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Review: Beamish Open Air Museum

Attraction - Museum

Stanley, United Kingdom

200 years of social history - Part 1, some background

  • By SilverTraveller ESW

    2344 reviews

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  • August 2018
  • On your own

19 people found this review helpful

Beamish describes itself as the Living Museum of the North. Not only is it the biggest, but it is possibly also the best of the open air folk museums in the country. There is always something new to see and it appeals to all ages. Grandparents enjoy the nostalgia. Grandchildren can’t believe how different it was to live before the days of computers, and mobile phones.

I have made many visits over the years and have enjoyed watching it grow and develop.The history of its development is as interesting as the site itself.

There is too much to try and see properly in a single day. This is a museum to visit several times and really enjoy all it has to offer.

This is the first of a series of reviews about Beamish. The rest describe the different areas in more detail. A map of the area can be found here.

SOME BACKGROUND

By the 1950s, the traditional industries and communities in the North east were declining and disappearing rapidly. Frank Atkinson, the director of Bowes Museum, was very concerned about the loss of the region’s culture, traditions and heritage. It would lose its identity and what made it special and different to the rest of the country.

He proposed setting up a new museum, based on the idea of the Scandinavian Folk Museums, to bring the social history of the region to life. He wanted the museum to belong to the local population and feature items collected by them.

Atkinson was unusual in that he encourages a policy of ‘unselective collecting’, accepting anything and everything that was offered from steam locomotives to rolling pins. The storage space at the Bowes Museum was soon full, and a former British Army tank depot was taken over and its 22 hangers and huts was soon full too.

The museum opened in 1972 on a large reclaimed colliery site on the edge of the Durham Dales. Pockerley Old Hall and the 1940s farm were the only buildings on the site. The rest have been been rescued from around the region and carefully reassembled her. This has been so carefully done they feel as if they have always been part of the scenery.

The colliery village and railway station were the first to be built, quickly followed by the 1900s town, fairground and the 1940s Home Farm.

Later, Pockerley Old Hall and the Pockerley Wagonway opened. Wagonways carried coal from the pits to either the River Tyne or River Wear. Steam locos soon replaced horses or gravity and there is a replica Puffing Billy.

The site is still growing and there is something new to see each visit. The bakery and Easton Church were new additions in 2018.

There is still a huge warehouse full of potential exhibits. Beamish also has a large collection of photographs, old trade catalogues and an increasing collection of oral history recordings.

Work has begun on a 1950s urban development with social housing, NHS clinic, shops and a cinema as well as an upland farm. There are plans to reconstruct a C19th coaching inn which will provide overnight accommodation for visitors.

It is a huge site, occupying over 350 acres and the countryside has been restored to a late C18th landscape.

It is possible to walk between the different parts of the site, although it is possibly more fun to use the tram network and vintage buses for a more authentic feel.

If you haven’t visited Beamish. This is one to add to the todo list!

Beamish is open throughout the year, apart from Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Years Day and Mondays and Fridays in January. During the summer months, it is always busy. It is well served by local buses and there is a 25% reduction on the entry price on production of your bus ticket. Keep hold of your ticket, as it will give free admission for a whole year.

Details about visiting are here.

There is a detailed account of my visits along with a lot of pictures here.

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This review is solely based on the opinion of a Silver Travel Advisor member and not of Silver Travel Advisor Ltd.

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