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Museums in Northumberland, Newcastle, Scottish Borders


Woodhorn, Ashington

This part of the world has a very rich history, and people have worked hard to capture it in interactive, fun and exciting displays.

At Woodhorn Museum and Archives in Ashington, people can learn how events, tumultuous and everyday, affected their ancestors.

Now that tracing the family tree is becoming a national obsession, interest in the new centre at Ashington is keen. It contains 800 years of history in documents and photographs from official sources and private owners, including wills, census returns, church registers, gravestone inscriptions and military service records.

Entry is free at Woodhorn, built at a former colliery and focusing in part on the mining industry, from the daily lives of pit families to work by Ashington’s famous Pitmen Painters, who are celebrated in the play by Billy Elliot writer Lee Hall.

The museum is open April-October 10am-5pm Wednesday-Sunday (Mondays and Tuesdays in the school holidays) and November-March 10am-4pm. The Northumberland Archives and Study Centre is open 10am-4pm every day.

A few miles away is Newbiggin Maritime Centre, an all-weather attraction on the seafront that opened in summer 2011. It covers life in a historic fishing village and has an interactive exhibition on former Newbiggin lifeboat the Mary Joicey, which saved 90 lives, and the coble Girl Anne as well as a cafe overlooking the bay. The museum is open 10am-5pm Monday-Saturday and 10am-4pm Sundays (closes on Monday in term time).

In the Tyne Valley, the central section of Hadrian’s Wall in the National Park has a wealth of Roman interest from 2,000 years ago.


Vindolanda Roman Fort

Vindolanda, run by a charitable trust, is the only place on the Wall to see archaeologists unearthing artefacts. The Vindolanda Tablets – voted Britain’s top treasure – were found here in 1973. The 400 postcard-sized messages on wood describe how the Britons fought and asks the army to send more beer. Some have come home from the British Museum to be displayed in a hermetically sealed case.

The trust’s Roman Army Museum nearby has three galleries and a 3D film bringing to life the existence of a soldier on the edge of empire. Both open 10am-6pm April 1-September 30, and 10am-5pm October 1-31, seven days a week.

At the northern frontier is Berwick Museum and Art Gallery, a lively place to visit which includes an outpost of Glasgow’s Burrell Collection, created by a magpie millionaire. Next to it is the King’s Own Scottish Borderers Regimental museum in Berwick Barracks, among the first purpose-built barracks in Britain. Both are open Monday-Friday 10am-5pm April 1-September 30. Closed weekends.

Near Berwick, just over the border on the banks of the River Tweed, is the Adam brothers’ Paxton House, considered the finest 18th century Palladian country home in Britain. It stands in 80 acres of woodland, parkland and gardens and displays masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland.

There are adventure playgrounds, putting and croquet, nature trails and a restored Georgian kitchen. The Ellem Fishing Club Museum tells the story of the world’s oldest fishing club, formed in 1829. The estate was bequeathed to the nation by former Labour MP John Home Robertson in the late 1990s.

Open daily April 1-October 31. House 11am-5pm (4pm last entry), tearoom 10am-5pm, grounds 10am-sunset.

Fun at Hexham Old Gaol

Hexham Old Gaol © Northumberland County Council

Other museums include, in the Tyne Valley, Hexham Old Gaol. England’s first recorded purpose-built prison was constructed by order of the Archbishop of York in 1333 and used until the 19th century.

Cherryburn, the National Trust’s Thomas Bewick Museum at Mickley, celebrates the great artist and engraver born here in 1753. Open Thursday-Tuesday (closed Wednesday) during the toursit season until October 30, 11am-5pm.

Wylam Railway Museum opens Tuesday and Thursdays 2pm-5pm and 5.30pm-7.30pm. Wylam is the birthplace of rail pioneer George Stephenson and Timothy Hackworth and William Hedley worked there.

Bellingham Heritage Centre celebrates the history of the North Tyne and Redewater area, focusing on farming, mining, the railway, border reivers and the photography of WP Collier. Open April 1-October 31, 10am-3pm, Monday-Saturday 9.30am-4.30pm and Sunday 10.30pm-3.30pm and over the winter Monday, Wednesday and Friday 10am-3pm.

Kielder Castle Visitor Centre has bikes, snacks, and a children’s play area and you can also view live video of an osprey nest. There’s also Kielder Salmon Centre. Both open daily 10am-5pm year round.

Off the A1 at Morpeth in a medieval building on the riverside is the Chantry Bagpipe Museum. Open Monday-Saturday, 10am-5pm, closed Sunday.

Farther north at Alnwick is Bailiffgate Museum. Facing the Barbican entrance to Alnwick Castle, it looks at local history in six themed displays and some interactive challenges. Visitors can explore fishing, farming and railways. The Border Reivers and more orthodox traders in the 1,000-year-old Freemen of Alnwick are also scrutinised, along with the area’s many castles. Open daily10am-4pm Easter-October 30 and 10am-4pm November 1-Easter. Closed December 22, 2011-January 3, 2012.

An exhibition, Alnwick has the Art Factor, runs from September 6 to November 1, 2011. Visitors are being asked to vote on the most enjoyable artwork.

In a tower inside Alnwick Castle is the Fusiliers Museum of Northumberland. Open daily from Easter-October 31, 11am-5pm.

A few miles north on the A1 is the Armstrong Household and Farming Museum at North Charlton. Open Friday afternoons and bank holiday weekends for charity.

Grace Darling

Victorian heroine Grace Darling

On the coast at Bamburgh is the rebuilt and enhanced Grace Darling Museum, telling the story of the local young woman who became world famous as a lifeboat heroine. Open Easter-October 31, daily 10am-5pm and November 1-Easter, 10am-4pm.

Norham Station Museum opens Monday and Thursday until September 4, 1.30-5pm.

NewcastleGateshead has a range of museums to suit every taste. Jump from 35 million years of evolution at Great North Museum: Hancock to cutting-edge science, presented in such an engaging and interactive way, at the award-winning Life Science Centre.

Visitors to the Great North Museum can explore the world under one roof”. Highlights include a large-scale, interactive model of Hadrian’s Wall, objects from the Ancient Greeks and mummies from Ancient Egypt, a planetarium and a life-size T-Rex dinosaur skeleton.

The museum is open Monday to Saturday 10am-5pm, Sunday 2pm-5pm. Admission is free.

The Discovery Museum, in Blandford Square, Newcastle, is the ideal place to find out all about life on Tyneside – from the region’s shipbuilding heritage to inventions which changed the world. There are special displays for children under five and seven years old. The museum is open Monday to Saturday 10am-5pm, Sunday 2pm-5pm. Admission is free.

In the Scottish Borders you can explore that textile history of that part of the world at Border Textiles Towerhouse. It lets visitors discover the knitwear and tweed story, how the Borders woollen industries reached the height of luxury and fashion. You will see garments, fabrics, objects, photographs and art, revealing over 200 years of tradition and innovation in the Borders Industry.  It is a
lively, hands-on venue, suitable for all ages.

Changing exhibitions bring in contemporary fashion and design – and watch out for our textile events and workshops throughout the year. In the Tom Scott Room you can view paintings by this noted Scottish watercolourist, and enjoy touchscreen access to the Museum’s collection of his work.

You will also discover the fascinating history of this 500 year old tower from the days of the Border Reivers. The Registrar of Genealogy can help with your family history research.

The Coldstream Museum has permanent displays relating to the Coldstream Guards and the town of Coldstream, featuring artefacts on loan from the Coldstream Guards, the Provost’s Robes and Chain of Office. There is a changing exhibition programme in the Courtyard Gallery. The museum is located in the centre of Coldstream in the Market Square on the site of General Monck’s headquarters before he marched on London in 1660 to restore the Stuart Monarchy.

Jedburgh Castle Jail gives visitors a taste of what life was like in an 1820s prison, whilst also telling the story of the Royal Burgh of

Jedburgh Castle Jail

Jedburgh Castle Jail

Jedburgh. The main building of Jedburgh Castle Jail is home to the museum collection of the town of Jedburgh, focusing on traditions, industries and important individuals of this historic Scottish town, with historical artefacts, prints and paintings and a temporary exhibition space.

You can walk through the original cell blocks of this Georgian jail – the finest remaining Howard reform prison in Scotland – and find out about some of the people who were once imprisoned here and why they were put in. Children can dress up and enjoy activities.
The prisoners’ cell blocks tell the story of the Jail and its inmates, with individual cells looking as they would have done – complete with model prisoners.

This impressive building, in a castellated style, was designed by Archibald Elliot, one of the leading Scottish architects of his day. In the Governor’s House you will discover the history of Jedburgh and see many of the historical objects and artworks that tell the story of the town, its industries and its people.