Things to do in north east museums and galleries this summer


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The pick of the best summer events from Must-see Museums

There are lots of things to keep the kids entertained over the school holidays at Tyneside’s museums and galleries. We’ve rounded up our pick of the best to help you plan those long summer weeks.

A family day out at Great North Museum: Hancock

A family day out at Great North Museum: Hancock. Credit and Copyright ©: Colin Davison

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Weekday treats
Weekend events
Summer schools
Weekly drop-in events
Relaxed sessions for children with additional needs
Venue details

Weekday treats

Ideas for parents, grandparents and child-minders who need to entertain the little cherubs through the week.

Animal Yoga at Great North Museum
Thursdays 3, 10, 17 & 24 August
Join Georgina and Albany the Great North Mouse for some ‘Animal Yoga’ for young children and their families. Move and stretch your bodies into different shapes to create and learn about different animals. Find out more

Big Birthday Bash at The Shipley Art Gallery
Thursday 27 July
A fun-filled family crafty party to celebrate the Shipley Art Gallery’s 100th Birthday. Jam-packed with activities, families can get hands on in creative crafts and artist demonstrations. Find out more

Magic School for Mini Magicians at Discovery Museum
Thursday 27 July
These magic workshops will take you from muggle to magician in no time at all. Each trainee will receive all the tools to master sleight of hand, card tricks, mathematical magic, illusion and misdirection. Find out more


Something for the Weekend

Ideas for busy families who want to make the most of their summer weekend

A photograph of a young child enjoying cardboard crafts at Dsicovery Museum

Cardboard Wizardry with Lottie Smith

Cardboard Wizardry at Discovery Museum
5-6, 12-13 August & 19-20 August
Spend some time tinkering to create a fantastical invention of your own with guidance from cardboard engineer Lottie Smith. Find out more

Wyld Fire Weekend at Arbeia Roman Fort
Saturday 29 July – Sunday 30 July
Live like Romans with a whole weekend of heritage crafts and re-enactments. Find out more

Hadrian’s Cavalry LIVE at Segedunum Roman Fort
Saturday 5 August – Sunday 6 August
The riders of Hadrian’s Cavalry demonstrate their skills as they set their charges through their paces with mounted and dismounted gymnastics and skills of arms whilst on horseback. Find out more

Wish upon a Star at Laing Art Gallery
Saturday 5 August
Let your child’s imagination take them to faraway lands with Peter and his friends. This event will be filled with music, dancing, art activities, games and prizes. It’s a real treat for the summer holidays. Find out more

Circus Fun and a Little Bit of Nonsense at Laing Art Gallery
Saturday 19 August
Join Marty from Circurama for a fun mix of circus based challenges, with a little bit of silliness thrown in. Find out more


Summer art schools

Save yourself the worry of organising childcare over the holidays by booking a summer school. They are a great way to keep the children’s grey matter ticking over and they are so much fun that they won’t even realise they’re learning.

Inspired by the Laing’s broad collection budding artists will work with a professional arts educator to experiment with a variety of materials and fun art techniques.

Art School for 11-16 year olds
Monday-Friday, 10am-3pm.
24 July – 28 July, 31 July – 4 August & 14 August – 18 August. Find out more

Art Academy for 7-10 year olds
Tuesday – Thursday, 10am-3pm.
25 July – 27 July, 8 August – 10 August, 15 August – 17 August, 22 August – 24 August. Find out more

Children enjoying art academy at the Laing Art Gallery

Art Academy at the Laing
Credit and Copyright © Colin Davison


Weekly drop-in events

All of our venues host drop in events each week during the holidays, where all of the family can get involved in something hands-on like arts and crafts or animal handling. They usually have a different theme each week and are great for making your visit a little more interesting.

Marvellous Mondays at Segedunum Roman Fort

Discovery Days at Discovery Museum
Summer Holidays at Great North Museum: Hancock
Tremendous Tuesdays at South Shields Museum and Art Gallery

Big Wednesdays at Laing Art Gallery
Summer Holidays at Great North Museum: Hancock
Crafty Romans at Arbeia Roman Fort

Discovery Days & PLAY+INVENT at Discovery Museum
Summer Holidays at Great North Museum: Hancock
Get Crafty at The Shipley Art Gallery
Make and Take Thursdays at Stephenson Railway Museum

Family Fun: Potato Pavilion at Hatton Pavilion (outside Laing Art Gallery)

Crafty Romans at Arbeia Roman Fort Credit and Copyright ©: Colin Davison

Crafty Romans at Arbeia Roman Fort
Credit and Copyright ©: Colin Davison

Relaxed sessions for children with additional needs

These sessions are more relaxed drop-in sessions and are particularly suitable for children with autism, learning disabilities or sensory and communication disorders, along with their families and carers.

Relaxed Early Opening and Animal Handling at Great North Museum: Hancock
Tremendously Relaxed Tuesdays at South Shields Museum and Art Gallery

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Venue details

Arbeia Roman Fort & Museum
Baring Street
South Shields
NE33 2BB

Discovery Museum
Blandford Square
Newcastle Upon Tyne

Great North Museum: Hancock
Barras Bridge
Newcastle upon Tyne

Hatton Gallery (currently closed for refurbishment)
Kings Road
Newcastle University
Newcastle upon Tyne

Laing Art Gallery
New Bridge Street
Newcastle upon Tyne

Stephenson Railway Museum
Middle Engine Lane
North Shields
Tyne & Wear
NE29 8DX

South Shields Museum and Art Gallery
Ocean Road
South Shields
NE33 2JA

Segedunum Roman Fort
Buddle Street
NE28 6HR

Shipley Art Gallery
Prince Consort Road

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Wonder Woman and the Amazons

The recent release of the film Wonder Woman has raised interest in Amazons, fearless warrior women, who were more than capable of taking on their male equivalents in combat. Wonder Woman herself is an Amazon brought up on the island of Themyscira, where she trains to become a fierce and skilled warrior.

Stories of Amazons originated with the Ancient Greeks who told tales about their encounters with these fierce warrior women. The Fifth Century BC historian Herodotus, for example, described the customs of the nomadic peoples, such as the Scythians and Sarmatians, who lived in the Black Sea region and who included female warriors among their number. However Herodotus confessed that he was only recording what he had been told and that he had never actually met any Amazons.

It was commonly thought that the Greek stories about Amazons were mythical and had no basis in fact. Amazons represented everything that Greek women were not. They fought alongside and against men and were proudly independent, whereas Greek women were expected to stay at home, carry out domestic tasks and obey their husbands. The Greeks frequently portrayed Amazons, especially on their painted pottery  and we can learn something of Greek attitudes towards them from these images.

An Athenian red-figure pot (pelike) dating from 420 – 390 BC on display in the Great North Museum represents a Greek warrior and companion in combat with an Amazon. The Amazon is dressed in eastern clothing and resembles a Persian, while the Greek is naked. A deliberate contrast is being made between the two with the Amazon being linked to the Persians who frequently came into conflict with the Greeks and in fact invaded Greece on two separate occasions.

A red-figure pelike (pot for storing liquids) showing an Amazon in combat with a Greek soldier.

The red-figure pelike (pot for storing liquids) showing an Amazon in combat with a Greek soldier.

Amazon from the pelike in the Great North Museum wearing distinctive Persian style dress. This includes an elaborately decorated tunic, trousers, a soft Persian hat and a crescent-shaped shield.

Amazon from the pelike in the Great North Museum wearing distinctive Persian style dress. This includes an elaborately decorated tunic, trousers, a soft Persian hat and a crescent-shaped shield.

The Amazons came to represent everything that was alien and hostile to the Greek way of life and were frequently associated with the Persians as outsiders with barbaric habits like wearing trousers! Often the architects of Greek temples would include sculptures of Greeks fighting Amazons as part of the decoration of the temple.  Worshippers would then be able to see representations of these warrior women who stood against all the values the Greeks held dear.

Greek fighting Amazons from the frieze of the temple of Apollo at Bassai.

Greek fighting Amazons from the frieze of the temple of Apollo at Bassai.

For a long time the Amazons were regarded as mythical characters like the Centaurs or Giants who appealed to the Greeks as subject matter for their mythological tales. However this idea has been challenged by the increasing evidence of burials of warrior women from the steppe lands around the Black Sea.  Several female burials, dating from a period when the Greeks were establishing colonies on the Black Sea coast, have been discovered with evidence that their occupants were in all probability warriors.  Grave goods have included weapons such as swords, daggers bows and other military equipment.  In addition some of the skeletons show signs of combat injuries while many are bow-legged from riding horseback on a regular basis.  It seems that the nomad societies on the fringes of the Greek World were more egalitarian than the city-dwelling Greeks and women were able to participate in horse riding and combat alongside their menfolk.

It is surprising how many parallels can be found between Amazons represented in Ancient Greek Art and the DC comic book heroine.  Some Amazons, for example, are portrayed using lassos to capture Greek warriors, in a similar way to Wonder Woman’s lasso of truth.  The evidence of archaeology now suggests that such warrior women, equipped with axes, bows, swords or indeed lassos, were a reality for Greeks living near the Black sea.   Maybe the Greek inspiration behind the Wonder Woman stories is based on real life Amazons after all.

Improving access to our shipbuilding collections

The shipbuilding collections at Tyne & Wear Archives are widely recognised to be of outstanding historical significance. They have attracted international research interest and back in 2013 were given official recognition through their addition to the UK Memory of the World Register.



Photograph of the great ocean liner ‘Mauretania’ under construction at the Wallsend yard of Swan Hunter and Wigham Richardson Ltd, September 1906.


Over the past seven years we’ve made huge strides towards our goal of making all our shipbuilding collections available to the public. We’ve catalogued the historic records of Swan Hunter, Vickers Armstrongs and eight Sunderland shipyards, making many important historical documents available to the public for the very first time. We’re delighted to report that we’ve just taken another big step forward with the completion of our project to catalogue the archives of John Readhead & Sons Ltd, shipbuilders of South Shields.


Aerial photograph of the shipyard of John Readhead & Sons Ltd, South Shields, May 1963

Aerial photograph of the shipyard of John Readhead & Sons Ltd, South Shields, May 1963 (TWAM ref. DS.RDD/5/5/19)


Readheads was a prolific firm and built over 600 ships from 1865 to 1968. It played a significant role in both the region’s shipbuilding history and the development of South Shields. The catalogue contains nearly 2000 entries and will be of interest to a wide variety of researchers including academics, local historians, maritime researchers and genealogists. Visitors to our archive searchroom will at last be able to access the whole collection including board of directors minutes, personnel records, cost books, ship specifications, ship plans and a large quantity of previously unseen photographs. The collection is especially rich in historical photographs of the ships built by Readheads and of the shipyard itself and we’ve published over 50 images from the collection online on our Flickr pages.


Photograph of First World War Patrol boat P-31 at the mouth of the River Tyne, 1916 (TWAM ref. 1061/988). This vessel was built by John Readhead & Sons, South Shields.

Photograph of First World War Patrol boat P-31 at the mouth of the River Tyne, 1916 (TWAM ref. DS.RDD/4/PH/2/1). This vessel was built by John Readhead & Sons, South Shields.


During the project I’ve been able to share interesting discoveries from the collection as I’ve come across them via the Archives twitter account Some items have caught my eye for their beauty, such as this long service certificate dating from the 1930s.


John Readhead & Sons long service certificate, 1938 (TWAM ref. DS.RDD/5/7/5)

John Readhead & Sons long service certificate, 1938 (TWAM ref. DS.RDD/5/7/5)


Other documents have surprised me such as this wages summary book dating from 1956, which showed women working as labourers in the shipyard long after the end of the Second World War.

Entry from eages summary book, 1956-1958 (TWAM ref. DS.RDD/2/15/11)

Entry from eages summary book, 1956-1958 (TWAM ref. DS.RDD/2/15/11)


The collection contains hundreds of fascinating documents. If you’d like to explore the region’s shipbuilding history or look through some of our other fascinating collections then why not pay us a visit. You can find details of our location and opening times on our website.

The Readheads project has been made possible thanks to a grant from the Sir James Knott Trust and I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the trustees for their generous support.

My time as the Great North Museum: Hancock artist-in-residence. A Guest Post by Olivia Turner

My name is Olivia Turner and I was artist-in-residence at the Great North Museum: Hancock (GNM:H) during the recent ‘Bones’ exhibition. I am currently a Fine Art practice-led PhD student at Newcastle University making work around the theme of the body, skin and what lies beneath.

During my residency, I was situated in the ‘Learning Zone’ in the middle of the exhibition, where I transformed the space into my working studio for three weeks. This was a great opportunity to experiment with different art materials and respond to the exhibition, collections and visitors at the GNM:H.


I also spent some of my time in the GNM:H library which houses beautiful anatomical illustrations of animal and human bones, depicting both healthy and diseased specimens.

Using all the research conducted during my residency, I was strongly influenced by the structure of bones and the body, particularly in the way our mouths and fingers communicate by using simple gestures. I created a series of drawings exploring these ideas.

Whilst exploring the exhibition, it became clear that the children and adults would all point at different display objects, as if to say ‘What is that?’ or ‘Wow, look at that’. The gesture of a pointed finger goes beyond words and communicates a need to know more or to observe something. I decided to translate these ideas into a sculpture and began creating a giant finger.


The foundation of this sculpture was a metal armature that I then layered papier mâché onto. I was not able to complete this sculpture in the time frame of my residency but ultimately I would like to finish the sculpture in plaster. The plaster will not only make the finger look as though it is constructed from a bone-like material but it will also become monumental, rooting itself within the history of sculpture, of replication and plaster casts.

A personal highlight for me was the toddler group that visited my space where they created a song about their fingers, using their hands to gesture and point at my artworks whilst also using their hands as binoculars. I was inspired by this child-like idea of ‘hand binoculars’ and your fingers as two holes to see through.

I created a drawing, photograms and a series of sculptures around the idea of your hands being alternative eyes. I think this concept challenges the vision-centric interaction in museums and galleries, emphasising the importance of tactility and non-visual modes of perception.

My residency at the GNM:H provided a stimulating space for generating and testing ideas, as well as creating artworks. It was a fantastic opportunity and I look forward to finishing off my sculptures and continuing my PhD research.

Funding the Willington Waggonway

It is common knowledge that museums are feeling the pinch as councils tighten budgets, so you may have wondered where the funding came from for the Willington Waggonway Research Programme. The rescue, preservation and research of a section of the Willington Waggonway was only possible through the generous support of two Arts Council England funds: the PRISM Fund and the Designation Development Fund.

The Preservation of Industrial and Scientific Material (PRISM) Fund is a rolling fund awarding grants between £500 and £20,000 for acquisition and conservation projects. Their quick response was vital in securing the future of the waggonway. The excavation took place prior to the redevelopment of the site which created a time pressure, as did the fact that as soon as the timbers were exposed to the air they began to deteriorate. We were awarded the maximum £20,000 for the recovery and stabilization of the remains of the waggonway which took place immediately. The timbers were then sent to the York Archaeological Trust for conservation treatment which will fully stabilize and conserve the waggonway for study and eventually public display.

waggonway south and conservation

Left: The Willington Waggonway from the South. Top right: The excavated timbers. Bottom right: The timbers at York Archaeological Trust

Without the Prism Fund we would have potentially lost a vital source of information on early railways that our current historic and archaeological record is lacking. The discovery of the Willington Waggonway was one of world significance, as it is the most complete and best-preserved section of early wooden railway to ever be discovered. Being standard gauge, having an association with the Killingworth line, as well as the presence of reused ships timbers and a wash hole, gives the Willington Waggonway a significance which we have not seen previously, even at the Lambton D pit excavation near Fencehouses in 1995.


Remains of the waggonway discovered during the excavation of the former Lambton D pit at Fencehouses. Image credit:

The Designation Development Fund supports projects that ensure the long-term sustainability of designated museum collections, maximizes their public value and shares best practice. They offer grants between £20,000 and £90,000 every other year with a different theme which the project aims are required to meet to secure funding. Fortunately 2016’s theme was ‘Research and Development’ making it an ideal time to pursue funding for a research project on the Willington Waggonway. We requested and were awarded £77,130 with the project beginning in December 2016.


Excavated remains of the Willington Waggonway, looking towards the River Tyne. Photography © The Archaeological Practice

The Designation Development Fund grant is allowing us to work closely with experts in early railway history, archaeology and conservation to uncover new information which will undoubtedly enhance our understanding of wooden waggonways.

Many thanks to Arts Council England for the PRISM Fund and the Designation Development Fund grants that are allowing this once in a lifetime research project to take place.

archive image

Illustration of Parkmoor Waggonway, Gateshead by Richard Turner, produced for the B.B.C Domesday Project under the direction of Les Turnbull . First published in the Gateshead Domesday Book, 1986.

We will be launching our program of events in June so keep an eye out for exciting family friendly activities, meet the archaeologist sessions, talks and waggonway walks!

The Willington Waggonway Appeal
Many of the excavated timbers still remain untreated and risk being lost forever. Without further financial support, we will be unable to fund the preservation of these important industrial artefacts. If you would like to find out more and make a donation to this appeal, please click here


The Willington Waggonway Research Programme is funded by the Designation Development Fund, Arts Council England