|Purpose||Historical & Archaeological|
|Research & publications, lectures & events|
|Archaeology, Coins, Bagpipes, Manuscripts|
|Affiliations||Great North Museum|
It has had a long-standing interest in the archaeology of the north-east of England, particularly of Hadrian's Wall, but also covering prehistoric and medieval periods, as well as industrial archaeology. It has also maintained an interest in the traditional music of the north-east of England, and particularly the Northumbrian smallpipes.
The Society maintains several important collections. Its archaeological collection is held at the Great North Museum; its bagpipe collection, based on the collection assembled by William Cocks, is held in the Morpeth Chantry Bagpipe Museum; its collection of manuscripts is held at the Northumberland Record Office. Its journal is Archaeologia Aeliana, first published in 1822, and now published annually.
In 1855, the Society set up an Ancient Melodies Committee, with the object of collecting and preserving the characteristic songs and pipe music of the county. Its members were William Kell, John Clerevaulx Fenwick, and Robert White, together with John Collingwood Bruce a Secretary of the Society, appointed ex officio. In 1857, the Committee delivered a preliminary report to the Duke of Northumberland, with the pipers William Green and James Reid both providing musical illustrations. However, they were reluctant to publish at this stage, considering that the question of distinguishing Northumbrian tunes from Scottish or southern English ones deserved more work.
In the same year Thomas Doubleday wrote an open letter to the Duke, criticising the slow progress of the Committee's work. He also made some observations on the characteristics of the unkeyed Northumbrian smallpipes, with its distinctive closed fingering, which gives the instrument a brilliant staccato sound; he also lamented the tendency of some players to attempt inappropriate music, such as waltzes, on the newer keyed instrument.
The Committee's work seems to have stalled after the deaths of White and Kell, and Fenwick's move to London, but the Society published the Northumbrian Minstrelsy in 1882, edited by Rev. John Collingwood Bruce and John Stokoe. This played a significant role in supporting the traditional instrumental music and song of the north-east of England. However, many of the smallpipe tunes they published were drastically simplified, in particular dropping the variations found in the collection of John Peacock, which they had used as a source. They also used very few of the tunes in the William Vickers manuscript, which was in their possession. Though primarily a fiddler's tunebook, it does contain many local pipe tunes. They also ignored the playing of contemporary traditional pipers such as Old Tom Clough and Thomas Todd. Despite these shortcomings, the book was very significant in the revival of wider interest in the smallpipes and its music.