Muhammad Ali and South Shields

Did you know that boxing legend Muhammad Ali (1942-2016) came to South Shields in the summer of 1977? Ali was the World Heavyweight Champion at the time so, as you can imagine, his Tyneside visit drew huge crowds.

Muhammad Ali on an open top bus at South Shields Market Place, 1977

Muhammad Ali on an open top bus at South Shields Market Place, 1977. Photo by Fred Muddit of Fietscher Fotos, courtesy of South Tyneside Libraries. STH0005007.

Many came hoping to catch a glimpse of their boxing hero, but Ali’s appeal extended beyond the world of boxing. For many, Muhammad Ali’s political convictions and campaigning helped to make him a standout figure, someone who sought to use his fame to champion the human rights of the oppressed and the friendless. Ali was a truly inspirational individual on many different levels, and his visit to our region 43 years ago is still fresh in the memory of those who were lucky enough to be there. We recall his special visit in this blog for Black History Month.

A ticket to see Muhammad Ali in Ron Taylor's boxing booth at South Shields, 16 July 1977

A ticket to see Muhammad Ali in Ron Taylor’s boxing booth at South Shields, 16 July 1977. South Shields Museum & Art Gallery collection. TWCMS : 2016.1950

Ali and the North East

Muhammad Ali’s visit to the North East in 1977 was one he thoroughly enjoyed, and which he said he’d remember for the rest of his life. At the time he was one of the most famous people on the planet, not just for his boxing, but also for his political ideas and activity.

Ali came to our region to promote boys’ boxing clubs. He came at the invitation of Johnny Walker, a painter and decorator from South Tyneside who had once boxed himself. Johnny idolised Ali and had travelled to America in search of his hero, persuading him to come to an area of the world that the boxing champ had never even heard of.

A pair of junior boxing gloves autographed by Muhammad Ali at South Shields, 16 July 1977

A pair of junior boxing gloves autographed by Muhammad Ali at South Shields, 16 July 1977. South Shields Museum & Art Gallery collection. TWCMS : 2004.2141

Ali in South Shields

Ali visited South Shields twice while he was on Tyneside, on Saturday 16 July 1977 and again the following day, creating fantastic memories that the locals and Ali himself would never forget.

Highlights of his visit to South Shields included:

  • Being taken around South Shields on an open-top Jubilee bus, as his visit coincided with the Queen’s Silver Jubilee celebrations and her own visit to the area
  • Giving a speech to a vast crowd and entering the ring with two cruiserweights
  • Visiting Gypsies Green Stadium which was crammed full of people eager to see the champion boxer
  • Receiving a personally illuminated scroll of honour from the Mayor of South Tyneside, Cllr Sep Robinson
  • Challenging and defeating the world darts exhibition champion, Alan Evans, in a variation on the game of darts
  • Muhammad and his new wife Veronica even had their recent marriage blessed at the Al Azhar Mosque on Laygate Lane in South Shields, which drew a crowd of approximately 7,000 well-wishers, with 300 guests lucky enough to witness the blessing inside
Muhammad and Veronica Ali at the Al Azhar Mosque, South Shields, 1977

Muhammad and Veronica Ali at the Al Azhar Mosque, South Shields, 1977. Photo by Fred Muddit of Fietscher Fotos, courtesy of South Tyneside Libraries. STH0005002.

Ali stated that he would remember his visit to South Shields for the rest of his life.  He was struck by the immense reception and support he received while visiting. He was quoted as saying “To think I have so many friends in South Shields. I am going to tell them in America!”

Ali and Civil Rights in America

Ali was a fantastic boxer, one of the greatest of all time, but his work fighting against the oppression and discrimination then endured by many African Americans was just as important in his life. Born as Cassius Clay in 1942 in Louisville, Kentucky, Ali was present to see major events for the advancement of African Americans’ civil rights in the 1950s, which helped shape his beliefs before he rose to fame.

His role as an important civil rights activist took flight in 1964. Just days after becoming the heavyweight champion of the world, he legally changed his name from Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali and declared his membership of the civil rights activist group the Nation of Islam. This group was well known for being led by Malcolm X, whom Ali was close friends with until Malcolm’s death in 1965.

Ali even had some influence on the views of perhaps the most significant civil rights leader in history, Dr Martin Luther King Jr, who drew upon Ali’s ideas and beliefs when asked why he was focusing on campaigning against the Vietnam War rather than solely on the advancement of civil rights.

Ali and the Vietnam War

In 1966 during the height of the Vietnam War, Ali refused to be drafted into the armed forces on grounds of religious beliefs. The penalty for his refusal was the stripping of all boxing titles and a ban from the sport, starting in 1967. He was also sentenced to five years in prison, which upon several appeals, was overturned and Ali was freed on bail. Whilst he was banned from the sport Ali visited many institutions such as universities to talk about his beliefs.

Ali eventually found justice, with his punishment for refusing the draft being overturned by the Supreme Court, and he was allowed to return to boxing in 1971, despite the ongoing war in Vietnam. This was seen as a massive decision by the court. By refusing the draft, standing by his beliefs and his subsequent victory in the face of the consequences of his actions, Ali became a key figure of the anti-establishment culture and a symbol against the oppression and racism African Americans were victims of.

Ali and Martin Luther King Jr

As an important member of the Nation of Islam in the 1960s, Ali should have been quite opposed to the peaceful campaigning of Martin Luther King. Their views differed hugely.

Ali did once mock King’s ideas of integration and total desegregation, saying  “I’m not going to get killed trying to force myself on people who don’t want me. Integration is wrong. White people don’t want it, the Muslims don’t want it. So what’s wrong with the Muslims? I’ve never been in jail. I’ve never been in court. I don’t join integration marches and I never hold a sign.”

Yet this was not actually the case, as the two shared a secret friendship with each other, mainly through the fact that both had a common enemy; hatred and racism from certain parts of the United States. The FBI managed to wiretap a conversation between them, one that seemed friendly, with Ali proclaiming his support for King and saying that King was his ‘brother’. King drew upon Ali’s resistance to the draft when he himself was asked why he was so opposed to the war in Vietnam.

What Ali Said:

“Cassius Clay is a slave name. I didn’t choose it, and I didn’t want it… I am Muhammad Ali, a free name – it means beloved of God – and I insist people use it when speaking to me and of me.”

-Muhammad Ali talking about his name change, 1964


“My conscience won’t let me go shoot my brother, or some darker people – some poor hungry people in the mud – for big powerful America… I’m not going 10,000 miles from home… to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people of the world over.”

-Muhammad Ali talking about his refusal to fight in the Vietnam War, 1966


“Like Muhammad Ali puts it, we are all – black and brown and poor – victims of the same system of oppression.”

-Martin Luther King Jr. talking about his campaigning against the war in Vietnam, 1967


“You’re my enemy, my enemy is the white people, not the Viet Cong or Chinese or Japanese. You’re my opposer when I want freedom. You’re my opposer when I want justice. You’re my opposer when I want equality.”

-Muhammad Ali when challenged about his objection to fighting in Vietnam by a student, 1967

Muhammad Ali greets a young fan outside South Shields Town Hall on Saturday 16 July 1977

Muhammad Ali greets a young fan outside South Shields Town Hall on Saturday 16 July 1977. Photo by Fred Muddit of Fietscher Fotos, courtesy of South Tyneside Libraries. STH0005016.

Memories of 1977

Do you remember Ali’s Tyneside visit in the summer of 1977? Was Ali one of your heroes? What did he mean to you? Please share your memories and reflections by commenting below 😀

Africans on Hadrian’s Wall World Heritage Site

Written by Bill Griffiths, Head of Programmes & Collections and Alex Croom, Keeper of Archaeology.

During the Roman period Hadrian’s Wall World Heritage Site was an incredibly diverse place, with soldiers, and civilians from right across the Roman Empire based on the frontier. Some went on to make it their home, and some died and are buried here.

The main evidence we have for this diversity is in the names of units that garrisoned the forts along the line of Hadrian’s Wall itself and across the wider environs that make up the World Heritage Site. Roman auxiliary units are often named after the place where they were first raised. Looking at this evidence of names we can see units that originated in Spain, Romania, Iraq, Belgium and North Africa, for example. There is much debate about whether such units kept recruiting from their homelands when their soldiers died or retired, or if they started to recruit locally. The evidence, such as there is, indicates that both may well have been options.

For about two hundred years Roman soldiers were forbidden to marry while serving. Auxiliary soldiers would gain citizenship after their service was complete, but until the Emperor Caracalla extended citizenship to all occupants of the Roman Empire in the early third century AD, only children born after their father became a citizen would inherit that status themselves. It is possible that the unofficial children of serving soldiers would join their father’s unit in order to gain citizenship for themselves.

So while the evidence of a unit name does not absolutely guarantee that it contains first generation recruits from its homeland – there is likely still to be a familial tradition.

The one unit known to be from North Africa that is recorded on Hadrian’s Wall was based at the fort of Burgh by Sands in Cumbria. It was called the Numerus Maurorum Aurelianorum (the Unit of Aurelian Moors), and was formed in North-west Africa in the area of Algeria/Morocco today. Its name suggests that it was raised in the late second century AD during the reign of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius.  It is believed that it was based at Burgh by Sands through the third and fourth centuries AD.

Commemorative Plaque recording the African garrison at Burgh by Sands Roman Fort (Beverley Prevatt Goldstein)

There is also evidence of North African cultural influence on life on the Wall. Archaeological excavations at several sites, including Segedunum Roman Fort at Wallsend, have uncovered examples of casserole pots and flat dishes for use on a brazier, in styles that were common in North Africa. Since it is unclear if the vessels were made by potters from North Africa, or just potters trained in North African traditions, this is probably better interpreted as a fashionable style of pot rather than evidence of a North African presence, but shows how other cultural traditions were absorbed into the Roman Empire.

However, there is one absolutely unarguable piece of proof for the evidence of someone from North Africa on the frontier zone, and that is the tombstone of Victor, an ex-slave who came from the same area of North-west Africa as the unit at Burgh by Sands.

The Victor Tombstone at Arbeia (Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums)

The tombstone is exceptionally fine, and incidentally almost certainly carved by a Syrian.  A detailed description of can be found at

It is also possible that the tombstone hints at a same sex relationship

So, a fascinating tombstone – that reminds us that people can have multiple identities and stories. But also is the clearest evidence we have for the presence of someone from the African continent living (and dying) on Hadrian’s Wall World Heritage Site.

But was this an isolated example? Was there really a significant African presence along Hadrian’s Wall? A way to think about this is to consider how few tombstones we have recovered from Hadrian’s Wall World Heritage Site. Considering there were estimated to be some 15,000 troops serving on the Wall at any one time, with let’s assume a similar number of civilians, servants and slaves, we could have a population of say 30,000 people for a period of 300 years. Yet we have recovered evidence of only around 100 tombstones from the Wall zone so far. It would seem beyond unlikely that we have the tombstone of the only person from Africa who made it to the Wall.

Study of DNA from remains from Roman York and London clearly reveals the presence of people from Africa in Britain and of course the Emperor Septimius Severus, who died at York in the early third century AD, was born in the territory of modern day Libya.

Coin Depicting the Emperor Septimius Severus (Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums)

Archaeology rarely deals in certainties – but the evidence does indicate that people from North Africa lived, served and died here two millennia ago. The Wall zone may have been the edge of the Roman Empire, but it truly consisted of people from all across that Empire.



Facing the truth: A closer look at Nahem Shoa’s painting ‘Head of Desiree’

Written by Rachel Booker, Communications Officer, Laing Art Gallery and Shipley Art Gallery

Head of Desiree (2000-2001), oil on canvas,  Nahem Shoa (b. 1968). Gifted to the Laing Art Gallery by Nahem Shoa, 2017

In the Laing Art Gallery’s collection display, 100 Years of Collecting, Nahem Shoa’s striking oil painting Head of Desiree hangs on the back wall of the gallery. At 121cm high and 92cm wide, the portrait is not only noticeable for its impressive scale but also the dynamic positioning of the head along with the sensitive attention to the sitter’s facial features and skin.

Born in Notting Hill, London in 1968, contemporary painter Nahem Shoa is best known for his series of portraits called Giant Heads (2004). Featuring British citizens from different ethnic and sexual backgrounds, the artist aims to “capture and celebrate the multicultural nature of our society.” Painted up to fifteen times larger than life size, the portraits are painted directly from life rather than photographs. Shoa believes that this approach allows him to “become a more subtle and complex painter because you have to analyse and translate something small scale on to a huge scale.” In fact, the artist compares each painting to an “investigation”, by opting to use “a hot and cold colour palette which has no black, brown or umbers.” It may come as a surprise to some that he uses the same colours to paint black people as he does with white. Head of Desiree is one of many portraits of the artist’s friend, Desiree Sanderson, who describes her sitting sessions with Shoa as “friendly therapy…[to celebrate] the beauty of my brown skin”.

Racism has been a theme of Shoa’s work for 25 years: “I want people to realise that Britain is a changing thing….you change things by setting an example…a museum is there to be thought provoking…I want people to realise that artists of colour can be as great as anyone else…if not better”.

Julie Milne, Chief Curator of Art Galleries at TWAM, said: “This striking portrait of Desiree is a great addition to the Laing’s permanent collection. Nahem is a brilliant portrait painter and the work is a perfect fit with our collection which has a strong strand of British portrait painting. I am delighted that the work has gone on display as part of our collection rehang where it will be enjoyed by visitors for years to come. We are very grateful to Nahem for this generous gift”.

Nahem Shoa is especially keen to increase the number of positive images of black people in British art collections and has donated many of his own works to public collections, such as the Laing Art Gallery. The artist has won a number of awards and prizes for his work, and serves on The Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery‘s Contemporary Arts Panel. His work has been exhibited in London’s National Portrait Gallery and the Royal Academy, as well as at galleries and museums in other parts of the UK. Nahem Shoa: Face of Britain exhibition is currently showing at Southampton City Art Gallery until 20 February 2021.



The Forgotten War

To commemorate VJ Day, Conservation Officer Ana Flynn shares the story of her grandpa Harry Gregory and the long, long road home from Burma.

For most, the Second World War ended on 8 May 1945 with VE Day. For my grandpa and his family there was still no end in sight. My grandpa had not been home for 5 years and did not return until 1946.

My grandpa, Harrold Harry (the story is, his mum got flustered at the Christening), at 6’2” was a gentle giant. He made miniature furniture to scale and teddy bears for the church fete. He was a mechanic and always smelt of engine grease. When he got home he would wash his hands with green Swarfega, which he mysteriously still needed to use even after his heart attack when he was only meant to do paperwork!

My mum was 5 when he went to war and her brother Michael was not yet born. He was 5 years old before he met his dad.  He sent home sugar and a doll in a sari from India and that is really all I know of his time in the war. Like most men of his era he never spoke about what had happened. To my shame, it is only recently that I ever thought to find out.

My grandpa Harry, My mum Patricia (5) and my gran Violet before Harry left for Burma

Harry’s part in the War
Harry started as a Lance Corporal in the Royal Fusiliers (London Regiment) but transferred to the Royal Engineers in 1940 where he could put his mechanical skills to use. He became an A.S.M (Artificer Sergeant Major) this is the equivalent of a warrant officer 1st class, the highest of non-commissioned ranks. He was offered a commission but refused it, he didn’t see the point, he just wanted to get the job done and go home!

Harry before he went away?

At the beginning of the Second World War as more complex weapons and vehicles were developed, it became increasing difficult for the Army to provide men proficient in their maintenance and repair. The Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) was developed to meet these challenges. The unit was comprised of dedicated technicians, mechanics and electricians; and drew its personnel from the Royal Army Ordnance Corps, the Royal Army Service Corps, the Royal Engineers and the Royal Signals.

Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery remarked that REME would ‘keep the punch in the Army’s fist’. The unit went on to provide a vital service, keeping the Army moving and fighting in all theatres.

The REME units were attached to different divisions. Harry’s was attached to the 6th Infantry Brigade of the 2nd Division. In 1942 he was in the 21st Field Park Company – these were the units that were the supply point for all materials and engineer stores, used by the Field Squadrons/Field Companies and only occasionally did they become involved with combat.

Where did he serve?
The 2nd Division were based in Yorkshire, and following returning from France were sent to India in 1942 under command of Major-General John Grove. I have no idea if Harry was in France if so, he never mentioned it but both the 2nd Division and The London Fusiliers were evacuated from Dunkirk.

My grandpa arrived in India after Burma (now named Myanmar) had been lost to the Japanese and was stationed in Northern India. The Asian Pacific war had been going on with China since 1937. The British and Allies became involved when Japan had invaded Hong Kong and Pearl Harbour in 1941. It was by far the largest war front involving troops from every continent of the globe.

Harry’s unit on arrival in India 1942 after the loss of Burma

In late October 1942 the 6th Infantry Brigade was temporarily detached from the division and reorganised as an independent brigade group, complete with its own supporting units. They served in the failed Arakan Campaign, re-joining the rest of the division in India in June 1943. It is possible that the REME unit was part of the support team keeping the tanks running.

In August 1943 the Allies created South East Asia Command (SEAC), a new combined command responsible for the South-East Asian Theatre, under Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten. The training, equipment, health and morale of Allied troops under British 14th Army’s Lieutenant General William Slim was improving, as was the capacity of the lines of communication in North-eastern India.

An innovation was the extensive use of aircraft to transport and supply troops, as supplies had been an issue from the beginning of the war. Partly because the war in Europe had priority for equipment and supplies but also due to the lack of infrastructure within Burma, with few pathways that would generously be called roads. The rivers were inaccessible in most places due to steep inclines or rapids making them of little use as a supply line. The troops with few supplies and in tropical conditions, were more likely to die of Malaria or other tropical diseases than they were by the enemy. As the war in Europe slowly drew to its conclusion, the authorities finally turned their attention to the needs of the troops in Asia.

“I understand that you believe you’re the forgotten army. That’s not true … The truth is nobody ever bloody well remembered you!”
(Lord Mountbatten far east commander , addressing men in Burma in 1943)

Harry in his uniform in India/Burma?

In 1944, the Japanese launched an invasion of India. The 2nd Division was sent to join the 14th Army’s XXXIII Corps at Dimapur to fight its way down the road to relieve the besieged position at Kohima. Kohima was relieved on 18 April but heavy fighting continued in the disputed position. Until, under increasing pressure from a buildup in Allied forces (the 2nd Division had been joined by the 7th Indian Infantry Division in early May) the Japanese, having run out of food and supplies, were forced to withdraw and the Battle of Kohima was to all intents concluded at the end of May.

XXXIII Corps then tasked the 2nd Division to advance south down the road towards Imphal with the 7th Indian Division, following up the retreating Japanese forces over the rough terrain to the east of the road. On 22 June the 2nd Division made contact with the 5th Indian Infantry Division advancing northwards from Imphal and the siege of Imphal was relieved. Both battles were some of the fiercest fighting of the war with Kohima labelled a miniature Stalingrad, due to the ferocity of the fighting on both sides. The epitaph carved on the memorial of the 2nd Division in the large cemetery for the Allied war dead at Kohima reads –

When You Go Home, Tell Them Of Us And Say,

For Your Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today

The only thing I remember my grandpa saying about his time in India is that he marched from India and across Burma.

The family back home his only connection to his newborn son.

The eventual end of the War
1944 commenced with the British forces once again undertaking a limited offensive in the Arakan. This time, the Japanese counter attacked as part of a major offensive to invade India. The British forces did not retreat this time, but formed ‘boxes’ and fought tenaciously. This included the ‘Battle of the Admin Box’, where the 7th Indian Division successfully resisted the Japanese offensive, with XV Indian Corps defeating the advance. This was, however, only the pre-cursor of the main offensive directed at Imphal and Dimapur. Major battles were fought at Sangshak, Kohima and at Imphal; all intense, fierce and savage encounters. The Japanese were comprehensively defeated and retreated in chaos.

The 14th Army followed up the Japanese retreat, with then General Slim launching his masterstroke with the crossing of the Irrawaddy River to threaten Mandalay, but then striking at Meiktila. The victory of the 14th Army at Meiktila, with the subsequent capture of Mandalay was in many ways the most decisive of any British military victory on the ground in the Second World War. The Japanese Burma Army was destroyed as a fighting force, allowing a two-pronged thrust to capture Rangoon. Meanwhile, XV Indian Corps had fought an amphibious war down through the Arakan. This included the capture of the island of Akyab, the landings at Myebon, Ramree Island and Ruywa, and the battles of Kangaw and the An Pass, as fierce and savage as any in the campaign. The Japanese 28th Army was forced to retreat through the Arakan Yomas and breakthrough 14th Army to escape, which not many did successfully.

The Homecoming
The Burma campaign ended in September 1945 but this was still not the end for Harry. The 6th Brigade (again reorganised) sailed to Singapore in December 1945. The division  disbanded in India in October 1946 and my grandpa could finally go home.

My gran used to tell us the story of when he came home. Michael was born after Grandpa left, and only knew him from a photograph in his scout uniform that was hanging on the wall. Harry arrived after the children were in bed and when Michael came in in the morning he saw Grandpa’s Burma hat on the bed head, which looked like his scout hat in the photos and ran over shouting “Daddy.”

My grandpa went on to have a happy life unlike so many of his comrades. He died at home holding the hand of his beloved Violet in 1994 after meeting his first great grandson. Many never got that chance and some of the horrors experienced by the prisoners of war that survived scared them for life.

With the 75th anniversary of VJ day the Burma Star Association finally closes its membership. My grandpa was a member and it was probably the only time he was able to be with people that understood what he had seen. Some things are best forgotten, but the valour and comradeship of the many troops from the many nations that fought together for our freedom is not one of them.

As a charity, Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums rely on donations to help us continue  providing our services to the public, and our closure, whilst necessary, has significantly impacted our income. Please, if you are able, help us through this difficult period by donating by text today. Text TWAM 3 to give £3, TWAM 5 to give £5 or TWAM 10 to give £10 to 70085. Texts cost your donation plus one standard message rate.  Thank you.

Recalling the opening of Segedunum Roman Fort to the public 20 years ago

Segedunum Roman Fort, Baths and Museum opened its doors to the public for the first time in June 2000. In June 2020, we were set to celebrate the Fort’s 20th anniversary in the venue, but as the coronavirus pandemic had already forced the closure of all our museums and galleries, we could only mark the occasion online, the real live celebrations postponed to a later date. On Monday 27 July 2020, Segedunum once again welcomed back its visitors.

During lockdown, we have collected memories from our staff and Friends of the opening day in June 2000 which we would like to share with you here. If you were there at the opening, we’d love to hear your memories of the day. Please get in touch by emailing


“From the reception desk, I recall seeing the re-enactors of the Ermine Street Guard impressively marching down from the Metro station and, equally impressively, a huge throng of expectant visitors flooding towards the front doors. It was a great day, exhausting but hugely rewarding, as we helped people enjoy the experience of the tower, galleries, reconstructed bath house and Roman remains. Everyone was particularly struck by the timeline video reconstruction showing the changes on the site through the Roman, coal mining and shipyard phases. The Roman Gallery was a real ‘wow factor’ too, with its fort Headquarters building design, the reconstructed cavalry barrack interior (complete with stuffed horse) and state of the art touchscreens. Segedunum had returned in triumph! That day set the tone for our summer. Visitors flocked from the community, the region and from around the world to the new attraction telling the story of the fort at the Wall’s beginning – Wallsend.”
Geoff Woodward, Museum Manager

“I helped put the objects in the cases, so the days before the opening had been very busy and on the day itself I was just glad everything was in place. At the opening ceremony, I remember standing at the back of that large marquee – it was very hot in there with all those people and I was dressed in an infrequently-worn formal suit for the occasion, so I was glad that I ended up near a cooling fan. We had an interactive in the Roman gallery that required pulling on a rope; by the end of the first day it had already worn through and was in need of replacement. It had been tested beforehand, of course, but not with the level of enthusiasm of our visitors!”
Alex Croom, Keeper of Archaeology

“I thoroughly enjoyed the day. The weather was pretty good and it was very well attended. I hadn’t seen Segedunum when it was finally finished, but before the other guests arrived, had my own personal tour with Graeme Stobbs, the Assistant Keeper of Archaeology, a very good guide. There were the usual speeches and a media presence and everyone was delighted by the new Museum. I think that the Tower was the main attraction, a unique feature for the area. It gives an absolutely splendid view of the river and the local area. It helps to interpret the layout of the Fort and you can see how the river makes a perfect ending to the Wall. It was a unique experience for me as I had never been to a totally new museum before it was opened and I feel very proud to have helped with the set-up and creation of this wonderful Museum.”
Liz Elliott, Office Administrator at Arbeia Roman Fort at the time

“I was involved in the 2000 development of Segedunum as the North Tyneside Council officer rep. My main memories are of the ambitious plans we had to organise a fantastic opening ceremony. The original plan was to invite the Mayor of Rome to open the museum and to have him sail up the river in a Roman Galley as he was a very well known character at the time – Franceso Rutelli. However, unsurprisingly, that came to nothing and instead we were able to get the local Italian Honorary Consul. Commemorative scrolls were given to invited guests and I can remember that colleagues in our office were enlisted to put them in envelopes the day before. I also remember my only meeting with Royalty occurred after it opened when Prince Philip visited the site in 2001. At the 10th Anniversary celebrations, a commemorative badge was presented to guests. I still have mine.”
Mike Halsey, Friend of Segedunum

“In the car park, a massive tent had been erected, in which the formal speeches took place before the Museum was declared open. Following on from the speeches, all the visitors were invited onto the fort itself where a traditional Roman ceremony was carried out by members of a re-enactment group, flanked by the Ermine Street Guard soldiers. An offering was made to the gods using a replica Roman altar to bring good luck to the Museum. Many successful events and activities have happened over the years at the Museum and tens of thousands of visitors have passed through the gates in that time. I am sure you will agree that nobody could have predicted what the situation would be as the 20th anniversary arrived to find the much acclaimed Museum closed to visitors in the same situation as it was on 16 June 2000. The main difference being that, in 2000, everyone knew when it was opening; now we are in the lap of the gods and perhaps it is time to hold another offering to the gods like the one that was performed on 17 June 2000 at the opening ceremony.”
Ken Hutchinson, Chair of the Friends of Segedunum

If you’d like to know more about the Friends, please email

Read Bill Griffiths’ recollection of opening day


As a charity, Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums rely on donations to help us continue  providing our services to the public, and our closure, whilst necessary, has significantly impacted our income. Please, if you are able, help us through this difficult period by donating by text today. Text TWAM 3 to give £3, TWAM 5 to give £5 or TWAM 10 to give £10 to 70085. Texts cost your donation plus one standard message rate.  Thank you.