Smoke Drawings

In the 1700s, British army soldiers at Berwick Barracks created smoke drawings on the ceiling. These illustrations are a fascinating insight into the lives of those living in the barracks.

Smoke drawing by young person

The drawings were discovered during conservation work in the 1970s and 80s, and include horses, buildings, women and names. They were made using candle smoke which the soldiers traced around stencils, and also used to draw free-hand images.

From November 2019 to February 2020, Flodden Young Archaeologists Club (YAC) explored the 300-year-old illustrations at Berwick Barracks. Alongside Museums Northumberland and English Heritage staff, we were given behind-the-scenes access, and produced an animated film inspired by the graffiti.

We delved into the history of Berwick Barracks and the stories of the soldiers who lived there using 300-year-old documents stored in the Berwick upon Tweed Records Office. Learning about palaeography, the method historians use to read old handwritten documents, we discovered more about the lives of the soldiers.

‘I loved making the plaster, even though it was rather messy. I also enjoyed the archives and the animation.’

Member of Flodden YAC

After learning more about the drawings and life at Berwick Barracks in the 1700s, LoveScience helped us have a go at making our own illustrations based on the processes the soldiers used in the 18th century.

For the final few sessions, we worked with Kerrupt Animation on producing our own stop-motion animation, turning the plaster and ink drawings created into short films. In the final session, we screened the films and hope sharing them will help inspire others to explore this hidden history.

Not only did everyone learn about palaeography, plaster making, airflow ink art, and stop-motion animation, but the whole group reflected on the new things learnt about their local heritage in a fun and interesting way. Everyone felt they gained confidence in talking to and working with others.

You can watch our documentary film which features our animations below, and learn all about the fascinating history of the barracks!

‘I liked working with others. The other thing I really liked, because I never knew they were there, were the smoke drawings.’

Member of Flodden YAC

‘The kids really seemed to engage with the animation and it was really inspiring to see how creative they got! I was genuinely amazed at how fast they picked up the process and their level of understanding.’

James Kerr – Director, Kerrupt Animation