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The Great North Museum: Learning in Lockdown

Ian Bower, Librarian at the Great North Museum in Newcastle, provides a brief glimpse into the collections and work held at the Hancock Library and how you can access their catalogue at home during lockdown.

The Great North Museum: Hancock has a unique library on the second floor of the museum which is made up of the library and archives of the Natural History Society of Northumbria (NHSN), the library of the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne (SANT) and the library of Newcastle University's School of History Classics and Archaeology, known as the Cowen library.

The libraries of SANT and NHSN can both be traced back to the early 19th century shortly after both societies originated from Newcastle’s Literary and Philosophical Society.

The Great North Museum: Hancock Library is a wonderful research resource with a wide range of material on the history, natural history and archaeology of the northern region and beyond. It contains printed matter from the 16th century to the current day and also provides a comfortable and welcoming study space with a photocopier and wi-fi. The library is free to use and is open to everyone.

Details of the holdings of the library are available on Newcastle University's online catalogue at

Further information about the collections is as follows.

Natural History Society of Northumbria Library and Archive

The Natural History Society of Northumbria began acquiring material for its library from its foundation in 1829. The library now contains over 10,000 books and around 500 journal titles, around 100 of which are still current.

It is arguably the most impressive and comprehensive library dedicated to the natural world in the north of England that is open to everyone.

The collection contains:

· A wide range of field guides for birds, plants, mammals and insects covering the local region and beyond

· A collection of books and journals on all aspects of the natural world including ecology, geology, evolutionary theory and conservation

· Biographies of noted naturalists, books on the history of natural history and natural history illustration as an art form

· Many rare and wonderfully illustrated books on natural history with the earliest publications dating back to the 16th century

New books are regularly added to the library and donations are welcomed.

Treasures of the NHSN Library include the following:

· Edward Lear’s “Illustrations of Parrots” published in 1832. Lear, who is better known for his nonsense verses was as a young man an enormously skilled illustrator of the natural world, particularly birds. This book contains a number of superb water colour illustrations of parrots, drawn from life.

· A rare first edition of Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species”

· First editions of works by the local wood engraver and naturalist, Thomas Bewick

· A first edition of William Turner’s “New Herbal” published in 1551.

The archive of the NHSN is home to a wealth of original and unpublished material about the natural history of the northern region, and the history of the society and the Great North Museum: Hancock. It contains a wealth of resources for naturalists, historians and artists. Treasures of the archive include original watercolours by Thomas Bewick, the famous wood engraver, and diaries and letters by renowned northern naturalists including the Hancock brothers and Abel Chapman. Use of the archive is by appointment only, please use the contact options that are provided below.

Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne

The Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne was founded in 1813 and since then has been acquiring material for its extensive and unique library. It contains a wide range of books and journals on antiquarian and archaeological subjects encompassing the northern region and beyond.

The library contains over 10,000 books, the earliest dating back to the 17th century, and more than 300 journal titles a number of which are still current. Also available are around 1800 tracts which include a wide range of fascinating pamphlets, and other ephemera on a diverse range of subjects.

The library is particularly strong in the areas of local history and archaeology incorporating a rich collection of material on Hadrian’s Wall and Roman Britain and the heritage of Tyneside.

Also available are:

· Local directories and Poll Books dating back to the 18th century

· Extensive material on the history of coins and tokens

· 17th century publications relating to the northern region’s role in the English Civil War

· A full set of the Proceedings of the Society and its scholarly journal, Archaeologia Aeliana

· A comprehensive collection of local historical maps

New books are regularly added to the library and donations are welcomed.

Treasures of the SANT Library include the following:

· John Warburton’s “Vallum Romanum” published in 1753. This early work on Hadrian’s Wall contains a fold-out survey and plan of the Wall made by him in 1715.

· A comprehensive collection of John Collingwood Bruce’s publications including all editions of his “Handbook to the Roman Wall”

· First editions of Joseph Crawhall’s beautifully illustrated works including “Chap Book Chaplets” published in 1883.

Newcastle University’s Cowen Library

With material from the 18th century to the current day the Cowen Library contains the collection of Newcastle University’s School of History, Classics and Archaeology. It includes over 9000 books and a range of journals and offprints on these subjects and provides an excellent research resource for students, academics and general study.

Included in the library are:

· A wide range of local, national and international archaeological excavation reports

· Books on local and regional archaeology, especially Hadrian’s Wall

· Books on archaeological theory and practice

· A large collection of the British Archaeological Reports series

· Material on Roman archaeology, Egyptology and the archaeology of the Mediterranean, especially the Byzantine Empire.

Treasures of the collection include:

John Collingwood Bruce’s “The Wallet-Book of the Roman Wall” published in 1863. This large format edition contains many illustrations of Hadrian’s Wall from this period.

The easiest way to get to the library is to take the lift on the ground floor, adjacent to the Street Cafe, and go to the second floor. During normal times, the library is immediately on your left as you exit the lift. Please ring the bell to let us know you are there.

The library can also be accessed by stairs. Go through the door immediately to the left of Exhibition Hall 3 at the rear of the museum on the first floor.

You can contact the library by telephone on (0191) 208 3555 or by sending an email to

The library website is at:

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