Above: The Great North Museum: Hancock exterior. Source: Roger- Wikimedia Commons. Found at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hancock_Museum,_Newcastle_upon_Tyne,_27_July_2011.jpg This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.
The North East of England may not be the first location that comes to mind when looking for amazing museums, but it boasts several hidden gems. The Great North Museum in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne is very close to my heart. It was one of the first museums I visited as a child and I am still captivated by it to this day. I have explored museums across the world, but this was the first that came into my mind when asked to consider my favourite museum.
The Great North Museum is located on a grassy quad near the Newcastle University campus. Founded in 1884, the Hancock Museum was later merged with Newcastle University’s Hatton Gallery in 2006 to become the Great North Museum. The original building was left largely unchanged, and you can still see Hancock Museum carved over the front door.
There are currently eighteen permanent displays and galleries, including (but certainly not limited to) Fossil Stories, Ancient Egypt, Living Planet, Ancient Greek, Hadrian’s Wall, World Cultures, Natural Northumbria, Ice Age to Iron Age and Explore! These galleries display the wonders of the animal and plant kingdoms, with objects ranging from an Egyptian mummy to a life-size T. Rex skeleton. The collaboration between the Hancock and Hatton collections also allowed the museum to include displays on the expansion of the Northumbria Natural Collection. In addition, the museum has a library and natural history archive that anyone can use for personal interest or study. There is also a planetarium which frequently shows videos for 10-30 minutes. For an extra £2-£3.75 (depending on the show length) you can fly to the moon or explore the galaxy; there really is something of interest for everyone.
The museum space is brightly lit and intuitively laid out, making use of the architecture, and employing tasteful and effective spotlights in the fossils exhibit. The museum is also fully accessible, with lifts to all floors with voice announcers and Braille indicators, as well as large print orientation maps available on request at the reception desk. The museum is also great for activities for children and families, winning the Family Friendly Museum Award in 2019. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic museums are currently closed in England, but you can access DIY museum activities for families and schools, located on their website.
My personal favourite collection comes from the nearby ruins of Hadrian’s Wall. The museum holds the largest collection of Hadrian’s Wall artefacts in the world! This includes altars, tombstones, armour, weapons, jewellery, and other domestic items. I find it completely awe-inspiring to look at these objects that were found just miles away from my hometown, some from almost two millennia ago.
The artefacts are displayed beautifully, and the information provided is engaging yet not overwhelming to a non-professional. To interact with objects people handled so long ago sparked in me a lifelong interest in archaeology. In fact, I recently completed a Bachelors in Ancient History and Archaeology – this museum has had a huge impact on my life.
Sadly, due to COVID-19 the museum has been closed since October 2020, but it is predicted to reopen on May 17th, 2021 (subject to restriction changes). If you have the chance, I heartily recommend visiting this wonderful museum. The website is linked here, it is very easy to manoeuvre and provides good material on events and information on the museum. The museum also have virtual exhibitions and tours of galleries and storage areas, found here and here.
I particularly enjoyed the Greece Recreated exhibition, explaining the link of local areas with Greek artefacts and architecture. As the ongoing situation regarding COVID-19 is constantly changing, I recommend keeping an eye on the Great North Museum’s social media pages and websites if you are planning a visit. This museum is unique, and I deeply encourage readers to give it a Google now and a visit after the pandemic.
10am- 5pm weekdays, 10am - 4pm Saturdays and 11am - 4pm Sundays. Closed Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year's Day.
Free entry. Suggested donation £5.
The Great North Museum: Hancock is a five-minute walk from Haymarket Metro and Bus stations. Haymarket Metro station is just two stops from Central Station the mainline rail station. The museum is well signposted from both stations.
The Great North Museum: Hancock can be found just off the Great North Road (B1318). There is no parking on site, only limited parking for Blue Badge holders only.
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Fiona is currently a Master’s student at Durham University. She completed her Undergraduate degree at the University of Leicester in Archaeology and Ancient History. She has a keen interest in Classical archaeology and Romano-British art. After completing her degree, Fiona hopes to go into collections care in museums.