Best museum in the world (I’m biased)
If you’re not from North East England, you may not be familiar with Beamish Museum, so what makes it so special?
Apart from being world-famous (are you sure you haven’t heard of it?), it’s a huge open-air museum in County Durham, telling the story of life in North East England during the 1820s, 1900s, and 1940s – with more time periods to come.
Buildings from around the region were moved here brick by brick and the 1900s town is packed with shops selling authentic home-made goods – including a sweet shop and bakery.
There’s the famous trams, a railway and vintage buses to get you around the site.
There’s also a rolling programme of events celebrating ways of life as diverse as agriculture and coal mining, plus the popular fun leek show, which encourages everyone to take part, and Halloween nights.
New exhibits are being unveiled all the time, with massive changes to take place in the Remaking Beamish Project.
Check out my blog for a regular update of events. Thanks to Beamish Museum for the use of their pictures.
Summer opening hours – April 6-October 29
Open daily, 10am to 5pm: 1900s Town, 1900s Pit Village, Colliery Yard, 1820s Pockerley Old Hall and Waggonway, 1940s Farm, Davy’s Fish Shop, Sinker’s Bait Cabin, Drift Mine, British Kitchen, Rowley Station (weekends and school holidays only), Fairground and Tramway. Last admission 3pm.
Winter opening hours – October 30-March 23, 2018
Open daily, 10am to 4pm. Closed Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Year’s Day and Mondays and Fridays from January 8 to February 9. Last admission 3pm.
New photographer’s and chemist’s
Two new exhibits in the 1900s Town are JR & D Edis Photographer’s and W Smith Chemist.
The corner building which houses the shops is based on a listed property on Elvet Bridge, Durham City.
JR & D Edis Photographer’s has a magnesium flash, side-lit studio window, and props including a bonnet, pipe and child’s toy boat, where you can have your photo taken in period costume in front of a hand-painted scene of Durham Cathedral.
Photographers would have opened later than chemist’s shops with the advancement of technology, so the studio has a newer feel to it.
The wallpaper is a copy of a pattern from the Co-op available in 1907 from a catalogue in Beamish’s archives. The mahogany panelling is in an art nouveau style, as is the studio fireplace. There is also a restored gas chandelier.
Next door, W Smith Chemist has a dispensary and aerated water sections. As well as making pills using moulds, visitors can watch Codd bottles being filled with flavoured syrups, available to take home.
Flavours will change seasonally, from sarsaparilla and blood tonic to kola (traditional spelling), lemonade and raspberry, based on archive recipes.
Visitors can have a go at making a balm, based on a chemist’s formula. People will be able to buy balms and see the chemist making up prescriptions.
Frank Atkinson, the museum’s founding director, earmarked Hardcastle’s Chemists on Finkle Street in Stockton in the early 1960s for preservation and the interior was bought for £50 in April 1962. The shop was set up at Beamish Hall as part of the A-Z of Beamish exhibition.
Beamish has the contents and fittings from at least three chemists’ shops. As well as Hardcastle’s, and Hallaway’s in Carlisle, the best known is John Walker’s, of Stockton.
After the invention of soda machines in America (in 1810), the technology was exported to Britain and companies such as Bratby and Hinchliffe’s made relatively cheap soda plants, which carbonated water to make it fizzy, using carbonic acid (made from mixing chalk with sulphuric acid).
Small chemists bought the machines to imitate the mineral waters that were available at spas like Harrogate and Bath and sold them as being medicinal.
Gradually, the big soda companies developed. Vimto was invented in 1908 in Manchester, originally as a tonic water. Soda water was supposed to be good for you, but it was also an alternative to alcohol so became popular during the Temperance movement.
In 1872, Hiram Codd of London invented and patented a bottle which was made with a marble inside it; the bottle was filled upside down, and the marble was held against a rubber ring by the gas pressure of the carbonated drink, so when you stood the bottle up, the marble stayed sealed at the top.
To open the bottle, you had to hit the marble, this became known as “Codd’s Wallop”. Beamish would like to collect a Codd bottle from every village in the North East.
The chemist is decorated in an older style than photographer’s, looking as if it has changed little since the 1880s, and in parts will appear even older – the replicated building was originally built during the mid-Georgian era.
This means that the interior has heavy, dark, wooden shop fittings with a decoratively fussy, reclaimed hob grate.
Remaking Beamish Project
The museum has landed a £500,000 grant for the Remaking Beamish project from The Garfield Weston Foundation.
This family-founded, grant-making trust supports organisations and activities that want to make a positive impact in the communities in which they work.
The funding will be used to help fund the building of a 1950s town and a Georgian coaching inn where visitors can stay overnight.
Philippa Charles, Chief Executive of the Garfield Weston Foundation, said: “What’s so exciting about the scheme is the wide-ranging social and economic benefits it will create for communities in the North East – from involving local people in the design and development of the new exhibits to creating 95 new jobs on completion and supporting 50 apprenticeships.”
The £17million Remaking Beamish project features a 1950s Town, including a police house, café, shops, a cinema and a recreation area. The Homes for Memory project will provide a dedicated centre in rebuilt Aged Miners’ Homes.
North Pennines upland farm Spainsfield will be moved to the museum, brick by brick.
A trolley bus system and restored buses will transport visitors to the 1950s area with a new depot.
The 1820s: Blacksmith, potter and candle maker. A Georgian coaching inn will look at the heritage of droving, horse-keeping, hospitality, postal service and the coaching industry. The inn will cater for overnight stays.
Some of the buildings will be moved to the museum, while others will be replicas of buildings from around the region.
Pitman’s Academy artist’s studio donated
The studio of an acclaimed County Durham artist has been donated to Beamish Museum.
Norman Cornish died, aged 94, in August 2014 and his family has given the studio from his Spennymoor home to the museum, including dozens of unfinished works, his chair, easels, paint pots, brushes and other objects.
He was the last surviving painter from the Spennymoor Settlement, which became known as the Pitman’s Academy.
Some of the objects, including replicas of his unfinished work, are on display in the Open Stores in the Museum’s Regional Resource Centre.
Beamish already has the Berriman’s chip van, which features in a number of Norman’s paintings.
The museum has been given up to 100 unfinished paintings, ranging from A4 size to about 3ftx5ft, and pencil and charcoal sketches.
Sunderland cinema donated
A cinema from Sunderland will be moved brick by brick and rebuilt at Beamish Museum in its planned 1950s Town.
The former Grand Electric Cinema, in Ryhope, has been donated by owners Angela and Gary Hepple. It will screen films, newsreels and period adverts and up to 600 cinema seats are being donated from the former Palladium Cinema in Claypath, Durham, by Student Castle, which is working with NLP Planning.
The Ryhope cinema was built in 1912 and closed in the 1960s before becoming a bingo hall. The rebuilt cinema will use a 1930s projector from Durham University.
Beamish is keen to hear people’s memories of the cinema. Contact Geraldine Straker, Remaking Beamish project officer, tel. 0191 370 4060 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org