The Pioneering Spirit of the North: Ground-breaking Northern Inventions

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Where would we be without Cats Eyes? Can you even imagine a world without public railways? And what would the beautiful game be without the obligatory football nets?

Pioneering Northerners have been transforming our world with their clever inventions for centuries and their innovative spirit shows no sign of fading. Great Exhibition of the North 2018 will celebrate the North of England’s incredible inventors, designers and scientists, and who knows, it might even inspire you to follow in their footsteps.

Some of my Favourite Northern Inventions

An abundance of awe-inspiring inventions have been born in the North. Here’s a few of my favourites…

Back of the Net

Liverpudlian John Alexander Brodie came up with the idea for football nets after his beloved Everton were disallowed a legitimate goal against Accrington Stanley in 1889. His genius solution got the backing of the FA two years later and the game was changed forever.

Cheers to Fizzy Pop

Inquisitive scientist Joseph Priestley invented soda water while experimenting at a brewery near his home in Leeds. In 1772 he published a description of his methods and just a few years later the drinks company Schweppes was set up and it began producing fizzy drinks using Priestley’s method.

Rocket’s Roaring Success

Stephenson’s ‘Rocket’, built in Newcastle in 1829, was the most advanced locomotive of its day and inspired the laying of railway lines and the construction of trains all over the world. There’s much excitement around the return of Rocket to its birthplace as part of Great Exhibition of the North; so much so, I’ve written a blog all about trains!

Cat’s Eyes Lead the Way

As he drove home along a dark foggy Yorkshire road in 1933, Percy Shaw saw the reflection of his headlights in the eyes of a cat. This ‘Eureka moment’; led to him creating the revolutionary ‘Cat’s Eyes’ that adorn British streets to this day.

Geordie Cancer Drug Offers a Lifeline

The Northern Institute for Cancer Research based at Newcastle University is a place of wonderment to me! The clever folk who work there are involved in an extensive programme of scientific studies and are constantly striving to make new ground-breaking discoveries. The life-extending drug Rubraca is just one of the treatments they’ve developed to help fight cancer.

Apple Design Guru Studied in Newcastle

You might not be familiar with the name Jonathan Ive but his unmistakable designs are a global success and recognisable in an instant. The Northumbria University graduate is the chief design officer at Apple and his relentless experiments have resulted in some of the world’s most popular and ground-breaking technology including the iMac, iPod, iPhone, MacBook Air and iPad. It’s no wonder that his trophy cabinet is bulging with awards including a prestigious knighthood for services to design and enterprise. In fact, the iPod will feature in Great Exhibition, it has made the line up of fabulously intricate models in LEGO® artist Steve Mayes’ LEGO® Timeline of Northern Innovation at the Mining Institute.

Ground-breaking Graphene

It’s invisible to the human eye, a million times thinner than human hair but stronger than steel Graphene is a wonder material that was discovered at the University of Manchester in 2004 and will undoubtedly transform the way many products are manufactured in the future. I have a whole blog post on this too, including details of several graphene inspired events that you can get involved in during Great Exhibition of the North.

There are so many more innovations that I could mention that have come from the North and made an impact on the world. From Lucozade to lights switches, we are surrounded by creations that have been born from a desire to solve problems and improve our existence. Head to the Northern Design Centre this summer and you will see some of these inventions included in an impressive mural by Sunderland artist Frank Styles which showcases Fifty Northern Icons, inventions, designs and cultural references.

Make Your Own Discoveries

If you’ve got even an ounce of curiosity then you too could make amazing discoveries by getting involved in Great Exhibition of the North. These are just some of the exciting events that will be on offer from 22 June – 9 September in NewcastleGateshead…


Get North Innovation Trail

The Get North Innovation Trail is an absolute must for budding inventors and fun seeking families. It will take you on an inspiring journey through the streets of Newcastle, stopping at some of the iconic venues where history has been made and exciting discoveries continue to take place. From medical breakthroughs at Newcastle University to world-firsts in engineering at the Mining Institute, you’ll see a different side to Newcastle and explore places you might never have been to before.

Which Way North at the Great North Museum

Which Way North is a bold new exhibition at this family-friendly museum in the heart of Newcastle will tell the dynamic story of the North’s innovators, artists and designers that have shaped our present and are inspiring our future. You’ll be able to get up close to examples of practical innovation and design including astronaut Helen Sharman’s space suit and original models of Postman Pat. Keep an eye out for a puppet of Oldham’s famous physicist Professor Brian Cox too!

Little Inventors: Great North 2030

Kids have the best imaginations and Little Inventors have been gathering their ingenious invention ideas for the year 2030 in an exciting challenge! Discovery Museum in Newcastle will be showcasing the fantastical, funny and perfectly practical ideas that have come from the minds of children from the North. So head over during the Exhibition to see what they have come up with.

Robots: Then and Now at Life Science Centre

You might think of robots as a modern invention, but they’ve actually been around for over half a century! Visit Newcastle’s Life Science Centre during Great Exhibition of the North and you can learn all about 16th century mechanical automatons before marching forward through the rich history of robotics to discover the latest humanoids.

LEGO® Timeline of Northern Innovation

As well as a LEGO® iPod to celebrate Sir Jonathan Ives’ achievements as a hugely influential inventor and designer, this brilliant Timeline of Northern Innovations will have over 40 models of iconic innovations completely made out of LEGO® and custom-built especially for Great Exhibition of the North.

Blog post by Rachel Kershaw writer of Life in Geordieland, the blog guide to NewcastleGateshead.


Womble Bond Dickinson

Womble Bond Dickinson is a transatlantic law firm that has been supporting the ambitions of businesses in the North for over 200 years. They provide high-quality legal advice and outstanding personal service to a range of clients from 27 key locations across the United States and United Kingdom including Leeds and Newcastle.

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