Beamish Museum takes a look behind the scenes of its new 1950s town


Future visitors to the Beamish Museum will be able to immerse themselves in the fifties, with a visit to the hairdresser for a “bun” before attending a news item at the cinema and then jumping into the chippy opposite for a takeaway. then.

A new era is currently under construction at the County Durham Museum and The Chronicle has been invited for an update on the progress of its growing city of the 1950s where – upon its completion next year – families will also be able to jump on a passing trolley bus and catch on the “latest” hits aired on the main street cafe’s jukebox.

Work on the city has been delayed due to Covid and the museum’s long shutdown, but now the panels that hid it from view are partially lowered and visitors passing through the area, which sits near the top of the city. from the 1900s, can get a glimpse of what’s going on. at the store.

Read more: 10 Reasons We Love Durham Cathedral

Much remains a construction site, requiring sturdy boots and hard hats to access them, but the main attractions of Front Street Terrace – all part of the £ 20million Remaking Beamish project – are now almost completed.

Police houses under construction in the 1950s town starting to take shape at the Beamish Museum in County Durham

These include the Middleton Barber Shop and Fish and Chips Shop, where 1950s gas ovens are installed, allowing for faster cooking than the charcoal stoves at Davy’s Fishmonger in the Museum Village.

These are replicas of real 1950s businesses in Middlesbrough and near Darlington, and share the terrace with a cafe – the interior of which includes the real wooden seats of the original John’s Cafe: an ice cream parlor run by famous Giovanni Baptista Parisella. as John, in Wingate, County Durham, which was a milkshake and music haven for local teens – and a reconstruction of the first marital home of Spennymoor miner-turned-artist Norman Cornish.

Helen Barker, Remaking Beamish Project Manager, on site
Helen Barker, Remaking Beamish Project Manager, on site

Undergoing development each will have an atmosphere of its own, with the Cornish House showcasing some of the archival work that the museum has inherited from the family of the late artist, also with the addition of ‘an upstairs art space to inspire visitors can get creative themselves, explains our guide Helen Barker, Remaking Beamish Project Manager.

Family input as well as public memories fueled every corner of the city from the 1950s, right down to the wallpaper patterns and color schemes that are remembered.

The restored original cabins at John's Cafe
The restored original cabins at John’s Cafe

It’s painstaking work, with the team using for example an old photograph, showing part of the tiling of the original chippy, to duplicate the partial pattern and then find the best way to complete it.

Opposite the terrace, a cinema – a reconstruction of The Grand in Ryhope, Sunderland – has yet to take shape, while up the street other buildings from the 1950s are already being built: the Gateshead Police Houses and a row of adjacent houses that copy the Popular social housing, nominated by members of the public, which still exist in Sunderland.

Work in progress in the Norman house in Cornwall
Work in progress in the Norman house in Cornwall

Then there will be a play area stocked with toys from the 1950s, made safe today, and replicas of the homes of elderly miners from South Shields that will serve as the basis for the museum’s work with people with dementia. .

The site is a stone’s throw from the already open Wellness Room, the museum’s first 1950s building, and it all adds up to a self-sustaining community – created from the happy memories of those who lived in the originals. and also drawing closer to local industry stories, says Helen, like the HERE boom back then that saw new jobs being created and people with money in their pockets, to spend to keep going – and these new hairstyles.

Spains Field Farm which was rebuilt at the Beamish Museum
Spains Field Farm which was rebuilt at the Beamish Museum

Visitors will finally have the chance to step back into the 1950s, when the attractions open next year.

Before that, a 1950s farm – a short walk from the City – was ready to open.

Soon to debut in its new home, Spain’s Field Farm has been relocated stone by stone from its original site in Weardale, County Durham, and ambitious reconstruction includes a large detached house – the oldest part of which dates from the 14th century – with two bedrooms upstairs plus annex shelters.

In what looks like a scene from the past, staff are working on the land outside of Spains Field Farm
In what looks like a scene from the past, staff are working on the land outside of Spains Field Farm

Again, the attention to detail and care taken in creation is evident in touches such as specially designed wallpaper – the motif closest to what its last inhabitant remembered – and correspondences with fragments. of paint and linoleum found.

The staff are now as excited as anyone about the coming big reveal.

History at every turn - one of the cobblestones used in the town is inscribed with the date of Edward Vll's coronation in June 1902
History at every turn – one of the cobblestones used in the town is inscribed with the date of Edward Vll’s coronation in June 1902

This last major milestone in Beamish’s 50-year history marks a return to capturing living memory, just as its earlier-era exhibits did for very first visitors to the museum.

But there are other 19th century developments to come as well, including the idea of ​​new overnight stays in on-site properties.

The lockdown gave the team plenty of time to reflect, Helen says, and the museum’s initial plans to build a relay inn as part of the project are now on hold.

Instead, there are buildings near the 1800s Pockerley Mansion that have conversion potential, which would be an ideal way to offer those reserving a taste of the 19th century – but with a few modern comforts. too.

Remaking Beamish is the largest development project in the history of the museum. For more information, see his website here.

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