Opening Segedunum – a recollection

By Bill Griffiths, Head of Programmes and Collections

20 years ago this month, we opened Segedunum Roman Fort, Baths and Museum to the public. It’s a cliché – but to me it feels like yesterday!

At the time of its opening, I was newly in post as the Museum’s Curator, having been the on-site Archaeology Project Officer right through its development. We had been working for three and a half years on the project since receiving funding from, among others, the Heritage Lottery Fund, and I had been involved for about two years before that working for Paul Bidwell on the initial feasibility study for the site.

The opening was a big deal. We had a couple of preview days for the families of people involved in the project including from the museum service, North Tyneside Council, and the contractors – and I remember putting them through a fire alarm just so we could test the system!

That week also saw a lot of local TV coverage, which you don’t get so much of these days. I particularly remember a local TV news presenter doing a piece from the bath-house. The final shot was a bit Monty Python as he stripped off and took a bath – showing his naked backside on camera – and this was the early evening news, hours before the evening watershed!

The day before we opened to the public, the car park was covered in a huge marquee for the VIP launch. I had been rushing around getting all sorts of things ready – and in my memory I suddenly heard our then Director David Fleming introducing me to say a few words. I don’t recall having a speech ready!

Opening day itself saw the famous Roman re-enactment group, the Ermine Street Guard, march from Wallsend Metro station, where we had a Metro train decked out as a massive advert for the Museum, down to the site, where we had a queue of eager visitors awaiting the opening moment. They presented a ceremony alongside members of Cohors Quinta Gallorum, our own re-enactment group based at Arbeia.

As I recall, the first day went well and the public were none the wiser about just how frantic things were behind the scenes.

In the original plan, the builders were meant to finish the Museum six weeks before opening. We were to recruit the staff team at that point and have them in place for about a month’s training before we opened to the public. In the event, the builders did not fully finish on site until part way through opening day itself! We were actually trained on how to set the intruder alarm on the afternoon of the first day. Geoff Woodward (now the Museum Manager for North and South Tyneside, but then Customer Services Officer for Segedunum and about three weeks in post) and I sat with the builders that afternoon for about an hour as they handed the keys to the building over to us – one by one.

The next few weeks passed in a blur as Geoff and I and the team started to learn how to operate the building. My overarching memory is of colleagues from across TWAM coming down and helping us learn the systems needed to run a museum, from conservation requirements to cash-handling, to accepting objects from members of the public. On top of that, and I am really showing my age here, email was another brand new thing we had to learn!

After all those years working on the project, it was a great relief to find that the public loved the Museum too. I recall that analysis of the visitor’s comments book identified over 20 different spellings of the word ‘excellent’. 20 years on, I still cannot argue with that.

It’s easy to forget how significant Segedunum is for its archaeology. It is the most excavated fort on Hadrian’s Wall, and the first place to see Roman Cavalry barracks fully excavated. Since Segedunum’s opening, the extra mural bath-house has been rediscovered by the Wallquest community archaeology project and additional funding has allowed the completion of the section of Hadrian’s Wall that lies within the Museum’s grounds. These tell an incredible story of several phases of collapse and rebuild, as well as containing outstanding evidence for the function of the water supply system in Roman times. And of course, its not just Roman; the Wallsend B pit excavation won an award from the Association for Industrial Archaeology.

Today, 20 years on, Segedunum stands proud, not only as a celebration of Hadrian’s Wall and the Frontiers of the Roman Empire World Heritage Site, but with its displays of the mine and shipyard, it is also a testament to the place Wallsend occupies in history. Segedunum has become a source of pride for the town’s past and an inspiration for its future.


As a charity, Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums rely on donations to provide the services that we do and our closure, whilst necessary, has significantly impacted our income. Please, if you are able, help us help us continue to inspire people through arts, culture and heritage in the North East 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.

A Floating Hospital

Assistant Keeper of History Adam Bell at South Shields Museum and Art Gallery shares how a floating hospital stemmed the influx of infectious diseases into South Tyneside in the late 19th century.

A late 19th century floating hospital once moored at Jarrow Slake in South Tyneside was a clever local solution to prevent the danger of importing infectious diseases from overseas ports.  

Commissioned by the River Tyne Port Sanitary Authority (est. 1879) the floating hospital was built by Wood, Skinner & Co. of Bill Quay.  

Launched on 2 August 1886, it was 140 ft x 70 ft, and was built upon ten cylindrical iron pontoons 

TWCMS : 2001.3556. This image was taken around the time the hospital launched 2 August 1886

The Port Sanitary Authorities (PSAs) checked shipboard health and conditions, and ships with visible signs of disease on board were required to be disinfected and the sick removed to an isolation hospital. 

TWCMS : 2011.2066 What was the South Shields River Police and Tyne Port Sanitary Authority Office, at the Mill Dam next to the Customs House, South Shields.

In 1902, for example, River Tyne PSA officers boarded and inspected 2,323 vessels, and the River’s Medical Officer of Health visited 46 vessels which had reported or suspected cases of smallpox, measles, enteric fever (typhoid), scarlet fever, diarrhoeal diseases, malarial fever, dysentery and influenza.  

TWCMS : K7799 Lithograph of young girl suffering from cholera (an acute diarrhoeal disease).

Of these, 17 cases were treated at the floating hospital. That year, due to a serious smallpox epidemic on land, an additional 51 patients were also admitted for treatment from districts which had no suitable hospital provision.

TWCMS : 2013.1200 Booklet “History of the Small-Pox Epidemic in South Shields, 1871”, written by Andrew Legat and published in 1871. The text was originally a paper read on 15 June 1871 before the Northern Branch of the British Medical Association at Tynemouth.

The floating hospital at Jarrow Slake had three main buildings each consisting of a six-bedded ward and a four-bedded ward, divided by a nurses’ room and bathroom. Each ward had a scullery and a water closet. A small mortuary was located behind the central ward. A yellow and black flag was flown when there was infection on board. 
The Tyne PSA shared a building with the River Police, beside the Customs House at Mill Dam, South Shields from 1886 until 1985. As for the floating hospital, with the improved watch kept on the health of ship’s crews and the establishment of isolation hospitals ashore, the floating hospital was declared redundant and was scrapped in 1930.  

Image courtesy of South Tyneside Libraries [ref. STH0000056]. Here, the partially dismantled structure is towed away to the breakers.

As a charity, Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums rely on donations to provide the amazing service that we do 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.

Joseph Crawhall II – A Victorian Artist and Man of Many Parts

In my role as the librarian at the Great North Museum: Hancock Library I’m fortunate to regularly come across many beautiful and interesting books.  The authors and illustrators who created these volumes are often just as fascinating as the books themselves, and many have connections with Newcastle upon Tyne.

One example of such a person is Joseph Crawhall II (1821 – 1896) who is the subject of this blog.

Portrait of Joseph Crawhall II

As his title suggests Crawhall was part of an artistic family that spanned the 19th and early 20th centuries. His father was a local politician, businessman and former Mayor of Newcastle as well as an amateur artist. His son, also called Joseph, became a celebrated artist.

Joseph Crawhall II was born at West House, Newcastle. Along with his brother and sister he inherited artistic ability from his father. Joseph developed a passionate fascination with the past which led to a specific interest in reproducing the kind of woodcuts and engravings associated with locally published chapbooks and ballad sheets. Chapbooks were a type of printed street literature which formed a rich publishing tradition in his native Newcastle in the 17th and 18th centuries. They were cheaply produced and contained rudimentary, but evocative woodcut illustrationsCrawhall also took inspiration from the decorations on medieval glass and manuscripts and the wonderful engravings of the local wood engraver and naturalist, Thomas Bewick. By creatively combining and synthesising these diverse artistic influences Crawhall was able to formulate his unique and individual graphic style which still appears vital and contemporary today.

Illustration from Chap-Book Chaplets

Published in 1883 Crawhall’s book “Chap-Book Chaplets” and its companion volume “Old Ffrendes With Newe Faces” are a testament both to his artistic skill and his love for the folk literature tradition of the northern region. The illustrations in the volumes use the medium of wood-engraving. Crawhall cut the blocks out of less coarse box wood, he then drew his designs onto the polished end-grain blocks using dark ink. Finally, he made incisions in the block using a tool called a “graver”, supporting the block on a sandbag as he worked. Although the printing for these volumes was done in black and white Crawhall added colour by hand to bring the images to life. Crawhall was noted for his sense of humour which permeates and elevates his imagery giving it great vibrancy and appeal.

Illustration from Old Ffrendes With New Faces

 Crawhall was a man of many and diverse interests. He loved the Northumbrian pipes and north eastern songs and published a book titled “Beuk O’ Newcassel Sangs”. As a leading member of Newcastle’s Art Association, he helped to organise exhibitions and he is held responsible for much of the groundwork for establishing the City’s art collections. He was also a keen rower and had an interest in archaeology. Crawhall developed a friendship with Charles Keane, the noted cartoonist, who worked for Punch, the famous humorous periodical of that time. Crawhall provided him with rough drawings and “punch” lines which the cartoonist completed and published.

Another of Crawhall’s pastimes was that of angling of which he was a keen practitioner. Indeed the first book that he produced was the self-printed “Compleatetest Angling Booke That Euer Was Writ”, published in 1859. This established his characteristically quirky and idiosyncratic style.

Illustration from Compleatest Angling Beuke That Ever Was Writ

After a long and productive life Joseph Crawhall died in 1896 at the age of 75 and he was buried in Morpeth. He was a much respected and admired figure, both locally and nationally and his passing was marked by the Newcastle Daily Leader who described him in an obituary as “One of the north of England’s most conspicuous and interesting figures.”

His son’s biographer described him as “One of the most fascinating characters of the Victorian era”.

I hope that this blog has sparked an interest in Joseph Crawhall II and his rich and unique body of work. If you would like to view some of his marvellous publications, you are welcome to visit the Great North Museum:  Hancock Library where they are part of the library of the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne. The library is free to use and is open to everyone. At the moment the library is temporarily closed because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Further information about the library can be found at

I would like to thank Newcastle University Special Collections who kindly allowed me to reproduce the photographic portrait of Joseph Crawhall II, which is part of the archive of material that they hold on him. The collection details are as follows:

Photograph taken from an ‘Album Amicorum’ in JCII, Crawhall (Joseph II) Archive], Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186

As a charity, Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums rely on donations to provide the amazing service that we do 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.

Data Visualisation: What a Wonderful World it Could Be

Written by Katie Cagney, Database and Research Officer.

Katie is currently one of ten exceptional fundraisers taking part in Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy’s 2020/21 Fundraising Fellowship. To find out more about the fellowship, please visit

“Don’t know much about geography, don’t know much trigonometry,
don’t know much about algebra, don’t know what a slide rule is for…”

I work with data but this lyric is true for me.

The idea of ever mastering trigonometry or algebra is daunting, even during lockdown, but, a few days ago, I decided to learn what a slide rule is for.

This is a slide rule:

A plastic slide rule by Faber Castell with instructions, in its original clear, plastic case. (TWCMS: 2008.37)

Ok, maybe not so exciting to look at, but, according to All Things Considered, these manual tools got man on the moon! Slide rules were vital instruments for 350 years, helping scientists, engineers and spacemen make multiple, complicated calculations, such as finding square roots. You move the sliding pieces and the right answer just seems to appear. Now, I don’t understand the mechanics – even the curator of the MIT Museum calls it ‘magic’ – but I can understand that the slide rule gets you thinking about “math in geographical terms – you begin to know where the right answer is supposed to be.”  So, in other words, what it does, what it represents, is a better grip on the relationships between numbers. It’s a hands-on way of understanding data, using a visualisation tool.

I have favourite examples of data visualisation – so I’ll add the slide rule to my list – and I collect them because of my frequent data dilemmas – How do I apply order to this data, which our systems keep producing, in the most communicative way? How do I draw out the most insight? How can I present this in the best way for this team?

Data analytics can seem like a disconcerting minefield to a fundraiser – but we all know that statistics, presented well, help us to make better decisions. Luckily, it’s easier than ever for fundraisers to develop their data analysis skills – and we know there’s so much insight we could generate and share.  In this post, the first of a series about data, I’ll cover graph dos and don’ts, some handy free insight tools, and discuss ways in which we as a sector could dig deeper into data, starting with data visualisation.

The good, the bad and the ugly

Examples of beautiful data analysis are everywhere –

  • #MakeoverMonday, where talented twitterers compete to create the most compelling designs
  • Free, interactive dashboard tools like Google Data Studio or Microsoft PowerBI help you order your data
  • The amazing Wikidata demonstrates cross-referencing, so we find unexpected delights such as a list of all cats ever named in wikipedia articles.
  • More recently, we’re now accustomed to the frighteningly exact research of the John Hopkins University Coronavirus map.

This is data that helps us to understand, to make connections, and helps us to be safe. And we all take for granted that visualising data helps us make better decisions – from a weather map to a workout machine display. But how do we know which graph will work best in each scenario?

Here’s a case in point. It turns out that the ‘data community’ really doesn’t rate the pie chart – or rather, feels they have a far narrower application than is generally understood. Business Insider calls them ‘easily the worst way to convey information ever developed in the history of data visualization.’ Wow. Did you know that? How many other data faux pas am I guilty of?!

‘Data dos’ and ‘data don’ts’

Here are some things I’ve learned about graphs:

  • The best visualisations don’t seem to be the ones that attempt to show complex, multi-faceted data. Instead they pull insight out of a few, carefully chosen, lines of data – about three strands seems right: such as a line graph showing how visitor donations are influenced by guest footfall and weather conditions.
  • It can help to consider ‘cognitive load’, especially if you’re experimenting with a new graph type, because unfamiliarity can mean you lose your impact.
  • The number of colours you use (three again seems best practice), how many different graph types you use and how much ‘clutter’ you include (like data keys and labels) can all get in the way of understanding
  • Think twice before making something 3D
  • Graphs can also skew and manipulate data really easily, so there’s some best practice to follow for clarity and honesty as well.

Where my data visualisers at?

There is widespread demand for data analysis skills, and fundraising (and the cultural sector more generally) is probably not the first area new graduates with these abilities consider: in a survey conducted in 2019, a huge 95% did not connect the skills of researching and analysing data with fundraiser jobs. There is also pressure on arts and cultural organisations to catch up with this explosion of data-led decision making and huge interest in their creative projects. I don’t have an IT degree, and I have never worked for a technology company, but, like many fundraisers, working with fundraising databases has led to many data projects, and I’ve seen extraordinary things become clear through good data analysis. I’ve picked up skills along the way, and I interact with people who coax data in complex and insightful ways – but they are often outside of our sector.

However, opportunities to upskill within arts and culture organisations are increasing – the Turing Institute offers a Data Science for Social Good summer course – the Arts Council recently launched the amazing Digital Culture Network – and my own city of Newcastle hosts DataJam, where a wide-ranging group of participants pool experience and skills to solve real challenges.

Wrangling data can feel like an unfamiliar world but, as data visualisation is inherently creative, it’s such a fruitful space for collaboration – we should be in on the conversation!

What’s next?

Working with data can be experimental, collaborative and fun. Let’s explore the wonderful world of data…

Here’s an example infographic, what do you think?

You can see a clearer version of this image at

Further Reading & Training

In the spirit of lockdown, here’s a handy link if you wanted to build your own slide rule at home and, for researcher geeks like me, take a look at the Slide Rule society homepage

Here’s an 8 minute video with a quick peek at the innovative DataJamNE, or you can look at the #DataJamNE hashtag

Watch a TED video by Hans Rosling, data visionary

Free online training is available through companies such as coursera, and Treehouse (my favourite, although not free)

As a charity, Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums rely on donations to provide the amazing service that we do 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.

Pebbles on the beaches of Northumberland

Hi, my name is Sylvia, I’m the geologist at the Great North Museum: Hancock.  Now that the museum is closed for the foreseeable future and our extensive collection of rocks, minerals and fossils is not accessible, I looked to local beach pebbles for a little geological inspiration.

The geology of Northumberland is very varied; it includes the Whin Sill crags at Housesteads that Hadrian’s Wall sits on, the granite and volcanic rocks of the Cheviot Hills, fossiliferous Carboniferous limestones, Coal Measures sandstones, and further south at Cullercoats the fossil fish-rich Late Permian Marl Slate.  Here are descriptions of some of the pebbles that are commonly found on local beaches.

Hadrian’s Wall on crags of Whin Sill near Housesteads, Northumberland.

Whin Sill

The Whin Sill is a large sheet-like saucer shaped igneous intrusion that sits below much of north east England.  It is chiefly composed of a hard dark grey/black rock known as quartz dolerite that is used as road stone and extracted at several sites, including Barrasford Quarry near Hexham.  Beach pebbles of this rock are typically smooth and well-rounded, and sometimes have a ‘spotted’ appearance – the spots represent gas bubbles that formed within the rock while it was still molten and have subsequently filled-up with minerals.  The pebbles feel relatively heavy for their size, and sometimes have a slightly sparkly appearance resulting from the small angular crystals that they are composed of catching the light, a feature most easily observed when the sun is shining!  They are commonly found on beaches near Dunstanburgh and Howick.

The Whin Sill cliffs of Cullernose Point near Craster, Northumberland.

Pebbles of quartz dolerite on the beach near Dunstanburgh, Northumberland.

Quartz dolerite pebble, the white spots consist largely of the mineral calcite.

Black Limestone

The black limestones of north Northumberland formed in a warm sea when Northern England was much closer to the equator than it is today. Dating from the Carboniferous period, this rock is approximately 350 million years old; it is often packed with marine fossils, including brachiopod shells, corals and crinoids.  Crinoid fossils (also known as ‘sea lilies’) commonly occur in the limestone, showing up clearly as small white disc or rod-shaped objects. Depending on how the crinoid fossils sit within a pebble, they can resemble rows of teeth. Loose crinoids are sometimes found in beach sand, for example on Lindisfarne; they are known locally as St. Cuthbert’s beads – some crinoids have a hole through the middle and have been used to make rosaries.

The dark colour of the limestone can lead to confusion with the similarly coloured quartz dolerite. Differences in texture can be useful identification aids: compared to the crystalline Whin Sill, the black limestones have a much finer texture, and a duller, more muddy appearance.

Crinoid fossil in a Carboniferous limestone pebble.

Loose crinoid fossils

Crinoid ‘stem’ preserved in limestone, on the beach near Bamburgh, Northumberland.

Septarian nodules

Septarian nodules are found in the local Carboniferous strata.  Ranging in size from a few millimetres upward, they are also known as tortoise or turtle stones because their overall appearance has been likened to the shells of these reptiles.  When complete, they are typically oval or circular in outline.  Internally, septarian nodules exhibit a network of radiating cracks filled with calcite or quartz; seen on the beach, their unusual structure can produce a striking appearance.  Iron-rich sandstones and finer-grained sedimentary rocks are typically described as ironstone and have a distinctive brown or more vivid orange or ochre colour.

Septarian nodule pebble, on the beach near Cresswell, Northumberland


The mineral Apatite is composed largely of calcium phosphate, just like our teeth.  Translucent green and blue-green pebbles of this mineral can be found among the seaweed and sand beside the St. Mary’s Island causeway.  These pebbles were part of the cargo of the Gothenburg City, a ship that ran aground on the rocks here. It may take a while to ‘get your eye in’ and spot the apatite among the beach pebbles, but some pieces are so clear that they can be confused with green sea glass and have been used to make jewellery.

Apatite pebbles found near St. Mary’s Island, Whitley Bay.

The St. Mary’s Island Sandstone, near St. Mary’s Island, Whitley Bay, Northumberland.


One of the most common local beach pebbles is quartz, a relatively hard mineral that is usually the main constituent of beach sand. Quartz pebbles are typically opaque to translucent, coloured yellow, brown, orange or white, and stand out from the sand when wet.

Local quartz beach pebbles.

This is just a small selection of the pebbles that can be found locally. If you find any pebbles that you would like more information about, please get in touch with us at the Great North Museum: Hancock, and we will endeavour to help.

As a charity, Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums rely on donations to provide the amazing service that we do 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.