Beamish Museum: Festival of the 50s

Travel back in time to the 1950s, July 6-9

Festival of the 50s. Picture; Beamish Museum
Having fun at last year’s Festival of the 50s. Picture; Beamish Museum

I visited Beamish Museum’s Festival of the 50s yesterday, managing to dodge the thunderstorms. Take my word for it, it’s well worth a visit.

For those who don’t know, Beamish is an open air museum is in County Durham and celebrates the history of North East life – there are trams, a railway, 1900s Town, period shops and much more.

Apart from the school parties (a must outing if you live in this neck of the woods), even the Town didn’t feel full, although Beamish can absorb a lot of people – maybe the poor weather forecast put people off.

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If you didn’t go because of the storm threat, there’s no need to worry – most of the exhibits are under cover, in canvas or buildings, such as the fascinating films from the North East Film Archive in the Masonic Hall.

My favourite items were the toys, in the happy time where health and safety didn’t exist, although the dolls hospital did have an element of The Twilight Zone about it (I hate baby dolls with a passion).

Geraldine Straker, Remaking Beamish project officer (community participation), said: “We’re really looking forward to this year’s Festival of the 50s, which looks at change and development in different areas across the decade.

“We’ll be highlighting the changes that occurred in fashion, technology, food, health, and welfare, whilst enjoying live music and dancing, getting dressed up and just having a great day out.”

Festival of the 50s. Picture; Beamish Museum
Hula hooping at last year’s Festival of the 50s. Picture; Beamish Museum

Here are some of the attractions:

  • Dance to band Hop, Skiffle and Jump and see fashion evolve, looking at everyday dress and design.
  • A 50s toy shop, bowls (sponsored by Co-operative Funeral Care), and a telephone exchange.
  • Mark the 1953 Coronation by helping to decorate the Coronation float.
  • Durham Amateur Football Trust will be showing football memorabilia and talking to visitors about amateur football, plus there is a tournament on Sunday.
  • Spend time in a typical police station office with the North East Police History Society.
  • Eat macaroni cheese, oxtail soup and crisps, and 50s milkshakes.
  • Visit the NHS baby clinic and find out about the introduction of immunisations for TB and polio.
  • National Service: young men’s different roles, international politics.
  • Take a look at news stories – there is a chance to share your memories of the decade.
  • The North East Film Archive reveals the North East coastline on film in the Masonic Hall in The Town.
  • On Thursday and Friday, you can enjoy yourself at the tea dance.
  • On Saturday and Sunday, get a 50s hairdo (small charge applies) and come along in your 1950s finery and enter the Mr. and Mrs. Beamish contest or the Master and Miss Beamish competition for under 16s.
  • There will be live music from The Troubleshooters on Saturday, The Baldy Holly Band on Sunday, and the Beamish Choir.
  • Visit Wanda, the 50s caravan, to try on clothing and take a 50s holiday photograph (small charge applies).
Festival of the 50s. Picture; Beamish Museum
Last year’s Festival of the 50s. Picture; Beamish Museum

Beamish will soon start work on building a 1950s Town as part of the £18million Remaking Beamish project, which has been awarded £10.9million by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).

Geraldine added: “The HLF grant marks an incredibly exciting time in Beamish’s history and the Festival of the 50s is a great opportunity to look forward to the Remaking Beamish project.”

The Festival of the 50s is included in the normal admission price and is free to Unlimited Pass holders, as with all daytime events. For more details, visit www.beamish.org.uk.


1950s cinema evenings

Festival of the 50s. Picture; Beamish Museum
Last year’s Festival of the 50s. Picture; Beamish Museum

Beamish is also hosting two cinema evenings as part of the Festival of the 50s.

The museum is showing Peter Sellers’ first film, Penny Points to Paradise (1951), on Friday, July 7 and the first Ealing comedy shot in colour, The Titfield Thunderbolt (1953), on Saturday,  July 8 at the Masonic Hall in The Town.

Visit www.beamish.org.uk to buy tickets, subject to availability. Tickets cost £10 and include a bag of Beamish sweets and a bottle of aerated water from the chemist’s in The 1900s Town. Take a look at www.adelphifilms.com to find out more about Adelphi.

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