A wooden ball, delivering change to the man serving at the Co-Op counter, rattles down the shoot. A tram rumbles by outside ringing the bell for more passengers, and a lady in a cheese-cloth cap waves to passers-by. In the village a pit worker’s wife finishes a rag mat she’s been working on and stops to tell us about the hard work her husband does. Up the road the little school echoes with the voices of children playing in the yard with hoop and ring.
These are the memories I have of Beamish Open Air Museum in County Durham. Is it any wonder that on our holiday to Durham, Beamish was on my list?
I was keen to go back and see how this historical open-air museum had evolved and to learn new things about our past. Most of all I wanted to show Beany the place I had visited on so many school trips.
Arriving early, we took a seat on one of the buses that transports visitors around the site. Everything at Beamish is either an original from its era, carefully restored or a painstakingly produced replica. A step into Beamish is a step back in time.
We got off at the first stop, which was the Georgian Manor House. The gardens and landscape are designed in the style of ‘Capability’ Brown and the manor itself has been restored to represent a house in the early 1800s.
The school children visiting are kept busy by sweeping leaves into a pile at the top of the step, and do so in complete silence as instructed by a male servant of the house. Later a female servant will come out and tell them they are piling them in the wrong place. The kids are amused by this and get a taste of what it may have been like for the younger servants in the household.
The smell of freshly backed scones greets you and you can ask the servants about the sort of work they would have done at the time.
A short walk from the Manor House is a small Georgian station with engine sheds and a wonderful replica of a Stevenson engine. You can even take a ride on it if you’re there at the right time of the day.
Next was the pit village with the little cottages each with gardens bigger than the houses and all growing their own fruit and vegetables. Make do and mend repairs on the greenhouses create a patchwork that reflects the raggy mats and quilts inside the house. There is a pit behind the village that shows some of the machinery used in coal mining in it’s hey day. Carts and coal scatter the yard as you make your way around.
Back in the village you can visit the school where the school teacher will set you a lesson. This used to be an early 1900s school and was in use until the 1980s. Sunshine streams in the doors and floods the classrooms. This is a happy place despite the stern look on the school masters face.
In the village you can get fish and chips fried in beef dripping, cooked with the use of a coal burner as it would have been in the early 1900s, and if you walk a little further up you’ll find the old farm.
A fascinating place full of the tools of farming used in the 1940s and the challenges farmers faced during the war. There’s an excellent café there where you can get yourself a ‘black market’ bacon stottie. For those of you not in the know a stottie is a style of bread found in the north-east of England. It is the leftovers of any dough, squashed into a ball and then ‘stotted’ (thrown) at the bottom of the oven to cook. They look like this:
Fed and refreshed, next stop is the 1900s town and you can get the tram if you’d like but we chose to walk as Beany cannot get enough of walking at the moment. Over the field and past the old coal run fun fair, you enter another world entirely. Far away from the peaceful farm and the rural pit village, here is the heart of the museum.
As you enter the village you will pass the homes of the gentry. Then on the main street an old Co-Op store full of 1900s items and a friendly member of staff to tell you all about them. He even attempted to sell me a wooden high chair. The engineering was superb. If it had been for sale, I would have bought it!
Walk on and you’ll find the old printers and a traditional sweet shop amongst the hustle and bustle of the street.
The end of a long day we still hadn’t seen everything Beamish had to offer; a wonderful trip down memory lane.
There are no information signs at Beamish instead you can ask one of the many volunteers and people employed in the museum who will gladly tell you about the place and the treasure within it. If you like your information signs, this may annoy you though as when it’s very busy it’s difficult to ask the staff questions.
There are areas where it’s not that advisable to let toddlers roam free – this could be said of many places – and a pushchair, although perfectly OK to use on the footpaths may meet some uneven terrain in some places and will not fit in the houses. Beany did enjoy a toddle in the more open areas and wore herself ou by the end of the day. It’s a huge site! We will definitely be returning to Beamish when Beany’s older, it’s such a wonderful way to learn.
Beamish gets 4/5 from us:
Have you been to Beamish? What did you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts so don’t forget to let me know below.