Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Roots of Beamish Museum (NZ220540)

The Colliery, Beamish Museum
(© Copyright Ashley Dace and licensed for reuse under this Creative CommonsLicence)

In 2010, Beamish Museum celebrated its 40th birthday. It is the oldest regional ‘open air’ museum in England.

Incredibly, the idea for ‘Beamish’ was first floated back in 1958. It stumbled forward in fits and starts during the 1960s, gradually gathering items of all shapes and sizes from the public which were stored in an old army camp near Brancepeth. In total, more than twenty huts and hangars were filled with material.

Thanks, primarily, to the efforts of its first director, Frank Atkinson, the project gathered steam, and the collection was eventually brought to its current site near Beamish village in 1970 – the moment when the first staff members were formally appointed and the museum properly born. Even then, the amount of material was substantial, ranging from the smallest household item up to engines, vehicles and whole shops. Such was the enthusiasm for the scheme that a ‘Friends’ support group was established several years before the museum opened.

In 1971, the very first public exhibition – entitled ‘Museum in the Making’ – was established in Beamish Hall, and it was such a success that the final go-ahead was given to the concept of an ‘open air’ museum in the hall’s grounds. The following year saw the opening of the site as we know it today – if a good deal shorn of its now familiar attractions. A few cottages were erected in 1972, and in 1973 the railway station and pithead were constructed and the first trams began to run.

In the forty years since, Beamish has gone from strength to strength, picking up many national and international awards along the way. It is almost entirely self-funding, and attracts between 300-400,000 visitors per year.

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