How well do you know your home town or the city closest to your home? I like to think I know my nearest city, Newcastle upon Tyne pretty well. I grew up living five miles from the city’s centre. I lived away for 20 years  but  kept tabs on Newcastle as it evolved into NewcastleGateshead and have had time to reacquaint myself with the place since moving back to the North East in 2009.

Earlier this month I visited one of Newcastle’s treasures. I won’t call it a “hidden treasure” as it’s open to the public but let me tell you about it. The Great North Museum: Hancock has a unique library on the second floor of the museum. It is comprised 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 Newcastle University’s Cowen Library.

Staff and volunteers help visitors find what they’re looking for. I had asked in advance to see some of the library’s illustrated books and when I arrived a range of beautiful books in sizes ranging from 8vo to Folio were sitting on a large table waiting for me. I looked at a 200 year old copy of Thomas Bewick’s History of British Birds. I never tire of examining his delicate woodcuts and this book included images of the Great Northern Diver, the Red-Breasted Merganser and the Ring Dotterel.

Other books included The Ladies’ Flower Garden of Ornamental Bulbous Plants and Flora Londinensis,  a book illustrating and describing the flora found around London in the mid 18th century. I enjoyed writing out names of plants, birds and mammals: Bulbous Crowfoot, The Lesser Horseshoe Bat, Whimbrel and The Hooded Seal.

The highlight of my visit was looking at Joseph Crawhall’s books. Joseph was a Newcastle artist known as Joseph Crawhall II as both his father and son were artists called Joseph. This Joseph, my Joseph (!) lived from 1821 to 1896 and his works are cheeky, quirky and very modern. They remind me of Billy Childish’s art .

Throughout my visit I was encouraged by staff and volunteers to look, touch and ask questions about the collection. Leather books are meant to be handled by human hands. Go and visit the library but check the opening times first as they vary according to university term time.

Hancock Library, 2nd Floor, Great North Museum: Hancock, Barras Bridge, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE2 4PT. 0191 208 3555

Thank you to the library’s staff and volunteers and to TWAM.

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