Thursday, November 14, 2013

Answer: Where is this church?

Here's the picture for this week:

And our questions: 

      1.  Where is this church, and what's the name of the church?  

      2.  If you figure that part out, when was it built?

Upfront commentary:  I'm impressed--again--by the skill and methods of the SearchResearchers.  We had 40 comments (that makes this of the most heavily commented questions).  I'd expected this to be a fairly hard question.  When I took the picture (yes, I took the picture) I was purposely trying to not have too many clues in the scene.  I also took the picture with the default camera settings on, and didn't do anything to improve the image.  My idea was to simulate the real situation that you might have with a typical snapshot.  

Quick answers: 

1. What church?  St John the Baptist Church, in Newcastle upon Tyne, England

2. Date?  The old church of St. John, believed to date from c.1287

Obviously, you figured out most of the tricks that I was hoping you'd use.  Nicely done!  I'm clearly going to have to make next week's a little more... challenging!  

When I tried out the problem (to make sure it was do-able), I much the same thing as many of you did.  I looked at the image carefully could read a few things--the taxi's phone number, the "via metrocentre" on the bus, a shop named "Slaters," another shop named "Thistle," the bus license plate, and the bus company name "North East."  

So I started with the search: 

     [ "via metrocentre" ] 

because I thought that might be a good starting point. (I always start small.)  Even though this seems like a pretty generic query, I was surprised to see that I was getting a LOT of hits with the city of Newcastle mentioned.  Just to check, I did another query, 

     [ northeast "via metrocentre" ] 

and got even MORE hits for Newcastle.  That suggested I should look for churches in Newcastle.  So, the obvious query  on Google Image was: 

     [ Newcastle churches ] 

And, sure enough, I quickly found a church that looked an awful lot like the church in the image above.  Clicking through, I found this was St. John's in Newcastle (middle row on the right in the image from Google Image search below).  

From this page, I got the street address, then used StreetView to verify that the image was the pretty close.  

That pretty much clinches it for me.  (I was able to spot it in the Images search by the characteristic weathervanes top the 4 towers.)  

And from there, it was fairly straightforward to establish the history of St. John's.   (First church on this site in 1130, tower added in 1270, north aisle in 1350, and so forth.  No matter how you parse it, this is an old church!  

I liked Ramon's approach of using site: to look inside the church's own site for their history: 


I'm also impressed by the approaches that people who searched for the taxi's phone number.  I didn't try that (because I didn't think it would work).  Much to my pleasant surprise, it DOES work.  Nice discovery folks.  

As Andy correctly figured out, I was in Scotland (at the University of Edinburgh giving an invited talk), which is just 90 minutes away by train from Newcastle.  

If you do one additional query: 

     [ Daniel Russell Newcastle November ] 

you'd find that I was also at Northumbria University on November 12th, giving a talk there as well.  (And with a little sleuthing, you'll see that the talk was in the Ellison building at 2PM.  If you walk from the Ellison building to the train station, you have to walk on Grainger Street, past St. John's.)  

In this case, adding the November limits the search results to that time range (you could also use the date-range limit to do the same thing).  

Early Grey Monument, Newcastle, UK.
As Remmij pointed out, if you walk up Grainger towards Northumbria University, you'll pass a tall column.  This is the monument to Earl Grey.  Yes,  THAT Earl Grey.  More importantly, the second Earl Grey, Charles Grey (1764–1845).  A reformer and abolitionist, he is commemorated by this tall monument.  Sometime during his diplomatic career he apparently received a gift of tea scented with oil from the bergamot orange, and the link was forged.  That kind of tea came to be "Earl Grey's tea."  

Search lessons:  Sometimes the simplest methods work.  But as we can see from the comments, there can be MANY ways to solve this challenge.  Much to my surprise, looking up phone numbers (even without knowing the city name) worked to solve the problem.   

As usual, triangulating the information you find to confirm the results is an excellent idea.  

As Judith correctly pointed out, sometimes a bit of image filtering really helps bring out the details.  I used Photoshop to adjust the contrast and brightness levels, but iPhoto, or G+ image editing, would also work about as well. 

Search on! 


  1. Dan, Check this out for the real story on Earl Grey tea.


    1. Fascinating. There are as yet unplumbed depths to this story! (There are, at very least, multiple stories. We might have to discuss this next week.)

  2. I found a bus timetable for the 31 route. This showed that the us went to and from a rail station. I found a building in the distance with a railway sign in the distance; which showed that the us was heading towards a rail station. I went to Google maps, with "photos" turned on; and, looked for churches near rail stations! Bingo!

    Someone mentioned that there were photos of "that" bus on Flickr. It maybe a British thing; but, we have "bus spotters", (similar to trainspotters) here in the UK. The love taking photos of buses!

  3. as I sit sipping — just for grins… “Make it so!”

    (from the Klingons [check their languages]:)
    4 versions janluq pIqarD HoD tuj-Dargh, grey earl.

    J-L P, T_EG_H
    Earl Jean-Luc
    the UK version
    the secret

    not to galactically cross pollinate, but there seems to be disharmony in the Force… serenity now… Mr. Data, Computer, some sentient being, sensemaking now… or
    whenever… there does seem to be general agreement that HOT is the preferred "flavor".

    UK Tea Council - 120,001,701 cups, & counting today

    they claim authority & have their "Sherlocks" on the hunt…
    Oxford Dic search

    the Grey Family line and they're sticking to it…

    from the Captain's mouth…

    ah, the humor or Picard
    ⌘-F earl grey/lapsang souchong
    from Bigelow

    btw, what happened to Fred's query? never seen a comment completely transported befo⌦⌇┇┋┊
    of you how Yoda, Dan.

    and EG has his/her/its own fb page - let the teaing matches begin…
    the borg, they are coming

    related "Fiver" holes:
    Snus - Sweden & Norway