|We visited Beamish in 2010 and lots has happened since then, with more planned!|
We loved Beamish so much that we have often recommended it. A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to talk to Richard Evans, the director of Beamish and he told me more about this fantastic place and its plans for the future....
Beamish might be a world-famous open air museum, but it is also much more than that. It is a place which tells the story of the North East, but by making the history, culture and heritage come alive. At Beamish you can ride on an old fashioned steam engine, eat fish and chips cooked on an authentic coal-fired range or visit an Edwardian dentist (although you might not want him to actually work on your teeth).
“It’s a museum for people,” says Richard Evans, Director of Beamish. “We have fantastic objects, but we are able to bring them to life. Socially, culturally and economically, this is a really important place.”
Beamish started life in the post-war period and was proposed in 1958 when the speed of de-industrialisation was quite dizzying for the entire region. It opened to the public in 1971, introducing local people, and those from around the world to everyday life in Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian times.
“The North East has always shared traditions, culture, history and industry,” adds Evans. “Beamish started as a response to that.”
The 300 acre site is situated in the countryside just outside
In chronological terms, a visit to Beamish begins in the 1820s, with Pockerley Old Hall. The hall actually dates back to 400 years earlier, but in the Georgian era it would have been home to a tenant farmer or miner and there are costumed guides ready to chat to you about life back then. They can explain where the servants would have slept, and the grim reality of life as a servant’s child, working all day and stuck up in a dark, cold attic at night.
The Old Hall has its own farm and gardens, but makes it clear that it is set in a time when change was coming. This is not done by signs or glass exhibits. Instead, the start of industrialisation can be felt, literally, by a journey in a steam wagon via the Pockerley Waggonway.
Visitors to Beamish can travel between eras by old-fashioned trams. One of the most evocative stops is at the re-creation of a classic North Eastern market town in the years running up to World War One. There is a railway station nearby and the town boasts typical shops, with almost typical shop owners and customers (“almost” because they are not actually ghosts from the past, but actors).
In the sweetshop, it is possible to see how old fashioned sweets were made and watch them being heated, stretched out and then cooled on the counters. Fortunately for those with a sweet tooth, samples are available and you can suck or chew your way back in time.
Everything seems extremely authentic, from the shillings, farthings and half-pennies, to the presses on display in the stationers. Newspapers are not made like that anymore.
Some of the most remarkable parts of Beamish are the Pit villages and colliery, which are part of a world which no longer exists. Hard hats can be put on and life as a miner re-created, but for minutes rather than hours. It is easier to imagine life as a miner when you are crouching down in the dark and cold.
|It was amazing to go down into the pits and see how hard the work must have been. We had to put on hard hats beforehand.|
The pit village also includes a school, and children are welcome to try out fountain pens before quietly getting on with their work, under the eye of a very strict teacher.
Beamish is not finished yet.
“At the moment we are working on a 1950s town,” reveals Evans. “It’s the story of the recovery of the North East after the second world war, and the birth of the NHS.”
Everything will, of course, be authentic, and visitors will even be able to stay in a 1950s semi, enjoying a fully fitted-out kitchen.
“This is a museum, not a theme park,” says Evans, “and everything we do is connected to scholarship and research. But we make no apology for being popular.
“We want our visitors to remember the tastes of what they eat and the smells of where they go. It’s a sensual place as well as an intellectual one.”
(Read more about lovely historical places: our trip to Gorey Castle in Jersey)