Natural History Society of Northumbria

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Coordinates: 54°58′48.9″N 1°36′46.9″W / 54.980250°N 1.613028°W / 54.980250; -1.613028

Natural History Society of Northumbria
Hancock Museum (wherein are its offices)
Founded August 9, 1829 (1829-08-09)
Type Registered charity
Area served
North East of England
Mission To study and conserve wildlife

The Natural History Society of Northumbria is a voluntary organization to promote the study of natural history and protect the wildlife of the North East of England.

Its offices and library are in the Great North Museum: Hancock, whose building, land and collections it owns. It leases them to Newcastle University, on whose behalf they are administered by Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums. It possesses a substantial natural history library and archive, and maintains the Gosforth Park Nature Reserve. It also carries out research and provides lectures, field outings and educational courses, as well as publishing scientific papers. It has over 950 members.[1]


The key events in the history of the NHSN are as follows.[2]

  • The Society was formed on 19 August 1829 as an offshoot of the Literary and Philosophical Society of Newcastle upon Tyne, which had been founded in 1793. It was initially named the Natural History Society of Northumberland, Durham and Newcastle upon Tyne, and acquired its present name later. It began with a membership of 134.
  • In 1832, in order to house the Society's collections, subscriptions were raised to build a new museum, the Newcastle Museum. This was on land behind the Literary & Philosophical Society's building (now part of Newcastle Central Station). It was opened to the public in 1834.
  • In 1878, plans were announced for the building of a bigger museum, the Great North Museum: Hancock (as it is now called). John Hancock (see below), a local naturalist and taxidermist, was the driving force behind the project. The Prince and Princess of Wales officially opened the Museum on 20 August 1884, amid great celebrations hosted by Sir William and Lady Armstrong of Cragside. It was named the Hancock Museum in 1891 in memory of John and Albany Hancock, and acquired its present name in 2009 after a refurbishment.
  • In 1924, the Gosforth Park Nature Reserve came into being, initially as a bird sanctuary, when W. E. Beck, a member of the Society, leased the shooting rights over Gosforth Park from its owners, the High Gosforth Park Company. In 1929, Mr Beck, suffering ill health, handed over these rights to the Society, which has managed it for wildlife ever since.
  • In 1949, the Society became the official bird-ringing organization for the Farne Islands, and this work continues today. In 1951, the Society began to systematically study grey seals on the Farne Islands, commencing the longest period of continuous research in any British grey seal colony.
  • In 1960, the Society, struggling to maintain the Hancock Museum, reached an agreement with Kings College (now Newcastle University) in which the latter acquired a 99-year lease of the museum and collections. A management committee was created and made responsible for running the museum and preserving the collection. The Society is still represented on this today.
  • In 2006, the Hancock Museum was taken out of service and extensively refurbished, re-emerging as part of the Great North Museum in 2009.

Notable members[edit]

John Hancock (1808–1890) was an ornithologist, producing his Catalogue of the Birds of Northumberland and Durham in 1874. His greatest talent, however, was as a taxidermist, and his collection of mounted British birds can still be seen today in the Bird Gallery of the Great North Museum: Hancock.

Albany Hancock (1806–1873), brother of John Hancock, specialised in the anatomy of sea creatures, especially sea slugs or nudibranchs, and depicted them in minute detail. His watercolour drawings are held in the Society's archives.

Joshua Alder (1792–1867) was a zoologist, specialising in tunicates and gastropods.

William Chapman Hewitson (1806–1878) was a wealthy collector, particularly of beetles, lepidopterans, bird's nests and eggs. He built up an extensive collection of butterflies of the world, and was an accomplished illustrator.

External links[edit]


  1. ^ "About > What we do". Natural History Society of Northumbria. Retrieved 25 November 2013. 
  2. ^ "About > Our History". Natural History Society of Northumbria. Retrieved 25 November 2013.