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PAST lives and times have been brought into focus in a major new study which charts the region's historical landscape.

Drawn together by exiled Tyneside academic Robert Colls, the history of the North East has been condensed into an 370-page book.

Spanning the centuries, Northumbria History and Identity 547-2000, is edited by South Shields-born Prof Colls of Leicester University's English history department, who takes the reader on a journey from Ida, the first king of Bernicia, in 547 through the ages to the present and Newcastle's reputation as a party city.

In a series of essays, including offerings from among others, Keith Wrightson, the Tyneside-raised professor of modern history at Yale, the book explores how the term Northumbria has been used over the generations to create a regional identity and sets out the case for the distinctive nature of the North East.

There are chapters on the ancient kingdom of Northumbria, the Christian founding fathers of Bede and Cuthbert, the businessmen, industrialists and luminaries and the region's artists musicians and political philosophers "The region is distinctive and different because it thinks it is," said Prof Colls. "The territory has changed little for over a thousand years and the region continues to take a particular view of its history. No other region has a history to match ours."

However he is not convinced by some of the more recent cultural developments on Tyneside.

He said: "While I have no objection to developments on Newcastle Quayside, which are maybe inevitable and welcome, I'm not really taken with places like The Sage Gateshead.

"I wrote an article after going on a guided tour of Shearer's Bar at St James's Park.

"I was disappointed, because it had no sense of history. It could have been anywhere.

"And I think it's sad that there seems no place for the old skills in this modern Tyneside.

"As someone said, 'the future's easy - it's the past that's difficult'."

The book draws on the specialist knowledge of various writers and scholars as it explores the history of Northumbria.

Prof Colls has penned a chapter on a group of influential figures in Victorian Tyneside who attempted to forge a sense of regional identity, embracing both modern scientific ideas and Northumbria's cultural heritage.

The New Northumbrians, based around Newcastle's Literary and Philosophical Society, were forward-thinking men, but were also inspired by the old Anglian kingdom of Northumbria to forge a new cultural climate in the region.

Among them was champion of the working classes and then Chronicle owner Joseph Cowen.

Prof Colls said: "They used the past to create an enchantment and strengthen regional identity."

Other chapters in the book deal with detailed studies of everything from the history of the Irish and Scots on Tyneside to the selling of the region as a tourist attraction to an in-depth look at the area's rich folk music tradition.

Modern Northumbria is explored by Natasha Vall, a lecturer in European history at the University of Teesside, including an insight into the cultural impact of BBC producer Richard Kelly, who helped shape regional identity through such radio favourites as Wot Cheor Geordie and by championing the great North East England comedian Bobby Thompson.

Although the region's pop culture is not examined in any great depth, the book does name-check such Geordie rock stars as Sting, Mark Knopfler and Neil Tennant as proof positive of the area's continuing hold on the charts.

Northumbria - History and Identity 547-2000, is published by Phillimore & Co Ltd at pounds 20.

In 1080 Robert, Son of William I, had built a wooden fort - the "new castle". The existing Keep dates from 1172-77 and the Black Gate from 1247

The Romans first built a bridge over the Tyne guarded by a for t, called Pons Aelius, in about 122AD, which formed part of the frontier defence we know as Hadrian's Wall

Newcastle's development owed most to its central role in coal export. The phrase "taking coals to Newcastle" was first recorded in 1538

Newcastle United first used their stadium in 1892 after the unification of Newcastle East End and Newcastle West End, although football had been played there since 1880

Work started on Newcastle Central Station in 1850. The opening ceremony, attended by Queen Victoria, took place on August 29, 1850

Newcastle also had a shipbuilding industry in the later Middle Ages. The first record of a ship being built there was in 1294

The site of St James's Park was once a patch of sloping grazing land, bordered by Georgian Leazes Terrace.

The site was also near the gallows of the city, last used in 1844


HERE are some examples of people from the region's history who helped to shape its identity:

It could be said Northumbria's history began in 547AD, when King Ida the Flame-bearer established the royal city and capital of Bernicia at Bamburgh. Bernicia was an expanding kingdom centred upon the Rivers Tyne and Wear. King Ida's people were Angles, a fierce piratical race originating from a region now in southern Denmark.

Born around 672, the Venerable Bede was a Benedictine monk at the Northumbrian monastery of Saint Peter at Monkwearmouth. He is well-known as an author and scholar, and his most famous work, The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, gained him the title of the father of English history.

Centuries later the North East would produce another "father", this time of the railways in George Stephenson. Stephenson, who lived from 1781 to 1848, was a civil and mechanical engineer who built the first public railway line in the world to use steam locomotives.

Fellow Victorian Joseph Cowen was elected Member of Parliament for Newcastle in 1874. A radical, he identified himself with the working classes and became one of the best-known public men in the country, using his paper, the then Newcastle Daily Chronicle, to pass on his politics. A bronze statue of Cowen stands in Fenkle Street in Newcastle.

Scotswood-born modernist poet Basil Bunting worked as a journalist on the Evening Chronicle until his rediscovery in the 1960s. In 1966, he published the long poem Briggflatts, which can be read as a meditation on the limits of life and a celebration of Northumbrian culture and dialect.


INSIGHTS: Correspondents to Monthly Chronicle of North Country Lore and Legend in 1891. Right, the book also looks at the region's industrial history; EXPERT: Prof Robert Colls has written a book called Northumbria - History and Identity 547-2000, detailing our historical landscape PICTURE: LEANNE HOLCROFT ref: 01365813; STONE BRIDGE: Newcastle upon Tyne seen from the south bank in 1783 with one of the bridges spanning the river; VICTORIAN ENTREPRENEUR: Joseph Cowen, Chronicle owner
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Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Oct 10, 2008
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