Beamish, the Living Museum of the North, occupies a 300 acre or 120 hectare site near Stanley, some six miles south-west of the centre of Newcastle and four miles east of Junction 63 on the A1(M). It is included on Undiscovered Scotland because it is an utterly magnificent visitor attraction that should not be missed by anyone living in or passing through North-East England. This is a place where you can come in the morning and spend all day, and still feel you've only scratched the surface of a truly magical experience. As well as the images on this page, there is a second page of pictures of Beamish to view here.
So what is Beamish? In short, it is a series of settlements and landscapes which recreate aspects of everyday life in the North-East of England through the Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian eras. But that barely does it justice. The important word in the description "The Living Museum of the North" is the word "Living" rather than the word "Museum". This is not a place you come to to stand outside cordons and look in at the exhibits. Instead this is a place where history comes to life, and where as a visitor you actually experience many of the sights, sounds and smells of the past.
A key element in bringing the experience to life is provided by the many people who work at Beamish and enact the working lives of their predecessors. From the young man in the garage trying to sell you a car, to the dentist, the farmer, and the bus and tram drivers and conductors, everyone you meet is focussed on helping visitors get the absolute best from their time at Beamish. Add in the opportunity to travel on Beamish's buses and trams, or ride on the steam waggonway or (at busier times) take a train from the railway station, and this is the nearest to time travel most of us will ever experience.
Admission prices, opening times, and accessibility information can be viewed via the links on the right. A very important thing to bear in mind is that the admission price includes access for a whole year. In other words, once you have visited, you can return as often as you like during the following year without charge. Beamish is so large and complex that no-one is going to see everything there is to see on their first visit, and it is clear from overheard conversations when we were there that many people do visit regularly.
Your first taste of Beamish is in the entrance building near the extensive car park. This is home to a gift shop and cafeteria, as well as to the ticket desks and a brief AV intro to the museum. If you've not printed the map of the site off their website before travelling, this is a good time to get hold of one, as knowing where everything can be found is pretty central to enjoying your visit: and while there is a map in the excellent guide book, it's a little unwieldy for frequent reference.
You can think of Beamish as a series of islands of interest within a broader landscape that helps provide a framework, setting each of the "islands" off to best effect. Most of the areas of particular interest are placed around a loop. Trams and vintage buses circle around the loop in both directions picking up and dropping off visitors at each point of interest, and all travel on them is included in the admission price. There are also footpaths across the site and around the loop: and to give a sense of scale, the Entrance Building, on the south side of the loop, is just over half a mile in a straight line (obviously rather further around the loop) from The Town at the north end of the loop.
But that is getting rather ahead of ourselves: we'll come to The Town presently. Let's assume you start by catching a tram or bus on an anticlockwise direction around the loop. The first stop you come to gives access to Pockerley Old Hall and the Pockerley Waggonway. Here you find an original Georgian manor house built in about 1720 next to the site of a fortified medieval house built in the 1440s. Like everything else at Beamish, this is a house you can explore; and you can meet the residents. In the valley to the south of the hall is the Pockerley Waggonway, on which a number of recreated early steam locomotives can give visitors the experience of travelling in unsprung open carriages. Both hall and waggonway are nicely framed by the recreated Georgian landscape in which they are set.
From Pockerley, another jump round the loop in a clockwise direction brings you to The Town. This is designed to recreate a typical market town of North-East England in the years leading up to World War One, and as the name implies is the largest settlement at Beamish. Perhaps because of the scale of what has been created here it succeeds even more completely than other parts of the museum in immersing the visitor in a complete historical environment. Most visitors will spend more time in The Town than in any other single part of Beamish, and we found it somewhere we returned to during our visit.
Although it appears larger and more complex, The Town essentially comprises a single street with some development to the rear on the north side. At its east end, one of a pair of buildings houses the bank of Barclay & Company. Visitors can wander through the main banking area and view the manager's office, or view the safes and strongroom on the lower floor. Next door is what at first appears to be a rather more modest building. This turns out to be home to the Masonic Hall, and is a recreation of one built in Sunderland in 1869. The interior is far larger than seems possible from the outside, with the actual Hall at its heart.
The core of The Town comprises a shopping street, with trams, buses and commercial vehicles driving up and down. Here you can find a garage and a Co-op with a number of departments on one side of the street, looking across at a sweet shop, a commercial printers, and the Sun Inn, the town's pub. As with everything else at Beamish, the interiors live, so you can buy sweets in the sweet shop or enjoy a drink in the pub. You can also see confectionery being made in the rear of the sweet shop, and explore the printing technology of the day on the upper floor of the printer's. As far as we could see, Beamish does not (yet) have its own brewery. Behind the shops on the north side of the street is the Town Stables, complete with a large number of carriages and wagons, plus real horses.
At the west end of The Town, a park and bandstand are overlooked by the row of cottages that form Ravensworth Terrace, originally built in Bensham in Gateshead between 1830 and 1845. Here you can explore the home of a music teacher; visit the dentist; or look in on a recreation of the office of J. & R.S. Watson, a Newcastle solicitor. The bandstand in the park hosts concerts at busy times, and The Town's tea room can be found nearby.
Just to the west of The Town is the Railway Station. This is open at all times, and steam trains operate during some weekends, taking passengers for a short trip behind The Town and back. At the far end of the station is the Beamish Waggon and Iron Works, now home to Tyne & Wear's Regional Museums Store. This holds open days through the year. Close to the railway station is Beamish's magnificent steam galloper, an original fairground ride of the period.
The next stop in an anticlockwise direction brings you to the only junction on the loop. From here it is a short distance down the hill into the centre of the loop to the Pit Village. Buses on the circuit will take you into the village, while trams stay on the loop. This is a recreation of a typical pit village of the area in the early 1900s, a reminder of an industry which in 1913 employed a quarter of a million men and boys in North-East England in 400 pits. What you find is a row of miners' cottages moved here from Hetton-le-Hole looking across a lane to a school and a chapel. The colliery is on the site of a drift mine opened here in 1855, which later expanded to become Beamish Chophill Colliery. The latest addition to the Pit Village when we visited was a lovingly recreated fish & chip shop, in which visitors could buy and consume the product.
The tram stop nearest the Pit Village also serves the Home Farm, which is located slightly up the hill outside the loop. An original feature of the landscape, this shows what farming was like in the 1870s, and again, all aspects can be explored, while animals can be seen in the farm setting. Not far away, though for obvious reasons back on the loop, is the tram depot, home to Beamish's six restored trams and its vintage buses.
Beamish came into being through the drive of Frank Atkinson, its first Director, who in 1970 started to amass a collection of all that he saw being lost around him of a way of life in North-East England. The collection rapidly grew to fill 22 huts and hangars at a disused army camp, and a site for a new outdoor museum was identified at Beamish. Over the past four decades Beamish has grow steadily, and it continues to evolve and develop today. When we visited work was under way on a new bakery at the east end of The Town, and the fish and chip shop in the Pit Village had recently opened. Meanwhile there was talk of even more ambitious developments to greatly expand the size and scope of The Town.