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Explore Lifelong Learning blog

By Donal Donelly-Wood 04 Dec, 2017

There was a time, eleventy-something years ago back in the mists of time, when that cliché was fresh and governments still believed that access to education should not be restricted by age or cost.  Oh happy days!

Newcastle University embraced that belief by providing a wide range of courses in its Centre for Lifelong Learning.  No fees were charged.  All that was asked was that you committed to the course and produced some work that could be assessed.  A young Colm O’Brien — it was that long ago — was one of the tutors and, among other things, offered a course called Introduction to Archaeology.  It proved to be popular, especially among those of us whose only experience of archaeology was through Baldrick (sans turnips and cunning plans) and a man with baggy, multi-coloured pullovers.

As time went on, a core group (groupies?) began to form around Colm’s courses.  We narrowed down our interests to the early medieval period, and particularly to Anglo-Saxon Northumbria.  Bede was our constant companion, as too became Max Adams .  We even acquired a name, “The Bernician Studies Group” (BSG).  This prompted some unknown wit to write on the whiteboard of the classroom we used fortnightly, “Who the hell is Bernice?”.

When the government of the day decided that they no longer wanted to subsidise learning for its own sake, brave and imaginative attempts were made to continue, first by Newcastle University and then by University of Sunderland but in Newcastle premises.  However even those attempts eventually failed under the inexorable pressure of ‘the marketplace’. But it was good while it lasted.  So good that the students, and most of the tutors, didn’t believe it should end.  

So Explore was formed by a core group of people including the BSG’s Joy Rutter.  Meanwhile, and in parallel, the BSG was formed into a small charity chaired by Geoff Taylor.   It  is called Bernician Studies Group, registered charity no 1170897.

By John Sadler 20 Nov, 2017

On 20th November, 1917, the church bells rang out across England.  There was a victory to celebrate.  Brigadier General Tudor had suggested that a section of the mighty Hindenburg Line between the St. Quentin Canal and Canal du Nord, west of Cambrai might be suitable ground for a large scale raid.  The aim was to fracture the line.  He suggested that tanks might be used to hack through the dense belts of wire rather than guns and provide cover for the attacking infantry.

The BEF’s youngest brigadier, Roland Boys Bradford VC, (of the ‘Fighting Bradfords’), assumed command of 186 Brigade of the 62nd (West Riding) Division a mere ten days before the start of the battle.  One of the most testing elements of the attack, as the brigade trained some four miles southeast of Arras, was the need for tank/infantry cooperation.  Roland Bradford was an enthusiastic advocate of tank warfare.

If Roland’s divisional commander, Major-General Braithwaite, was an equally zealous convert, Major-General Harper, leading 51st (Highland) Division to their right, was not.  For the 62nd Division, their objectives lay in the fortified villages of the Hindenburg line; Havrincourt, Craincourt and Anneux.

Bradford’s brigade would be in reserve with orders to pass through the leading elements, take and hold a line from Craincourt to the Bapaume-Cambrai road.  They were also to secure the Hindenburg support system, take Anneux and finally link with cavalry on their left, occupying high ground just to the west of Bourlon Wood.

Dawn of 20th November witnessed some astonishing feats.  The tanks, mighty in numbers, came rumbling forward, grinding inexorably through the grand, seemingly impenetrable defences of the Hindenburg Line.  Both leading brigades of 62nd Division secured their objectives by mid-morning.  A vast haul of stunned defenders was netted.  As Bradford’s battalions surged through, their brigadier was everywhere, exhorting, directing, and leading.  All was not going as well as it seemed.  Harper’s highlanders were stalled before Flesquieres.  General Braithwaite ordered a halt so that his surviving tanks could be re-deployed and assault the village from the west.

As the attack faltered and lost momentum, Bradford’s battalions were bombing their way up the German trenches.  Resistance was stiffening and fighting raged deep into the darkness.  Roland had his subterranean HQ in the ancient vaults of Craincourt Church.  Men under his command had surged forward over four miles on 20th November, arguably the deepest advance by any equivalent formation since the end of mobile warfare in the autumn of 1914.

Next day witnessed fierce fighting.  Infantry and tanks worked their way doggedly forwards.  Lewis-gunners of 2/4th Battalion Duke of Wellington’s, fired bursts from the hip, Chicago-gangster style, spraying windows and embrasures where enemy snipers lurked.  The ridge of Bourlon Wood remained out of reach.  The Germans had rushed reinforcements into the area. Both sides knew this to be the key.

Exhausted, 62nd Division was briefly withdrawn before being thrown back into the assault on 26th November.  Bradford’s brigade was to attack the very centre of the ridge, going over at 06.20 hours on the 27th.  This time there would be no miraculous advances.  The dogfight would be vicious and at extremely close quarters in the tangle of trees and undergrowth.  All day they scrapped and by dusk had forced a way onto the ridge.  Ground so hard won could not be held and the survivors were forced to withdraw.

That night, the division was relieved and weary Tommies plodded back to billets east of the Canal du Nord.  As was his custom, Roland Bradford went out during the evening to tour outposts.  Next afternoon, after a search, his body was found. He’d been killed by a single shard of shrapnel.

On 30th November, inevitable counter-attacks crashed home.  It ended in stalemate but while Cambrai had cost the British some 40,000 casualties but important lessons had been learnt.  

These lessons would bear valuable fruit during the break-in battles of 1918.


Find out more about John's January 2018 Explore course on the Cold War - click here .

Click here to go to John's website.  

By Max Adams 03 Oct, 2017

Max Adams  is a critically-acclaimed author and biographer, an archaeologist,  traveller and writing coach. His journeys through the landscapes of the past and the present, of human geography, music, art and culture are a continuing source of inspiration in his writing.

Ælfred's Britain will be published by Head of Zeus on 2nd November 2017.

Max writes

For an author of Dark Age history to tackle the Viking Age (roughly 800-950) might seem an obvious book project.  Abundant material, both literary and artistic, propels an irresistible narrative of  warriors and heroic struggle, while the contemporary relevance of Christian states struggling against a predatory foe with apocalyptic ideologies seems obvious.  And yet, in writing about Britain, the whole of Britain, in this period, daunting challenges emerge.  To begin with, the canvas is vast, encompassing all of Atlantic Europe and beyond.  The available sources – Viking sagas written more than two hundred years after the events they describe; an Anglo-Saxon Chronicle with a strong pro-Wessex bias, must be treated with caution.  They are also patchy: we have very little indeed for Scotland and Wales in this period– we hear of those kingdoms primarily through sketchy news reaching the distant ears of Irish annalists.

By Chris Phipps 28 Sep, 2017

Many people know and associate Newcastle with TV and Film icons Get Carter, Byker Grove, The Tube and Our Friends in the North. However, do you know where Ralph Richardson stole money from in 1939? Why a den of spies were living in Jesmond in 1951? Who met Tommy Lee Jones on the High Level Bridge in 1988? Why Gateshead High Street was under siege in 2009? and which Newcastle flats seem to appear in every programme or film made in Newcastle?

By Louise Freeman 12 Sep, 2017
Our new Explore Evenings option will be available starting from the week of 9th October 2017- each course will cost £65.
By Louise Freeman 12 Sep, 2017

Our next FREE taster event will be on  Tuesday 26th September from 11.00 to 13.00at Commercial Union House.  Book now via this link

Come and try our taster experience - lectures by our expert tutors in our welcoming centre on the 4th floor of Commercial Union House.

John Griffiths will be talking about local history - on this occasion - the history of the Newcastle central motorway followed by Anthea Lang on Gibside and author Max Adams with an introduction to his autumn course on trees.

By Louise Freeman 12 Sep, 2017

Our new patron, historian John Grundy, turns his attention to the history of Newcastle upon Tyne.  In his inimitable style he tackles questions such as… 

  • Where did the Roman bridge at Newcastle actually lead to? 

  • What did St Wilfred choose as a holiday souvenir from his trip to Rome? 

  • Why did medieval Newcastle need town walls?

  • How was Newcastle reviewed on the 17 th century version of TripAdvisor?

Always knowledgeable, often funny and sometimes irreverent, this talk is perfect for anyone who is passionate about our great regional capital.

Come along and hear John talk about his new book John Grundy's History of Newcastle on Saturday 23rd September at 13.00 at Newcastle City Library.  Explore tutor John Griffiths will be introducing John Grundy and letting people know about our forthcoming autumn taster!

This event is now SOLD OUT but there are still some tickets available to our free taster event - click here

Photo by Steve Brock 


Explore Lifelong Learning blog

By Donal Donelly-Wood 04 Dec, 2017

There was a time, eleventy-something years ago back in the mists of time, when that cliché was fresh and governments still believed that access to education should not be restricted by age or cost.  Oh happy days!

Newcastle University embraced that belief by providing a wide range of courses in its Centre for Lifelong Learning.  No fees were charged.  All that was asked was that you committed to the course and produced some work that could be assessed.  A young Colm O’Brien — it was that long ago — was one of the tutors and, among other things, offered a course called Introduction to Archaeology.  It proved to be popular, especially among those of us whose only experience of archaeology was through Baldrick (sans turnips and cunning plans) and a man with baggy, multi-coloured pullovers.

As time went on, a core group (groupies?) began to form around Colm’s courses.  We narrowed down our interests to the early medieval period, and particularly to Anglo-Saxon Northumbria.  Bede was our constant companion, as too became Max Adams .  We even acquired a name, “The Bernician Studies Group” (BSG).  This prompted some unknown wit to write on the whiteboard of the classroom we used fortnightly, “Who the hell is Bernice?”.

When the government of the day decided that they no longer wanted to subsidise learning for its own sake, brave and imaginative attempts were made to continue, first by Newcastle University and then by University of Sunderland but in Newcastle premises.  However even those attempts eventually failed under the inexorable pressure of ‘the marketplace’. But it was good while it lasted.  So good that the students, and most of the tutors, didn’t believe it should end.  

So Explore was formed by a core group of people including the BSG’s Joy Rutter.  Meanwhile, and in parallel, the BSG was formed into a small charity chaired by Geoff Taylor.   It  is called Bernician Studies Group, registered charity no 1170897.

By John Sadler 20 Nov, 2017

On 20th November, 1917, the church bells rang out across England.  There was a victory to celebrate.  Brigadier General Tudor had suggested that a section of the mighty Hindenburg Line between the St. Quentin Canal and Canal du Nord, west of Cambrai might be suitable ground for a large scale raid.  The aim was to fracture the line.  He suggested that tanks might be used to hack through the dense belts of wire rather than guns and provide cover for the attacking infantry.

The BEF’s youngest brigadier, Roland Boys Bradford VC, (of the ‘Fighting Bradfords’), assumed command of 186 Brigade of the 62nd (West Riding) Division a mere ten days before the start of the battle.  One of the most testing elements of the attack, as the brigade trained some four miles southeast of Arras, was the need for tank/infantry cooperation.  Roland Bradford was an enthusiastic advocate of tank warfare.

If Roland’s divisional commander, Major-General Braithwaite, was an equally zealous convert, Major-General Harper, leading 51st (Highland) Division to their right, was not.  For the 62nd Division, their objectives lay in the fortified villages of the Hindenburg line; Havrincourt, Craincourt and Anneux.

Bradford’s brigade would be in reserve with orders to pass through the leading elements, take and hold a line from Craincourt to the Bapaume-Cambrai road.  They were also to secure the Hindenburg support system, take Anneux and finally link with cavalry on their left, occupying high ground just to the west of Bourlon Wood.

Dawn of 20th November witnessed some astonishing feats.  The tanks, mighty in numbers, came rumbling forward, grinding inexorably through the grand, seemingly impenetrable defences of the Hindenburg Line.  Both leading brigades of 62nd Division secured their objectives by mid-morning.  A vast haul of stunned defenders was netted.  As Bradford’s battalions surged through, their brigadier was everywhere, exhorting, directing, and leading.  All was not going as well as it seemed.  Harper’s highlanders were stalled before Flesquieres.  General Braithwaite ordered a halt so that his surviving tanks could be re-deployed and assault the village from the west.

As the attack faltered and lost momentum, Bradford’s battalions were bombing their way up the German trenches.  Resistance was stiffening and fighting raged deep into the darkness.  Roland had his subterranean HQ in the ancient vaults of Craincourt Church.  Men under his command had surged forward over four miles on 20th November, arguably the deepest advance by any equivalent formation since the end of mobile warfare in the autumn of 1914.

Next day witnessed fierce fighting.  Infantry and tanks worked their way doggedly forwards.  Lewis-gunners of 2/4th Battalion Duke of Wellington’s, fired bursts from the hip, Chicago-gangster style, spraying windows and embrasures where enemy snipers lurked.  The ridge of Bourlon Wood remained out of reach.  The Germans had rushed reinforcements into the area. Both sides knew this to be the key.

Exhausted, 62nd Division was briefly withdrawn before being thrown back into the assault on 26th November.  Bradford’s brigade was to attack the very centre of the ridge, going over at 06.20 hours on the 27th.  This time there would be no miraculous advances.  The dogfight would be vicious and at extremely close quarters in the tangle of trees and undergrowth.  All day they scrapped and by dusk had forced a way onto the ridge.  Ground so hard won could not be held and the survivors were forced to withdraw.

That night, the division was relieved and weary Tommies plodded back to billets east of the Canal du Nord.  As was his custom, Roland Bradford went out during the evening to tour outposts.  Next afternoon, after a search, his body was found. He’d been killed by a single shard of shrapnel.

On 30th November, inevitable counter-attacks crashed home.  It ended in stalemate but while Cambrai had cost the British some 40,000 casualties but important lessons had been learnt.  

These lessons would bear valuable fruit during the break-in battles of 1918.


Find out more about John's January 2018 Explore course on the Cold War - click here .

Click here to go to John's website.  

By Max Adams 03 Oct, 2017

Max Adams  is a critically-acclaimed author and biographer, an archaeologist,  traveller and writing coach. His journeys through the landscapes of the past and the present, of human geography, music, art and culture are a continuing source of inspiration in his writing.

Ælfred's Britain will be published by Head of Zeus on 2nd November 2017.

Max writes

For an author of Dark Age history to tackle the Viking Age (roughly 800-950) might seem an obvious book project.  Abundant material, both literary and artistic, propels an irresistible narrative of  warriors and heroic struggle, while the contemporary relevance of Christian states struggling against a predatory foe with apocalyptic ideologies seems obvious.  And yet, in writing about Britain, the whole of Britain, in this period, daunting challenges emerge.  To begin with, the canvas is vast, encompassing all of Atlantic Europe and beyond.  The available sources – Viking sagas written more than two hundred years after the events they describe; an Anglo-Saxon Chronicle with a strong pro-Wessex bias, must be treated with caution.  They are also patchy: we have very little indeed for Scotland and Wales in this period– we hear of those kingdoms primarily through sketchy news reaching the distant ears of Irish annalists.

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