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First World War – Viscount Grey and the Natural History Society of Northumbria

The fascinating link between the Natural History Society of Northumbria and a key figure in the First World War, Viscount Grey.

“The lamps are going out over all of Europe. We shall not see them lit again in our lifetime”

This famous quote was the inspiration behind a ‘Lights Out’ ceremony in 2014, where all lights except one were extinguished in homes and buildings across the United Kingdom to commemorate the British entrance into the First World War.

This quote has greater links to the North East, and the Natural History Society of Northumbria than most people realise. It was made during a speech by Sir Edward Grey, who was the British Foreign Secretary from 1905-1916. In 1916 he received the title Viscount Grey of Fallodon. He is a relation of Charles Grey, the 2nd Earl Grey, most commonly recognised as the figure on top of ‘Grey’s Monument’ located in the city centre of Newcastle upon Tyne..

The quote was taken from an eloquent speech Grey made regarding Britain’s entry into the First War War.  He also has the distinction of holding the position of Foreign Secretary for its longest tenure, a testament to his abilities.  However it has to be taken into account that he was a Foreign Secretary who spoke no foreign languages and disliked ‘Abroad’ – factors unimaginable in modern society.

He was also a keen ornithologist and President of the Natural History Society of Northumberland, Durham and Newcastle upon Tyne (shortened to Northumbria in 1975) for nine years. His book entitled ‘The Charm of Birds’, published in 1927, is an observational piece of writing where he records the birds on his Northumbrian estate.

In the Society’s library is a signed copy of his book the ‘Fallodon Papers’ (1926).  The book records the pleasures of reading, the outdoors, fly-fishing and waterfowl. However good, or bad, he was considered to be in his role as the country’s foreign secretary, it was these things that he was passionate about. It was with great sadness that his death was recorded in the Natural History Societies Council Report of 1933 – 1934 and his presence was undoubtedly missed.

Far beyond the bounds of Northumberland, the County he so ardently loved, the death of Viscount Grey of Fallodon cast the shadow of sorrow. His name was a household word to all who loved Nature. He constantly advocated that community with Nature, which he had himself attained, as a means of happiness and rest in a world of noise and distraction. To the natural history society, whose President he had been for nine years, his passing was a great loss. His knowledge, wide experience, and mature judgement in all matters relating to the work of the society were of inestimable value.

For more information on Viscount Grey of Fallodon and his links to both the First World War and his love of the outdoors in Northumberland, visit the Great North Museum: Hancock Library and Archives.


Researched and written by Elizabeth Garnett  – a volunteer in the Great North Museum: Hancock Library