Keys to the Past


Starting with G - 43 Glossary entries found.

In this section of the website you can find out more about specialist and technical terms archaeologists sometimes use. There is also lots more information about famous people and historic events in the north-east.

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W Z 1-9


The point where a wall may reach the point of a roof. Often this will have become ornamental, e.g. a bell gable.


Galena is the main ore of lead mined in the North Pennines. Very small amounts of silver could be extracted from it - typically in the ounces range from a ton of galena. This was smelted at Bail hills to produce lead used in making pipes, waterproof roofs and musket ball ammunition amongst other uses.


A place of execution by a rope around the neck of a criminal and suspended from a beam. These were often situated at the limits of towns or by roads. The dead body could be left for some considerable length of time in a metal cage called a gibbet as a deterrent - where the criminal was executed or somewhere else, e.g. the body of William Winter was hung at Winter's Gibbet/Steng Cross, Northumberland after he was hung at Newcastle. Burials sometimes took place at the gallows. Folk-medicine often involved pieces being taken from a gallows site.


A very hard rock that is ground to a powder. Fireclay is added to this, and the mixture is applied to make furnace linings that can withstand very high temperatures. Some was mined near Bowes, County Durham for the Teeside Ironworks.


The Medieval term for a toilet. These could be arranged so that they drained away from the house into a ravine, e.g. Aydon 'Castle', Northumberland.


A small enclosure that adjoins a house.

Gasometer; Gas holder

A large, vertical storage holder for gas. These holders could store varying amounts of gas by telescoping up and down along guiding rails - though keeping the supply at a constant pressure. The earliest design was of 1824AD. The gas stored was usually Methane (CH4) which might have come from an attached sewage farm.

Gatepiers; Gate piers

Pillars at either side of a gate to a country house. These could be especially ornate, perhaps displayed a coat of arms.

Gathering pond

A pond used to gather water to supply a watermill.


A small garden house, usually for sitting it. Often within the grounds of a country house.


See decorated.

Geophysical survey; Geophysical; Geophysical techniques

These techniques rely upon the measurement of a natural property of the ground - enhanced or detracted upon by the presence of buried remains. There are two main types;

Resistance survey
This relies on passing an electric current through the ground. The amount of water in the ground will determine the conduction strength of a current received in an electrode. Buried ditches will contain more conducting water and soil ions than the surrounding soil - therefore the greater the current received. Walls on the other hand will act as resistors of any applied current - they will appear as high resistance.
Survey involves the measurement and recording of the various electric resistances at various points over an archaeological area, in a methodical manner based on a grid system.

The Earth has a magnetic field - which though changing in strength and direction can be measured. This field, the geomagnetic field, is derived from the Iron (Fe) and Nickel (Ni) in the Earth's core. Certain archaeological events will 'capture' a record of the geomagnetic field as they cool from high temperatures, such as might be encountered during smelting or the filling of a ditch with magnetic soil particles. This remains unchanged - till another heating event cools down.
Measurement of a normal geomagnetic reading is taken prior to starting a survey. Measurements are then again taken within a measured grid system - either stationary or continuously. Differences in the magnetic fields, (of the combination between the geomagnetic field and the archaeological events field), to the geomagnetic field alone will then be recorded.

For a survey the techniques, such as those above, are combined with information regarding the location of the various measurements. The information from the instrumentation is combined with computer programs that put the readings into visible forms for the appropriate locations.

However, such techniques are not infallible. There are factors such as the weather or solar activity that may affect the sensing of the features. For example, if there has been prolonged dry weather then they may be no electrical contrast of resistance between a ditch and normal soil, or a normal soil and a wall. Wire fences will obscure any buried magnetic signals from underground features. Both techniques might detect previously unknown modern interference - which might obscure the actual archaeological remains.
Geographical survey

George Basevi

See Basevi, George.

George Culley

See Culley, George.

George Stephenson

See Stephenson, George.


General term for artistic styles, architecture, decoration and objects from 1714 to 1837AD (the reigns of the Kings George I, II and III - William IV is included in this).

Gertrude Jekyll

See Jekyll, Gertrude.


See gallows.

Gin gang; Gin-gang; Gingang

A farm building built around central machinery, which allows the walking of a horse or pony around the machinery to turn wheels by being attached through a harness. The machinery is called a gin. Such buildings are usually circular or angled. They possess sharply pitched roofs to allow the horse and it's guider to stay dry. The gin being turned is underneath the point of the roof - the rotating of the horse being turned into a horizontally turning shaft that could be used elsewhere on the farm.
Open-air gins, sometimes called whims were used to raise coal from shallow bell pits before the use of winding engines.

Glacial erratic

A stone that has been carried by a glacier (often some distance) and dropped when the ice has retreated. As such some unusual glacial erratics were especially used, as standing stones or stone axes.


An artificial slope of earth in the front of works, so constructed as to keep an assailant under the fire of the defenders to the last possible moment. On the natural groundlevel, troops attacking any high work would be sheltered from its fire when close up to it; the ground therefore is raised to form a glacis, which is swept by the fire of the parapet. More generally, the term is used to denote any slope, natural or artificial, which fulfils the above requirements.

Glebe lands

Lands owned by a parish church.


Godric was another saint, who like Saint Cuthbert, made his name through being a hermit. Godric was born in Norfolk, but before becoming a hermit had a varied life. He made several pilgrimages to Rome, (Italy), and Jerusalem in the Middle East and Compostela, (Spain), in between periods of occupation as a peddler, sea captain, merchant and bailiff.

Around 1105AD, Godric changed his life to become a hermit by selling all his goods. He settled at various points in the north, before being granted land by the Bishop of Durham. This was near Finchale in 1110AD, before Godric moved to the site where the priory now stands in 1115AD. Here, Godric spent his life in prayer after building a wooden chapel and accommodation. His fame attracted other spiritual leaders, such as Robert and Ailred of the Cistercians, and pilgrims, whilst not joining any particular order. Godric further spread The Bible's message by composing hymns (religious songs), which were sung by his sister Burchwen (who had also become a hermit). Godric died in 1170AD at Finchale. The site of his hermitage was developed by Durham and a hagiography (religious biography) written by Reginald of Durham.

Gothic Style; Gothic

A style of Medieval architecture characterised by the use of pointed arches. This can be divided into sub-styles. It allowed the development of large stained glass windows.


A 19th century style that imitated medieval gothic.

Gothick style

See Gothick.

Gradiometer survey

See geophysical survey.


A building designed to hold grain. Roman forts possessed granaries called horrea, after the Latin for grain Horreum. Purpose-built granaries after the Roman period are Post-Medieval. They are often situated near ports for the import/export of the grain. These need not be exclusively for grain.


A farm, often the property of a religious order or a feudal lord.

Grave goods

Grave goods are objects placed in a grave with the dead - whether they are inhumations or cremations. This practice was common in the Neolithic and Bronze Age, when pottery containers - such as incense cups, flint tools, daggers, or jet necklaces were placed in the graves, the grave forms themselves varying. Grave goods only rarely appear to have been used in the Iron Age, but became common again in the Roman and Anglo-Saxon periods.

The exact purpose of grave goods is not always clear. Some people may have believed they were used as gifts to the gods, whilst other people may have thought that the dead person might the objects in the next world (whatever that world was). With the arrival of Christianity in the early Medieval period the use of grave goods declined, though occasionally important people, such as priests, might still have objects put into their graves in the Medieval period, such as pilgrimage badges.

Grave marker

A stone that marks the position of a burial - human or animal.

Green glazed

Green glaze is a shiny green painted decoration applied to a pot. It is most common on later medieval and earlier post-medieval pottery.

Green lane

The course of an old road now partly grown over.

Green, Benjamin

Architect of many local northeast buildings. Benjamin Green was the son of John Green (1787-1852AD) a noted carpenter and buildings contactor. Benjamin was sent, after an early aptitude was noted, for architectural training in London. Benjamin upon his return worked with his father and alone. It has been remarked that it is difficult to separate the work of the two Greens apart - though a general rule is public buildings, churches and villas are the work of Benjamin, and that 'engineering' works were carried out by John.
The churches at Dalton and Sugley, Newcastle, are probably by Benjamin. Benjamin was also responsible Newcastle's Theatre Royal and for the railway stations on some of the east coast main line. Of these it was written by Richard Welford (1895) as fine, handsome buildings some of them; more like the villas raised by retired tradesmen than residences for railway offices. The joint work of father and son saw fruit in a number in a number of timber railway bridges - probably designed by John the father, but which earned Benjamin the Thomas Telford medal from The Institution of Civil Engineers of 1841AD for their description.

Greenwell, William

William Greenwell in his professional life was a vicar, canon and librarian of Durham Cathedral. He was one of the foremost antiquarians of the country. He was born at Lanchester (County Durham) in March 1820AD, studied law initially and then theology at Durham University. Greenwell was appointed to various northern parishes after being ordained in 1844AD. After 1854AD, he was exclusively professionally based at Durham. However, as an antiquarian he directed many excavations, collected many hundreds of artefacts, transcribed and edited many important documents, (such as Boldon Book), and Hatfield's Survey), and produced many catalogues.

Greenwell is best known for the excavation of many barrows and cairns throughout Britain. He made annual digging seasons wherever he went in the summer from 1864AD. Many of these he published in British Barrows (1877) - where some 260 plus barrows are recorded, (though only a fraction of these are in the northeast). Greenwell also published elsewhere his own excavations - though dug nor published as we might see fit today. (Indeed re-excavation has taken place of some sites finding artefacts and structures, such as cists, missed by Greenwell's partial excavations. An example is the Blawearie cairn, near Old Bewick, Northumberland).

Greenwell was an avid collector of anything historical - his own collection of Greek coins, (sold for £10, 000 in 1901AD), prehistoric metalwork and moulds, flints and the skulls from his own excavations. Greenwell acquired his material through his own excavations, auctions, friends and correspondents - including the material from the Viking cist at Cambois, Northumberland. Many of the national museums, such as The British Museum based in London, have collections bought, or derived, from Greenwell. His Bronze Age metalwork was of 2, 000 plus items.

He was responsible for the editing and cataloguing the contents of the Durham cathedral library. These included the Medieval charters and surveys of the Bishops, their seals and sculptured stones there. This necessitated taking pieces from churches being restored and casts where the materials could not be removed. In the case of the Bewcastle, (Cumbria) Anglo-Saxon cross it was stated that no road surveyor could have done worse! after Greenwell's contractor caused severe damage.

Greenwell widely on a variety of topics - these included prehistoric barrows, his Greek coin collection, Bronze Age metal and stone weaponry, parish registers, inscribed stones of Roman and Anglo-Saxon date, Scandinavian brooches, The Durham collections, the architecture of castles and churches, types of armour and prehistoric flint mines. He was honoured by an honorary degree, local and national societies, such as Fellowship of the Society of Antiquaries. Greenwell was also active as a Justice of the Peace, (notably criticising motorcyclists), and a keen fly fisherman - where there is a fly called "Greenwell's Glory" which he developed.

Greenwich Hospital

A major landowner in Northumberland and Cumbria (especially) since 1735AD. At the end of the 1715 rebellion the lands of James, Earl of Derwentwater, were confiscated. These were administrated for the Earl's son, John, after their restoration in 1720AD. However, since John died in 1731 without heir the estates passed back to the government. The government passed the lands to the Greenwich Hospital Commissioners of London in 1735AD - this was a almshouse/hospital for pensioned Royal Navy men.

Lands owned by Greenwich included much of North and South Tynedale (where the Radcliffes had been barons and lords of the manor), around Amble, Blyth, Hartburn, Rothbury, Tynedale, Scremerston and Wooler areas in Northumberland. In these areas Greenwich Hospital over time erected houses, (often with anchors on - as near Langley), churches, (see Seward, H.H.), as well as carried out agricultural improvements and industrial ventures, (such as Thornborough planned farm, in 1816AD and Langley smelt mill around 1770AD. There are many hospital place-names - e.g. Hospital Plantation, west of Hartburn, Northumberland.
Greenwich Hospital Commissioners still own much of Northumberland - particularly around the Scremerston area, though they sold much in throughout the 19th century.


This is a 'coloured' glass, also popular in the 1220s-1280s Medieval period. However, this was not like stained glass. It was produced by making clear glass, incising cross-hatching parallel lines in this and filling them. The grooves were filled by an iron-lead paste, or crushed glass fragments, and gummed in to stay in place. Some Medieval grisaille has occasionally survived the iconoclasm of the Reformation or later replacement.


An underground chamber built as a folly. These could utilise a cliff edge of exposed rock, or be a construction above the level of the ground - but pretending to be below it, by using large stones. These were common in the mid-18th century. At Hartburn (Northumberland), niches were carved and a 'house' frontage erected at the base of a cliff. It is thought that Archdeacon Sharp was responsible for this in the 1760s AD. Other grottos are noted at Bebside Hall and Great Bavington Hall, (both Northumberland). That for Great Bavington Hall is illustrated and marked on Armstrong's 1769 map of Northumberland. These would have statues of Classical gods or depictions of the Arts, perhaps in niches.

Grouse butts

See butts.

Grubenhaus; Grubenhauser

A German word meaning 'sunken-floored building'. Digging ground level away inside the four walls would increase the apparent height of the building. These buildings are Anglo-Saxon and roughly rectangular in shape.


Maritime bird dung. This is rich in nitrates and Potassium (K). It was imported from South America to act as a fertiliser for plants. Sheds were built at Alnmouth, Northumberland, to store this material.


A group of merchants engaged in civic official roles in the management of a Medieval town. They control finances, entry to the guild, qualified apprentices and so on. Each trade has a guild or company - in major Medieval towns such as Newcastle each was responsible for putting on a different passion (Christian Easter-time) play annually.

Gun flint

A piece of flint used to hit a piece of metal hard so as to create a spark. This was used in the Post-Medieval period to ignite gunpowder.
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W Z 1-9