Saturday 22 February 2014


I love the National Trust. Cherryburn near Newcastle-upon-Tyne reminded me why:

1. I now know about Thomas Bewick
You know when you read about a stately home or monument and it says "the house was home to Sir Humphrey Bumphrey, the statesman" and you think 'who??'. That was me and Thomas Bewick, who was born in the little cottage at Cherryburn in 1753. And you start off being a bit arrogant and thinking 'well he can't be that famous' and then by the time you leave you're wearing a 'H-Bumph Is My Homeboy' t-shirt and saying things like 'I can't believe he invented the pedal bin! Can you believe he invented the pedal bin? Amazing!' That was me and Thomas Bewick (although he didn't invent the pedal bin and they didn't sell t-shirts).

Cherryburn National Trust

2. I now know the difference between a wood engraving and a woodcut
I know zero about art but after my visit to Cherryburn I can now tell you that Thomas Bewick basically invented wood engraving. Until then a woodcut involved taking a block of wood, cutting the soft side of it to create shapes, and then applying ink before pressing that onto paper to create a print. Wood engraving on the other hand uses the hard grain end of a block of wood instead of the soft side. By cutting into this hard grain with tools that were meant for engraving on metal, Bewick could cut much finer lines to create hugely detailed illustrations. These blocks of wood would then be placed alongside type on a printing press so that pages featuring images and text could be printed in one go. Genius!

3. I love other National Trust visitors
I was staring cluelessly at an enormous printing press when a woman beside me said "I'd kill for one of those." I looked at the huge metal contraption and thought 'what, more than a pink Magimix?' before she elaborated on how she was also an artist and how Bewick was a complete genius in what he had achieved. It's such a lovely thing to encounter people like this and it happened to me twice on my 2014 National Trust Scone Tour of the Northeast™ - at Souter Lighthouse there was a woman in our tour group whose husband had grown up in one of the cottages (her father-in-law was a keeper there). She was showing her tiny grand-daughter around and it was a truly heart-warming sight. I just love it.

4. I love National Trust volunteers
On Sundays, a volunteer comes along to Cherryburn and actually uses the printing press to show visitors how Bewick worked. We were there on a Saturday so didn't see it but even so - it's just lovely to think of someone giving up their time to demonstrate Bewick's processes and help people understand what he created.

5. The National Trust - often doing a lot with not very much since 1895
The cottage at Cherryburn is set out as in Bewick's time. Next-door is a lovely little museum showing his books, pictures, his family tree, and some portraits of him. I read on one of the displays that it once won an award for 'Best Museum With Limited Resources' or something like that. I'd visited the Roman Army Museum on Hadrian's Wall earlier in the week - it's not National Trust but it's absolutely worth a visit for its 3D film of life as a Roman legionaire in 122AD. That museum must have cost many hundreds of thousands of pounds to set up and it was great. But the little museum dedicated to Bewick was just as informative in its own way.

Thomas Bewick

There were no scones at Cherryburn but I didn't mind. The visitor centre is tiny but they have a coffee machine and cakes and they sell prints produced from Bewick's wooden blocks, which I thought was wonderful.

Cherryburn: 5/5
Scones: no scones but it didn't matter at all

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