The Singing Sands of Eigg by Sylvia Humphrey, Assistant Keeper of Geology, Great North Museum: Hancock

In July 2017, Tim Shaw of Newcastle University and I visited local beaches between Blyth and Whitley Bay and made some recordings of the local sand ‘singing’.  Later that year, I travelled north from Newcastle to Arisaig on the west coast of Scotland for a trip to the isle of Eigg; I was excited by the prospect of experiencing the sound of the singing sands first discovered by Hugh Miller in 1844, as described in The Voyage of the Betsy.

Eigg (middle horizon) from Arisaig

Eigg (middle horizon) from Arisaig

Here is an extract from Miller’s account of first hearing the sound of the sand in the Bay of Laig:

‘I was turning aside this sand of the Oolite, so curiously reduced to its original state, and marking how nearly the recent shells that lay embedded in it resembled the extinct ones that had lain in it so long before, when I became aware of a peculiar sound that it yielded to the tread, as my companions paced over it. I struck it obliquely with my foot, where the surface lay dry and incoherent in the sun, and the sound elicited was a shrill sonorous note, somewhat resembling that produced by a waxed thread, when tightened between the teeth and the hand, and tipped by the nail of the forefinger. I walked over it, striking it obliquely at each step, and with every blow the shrill note was repeated.’
(Hugh Miller 1858).

Inspired, I set out for Arisaig harbour to catch the ferry that would take me on the hour-long voyage to Eigg.

Arriving at Galmisdale

Arriving at Galmisdale

Once landed, I located the taxi driver (enjoying his breakfast in the nearby café) for the next leg of the journey.  On arriving at the small settlement of Cleadale, he advised me to follow the blue marks on the rocks to reach the Singing Sands. The weather wasn’t promising and I’d already been helpfully informed that I wouldn’t hear the sand sing today on account of the rain and mist. Undaunted I set off on foot along the rough path, observed from a safe distance by a group of curious sheep.

'Follow the blue marks on the rocks...'

‘Follow the blue marks on the rocks…’


My destination was Camas Sgiotaig, a white sandy beach with fantastic views of Rhum, had the weather been fair.  Nevertheless, the views were amazing and there was not a soul in site.  Otters are known to visit the beach but I didn’t see them.

Camas Sgiotaig; sadly the weather didn't look promising

Camas Sgiotaig; sadly the weather didn’t look promising


On the deserted beach with a view of Rhum

On the deserted beach with a view of Rhum

The rocks that I could see from my vantage point on the beach looked interesting; a number of dykes (igneous intrusions), one of which bore signs of having been cored for analysis, crossed the sand from the landward side to the sea.  The large nodules that the island is known for also looked intriguing.  However, time was limited before the ferry returned for the trip back to the mainland so I couldn’t allow myself to be distracted.

Dyke (igneous intrusion) with core marks (centre)

Dyke (igneous intrusion) with core marks (centre)

Large nodule on the foreshore

Large nodule on the foreshore

Recording the sound of the singing sands necessitated walking back and forth across the beach so that my feet scuffed across the surface of the sand, much as Hugh Miller had done so many years previously.  With a portable hand-held recording device I traversed the upper (drier) part of the beach.  As anticipated, the sand did not disappoint, producing a pleasing squeaky sound interrupted only by the sound of the waves crashing on the beach and an occasional sea bird.


The Singing Sands (and tracks made while scuffing my feet to hear the sand squeak/sing)

The Singing Sands (and tracks made while scuffing my feet to hear the sand squeak/sing)


All too soon it was time to walk back past the sheep and blue-painted rocks for the short taxi-ride to Galmisdale; missing the ferry could have left me stranded on Eigg for days, not an unpleasant prospect.

Here is one of the recordings of the Singing Sands:

Anne Seymour: Doctor, Missionary, Refugee – by Dominique Bell, Assistant Keeper, South Shields Museum & Art Gallery

To mark the one hundred year anniversary of the Representation of the People Act 1918, which gave some women the vote for the first time, South Shields Museum & Art Gallery created a programme of exhibitions about remarkable women connected to South Tyneside under the banner ‘Women 100’. The first of these exhibitions focused on Anne Seymour, an extraordinary woman who spent her life tirelessly and selflessly helping others as a mission doctor, and who lived in South Shields from 1976.

Anne Seymour. Credit Romano Cagnoni

Anne Seymour. Credit Romano Cagnoni


Born in Bromley in Kent, Anne trained as a doctor at the Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine, University of London. In 1959 Anne graduated, first working two pre-registration jobs in orthopaedics and fevers, before spending six months in general surgery at Leicester and another six months in casualty at Watford.

“From my school days, I had known I had a call to work as a mission doctor and that this would be in Africa” – Anne Seymour.

Following her calling to be a mission doctor in Africa, Anne took her skills and training to Biafra where she helped local people before, during and after the Nigerian Civil War. During this time she became a refugee, a terrifying and traumatic experience which undoubtedly greatly influenced the rest of her life. Only 26 when she first arrived in Biafra, Anne worked in a mission hospital performing operations beyond her usual expertise and experience due to a shortage of qualified doctors. She was not trained in complex surgical procedures and on occasions had to refer to a textbook for guidance while operating on patients.

Anne in Biafra in 1969. Credit Romano Cagnoni

Anne in Biafra in 1969. Credit Romano Cagnoni

As the situation in Biafra grew more and more desperate, Anne travelled around the country on a bicycle, a Honda motorcycle or in a Volkswagen Beetle, providing urgent medical aid to local villagers. She even worked during air raids and severe shelling. Throughout the crisis Anne had several refugees living with her in her own home; she cared for them and shared her food supplies. It is estimated that up to three million people may have died during the conflict with more than two million dying due to starvation caused by blockades.

During this time, Anne kept a hand written diary – a moving account of her life and work during a serious conflict where she witnessed terrible things and her life was often in danger.  In 1969, international photographer Romano Cagnoni spent a day with Anne taking photographs as she worked. He described her as one of the most beautiful people he had ever met.

 “The last day at Isiukwator was a real nightmare. There were about four hundred people at the clinic and we had to choose forty to get midday meals at the “Feeding Centre” that Reverend Father was establishing. Being really firm we ended up with ninety six. Reasoning that forty servings would cover forty eight plates we divided them into two groups, one set to come on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and the other set on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Some of the mothers stood in the sun for four hours to try to get a child or children on the list. In England mothers ask about school places but here it was: Was your child chosen to eat dinner?” – Biafran Missionary Doctor by Anne Seymour (1961-70) page 58-9.

By 1970 the war was over and Anne, living in constant fear of being shot or detained, waited alone until the Nigerian Red Cross arrived so she could hand over her responsibilities and leave.

“While I still maintain that we were morally justified in going to Biafra against the wishes of the Federal Government I never considered that entitled us to escape the legal consequences.” – Biafran Missionary Doctor by Anne Seymour (1961-70) page 119.

Anne came to South Shields in 1976 to work as a consultant at the Ingham Infirmary. Many local people (including some of the staff at South Shields Museum & Art Gallery) remember her from this time as she ran the ER. Anne had a somewhat fearsome reputation. Having witnessed children starving and having operated on people suffering terrible injuries during the Nigerian Civil War, Anne could be blunt and dismissive of Ingham patient’s concerns if she felt they were minor by comparison.  She was, however, well-respected and recognised as an excellent doctor, highly skilled at micro surgery and completely dedicated to her work.

After 13 years, fed up with the NHS’s increasing bureaucracy, Anne left Ingham and returned to Africa to work as a consultant in Cameroon. Her new post was at SAJOCAH, a rehabilitation centre in Mambu, Bafut in the Central African country of Cameroon.  The centre supports people, primarily children, with disabilities.

She retired in 1996 and came home to South Shields, this time for good. In her retirement, Anne continued to help others by founding and working for various charities and church groups. She gave her time and skills selflessly to the local community and those less fortunate than herself. Having been a refugee herself, Anne was particularly concerned for refugees and asylum seekers. Her charity work was fully acknowledged during her lifetime and Anne received many awards and commendations, including an MBE.

Anne after receiving her MBE at Living Waters Church, Laygate

Anne after receiving her MBE at Living Waters Church, Laygate

Anne was a very kind, compassionate and deeply practical person who would help anyone in real need, and indeed went out of her way to do so. There are many stories of her good deeds, from tending to people at their houses out of hours to driving patients home when they didn’t have anyone to collect them. Anne sadly passed away in 2016 at the age of 81 but she is not forgotten.

Anne wearing her famous butterfly clips on a hat

Anne wearing her famous butterfly clips on a hat

Local women recently developed a banner with The Cultural Spring which commemorates 100 years since some women got the vote. Included on the banner was a photograph of Anne as many of the women had known her and were inspired by her story. They took the banner to Edinburgh on Sunday 10 June 2018 to take part in PROCESSIONS, a mass live art event which was broadcast live on BBC One.


The Willington Waggonway: Published Research – by Dominique Bell, Project Co-ordinator

The Willington Waggonway Research Programme concluded in March 2018 with a public conference attended by over 100 people. At the conference we shared what we had learned throughout the project and launched two new publications.

These books are now available at Stephenson Railway Museum, Segedunum Roman Fort and Discovery Museum.

Setting the Standard, edited by Dominique Bell

Setting the Standard, edited by Dominique Bell

Setting the Standard is a collection of research reports which shares the full research and findings of the project team.

With a foreword by Anthony Coulls and an introduction by the project manager and co-ordinator, the book contains the following papers:

The Discovery and Excavation of the Willington Waggonway by Richard Carlton and Alan Williams, The Archaeological Practice

A Railway Rediscovered: The Historical Background to the Excavation of the Willington Waggonway by Les Turnbull, The North of England Institute of Mining and Mechanical Engineers

The Conservation of the Willington Waggonway by Rachael Metcalfe, Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums

The Use of Ship Timbers in the construction of the Willington Waggonway by Ian Whitehead, Maritime Historian

Willington Waggonway: Geological analysis of the Horse Track by Dr Ian Kille, Northumbrian Earth


Setting the Standard is available for a recommended donation of £10. Please ask a member of staff if you are interested.


the Wooden Rails That Blazed a Trail - Tyneside's Willington Waggonway

the Wooden Rails That Blazed a Trail – Tyneside’s Willington Waggonway

The Wooden Rails that Blazed a Trail: Tyneside’s Willington Waggonway is a condensed version of the research papers in the form of a guide book. It shares all the key findings of the research project and is intended for those who would like to know more, but perhaps do not want to read the research reports.

This book explores the history of early wooden railways. It follows the excavation and conservation of the Willington Waggonway and explains how study of the preserved timbers and stones have given new insights into the importance of railways before the steam locomotive.


It can be bought for £4.99 and is also available from the TWAM online shop.


The Willington Waggonway Research Programme would not have been possible without support from project partners including: The Archaeological Practice, National Railway Museum, Beamish Museum, The North of England Institute of Mining and Mechanical Engineers, Newcastle City Council, North Tyneside Council, Northumbrian Earth, Tyne Industrial Archaeology Group, Alan Williams Archaeology, Dr Michael Lewis, Ian Whitehead, York Archaeological Trust and North Tyneside Steam Railway Association.


Funding for the rescue of the Willington Waggonway was provided by the Arts Council England (ACE) PRISM Fund. Further funding was awarded by the ACE Designation Development Fund in order to carry out the research project.

Setting the Standard and The Wooden Rails That Blazed a Trail

Setting the Standard and The Wooden Rails That Blazed a Trail

A History of Shoes – by Oliver Cook, Communications Officer

The North-East has a long history of innovation – Robert Stephenson’s Rocket is a prime example, which has returned to Tyneside for the Great Exhibition of the North and is currently on display at Discovery Museum.

A more modern example of North Eastern innovation is Podfo, having been designed in consultation with hundreds of orthotists, podiatrists and biomechanical experts to be a custom insole that supports natural movement to help reduce the risk of pain and injury when standing, walking or running.

Podfo insoles

Podfo insoles


This innovation makes Podfo, just like its insoles, a natural fit as a sponsor for the Great North Museum as it plays its role as a central hub for the Great Exhibition of the North.

Inspired by Podfo’s quest to improve foot comfort, we take a walk back in time (see what we did there?) and take a look at some historical facts related to shoes and other famous things we have done with our feet…

High heels were not originally for women 

Court shoe, 1957-8. Suede, leather and metal, by Hutchings.

Court shoe, 1957-8. Suede, leather and metal, by Hutchings.

According to Slate, in the 10th century, men who rode horses needed their boots to have heels in order to stay in their stirrups (this explains why you often see cowboy boots with heels).  Owning horses was a sign of wealth and by association heels were a way to show off one’s wealth, and became a signifier of aristocracy and high social standing.

Eventually, upper-class women began wearing heels, however men continued to wear high heels for centuries. It wasn’t until the 18th century that the high heel became firmly established as a lady’s shoe, as men deemed them impractical.

How did sneakers get their name? 

Trainer, 1999. Leather, rubber and synthetic, by Nike, USA TWCMS : 1999.1413.2

Trainer, 1999. Leather, rubber and synthetic, by Nike, USA
TWCMS : 1999.1413.2

Sneakers began to get their name in the 1800s due to their rubber soles which enabled people to walk around without making a sound, hence becoming “sneaky”.

A popular pair of sneakers was the Air Max 1, introduced by Nike in 1987. It had a new technological development visible to all – pressurised gas encapsulated in polyurethane. Marion Frank Rudy had developed this to support the foot whilst running. He approached many firms, and was turned down by Adidas, but his idea was taken on by Nike. This version of the Air Max was one of the best sellers for men in 1999, retailing for £47.99.

Lotus feet 

Lotus shoes, 1800s. Silk and leather, China. TWCMS : K13989.1

Lotus shoes, 1800s. Silk and leather, China.
TWCMS : K13989.1

For over a thousand years many Chinese women went through the tortuous procedure of foot binding, as tiny feet were a sign of status in China. From an early age girls would be made to wear shoes too small for them, preparing them for the binding of their feet. Their feet would be tightly wrapped in bandages so that they could not grow, and the bones of the foot would be broken and all but the big toe curled under the foot to produce a curve called the ‘lotus hook’.

Foot binding limited the mobility of women, and resulted in lifelong disabilities for most of its subjects. However the fact it affected women’s ability to walk, was bizarrely deemed a good thing, as it was seen as a sign of wealth, as the wealthiest of people didn’t need to walk or work in fields.

You can see an example of Chinese Lotus Shoes on display in the Great North Museum.

The most famous ever footprint?

Zvezda space suit made by SOKOL used by Helen Sharman during the space flight on board the SOYUZ-TM-12 and MIR spacecraft in May 1991. Space suit model number KV-2 No. 167.

Zvezda space suit made by SOKOL used by Helen Sharman during the space flight on board the SOYUZ-TM-12 and MIR spacecraft in May 1991. Space suit model number KV-2 No. 167.

The footprint left by Neil Armstrong on the moon after he and Buzz Aldrin landed on 20 July 1969 is undoubtedly one of the most iconic images in history. As Armstrong took his first step, he spoke one of the most famous lines history:  “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”.

Although Astronaut Helen Sharman hasn’t been to the moon, she has been to space, and her space suit is on display this summer at the Great North Museum for Which Way North.

The beginnings of the modern football boot

Leather football boots from the 1930s. TWCMS : 2006.689.2

Leather football boots from the 1930s.
TWCMS : 2006.689.2

 In the late 1900s, the first proper specialised football boots were made of leather, and were heavy (around 500g) and could get even heavier when wet. Boots in the early 20th century were then manufactured with less focus on protection and more focus on being lighter, agile and flexible to improve performance. By the 1930s, players were typically turning out in boots that were up to two thirds lighter than a few decades earlier, thanks to a combination of softer leathers and new synthetic materials.

Podfo’s Bespoke Biometric Insoles are a modern way to further help increase sport performance with their specialised insoles. Visit Podfo to see how they can improve your sport performance.

Podfo logo






Podfo will be providing opportunities to discover how biometric complexities are behind many foot, knee, leg, hip, and lower back complaints. In addition, they will demonstrate how Podfo bespoke biometric insoles, designed and manufactured using innovative technology, can help correct these issues.

Come and find Podfo at the Great North Museum every Wednesday from 25 July – 5 September, and discover how Podfo can help provide you with corrective foot control, while supporting natural movement, to help relieve pain and discomfort.



The Enchanted Garden: Part 1 – A Very British Love Affair by Amy Barker, Keeper of Art, Laing Art Gallery

‘”Might I”, quavered Mary, “might I have a bit of earth… to plant seeds in – to make things grow – to see them come alive?”’
The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett, 1911

The Secret Garden may be one of the most famous gardens in literature. This beloved children’s classic follows the life of Mary Lennox, a sickly, newly orphaned girl who leaves her life of privilege in India to live on the Yorkshire Moors. A good natured servant tells Mary of a secret garden in which roses used to grow. One day she finds the key to the secret garden buried in the ground and uncovers the hidden door. Mary’s curiosity is piqued and her character begins to unfold.

We are a nation of gardeners: creating outdoor rooms in the smallest spaces, growing our own food and making play-spaces for our children. Many of us find pleasure and pride in growing things and our outdoor spaces bring beauty into our everyday lives. The current explosion of interest in allotments reflects a need for city dwellers to have a patch of ground to call their own.

By the late 1800s, having a garden was a mark of status. A national nostalgia was reflected by artists and designers who thrived on an audience idealising the rural past. Helen Allingham, Kate Greenaway, Beatrix Potter and Frances Hodgson Burnett were all in vogue, with Allingham’s influence still felt as Stanley Spencer began painting the gardens of the Cookham during the 1920s.

'Roses for the Invalid' by Ralph Hedley, Laing Art Gallery

‘Roses for the Invalid’ by Ralph Hedley, Laing Art Gallery

In this summer scene, a young woman is cutting roses to brighten up the room of an ill person. The roses grow around the door of her whitewashed cottage. Her blue-grey cap is a type worn in the fishing village of Staithes in Yorkshire. She is shown in ordinary working clothes, with her skirt pinned up under her apron to keep it clean. A little girl with a red ribbon in her hair holds a basket full of the flowers.

Newcastle artist Ralph Hedley was one of many painters who visited Staithes. This picture illustrates his growing interest in painting natural light effects in the 1890s. Hedley painted traditional scenes of the North East reflecting somewhat idealised 19th century life, right through into the early 20th century.

'Cottage with Figures' by Helen Allingham, Laing Art Gallery

‘Cottage with Figures’ by Helen Allingham, Laing Art Gallery

Helen Allingham was a prolific artist, best known for painting English cottages and country gardens. Working in an eighteenth-century pictorial tradition, she deliberately sought out picturesque subjects which she ‘improved’ by emphasizing their dilapidated charm – worn thatch, moss-covered roofs, broken fences, overgrown gardens. These cottage scenes, with the women engaged in domestic pursuits – childcare, laundry, feeding poultry – signified social order, a place where the established proprieties of class and gender were still observed.

'Guinea Pigs Gardening' by Beatrix Potter, courtesy of F. Warne Co., V&A Museum

‘Guinea Pigs Gardening’ by Beatrix Potter, courtesy of F. Warne Co., V&A Museum

Beatrix Potter is one of the world’s best-loved children’s authors and illustrators. She wrote the majority of the twenty-three original Peter Rabbit books between 1901 and 1913.

This work dates from 1893 when Potter is known to have borrowed guinea pigs from her friend and neighbour Miss Paget to make drawings; she wrote in her journal on 5 February 1893 that one of the guinea pigs ‘took to eating blotting paper, pasteboard, string and other curious substances, and expired in the night.’

This composition was later redrawn for Cecily Parley’s Nursery Rhymes to accompany Potter’s verses.


The Enchanted Garden is showing at the Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne, until 7 October. For more information about the exhibition, click here