Explore some hidden gems at Get North 2018
Although I think I must be at least 90% Londoner by now (as proof, I get really irritated when people stand on the left-hand side of escalators), the remaining 10% is firmly a Northerner, born and bred. I still harbour the sense of injustice when we narrowly missed out on becoming the 2008 European City of Culture (won by Liverpool) and the collective sense of ‘we were robbed’. The North East has a strong sense of culture and innovation, from Stephenson’s ‘Rocket’ to the iconic Gateshead Millennium Bridge and the contemporary BALTIC art centre. So I was thrilled that my home town had been chosen to host the Great Exhibition of the North, an unprecedented celebration of the North’s contribution to the arts, design and innovation. Whilst the well-publicised trails and events are amazing, you might want to consider weaving in one of two of these hidden gems into your GetNorth2018 trip.
LEGO® Timeline of Northern Innovation – The Mining Institute, Westgate Road, near to Central Station
I’ve seen the Mining Institute dozens, if not hundreds of times, as we pass it every time we go to the station on our way back to London, but have never had time to pop in. But with the intriguing offer of viewing the history of the North in LEGO models, who could miss the opportunity? And it delivers exactly that – along the entire wall of a ground floor room is a series of models, some moving and others stationary, displaying the North’s proudest achievements. Starting with Stephenson’s Rocket, this exhibit transverses the Pennines to celebrate the University of Manchester’s Jodrell Bank Observatory and the university’s contribution to the discovery of graphene.
My personal favourites were the model Great North Run runners crossing the Tyne Bridge with the Red Arrows flying overhead (unfortunately I’ve always been too slow to experience that moment), and the tilting Gateshead Millennium Bridge. Of special note is the ‘power from poo’ model demonstrating the workings of Northumbrian Water’s anaerobic digestor – visitors are invited to drop a ‘poo’ (brown brick) into a large toilet, which in turn powers the community. Brilliant!
If you have a bit more time, pop upstairs to view the luxurious surroundings of the northern headquarters for the once mighty coal industry. The wood panelled walls, arched ceilings and intricate stained-glass buildings are testament to the wealth that was hauled up from the now defunct mineshafts – black gold indeed!
A Light Bulb Moment - The Lit and Phil, Westgate Road, near to Central Station
The Lit and Phil library holds the honour of being the first public space to be lit by an electric light, in 1880 during a lecture by Joseph Swan – the lesser remembered inventor of the electric lightbulb. (due to some good PR, the full credit is generally attributed to Thomas Edison). Whilst looking back on the achievements of this famous son of the North-East, the exhibition also looks forward to the new possibilities offered by graphene lighting, celebrating the innovation occurring right now in Manchester.
However, I found that the real magic of this stop on our journey to be the Lit and Phil library itself. Upstairs, the reading room is an oasis of tranquillity and calm; a double height room decorated in neutral colours, with brimming bookshelves from floor to ceiling. The number of desks and cosy spaces around the room show this is a well-loved space for readers or self-employed people after a bit of quiet space to work. Who knows, maybe next time I’m in Newcastle I’ll write a blog post from there.
A wonderful place for a bit of quiet contemplation, a good read (they also have popular classics, not just highbrow tomes), and a coffee from the on-site café.
The Needle Points North – St Mary’s Heritage Centre, behind The Sage, Gateshead
We visited here on a special request from my Mum and, I have to admit, it really was worth it. Displayed within this former church are 14 textile panels representing different areas of the North created by the Embroiderers’ Guild. Now I’m not an embroiderer (I can just about sew on a button), but I can recognise real craft, and this was sensational.
At first glance, each of the panels looks grey and tired, but framed within the centre are vivid designs capturing the landmarks of each of the areas. Upon further investigation I discovered that the grey background represents the dismissive attitude of the South to the North and its people – I know how many times I had to hear the phrase ‘it’s grim up North’ while at university. Looking at each of the panels, there is joy in recognising the familiar landscapes of the local area, but also curiosity in exploring the embroidery areas I haven’t visited yet.
My favourites were Whitley Bay, with St Mary’s Lighthouse and families having fun on the beach; Durham, with the River Wear giving way to a sea of people participating in the annual Miners’ Gala; and finally Newcastle, with the Tyne Bridge, football fans and the typically 60s Civic Centre.
Turbinia – Discovery Museum
Residing next to Stephenson’s Rocket, the steamship Turbinia feels sadly overlooked by visitors making a beeline for the legendary locomotive. However, I recommend you take some time to have a look at the world’s first steam turbine-powered ship, developed down the road in Wallsend by the Parsons factory. Built as an experimental vessel in the 1890s, Turbinia convinced a doubtful Royal Navy of the significant improvements in speed and power available through converting to turbine power, bringing huge orders and prosperity to the Tyne’s shipyards.
Just to say that we also visited Stephenson’s Rocket (which was obviously really good) but not before we spent a happy hour exploring the other exhibits in the Discovery Museum, including the Newcastle Story and fashion through the ages.