began at around 8 o’clock. The Temperley family initially mistook the sound as thunder, but as the raid continued they soon realised it was something more sinister. The family, like many others across Scarborough were taken by surprise, and took shelter in their cellar. In her diary, Marguerite writes that her husband danced a highland fling in an effort to keep warm, a rather comic image in the midst of utter destruction.

Image courtesy of Historic England

Image courtesy of Historic England

Marguerite goes onto to describe the extent of the attack, with houses torn in half and roofs blown off while the already ruined castle suffered further damage. The image to the left shows Scarborough Castle, photographed soon after the attack. This section of the castle was hit by two shells during the raid, the scars of which are still visible today. The Temperley’s lived at 23 Esplanade Gardens, which survived the raid unscathed but this was located close to Royal Terrace where Marguerite notes a house had its roof blown open.

“As the bangs continued in quick succession we realised it was the sound of guns” – Marguerite Temperley, December 16th 1914

Notably, the Temperleys were both pacifists, however it remains unknown as to whether George was a conscientious objector. Local historian Joan Proudlock believes that George may have been a conscientious objector based on the research she has carried out, however, she emphasises that this is unclear. Furthermore, the nature of Temperley’s work in Scarborough remains ambiguous. Proudlock further suggests that Temperley’s work at the Council of Social Welfare was perhaps an alternative form of service during the war, rather than active service in the army.

During his time in Scarborough, Temperley began developing his skills as a lecturer, holding talks on natural history, ornithology and botany to local groups including the newly formed Women’s Institute. Soon after the end of the war, in 1919, the Temperley family moved back to Newcastle.

Image courtesy of Joan H Proudlock

Image courtesy of Joan H. Proudlock

In 1913, the Temperleys witnessed the first biplanes taking off from Scarborough. The image to the right shows a postcard sent by George W Temperley to his uncle, Harry Charlton. He writes “this is the water plane that came to Scarbro! It is being oiled and overhauled ready for the next flight. You know it flew past Sunderland, then over Scotland and fell into the sea near Ireland and was smashed”.

Upon his return to Newcastle, Temperley became an increasingly active member of the Natural History Society of Northumbria. He made extensive trips around the region, a commendable act for a man without a car. In 1927, he contributed to a series of ‘Young People’s Lectures’ giving a talk on 4 January entitled ‘Tales of the Birds’. It was not until he retired from social welfare in 1928 that his love of natural history was able to flourish. In 1930 he became the Honorary Secretary to the Society, and later, honorary curator to the Hancock Museum. From 1935, he began compiling an annual ornithological report for Newcastle and Durham, a task which was later inherited by Fred Grey after Temperley’s death in 1967.

Natural History Society of Northumbria ornithological field trip to Teeside, Temperley right. Image courtesy of the 'Natural History Society of Northumbria (NHSN) Archive

Natural History Society of Northumbria ornithological field trip to Teeside, Temperley right. Image courtesy of the Natural History Society of Northumbria (NHSN) Archive

The Natual History Society of Northumbria holds numerous archives relating to Temperley. The archives include Temperley’s diaries, natural history records and photographs, he remained a key member of the Society until his death, allowing both the Hancock Museum and the Society to grow even after the devastation of the First World War. Temperley acquired a reputation within ornithological circles, becoming well acquainted with Viscount Grey, George Bolam and Abel Chapman. In 1951, he published A History of British Birds of County Durham, the crowning achievement to his work as a naturalist.

23 March 1951 - Temperley can be seen to the far left ‘watching a flock of 250 Barnacle Geese and some Pink-footed Geese on the Solway Marshes' Image courtesy of the 'Natural History Society of Northumbria (NHSN) Archive

23 March 1951 – Temperley can be seen to the far left ‘watching a flock of 250 Barnacle Geese and some Pink-footed Geese on the Solway Marshes’
Image courtesy of the Natural History Society of Northumbria (NHSN) Archive

[Quotations from Marguerite Temperley’s diary, taken from an unpublished biography by Joan H. Proudlock, ‘George W. Temperley, Botanist and Ornithologist 1875-1967′ (2016) held in the Natural History Society’s archive.]

Rhythms of the Cosmos – A Guest Post by Dr Andrew Fletcher

The Great North Museum: Hancock has a small but perfectly formed planetarium on the first floor. The computer-controlled system allows us to fly through the Universe, in space and in time, choosing the best viewpoint from which to investigate all kinds of wonderful phenomena. In this guest post, Dr Andrew Fletcher, one of our 2016 Great North Museum Fellows, describes a new planetarium show he is developing that should appeal to anyone with an interest in astronomy.

Everyone can see that the Sun moves across the sky and that the Moon is sometimes visible during the day and sometimes at night. Pay a bit more attention to the Moon’s position and you will notice that from one night to the next, if you look at exactly the same time, it moves with respect to the stars.  And over the course of about one month, you will observe a bright full moon slowly transition to a thin sliver of a new moon and back again.

It is also possible to track planets with just your eyes. Venus, Mars, Saturn and Jupiter can all be easily seen and if you pay extremely close attention and measure their positions over many years, you would find that they too move across the night sky, all at different speeds. And sometimes they seem to double back on themselves!

The Earth, Sun, planets, stars and galaxies are all involved in an intricate pattern of motion.

The Earth, Sun, planets, stars and galaxies are all involved in an intricate pattern of motion.

From the earliest times in human civilisation, thousands of years ago, people looked carefully at the night sky and tracked these different movements. Some of the cleverest scholars who ever lived tried their hardest to make sense of what was going on, inventing new methods of measurement and new branches of mathematics that we still use today.

The apparent orbital paths of the Sun, Venus and Mercury around the Earth, according to the system of Ptolemy (2nd Century AD), in an illustration from the 1st Edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, 1771.

The apparent orbital paths of the Sun, Venus and Mercury around the Earth, according to the system of Ptolemy (2nd Century AD), in an illustration from the 1st Edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, 1771.

In the end, it turned out that having the right viewpoint is the key to making sense of all of this movement in the night sky. With the correct perspective everything falls neatly into place. That’s where having a modern, sophisticated planetarium comes into its own. Seeing with your own eyes how the Earth orbits the Sun and why this causes the seasons, or how the changing positions of the Earth, Moon and Sun produce the phases of the Moon and the cycle of tides, gives a dynamic picture that books and diagrams can’t compete with.

The position of Mars changes between January (right) and September (left) 2016, with respect to the background constellations. The occasional retrograde (or doubling-back) motion of the planets confused astronomers for millennia. (Image credit: NASA)

The position of Mars changes between January (right) and September (left) 2016, with respect to the background constellations. The occasional retrograde (or doubling-back) motion of the planets confused astronomers for millennia. (Image credit: NASA)

Astronomers now know that everything in the Universe is moving and our understanding of planets, stars, galaxies (my field of research) and the entire Universe itself all have to take into account this motion.

I have been spending my summer mornings, before the museum opens to the public, programming a new planetarium show called ‘Rhythms of the Cosmos’ that will be premiered on Wednesday 31 August, during the museum’s Space Week. There will be shows, which will last about 20 minutes, at 10.30am, 11.30am and 12.30pm and I will be available between shows to try to answer any astronomy questions.

Dr Andrew Fletcher is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Mathematics and Statistics at Newcastle University. His research interests are in radio astronomy, galaxies and the interstellar medium.

What ever happened to Saltwell Park Museum? (Part 3)


Carved Head in Wood, from one of pilasters of Barge Inn, South Shore, Gateshead. Donated to the museum from a ‘dismantling company’ in 1934. Photo Credit: Karolina Maciagowska

Read Whatever happened to Saltwell Park Museum? Part 1

Read Whatever happened to Saltwell Park Museum? Part 2

Here are excerpts from an article from the Newcastle Courant on 10 July, 1933 recording the opening of Gateshead’s Local & Industrial Museum (later to be officially called Saltwell Park Museum). The article has the headline ‘SPREADING THE LIGHT OF KNOWLEDGE.’

Councillor Thomas Smith, who presided, said a borough of the importance and historical interest of Gateshead certainly ought to have a museum of its own, and the Parks Committees decided to do the thing thoroughly.

“Some of you” he added “may have an idea that in these hard times it is rather an expensive luxury to undertake. I want to make this quite clear that this new venture has been established and will be continued at very little cost to the town.”

“The wonderful history of our town will duly be recorded here. The children will have access, and lectures on botany, bird life and natural history, and industrial progress are being arranged for them.”

“I’ve been inundated with offers of exhibits by firms and private individuals who are interested in Gateshead. There has been talk recently about the borough being overlooked, but we are going to see that doesn’t happen again, and that our people are provided with all the amenities and facilities that the times can afford.”

Account Book 1934 cropped

Gateshead Borough ‘Abstract of Accounts’ book from 1934.

Saltwell Towers, where the museum was based, had dry rot and a serious damp problem that was first identified in 1932. It never really got fixed and was obviously only superficially resolved for the opening a year later. The condition of building gradually declined across the next 30 years and fell into disrepair; gradually the rooms that held the exhibits were systematically closed, due to a fear that the ceilings would collapse on people. In February 1969 the decision was made to close the museum and a new home would be found for the collection. When you read the Gateshead Borough Council annual accounts report from 1969 there is only a line or two about the closure.

1958 Park Lane area of Gateshead ‘slum clearance’. Making way for the 1960s redevelopment.

It is important to remember what was also going on in Gateshead (and Newcastle) at this time. There was demolition and redevelopment on a massive scale, architecture and town planning was transforming the area. Huge high rise flats, fly overs, motorways and multi-storey car parks were being built, in a style that we now call Brutalist. People were trying to make the world a better place. Town planners and local authorities wanted to eradicate what they saw as a society trapped in the pre-war period – a period of ‘slum landlords’, outdoor toilets, poor health, poor housing and no welfare state. They wanted to transform an infrastructure and society that was, in their minds, ill equipped for the late 20th century. It was an ambitious and benevolent project that was not concerned with the past but the future.


Clear Pressed Glass Bear from Saltwell Park Museum Collection. Photo Credit: Karolina Maciagowska

On the closure of Saltwell Park Museum many objects didn’t find a new home, they remained in the locked and decaying building.  Some of the collection was moved into the stores at the Shipley Art Gallery, which was the museum’s partner, but many objects remained in the Towers for at least six years. Across this period the Towers suffered from vandalism, regular break-ins and the roof in part collapsing.  As a result many objects were lost due to theft or the very poor condition of the building. It was not until 1974 when Gateshead Metropolitan Borough and Tyne & Wear County Council were formed that the remaining objects would be moved.  In 1974 Tyne & Wear Museums was created and the collection was moved into better and more secure conditions in the stores of museums and galleries across the region.

The Towers remained closed and empty for the next 30 years. It wasn’t until 2005 that the building reopened, its refurbishment part of Saltwell Park’s amazing redevelopment. Gateshead Council widely consulted the public as to what the Towers should be. It was decided that it should be a café and visitor centre. The Towers and the Park today are very popular.

Saltwell Park Museum Event 15 Aug 2015 (12)

19th Century craftsman Gerrard Robinson’s ‘Robinson Crusoe’ wooden sculpture. Photographed last year at a ‘Saltwell Park Museum’ event at the Shipley Art Gallery.

The story of the objects that were in the Saltwell Park Museum and what happened to them is a contentious one. Before it closed, the Museum was not run in accordance with today’s standards for museums and the care and conservation of objects. The poor documentation and record of the collection prior to the transfer meant that, though not lost, objects did not have sufficient records to verify their history.

Over the last four decades staff within Tyne & Wear’s museum service, Gateshead councillors and council workers have had to deal with frustrated Gateshead residents who want to know what happened to their Museum and its collection.  Because the irony is that, although the Museum might not have been up to modern standards, within its short life it was extremely popular.  Early visitor books record an average of 800 people attending daily and even in its final year it was averaging 1200 visitors a week.


The first ‘Attendance Record’ and Visitor Book from Saltwell Park Museum or ‘Local & Industrial Museum, Gateshead’. Record visitors from 1933 to 1935.

For a generation of Gateshead residents, especially those who grew up and still live in the Bensham, Low Fell and Saltwell areas, it was an important part of their cultural life, their youth and identity. People who were adolescents and teenagers in the 1950s and 60s will have strong and sometimes vivid memories of objects within the museum: penny farthing bikes, a life size golden goat, taxidermy, bird eggs, ship models and reproductions of the world in miniature.

Since 2008 there has been gradual work within Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums sourcing objects in the collections whose origins can be traced back to the Saltwell Park Museum. The culmination of this work is the permanent, and as a result of the large number of objects involved, evolving exhibition at the Shipley Art Gallery dedicated to the Museum’s collection. The exhibition opened on 11 June 2016.


An original label from Saltwell Park Museum.

This is not a ‘Local History’ exhibition in the sense that it will tell a linear narrative of Gateshead’s history, in a style of presentation we maybe expect from museums or ‘historical’ exhibitions; timelines, dates and lots of information explaining what things mean. Today people experience heritage and history in very complex and different ways compared to the 1930s.  New technologies and global networks enable people to have the world’s knowledge in their pockets. At no other time in history have we had such individual access to so much knowledge and technology. As a result this exhibition will  pose more questions than provide answers. It will allow visitors both new and old to make their own decisions about things and what they mean. It will also evolve over time and will change, working in partnership with the various community groups and networks in Gateshead. The collection will also go out into community venues in Gateshead, so that people can use it to tell new and different stories beyond the traditional gallery or museum.

Shopping in 1900 display cropped

Photograph from 1950s of children looking at the ‘Shopping in 1900’ display at Saltwell Park Museum.

What exactly is Local History? The Shipley is of course an art gallery, and it has to be remembered that it is the North East’s primary gallery dedicated to design and craft. But what is art and craft if it is not about culture, memory and identity? How can we use objects and learn from them without spoon feeding people meaning or resorting to an authoritarian voice of ‘History’, local or otherwise? How can we reuse objects in innovative and new ways that transcend their original use and function? How can an exhibition that presents objects from an old museum, not displayed for 40 years, be useful and relevant today? How can we use these objects to move beyond narrow definitions of heritage, community or even what we experience as art?

Saltwell Park Museum Event 15 Aug 2015 (19)

Collection of glass slides from Saltwell Park Museum.

Gateshead has an amazing community network of local history groups, libraries and heritage centres like St Mary’s and Bensham Grove. This exhibition, within the Shipley Art Gallery’s current evolution as a people and community focused venue, will continue to support and be part of this network. It is hoped that this exhibition will challenge preconceived ideas about what history and art can be. Saltwell Park Museum and its collection represented a very particular view of the world and a pretty narrow one; there would be no value in just replicating that. The challenge for this exhibition and its future variations will be to make it relevant to new audiences with no experience of the old museum or Gateshead and at the same time bear in mind and be sensitive to the people who felt its loss. Ultimately this is an exhibition about identity, place and how we see the world reflected back at us through objects.

Nostalgia is not the most awful thing in the world, in some ways it can have a value but we can all too easily get caught up in its pull and dragged along with its propensity towards escapism. It is the most narrow form of what we call ‘History’ and the benefits are superficial. The question ‘Remember When?’ or invitation to ‘Take a trip down Memory Lane‘ is more often than not asked from a safe and comfortable historical or politically neutral distance. Nostalgia rarely asks difficult or complicated questions. It is never concerned with the future and does not take into account the complexities of history and nuances of the world we live in.

At its very worst nostalgia locks us into fixed and imagined ideas of the past, singular narratives that we cannot move on from or out of. In extreme cases it can be dangerous and possibly, maybe unintentionally, fuel less than tolerant ideas about national identity or ethnicity. Nostalgia’s rose tinted lure means that we can, if we allow it, get trapped telling the same stories over and over again in a world that is far from static or simple. The last decade has seen an exponential increase in what you could call ‘nostalgic’ activity. You can observe this via ‘past/present’ photography groups online, ‘historical’ re-enactments or ‘retro’ events. The term vintage seems ubiquitous. Why is that and what does it say about our culture and society today?

Here is a great quote from a book by Turkish writer Ornhan Panhuk called ‘Museum of Innocence‘. It’s a book about cultural memory, objects, identity and loss.  “Real museums are places where time is transformed into space.”  It is a poetic quote that could mean lots of different things. Ultimately what do we want from our museums and art galleries and what do we want them to do?  Understanding the complexities of how and why we got to a certain point in time and space is important and it’s hard telling a new story in a different way because people generally always prefer the path of least resistance.


The wooden, life size ‘Golden Goat’. Originally a pub sign from the ‘Goat Inn’ on Bottle Bank, Gateshead.

Maybe one aim for the Saltwell Park Museum Collection is to unlock some latent power that has been held within the objects and use it to look at the world in a different way and start to tell new and different stories about the present and the future. The centre of this world could be Gateshead if people are willing to look and listen.

Saltwell Park Museum at the Shipley

The New Kids In Town

Three students in orange t-shirts with Open Day placard on campus

Image courtesy of Chris Bishop

If you manage to make it past thirty without making a complete idiot of yourself (and for me that particular ship sailed and promptly sank some time ago) then you quickly learn that there is nothing sadder than someone of ‘a certain age’ trying to ‘get down with the kids’. However much one might like to delude oneself that, yo, I’m still hip enough to mix it with all the young dudes, the harsh, harsh reality is that you ain’t. Nobody is. It’s something to do with the genes (and probably the jeans).

It was with this sobering knowledge that I attended the recent Open Day at Newcastle University, where sixth-form students check out the campus and courses to help them choose the right University and degree. I was sharing a stall with the Fine Art Department to tell the visitors (mostly aged seventeen, hence the paranoia) about the Hatton, why it was closed and what wonders would await them if they returned next year or beyond.

Running any stall all day on one’s own can be a tad wearing, not to say impractical: ‘I need to get a coffee and I need to get a coffee now!’.So I enlisted/blackmailed the help of Alysia, newly-crowned Chair of The Friends of the Hatton.

Woman standing at indoor stall promoting Hatton Gallery

Alysia hails from the great State of New Jersey…

Black-and-white photo of young man playing electric guitar

© Thomas Uhlemann, German Federal Archives

…so for any Springsteen fan, meeting her is akin to chatting with one of the Apostles (“So, your All-Time Top Five Least Favourite Bruce tracks…” – hmm, tricky). The Friends do valuable and important work to help the Gallery and with the current closure their role is even more vital in maintaining our public profile. They run classes and workshops, seminars and tours, and members get deals and discounts, previews and parties and a chance to sell their own artworks in Friends exhibitions. Wow! Where do I sign?! So if you want to sizzle up your social life, lay the love on your lobes and add some vortex to your cortex (I have no idea what that means) then Join The Friends Today!*


We arrived at the venue – named The Venue – a large sub-sub-basement in the Students’ Union at 8.30 and began setting up for the 9 a.m. start. Given the reputation of teenagers for early rising this seemed a mite optimistic but here they are! They’re leaflet-a-grabbing and query-a-firing with a self-confidence and perception that would have seen my angst-ridden seventeen-year-old self rushing for the nearest cupboard.

Normally at Open Days we’d be running fascinating and scintillating tours of the gallery… but with that being impractical this year, we’d assembled a collection of artist’s impressions of how the Hatton will look after re-development.

White art gallery with visitors

Artist impression of Hatton new Main Gallery; image courtesy of LDN Architects

You can see other pictures on our website here. Traditionally such impressions were hand-drawn by the artists, but the advent of photo software has allowed more realistic images, complete with ‘genuine’ visitors who always seem to be far more fashionable than I ever am or will be.

The two days passed in something of a blur, as busy events tend to. With sixteen other Faculty departments hustling their wares, it felt like a rather upmarket marketplace (‘Step right up, get yer art ‘ere, luvley degrees!’). A student might show an interest in Fine Art while their hovering concerned parent tried to usher them on to Business Studies or Law, yet given the current nature of work and jobs, creative thinking and ‘soft skills’ have become pre-requisites for many roles beyond the world of art. As Fine Art made their case, Alysia and I would pitch in with the Hatton, the plans, its extensive collection and rare status of being one of the few university art galleries to exist brick-in-brick within its own department.

While we were there primarily to inform rather than preach, I couldn’t help wondering if we’d made a difference. Had the prospect of starting an art degree alongside a beautiful new gallery persuaded someone to choose not only Newcastle but a whole new direction? Did we inadvertently sway some young mind to forgo a career in accountancy in favour of uncharted waters? Best decision I ever made.

You can read more about the developments planned for the Hatton on our website but seriously, trust me dude, it’s gonna be like well cool (yep, still got it…)

‘Revitalising The Hatton Gallery’ is funded by Heritage Lottery Fund.

Logo for Heritage Lottery Fund




Gotta Catch ‘Em All: The Naturalist’s Mantra

My name is Erin Slack and I am the curatorial assistant for natural sciences at the Great North Museum: Hancock. In this blog post I want to talk about something very important to me and the work I do: Pokémon.

Pikachu as seen outside the Great North Museum: Hancock in the Pokémon Go game.

Pikachu spotted outside the Great North Museum: Hancock in the Pokémon GO game. © 2016 Pokémon/Nintendo.

It might sound a bit strange for someone who works closely with animals and the natural world in a museum setting to be espousing the virtues of a video game, however the origins for the Pokémon franchise and the Great North Museum: Hancock are actually closer than you might think.

Games developer Satoshi Tajiri found inspiration for the Pokémon series in his childhood interest of collecting insects. Nicknamed ‘Dr. Bug’ as a youngster, Tajiri dreamed of becoming an entomologist and spent a lot of time catching beetles, crayfish and other invertebrates in the woods near his home of Machida, Tokyo.

For Tajiri, growing up in Japan, it was common for children to go out and collect insects, luring them in by placing honey onto the bark of trees. As he grew, he saw housing, factories, arcades and building developments take over the spaces where insects lived and a decline in the populations of different species. In an interview with TIME in 1999, Tajiri said:

“Places to catch insects are rare because of urbanisation. Kids play inside their homes now, and a lot had forgotten about catching insects. So had I. When I was making games, something clicked and I decided to make a game with that concept.”

Wigglytuff as seen near to our T.rex in the museum

Wigglytuff spotted near to our replica T.rex in the museum. © 2016 Pokémon/Nintendo.

From these origins the concept developed into a fully-fledged universe filled with hundreds of Pokémon – many of them taking the form of insects as well as mammalian, reptile, amphibian, bird, fish and even humanoid shaped creatures with fantastic powers. Some Pokémon are based on mythological animals and themes taken from Japanese folklore too.

Many Pokémon also share interesting biological features with real animals, such as: diurnal (day-time) and nocturnal (night-time) feeding patterns; sexual dimorphism (size difference etc. between sexes); and symbiosis (mutually beneficial relationships between organisms). The Pokémon Eevee also demonstrates something quite similar to polyphenism – this is where differences in environment, hormones, genetics or diet can trigger the development of different physical and behavioural characteristics across the same species.

Evolution is also a key feature of the Pokémon games but this is not the same as biological evolution. When a Pokémon evolves it goes through a process more closely resembling metamorphosis or biological development; the original Japanese word 進化 (shinka) can mean both ‘evolve’ and ‘progress’ and this may be where some of the confusion lies. Annoyingly, ‘evolve’ is also a lot snappier than ‘metamorphose’.

Caterpie, Metapod and Butterfree (three ‘evolutionary’ stages for this particular bug type pocket monster). © the Pokémon Company International, Inc.

Caterpie, Metapod and Butterfree (three ‘evolutionary’ stages for this particular bug type pocket monster). © 2016 Pokémon/Nintendo.

Butterfly mounts in the Great North Museum: Hancock stores

Butterfly mounts in the Great North Museum: Hancock stores. These specimens were collected by enthusiasts over many years.

One of the strangest parallels with nature comes from a Pokémon called Parasect – as this Pokémon grows (and evolves from Paras) the parasitic fungus on its back slowly consumes Parasect, taking control of the host’s body and mind. This is similar to the relationship between Ophiocordyceps unilateralis (A.K.A. ‘zombie fungus’) and certain species of carpenter ant.

For me, growing up, I was totally immersed in the Pokémon phenomenon – the games, the anime and trading cards – and in a lot of ways I still am. I now work daily with a vast collection of natural science specimens; cases of butterflies and eggs, jars of sea creatures and thousands of preserved birds. Some of these are extremely rare, endangered, and even extinct and all of these animals have their own interesting natures and life cycles worthy of study.

I think the fascination Satoshi Tajiri and the founders of the Great North Museum: Hancock felt towards collecting and studying the natural world is one and the same. The collections of the Natural History Society of Northumbria contain over half a million specimens including a large selection of entomology, molluscs, crustaceans, plants, birds and other animals from around the world. This collection was painstakingly gathered by intrepid enthusiasts, researchers and conservationists for whom “Gotta catch ’em all” might as well have been a mantra.

To go out, record and document the natural living world is an important undertaking for us all; it gives us a better idea of how life developed over time, an understanding of the planet’s diverse ecosystems and how we can care for them.

A Japanese Spider Crab at the Great North Museum: Hancock. An inspiration (along with the Fiddler Crab) for the Pokémon Kingler, perhaps?

If, like me, you are out and about in all kinds of strange places catching Pokémon this summer, look out for some of the bugs and creatures around you. Whether you’re in your garden, a park, the beach or even in front of the Great North Museum: Hancock you might just see something new or interesting. If you are in the North East you could also log your wildlife sightings with ERIC North East; this helps provide data for conservation scientists and research teams – arguably the ‘real’ Pokémon professors.


Pokémon character names are trademarks of Nintendo.