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
David Heslop
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, having 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. [4]

Since 1886 the society, along with its sister society The Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society, has organised the Hadrian's Wall Pilgrimage. [5]


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. [6]

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. [7]

List of presidents

Archaeologia Aeliana journal

Since 1822 the society has produced a journal which acts as a forum for the publication of research on the history, archaeology, and culture of the North East of England. The journal is named Archaeologia Aeliana, after the family of the Roman Emperor Hadrian, the Aeli. This name is also present in the Roman name for the settlement at Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Pons Aelius. The journal is particularly noted for its publications of excavations and research on Hadrian's Wall, and Roman archaeology more generally. Most of the past issues of the journal are available open access via the Archaeology Data Service website. [8] The journal is published annually, and submissions of article is open to researchers whatever their professional affiliation. [9]

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, [10] 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. [11] 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

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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.

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  1. "The Society's History". Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne. 2013. Retrieved 4 February 2015.
  2. "THE SOCIETY OF ANTIQUARIES OF NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, registered charity no. 230888". Charity Commission for England and Wales.
  3. ISSN 0261-3417
  4. "The Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne: The Society's History".
  5. Breeze, David J. (c. 2020). The pilgrimages of Hadrian's Wall, 1849-2019 : a history. Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society, Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne. [Preston]. ISBN   978-1-873124-84-0. OCLC   1144737387.
  6. "Membership leaflet" (PDF). Retrieved 15 October 2020.
  7. "Biographical Directory of SANT members and other distinguished antiquaries from the region" (PDF). Retrieved 15 October 2020.
  8. "Library". Retrieved 7 June 2022.
  9. "The Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne: Archaeologia Aeliana". Retrieved 7 June 2022.
  10. Ancient Northumbrian Music
  11. Northumbrian Minstrelsy, reprint, with foreword by A.L. Lloyd, Hatboro, Pennsylvania, 1965.