Gertrude Bell’s love letters go on show in time for Valentines’ Day

Gertrude Bell

Gertrude Bell

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Romantics can find inspiration in the love letters of a Wearside explorer this Valentine’s Day, as her intimate secrets are laid bare.

The Extraordinary Gertrude Bell exhibition features a section about the letters exchanged between the Washington-born archeologist, diplomat and Middle East expert and the greatest love of her life.

David Lowther, who has studied the love letters of Gertrude Bell and Charles Doughty-Wylie.

David Lowther, who has studied the love letters of Gertrude Bell and Charles Doughty-Wylie.

They set out how she fell for married Lieutenant Colonel Charles Doughty-Wylie and was then left distraught by his death in 1915, when he was shot dead at Galipoli.

Their relationship was forged after they met briefly in Konya, Turkey, 1907, before the sparks of their romance really began in 1913 after he spent time at her family home and they talked well into the night around the fire.

They went on to exchange hundreds of letters, which now form part of the archive of her correspondence, which is held by Durham University, with the majority kept at Newcastle University’s Robinson Library.

The collection of notes, which one time ran to around 20 pages and were written in a diary-style by Bell over a number of days, saw David Lowther tasked with cataloguing the letters.

Both of them were just remarkable people in their own right and I think what really comes through is just how unconventional they were.

David Lowther

The 28-year-old, from Seaburn, was awarded a bursary as part of a post-graduate project with Newcastle University to look at the letters, which build up a fascinating insight into Bell.

David, who is a lecturer in modern history at Sunderland University and in British history and European history at Newcastle, features in the exhibition, which runs at the Great North Museum: Hancock until Tuesday, May 3.

He said: “Both of them were just remarkable people in their own right. Then you have Bell, who I think in her biographies comes across as this formidable, competent woman, but she was just as indecisive and insecure as anybody else and then his death really strikes her.

“After that, she goes deeper with her intelligence work for the British Government and I think that’s a reaction to Doughty-Wylie’s death.”

Doughty Wylie and his wife

Doughty Wylie and his wife

Also revealed in the exhibition are details of Bell’s early life, after she was born at Washington’s New Hall to a wealthy family, her education and career, as well as her lasting legacy.

She died in Baghdad in 1926 of a drug overdose as she worked on a museum of antiquities.

Museum bosses hope people will take the chance to discover her history – as well as the love letters – as couple’s mark Valentine’s Day on Sunday.

David added: “I hope they will enjoy the letters, but there’s also so much more in the exhibition.

“It’s a good old-fashioned love story, but has a modern element to it as well.”

The relationship between Bell and Doughty-Wylie was portrayed in Werner Herzog’s Queen of the Desert, which Nicole Kidman in the role of Bell and Damian Lewis playing her forbidden love.

More details about the exhibition and museum can be found via greatnorthmuseum.org.uk/