Beamish Museum

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LocationBeamish, Stanley, County Durham, England
TypeOpen air living museum
Collection size304,000+ objects
Visitors350,000 annually[1]
DirectorRichard Evans
WebsiteBeamish official website
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LocationBeamish, Stanley, County Durham, England
TypeOpen air living museum
Collection size304,000+ objects
Visitors350,000 annually[1]
DirectorRichard Evans
WebsiteBeamish 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. The museum's guiding principle is to preserve an example of everyday life in urban and rural North East England at the climax of industrialisation in the early 20th century.

Much of the restoration and interpretation is specific to the late Victorian and Edwardian eras, together with portions of countryside under the influence of industrial revolution in 1825. On its 300 acres (120 ha) estate it utilises a mixture of translocated, original and replica buildings; a huge collection of artifacts, working vehicles and equipment; as well as livestock and costumed interpreters.

The museum has received a number of prestigious awards since it opened its present site to visitors in 1972 and has been influential on other "living museums". It is a significant educational resource, and helps to preserve some traditional north-country and rare livestock breeds.


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).[2] Atkinson, realising that the region's traditional industries of coal-mining, shipbuilding, and iron and steel manufacture were disappearing along with the communities that served them, was anxious to preserve the customs, traditions and ways of speech of the region. He said, "It is essential that collecting be carried out quickly and on as big a scale as possible. It is now almost too late."[3]

Atkinson adopted a policy of "unselective collecting"[4] — "you offer it to us and we will collect it." The people of the region responded with donations of all kinds ranging from small everyday objects to steam engines and shops, filling an entire army camp of 22 huts and hangars at Brancepeth.[3]

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.[5] The approximately 300-acre (1.2 km2) current site, once belonging to the Eden and Shafto families, is a basin-shaped steep-sided valley with woodland areas, a river, some level ground and a south-facing aspect.[3] Since 1986 visitors have entered the museum, which has been 96% self-funding for some years (mainly from admission charges), 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).[3][6]



Reenactors creating a period street scene at the museum

The town area, officially opened in 1985, depicts chiefly Victorian buildings in an evolved urban setting of 1913.[7] These include the Annfield Plain Co-Operative Store (with operating cash carrier system);[8][9] 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,[10] 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.

A bakery is under construction in 2013, and future plans for the town include a shopping arcade, dispensing chemist (using fittings from Stockton-on-Tees[11]), as well as fire and police stations and other municipal buildings. The museum also has the components of an early cinema, and those of a gasworks from Milnthorpe.

Railway station[edit]

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, which both originally lay on the Stanhope and Tyne Railway.[12] The signal box came from Carr House, near Consett; the goods shed from Alnwick; and coal drops from West Boldon.

The station is dominated by the Regional Museums Store (completed in 2002, and externally disguised as "Beamish Waggon and Iron Works, estd 1857"), which Beamish shares 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).[13] The store is only open at selected times, and for special tours which can be arranged through the museum; however, a number of viewing windows have been provided for use at other times. Adjacent is an events field and fairground with a set of Frederick Savage built steam powered Gallopers dating from 1893.

Colliery village[edit]

Reconstructed pitworks buildings showing winding gear

In view of the impact that coal mining has had on its region, the museum has major collections related to this industry.[14] Exhibits include the museum's Mahogany Drift Mine, a coal mine original to the site where it is possible to take an underground tour. The colliery is dominated by the regularly steamed 1855 vertical 'Crowther' winding engine[15] (from the nearby Beamish 2nd Pit), screens (from Gateshead) and a waste tip. There are a number of industrial steam locomotives (including rare examples by Stephen Lewin, from Seaham, and Black, Hawthorn & Co), and many chaldron wagons (the region’s traditional type of colliery railway rolling stock, and which became a symbol of Beamish Museum).[16] 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,[17] 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. An Edwardian coal-fired Fish and Chip shop, Davy's Fried Fish named for Edwardian chip shop owners the Davy Brothers of Winlaton Mill, Gateshead, opened in Summer 2011 next to the Chapel.[18] It serves fish and chips cooked in traditional beef dripping[18] which means the chips are unsuitable for vegetarian diets, and the fish similarly unsuitable for pescatarian diets. Coffee Pot No 1 is often in steam during the summer

Home Farm[edit]

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.

Beamish are in the process of converting Home Farm to represent a 1940's wartime setting.

The Georgian North (1825)[edit]

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 back part of the house was a bastle house, with ceiling beams carbon-dated to the 14th century, although the structure is believed to be older. The surrounding farmlands have been returned to a post-enclosure landscape with ridge and furrow topography, divided into smaller fields by traditional riven oak fencing. The land is worked and grazed by traditional methods and breeds.

Through this scene passes a pack pony track and the recently constructed wooden- and Pockerley waggonways (see below) serving a replica coal pit with horse-worked winding gin. It is intended to expand this area by the restoration of an existing watermill on the Beamish Burn (River Team) (where there are also remains of forges), and the development of a rural community including the re-erection of St Helen’s Church from Eston in North Yorkshire.


A tram and a bus transporting passengers to various parts of the museum

The museum contains much of transport interest, and the size of its site makes good internal transportation for visitors and staff purposes a necessity.[19][20]


In the railway station yard, a variety of wagons are 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, but it returned to Beamish in 2012 for restoration and use.

LNER 68088 at Beamish, 2011

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 returning to steam in 2007. A syndicate has now been formed and an appeal made for contributions. The museum also formerly operated its Hawthorn Leslie industrial engine No. 14.

During 2009 the main running line to the far end of the town was relaid so that passenger rides could recommence from the station during 2010. In February 2011 the museum received a 1923-built LNER Y7 Class 0-4-0T engine on a three-year loan from the North Norfolk Railway. The engine will run a passenger service at Rowley Station on weekends during the summer season. Currently under restoration at the Severn Valley Railway is 0-4-4T Dunrobin, which Beamish purchased in 2010 for use on the Rowley Station line. In 2012 Beamish also purchased 0-6-0 Saddle Tank 'Newcastle'; restoration is planned.

Pockerley Waggonway[edit]

Replica Steam Elephant, 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:

Wooden waggonway[edit]

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


Coffee Pot No 1 in steam

Beamish is home to several 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.[23][24]


The museum has collected a couple of trolleybuses.

Motor buses[edit]

The replica buses are used on a regular service between the town and colliery village.

Other road vehicles[edit]

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;[26] Clydesdale and Cleveland Bay working horses; Dales ponies; Teeswater sheep; Saddleback[disambiguation needed] pigs; and poultry.

Regional heritage[edit]

Other large exhibits collected by the museum include a tracked steam shovel, and a coal drop from Seaham Harbour.[27]

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;[28] "clippy mats" (rag rugs);[29] Trade union banners;[30][31] 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[32] 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[edit]

The unselective collecting policy created a lasting bond between museum and community[3] and the supporting Friends organisation was established in 1968 before the Beamish site had been occupied.[33] 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[34] 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."[35] It can also demonstrate its benefit to the contemporary local economy.[36] 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[37] 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. Bus services 28 and 28A operate from Newcastle Pilgrim Street and Gateshead Interchange to Beamish Museum.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Beamish official website". Archived from the original on 28 December 2007. Retrieved 2008-01-13. 
  2. ^ Atkinson, Frank (1999). The Man Who Made Beamish: an autobiography. Gateshead: Northern Books. ISBN 0-9535730-0-1. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Allan, Rosemary E. (2003). Beamish, the North of England Open Air Museum: the experience of a lifetime. Jarrold. ISBN 0-7117-2996-4. 
  4. ^ Atkinson, Frank (1985). "The unselective collector". Museums Journal 85: 9–11. 
  5. ^ Allan, Rosemary E. (1991). Beamish, the North of England Open Air Museum: the making of a museum. Beamish. ISBN 0-905054-07-5. 
  6. ^ Lewis, Peter (1991). "Dependence or independence". In Ambrose, Timothy (ed.). Money, Money, Money & Museums. Edinburgh: H.M.S.O. pp. 38–49. ISBN 0-11-494110-6. 
  7. ^ Atkinson, Frank (1985). "The Town and how it began". Friends of Beamish Museum Magazine 3: 2–7. 
  8. ^ Buxton, Andrew (2004). Cash Carriers in Shops. Princes Risborough: Shire Publications. ISBN 978-0-7478-0615-8. 
  9. ^ "The Cash Railway website". Archived from the original on 17 January 2008. Retrieved 2008-01-13. 
  10. ^ Echoes of the past for north museum. Sunderland Echo. May 8, 1991. p. 7. 
  11. ^ Thomas, Doreen (1971). "Hardcastle's". Cleveland & Teesside Local History Society Bulletin 14: 27–30. 
  12. ^ "Rowley railway station". Retrieved 18 March 2013. 
  13. ^ The Regional Museums Store for North East England: catalogue of collections (CD-ROM). Beamish: Regional Museums Store. 
  14. ^ Doyle, Aidan (2005). The Great Northern Coalfield: mining collections at Beamish Museum. Newcastle: Northumbria University Press. ISBN 1-904794-11-4. 
  15. ^ Hill, Alan (1985). Single Cylinder Vertical Lever-type Winding Engines as used in the North East of England. Eindhoven: De Archaeologische Pers. ISBN 90-6585-526-2. 
  16. ^ Atkinson, Frank (1978). "The Beamish symbol: a "chaldron" wagon". Beamish: report of the North of England Open Air Museum Joint Committee 1: 32–9. 
  17. ^ Langley, Leigh (1992). Our Chapel. Beamish. ISBN 0-905054-08-3. 
  18. ^ a b!/
  19. ^ Atkinson, Frank (1980). "Beamish North of England Open Air Museum". Yesteryear Transport 3: 76–9. 
  20. ^ Barnes, Alan (November 2012). "Beamish's Commercial enterprise". Vintage Spirit (124): 36–9. 
  21. ^ Satow, F.; Satow, M.G.; Wilson, L.S. (1976). Locomotion — concept to creation: the story of the reproduction 1973-1975. Beamish: Locomotion Trust. 
  22. ^ Rees, Jim (2001). "The strange story of the Steam Elephant". In Guy, Andy & Rees, Jim (ed.). Early Railways. London: Newcomen Society. pp. 145–70. ISBN 0-904685-08-X. 
  23. ^ "Beamish Museum Tramway". Archived from the original on 1 January 2008. Retrieved 2008-01-13. 
  24. ^ Lewis, Peter (1997). "A transport of delight: the tram operation at Beamish, the North of England Open Air Museum". Friends of Beamish Newsletter 109: 17–24. 
  25. ^ "Fleet Data: Dodge". Retrieved 2008-01-13. 
  26. ^ Atkinson, Frank (1986). "Life in the old breed yet: saving the Durham Shorthorn". Country Life 179: 827, 830. 
  27. ^ Atkinson, Frank (1975). "Preservation of Seaham Harbour coal drop and the history of coal transport in the North East". Transactions of the First International Congress on the Preservation of Industrial Monuments. pp. 155–7. 
  28. ^ Allan, Rosemary E. (2007). Quilts & Coverlets: the Beamish collections. Beamish. ISBN 978-0-905054-11-7. 
  29. ^ Allan, Rosemary E. (2007). From Rags to Riches: North Country Rag Rugs. The Beamish Collections. Beamish. ISBN 978-0-905054-12-4. 
  30. ^ Moyes, William A. (1974). The Banner Book: a study of the banners of the lodges of Durham Miners’ Association. Newcastle: Frank Graham. ISBN 0-85983-085-3. 
  31. ^ Clark, Robert (1985). "Banners for Beamish". Friends of Beamish Museum Magazine 3: 10–14. 
  32. ^ "Beamish Collections Online". Retrieved 2008-01-13. 
  33. ^ "Friends of Beamish Museum". Archived from the original on 22 December 2007. Retrieved 2008-01-13. 
  34. ^ Bennett, Tony (1988). "Museums and "the people"". In Lumley, Robert (ed.). The Museum Time-Machine: putting cultures on display. London: Routledge. pp. 63–85. ISBN 0-415-00651-1. 
  35. ^ Lewis, Peter (1988). "History, heritage or nostalgia?". Friends of Beamish Museum Magazine 6: 28–31. 
  36. ^ Johnson, Peter; Thomas, Barry (1992). Tourism, Museums and the Local Economy: the economic impact of the North of England Open Air Museum at Beamish. Aldershot: Elgar. ISBN 1-85278-617-5. 
  37. ^ Hudson, Kenneth (1987). Museums of Influence. Cambridge University Press. pp. 126–31. ISBN 0-521-30534-9. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 54°52′55″N 1°39′30″W / 54.88194°N 1.65833°W / 54.88194; -1.65833