Posted in Travel, places to visit, mini-adventures

A trip back in time – Beamish

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Beam me up Scotty – or should it be beam me back?

Fancy being beamed back in time? Well, Beamish is the way to go…

My mum and I went on a weekend trip to Durham and Beamish in March this year.

Technically I suppose Beamish is a museum, but it’s no old-fashioned establishment, with glass cases and labels, it is more like taking a trip back into time.

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When I was little, my favourite museum was Wigan Pier (the title may appear familiar because it is a title of a famous George Orwell book). Unfortunately it has since closed down, but back in the 1980s, and to my young eyes, it brought the past to life. It was both interactive and realistic and it felt like stepping back in time. The 1800s classroom with its realistic Victorian lesson was my favourite although I was a little intimidated by the strict teacher and the cane! (Don’t worry, it was never used!) 

Beamish is an open air museum, its title is The Living Museum of the North. Divided into four main sections on a 350-acre site, it’s possible to walk around the whole site or catch a free old-fashioned tram or bus. It is a circular site, well signposted and near impossible to get lost.

Our first visit was to the 1900s colliery, it’s amazing to think how mining and its subsequent landscape and culture was dominant in a lot of Britain not all that long ago. In fact, the site of Beamish was actually part of Durham’s coalfield.

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Mining provided jobs but it was also very dangerous and, according to my Beamish Guidebook, in 1913, a miner was killed or injured every five minutes on average. In that year, more than 1,000 miners died.

We didn’t go down the mahogany drift mine, which was open to visitors, but the site is an authentic view of what a colliery may have been like in those days, with its lamp cabin (and its collection of safety lamps), winding engine house, engine shed, waggons, railway and powder house.

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No spitting allowed in the lamp cabin!

Next to the colliery is the 1900s pit village, with its pit pony stables, chapel, silver band hall, fried fish shop, school and terraced houses.

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The 1940s Farm is near by, showing life in the North East during the Second World War – farms were important during that time as there were fears imported supplies could be cut off because of the war. So here we have the cottages, tractors and machines and animals. Of course, I loved to see the free range chickens wandering about!

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We realised that time was ticking on and there was still much to see. Luckily a tram was waiting at a tram stop, so on it we went, heading for the 1900s town which shows shops, businesses and houses of that era.

Stores include a drapery, grocery and co-op. The printer, stationery and newspaper branch office is also prominent on the main street, as is The Sun Inn.

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The town stables can be visited – horses were still the main form of transport in the early 1900s. Curiously, the Beamish Motor & Cycle Works is also in the 1900s town. This must have been an interesting time to live, with both horse and motor transport. Of course, later on, the car took over from the horse. My guide book says the motor ‘industry was still in its infancy, with little standardisation of car design, components and manufacture’. How different to today’s world where we take cars for granted.

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We had a very quick visit to the 1820s, with the late Georgian landscape reflecting the changing face of industrialisation. According to my trusty guidebook, in those days, fields were ploughed into ‘ridges and furrows, before mechanised farm machinery’, there would be traditional breeds of animal such as the Durham Shorthand cattle and the horse-powered whim gin was used to raise coal and men out of mines in the 1700s and early 1800s. Examples are seen at Beamish, as is an 1820s waggonway. Back in the day, it would have taken coal to the River Tyne or Wear.

A more creepy sight is the gibbet!

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Alas, we didn’t have time to visit 1820s Pockerley Old Hall or see much of Rowley Railway Station in the 1900s Town. And there was so much else to see in the 1900s town centre which we missed but I think that shows how Beamish is absolutely jam-packed with fascinating history. And they are also planning to reconstruct a 1950s town!

We spent four hours there, but eight hours could easily be spent.

Well, I guess we will just have to ask Beamish to ‘beam us back in time again’!