Brass coble compass

Brass coble compass, inscribed “Wm Thurlbeck, So Shields, 1786”

All about this activity

Take One Treasure is a creative activity focusing on a selected item from the collections of South Shields Museum and Art Gallery.

The activities are in three parts to be completed over a three-week period, but learners can work at their own pace.

You can use materials such as paper, pencils, tape or glue, magazine or newspaper clippings and anything else you can find. Check you have permission before using.

At the end of each activity we ask you take a photograph of your work and email it to us to be included in our Online Art Gallery on our Facebook page.

Have fun and we look forward to seeing your creative Treasures. 

What is a Coble Compass?

Brass coble compass, inscribed “Wm Thurlbeck, So Shields, 1786”
Brass coble compass, inscribed “Wm Thurlbeck, So Shields, 1786”

  • A compass is an ancient navigational tool used to show location and direction. It’s composed of a magnetised needle that aligns itself with the earth’s magnetic field to point north.
  • Usually, a diagram, called a compass rose, shows the directions north, south, east, and west on the compass face as abbreviated initials.
  • A coble is a type of flat bottomed, high bowed, open traditional fishing boat which developed on the North East coast of England.
  • The special shape of the boat was designed to cope with launching from and landing upon shallow, sandy beaches; an advantage in this part of the coast where the wide bays and inlets provided little shelter from stormy weather.
  • The Coble compass was essential in times before RADAR in order to avoid collisions and grounding in heavy fog. 

Activity 1 - Draw

Explore, Draw & Share

Look closely at this object; Study the face of the compass, notice the design, shapes, the typeface, and materials used to make it. Look at the case, the lid, and inscription. 

  • What do you see? What do you notice about what you see?
  • What do you wonder about this object? If you could ask this object any question, what would you want to know?
  • How do you think William felt when he was given this as a gift?
  • Find out if there is an object in your family that has been passed down by talking to your relatives.

Draw this object in the following ways:

  • Ask someone to describe the compass to you slowly. Try to draw it based on their description. Now change places, and you describe the compass.
  • Draw half of the compass as you see it, then create a different design for the other half.
  • Make a drawing using only the shapes you see on this compass.

Activity 2 - Create


What is a Compass Rose?

  • A compass rose is a design on a compass, map, nautical chart, or monument used to display the orientation of the cardinal directions (north, east, south, and west) and their intermediate points (north east, south west etc.).
  • One of the most important parts of a map is its compass rose. It helps the map holder to understand the position and direction of the land on the map.
  • The compass rose design can be simple, but many maps and compasses feature a beautiful and ornate one. 

Create your own compass rose design using the coble compass as inspiration.

  • Will yours be simple or detailed? Colourful or black and white, painted, drawn or collaged?
  • Look at the examples to help. Use materials you have around the house; cereal boxes, cut up cards or magazines, coloured paper, or aluminium foil. A jar lid can help you make your circle. 

STEM Activity Challenge

Let’s Experiment:

Make a simple compass. 

You will need:

  • Sewing needle about 1-2 inches long.
  • Small magnet or refrigerator magnet to magnetize needle.
  • A cork (from a wine bottle works well).
  • A shallow bowl.


  • First magnetise the needle by rubbing the magnet along the needle a few times in one direction only.
  • Next cut off a small circle at one end of the cork (about 1/4” thick)
  • Then with the cork flat, push the needle through one end and out the other so that the needle is sticking out of both ends of the cork evenly. This is your compass dial.
  • Next fill the bowl half way with water and float the compass dial on it.
  • You have now made a working compass! The needle should align itself with the magnetic fields and point North. Now go test out your new compass and see if you can orient yourself on a map! 

Activity 3 - The Art of the Word

The compass is one of our oldest and most essential navigation tools. Compasses are considered mandatory equipment for anyone venturing out into the wilderness, setting off to sea, and many other adventures.

  • Write a list of words and phrases that describe this coble compass. Think about where and how it was used, the places it travelled, or where William might have kept it when not in use.
  • Think about situations where you might need a compass and how it might help you. Write a list of words and phrases that describe these situations.
  • Use these words and phrases to help you write a story or poem involving a compass.
  • Will it be an adventure story? A mystery, or take the form of a travel diary? We look forward to traveling with you! 

Share your work with us

Share what you have created with us - email us images or words to to help us create an online Facebook Gallery, by using @S_ShieldsMuseum #SSMAGatHome on Twitter.