Beamish is a living history museum, just down from Newcastle, which celebrates the lives of working people and the culture of England’s North-East. Many of the buildings originally stood elsewhere and would have been lost altogether if they hadn’t been moved to this old colliery site.
There is an Edwardian town, a coal-mine and pit-village, a farm set back to the wartime period of the 1940s, an 18th century manor and farmhouse, an old railway station – all with staff and volunteers, dressed in costume, and living in the past.
It’s almost like time-travelling, as you follow miners into the original old drift mine, wander into cottages and offices, a printers, bakers and a sweet-shop, a freemason’s hall and a bank set back in the Edwardian period. Not to mention a pub, a steam wagonway and and church – just a few of the places to visit. The period fish and chip shop, where the food is cooked on a coal-fired range – and, golly, they’re good!
You can even have your picture taken in costume in a photographer’s studio.
For a writer, Beamish is particularly valuable. Where else can you see how a lawyer’s office of the early 1900s might actually have looked? Or ride on a tram of the period or an old bus or railway train?
I had ancestors who worked in coal-mining, so I particularly like the pit-village. My first school was in a pit village in the Black Country of the English Midlands. Not very different from the pit village at Beamish.
Beamish presents the real history of Britain; the kind of environment in which most of our ancestors actually lived. The history of the working and lower middle-classes which tends to get neglected by most historical novelists.
They also stage events set in their relevant period, and there’s something on most weeks. We visit Beamish quite often, most recently as part of the commemoration of the centenary of the opening day of the Battle of the Somme. Beamish is also a very valuable teaching resource, giving talks and with an outreach programme. They have a particular interest in aiding people with dementia, giving sufferers links with their own past.
Re-enactment groups were there, both as infantry and lancers, their uniforms reproduced in great detail, explaining to visitors just what life was like in the trenches of the Great War. These volunteers go into schools and relate this knowledge, which is particularly valuable now that all the veterans have passed away.
A great many local children visit Beamish in school-parties, which I’m thrilled to bits about. It’s important that British children are taught that history doesn’t stop and start with a procession of Kings and Queens.
These are the kinds of communities where our ancestors really lived.
And Beamish is still a work in progress. They are already planning to recreate a Georgian coaching inn, and a 1950s townscape.
A wonderful place for a visit – and your admission fee covers a year of visits.
We shall certainly be back – and often.
It positively inspires our writing.