The Tank and the Officer in the Tower

This blog has been written by Colin Boyd, a volunteer (and good friend) who has been helping to catalogue the plans in our remarkable Vickers Armstrong collection.

Whilst working on the Vickers Armstrongs archive I came across a very good General Arrangement drawing of the Vickers Independent Tank of 1926. I decided to carry out some research on this relatively poorly documented tank little knowing that it would lead to a tangled tale of espionage and a very unprofessional spy.

General arrangement plan of the Independent Tank, c1926 (TWAM ref. DS.VA/6/PL/15/85875)

General arrangement plan of the Independent Tank, c1926 (TWAM ref. DS.VA/6/PL/15/85875)

Ordered by the General Staff in 1924 the Independent was the last British example of the ‘Land Ship’ type of tank developed during the First World War for breaking through trench systems. The analogy with a warship was further enhanced by its multi turreted design with a heavy central armament surrounded by the secondary armament in smaller turrets. The large tank that was delivered to the War Office in 1926 created a stir in military circles and influenced heavy tank design in several countries. The Independent was 24ft. 11in. (7.59 mt.) long x 8ft. 9in. (2.67 mt.) wide x 8ft. 11in. (2.72 mt.) high and weighed 34 tons. Powered by an Armstrong Siddeley V12 petrol engine developing 370 h.p. it was capable of 32 k.p.h. on level ground and carried a crew of 8 (at a time when most tanks carried a crew of 2 or 3). The tank was armed with a QF 3 pounder gun in the central turret and 4 Vickers 0.303” machine guns in individual turrets at the ‘corners’. The left rear turret was larger than the others allowing increased elevation of the machine gun to provide some anti-aircraft capability. The arrival of this very large and advanced tank caused a flurry of industrial and military spying and the plans of the tank soon arrived in Moscow via an unknown route and in Berlin courtesy of Norman Baillie Stewart.

Detail of Independent Tank turrets, c1926 (TWAM ref. DS.VA/6/PL/15/85875)

Detail of Independent Tank turrets, c1926 (TWAM ref. DS.VA/6/PL/15/85875)

Baillie Stewart was born as Norman Baillie Hamilton in 1909 to a family with a long tradition of military service. After changing his name in 1929 he saw active service on the North West Frontier of India with the Seaforth Highlanders. He then transferred to the Royal Army Service Corps and returned to the UK in 1931. He was disillusioned with military life and was developing pro-German sympathies to the extent that he wrote to the German Consul in London offering his services. Having received no reply he travelled to Berlin, without permission, met German officials and agreed to become a spy. He forwarded details of an experimental automatic rifle, the A1E1 tank and organisational details of the army for which he received the princely sum of £90! When Baillie Stewart was arrested shortly afterwards it soon became apparent that he was a very poor spy. He had borrowed the information from a military library in Aldershot so it was easily traceable and in his pockets were scraps of paper with notes on routes to Holland to meet his handlers and telephone numbers.

When the Court Martial opened on 20th March 1933 he was charged with 10 counts of violating the Official Secrets Act. The newspapers had a field day and Baillie Stewart was dubbed ‘The Officer in the Tower’ as he was held in the Tower of London. In fact he made history as the last British subject to serve all or part of their sentence in the Tower as opposed to later prisoners who were either held awaiting trial or in transit. He was sentenced to 5 years penal servitude and on his release in 1937 he travelled to Austria and applied for citizenship. The Austrian government suspected him of being a Nazi and he was ‘asked to leave the country’. He returned to Vienna following the creation of Greater Germany in 1938 and ran a small trading company. He reappeared in the public eye at the end of August 1939 broadcasting propaganda in English from Berlin. Baillie Stewart continued with this until December 1939 when he was replaced by his deputy William Joyce (the infamous Lord Haw Haw). For the rest of the Second World War he worked as a translator for the German Foreign Ministry, lectured in English at Berlin University and broadcast occasionally. He was granted German citizenship in 1940. At the end of the war he was arrested in Vienna and returned to Britain to face trial.

The Security Services wanted Baillie Stewart to be charged with high treason but the Attorney-General only charged him with ‘committing an act likely to assist an enemy’. He thus escaped the fate of his successor William Joyce who was executed in Wandsworth Prison on 3rd January 1946. The Security Services then lobbied unsuccessfully for him to be sent to the Russian occupied zone of Germany where they knew he would receive short shrift. When the trial opened on 9th January 1946 the newspapers resurrected the ‘Officer in the Tower’ nickname from 13 years previously and it was used extensively in the associated headlines. At the end of the two day trial Baillie Stewart was sentenced to another 5 years penal servitude. This time, on his release, he moved to Ireland under an assumed name, married, raised a family and finally succumbed to a heart attack in a Dublin Street in June 1966.

Independent at The Dominion Premiers’ demonstration at Camberley, November 1926, courtesy of the Tank Museum Ltd (image 0939-C2).

Independent at The Dominion Premiers’ demonstration at Camberley, November 1926, courtesy of the Tank Museum Ltd (image 0939-C2).

The A1E1 Independent tank was unfortunately not adopted by the War Office and all development and production orders were cancelled. This was purely on budgetary grounds as the tank itself had no major technical problems and was the largest and  most advanced armoured fighting vehicle of its time. Other countries which obtained details of the tank, by fair means or foul, used it as a basis for their own heavy tank development. In Russia this led to the T28 and T35 series of tanks, in France the FCM2C type was built and in Germany the Neubaufahrzeug was designed. The sole A1E1 built was used extensively for experimental research and development until 1935 when it was donated to the Tank Museum at Bovington where it remains on exhibition to this day towering over the other displayed tanks from the same era.

View of Independent Tank A1E1 on display at the Tank Museum, Bovington. Courtesy of The Tank Museum Ltd.

View of Independent Tank A1E1 on display at the Tank Museum, Bovington. Courtesy of The Tank Museum Ltd.

A Waggonway Adventure

Early one morning in July, my colleague Kev and I set off to collect the majority of the waggonway timbers from York Archaeological Trust where they have been undergoing preservation treatment for the last 3 years.

Or, as we like to say, we set off on a waggonway adventure!

The preservation treatment is a lengthy process which involves submerging the timbers in vats filled with two different grades of Polyethylene-glycol wax, in total 6000 litres of the solution. PEG 400 wax is liquid and penetrates into the wood as a cryo-protectant: under freezing it reduces the expansion of liquid water to ice; the solid PEG 3350 acts as a scaffold to support the wood cell structure during drying. The PEG 400 solution is increased in 5% increments over 6 months, then the PEG 3350 is increased in 5% increments until the required final concentration is reached. The timbers are then left to soak for as long as necessary (usually 2-3 years). Once this process is complete they are put into a freeze-drier at -20 – -30 degrees Celsius and the remaining water is removed under vacuum which converts the solid water into a vapour.

Interestingly, it is easier to treat wood that has a high level of decay than wood with low decay levels as the former will take in more wax for preservation than the latter.


Vats of PEG wax at York Archaeological Trust

As you can imagine, York Archaeological Trust’s conservation laboratory was a fascinating place to visit with multiple bright yellow tanks being used to preserve other artefacts and large freeze driers droning away in the background.

5m Freeze Drier at York Archaeological Trust

Freeze drier capable of taking objects up to 5 metres in length at York Archaeological Trust

After checking our list and the timbers we loaded everything onto the van. Even though we knew we were collecting timbers up to 5m in length, we were still surprised by the sheer scale of them. Once everything was safely on board we were back on the road to the Regional Museum Store (RMS), the timbers’ new home.

Capture 3 pics

Left: Timbers up to 5m in length are loaded onto the van protected by blankets. Top Right: Kev gets ready to unload the van at the RMS. Bottom Right: Dominique placing timbers onto trolleys.

The RMS is a Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums (TWAM) maintained store located at Beamish Museum. The store environment is monitored 24 hours a day using the Eltek Telemetric Environmental Monitoring system which can be accessed remotely by the TWAM conservation team.

With the timbers now safely in the store, it was time to start documenting them as well as the stone components so that the information could be entered into TWAM’s collection management system.

Capture 2

Top: Dominique documenting the stone paving from the wash hole. Bottom: Trolley of accessioned stone paving from the wash hole.

Over the coming weeks, archaeologists will study the timbers to determine the techniques used to fasten timbers together, evidence of previous use, methods of working and evidence of maintenance. Construction techniques used for laying the stone paving and the origin of that stone will also be investigated. Dendrochronology and species analysis will determine the age and species of the timbers and petrographic analysis of the stone paving will be commissioned.

Keep an eye out on this blog and our social media pages as we uncover the secrets of the Willington Waggonway! There will also be an event on 28th July (11am – 3pm) for the Festival of Archaeology at Stephenson Railway Museum. The timbers which still require preservation treatment will be on display as well as some of the preserved timbers which are part of a temporary exhibition.

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






Things to do in north east museums and galleries this summer


Must-see Museums logo

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.