Kathleen Drew-Baker: Mother of the Sea

As part of this summer’s Great Exhibition of the North, the Great North Museum is hosting a museum-wide takeover featuring 250 loans from across the UK. The temporary exhibition, called Which Way North, shines a light on Northern art, design and innovation by telling a number of unusual and interesting stories. This is one such story.

Credit and Copyright ©: Colin Davison +44 (0)7850 609 340 colin@rosellastudios.com www.rosellastudios.com

Northern Nori by Helen Shaddock. Damien Hirst’s shark in formaldehyde sculpture Heaven can be seen in the background. Photo © Colin Davison.

The artwork shown above is called Northern Nori by Newcastle-based artist Helen Shaddock. It was specially commissioned for Which Way North and features 16 sheets of seaweed that have been printed with oil paint. A curious thing to commission, you might wonder…

Northern Nori is actually a response to the life and work of phycologist Kathleen Drew-Baker, whose brass microscope is displayed nearby.

Credit and Copyright ©: Colin Davison +44 (0)7850 609 340 colin@rosellastudios.com www.rosellastudios.com

Siebert brass microscope used by Kathleen Drew-Baker, c. 1920. On loan from the Science Museum Group. Photo © Colin Davison.

Lancashire-born Kathleen Drew-Baker (1901-1957) is known for her research on algae which led to a breakthrough in the commercial cultivation of edible seaweed, aka nori. If you’ve ever eaten sushi, you’ll know the stuff.

In late 1940s Japan, nori farmers were struggling badly due to increasing water pollution and the destructive effect of several typhoons. They didn’t have a reliable way to grow enough seaweed to keep their stocks replenished.

Drew-Baker discovered a special phase in the life cycle of a particular red seaweed, Porphyra Umbilcalis. The research was picked up by Japanese scientists and soon seaweed spores could be seeded on strings, leading to reliable crops and bumper harvests. It saved the nori industry.


Kathleen Drew-Baker. Photo © Smithsonian Institution Archives SIA2008-1427.

The Japanese have not forgotten Drew-Baker’s influence. They know her as the ‘Mother of the Sea’ and celebrate a festival in her honour. In the coastal city of Uto, nori farmers gather on 14 April each year at a monument to Kathleen; they give thanks with Shinto prayers, make offerings and sing songs, hoping that she will watch over them and increase their yields.

Credit and Copyright ©: Colin Davison +44 (0)7850 609 340 colin@rosellastudios.com www.rosellastudios.com

Close-up of Northern Nori showing Liquorice Allsort printing technique. Photo © Colin Davison.

To create the artwork Northern Nori, Helen Shaddock used Bassett’s Liquorice Allsorts to print oil paint onto the sheets of seaweed. She chose the sweets because they brought back memories of her grandfather and childhood.

On the playful technique, Which Way North curator Grainne Sweeney said: “It roots the work firmly in the North (Bassett’s were founded in Sheffield) and resonates with another strand that runs throughout the exhibition – the idea of two worlds colliding.”

Which Way North at the Great North Museum is open 10am – 6pm daily until Sunday 9 September 2018. Entry is free although donations are very welcome.

Shiny shiny – by Alex Croom, Keeper of Archaeology

While the cheek-piece from Wallsend itself is made of iron, all the other cheek-pieces on display in the Saving Face exhibition at Segedunum are made of copper alloy and originally would have been gold in colour. Many of them, however, still have large areas of tin-coating surviving which would have made them look silver. Either way, when in use the helmets would have shone brightly in the sun – there was no attempt at camouflage in the Roman army! A late Roman author called Vegetius said that one of the duties of centurions and decurions was to make sure that their soldiers were ‘well-clothed and shod and that the arms of all are scoured as well as glittering’. He goes on to explain why: ‘the brilliance of arms strikes very great dread in the enemy. Who can believe a soldier warlike when his inattention has fouled his armour with rust and mildrew’ (Epitome of Military Science, translation by N. Milner).

Detail of a decorated cheek-piece

Detail from a cheek-piece showing the remains of the original tin coating. Note the original brass colour showing through in places on the helmet and plume, and the copper colour of the circular rivet.

Soldiers must have spent a fair bit of their time involved in spit and polish. They had quite a bit of metal on them when fully armoured, all of which needed to be kept ‘glittering’: helmet, armour, sword, dagger, shield boss, scabbard fittings, baldric fittings, and belt fittings.

Ancient authors give some hints of what they might have used. The most common method of cleaning metal was by scouring, in other words rubbing it with an abrasive such as sand, ashes, alum, or fine earths like gypsum; the finer the powder the better the finish, although the Leiden Papyrus suggests a gentler method of cleaning using the water of boiled beets. After cleaning, some polishing was required: the author Isidore says that goat-hair cloth was used by soldiers on their armour (Etymologies, 18.13.2). When eventually polished to a shine the metals may have been given a coating of olive oil or fat to protect it, at least for a while. Pliny (Natural Histories, 31.33.66, 34.43.150) notes that iron could be cleaned using sea water, and then protected from rust by lead acetate, gypsum or liquid vegetable pitch – although he does also add: ‘it is indeed said that the same result may also be produced by a religious ceremony’. No doubt generations of soldiers wished it could be so easy.

It’s not all iron, steel and coal up North – by Lucy Deprez, Project Officer, A History of the North in 100 Objects

Hello. My name is Lucy Deprez and I have been the Project Officer working on A History of the North in 100 Objects, as part of the Great Exhibition of the North launching on 22 June this year.

The project started with an open call to all accredited museums across Northern England and pretty soon nominations started to fly in. In order for the team to make a selection, we really had to boil down what ‘The North’ is and what is its identity? What are the things most associated with it? What images does it bring to mind? What story could we create out of unrelated museum objects? Early on it was obvious the overriding narrative would concern coal, iron, cotton, steel, ships and railways and would be set largely in the 19th century.

As it takes a while for recent history to become ‘historised’, so to speak, and for objects from living memory to be accessioned into museum collections, we weren’t surprised by the themes early nominations represented. We were, however, curious about what the 20th and 21st centuries looked like in the North, after the decline of the heavy industry that made it great in the Victorian era. The first thing that sprung to mind was entertainment, specifically pop music. The North led the world in the mid-late 20th century with this new art form, from Merseybeat to House music to Britpop, so when we did a second call out with specific categories where we were under-represented, pop music was top of the list. Although we didn’t end up covering every genre, it did result in three of my favourite objects being nominated: Bedspread – All You Need is Love at the Museum of Liverpool, Love You More – Single Record Sleeve by Buzzcocks at Manchester Metropolitan University Special Collections, and Astral Navigations at Wakefield Museum.

Bedspread - All You Need is Love. Museum of Liverpool, National Museums Liverpool

Bedspread – All You Need is Love.
Museum of Liverpool, National Museums Liverpool

The bedspread brings together two Northern people on the world’s stage. The first, John Lennon, of course needs little introduction: the Liverpudlian lad whose songs have inspired generations and who, at the end of the 1960s, was looking for innovative ways to oppose conflict, most specifically the Vietnam war which was raging at the time. His well-documented idea was to stage a series of ‘bed-ins’ with his new bride, Japanese conceptual artist Yoko Ono. The most famous of these was during their honeymoon in Montreal where they stayed in bed for a week, talking about peace to the press, with an invited audience of musicians, psychologists and beat poets. The second, another northerner, Yorkshire-born designer Christine Kemp who was living in Canada, had made a large room divider for her studio, adorned with Beatles themed appliqué designs – characters from their animated film Yellow Submarine and the words All You Needs is Love, the name of their famous hit. Discovering that John and Yoko were in her new home town, she wrapped the room divider up in a Union Jack and made her way to the Queen Elizabeth Hotel to bestow it upon the pair as a wedding gift, a spontaneous act of kindness motivated by their message of peace and love. This object is particularly inspiring as it not only puts the North on a truly global platform, it reminds us of the man whose life started in the Liverpool village of Wavertree, and ended on the island of Manhattan as one of the most famous and influential people of the century.


Astral Navigations. Holyground Records. Wakefield Museum, courtesy of Wakefield Council

Astral Navigations.
Holyground Records.
Wakefield Museum, courtesy of Wakefield Council

The second object is a record called Astral Navigations, produced by what is thought to be the world’s first independent record label Holyground Records, by Lightyears Away and Thundermother.  Formed in a house on Wakefield’s Bread Street in 1966, Holyground released a range of albums, variously described as folk, rock, progressive, but all capturing the psychedelic mood of the time. They would blaze the trail of ‘indie’ music in the North that would come to prominence from the late 70s to mid-90s. This beautifully packaged record’s original 1971 pressing is so rare even Wakefield Museum don’t own a copy; theirs comes from a 1980 re-release.

The third object that takes us further through the journey of pop music in 20th century Northern England is ‘Love You More – Single Record Sleeve’ by Buzzcocks from 1978. Two years earlier in 1976,  the event that has now gone down in history as the birth of punk music, the first Sex Pistols’ gig at Manchester’s Lesser Free Trade Hall, took place. Although it has been estimated that 7,500 people claimed to be there at this pivotal moment, a more realistic number of attendees at the 150 capacity venue is thought to be 35-40. We know Howard Devoto and Pete Shelley of Buzzcocks were among this number as they organised it. They went on to release iconic punk songs What Do I get and Ever Fallen in Love with Someone. Devoto, also a member of Magazine and Luxuria, had a cameo in Michael Winterbottom’s 2002 film about the Manchester music scene 24 Hour Party People. The sleeve itself was designed by Malcolm Garett, a pioneer of digital design, who was studying at Manchester Polytechnic (now Manchester Metropolitan University, where you can find this object) at the time, where he influenced fellow student Peter Saville. Saville would also become a master of the Manchester record sleeve during his time designing for Factory Records, a company of which he was a founding partner.

Love You More - Single Record Sleeve by Buzzcocks. Manchester Metropolitan University Special Collections, courtesy of Malcolm Garrett

Love You More – Single Record Sleeve by Buzzcocks.
Manchester Metropolitan University Special Collections,
courtesy of Malcolm Garrett

If I could choose any object myself to include on the list it would be the ticket to an Oasis concert at Newcastle Arena on 17 September 1997, featured in Discovery Museum’s Newcastle Story gallery.  It’s for a very personal reason: I was there and I have an identical ticket at home. While I might feel surprised that objects from my lifetime have already been accessioned into museum collections, it brings back so many memories from my formative years, when getting my hands on a ticket to see Oasis play live was pretty much what I lived for. Coming back from a family holiday on the day the tickets were released, I missed out initially and spent the summer mourning my loss. The day before the concert, my mother managed to get two ‘restricted view’ tickets released at the last minute and made my dreams come true!  I now have a collection of 5 tickets as I managed to catch them another 4 times, latterly on their last tour at Sunderland’s Stadium of Light.

These objects and their stories are mere starting points, keys to unlock the bigger picture of how the North West both revolutionised and dominated popular music at home and further afield in the 20th century. They show us how museum objects are not just dusty old things from the past; they can spark memories, feelings and perhaps previously untold narratives, especially when they come from living memory.

Putting together this project, researching and writing about all of these fascinating objects has been a great journey, I’ve learned a lot, not just about individual objects but about this thing called ‘The North’. I have been astonished at the amount of ‘firsts’ that occurred in our region and how many times the north has quite literally led the world in science, engineering, art, politics and of course music.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of the participating organisations: the Museum Development Providers in their respective regions; HM Government for commissioning GEOTN; our funders the Heritage Lottery Fund; our web developers at Jump; our project manager Katherine Pearson at Flo-Culture; voice artist Tim Crump for endless patience with my rewrites; NewcastleGateshead Initiative for making this part of the wider Great Exhibition of the North programme; Bill Griffiths, Sarah Younas and Alison Maw, as well as the Communications and Design teams at TWAM for invaluable support; and my family for letting me bang on about these objects for months!

I hope you enjoy using the website as much as I have enjoyed creating its content. Please take time to work through the site; it’s a truly a remarkable journey from the everyday to the esoteric to the ground-breaking. You will learn things you didn’t know and new facts about the familiar. Don’t forget to make your own gallery and to share with hashtag #100objectsnorth

Discovering the Discovery Museum – a guest blog by Daniel Horne, volunteer at Discovery Museum

Hello! I’m Daniel, I’m 17 and a volunteer behind the scenes at Discovery Museum. I work in “Boxes of Delight” (the loans boxes programme) if anyone’s interested, but that isn’t the focus here, although it is likely I’ll talk about that sometime!

I’ve always lived in the North East and I was born here, so it was only natural that within four years of existence I was taken to Discovery by my dad.  I loved it. In fact, if I recall, I actually spent my 6th birthday party running a quiz for my classmates around the museum. I was a popular child, as you can imagine.

Entrance to Discovery Museum

Entrance to Discovery Museum

Despite my 13-ish years of knowing the museum, having pretty much memorized the layout, seen almost every exhibit and learnt pretty much all of what I know about Tyne and Wear’s past from Discovery, I realised that many of us, myself included, don’t actually know much at all about the museum itself. The history of it, I mean.

I was really lucky during my work experience (at the museum; where else?) to get talking to someone who knew said history, and from him I realised that there is more to the museum than first met my eye. It seems that some buildings just inherently have stories attached to them, and it’s fitting that one of such buildings is a museum!


In this blog, I want to explore the history of the museum from its origin in 1934 (from within a temporary pavilion built just before the great depression for a “park exhibition” which, looking back, probably wasn’t the best investment they could’ve made for the time) to today, to see how it has grown into the teaching, archiving and learning hub of… err… discovery it is today.

I want to see where the wagons entered when the building was actually the headquarters for the Co-operative Society and I want to learn how they managed to fit a 34 metre steam boat into the museum, and for that matter, I want to learn the story of that boat, The Turbinia, which all too often is ignored by visitors to the museum, almost hiding in plain sight.

Turbinia in Discovery Museum

Turbinia in Discovery Museum

I hope I’ve caught your interest and that you’ll return in a week or two (or sixty seven…) when we’ll start the story. Properly.

Thanks for reading.

Was the North East the catalyst for the English Civil War? – A guest post by Volunteer Kate Buckley

My name is Kate Buckley and I am a volunteer in the Great North Museum: Hancock Library. As a final year History student at Newcastle University it is probably unsurprising that I am interested in the English Civil War. However, I have rarely looked beyond the mainstream rhetoric that we are taught in school. The prevailing image of the English Civil War is of a battle between Royalists and Parliamentarians, which portrays Charles I as a tyrant whom we should be grateful parliament removed from power. Volunteering at the Great North Museum: Hancock Library has highlighted the important fact that we should not always accept the dominant rhetoric – that to understand the significance of an event we should look at the lives of the ‘ordinary people’ (what historians like to call a history from below). The Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle Upon Tyne’s (SANT) collection in the Great North Museum: Hancock Library has a unique collection of original documents pertaining to the English Civil War, but most importantly they concern the role of the North East in this historical event.

The Equestrian Portrait of Charles 1 by Anthony Van Dyck

The Equestrian Portrait of Charles I by Anthony Van Dyck

The above image exemplifies our traditional understanding of Charles I, as an egotistical King, who was out of touch with his people. The portrait enforces this view since it was deployed to present Charles, as a military figure, powerful and heavenly. The letters between Charles I and his former Chaplin Alexander Henderson, certainly reveal Charles’ arrogance. However, the publication titled:

The papers which passed at New-castle betwixt his Sacred Majesty and Mr Alex Henderson Concerning the Change of Church-Government”

which was published in 1646, and is part of the SANT collection, provides an alternative perspective. This book is, in my opinion,  significant as it provides an insight into Charles’s psyche that has changed my opinion on this Monarch.


Alexander Henderson, a Scottish Presbyterian Minister, wrote to Charles I and pleaded with him to negotiate and accept the Parliamentarian’s terms. The King Charles we know has been presented as arrogant and conceited, with a strong belief in the Divine Rights of Kings. This document, however, indicates that there was much more to him than that.  A fierce debater, Charles was a man with substantial intellect in both politics and scripture. The papers contained within the book could be read as a stubborn Charles who refused to listen. With the benefit of hindsight, I believe instead this reveals a complex man – willing to engage in discussion – but his position and upbringing prevented him from adhering to a ‘lesser viewpoint’. However, this is just my opinion. So if you would like to gain an insight into the complex mind of Charles I, it is imperative that a trip is taken to the Great North Museum: Hancock Library to decide for yourself.

Alexander Henderson 1583 - 1646

Alexander Henderson 1583 – 1646

Was the  North East was the catalyst for the English Civil War?

When most people think of the English Civil War, they think of the events which occurred in London, and tend to ignore what occurred in the regions. As a local, I was unaware of the role of the North East in the War; this was perhaps naïve, after all the North East is the frontier land between Scotland and England. Nevertheless, the importance of the North East has become clear, and it is arguable that the North East was one of the sparks for the conflict! The documents highlight the fact that Newcastle was staunchly Royalist and was in an important strategic position since it was a major trading city. Although Charles I strengthened Newcastle’s defences in 1638, the city was defeated by the Scots in Newburn (on Tyneside) in 1640. This is noteworthy as it is said by some that this, combined with Charles’ decision to pay the Scots £60,000 to leave, was a catalyst for the English Civil War. Of course, as with all history, this is up for debate. Nonetheless, it is an interesting viewpoint and it places the North East at the centre of the English Civil War.

I think it is worthwhile to momentarily move away from the historical facts and discuss the argument that the rivalry between Newcastle and Sunderland can be traced back to the English Civil War.  The SANT documents also highlight that Hylton Castle, in Sunderland, provided the base from which Scottish rebels were able to conduct raids into Newcastle and Durham. The use of the grounds of Hylton Castle enabled the Scots to lay siege to the aforementioned areas, ensuring that the King’s noble support in the North East would be subdued. This meant that the King would be deprived of the military support that may have helped him win the war. Arguably the most interesting aspect of this story is the argument that this was the origin of the intense rivalry between Newcastle and Sunderland, with Sunderland as ‘traitors’ who betrayed their fellow countrymen. We cannot know if this is true, however, though I think it is a much better explanation for this rivalry than football, or who has the better accent!


I have only mentioned some of the highlights of these documents; there are many more pertaining to the Civil War period in the SANT collection at the Great North Museum: Hancock Library. So if you are interested, and want to uncover some of the secrets hidden in these documents, make sure you come down and browse yourself. There are too many documents to list, but those I personally think are fascinating include:

  • The papers which passed at Newcastle between his sacred majesty and Mr Alex Henderson concerning the change of church and government, 1646 X2
  • Partic. Relation to the taking of Newcastle
  • Siege of Newcastle
  • The Copy of a letter sent from Iohn Lord Finch, late Lord Keeper, to his friend Dr Cozens 1641
  • An exact collection of many wonderful prophesies relating to the Government of England, &  since the first year of the reign if King James I
  • Oppressed Man’s Out-Cry
  • Mr Benjamin Bennet’s Presbyterian Prejudice Further Displayed: OR His Unjust Reflections on Charles I and his doctrine of Resistance Confider’d
  • O Friends! No Friends, To King Church and State 1648
  • A full relation of the Scots besiedging Newcastle…..
  • A Comparison of the Great English and French Revolutions, by William Bainbridge ESQ.

civil war final


The Great North Museum Hancock Library is located on the second floor of the Great North Museum: Hancock.   It houses the collections of the Natural History Society of Northumbria, the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Newcastle University’s Cowen Library. For more information please visit https://greatnorthmuseum.org.uk/collections/library-and-archives