Beamish Museum

Beamish Museum

Infobox Museum
name = Beamish

established = 1970
location = Beamish, Stanley, County Durham, England
type = Open air living museum
collection = 304,000+ objects
visitors = 350,000 annually [cite web|url=|title=Beamish official website|accessdate=2008-01-13]
director = Richard Evans
website = [ Beamish official website]

Beamish, The North of England Open Air Museum is an open air museum located at Beamish, near the town of Stanley, County Durham, England.

Beamish’s guiding principle is to show what life was like in urbanised North East England at the climax of industrialisation in the early 20th century — much of the restoration and interpretation is specific to 1913 — together with portions of countryside under influence of the Industrial Revolution in 1825. On its 300 acre (120 hectare) estate it utilises a mixture of translocated, original and replica buildings, a huge collection of artifacts, working vehicles and equipment, costumed interpreters, and livestock.


Beamish is the first English museum to be financed and administered by a consortium of County Councils (Cleveland, Durham, Northumberland and Tyne and Wear) and it was the first regional open air museum in England. The museum was first proposed in 1958 and the collections were established on the Beamish site in 1970 under director Frank Atkinson (b. 1924). [cite book|author=Atkinson, Frank|title=The Man Who Made Beamish: an autobiography|publisher=Northern Books|location=Gateshead|date=1999|isbn=0953573001] Atkinson, concerned to preserve the customs, traditions and ways of speech of the region before it was too late, adopted a policy of "unselective collecting" [cite journal|author=Atkinson, Frank|title=The unselective collector|journal=Museums Journal|volume=85|pages=9–11|date=1985] — "you offer it to us and we will collect it."

The first exhibition was held in Beamish Hall in 1971 and the present site was opened to visitors for the first time in 1972 with the first translocated buildings (the railway station and colliery winding engine) being erected the following year. [cite book|author=Allan, Rosemary E.|title=Beamish, the North of England Open Air Museum: the making of a museum|publisher=Beamish|date=1991|isbn=0-905054-07-5] For some years the museum has been 96% self-funding, mainly from admission charges.cite book|author=Allan, Rosemary E.|title=Beamish, the North of England Open Air Museum: the experience of a lifetime|publisher=Jarrold|date=2003|isbn=0-7117-2996-4] [cite book|author=Lewis, Peter|editor=Ambrose, Timothy (ed.)|title=Money, Money, Money & Museums|year=1991|publisher=H.M.S.O.|location=Edinburgh|isbn=0-11-494110-6|pages=38-49|chapter=Dependence or independence]

Since 1986 visitors have entered the museum through an entrance arch formed by a steam hammer, across a former opencast mining site and through a converted stable block (from Greencroft, near Lanchester, County Durham).


The Town

The town area, officially opened in 1985, depicts chiefly Victorian buildings in an evolved urban setting of 1913. [cite journal|author=Atkinson, Frank|title=The Town and how it began|journal=Friends of Beamish Museum Magazine|volume=3|pages=2–7|date=1985] These include the Annfield Plain Co-Operative Store (with operating cash carrier system); [cite book|author=Buxton, Andrew|title=Cash Carriers in Shops|location=Princes Risborough|publisher=Shire Publications|date=2004|isbn=978-07478-0615-8] [cite web|url=|title=The Cash Railway website|accessdate=2008-01-13] a terrace of professionals’ houses (from Gateshead), "occupied" by a music teacher, dentist's surgery and family home, and solicitor’s office; a pub (the Sun Inn from Bishop Auckland); town stables and carriage shed (utilising iron roof trusses from Fleetwood) housing an extensive collection of horse-drawn vehicles; a branch office of the Sunderland Daily Echo;cite book |title=Echoes of the past for north museum|year=May 8, 1991 |publisher="Sunderland Echo" |pages=Page 7 ] a stationer’s and printshop; a sweet shop and manufactory; a garage; a branch of Barclays Bank (using components from Southport and Gateshead); and a masonic temple (from Sunderland). There is a bandstand (from Gateshead) in a public park, together with drinking fountains and other examples of street furniture.

During the winter season, the town is the only area of the museum with buildings open to the public. Future plans for the town include a shopping arcade; dispensing chemist (using fittings from Stockton-on-Tees [cite journal|author=Thomas, Doreen|title=Hardcastle’s|journal=Cleveland & Teesside Local History Society Bulletin|volume=14|pages=27–30|date=1971] ); and fire and police stations and other municipal buildings. The museum also has the components of an early cinema, and of a gasworks from Milnthorpe.

The Railway Station

A typical North Eastern Railway station is reconstructed on the edge of the town. The station building itself came from [ Rowley] just a few miles from Beamish, along with a signal box from Carr House East, near Consett, a goods shed from Alnwick and coal drops from West Boldon.

It is dominated by the Regional Museums Store of 2002 (externally disguised as "Beamish Waggon and Iron Works, estd 1857"), shared with Tyne and Wear Museums. This houses, amongst other things, railway rolling stock and other vehicles; a large marine diesel engine by William Doxford & Sons of Pallion, Sunderland (1977); and several boats including the Tyne wherry (a traditional local type of lighter) "Elswick No. 2" (1930). [cite video|title=The Regional Museums Store for North East England: catalogue of collections|medium=CD-ROM|publisher=Regional Museums Store|location=Beamish] There is a viewing window, but the store is only open at selected times and for special tours, which can be arranged through the museum. Adjacent is an events field and fair ground.

The Westoe Netty has been reconstructed near the railway station, replicating its original location in Westoe, South Shields.

The Colliery Village

In view of the impact the history of coal mining has had on its region, the museum has major collections in this area. [cite book|author=Doyle, Aidan|title=The Great Northern Coalfield: mining collections at Beamish Museum|publisher=Northumbria University Press|location=Newcastle|date=2005|isbn=1-904794-11-4] Exhibits on site include a coal mine where it is possible to take an underground tour of the museum's Mahogany Drift Mine which is an original feature of the site. The colliery is dominated by the regularly-steamed 1855 vertical winding engine [cite book|author=Hill, Alan|title=Single Cylinder Vertical Lever-type Winding Engines as used in the North East of England|publisher=De Archaeologische Pers|location=Eindhoven|date=1985|isbn=9065855262] (from a local pit), screens (from Gateshead), and waste tip. There are a number of industrial steam locomotives (including rare examples by Stephen Lewin, from Seaham, and Black, Hawthorn & Co.) and very many chaldron wagons (the region’s traditional type of colliery railway rolling stock, which became a symbol of Beamish). [cite journal|author=Atkinson, Frank|title=The Beamish symbol: a "chaldron" wagon|journal=Beamish: report of the North of England Open Air Museum Joint Committee|volume=1|pages=32–9|date=1978] There is usually a pit pony on site and the museum has a significant collection of safety lamps. The surrounding village includes miners' cottages from Hetton-le-Hole, the Wesleyan Methodist chapel from Pit Hill, [cite book|author=Langley, Leigh|title=Our Chapel|publisher=Beamish|date=1992|isbn=0-905054-08-3] and East Stanley Board School (which has led to a special relationship between the museum and the successor primary school). Evidence can be seen of traditional pastimes such as pigeon racing and quoits.

The Home Farm

This farm complex, preserved "in situ", was rebuilt in the mid-nineteenth century as a model farm incorporating a horse mill and a steam-powered threshing mill. It is a base for some of the museum’s agricultural activities.

The Georgian North 1825

The eastern side of the museum site is based around the original Pockerley Manor farm, a 15th century foundation with a domestic wing of c.1720. The surrounding farmlands have been returned to a post-Enclosure landscape with ridge and furrow divided into smaller fields by traditional riven oak fencing, and the land worked and grazed by traditional breeds.

Through this scene passes a pack pony track and the "new" wooden and Pockerley Waggonways ("see below") serving a (replica) coal pit with horse-worked winding gin.

It is intended to expand this area by restoration of an existing watermill on the Beamish Burn (River Team) (where there are also remains of forges) and development of a rural community including re-erection of St Helen’s Church from Eston in Cleveland.


The museum contains much of transport interest, and the size of its site makes good visitor transportation a necessity. [cite journal|author=Atkinson, Frank|title=Beamish North of England Open Air Museum|journal=Yesteryear Transport|volume=3|pages=76–9|date=1980]

The Railway

In the railway station yard there is a variety of wagons on display. Under the footbridge (from Crook) the line extends to the far end of the town, a distance of ¼ mile. The line used to connect to the colliery sidings until 1991 when it was lifted so that the tram line could be extended. Regular steam operation ceased in 1995 due to the lack of permanently available working locomotives. From the nearby Bowes Railway, Andrew Barclay locomotives No. 22 and "W.S.T." have made visits in recent years. The museum’s restored North Eastern Railway coach was moved to the Tanfield Railway, also nearby.

Resident locomotives include NER Class C1 freight engine No. 876 (British Railways Class J21 No. 65033), built at Gateshead in 1889. After lying out of use since 1984 it was moved to the North Norfolk Railway for restoration and returned to steam in 2007. The museum also formerly operated its Hawthorn Leslie industrial engine No. 14.

Pockerley Waggonway

In 1999 Beamish opened the Pockerley Waggonway, recreating a railway at the transition from wagonway to steam railway in 1825. There is a short length of track, and the locomotives are housed and maintained in a "great shed" inspired by lost buildings from Timothy Hackworth’s Shildon railway works and incorporating some material from Robert Stephenson and Company’s Newcastle works.

Visitors to the museum can ride in an unsprung carriage behind one of three replica steam locomotives on the railway.
*George Stephenson's "Locomotion No 1" designed for the Stockton and Darlington Railway in 1825 and recreated in 1975. [cite book|author=Satow, F.|coauthors=Satow, M.G.; Wilson, L.S.|title="Locomotion" — concept to creation: the story of the reproduction 1973-1975|publisher=Locomotion Trust|location=Beamish|date=1976]
*John Buddle and William Chapman's "Steam Elephant" designed for Wallsend Colliery in 1815 and recreated in 2002 (based largely on material in Beamish archives). [cite book|author=Rees, Jim|editor=Guy, Andy & Rees, Jim (ed.)|title=Early Railways|year=2001|publisher=Newcomen Society|location=London|isbn=0-904685-08-X|pages=145-70|chapter=The strange story of the "Steam Elephant"]
*William Hedley's "Puffing Billy" designed for Wylam Colliery in 1813 and recreated in 2006.

Wooden Waggonway

Following creation of the Pockerley Waggonway, the museum went back a chapter in railway history to create a horse-worked wooden waggonway.


Beamish is home to half a dozen electric trams, some of which operate daily on the track which makes a circuit of the museum site forming an important element of the visitor transportation system. [cite web|url=|title=Beamish Museum Tramway|accessdate=2008-01-13] [cite journal|author=Lewis, Peter|title=A transport of delight: the tram operation at Beamish, the North of England Open Air Museum|journal=Friends of Beamish Newsletter|volume=109|pages=17–24|date=1997] The open-top cars tend to be used in the summer months.
*Gateshead single decker no. 10 built in 1925. Undergoing a mechanical rebuild, painted in Gateshead purple lined out in yellow.
*Sunderland enclosed double decker no. 16 built in 1900. In regular service, painted in Brown lined out in yellow.
*Blackpool open topper no. 31 built in 1901. In regular service especially in summer, painted red and teak lined out in white and black.
*Newcastle open topper no. 114 built in 1901. In regular service especially in summer, painted brown and yellow lined out in yellow and Brown.
*"Beamish" (ex-Porto) single decker no. 196 built in 1935. Used regularly, painted in Gateshead style purple and white lined out in yellow and purple.
*Sheffield open balcony double decker no. 264 built in 1907. Undergoing a major overhaul, painted in blue lined out in yellow.
*Sheffield double decker no. 513 built in 1950. On loan to Blackpool tramway for 15 years as being "out of period" for Beamish.


The museum has collected a couple of trolleybuses.
*Keighley single decker no. 12 built in 1924. Undergoing a major restoration.
*Newcastle double decker no. 501 built in 1948. On loan to The Trolleybus Museum at Sandtoft as being "out of period" for Beamish.

Motor Buses

The replica buses are used on a regular service between the town and colliery village.
*replica Daimler Motor Company open top double decker J 2503 to design of 1913 (1988).
*replica London General Omnibus Company open top double decker DET 720D to design of 1910.
*Northern General Transport BMMO-built SOS QL single decker UP 551 built in 1928. Undergoing restoration to working order.
*Dodge (UK) [cite web|url=|title=Fleet Data: Dodge|accessdate=2008-01-13] UF30A bus VK 5401 built in 1931. Worked around Rookhope. Awaiting restoration.

Other Road Vehicles

*replica Armstrong Whitworth limousine. In occasional service. (The museum also has an original 1920 Armstrong Siddeley 20 h.p. car.)
*Brewery refreshment van NBA 517. In service.

The museum owns other motor and steam vehicles, more than twenty pedal cycles and several motorcycles. From its extensive collection of horse-drawn vehicles, charabancs are to be seen in public service in the summer.


The museum’s two farms help to preserve traditional northcountry and in some cases rare livestock breeds such as Durham Shorthorn Cattle; [cite journal|author=Atkinson, Frank|title=Life in the old breed yet: saving the Durham Shorthorn|journal=Country Life|volume=179|pages=827,830|date=1986] Clydesdale and Cleveland Bay working horses; Dales ponies; Teeswater sheep; Saddleback pigs; and poultry.

Regional Heritage

Other large exhibits collected by the museum include a tracked steam shovel, and a coal drop from Seaham Harbour. [cite book|author=Atkinson, Frank|title=Transactions of the First International Congress on the Preservation of Industrial Monuments|year=1975|pages=155-7|chapter=Preservation of Seaham Harbour coal drop and the history of coal transport in the North East]

In 2001 a new-build Regional Resource Centre (accessible to visitors by appointment) opened on the site to provide accommodation for the museum’s core collections of smaller items. These include over 300,000 historic photographs; printed books and ephemera; and oral history recordings. The object collections cover the museum’s specialities. These include quilts; [cite book|author=Allan, Rosemary E.|title=Quilts & Coverlets: the Beamish collections|publisher=Beamish|date=2007|isbn=978-0-905054-11-7] "clippy mats" (rag rugs); [cite book|author=Allan, Rosemary E.|title=From Rags to Riches — North Country Rag Rugs: the Beamish collections|publisher=Beamish|date=2007|isbn=978-0-905054-12-1] Trade union banners; [cite book|author=Moyes, William A.|title=The Banner Book: a study of the banners of the lodges of Durham Miners’ Association|publisher=Frank Graham|location=Newcastle|date=1974|isbn=0-85983-085-3] [cite journal|author=Clark, Robert|title=Banners for Beamish|journal=Friends of Beamish Museum Magazine|volume=3|pages=10–14|date=1985] floorcloth; advertising (including archives from United Biscuits and Rowntree's); locally-made pottery; folk art; and occupational costume. Much of the collection is viewable online [cite web|url=|title=Beamish Collections Online|accessdate=2008-01-13] and the arts of quilting, rug making and cookery in the local traditions are demonstrated at the museum.

The site has been used as the backdrop for many film and television productions, particularly Catherine Cookson dramas produced by Tyne Tees Television. Some of the children’s television series "Supergran" was shot here.

Critical Reception

The unselective collecting policy created a lasting bond between museum and community and the supporting Friends organisation was established in 1968 before the Beamish site had been occupied. [cite web|url=|title=Friends of Beamish Museum|accessdate=2008-01-13] Visitor numbers rose rapidly to around 450,000 p.a. during the first decade of opening to the public, and the museum became Museum of the Year in 1986 and won the European Museum of the Year Award in 1987. It was designated by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council in 1997 as a museum with outstanding collections, and was Living Museum of the Year in 2002.

In responding to criticism that it trades on nostalgia [cite book|author=Bennett, Tony|editor=Lumley, Robert (ed.)|title=The Museum Time-Machine: putting cultures on display|year=1988|publisher=Routledge|location=London|isbn=0-415-00651-1|pages=63-85|chapter=Museums and "the people"] the museum is unapologetic: a former director has written "As individuals and communities we have a deep need and desire "to understand ourselves in time"." [cite journal|author=Lewis, Peter|title=History, heritage or nostalgia?|journal=Friends of Beamish Museum Magazine|volume=6|pages=28–31|date=1988] It can also demonstrate its benefit to the contemporary local economy. [cite book|author=Johnson, Peter|coauthors=Thomas, Barry|title=Tourism, Museums and the Local Economy: the economic impact of the North of England Open Air Museum at Beamish|publisher=Elgar|location=Aldershot|date=1992|isbn=1-85278-617-5] Beamish was influential on the Black Country Living Museum, Blists Hill Victorian Town and, in the view of museologist Kenneth Hudson, more widely in the museum community [cite book|author=Hudson, Kenneth|title=Museums of Influence|publisher=Cambridge University Press|date=1987|pages=126-31|isbn=0-521-30534-9] and is a significant educational resource locally.


The museum is accessible by car from the A1(M) or by bus from Durham or Newcastle and is near Chester-le-Street and Washington, Tyne and Wear. Opening and operating times and details of special events are given on the museum website.

External links

* [ Beamish official website]
* [ Beamish Collections Online]
* [ Friends of Beamish Museum]
* [ Strolling Guides: Beamish Open Air Museum]
* [ Photographs of Beamish Museum by Brian Pears]
* [ Beamish Museum (description)]


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