The North of England CRU was formed from the Natural History Panel of Museums North, who worked between 1979 and 1986 surveying natural science collections in the North of England. The geographical region covered by this survey comprised the counties of Northumberland, Tyne and Wear, Durham and Cleveland. The work was supported by the North of England Museums Service and the Hancock Museum.

Compilation of the NECRU database was completed in 1986 and it contains 1086 entries. It was prepared using the SPIRES data management system at Newcastle University by Peter Davis and Christopher Brewer of the Hancock Museum.

The INTRODUCTION to the Register as published in 1986

An Historical Note

The impetus for collections research began in North West England following a meeting of the Biology Curators' Group devoted to The Function of Local Natural History Collections, held at Liverpool in 1977. Curators of natural science collections in that region formed 7 the North West Collections Research Unit, with an objective of locating all named collections; the basic philosophy was to rescue them from obscurity and ensure their survival. The genesis and work of the Unit has been well documented (Hancock,1977;1978a; 1978b); the culmination of their work was the publication of an interim catalogue in the form of a computer print-out (Hancock and Pettitt, 1979) and a final Register (Hancock and Pettitt,1981). Similar Collections Research Units have been established in other parts of Britain, and a Federation for Natural Science Collections Research (FENSCORE) was formed in 1981 (Pettitt, 1981).

In North East England the task of identifying and compiling information about collections began in 1979 (Davis, 1979), initially by members of the Natural History Panel of Museums North, who later formed the North East Collections Research Unit (NECRU). The geographical region covered during the survey comprises the counties of Northumberland, Tyne and Wear, Durham and Cleveland, equivalent to the area served by the North of England Museums Service.

The Collection, Storage and Retrieval of Information

The success of NECRU can in part be attributed to the availability of computing facilities at Newcastle University through the Hancock Museum. From 1979 it ' was realised that the only way to deal effectively with the vast amount of information was to store it on computer. The Hancock Museum already had experience of using a database package (SPIRES) for handling data associated with their collections, and this proved to be equally capable of handling NECRU data. SPIRES was therefore used in preference to the computing facilities offered by Manchester Museum and this meant that immediate access. to the database was possible; in other words NECRU was self-reliant, independent of demands being placed on the Manchester computer, Manchester Museum and its staff. However, independence did not result in any lack of contact, and copies of data stored in Newcastle were forwarded to Manchester for compilation in the FENSCORE database.

The use of SPIRES in the Hancock Museum has been described in detail (Davis and Hebron,1982); it is a powerful package based on a hierarchical system of data structuring, with extensive facilities for constructing indexes, developing formats of data presentation, and manipulating and transforming data, i.e. vetting information as it is incorporated into the permanent files and the ability to edit once there. SPIRES has powerful searching capabilities and has been developed for interactive use from a terminal; online multiple searches are especially effective. These features of SPIRES, combined with its useful formatting abilities, have given NECRU distinct advantages which are of great significance in a region of Britain where there are few natural scientists in museums.

Data collection began using a simple form (Fig.1) based on the NWCRU model. It was decided at an early stage to capitalise on the ability of SPIRES to handle textual data; consequently entries relating to biographic information on collectors were expanded and made as complete as possible. To this end a second, two-part form (Fig.2) was devised. This was used throughout the data gathering phase, and the original forms have been retained as the primary source of information, housed (in alphabetical order by collector) in the Hancock Museum. Members of NECRU collected information relating to their own institutions in the first instance, and only then progressed to examining and obtaining information about collections in other museums and institutions. A questionnaire relating to collections in private hands was circulated to local naturalists via regional naturalists' organisations and journals.

In certain instances defining what is meant by "a collection" is difficult. Entries in accession registers or daybooks are frequently brief, sometimes illegible, occasionally cryptic; collections to which these and other entries refer may not be immediately recognisable, they may have been separated from their original container and/or data, or have been amalgamated or destroyed. The compilers have tried to use a commonsense approach to these problems, omitting, for example, donations of individual items unless that item is of particular significance, and including in the Catalogue a collection which was evidently of some size or importance but which cannot (as yet) be physically traced or where amalgamation is suspected. Some collections which have almost certainly been destroyed or moved to another location have been included where the collector is of some importance; in this instance it may be useful to know that a collection did, at one time, exist. Notes referring to such "problem" collections have been appended to relevant records in the "collection details" section.

Input of data to the mainframe computer and some research on the collectors were carried out by various members of MSC-sponsored schemes in the Hancock Museum. Major revisions have been made to the file definition and the database during the past seven years, again with MSC help under the supervision of permanent staff of the Hancock Museum. Final editing and formatting procedures were performed by NECRU representatives in the Hancock Museum, with valuable support from the University Computing Laboratory.

This Catalogue has been produced direct from the North East Collections database by using the formatting abilities of SPIRES- i.e. its ability to select and order certain elements from the database. The final copy was output via a laser printer to produce a high quality "typescript". This then served as a basis for reproduction by high quality photocopy. Although most of the information in the database is reproduced here, some, for reasons of confidentiality or economy, is not. The Hancock Museum would willingly respond to further enquiries or requests for on-line searches; it is hoped that in the not too distant future the North East Collections database will be made available via the national computing network. The database will continue to be updated and refined since in a compilation exercise of this kind there will inevitably be errors and omissions, and collections in the region's museums will continue to grow. So although the production of this Catalogue is of some significance, it does not present the complete database or represent a static, final product.

Membership of the North East Collections Research Unit

This Catalogue is the end result of the efforts of the following curators in the region:

John Bainbridge Sunderland Museum
Robert Boyne Sunderland Museum
Christopher Brewer The Hancock Museum, Newcastle upon Tyne
Denise Cutts The Dorman Memorial Museum, Middlesbrough (until 8/1985)
Peter Davis The Hancock Museum, Newcastle upon Tyne
Judith Hebron The Hancock Museum, Newcastle upon Tyne (until 12/1984)
Leigh Lampard The Dorman Memorial Museum, Middlesbrough
John Mennear The Gray Art Gallery and Museum, Hartlepool
Eric Morton The Hancock Museum, Newcastle upon Tyne
Andrew Newman The Hancock Museum, Newcastle upon Tyne
Timothy Pettigrew Sunderland Museum
Kenneth Sedman Cleveland County Museums Service
Anthony Tynan The Hancock Museum, Newcastle upon Tyne

A List of Institutions Surveyed


Susan Turner, Assistant Curator (Geology) at the Hancock Museum until 1980, and Peter Robson, an MSC-sponsored geologist, pioneered the use of SPIRES in the Hancock Museum, so making much of this work possible. Peter Robson produced the first file definition for a North East Collections database in 1979 which was subsequently improved and amended by Barbara Hudson (MSC) in 1982. Matthew Panchen (MSC) also refined the file definition and carried out formatting procedures. The computing element was supervised by Dr. Nick Rossiter of the University of Newcastle Computing Laboratory; without his help little progress could have been made. Elizabeth Barraclough, Executive Director of the Computing Laboratory, and Tony Tynan, Curator of the Hancock Museum, provided continual support and encouragement. David Bottomley and David Tovey (MSC) helped to oversee input and editing of data, and carried out some research on the collectors. Grace Hickling, (Natural History Society of Northumbria) and Tom Dunn (Northern Naturalists' Union) helped NECRU to reach local naturalists having collections.

Particular thanks are due to the Royal Society for providing financial support for publication of the Catalogue and to the North of England Museums Service for taking responsibility for its publication.


Davis, P.S. (1979). Collections Research in North East England, Biology Curators' Group Newsletter. 2 (5) pp. 226-232.

Davis, P.S. and Hebron, J. (1982). Computer Cataloguing at the Hancock Museum, Newcastle upon Tyne; A Review of Progress to Date, Museums Journal. 82 (2) pp.89-92.

Hancock, E.G. (1977). North West Collections Research Unit, Biology Curators' Group Newsletter 1 (7) pp.24-28

Hancock, E.G. (1978a). The North West Collection Research Unit, Museums-Journal 77 (4) p.188.

Hancock, E.G. (1978b). A collection rescue operation in the North West, Biology Curators' Group Newsletter 1 (10) pp.33-34.

Hancock, E.G. and Pettitt, C.W. (Eds.) (1979). Collections and Collectors in North West England, (Botany, Geology, Zoology) Volume 1, Main List and Volume 2, Indices. Manchester Museum Computer Produced Publication.

Hancock, E.G. and Pettitt, C.W. (Eds.) (1981). Register of Natural Science Collections in North West England. The Manchester Museum.

Pettitt, C.W. and Hancock,E.G. (1981). Natural Science Collection Research Units, their origin, aims and current status, Museums Journal. 81 (2) pp.73-74.