For some reason unbeknownst to us, we always said we’d visit Beamish last time we lived here but never got round to it. When pondering what we could do for my birthday, as not much is usually open at this time of year, I suggested Beamish as I knew that we’d have a great time and it would be open. I’m so glad I did – it was one of the best ways to start 2015 and the nicest way to spend a birthday!
Beamish was the first open-air museum in the UK and its goal was to present a version of everyday life in the North East. Most of the buildings have been rescued and transplanted brick by brick to the museum from all over the North East. Most of the buildings represent the Victorian and Edwardian era (mostly the latter), so have been decorated and filled with appropriate furniture and the staff dress accordingly. It is a huge site and is served by a large selection of original buses and trams, with examples of original cars, vans, traction engines and trains all in use. There is also a bank, a working bakery, a Masonic hall, a working sweet shop and original Co-Op buildings to be seen and investigated.
Each of the houses had different historical ‘occupants’, from dentists to piano teachers. This desk is a solicitor’s, whose house was very dark.
I seem to have taken a lot of pictures of the different fireplaces they had in the museum. Each fireplace was in the process of being lit as we arrived (we were the first people in) and we had a chat with the man whose job it was to keep the (many) home fires burning. As the museum isn’t in a smoke-free zone, they can burn normal house coal, and the smell of it was everywhere; such a reassuring smell (though, obviously, not good for the environment etc). According to the chap lighting the fires, they have to light them often as the jackdaws are great nest builders and thus great chimney blockers! Each fireplace in every house was different and many had the same kind of range system that our house would once have had. Each staff member bemoaned the amount of dust that the open fires created, but each one said that they were lovely (and warm) nonetheless.
Seeing the primative dentistry equipment of 1913, the date of the town, really brought home how scary (and unhygienic) dentistry must’ve been.
The wallpapers in each property were fascinating, though in the dark, poorly-lit hallways and parlours, the dark colours didn’t help to make the space feel bigger! Mum also pointed out that the green paints of the era most likely contained arsenic (as did green sweets of the time!) and were fairly unsavoury to use.
This bedroom was in one of the smaller properties and though the room was small it was actually fairly cosy. However, without double-glazing or central heating, I can imagine that the fire would get well used and it might be a bit chilly at night!
Most of the way round the museum, my mother was marvelling at the things she remembers from her childhood or still has to this day. Amongst the memory lane items were carpet beaters, flooring, fancy glass doors and sweets.
I fell in love with this utilitarian coat and mirror console. It’s just what we need in our house!
Yes, I did take quite a few photos of fireplaces! This one is more ornate than I believe ours was (not that I ever saw ours, but it would’ve been a house for miners and thus not fitted with very ornamented fittings), but the placement of the fire and the oven/stove set-up matches the soot marks on our own inglenook. I must admit, if I still had one of these, I would definitely cook on it! The great thing about Beamish is that in certain properties you visit, someone will be cooking food that you can then try. We had a lovely cup of fruit punch and freshly-baked scones!
Some of the ornamentation was absolutely amazing – what a window!
As well as trams, buses and trains, they have horses and horse-drawn carriages. We didn’t see any in use when we visited, but we are assured that the horses are regular ‘workers’ at the museum and pull some of these carriages on certain days. The horses’ stables were the most immaculate I’ve ever seen and the horses treated like royalty!
This is the park in the town. I’m a bit of a sucker for the cobbled streets, traditional fence railings and the gas lamps. On a frosty morning, it was as pretty as a postcard.
If you venture upstairs in the post office, you will come across the printer’s. We got chatting to the gentleman who was running the printer’s shop and he walked us through inking the rollers and the types of printing presses he had on display. Each one works and the oldest of which is from around 1835. This one above is an American design, and which is much sought-after in America, after the maker of them couldn’t get anyone in America to buy his machines. Someone suggested that he try Britain and lo and behold, they took off. The classical ornamentation on the press is impressive as is its weight: two and a half tons!
I learned a lot about typesetting. Did you know the phrases “to mind your Ps and Qs” comes from the fact that type is placed in its frame backwards and thus the typesetter had to make sure that he didn’t muddle his Ps and his Qs? Likewise, the phrase “to quoin a phrase” (yes, spelled quoin not coin) comes from the quoins used to tighten the type frames. We watched as the gentleman printed out the most wonderful sheets of genuine news print from the time and told us to look out for certain (original) comical inclusions!
We also learned that there were no daily newspapers, only weeklies, in the North until after WWI and that the northerners didn’t know that the Battle of Waterloo had occurred until some four months after the event! This is a prime example of the north/south divide and how little the north was considered in matters of politics and government at the time.
After we had spent an hour talking to the printer, it was time to head onwards to the sweet shop. It is a traditional shop selling a large selection of traditional boiled sweets and you can still buy things by the quarter and not have them look at you gone off! At the back of the shop, you can try the wares that they make and watch the confectioner at work rolling and pulling the molten sugar.
What an oven! This is the Herron’s bakery oven. In there you can buy all sorts of sweet treats from scones to cakes and biscuits. We came away with some gingerbread and cranberry and orange cake. Yum!
Take a tram down the line and you come to the Edwardian pit village, which though not as ‘cosmopolitain’ as the houses in the town, they had their own charm. You can even make a fuss of the (very tiny) pit ponies, whose fur is thick and soft.
You can also fall in love with the glass in some of the doors. I mean, isn’t it amazing?
Most of these houses had a ‘hobby’, some was having chickens, some had rabbits, some had pigeons and some grew vegetables. This system of neighbourly barter would’ve kept the town together and well-fed. The houses, however, we were owned by the owners of the mines and should your husband meet a sticky end, as one of the men who lived in these houses did, then the coal company would kick you out and the chances are that you’d end up living in a workhouse if you couldn’t re-marry.
One of the last stops on our visit. Can you see the jug of fruit punch on the stove?
We had a lovely day visiting Beamish and I can’t wait to go back (their tickets are valid for 1 year of unlimited visits!) to see all the displays later on in the year.