Tyne & Wear Archives 50
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Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums Celebrate 50 Years

Luxe checks in with Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums as they celebrate 50 years as a museum and gallery collective

Today they manage four museums, three art galleries, two Roman Forts and the archives for Tyne and Wear; care for over 1.1 million artefacts and artworks; welcome up to a million visitors each year; inspire 150,000 children and young people; and contribute £25 million to the local economy.

Keith Merrin, Director of Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums, said:

“It’s fantastic to look back on the amazing achievements of the museums and galleries and to reflect on the impact art, culture and heritage have in our region.

“We believe that everyone should experience the benefits of engaging with art and culture and we’re very grateful to our funders, donors and business sponsors who enable us to provide free entry to most of our venues, so as many people as possible can enjoy them.”

Tyne & Wear Archives 50

As Tyne & Wear Archives & Museum celebrates 50 years, we take a look back at some of the highlights in the museum service’s history:

In April 1987 the only reconstructed Roman gateway in the UK was unveiled in South Shields, built on the site of the original Roman gate dating to 163 AD at Arbeia Roman Fort.

Some of the UK’s most important Roman finds were at Arbeia – including the only complete suit of Roman ring-mail armour in Britain which is currently on loan with other artefacts from Arbeia to the British Museum for its Legion: Life in the Roman Army exhibition.

You might remember the massively popular animatronic dinosaur exhibitions in 1993, 1997 and 2003 at the former Hancock Museum, (now the Great North Museum: Hancock).

The moving, roaring dinosaur blockbusters saw crowds queuing around the block and broke all attendance records.

Today the museum has a full-size T. rex skeleton on permanent display. As well as displays exploring ancient worlds, natural history and a planetarium.

In October 1994 Turbinia, once the fastest ship in the world, moved through the streets of Newcastle from Exhibition Park to its new home at Discovery Museum, where it still has pride of place.

Invented by Charles Parsons and built at Wallsend in 1894, Turbinia could travel at speeds of up to 341⁄2 knots, or 40 mph.

Tyne & Wear Archives 50 Turbinia

JMW Turner’s ‘The Fighting Temeraire’

Discovery Museum tells the story of Tyneside and its pioneering spirit. In July this year it will open Steam to Green. It’s an exhibition exploring the story of energy production and the climate crisis in the North East.

The Lindisfarne Gospels, the most spectacular surviving manuscript from early medieval Britain, was at the Laing Art Gallery (on loan from the British Library) three times. In 1996, 2000 and 2022.

Each time the treasure, located on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne in Northumberland, has attracted more than 50,000 visits. The Laing’s permanent displays feature internationally important artworks, and it brings world-class art to Newcastle in its exhibitions.

On 10 May 2024 JMW Turner’s ‘The Fighting Temeraire’ will take centre stage in the Art, Industry & Nostalgia exhibition.

A New Era

Tyne & Wear Archives 50 The Supremes

In June 2000 Segedunum Roman Fort opened to the public with a parade of Roman Soldier re-enactors marching through the streets of Wallsend. Segedunum, which means ‘Strong Fort’, was there to guard the eastern end of Hadrian’s Wall and housed 600 Roman soldiers. It stood for almost 300 years as a symbol of Roman rule and a bastion against barbarian attack.

The Shipley Art Gallery in Gateshead hosted The Story of The Supremes in 2009. It was opened by original Supremes member, Mary Wilson. It featured more than 50 dresses worn in performance by the Motown band.

The Shipley is home to paintings, decorative art and contemporary craft. Including ‘Christ Washing the Disciples’ Feet’ by Venetian artist Tintoretto (1518- 1594). Plus, ‘The Blaydon Races’ by William C Irving (1866-1943) illustrating the popular Geordie anthem.

The photograph above is from an exhibition at South Shields Museum & Art Gallery in 2017. It celebrated 40 years since World Heavyweight Boxing Champion Muhammad Ali visited the town.

South Shields Museum explores the history of South Tyneside covering its social, maritime and industrial heritage. Its current exhibition is Scran: A History of Food and Drink in South Tyneside.

In the More Recent Years

Tyne & Wear Archives 50 Pioneers of Pop

In 2017 an important discovery comes to light about one of Stephenson Steam Railway’s star exhibits. Research concluded that George Stephenson’s locomotive ‘Billy’ was built in Newcastle in 1816. Not 1826 as previously thought, establishing it as the world’s third oldest surviving locomotive older than the more famous ‘Rocket’.

Stephenson Steam Railway in North Shields tells the story of George and Robert Stephenson and provides heritage train rides.

Pioneers of Pop, The Hatton Gallery’s inaugural exhibition after its 2017 redevelopment, focused on Newcastle artists’ contribution to the global art movement, celebrating Newcastle as the birthplace of Pop Art.

The Hatton Gallery, located in Newcastle University’s Fine Art Department, exhibits modern and contemporary art. As well as work of Newcastle University students. It also houses the iconic Merz Barn Wall by Kurt Schwitters. It’s one of the most significant figures in 20 century art.

To find out more about Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums 50-year history, its venues and programmes visit here.