Beamish, the "living museum of the North" occupies a huge site in stunning open countryside in County Durham. It is a museum with a difference, now open for 40 years, which hopes to preserve and recreate the story of life in the North East through the Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian eras. What makes the museum special is that you are allowed to wander freely, enter all the buildings and nearly all of the rooms in them, touch and see things close up and chat with the staff there who are all dressed in appropriate period costume and very knowledgeable about their subject matter. To me, this is a wonderful thing, I don't enjoy stuffy museums where you can't touch anything, the exhibits are roped off and there are new fangled touch button screens and audio tape commentaries!
Here we are then, ready to go in.
Now very excitingly, especially for Master Munchkin, you have the option to ride round the site by vintage tram (it is a one-and-three-quarter mile trip in total). I love trams, they remind me of trips to Blackpool to see the Illuminations when I was little! This local Gateshead tram was built in 1925 and remained in service until 1951. There are several other trams here, including a double decker one.
It appears we have a new driver!
Our first stop is at the Pockerley Waggonway. Waggonways were built in the region to move coal from pit to riverside for further transportation. This waggonway is based on one in Georgian times, and part of an original ironworks from Newcastle-upon-Tyne is incorporated into the fabric of this building. The boys loved the waggonway with its steam engines, of course!
The best bit for me was the bothy with its roaring fire, so cosy!
Off we set on foot down the track, through the farmed landscape which was laid out as would have been typical in the early nineteenth century.
Our destination is Pockerley Old Hall, a building original to this site, retaining roof timbers from as far back as 1440. It is the type of building which would have been occupied by a yeoman, miner or tenant farmer in the early 1800s. Pretty nice, hey?
The inside is rather special, too.
I particularly love the upstairs rooms with their beautiful period wallpapers, fabric hangings and quilts.
As we leave, in the distance, an engine is chugging along the waggonway. Like I say this is a real museum where things really work!
On then to one of my favourite parts, the recreation of a typical North Eastern market town in the run up to the First World War.
Guess which shop was the Munchkin's favourite? Hmm, might that be the sweet shop? You can buy real sweets in the front shop and at the rear, you can watch them being made in the traditional way. The smell was heaven!
There is also a pub, the Sun Inn. This inn dates back to the 1860s and was moved here from Bishop Auckland. The interior has been rebuilt much as it originally would have been. Well, it would have been rude not to have partaken of a small jar whilst warming by the fire, don't you think?
For me, there was the haberdashers, swoon!
There are many other typical high street buildings here: a printers, the Co-op, a garage, a bank and even a Masonic hall. There is also a recreation of a typical row of early Victorian houses, "Ravensworth Terrace", originally built in nearby Gateshead between 1830-45. Don't you think it marvellous that they have moved these wonderful old buildings brick by brick and perfectly reconstructed them?
In most of the open buildings, there were roaring fires, such as in this kitchen. Cosy and very welcome after the bitter cold outside! In many of the houses they were also undertaking activities, this lady had made toast and in Pockerley Old Hall they had made biscuits, all using traditional ingredients and methods, cooked in the old bread ovens or ranges, and which you were invited to try.
I loved this cute nursery in one of the terraced houses.
A posh "parlour".
Also within the terrace was a dental surgery (ouch and eek, I've spared you the photos of that!) and a solicitor's office.
On then to the Beamish Railway Station. You see, I said there was something for all of us here! This station is as it would have been about 1910. It came from Rowley, near Consett. On occasions, a steam train runs for short journeys but sadly was not running on the day we visited.
No matter, having dodged the rain, we cheered ourselves up with a ride on the steam gallopers.
Then it was back on the tram for a ride to Home Farm. This is how a farm would have been in the early 1870s and this farm was once part of the Beamish Estate. It is wonderful that there are real animals in the barns, including two very cute calves.
It was the interior though, which really delighted me. This is just a kitchen to die for! There was even a cat curled up by the fire ready to be stroked and purr in return.
I especially love it when I see that one of the things which goes on here is patchwork!
There was also a beautiful antique quilt over the settle, absolutely huge and all English paper pieced by hand.
We had to hurry though as there was still yet more to see! Off on foot to the pit village just across the way, then. Collieries were such a huge part of the landscape of the North East and this village is a recreation of a typical pit as it would have been in the early 1900s.
One really wonderful place to visit is the Beamish Board School which once stood in nearby East Stanley. It opened in 1892 and closed nearly a century later.
This naughty pupil seems to have been kept behind to write his lines!
I loved visiting the row of pit cottages though sadly it was late in the day and some were closed (some are also used for educational purposes for visiting schools). The pit cottages were built in the 1860s in nearby Hetton-le-Hole, for use by pitmen and their families. Houses and coal were provided free in exchange for labour.
However, there were a few we could go into where I enjoyed seeing the antique quilts in particular. I was surprised to learn that in 1913, pitmen's wages were relatively high so they could afford expensive furniture.
I think I would have been happy, with all this crafting going on!
This quilt was really beautiful, so nice to see the real thing.
We quickly nipped over to the colliery which the boys found interesting.
You can see the entrance to the Mahogany Drift Mine first opened in 1855. You used to be able to walk into the coal seam underground but I think this has been closed. Nearby, there are also engine sheds to house steam locomotives once used in the colliery.
All too soon, it was closing time and so we caught the replica vintage bus back. The Munchkin insisted on sitting up top in the open air. Brrrrr!
If you are ever able to visit this museum, I cannot recommend it highly enough, it is certainly my favourite and a very special place indeed.