Thursday, August 25th 2016
‘Living museums’ are great fun and we enjoy visiting them. It so happens that one of our favourites (though, come to think of it, all of them are our favourites!) is fairly near Newcastle. We visited it during our 2010 trip and are going there again today. The map below shows its location relative to Newcastle and Durham.
Set in 300 acres of countryside, Beamish Living Museum seeks to recreate past periods of life in North East England. With buildings, vehicles, animals and costumed ‘re-enactors’, it provides scope for the serious historian and for families who simply want a fun day out. Below are some photos taken in Beamish today and you will find more in the post on our previous visit (see Newcastle 2010 – Day 7).
To reach Beamish we first took the train to Durham. From Durham we travelled by bus, changing at Chester le Street. There is a special lay-by beside the museum where buses for various destinations pull in to pick up passengers.
We reached the imposing entrance of the museum at about 11 am (the clock on the façade is showing the wrong time!). The price of a ticket is £18.50 for an adult and though this might seem expensive, the ticket is valid for one year from the date of purchase and you also have the warm feeling that you are supporting a worthwhile enterprise!
The museum is divided into several sections and more are planned. You will find a map here. Depending on how you count them, there are about half a dozen main sites and a number smaller, more specialized ones, each set in a past time period. A road circles the grounds and on this road run the trams and the buses and sometimes limousines that will take passengers. There are services in both directions, clockwise and anti-clockwise, but it doesn’t really matter much in which direction you travel as they all stop at all the sites.
The vehicles date from different periods, making a picturesque if anachronistic combination. We tried the bus (and, on our previous visit, a luxurious limousine) but we prefer the tram because there is more room and it is easier to get on and off. The drivers and the conductors wear the uniforms appropriate to the period of their vehicles and can answer all the questions you are ever likely to ask. Use of this public transport is of course free.
We went first to the 1900s Town. This is perhaps the most substantial of the exhibited sites and tends to be the busiest. Trams and buses pass a long the main street in either direction and stop to pick up passengers.
There is a bank and shops of all kinds. These can of course be visited and the shops are amazingly well stocked with all the goods and requisites that would have been on sale during the period represented. There is also a restaurant when you can have tea or a full meal.
As well and the bank, shops and pub there are private houses belonging to such key figures of society as the music teacher, the dentist and the solicitor, all open to visitors.
The Park, complete with band stand, provides somewhere peaceful to rest from your explorations. Children can also run around and work off their pent-up energy.
We next went to see Pockerley Old Hall. This would have been the home of a well-to-do tenant farmer and appears now as it would have done in the 1820s. We went first to the kitchen and chatted with a couple of 1820s cooks engaged in cooking biscuits. Happily, the costumed personnel do not try to pretend that they are actual people of the period but they are very knowledgeable and are often engaged in tasks as these would have been done at the time represented.
You can also visit Pockerly Gardens and the Farmstead where the stables house working horses.
Stepping out from the Old Hall, we glanced down the hill and saw a moving plume of smoke. Looking more carefully we spied a railway train and so went down to take a closer look.
Thus we came to the Pockerly Waggonway. Waggonways were the forerunners of the railways and were installed in working environments such as collieries. This short track emulates an early 19th-century waggonway but carries visitors, not working materials. Beamish owns several replica locomotives and this one, with its tall chimney, is the Steam Elephant. The original was built in about 1814 and it was thought until recently that it had been designed by George Stephenson but Beamish researchers recently uncovered evidence that its author was William Chapman who made it for John Buddle’s Wallsend Colliery. In action is is very impressive as this video shows.
This engine shed proudly displays its date of 1825 and carries a beautiful wind vane on its roof.
Taking the tram once more, we reached the 1940s Farm where I photographed these chickens and a goose, taking their ease. There are plenty of animals at beamish, fulfilling the same roles as they would have done in the periods represented. They are quite used to visitors and so you can usually get quite close to them.
Why choose the 1940s as the period for the Beamish Farm? During the Second World War when Britain was blockaded and in danger of running out of essential supplies, a national programme of food production was set in motion. Farms were of course at the heart of this.
Farms were hit by shortages like all other industries and had to improvise as best they could while being as productive as possible. Farming is always important to the nation but this was a time when this was particularly the case.
One of these farm cottages (they would have housed farm workers) is open to visitors while the other is closed. The notice of the gate amused me but it does show how Beamish always seeks to be ‘on script’, in this case by providing a plausible period-related reason for the closure.
Even though we had seen only a small part of what is on offer at Beamish, that had absorbed a fair amount of our time and energy. We were therefore happy to make our way to the barn in search of rest and refreshments. What we found was something a little more nuanced than a modern cafe. It was set up as a British Restaurant with a typical menu of the period. These Restaurants were communal kitchens set up during the war to help people whose homes had been destroyed by bombing or who were otherwise having difficulties obtaining food. The food served would have been basic, but nourishing. We tried the vegetable soup, which was very good.
We returned to the entrance and thence to the bus stop. A bus soon arrived and we began our journey back to Newcastle. Beamish Museum is a fascinating place in which to spend the day. You could, perhaps see it all at one go but that would mean rushing round and not spending enough time on the various exhibits. That is why your ticket is valid for one year: you need to come back again and again. Also, the museum is evolving and new exhibits are being planned. It was a good day out and I hope we can repeat it in the not too distant future.