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May 2012 Item of the Month

A 15th-century Newcastle mayor helps out his friend

On 3rd May, voters in Newcastle upon Tyne will be asked whether they want their city to be run by a directly elected mayor.  As the campaigning on both sides heats up, there is much debate about leadership and power.  Will a directly elected mayor help give greater status to the city, or will he/she attract allegations of abuse of power?  But both sides agree that a vote for a directly elected mayor would be a vote for change - indeed that much will be explicitly stated on the ballot paper.

But perhaps not so much of a change, if a deed of 1483 among the archives of Durham Cathedral is anything to go by.  This is a fairly conventional gift of land in Hebburn, by Richard and Isabel Lylborn to Robert Brygham of Newcastle upon Tyne (Novi Castri Super Tynam in the original Latin). But at the end of the document is recorded, "because our seals are unknown to most people, we have procured the seal of the office of Mayor of the town of Newcastle aforesaid to be affixed" (seals being used instead of signatures at this date to authenticate a document).  Hopefully a 21st-century mayor of Newcastle, whether elected or not, would not be so free with her/his official insignia!

And the seal itself (pictured) is particularly impressive.  It features leopards at each side of the device, indicating the royal status of the castle.  And the device itself shows a battlemented castle, with below it a bridge, and at the bottom wavy lines to indicate the river.  Castle, bridge and river:  every visitor arriving at Newcastle by train from the south will recognise those symbols of the city's greatness.

Image of seal. Ref: DCD 1.4.Spec.115 (20 Feb 1483). Reproduced by kind permission of the Chapter of Durham Cathedral.
Ref: DCD 1.4.Spec.115 (20 Feb 1483). Reproduced by kind permission of the Chapter of Durham Cathedral.

Every month we showcase here an item from our Heritage Collections.