It’s back: Kynren captivates with its epic tale of 2,000 years

How do you tell the tale of 2,000 years of British history, with a North-East twist, in just 90 minutes? The answer is simple, County Durham’s spectacular outdoor pageant, Kynren. JONATHAN JONES enjoys Bishop Auckland’s summer spectacle.

Kyren: Burning bagpipes
Kynren: Burning bagpipes as the English and Scots face off in battle.

Having been lucky enough to see last year’s offering, taking place on a seven-acre site in the shadow of Auckland Castle, in Bishop Auckland, I did wonder what this year’s performance might offer that was different enough to justify paying members of the public forking out £50 for the best seats.

And I can happily say there’s enough new and extended scenes to make Kynren worth a return visit. Boosted by an increased number of participants (or archers as they are known), more than 1,400 volunteers in total, the show seemed to have more in terms of excitement, and, perhaps most importantly, it just seemed to flow better.

Kynren: Performers from the cast of 1,400
Kynren: Performers from the cast of 1,400

This view may also have been aided by the fact that this year I had a slightly more elevated position in the stands, rather than the ringside seat I took last year. This enabled me to see more of the action as it enfolded, for example, being among the first to see the burning bagpipe playing Scots army of Robert the Bruce, come face to face with the burning club juggling English army.

Something I hadn’t noticed so much last year, and perhaps this is due to the more enhanced staging of this year’s offering, is just how violent the last 2,000 years of British history have been.

The first 30-45 minutes of the show seemed to focus on one bloody skirmish after another, from the stallion riding Iceni queen, Boudicca, storming the stage accompanied by her daughters, battling with their Roman oppressors on the banks of a lake, from which scenes rise and fall, through the monk slaughtering attacks of the Vikings, to the death of Harold Hadrada, clutching an arrow in his eye, at the hands of the invading William the Conqueror.

Great fun for those watching, particularly the younger members of the audience, who particularly enjoyed the sight of a Roman Centurion being thrown from his horse, then dragged along behind it.

Kynren features plenty of action scenes
Kynren features plenty of fast moving action scenes

There was a slightly more sedate section, featuring Shakespeare and Good Queen Bess, which included the Queen entering the stage on a fabulous royal barge, while Shakespeare himself could be seen on the balcony of his home. But this was soon to be replaced by the skirmishes of the English Civil War featuring Cavalier cavalry facing off against Roundhead armour.

The show owes a lot of its continued success to the generosity of investment banker Jonathan Ruffer, the man spearheading the £100 million redevelopment of Bishop Auckland, which included buying Auckland Castle and saving paintings by the 17th century Spanish painter Francisco de Zurbarán.

After an initial £35million investment in the Kynren site, funded entirely from charitable donations, each subsequent year is funded from the previous year’s proceeds, with profits from tickets and merchandise sales reinvested in the show and keeping it at its best, continually increasing the skill level for volunteers to make this show the success.

Kyrnen: A wonderful spectacle
Kynren: A wonderful spectacle

Designed to emulate the success of France’s Puy du Fou, which helped to revitalise the Vendee area of Western France, Mr Ruffer is hopeful that Kynren will help to do the same for Bishop Auckland.

He joked, as he launched this year’s event, that he hoped Kynren would last for the next 50 years, and to ask him again then, at the age of 117, what he thought was the secret of its success.

He added: “We are not like Trooping the Colour where you see some wonderful things but the only thing that changes year after year is the name of the person who falls off the horse.

“We are not like a Premiership football match where every moment of every game is different but ultimately it’s just 24 blokes running around a lawn.

“We are more like Star Wars, or Harry Potter, which you can come back to year after year and see, in one sense, the same thing and same characters, but in another sense something different and unique because every performance is unique.”

Kynren is on target to attract more than 500,000 visitors to the North East by 2020, boosting the economy by almost £5million a year.

If the reaction of the gathered press and guests (mostly friends and family of the participants) is anything to go by, with a standing ovation at the end of the show, and numerous bouts of spontaneous applause throughout, County Durham has a hit on its hands.

If, as promised, production company Eleven Arches continues to upgrade the show each year, then I’ll be happy to make an annual visit.

Kyrnen, Auckland Castle
Kynren: A grand stage set to the wonderful backdrop of Auckland Castle

However, I must add that my enjoyment of this year’s offering was perhaps improved by my choice of a slightly more elevated seat, rather than my choice of a front row one last year.

This more elevated position gave me chance to see more of the early action as it happened, in particular items that were happening to the far left or right of the stage area.

Under the watchful eye of US-born artistic director Steve Boyd, who choreographed Olympic opening ceremonies in London and Rio, revised and extra scenes have been added to this year’s offering. These include a completely new English Civil War section, and the marking of two special moments in history, commemorating 100 years since the end of the First World War, a moment laced with poppies and poignancy, and the successful struggle of the Suffragette movement, which led to women being given the vote.

Kynren: Poppies in a poignant moment
Kynren: Poppies in a poignant moment

There’s still something for those who like history, told from a North-East angle, with this year’s audiences again getting to meet the Venerable Bede and Prince Bishop Bek.

There’s also still a particularly moving sequence featuring the coal mining communities of the North East. Pit props rise from the lake, and miners march to work, only for a number of massive explosions to rock the stage, followed by the collapse of pit props. This is followed by mourning women following a number of hearses across the stage, showing just how dangerous working in the pits of County Durham, once the lifeblood of the region, was.

On a lighter note, however, there’s also a myriad of performing animals including 33 horses, a flock of 27 sheep (a crowd favourite), a gaggle of geese, numerous donkeys and a pair of Durham shorthorn oxen.

Kynren: The sheep are a crowd favourite
Kynren: The sheep are a crowd favourite

The show also features more stunts, including a Roman Centurion being dragged along behind his horse, in the early moments of the show, plus a motorcycle rider crossing the stage ablaze.

Stephenson’s Locomotion, the first steam locomotive to carry passengers on a public rail line, also makes an appearance, steaming across the stage followed by cheering crowds, and in later scenes, Winston Churchill makes his “fight them on the beaches’ speech, while a spitfire chases a German bomber overhead.

Produced by Eleven Arches, the 2018 season features 17 performances across, commencing on June 30, and running on Friday and Saturday evenings throughout July, August and September.

Tickets for Kynren range from £25-£55 for adults and £19-£41 for children. For more information, visit www.kynren.co.uk.

Joanne’s colourful, quirky seaside scenes will make you smile

In our latest interview featuring creative people in the region we talk to 40-year-old Ouseburn-based artist Joanne Wishart.

Newcastle-based artist. Joanne Wishart
Newcastle-based artist. Joanne Wishart

Where in the North East are you based?

My studio is based at the Mushroom Works in Ouseburn, Newcastle, but I live a little nearer the coast in North Shields.

How would you describe your work?

My work is colourful and quirky capturing nostalgic seaside memories of days out at the coast, in particular the North East coast. I have an extensive back catalogue of works depicting Northumberland’s favourite coastal landmarks. I like to paint summer days and sunny skies to create images that will give you a lift and make you smile.

Seaside Donkeys by Joanne Wishart
Seaside Donkeys by Joanne Wishart

I work mainly with acrylic paint but I like to add a bit of collage material including fabrics and old maps into my work to give added layers and a textured surface.  My ideas have developed over the years and have introduced new work including driftwood boat sculptures, and deckchair artworks.

Tell us how you first started out as an artist?

I’ve always been creative ever since I was a child. Then after school I went on to study Printed Textile design at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art, Dundee. As part of my degree I spent a term in Nova Scotia studying at their art college, which was a fabulous experience.

I would say the progression form graduation to where I am today was a slow process, I initially got work freelancing for agents in the U.K. and New York designing Hawaiian shirt prints and children’s furnishing fabrics. I also worked part time in a small gallery and picture framers. In 2006 I met my now husband and moved from Berwick upon Tweed to North Tyneside and together we set up our current business where we self publish my paintings into limited edition prints and greetings cards and we haven’t looked back.

Towards Dunstanburgh by Joanne Wishart
Towards Dunstanburgh by Joanne Wishart

What work are you most proud of?

I do love the old 1940’s deckchair frames with my paintings on the canvas. They are something just a little bit different and really capture the essence of seaside nostalgia.

I am also proud to have won North East England’s “Best Creative Business” in 2009.  I am proud to be able to make my way in the world doing what I love for a living.

What influence if any does North East England have in inspiring your work?

Growing up near Berwick upon Tweed and now living in North Tyneside, North East England has so much to offer in terms of inspiration.

 What inspires you?

I love the great outdoors, the beauty of the North East coastline, the coastal landscape, the sun, the sea, the flowers and animals. Most of my inspiration comes from walking the coastal paths or spending a sunny day on the beach with my kids. I like to get out and about with my sketchbook and camera, taking it all back to my studio with a head full of ideas.

Puffins by Joanne Wishart
Puffins by Joanne Wishart

What has been your most challenging creation?

My most challenging creation has to be my exhibition in the Bridge Gallery at Tynemouth station. It is such an unusual space to hang work in and that can be view from both sides of the walkway. I am used to hanging a painting on a flat wall so I had to think differently to make this exhibition work as a whole.

 Do you have any tips for up and coming artists?

My tips would be to work hard, create your own style, evolve and develop. Go into galleries and ask for feedback (make an appointment first, you will get a better response!), learn from this and don’t let the knock backs get you down.  An artist’s life is a rollercoaster and you never know what is around the next corner.

Joanne Wishart, artist
Joanne Wishart, artist

Which other artists or photographers inspire you.

I try not to get too inspired by other artists work so that my own signature style develops. 

What are your ambitions for the future?

I would love to run my own studio gallery one day, this might be when my kids get a bit older, but for the moment I am happy juggling being a mum and artist.

If you would like to visit my studio at the Mushroom Works and see where the magic happens please pop along to Ouseburn Open Studios on the 30th June & 1st July.  The Mushroom Works will be open to the public and welcomes visitors behind the scenes. I will have a selection of new North East paintings on show in the Mushroom Works gallery and will be on hand to talk to anyone in my studio.

Discover more ofJoanne’s art at : www.joannewishart.co.uk

Northumberland’s landscape and light make the perfect picture for David

In our latest interview featuring creative people in North East England we talk to Hexham-based landscape photographer and writer David Taylor. 

Charlies Garden. Photo David Taylor
Charlies Garden, Colywell Bay near Seaton Sluice, Northumberland. Photo by David Taylor

Where in the North East are you based?

I live in Hexham, just twenty minutes’ drive from Hadrian’s Wall Country.

How would you describe your work?

I’m a landscape and architectural photographer who lives and works in the north east of England. I’m particularly inspired by the Northumberland countryside, from the craggy landscape of Hadrian’s Wall to the wild moorlands of the Cheviot hills.

David Taylor North East photographer
David Taylor North East photographer

How did you get into photography?

I borrowed my school’s camera (and there was only one…) when I was studying A-Level art,  and was immediately hooked. There’s something compelling about making an image in a small fraction of a second without the need for pen or pencil! I’ve always liked being outdoors so landscape photography seemed the most natural fit.

What are you most proud of as a photographer?

I’ve written forty books and contributed to many others. These books have either been about photography techniques and equipment, or about Northumberland. I didn’t start out with the intention of combining writing with photography but I’m proud of the fact that I’ve achieved that.

Peel Crags, Hadrian's Wall. Photo David Taylor
Summer mist over Peel Crags, Hadrian’s Wall. Photo David Taylor

What do you most enjoy photographing and why?

Water in is a fascinating subject. How it appears in the final photo depends on a number of factors, such as how it’s illuminated to the length of exposure used. I could quite cheerfully spend all day just photographing watery subjects such as the sea.

What inspires you? 

The quality of light on a landscape. Light changes throughout the day, varying depending on where the sun is in the sky and the current weather condition. It means you can revisit the same location over and over again and still see and shoot something different each time. I find this both challenging – you can’t know precisely what will work and what won’t until you get to a location and see how it’s illuminated – and creatively inspiring.

Bamburgh Castle. Photo David Taylor
Bamburgh Castle. Photo David Taylor

What influence, if any does North East England have upon your work? 

I’m from Newcastle originally and grew up there. I spent a lot of time on the coast when I was young, as well as camping in places like Gosforth Park. That early exposure to the landscape of the North East is something that has been very influential. As much as I like travelling and visiting other parts of the world, I can’t see me wanting to stop photographing in and around the North East.

College Valley. Photo David Taylor
Looking down the College Valley, Northumberland. Photo David Taylor

What has been your most challenging photographic creation? 

I’m always a bit suspicious of photos that happen easily! They somehow don’t feel earned. It’s those images that require work or perseverance to achieve that tend to be my favourites. One shot – the view down Henhole in the College Valley in the Northumberland National Park – took six hours of trudging in rain across wet moorland to achieve. It was at the point that I was more than ready to go home that the sun finally broke out. The resulting photo took just a few minutes to set up and shoot, but this more than made up for the fact that I was soaking wet and still have a long walk ahead of me.

Do you have any tips for up and coming photographers? 

Photography has a reasonably steep learning curve but it’s not impossible to understand the basics of how an image is made. Once you’ve achieved this it’s just a question of practise to refine how and what you shoot. Be prepared to take creative risks and make mistakes; it’s often the mistakes you make that give you the greatest insight in how you can improve your photography. Don’t give up and have fun!

Footprints on Bamburgh beach. Photo David Taylor
Footprints on Bamburgh beach. Photo David Taylor

What other photographers or artists inspire you? 

Although he’s not a landscape photographer, Elliott Erwitt is one of my favourite photographers. His documentary photography is full of humanity and often wickedly funny. For me, there’s nothing better than curling up on a wet, grey day with one of his photography anthologies. I’ve tried to shoot like Erwitt and wasn’t that successful. It was a good indicator that I should stick to landscape…

What are your ambitions for the future? 

To keep on learning about photography. It’s such a big subject that’s impossible to know everything. It’s a worthwhile ambition to try though!

See more of David Taylor’s photography at: www.davidtaylorphotography.co.uk

 

Northumberland Snow. Photo David Taylor

The Beast from the East hits the Northumberland National Park. Photo David Taylor

 

 

 

Fabulous festivals, fabulous food

Michael Payton looks forward to this summer’s variety of food festivals across the North East of England.

The weather so far towards the tail end of spring has been nothing short of magical for most of the country. The summer looks set to follow suit.

Alnwick Food Festival
Alnwick Food Festival

Whether you are on the way to the North East for a holiday or currently reside in this culturally dense and beautiful part of the country, and have a keen interest in food and drink, you may be on the look out for fun things to do.

Fortunately, one thing that the North East does offer in abundance is truly great food and drink events. Here we highlight some of the key events taking place this year.

North East Chilli Fest 

 Friday 13, Saturday 14 and Sunday 15 July 2018

Meggies Burn Fields, South Beach, Blyth

If the heat from the sun is not enough and you like a good fiery chilli or two – you should definitely try and visit the North East Chilli Fest. This event is scheduled to take place from the 13th of July through to the 15th and is the 7th of its kind.

North-East-Chilli-Fest
North-East-Chilli-Fest

With a new theme and new location, this weekend celebration of food, drink, music and entertainment that puts chillies front and centre, looks set to be an unmissable festival.

The infamous Chilli Eating Competition which is definitely not for anyone of a weak disposition is undoubtedly one of the key moments. Alongside this will be appearances and stalls from local food producers and suppliers such as Grim Reaper Foods, Fire Pizza, Earth and Fire Bakery, The Chilli Pepper Company and many more.

www.chillifest-ne.co.uk/

Saltburn Food Festival

 Sunday 29 July 2018

Milton Street, Saltburn

Now in its 6th year, Saltburn Food Festival will feature 100 food stalls from local producers and suppliers lining up the centrally located Milton Street.

Saltburn Food Festival
Saltburn Food Festival

Alongside the stalls there will be exciting and inspiring live cookery demonstrations and a number of intriguing fringe activities too. That The Sunday Times once noted that Saltburn was one of the best places to live in the country because of the wide array of great food and drink available there, is testimony to why the food festival is such a popular event.

saltburnfoodfestival.com/

Berwick Food And Beer Festival

 Friday 31 August (Beer only) Saturday 1 & Sun 2 September 2018

Barracks and Main Guard Parade, Berwick

The Berwick Food and Beer Festival is thought to be one of the long running events of its kind in the area and returns for an 11th time to the seaside town in 2018. With the 18th Century Berwick Barracks as its backdrop, there is no shortage of interesting food and beer (along with champagne, cocktails and wine) to try from local producers.

Berwick Food and beer Festival
Berwick Food and beer Festival

Street food galore and lots of food-focused films, live cooking theatre, live music and an animal farm round out what is sure to be a memorable weekend that kicks off with the Friday focusing firmly on the pride of Britain – Real Ale.

www.berwickfoodandbeerfestival.co.uk/

Alnwick Food Festival 

 Saturday 22 and Sunday 23 September 2018

Market Place, Alnwick

Since 2005, one of the most important dates on the town’s calendar has been the popular Alnwick Food Festival. All of the food and drink action takes place the town’s busy centre and will consist of hot tasty food to buy and try, food producer stalls, live music and entertainment and demonstrations by local and national chefs.

Alnwick Food Festival

Incidentally, the Alnwick Beer Festival will be running alongside the Food Festival and is definitely one for all lovers of cold and crisp and oh so refreshing pints.

alnwickfoodfestival.co.uk/

Morpeth Food and Drink Festival

Saturday 6 and Sunday 7 October 2018

Bridge Street and Market Place, Morpeth

Well in excess of 45,000 people attended the Morpeth Food and Drink Festival in 2017, suggesting that this year’s will be even bigger and better. Around 100 stalls will be there along Bridge Street, in the Town Hall and Market Place over the course of two days. So all lovers of good quality local produce will have a lot to salivate over.

Morpeth Food Festival

Breads, chocolate, meat, chutneys, jams, vegetarian and vegan options, gin and of course, real ales will all be represented and there for you to try. One of the notable names who will be displaying their skills and demonstrating some live cooking will be Lorna Robertson, a Masterchef finalist who comes from Berwick.

www.facebook.com/MorpethFoodandDrinkFestival/

The above is just a little snapshot of what is taking place throughout 2018 in the North East. For more information about great food and drink festivals not just in the North East, but the UK as a whole, be sure to check out www.eatdrinkseek.co.uk

‘Oot on the streets’ with Peter for a touch of nostalgia

We talk to Newcastle artist Peter Davidson as part of our series of interviews featuring artists, photographers and creative people in the North East. Peter’s work is filled with nostalgia and humour that reflect the streets and communities of the region in times past.

Peter Davidson 'The Gas Tank Derby'
Peter Davidson ‘The Gas Tank Derby’

How would you describe your work?

My work is very much nostalgia based with a touch of humour, “oot in the back streets as a young un” I try to remind people that the stereotypical view of our great region isn’t all true. There was great fun, love, friendship and laughter growing up in those much simpler times.

Newcastle artist Peter Davidson
Newcastle artist Peter Davidson

Tell us how you first started out as an artist?

Although always good as a child at art I did nothing with it and went off to work as a teenager, I eventually ended up in heavy industry. I started drawing again in my early 40s for pure fun, when I was made redundant from Alcan (aluminium smelter)  I decided to give it a go properly.

Which work are you most proud of?

I think the fact that as a self taught artist what makes me most proud is the joy I bring to people through my work, coupled with the achievement of my work reaching a high enough standard to be hung in many high end galleries all over the country

What inspires you?

My inspiration to paint is driven by my constant desire to improve my skills and knowledge with every single painting I do, I don’t want perfection, that’s boring, but I want everyone to see the best that I can do.

Peter Davidson 'The Beardsley Step Over'
Peter Davidson ‘The Beardsley Step Over’

What influence if any does North East England have in inspiring your work?

The passion of us Geordies has a big influence on my work, whether it be football, mucking around in the back lane, getting into trouble with Mam and Dad or looking out for each other.

What has been your most challenging creation?

My most challenging creation is more than a particular painting, when I signed up with a publishing house 18 months ago my work had to “go up a level”.

“The ability is there” my publisher said, but now my competition is at a much higher level. The step up to be at that standard is most challenging and rewarding. So, my next painting is always my most challenging creation.

Do you have any tips for up and coming artists?

My best tip is to never be afraid to fail, never be put off by rejection, believe in yourself and push your talent to its absolute maximum.

Peter Davidson 'Away Days'
Peter Davidson ‘Away Days’

Which other artists or photographers do you admire?

I like and admire the artwork of Frank Miller, the american comic book writer and film producer, although his work has very little in common with mine, McKenzie Thorpe and Bob Barker are also artists I admire.

What are your ambitions for the future?

My ambition for the future is very simple really, make the next painting better than the last painting, it’s my driving force, the rule I set myself. I may not always achieve it, but like I said earlier, never be afraid to fail trying.

See more of Peter Davidson’s work at:

peterdavidsonart.gallereo.com

Speaking up about our past

DAVID SIMPSON argues that history could play a bigger role in how we market our region when presenting ourselves to the world

Imagine going for a job interview where you weren’t allowed to say anything about your past, an interview where you couldn’t say anything about your past achievements or the challenges you faced or the ways you’ve inspired and motivated people.

Bamburgh Castle
Bamburgh Castle Photo © David Simpson 2018

We will allow you to say that you’ve got all the right attitudes and ambitions and that you have all the right skills in place but how are you going to prove it? Well it’s going to be hard especially as the competition, under the same restrictions, will be saying exactly the same things as you. So how are you going to demonstrate that you’re unique, that you’re special that you’re different?

Well, you’re going to struggle when it comes to saying something interesting and unusual about yourself. Of course in business there are no such restrictions, people want to known about your past because it demonstrates who you are, what you have achieved and what you might be able to achieve in the future.

Now, this is what frustrates me as someone with a passion for our region’s history. You see, surely the same goes for our region too? When it comes to marketing our region to the world we shouldn’t be coy about our history and past achievements, there’s no rule to prevent us from speaking of our past. We can be selective of course, who wouldn’t be? However, we shouldn’t be shy about it. The problem is sometimes we forget what we’ve actually achieved and it’s a good idea to refresh the memory now and again. It’s a great boost for confidence.

Gateshead Millennium Bridge
Gateshead Millennium Bridge : Photo © David Simpson

Look we’re in a market, competing with places across the world and when I say we, I mean all of us because everyone who lives and works in the region or even those who are just visiting are at some level potential ambassadors for the North East. We can all play a part in telling the world our great story and all the great things that we can do and all the great things that we have achieved in the past.

Yet there still seems to be a lot of amnesia around, forgetfulness or perhaps a lack of confidence in our story. The present, like the future is very important of course and in attracting investment to our region it’s great to say we are home to world leading companies: Nissan, Siemens Procter and Gamble, Hitachi Rail Europe and many more. It’s great to talk about our fabulous highly-skilled workforce, our partnerships, our infrastructure, transport networks, ports, airports and of course our world class educational establishments.

This is all good and we can be particularly proud to say that in our region it is often more than enough to get the world to sit up and take notice.

The thing is, though, just as with the job interview, you can guarantee that all the competition are all telling a similar story even if they may not be telling it quite so well.

So when it comes to the opportunity to demonstrate something unique, something different and special about ourselves as a region it’s a chance to share the extraordinary links and influences that we often have with the wider world. It’s here that we have an opportunity to shine and this is where our past comes into play.

Now I think in the world of business, history is too often seen as something of a novelty sideshow, or a dust-laden trinket that we bring out now and again to show off like a half-loved antique. It can be seen as something that is beneficial to our tourism industry and little else besides. The exception perhaps is in its contribution to our region’s townscapes, landscape and inherent beauty which we are not quite so shy to promote.

Marketers have recognised these visual attributes and this has been demonstrated by the impact of skilled photographers and film makers who have showcased the region’s glorious attributes in wonderful stunning, panoramic colour. This is great, it helps attract people to our region to see what it’s really like and that can only be good for business.

So we love the stage setting that is the North East but we also need to remember the rich array of stories and achievements from the past that this grand stage has hosted. We need to tell those stories boldly and with confidence.

In our region we have a phrase ‘Shy bairns get nowt’ which means if you don’t ask for things or if you don’t speak up with confidence, you will not receive. Ironically, it’s one of our region’s favourite phrases, yet too often we are rather shy about speaking up about our achievements. We are shy about asking for the recognition we deserve. This is certainly true when it comes to our history.

For example here in the region we pioneered electric light for the world: the story of Sunderland’s Joseph Swan; Newcastle’s Moseley Street; the Lit and Phil; the grand mansion at Cragside in Northumberland; a Benwell light bulb factory and even a house in Gateshead that’s now a care home played a massive, massive role in bringing electric light to the whole world.  Yet all we ever hear about is the famed American inventor, Thomas Edison who seems to have that famous light bulb permanently and unreservedly screwed tightly in a permanent place above his head as if it was his idea alone.

Joseph Swan and Charles Parsons number amongst the famous industrial pioneers associated with the region
Joseph Swan and Charles Parsons number amongst the famous industrial pioneers associated with the region

Our role in this world-changing era of history was every bit as important as the contribution of Edison and yes, I dare say it, probably more so. It’s shameful that Britain as a whole knows so little about this and this may be partly due to our region’s ‘shy bairn approach’ when it comes to recognition of our cultural and scientific achievements.

Then we have the railways and the first public railway ever, which opened here in the region. There are arguments of course but the Stockton and Darlington Railway was there before its counterpart from Liverpool to Manchester that we hear so much more about. Is it because those two cities are seen as less provincial than the twin Tees Valley towns? Why? It’s probably down to our modest, shy bairn values again.

And even before those railways, we had the unique ‘Newcastle Roads’, the west’s first railways, horse drawn wagonways that existed here in the region long before the days of locomotives. And we may continue: Stephenson’s Rocket was the victor at Lancashire’s Rainhill railway trials as every school child knows it, but too often we forget it was built on Tyneside. So let’s speak up.

And then there is our present year 2018 and next year 2019 and so on and so on. Yes, even that is down to us. How? Well it was a Northumbrian scholar and saint – arguably the most influential man in his time – that popularised the system of dating our years from the supposed birth of Christ.

Yes, it was Jarrow’s own Bede that brought about the adoption of this system of numbering our years that came to be used across Europe and subsequently the entire western world. Just think about that, that’s a pretty major contribution to our world as we know it today. Bede, incidentally, also had the distinction of being the very first English historian as well. He was the first English historian in the whole of the English speaking world and by the way, he knew, quite confidently, that the world wasn’t flat.

The Venerable Bede
The Venerable Bede

There are so many things our region has given this world. Sometimes they are major industrial developments, sometimes they are quirky cultural contributions but they are all worth knowing and sharing as part of our story. We must make sure our young people know these stories and that every businessman and every ambassador at every level knows them too.

Durham Cathedral
Durham Cathedral. Photo © David Simpson

What about the world-changing architecture of Durham Cathedral or James Cook’s discoveries in the Pacific and Australia? How about Washington, the world’s most influential capital, which traces its name back to a small North East village? These are all part of the story of the world.

Let’s not stop there. Think about Durham lad, Jermiah Dixon who created the Mason-Dixon line which divided the north from the later ‘Dixieland’ of the south in the American Civil War, or Redcar and Washington’s Gertrude Bell who drew up the borders of Iraq. How about the region’s part in the development of football across the world? What about the first ever football World Cup – won by a team from a Durham mining village.

We could talk about the starring role the region has had in the movies, whether it be Sycamore Gap on Hadrian’s Wall or the majestic Bamburgh Castle, not to mention the role of Alnwick Castle and Durham Cathedral in the Harry Potter movies.

Oh yes, Hadrian’s Wall, almost forgot, the world’s largest Roman archaeological feature marking what was once the northern boundary of Europe’s greatest Empire.

Milecastle 39 Hadrian's Wall
Hadrian’s Wall. Photo © 2018 David Simpson

We could talk about our language and dialect too which has some of the oldest English features in the English speaking world. Indeed some of these features date back to Bede’s time. Surprisingly the Northumbrian language had a profound influence on the speech of Scotland rather than the other way around. I mention this because it’s a reminder that we played a big role in some notable developments in the world’s most influential language.

In fact even our darkest periods have had some impact on language in this respect. Think about the battle-worn Border Reivers of Northumberland, Cumberland and the Scottish Borders who in times past brought into use phrases like ‘blackmail’ and being ‘caught red-handed’ a colourful and interesting feature of our language and our past. Alright, perhaps our connections to such phrases are something we might want to reveal with caution in the world of business.

Well ok, what about all those reiver surnames that still proliferate across the region today? You are going to encounter them everywhere. Reiver names can now be found all across Britain and the English speaking world in America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere. There must be millions of people with these name but how many of them know their connection to our region and know that our fascinating story is also a big part of theirs.

So if you’re doing business with an American Armstrong or an Australian Robson, or a Charlton, a Milburn, a Shaftoe, a Hetherington – there is a long list of names – it might be worth mentioning the connection. It’s an unusual opportunity to connect with our region and it is in my view one of the great untapped selling points of our region.

So when asked at that interview if there’s anything unusual or interesting we might say about ourselves as a region, we can see that we have plenty to say and plenty that we might share beyond the wonderful attributes of our workforce and our infrastructure.

However, we do need to lose the amnesia, embrace our history and start remembering our story. We need to be unashamedly proud of our past.

Just remember that ‘shy bairns get nowt’ and lets start speak up about our past achievements.

You never know; it might just get us the job.