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

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 (Clevelandmarker, Durham, Northumberlandmarker 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). 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" — "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. For some years the museum has been 96% self-funding, mainly from admission charges.

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 Greencroftmarker, near Lanchester, County Durhammarker).


The Town

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. These include the Annfield Plainmarker Co-Operative Store (with operating cash carrier system); a terrace of professionals’ houses (from Gatesheadmarker), "occupied" by a music teacher, dentist's surgery and family home, and solicitor’s office; a pub (the Sun Inn from Bishop Aucklandmarker); town stables and carriage shed (utilising iron roof trusses from Fleetwoodmarker) housing an extensive collection of horse-drawn vehicles; a branch office of the Sunderland Daily Echo, stationer’s and printshop; a sweet shop and manufactory; a garage; a branch of Barclays Bank (using components from Southportmarker and Gatesheadmarker); and a masonic temple (from Sunderlandmarker). 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-Teesmarker); and fire and police stations and other municipal buildings. The museum also has the components of an early cinema, and of a gasworks from Milnthorpemarker.

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 Consettmarker, a goods shed from Alnwickmarker and coal drops from West Boldonmarker.

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 Pallionmarker, Sunderlandmarker (1977); and several boats including the Tyne wherry (a traditional local type of lighter) Elswick No. 2 (1930). 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 Westoemarker, South Shieldsmarker.

The Colliery Village

Reconstructed pitworks buildings showing winding gear
In view of the impact the history of coal mining has had on its region, the museum has major collections in this area. 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 'Crowther' winding engine (from the nearby Beamish 2nd Pit), screens (from Gatesheadmarker), and waste tip. There are a number of industrial steam locomotives (including rare examples by Stephen Lewin, from Seahammarker, 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). 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-Holemarker, the Wesleyan Methodist chapel from Pit Hill, and East Stanleymarker 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 Teammarker) (where there are also remains of forges) and development of a rural community including re-erection of St Helen’s Church from Estonmarker in Clevelandmarker.


The museum contains much of transport interest, and the size of its site makes good visitor transportation a necessity.

The Railway

In the railway station yard there is a variety of wagons on display. Under the footbridge (from Crookmarker) 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 Railwaymarker, also nearby.

NER 876 at Beamish, 2001
Resident locomotives include NER Class C1 freight engine No. 876 (British Railways Class J21 No. 65033), built at Gatesheadmarker in 1889. After lying out of use since 1984 it was moved to the North Norfolk Railwaymarker 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.

Pockerley Waggonway

Replica Steam Elephant locomotive, 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 worksmarker and incorporating some material from Robert Stephenson and Company’s Newcastlemarker works.

Visitors to the museum can ride in an unsprung carriage behind one of three replica steam locomotives on the railway.

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. The open-top cars tend to be used in the summer months.
  • Gatesheadmarker single decker no. 10 built in 1925. Undergoing a mechanical rebuild, painted in Gateshead purple lined out in yellow.
  • Sunderlandmarker 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.
  • Newcastlemarker 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-Portomarker) 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.

Motor Buses

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

Other Road Vehicles

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; 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 Harbourmarker.

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; "clippy mats" (rag rugs); Trade union banners; 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 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. 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 nostalgiathe museum is unapologetic: a former director has written "As individuals and communities we have a deep need and desire to understand ourselves in time." It can also demonstrate its benefit to the contemporary local economy. Beamish was influential on the Black Country Living Museummarker, Blists Hill Victorian Townmarker and, in the view of museologist Kenneth Hudson, more widely in the museum community and is a significant educational resource locally.


The museum is accessible by car from the A1marker or by bus from Durhammarker or Newcastlemarker and is near Chester-le-Streetmarker and Washington, Tyne and Wearmarker. Opening and operating times and details of special events are given on the museum website.

See also

External links


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