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Thomas Bewick: artist, naturalist, celebrity

Born in relatively humble circumstances in the Tyne valley, Thomas Bewick rose to some celebrity in his own lifetime as the creator of popular books of natural history. Courted by poets and scientists, visited by princes and aristocrats, he has long been associated with the revival of wood engraving, modern book design and  the image of the British countryside. In February, Peter Quinn will survey Bewick’s life and work and give some account of the enduring power of his illustrative art today.


Peter Quinn is himself an accomplished artist, well known for brightly coloured watercolours of interesting buildings, boats and street scenes. Peter graduated from Glasgow School of Art in 1986 and he now lives in Newcastle, where he divides his time between painting and teaching art history. He has a doctorate from the University of Sunderland, has written on the art of the North East of England and is the current Chair of the Bewick Society.

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Our talk will take place on Wednesday 27 February at The Corner House, Heaton NE6 5RP at 7.30pm (Doors open at 7.00pm. You are advised to take your seat by 7.15pm). All welcome. FREE for Heaton History Group members. £2 for non-members. Please book your place by contacting / 07443 594154. Until 22 November, booking will be open to Heaton History Group members only.



  1. It appears that Thomas Bewick went to school in Ovingham. I have a modern photograph that I took and an old drawing, both showing the fact that it is one and the same property. The drawing mentions it being BEWICK’s school, the photgraph shows little change. He is also credited with drawing the pictures for Aesop’s Fables. My interest in Bewick is the fact that he lives in a very interesting house, or to be more precise, a Hall that has at least one, maybe two Pele Towers. I believe that it may also have been the Vicar’s house at one time. I am a dowser and have been a dowser for over 30+ years. I dowse for secret undeground tunnels of which many exist in Newcastle and elsewhere. I began dowsing in Newcastle and when I had gathered a good amount, I began to dowse out of the Town to all points of the compass. If you are NOT interested in this information, then please forgive the intrusion and delete my information. If you are, then settle back and read on. I choose my targets carefully and have never failed to find any tunnel that I hear about and dowse for. Along the way whilst out dowsing along with my Border Collie, I avoided anyone and everyone, but once I was good enough to dowse, find and track these individual tunnels, I just ignored them and carried on. Many were curious so I taught those how to dowse to give a little back. I also taught myself how to dowse in other ways than “normal”. “Normal” entails holding an “L-shaped” rod like a six-gun pointing ahead and walking forward. Once you understand this it allows one to “interpret” movements. Obviously it isn’t magic, just hard work and plenty of walking! I also just used metal coat hangars cut to various sizes so they could go in my pocket. When I began dowsing in 1993, I was already aware of a tunnel and decided to look for it. The Victoria Tunnel can be found beneath your feet outside St Dominic’s Social Club at the end of Byker bridge. There are (Invisible) “steps” there which I dowsed and later discovered were the steps that were the entrance to the Air Raid Shelter below. I made mistakes for a while of course, then I began to get a feel for it and found the Victoria quite easy to find once I understood. I found the tunnel very quickly and “followed” the tunnel down to Cut Bank where it actually comes out of a green metal door. The “steps” went down to the floor of the Shelter beneath. Once I could dowse well I was away looking for more and more. I was an avid reader and was eclectic in my reading matter. Virtually any subject was of interest. However, I must say a little about these tunnels before I continue. I studied the origins of religion for many years and as it had lasted for over 2,000 years it was a suitable subject. All other “Christian” off-shoots were not considered. I studied religion along with many other subjects including History which I find extremely interesting and more so now as I can often marry up what I have read with my dowsing. Why? Becaue everything points to these Secret Underground Tunnels having been constructed by the Roman Catholic Church. A precise date is difficult, but I found that I was going further and further back in time. Although Bede’s Monastery is circa C7th there seems to be a small “gap” to the C11th when William I Invaded England. By this time you might have gathered that I have a strong suspicion that these tunnels began to be constructed in the C11th. It is said that after a century, the Roman Church had gained much of its wealth. The rich often left a portion of their wealth to the church for them to pray for their souls while they went off to the Crusades and other places to fight. As primo-geniture was followed, the younger sons were not to inherit the family jewels so while the younger ones “hired out” virtually as mercenaries, the eldest was sitting pretty with the family jewels, land and properties. The ones to become the richest of course were the churchmen who sent the Pope’s share back to Rome. The tunnels I was dowsing for and finding were always in specific locations so it did not take long for me to see where. Churches first of course, were the main target of the “Vikings” as they had the money. Lindisfarne is recorded as the first target of the Danes. C7th I believe. I have dowsed all over Northumberland and Durham and have a good picture now of where and what happened. My Tanfield Dowse for instance filled in some gaps. There is a story going around Tanfield (and further afield) that the Catholic Priest at Tanfield was “digging coal up” when the ground fell in and created a problem. When I first heard about that I was disinclined to believe that and was sure that I knew what had happened. One day I went there and dowsed the village and found several tunnels as usual in the same sort of place. The Church, a Pub ??? the Priest’s House, the Hall and more. I also dowsed a tunnel into the church that led directly over the font which was slowly collapsing into the ground! It led across the church and out to the side which is where it entered the OLD Priest house. A new house was on the opposite side of the church. Another tunnel ran across the road and into Tanfield Hall. Two tunnels ran out of the rear of Tanfield Hall at least one heading for the Manor ? House further up the lane there. I shall finish my tale about Ovingham. I dowsed around the Ovingham church there (St Mary’s I think it was) and found one tunnel coming out of the Tower area. I followed it down the footpath to the road and across the road and into a lovely old Hall that turned out to be Frank Atkinson’s. The tunnel was literally beneath the rear entrance to the Hall which is now common. Now to the funny bit. Frank answered the door and invited me in where I told him all about my dowsing through ancient properties like his. He was a polite chap who listended well and we chatted as I dowse-tracked his tunnel across the “L” shaped Hall. We came to the end portion of the Hall where the Pele Tower was. I have been in many such properties which is good. Cockle Park was the last one I dowsed at. I recall that they had a beautiful young Border Collie that sat at my feet “begging” when I left. Pele Towers were built to take shelter in when the Scottish Border Reivers came south to “forage”, as were bastles, circa C15th or C16th. Frank was an interesting chap. The living room was made of much of the Pele Tower where the walls were some 3 ft thick. In the room was a highbacked chair which I had assumed was empty, but as I began telling Frank about the tunnels in Ovingham that I had been, and was, dowsing, he told me that he had never heard of them and did not believe there were any when a disembodied voice came from the high-backed chair and told him that there WERE tunnels in Ovingham and she HAD heard some tales about them. That lady surpried me, but not about the tunnels as I had already known there would be some and had already found one that went through the Hall! I said my goodbyes and thanked Frank and his good lady for allowing me access and made to go out. Frank came to the door and went away for a minute and gave me his book that told of his work. He was the chap who invented “Beamish Museum”! I left him and dowsed to the bridge where I picked up another tunnel and followed it. It ran across the railway line and the station on the other side and into Prudhoe Castle near the Keep. I walked all around the castle and found several tunnels which were below windowed areas if I recall correctly. I have dowsed three specific Castles for a reason. Why? One day I was dowsing around Bamburgh and decided to dowse for the escape tunnels that are in\on the major castles. I dowsed from the East to the West side and found not one or two but seven secape tunnels and dowse tracked them all. I was given permission to enter the castle and dowsed one coming out of the strong door to the Keep. Again with a tunnel exiting through a door. I mapped them all out and then dowsed Pruhoe Castle in sight of Ovingham. I also dowsed Harbottle Castle but that is for aother time. If you have any questions, then fire away. I am the chap who wrote to you some years ago about the graves behind the library.


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