Great North Museum: Hancock

The Great North Museum: Hancock is a museum of natural history and ancient civilisations in Newcastle upon Tyne, England.

Great North Museum: Hancock
Established1884 (1884)
LocationNewcastle upon Tyne, England
Coordinates54.980°N 1.613°W / 54.980; -1.613
TypeNatural history museum
Visitors638,454 (2009)[1]
OwnerNatural History Society of Northumbria
Public transit accessHaymarket Metro/Bus station
Great North Museum

The museum was established in 1884 and was formerly known as the Hancock Museum. In 2006 it merged with Newcastle University's Hatton Gallery to form the Great North Museum. The museum reopened as the Great North Museum: Hancock in May 2009 following a major extension and refurbishment of the original Victorian building. The museum and most of its collections are owned by the Natural History Society of Northumbria, and it is managed by Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums on behalf of Newcastle University.


The museum is located on the campus of Newcastle University, next to the Great North Road, and close to Barras Bridge. The nearest Tyne & Wear Metro station is Haymarket, and there is also a bus station at Haymarket.

One of the Second World War air raid shelter openings into the Victoria Tunnel is beneath the grounds of the museum.


The collection of the Hancock Museum can be traced to about 1780 when Marmaduke Tunstall started accumulating ethnographic and natural history material from around the world. He then brought his collection from London to North Yorkshire. In 1790 Tunstall died, and George Allan of Darlington purchased Tunstall's collection; and later in 1823 it was acquired by the Literary and Philosophical Society of Newcastle upon Tyne. In 1829 the Natural History Society of Northumberland, Durham and Newcastle upon Tyne (now the Natural History Society of Northumbria) was formed as a scientific offshoot of the Literary and Philosophical Society. Amongst the founding and early members of the Natural History Society were Joshua Alder, Albany Hancock, John Hancock, Prideaux John Selby and William Chapman Hewitson.

The museum opened on its current site in 1884 after the collection of the Natural History Society outgrew its small museum, located on Westgate Road, which opened in 1834.[2] A major benefactor to the museum was William Armstrong who gave the then large sum of £11,500.[3] Armstrong had also founded the College of Physical Science which later became part of Newcastle University. The museum was renamed in the 1890s, after the local Victorian naturalists, Albany and John Hancock.[2] In 1959 the Natural History Society agreed with the University of Newcastle for the University to care for the building and collections, and since 1992 the University has contracted with Tyne & Wear Museums to manage the Museum under a Service Level Agreement.[2]

Reopening as Great North Museum

The Hancock Museum was closed on 23 April 2006 for refurbishment and did not reopen until 23 May 2009.[4] It was completely refurbished and extended as part of the Great North Museum Project, at a cost of £26 million.[5] The new museum includes new displays on natural history and geology, Ancient Egypt and Ancient Greece, Romans and Hadrian's Wall, World Cultures and Pre-history. It also includes an interactive study zone, an under 5's space, and a digital Planetarium, as well as new learning facilities, a new temporary exhibition space, and a study garden. The new museum houses not only the Hancock Museum collections, but also those of the University's Museum of Antiquities and Shefton Museum.[6] The building that formerly housed the Museum of Antiquities was later demolished. The Hatton Gallery is also a part of the Great North Museum Project, but is not relocating to the Hancock, and is remaining in Newcastle University's Fine Art Building.

In September 2008, the Great North Museum searched for a lookalike of the Emperor Hadrian, for a photo shoot, whose likeness would feature in a permanent display at the Hancock Museum.[7] On 21 November 2008 the 'Be Part of It' campaign was launched, and it was announced that the Great North Museum: Hancock would be opening in May 2009. Athlete Jonathan Edwards is the patron of the 'Be Part of It' campaign.[8] Other celebrity supporters of the museum include Sir Thomas Allen and Adam Hart-Davis. Donors to the campaign have the opportunity to have their name (or the name of a loved one) permanently included on a donor wall in the museum.

The Great North Museum formally re-opened on 23 May 2009. In August the museum announced that they had surpassed their expected annual target of 300,000 visitors. By August over 400,000 people had visited the reopened museum.[9] On 6 November 2009 HM The Queen officially opened the Great North Museum.[10]

By August 2010, the reopened Great North Museum had welcomed its one millionth visitor.[11]


Among the Museum's permanent residents are a life-size cast of an African elephant; the Egyptian mummy Bakt-hor-Nekht; a full size replica of a T-Rex skeleton; and Sparkie, Newcastle's famous talking budgie, who was stuffed after his death in 1962 and is now the subject of a new opera by Michael Nyman.[12]

The full size cast of an African Elephant was built in the Living Planet gallery. The model was crafted by Zephyr Wildlife, who took a cast from an actual stuffed elephant at a museum in Bonn in Germany. To get the elephant into the museum a crane, from Bel Lift Trucks, had to be used.[13] The full size model of a T-Rex dinosaur has been shipped from Canada, where it was built by a company called Research Casting International. It forms part of the display known as the Fossil Stories gallery. The T-Rex model was one of the first items to be placed in the new museum, due to its size.[14]

Other exhibitions include 'Hadrian's Wall' looking at Roman life in the north of England, 'Natural Northumbria' focusing on the wildlife found in the northeast, 'Ancient Egypt' looking at the Ancient Egyptians and featuring the museum's two mummies, 'Ice Age to Iron Age' detailing the history of the British Isles over the past 12,000 years, 'World Cultures' featuring artifacts and displays from cultures across the globe, 'The Shefton Collection' with one of the most detailed collections of Greek artifacts in the UK and 'Explore' which is a more hands-on area of the museum and features regular interactive sessions.[15]

There were live animals on display but these have now been withdrawn, as well as a conference area for corporate events and a fully provisioned learning suite for school visits.

The museum was entered into the 'long list' for the 2010 Art Fund Prize for museums and galleries.[16]


The Great North Museum Library is open to the public and is located on the second floor of the Hancock. It houses three collections - the Library and Archives of the Natural History Society of Northumbria, the Library of the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne and Newcastle University's Cowen Library.[17]

Notable staff

  • Anthony Michael (Tony) Tynan MBE, Curator 1958-1992[18][19]
  • Dr Albert George Long FRSE, Deputy Curator 1966–1980[20]

See also

  • Abel Chapman, Victorian 'hunter-naturalist' whose game trophies can be seen at the museum.


  1. "Visits made in 2009 to visitor attractions in membership with ALVA". Association of Leading Visitor Attractions. Archived from the original on 31 October 2010. Retrieved 21 May 2010.
  2. "Our History (archived)". Tyne and Wear Museums. Archived from the original on 6 July 2008. Retrieved 29 May 2014.
  3. "Lord Armstrong bicentennial to be marked with special events". The Journal. 3 February 2010. Retrieved 10 October 2010.
  4. "Great North Museum to open on 23 May 2009". Great North Museum. 20 March 2009. Retrieved 23 March 2009.
  5. "Minister hails revamped Hancock museum as 'mind-blowing'". The Journal. 1 April 2009. Retrieved 1 April 2009.
  6. "Last chance to visit University Museums". Newcastle University. 14 April 2008. Retrieved 24 April 2008.
  7. "In search of a North East Emperor". Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums. 8 September 2008. Retrieved 8 December 2008.
  8. "The Butterfly Wall". Tyne & Wear Museums. Retrieved 20 May 2013.
  9. "Great North Museum tops its target". The Journal. 29 August 2009. Retrieved 29 August 2009.
  10. "Royal opening for Great North Museum". Newcastle University. 6 November 2009. Retrieved 6 November 2009.
  11. "Great North Museum: Hancock celebrates one million visitors". The Journal. 20 August 2010. Retrieved 15 January 2011.
  12. "Great Expectations". Arches. Newcastle, England: The Alumni Association of Newcastle University (12/Summer): 14–15. 2009. Retrieved 23 May 2009.
  13. "Magnificent mammal makes it to Museum". Great North Museum. 19 December 2008. Retrieved 13 January 2009.
  14. "No bones about it...T rex arrives in Newcastle". Great North Museum. 19 December 2008. Retrieved 13 January 2009.
  15. "Things to do in Newcastle: Great North Museum: Hancock". The Evening Chronicle. 16 March 2012. Retrieved 18 March 2012.
  16. "Long List (Great North Museum Hancock, Newcastle)". Art Fund Prize 2010. Retrieved 31 March 2010.
  17. "Great North Museum Library". Great North Museum. Retrieved 3 February 2010.
  18. Farewell and thank you to a visionary 24 September 2018, accessed 12 December 2019
  19. Tony Tynan obituary Angus Lunn, 10 October 2018, accessed 12 December 2019
  20. Biographical Index of Former Fellows of the Royal Society of Edinburgh 1783–2002 (PDF). The Royal Society of Edinburgh. July 2006. ISBN 0 902 198 84 X.
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