The Newcastle Collections is a unique series of books collected by antiquarians and dating back to the seventeenth century. These learning activities draw on two of the collections:

  • The Thomlinson Collection
  • Matthew Mackey Collection

Both provide fascinating insights into the knowledge and interests of gentleman in the late 17th and early 18th centuries.

Who was Thomlinson?

Well, actually Dr Robert Thomlinson to be exact, the rector of Whickham. Much of his collection as you might expect from a man of the cloth, consists of works on theology but there are also some intriguing volumes on other aspects of eighteenth century intellectual life the Law, Politics, Geography, Philosophy and the Classics. Arguably, most fascinating are the many volumes on medicine. While we may shrink from some of the suggestions on offer, such as blood letting with blood sucking leeches or using powerful enemas to make the bowels react with volcanic speed, medical practitioners were finding their way through trial and error and observation of symptoms to suggest some sensible treatments. However, until the discovery of microbes by Louis Pasteur in the late 1860s, some treatments may well have hastened death rather than prolonged life.

Books and libraries

The very first library available for public use in Newcastle was housed in St Nicholas Church and dated back to the end of the 16th century. Were so familiar with books now that we treat them with complacency if not a little contempt. Spines bent, coffee stains on the cover and pages turned dog-eared are conditions we have come to expect. Not so in the eighteenth century. Books were meticulously produced on printing presses and highly expensive and bought by gentlemen collectors and no doubt nurtured in their private libraries. Books in public libraries were a different matter. Although users were carefully vetted, there was always the chance of a thief on the prowl. To prevent such losses, expensive books were tethered with chains as if they were valuable pedigree dogs!

Thomlinsons Collection

The Reverend was a learned gentleman and had a voracious appetite for books. Aware that he wanted his collection to fall into responsible hands, he wrote to Walter Blackett, the Mayor of Newcastle in January 1736 to announce that when he died, he wished to bequest his library to the city of Newcastle. He immediately donated 1600 volumes with the promise of the remainder on his death. Such generosity required a library to be specially commissioned. This came to fruition in the shape of a small classical building attached to St Nicholas Cathedral, which can still be seen to this today. On Tomlinsons death in 1748 his books and book-cases were transferred to the new building. There were over 7,000 volumes.

There is of course no time to read them all unless you want to devote a lifetime to it! However, if you choose to follow a particular interest, then there are other areas of interest available for you to study.

As your introduction to Thomlinsons collection we will wade our way through the blood and gore of an eighteenth century doctor. Prepare yourself for the horrors ahead!