Duddo Stone Circle

Duddo Stone Circle, also known as Duddo Five Stones, is a 4,000 year old stone circle in North Northumberland, close to the Scottish Border.

There are known to be over 1250 prehistoric stone circles littering the countryside in the British Isles. Along with standing stones, henges, dolmens and cup-marks these mysterious relics from past civilisations are enshrouded in legend and myth. Stone circles began appearing around 3000BC and they range in size from spectacular rings such as Stonehenge to this rather modest example at Duddo.

The information board at the site reads as follows:

Duddo represents an exceptionally clear example of the relationship between a stone circle and its setting. The circle visible today is incomplete. Sometime before 1852 two stones were lost from the north-west quadrant, leaving only five stones remaining. Of these, the most north-easterly stone fell sometime during the 19th century and was pulled to the north to admit ploughing across the interior of the circle. It was re-erected around 1903.

Prior to that date the circle was known as Four Stones.

Nice scenery with Cheviot Hills in the background.

Radiocarbon dating suggests that the stones were erected around 2000BC and ancient cremated human remains have been found in a pit at the centre of the circle.

On this exposed hilltop the stones have felt the effects of 4,000 years of wind and rain erosion scoring deep cuts and scars in the soft sandstone and at least one of the rocks appears to bear man-made cup-markings whose symbolism is unknown.

The stones vary in height from 1.5m to 2.3m and are arranged in a rough circle with a diameter of about 10m.

Various nicknames have been given to the stones such as ‘Singing Stones’, perhaps due to the sound made by wind passing over their surface. Also ‘The Seven Turnip Pickers’ which could be a reference to the tale that seven farm labourers were turned into stone by God as punishment for working here on the Sabbath.

From some angles they resemble clenched fists or a set of receding teeth.

How to Get to Duddo Stone Circle

You have to walk through fields of Weetabix to reach the stones.

The location is marked on this map. There is space for a few cars on the grass verge at the point marked. Be sure not to block the farmer’s access.

The walking distance from the parking to the stone circle and back is under 1.5 miles (2.3km). Allow an hour for the round trip.

Access is permitted during daylight hours only.

No camping. Dogs are to be kept on a lead.

Nearby

Norham Castle
Ford & Etal
Holy Island

Find more Northumberland attractions here.

Robert Morrison – Born in Morpeth, Made in China

In a corner of the tranquil Protestant Cemetery in Macau lies the grave of Robert Morrison, recognised as the first Protestant missionary to China. He translated the Bible into Chinese and compiled and published an Chinese/English dictionary.

I visited the graveyard in 2015 and took this photo of his tombstone. The lighting was poor but you might just be able to make out that he was born in Morpeth in Northumberland on January 5th 1782.

Since I am familiar with Northumberland, Macau and Malacca (all places connected to Morrison) I thought I would see if I could find out more about this devout and steadfast man.

He is generally thought to have been born on a street called Bullers Green on the outskirts of Morpeth (though some say he was born in the tiny hamlet of Wingates, about 11 miles from Morpeth and moved to Bullers Green in infancy). The house at Bullers Green no longer stands but this is the location:

The inscription above the archway reads Victoria Jubilee Year. This house replaced the one in which Robert Morrison D.D. was born. (DD means doctor of divinity).

When he was three the family moved to Newcastle-upon-Tyne where his father established himself as a last and boot maker in Groat Market which might have looked like this at the time. The street has far less character today.

Dr Morrison translating the Bible into Chinese from the painting by George Chinnery.

Robert, the youngest of eight children was a serious and hard working boy and had a strict religious upbringing by his Presbyterian parents. At age 14 he left school and trained as an apprentice in his father’s cobbler business. As a teenager he went slightly off the rails, falling into bad company and, like many a Newcastle lad, was prone to excessive drinking on occasion. However, after having the fear of eternal damnation drummed into him by his pastor he reformed his ways, and eventually passed his examinations as a clergyman and applied to the London Missionary Society to serve abroad. He learned some Chinese in London and was selected to start a mission to China. Although his wish was convert ‘poor perishing heathens’ the objectives set were more practical; to compile a Chinese dictionary and translate the New Testament into Chinese. Any conversions he achieved along the way would be a bonus.

Another version of the same painting. Which one was the truer likeness I wonder?

It was no easy task and he was not made welcome. For a start Christian missionaries were banned in China, on pain of death for the preacher and the converts. That is why he only converted ten Chinese over a period of 27 years. Secondly Chinese were forbidden to teach their language to foreigners and anyone who has tried studying Chinese knows that it is one of the hardest languages in the world to master. Thirdly, the Roman Catholic priests in Macau did not want Protestant clergymen in their territory and pressed the Portuguese authorities to expel him. The East India Company, which controlled most of the British trade in Macau and Canton, did not allow missionaries to travel on their ships so Morrison was forced to arrive on an American ship disguised as an American. And the British and other foreign traders did not welcome criticism from a Bible-bashing Brit since they were nearly all involved, directly or indirectly, in the opium trade. Morrison described many of his countrymen as riff-raff, unjust, covetous, avaricious, lying, drunken and debauched. They in return regarded him as irritating, narrow-minded, scornful and completely humourless.

The Casa Garden, the former Macau residence of the East India Company’s senior supercargo. The Protestant Cemetery is adjacent to the house.

Somewhat ostracised he was left in lonely isolation he was able to devote himself to his dictionary and, only when this had been published and he had become fluent in Chinese, did he become useful to the East India Company who employed him as a translator. He married Mary Morton in 1809, the daughter of an East India Company surgeon, and they kept each other company in their seclusion. They had two surviving children but she died of cholera in 1821 and, since Morrison would not have his wife buried in a Catholic cemetery, the Protestant cemetery was established in Macau. He later remarried and had a further five children.

Morrison Protestant Chapel in Camōes Square, Macau (next to the cemetery).

Morrison died in Canton on 1 August 1834 and his body was brought to Macau and buried next to his first wife and child. By the time of his death the entire foreign community in Canton and Macau had come to admire his character, even if they didn’t much like him. A fellow missionary, an American Sinologist called Samuel Wells Williams, summed Morrison up as ‘not by nature calculated to win and interest the skeptical or the fastidious, for he had no sprightliness or pleasantry, no versatility or wide acquaintance with letters, and was respected rather than loved by those who cared little for the things nearest his heart’.

The Anglo-Chinese College in Malacca

Morrison’s name is also associated with Malacca (in Malaysia). Another missionary, William Milne, was sent out to assist Morrison, arriving in Macau in 1813 but he was not permitted to stay. After some time in Canton, he moved on to Malacca where, under Morrison’s guidance, he established a school called the Anglo-Chinese College in 1818. After Hong Kong became a British territory the school relocated there in 1843 under the name Ying Wa College. It is still going today. Milne died in Malacca and he is commemorated in Christ Church, Malacca.

Northernmost Point of England

Last month I walked north along the coastal path from Berwick-upon-Tweed up as far as the Scottish Border. On Google Maps it is marked as the Northernmost Point of England.

It would be an easy mistake to think that the northernmost point of England is the same location as the southernmost point of Scotland but that honour goes to Mull of Galloway in Drummore about 130 miles to the south-west as the crow flies.

Fishermans Haven Beach, Berwick-upon-Tweed

The clifftop walk from Berwick to the border is a distance of around 3.5 miles each way. My route started near Fishermans Haven Beach and skirted a golf course on the fringes of town.

The underwater pipe is probably a sewage outlet. I hope it has been treated first.

The Northumberland coastline is quite spectacular here with dramatic cliffs, isolated coves and clear seas.

Seagulls and other seabirds take advantage of the rugged coastline to nest among inaccessible ledges and crevices.

There are a lot of holiday parks perched on the clifftops in this area. This one is at Marshall Meadows Bay.

The border is marked with a welcoming sign. Let’s hope this does not become a hard border if Scotland ever achieves independence.

The sign on the other side informs us that ‘the English / Scottish border dates back to 1237 at this point when it was established under the Treaty of York. There were many subsequent disputes but in 1482 Berwick was taken by England and the Border fixed at this point. In July 1503 Margaret Tudor, the daughter of King Henry VII of England, met the representatives of King James IV of Scotland in Lamberton, thus leading to the eventual succession of James VI to the English throne. Tradition has it that she landed on the shore at a place called Meg’s Dub.’

Meg’s Dub and Lamberton are a short distance from here.

The main London to Edinburgh railway line runs close to the coast at this point and passengers might catch a fleeting glimpse of this sign from their train windows. Funny how the field changes colour from green to brown at the border.

Nearby

Berwick Upon Tweed
Hallidon Hill

Find more Northumberland attractions here.

Northumberlandia

The Lady of the North

Northumberlandia is a country park with a unique landscape sculpture in the shape of a giant reclining woman It is said to be the world’s largest human landform sculpture and is best appreciated from above. Drones are not permitted so the best place to pick out the shape of this lady is from the viewpoint located on her forehead. Other viewing mounds are found on her chest, hands, hip, knee and ankle. She has been dubbed the Lady of the North and can be considered as a companion to the Northeast’s more famous sculpture, the Angel of the North at Gateshead.

Northumberlandia was designed in 2004 by American architect and artist Charles Jencks (1939-2019) who drew inspiration from Northumberland’s Cheviot Hills. Built on the site of a former surface coal mine, this project shifted 1.5 million tonnes of rock and soil to conceal the scars left over by mining and create this new 46 acre park with three lakes, moderate slopes, four miles of paths and a woodland trail.

From the viewpoint visitors can overlook Shotton Surface Mine which once extended over the site now occupied by Northumberlandia. The coal mining company, Banks Group, has put up an information board to explain how the site will be restored and regenerated once all the coal has been mined, including a promise to plant 88,000 trees. Perhaps they should make a male version of the Lady of the North to keep her company.

Viewed from her forehead, this photo shows her left eye and nose, her … umm … boobies, a hip and a knee. This is still a fairly recent construction and the landscape will be left to evolve and mature over time.

These photos were taken on a chilly day in March, just before the Covid-19 lockdown. It has now reopened to the public.

Opening Times & Admission Charges

Open Daily from dawn to dusk.

The visitor centre, café and toilets are open from Thursday to Sunday from 10am-4pm.

Ticket Prices

Entrance is free.

Car Park

There is plenty of free parking but a donation of £2 is suggested to cover maintenance costs.

How To Get to Northumberlandia

The location of Northumberlandia can be found on this map:

Address:

Northumberlandia
Blagdon Lane, Cramlington NE23 8AU

GPS:

55°05’09.5″N 1°37’49.2″W
55.085982, -1.630332

Plus Code: 39P9+9V Cramlington


Tel: 01912846884

Nearby

Belsay Hall
KIrkley Hall Zoological Gardens
Seaton Delaval Hall
St Mary’s Lighthouse

Find more Northumberland attractions here.

Wylam Railway Museum

Wylam Railway Museum was opened in 1981 coinciding with the bicentenary of the birth of Wylam’s most famous son George Stephenson (1781-1848), known as the Father of Railways.

This tiny museum is housed in a former classroom of the old Wylam Primary School. It shares the building with the village library.

The museum may be small but it is packed with interesting railway artefacts and exhibits.

There is a wall chart displaying obscure trivia about the history of the Newcastle and Carlisle Railway, the first railway to be built across Britain . For example you may not have heard of station clerk Thomas Edmondson who invented a system of cardboard tickets which became the standard used around the world.

Then there was the Sabbatarian Reverend W C Burns who authored this poster threatening eternal damnation to anyone who took a train trip on a Sunday. Perhaps he foresaw that most of his hard working parishioners would sooner spend their one day off per week quaffing ale in a pub in the North Pennines rather than listen to his dreary sermons.

Exhibits focus on the contribution of local railway pioneers such as George Stephenson, William Hedley, Timothy Hackworth and Nicholas Wood.

There are models of Wylam Station, North Wylam Station and Wylam Railway Bridge.

Puffing Billy

There are also large scale models of two famous locomotives, Puffing Billy and Wylam Dilly, which were in use at Wylam Colliery to haul coal wagons in the early 1800s.

There are a lot of old photographs, maps and vintage railway posters on display.

Opening Times & Admission Charges

The museum is open during library opening hours:

Tuesday 1 – 6 pm
Thursday 1 – 6 pm
Saturday 9 am to 12 noon

Ticket Prices

Entrance is free.

How To Get to Wylam Railway Museum

The location of the museum can be found on this map:

Address:

Wylam Railway Museum
The Falcon Centre
Falcon Terrace
Wylam
NE41 8EE

GPS:

54°58’37.2″N 1°49’04.1″W
54.977003, -1.817793

Plus Code: X5GJ+RV Wylam

Tel:
Wylam Parish Council 01661 852498
Wylam Library 01661 852174

Nearby

George Stephenson’s Cottage
Wylam Railway Bridge
Prudhoe Castle

Find more Northumberland attractions here.

Belsay Hall, Castle and Gardens

Belsay Hall is one of Northumberland’s top tourist attractions comprising a medieval castle, a stately home and picturesque gardens linking the two.

The Belsay Estate was home to the Middleton family (not related to Kate Middleton) for 700 years from 1270 when Sir Richard Middleton was Lord Chancellor to King Henry II. The hall, castle and gardens were taken into the guardianship of the state in 1980 and are now managed by English Heritage.

The impressive fortified pele tower of Belsay Castle was built in the late 14th century to defend the occupants against frequent raids and unrest in this border region of England. After the conflict between Scotland and England died down the Middletons converted the castle into a more comfortable home by adding the elegant country house extension that we see here (now without a roof) which was built from 1603-1614.

The family abandoned the castle in 1817 and moved into the nearby newly-built Belsay Hall whose Greek Revival architectural style was inspired by the owner’s honeymoon trip to Greece. This owner, Sir Charles Monck, was also a Middleton but changed his name in order to inherit the substantial estates of his wealthy maternal grandfather.

Today the Hall is empty of furniture, which is a shame but it does enable visitors to appreciate the beauty of the Roman/Greek architecture. During our visit one room was being used for a ‘multi-sensory installation’ featuring words and music by Estonian composer Arvo Pärt.

The Castle and Hall sit in 30 acres of grounds. Sir Charles made use of the excavations left behind when the stone for the hall was cut to create a quarry garden. With its sheer-sided canyon walls it has its own micro-climate out of the wind enabling exotic trees and rare plants to survive (although when we visited last October it was freezing)! There is also a Rhododendron Garden, which comes into flower in spring, and more formal gardens around the Hall.

For me, the majestic Yew trees and other conifers and hardwoods were the stars of the gardens.

The former stable block houses the tea room, shop, ticket office, toilets etc.

You can find details of opening hours and prices on their English Heritage’s website (indoor spaces are currently closed due to Covid restrictions).

How To Get to Belsay Hall

The hall is located about 15 miles north-west of Newcastle Upon Tyne.

The exact location is marked on this map:

You can find more Northumberland Attractions here.

Leptis Magna in Libya and Surrey

Earlier this month I was near Windsor and took the opportunity to visit Virginia Water, a large man-made lake in Windsor Great Park which has long been a royal hunting ground and spacious back yard for the monarchs staying at Windsor Castle.

Not far from the Visitor Centre stands a classical ruin which, on Google Maps, is marked as Leptis Magna Ruins. Since I had been to the real Leptis Magna in Libya back in 1976 I was curious to find out how ruins from Libya have ended up in Surrey.

The folly in Windsor Great Park.

In 1816 an English Consul in Tripoli called Colonel Hanmer Warrington, along with an artist friend, visited the ruined Roman city of Leptis Magna and thought some precious relics from there would make a great addition to the British Museum. He saw no problem with powerful Britain throwing its imperial weight around and regarding itself as the rightful heir to items left behind by those other great empire builders, the Romans. He persuaded the local Ottoman governor to let him take some of the structures back to Britain. Today that would probably be seen as a war crime under the Hague Convention but those days it was common practice. The Elgin Marbles had been removed from the Parthenon and shipped to Britain just a couple of years earlier and the French had removed 600 columns from Leptis Magna in the 17th century and incorporated them into Versailles, Rouen Cathedral and elsewhere.

Part of the Temple of Augustus looking at home in the Surrey countryside.

Some thirty seven marble and granite columns, together with pedestals, cornices and various other ancient stone slabs arrived in London in 1818 and were deposited in the courtyard of the British Museum which really did not know what to do with them since they were undergoing rebuilding at the time. After lying around for eight years it was decided that King George IV could have them to use as garden adornments at Virginia Water. The King’s architect Jeffrey Wyatville created a folly in the form of a ruined Roman temple using the looted Leptis Magna stones, together with some masonry reclaimed from the demolished Carlton House and some classical statues taken from a captured French ship. He called his creation the Temple of Augustus, perhaps in honour of King George whose middle name was Augustus.

The background of this coronation portrait of King George IV includes some Roman style columns like those at Virginia Water Lake.

By 2008 the ruins were in poor condition due to a combination of the English climate, root damage and vandalism but they were restored by the Crown Estate and reopened to the public in 2009.

The above 3 photos are of Leptis Magna, Libya in 1976 (or I might be mixing them up with Sabratha, another Roman ruined city in Libya, which I also visited around the same time).

As for the original Leptis Magna in Libya, at its height around 1800 years ago it had been the third most important city in Africa after Carthage and Alexandria. This was during the reign of Emperor Septimus Severus who was born in the city. It fell into decline after his reign and, over the centuries, was damaged by a tidal wave, sand encroachment and various invasions. Locals also used the site as a source of building materials. Despite all this, and even with the plundering of Warrington and Louis XIV, the ruins remain among the best preserved Roman sites in the Mediterranean and they are a world class tourist attraction, or at least would be, if Libya were not wracked by war. Hopefully Leptis Magna will emerge unscathed from this latest episode in its turbulent history but if it needs any replacement columns we know where there are some spares.

The Lowry Trail in Berwick

L S Lowry (1887-1976) is one of Britain’s best loved artists. His instantly recognisable paintings usually feature gritty northern industrial streets filled with ‘matchstick’ people, rows of terraced houses, mills, factories and smoking chimneys against a white or grey sky. His paintings have soared in value since his death but in his early years he struggled to get recognition as a serious artist, particularly from his domineering and demanding mother. (Watch Mrs Lowry & Son starring Timothy Spall and Vanessa Redgrave if you haven’t already). Most of his painting was done near his home in Pendlebury, Salford and in Manchester but he liked to take holidays in Berwick-upon-Tweed from the mid 1930s right up until his death and a number of his works were created there.

The Lowry Trail was set up by The Berwick Preservation Trust and it allows walkers to follow in his footsteps and see 18 sites which inspired his paintings and drawings of the area or are otherwise associated with Lowry. It is a self-guided walk taking about 3 hours and you can find a map and brochure here. There are information boards at each of the 18 sites, mostly displaying Lowry’s painting or sketch of the scene along with explanatory notes.

I completed the trail recently and here is my account of it, following the same order shown on the map.

The trail begins in Dewar’s Lane, a narrow alley off Bridge Street in the heart of Berwick-upon-Tweed. When I first saw Lowry’s 1936 pencil drawing I assumed that the crooked buildings were just for artistic effect but as you can see this former granary really does lean backwards.

The building now houses a YHA hostel and bistro.

In this rapidly sketched pencil drawing of Palace Street he noted the colours of the buildings signalling an intention to paint this scene at a later date.

This photo was taken in roughly the same location.

On Pier Road Lowry sketched this pencil drawing in 1956 of Berwick’s pier and lighthouse which were built in the early 1800s.

The same scene today. The former maltings buildings have been converted into flats. The pier is currently closed off for repairs so I was unable to walk to the end.

One of Lowry’s more cheerful scenes is On The Sands painted in 1959 or earlier. The information board reads ‘”Poverty and gloom. Never a joyous picture of mine you’ll see. Always gloom. I never do a jolly picture.” Lowry’s sorrowful remark is denied by this painting of brightly clothed children playing around a shelter behind Berwick Pier.’

The shelter is looking more gloomy now, fenced off due to unsafe brickwork and bereft of playing children as Berwick tries to emerge from the Covid-19 lockdown.

Lowry was so enamoured with Berwick that he is thought to have seriously considered buying this property in 1947. The house, called The Lions, stands on top of the town’s Elizabethan Walls and looks out to sea but it was found to be rampant with damp and Lowry did not proceed with the purchase. By 1971 it was derelict and vandalised and threatened with demolition but it has since been saved and restored.

Continuing along the town walls the next spot is where Lowry sketched a Football Match taking place on ‘The Stanks’ where the moat around the town used to be. Football of course is still very popular in Berwick. The local team Berwick Rangers is unique for being the only English Club to play in the Scottish football league until their relegation in 2019. They now play in the fifth tier of Scottish football.

This is the spot where the game Lowry sketched was played.

This photo, from December last year, was taken where the town wall crosses Marygate, looking towards the Town Hall which Lowry liked to paint.

This painting of the Town Hall called Old Berwick (Strother’s Yard) 1958 is one of four paintings and drawings of the same scene.

At Bridge End we can find the spot where this scene was painted in 1938. As with many of his works the streets are full of his matchstick characters and pets.

The view has barely changed since his time.

A sign above the door of the grey building reads ‘the Original Berwick Cockle Shop’ which apparently has nothing to do with seafood since these cockles are peppermint-flavoured sweets. A few antique jars of these are displayed in the window of William Cowe and Sons opposite.

Nearby is Sally Port, another narrow alley with steps leading up to the Quay Walls while the archway passes under the town walls to the quayside. Lowry painted this in 1954.

A few buildings have been demolished since Lowry’s time bringing more light to the alley.

Next we cross the river to Tweedmouth via the old bridge, one of three fine bridges over the Tweed at Berwick (two road and one railway).

A collection of cottages seemed to have caught Lowry’s eye and he painted this busy scene called the Old Property in 1943. The solitary observer with hands clasped behind his back is thought by art historians to represent Lowry himself. (The Lowry Trail information board from which this photo was taken is badly stained hence the red blotches.)

The Old Property today. What would Lowry have done with the wheelie bins which appear everywhere these days? He probably would have included them in his paintings.

Moving along to Berwick Harbour, this is where Lowry would have stood to sketch this view of Berwick looking back over the river.

The information board is missing from its easel.

At the Lifeboat Station there is an information board showing a Self Portrait painted in 1925 when he was 38 years old.

The trail continues to the suburb of Spittal. Not the most attractive-sounding name but apparently it derives from hospital rather than anything to do with saliva. The beach here however is very attractive and Lowry liked to walk along the promenade and gather inspiration for his seascapes and paintings of boats. Next to Sandstell Road car park is an information board entitled Boats showing some of his maritime themed works. The main image is of Waiting For The Tide, South Shields, 1967.

Further along Spittal Promenade there is another trail marker featuring his 1964 painting Girl in a Red Hat on a Promenade.

The final stop on the Lowry Trail map is called Back Streets and is made up of two rows of brick built terraced houses called Falloden Terrace and Howick Terrace. These were included in the trail because, although they are not typical in Berwick, these are the sort of houses that Lowry would have seen all the time during his rounds as a rent collector in Manchester and the kind of scene that appeared in many of his paintings.

When Lowry took his holidays in Berwick he would stay at the Castle Hotel, located opposite the railway station. Looking at their website they do not seem to make any mention of the Lowry connection. They might be missing a trick here.

Oman In The Seventies

Some time ago I posted a blog about Ibri in Oman in 1979 and a reader has asked me if I have any other photos of Oman from that period.

I have been through a few of my old photo albums and found these snaps taken by me on a vintage Kodak Instamatic camera. Sorry for the poor photo quality (blame the photographer) but they give an idea of what the place was like at that time.

The old road linking Muttrah to Muscat via Riyam was the only way to get to Muscat until the corniche was completed. Photo taken around 1979.
The mobile post office at Medinat Qaboos in 1979/80.
Not 100% sure of the location but could have been Muttrah High Street in 1979.
One of the gates to the walled town of Muscat. The streets were decorated with British and Omani flags in honour of the visit of Queen Elizabeth II to Oman on 28 February 1979.
Muttrah Corniche on the same day in 1979.
Muttrah Corniche looking in the opposite direction. The grey American cars are the motorcade of Sultan Qaboos and Queen Elizabeth.
Salalah in 1976/77.
The British Bank of the Middle East’s Salalah Branch where I worked for two years from 1976-78. Many roads in Salalah were not tarmac at that time.
The main shopping street in Salalah. There was not much to buy so a good place to save money.

I may have some more photos somewhere which I’ll share if I find them.

The Lit & Phil – Newcastle’s Best Kept Secret

Last November I was wandering in the heart of Newcastle when I came across this building, the Literary & Philosophical Society or Lit & Phil as it now brands itself.

As you can see, there are a couple of blue plaques outside. The first tells us that Sir Joseph Wilson Swan, chemist, and physicist first demonstrated his invention of the incandescent light bulb here in 1879. Nearby Mosley Street was the first street in the world to be lit by such electric bulbs. When the Lit & Phil first started it was more a place for debate, lectures, discussion and experiments. The library grew later.

The second plaque marks the Robert Stephenson Bi-Centenary in 2003 and tells us that the Literary & Philosophical Society was established in 1793 and that this building, designed by John Green, opened in 1825. Robert Stephenson (railway engineer and son of George Stephenson, the ‘Father of Railways’) was President of the Society from 1855-59.

Since I had a spare half hour I took a look inside. The staircase in the impressive lobby displays some portraits and statues. The gentleman on the right was Earl Grey (1764-1845, a Northumberland man and Prime Minister in the 1830s during which time his government oversaw the abolition of slavery in the British Empire. And yes, the tea is named after him.

The statue in the middle is not of a Roman but of James Losh (1763-1833) a lawyer, reformer, abolitionist and businessman who was vice-president of the Lit & Phil in 1802. I wonder what sort of man would want to have a statue of himself made in a Roman toga but since he was dead when the statue was made we can forgive him.

The other portrait, the one one with the vain looking man revealing a bit of thigh, is of Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex (1773-1843) who laid the foundation stone of the building in 1822. He was the favourite uncle of Queen Victoria and quite a colourful character. He married his first wife without telling his dad, King George III who later annulled the marriage. He had a mistress or two and when he married his second wife it was again in contravention of the Royal Marriages Act and she was never recognised with the title Duchess of Sussex.

The interior of the Lit & Phil is lovely. It has the air of a private members London club, like the Reform Club that Phileas Fogg belonged to in Around the World in Eighty Days. It is actually older than the Reform Club but unlike that august organisation it is open to anyone and you can read books on the premises free of charge.

If you want to borrow books you have to become a member for a fee of £133 per year (concessions available). That might seem expensive for what is basically a library especially when you can join Northumberland County Council’s network of libraries free of charge. But the Phil & Lit does have a certain cachet and it has a huge collection of 200,000 books and you are encouraged to browse and stay as long as you like with comfortable seating, tea, coffee and cake and a quiet atmosphere for students and book lovers.

Their music library is the biggest in the North of England and the Lit & Phil is a popular venue for musical events.

I would recommend a visit if you are ever in Newcastle upon Tyne. You can find details of their location and services on their website.