Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne

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Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne
Type Learned society
PurposeHistorical & Archaeological
Research & publications, lectures & events
Archaeology, Coins, Bagpipes, Manuscripts
Nick Hodgson
Affiliations Great North Museum

The Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne, the oldest provincial antiquarian society in England, was founded in 1813. [1] It is a registered charity under English law. [2]


It has had a long-standing interest in the archaeology of the north-east of England, particularly of Hadrian's Wall, but also covering prehistoric and medieval periods, as well as industrial archaeology. It has also maintained an interest in the traditional music of the north-east of England, and particularly the Northumbrian smallpipes.

The Society maintains several important collections. Its archaeological collection is held at the Great North Museum; its bagpipe collection, based on the collection assembled by William Cocks, is held in the Morpeth Chantry Bagpipe Museum; its collection of manuscripts is held at the Northumberland Record Office. Its journal is Archaeologia Aeliana, [3] first published in 1822, and now published annually. The Great North Museum is also home to the Society's library, holding over 30,000 books, with a particular focus on local history and Roman Britain. Until 2013, the Society managed Newcastle Castle Keep and Black Gate, haivng leased the Keep in 1848 and the Gate in 1883 from the City, where they kept their library and, until 1960 when they were moved to the Museum of Antiquities, their collection of artefacts.


Membership of the society is open to anyone with an interest in history and archaeology, and provides access to monthly lectures as well as to the journal. A discounted student membership is also offered, running September to August to match the academic year. As of 2019, the Society has over 700 members. [4]

A number of notable figures involved with the archaeology and history of northern England have held memberships of the Society, such as John Collingwood Bruce, John Clayton and Ian Richmond. [5]

List of presidents

Traditional music

In 1855, the Society set up an Ancient Melodies Committee, with the object of collecting and preserving the characteristic songs and pipe music of the county. Its members were William Kell, John Clerevaulx Fenwick, and Robert White, together with John Collingwood Bruce a Secretary of the Society, appointed ex officio. In 1857, the Committee delivered a preliminary report to the Duke of Northumberland, with the pipers William Green and James Reid both providing musical illustrations. However, they were reluctant to publish at this stage, considering that the question of distinguishing Northumbrian tunes from Scottish or southern English ones deserved more work.

In the same year Thomas Doubleday wrote an open letter to the Duke, [6] criticising the slow progress of the Committee's work. He also made some observations on the characteristics of the unkeyed Northumbrian smallpipes, with its distinctive closed fingering, which gives the instrument a brilliant staccato sound; he also lamented the tendency of some players to attempt inappropriate music, such as waltzes, on the newer keyed instrument.

The Committee's work seems to have stalled after the deaths of White and Kell, and Fenwick's move to London, but the Society published the Northumbrian Minstrelsy in 1882, edited by Rev. John Collingwood Bruce and John Stokoe. This played a significant role in supporting the traditional instrumental music and song of the north-east of England. [7] However, many of the smallpipe tunes they published were drastically simplified, in particular dropping the variations found in the collection of John Peacock, which they had used as a source. They also used very few of the tunes in the William Vickers manuscript, which was in their possession. Though primarily a fiddler's tunebook, it does contain many local pipe tunes. They also ignored the playing of contemporary traditional pipers such as Old Tom Clough and Thomas Todd. Despite these shortcomings, the book was very significant in the revival of wider interest in the smallpipes and its music.

See also

Related Research Articles

The border pipes are a type of bagpipe related to the Scottish Great Highland Bagpipe. It is perhaps confusable with the Scottish smallpipe, although it is a quite different and much older instrument. Although most modern Border pipes are closely modelled on similar historic instruments, the modern Scottish smallpipes are a modern reinvention, inspired by historic instruments but largely based on Northumbrian smallpipes in their construction.

Northumbrian smallpipes

The Northumbrian smallpipes are bellows-blown bagpipes from North East England, where they have been an important factor in the local musical culture for more than 200 years. The family of the Duke of Northumberland have had an official piper for over 250 years, and in more recent times the Mayor of Gateshead and the Lord Mayor of Newcastle have both re-established the tradition by appointing official Northumbrian pipers.

Here Northumbria is defined as Northumberland, the northernmost county of England, and County Durham. According to 'World Music: The Rough Guide', "nowhere is the English living tradition more in evidence than the border lands of Northumbria, the one part of England to rival the counties of the west of Ireland for a rich unbroken tradition. The region is particularly noted for its tradition of border ballads, the Northumbrian smallpipe and also a strong fiddle tradition in the region that was already well established in the 1690s. Northumbrian music is characterised by considerable influence from other regions, particularly southern Scotland and other parts of the north of England, as well as Irish immigrants.

The Northumbrian Pipers' Society was founded to promote both types of Northumbrian bagpipes – the Northumbrian smallpipes and the half-long pipes, now generally known as the Border pipes. There had been several attempts to encourage the pipes and their music during the 19th century, but no society was formed with this specific aim until the Northumbrian Small Pipes Society in 1893. That society organised a series of competitions, in which Richard Mowat and Henry Clough were both prizewinners. However it was short-lived, dissolving around 1899. Today the society is divided into two branches, the main branch based in Morpeth, and the Cleveland branch based in Sedgefield.

John Peacock was one of the finest Northumbrian smallpipers of his age, and probably a fiddler also, and the last of the Newcastle Waits. He studied the smallpipes with Old William Lamshaw, of Morpeth, and later with Joseph Turnbull, of Alnwick.

Robert Reid is widely acknowledged as the creator of the modern form of the Northumbrian Smallpipes. He lived and worked at first in Newcastle upon Tyne, but moved later to the nearby town of North Shields at the mouth of the Tyne, probably in 1802. North Shields was a busy port at this time. The Reids were a family with a long-standing connection to piping; Robert's father Robert Reed (sic), a cabinet maker, had been a player of the Northumbrian big-pipes, and an associate of James Allan, his son Robert was described later by James Fenwick as a beautiful player as well as maker of smallpipes, while Robert's son James (1814–1874) joined his father in the business. Robert died in North Shields on the 13th or 14th of January 1837, and his death notice in the Newcastle Journal referred to him as a "piper, and as a maker of such instruments is known from the peer to the peasant, for the quality of their tone, and elegance of finish". He is buried in the graveyard of Christ Church, North Shields. His wife Isabella died in 1849, of cholera. There were repeated outbreaks of the disease at this time especially in the poor 'low town', near the river, where the Reids lived.

Morpeth Chantry Bagpipe Museum

The Morpeth Chantry Bagpipe Museum is located in Morpeth Chantry, Morpeth, Northumberland, England.

John Dunn was a noted pipemaker, or maker of bagpipes. Born in Newcastle upon Tyne, England, Dunn was a cabinet maker by profession, initially a junior partner with George Brummell. In the trade directories, he also appears in his own right as a turner and a plumb maker and turner. His address was Bell's Court, off Pilgrim Street. He was buried on 6 February 1820 in St. John's, Newcastle. His father may have been one John Dunn of Longhorsley; if so, he was born on 3 September 1764. He should not be confused with one M. Dunn, the maker of several surviving sets of Union pipes.

Colin Ross was an English folk musician who played fiddle and Northumbrian smallpipes. He was a noted maker of Northumbrian smallpipes, border pipes and Scottish smallpipes, and one of the inventors of the modern Scottish smallpipes.

William Alfred Cocks (1892-1971) was a master clock maker from Ryton, near Newcastle upon Tyne. He had a lifelong interest in the history and culture of the North-east of England, and particularly in the Northumbrian smallpipes and half-long pipes. He assembled a large collection of historic bagpipes, their music, and related materials, which forms the core of the collection now housed at the Morpeth Chantry Bagpipe Museum. He was elected to the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne in 1920, remaining a member until his death. In 1928, he was one of the earliest members of the Northumbrian Pipers' Society, being elected one of the technical advisers, with responsibility for smallpipes. He became a Vice-President of the Society in 1938. When an exhibition of historic pipes was held in the Black Gate Museum in 1961, most of the exhibits were from Cocks's collection.

William Purvis, probably better known as "Blind Willie" (1752–1832), was a Tyneside concert hall song writer and performer in England at the end of the 18th and start of the 19th century. His most famous song is "Broom Buzzems". He became known later as the "ancient laureate of the Tyne" and was remembered in the songs of Robert Gilchrist (1797–1844) and Thomas Thompson (1773–1816).

John Collingwood Bruce

The Reverend John Collingwood Bruce, FSA (1805–1892) was an English nonconformist minister and schoolmaster, known as a historian of Tyneside and author. He co-operated with John Stokoe in compiling the major song collection Northumbrian Minstrelsy published in 1882

John Stokoe was a 19th-century Tyneside author and historian. He co-operated with the author John Collingwood Bruce in compiling the hugely important “Northumbrian Minstrelsy” published in 1882.

Northumbrian Minstrelsy is a book of 18th and 19th century North East of England folk songs and pipe music, intended to be a lasting historical record. The book was edited by John Stokoe and the Rev John Collingwood Bruce LL.D., F.S.A., and published by and on behalf of the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne in 1882. It was reprinted in 1965 by Folklore Associates, Hatboro, Pennsyslvania, with a foreword by A. L. Lloyd.

The Northumbrian Small Pipes Society was founded in 1893, by members of the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne to promote interest in, and playing of Northumbrian smallpipes, and their music. As it only continued in existence for seven years, it is now regarded primarily as a short-lived precursor to the Northumbrian Pipers' Society. However, despite its short life, it played a significant role, publishing the first tutor for the instrument, J. W. Fenwick's Instruction Book for the Northumbrian Small-Pipes (1896), holding regular meetings, and organising annual competitions. In 1894 and 1896-7, the society published Transactions, as well as publishing an account of their Annual Meeting of 1897. As well as Members, who paid an annual 5s. subscription, there was a category of Honorary Playing Members. Since the society's records include the names and addresses of all members, of either kind, they have listed the names and addresses for 37 known pipers. Two articles in the Newcastle Courant, in April 1900, gave an account of their Annual General Meeting, at the Literary and Philosophical Society, and referred to the society as flourishing, with 200 members, of whom almost half were pipers. Officers were elected for the following year; however there is no subsequent record of any formal activity of the society, such as meetings or competitions. In 1906, when the Cloughs played for King Edward VII at Alnwick Castle, an account of this in the Berwickshire News stated that the Northumbrian Small Pipes Society had done some good work in reviving interest, but that 'seven winters had passed without it giving any signs of life'. This suggests that the society had been largely inactive for some time before its final AGM.

The J.W. Fenwick manuscript, compiled in the second half of the 19th century, is a compilation of Northumbrian pipe music, together with other material associated with the instrument. Fenwick was a tailor, who lived in North Shields from about 1841. The same town was the home of the Reid family of pipers and pipemakers, and several other prominent pipers lived nearby. By 1894 Fenwick was described as "one of the oldest and best-known small pipes players in the county"; by this time he seems to have been playing for about 50 years. The manuscript was apparently being compiled throughout this period.

The Rook manuscript, compiled by John Rook, of Waverton, Cumbria in 1840, is a large collection of traditional music from Scotland, Northern England and Ireland.

Cornelius Stanton was a Northumbrian piper.


  1. "The Society's History". Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne. 2013. Retrieved 2015-02-04.
  2. Charity Commission. THE SOCIETY OF ANTIQUARIES OF NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, registered charity no. 230888.
  3. ISSN 0261-3417
  4. "Membership leaflet" (PDF). Retrieved 15 October 2020.
  5. "Biographical Directory of SANT members and other distinguished antiquaries from the region" (PDF). Retrieved 15 October 2020.
  6. Ancient Northumbrian Music
  7. Northumbrian Minstrelsy, reprint, with foreword by A.L. Lloyd, Hatboro, Pennsylvania, 1965.