Author Archives: BeamishMuseum

Durham Ambulance Service's first leek show at Framwellgate Moor, 1956. Stretchers were used as show benches!

For the love of leeks

We’re up and running with the Great North Festival of Agriculture here at Beamish – a whole season of activities celebrating agricultural and rural heritage in the North East. Next weekend, the 7th and 8th September, sees the ‘Growing Your Own’ competition (see for more information and to get involved). It’s the perfect excuse to dig out (no pun intended!) some interesting collections that reflect the rich history of growing in the region.

It seems the obvious choice, but it’s impossible to ignore the role of the mighty leek in this history, and it isn’t hard to find leek-related highlights from our collection.  The importance of competitive leek growing in the mining communities of the North East is a well known story, and this is certainly reflected in our own collection. We have everything from club posters and membership cards to ceremonial leek measures!

Leek shows were the most important date on the gardening miner’s calendar, and were widely advertised through eye catching posters, like this example from Billy Row:

Hello? What's this? LEEKS!

Hello? What’s this? LEEKS!

Preparation started early, and lifting the chosen leeks ready for the show was an almost a surgical operation, and is depicted in this painting by James Mackenzie:

Howicking preparing leeks on Show Day, Alexandra Road, Barrington - by James Mackenzie

Howicking Preparing Leeks on Show Day, Alexandra Road, Barrington – by James Mackenzie

Everyone entering a leek show paid a entrance fee which helped to fund the prizes: prize funds were boosted by year-round fundraising activities such as raffles and draws. The prizes could be valuable but were invariably household items such as furniture and appliances, and these were displayed alongside the show tables in a hall decorated by the leek club members’ wives. One description of a 1950s leek show describes the show hall on a leek weekend as looking like a ‘department store gone mad!’.

Prizewinners were carefully recorded – records show that the three prizewinners at the 1895 Langley Moor Leek Show were a Mr J. Bell (winner of a tea set), J Milner (winner of a steel fender), and Mr W. Willis, who was the proud winner of a pair of trousers!

Entry requirements were (and still are) stringent – to qualify for the show bench each leek should have a balanced ‘barrel’ with no more than six inches between between the ‘button’ and the ‘beard’ although there is no limit to the diameter of the leek . Cubic capacity is an important measurement, and items like this leek table help with the calculation:

Leek measuring table

Leek measuring table

Leek table (2)

Leek measuring table (back, with beer advert!)

Size isn’t everything though, and winning leeks need to score highly on condition, solidity, and uniformity to scoop a prize, like these first class examples grown by Mr Taylor for the 1955 Pittington Co-op Leek Show:

Mr Taylor with his prize leeks

Mr Taylor with his prize-winning leeks

Leeks were so heavily associated with mining communities in the North East that they make appearances in the most unexpected places. This 1984 cartoon by Guardian cartoonist Steve Bell shows well-meaning London liberals John the Monkey and King Penguin lending their support to the NUM in the 1984-85 Miners’ Strike – note the giant leeks growing in the garden!

If...1984, by Steve Bell - image from

If…1984, by Steve Bell – image from

For better or worse, allotment gardening is a distinctly different and more diverse pastime now than at any point in its history, but the leek clubs and shows continue to play an important part in former mining communities and beyond. Even in my own allotment in hoity-toity Hexham, pot leeks abound and competition is fierce: in the land of the organic pak choi, the leek remains King!

From hockeypockey men to sundae parlours: an ice cream story

Here’s a post from Curatorial Assistant Tanya Wills – Tanya has been working on our project to bring the interior of John’s Cafe in Wingate, a historic ice cream parlour and popular ’50s hangout, to Beamish:

As the warm weather continues, we all love nothing more than an ice cream to cool us down. A little, affordable treat on a day out. Before the nineteenth century ice cream was a luxury in Western Europe, enjoyed mainly in the royal courts. Now we have ice cream parlours and vans in most towns and cities and we have group of entrepreneurial immigrants to thank for that – the Italians.

Italian blog picture 1

Nineteenth century rural Italy had a rising population, many unable to find work, food prices were rising and it was unsettled due to attempts at Unification. So with hopes of a better life many families looked further afield.

In 1871 the Census in England and Wales recorded the population of Italian immigrants as 5,063, but by 1911 this had risen to 20,389. I have found many different reasons for Italians settling in Britain. One tale is that unscrupulous boat owners took money with the promise of transport to America, but on arriving in Britain and travelling to ports such as Greenwich for the next leg of their journey, immigrants found that there was no mention of them on passenger list. So, due to lack of money, they settled in Scotland and Northern England.

Another story is of Italians who had already settled sending word back to their native villages, telling them of the money to be made in their town in industrial Britain. This story is backed up by records looking at Immigration patterns which showed multiple families from the same village in Italy all settling within the same county here.The North East had many families from the Ciociaria region (between Rome and Naples). Of course many decided to move over to large cities such as London and then fanned out to the rest of country in search of work.

The North East is well known for welcoming people from all over Europe, at one time moving here to take advantage of the opportunities brought about by coal mining and ship building. It is what shaped the rich culture and language of the North East.

Giuseppe Risi from Risis Ices, still based in Newcastle after 110 years, with ice cream tricycle

Giuseppe Risi from Risi’s Ices, still based in Newcastle after 110 years, with ice cream tricycle

One way the Italians found they could make money was to sell ice cream they produced themselves using methods and recipes from home, initially out of push cart selling dabs of ice cream wrapped in paper or ‘penny licks’. Willing to work long hours, pushing the heavy carts around the town they could earn a small living. The sellers were often called ‘hokeypockey men’ believed to come from their cries of “Gelati, eccounpoco!” (“Ice cream, here’s a little!”)

The treat became popular and as more money came in the carts were often replaced by horse drawn cart or bicycle carts and then eventually shops which sold everything from sundaes to cigarettes, sweets, hot drinks and meals. As profits increased second and third shops were often purchased in neighbouring towns and rented out or sold to workers who showed they could make a profit.

The shops were usually family run with ice cream recipes passed on to the next generations who would eventually go on to run shops. These cafes became parts of people’s lives: a venue where they went while celebrating, meeting friends, dating future spouses or took the family for a treat.

James Cook, a customer of John's Cafe in Wingate, Co. Durham with much loved owner John Parisella. John's Cafe is to become a feature of Beamish's planned future development, the 1950s Town.

James Cook, a customer of John’s Cafe in Wingate, Co. Durham with much loved owner John Parisella. John’s Cafe is to become a feature of Beamish’s planned future development, the 1950s Town.

And so, the Italian families who ran (and many still run today) the local ice cream café became family friends and those looking for an escape from economic problems in Italy won over the hearts and taste buds of Britain.


Turn the handle, and a tiny policeman meets an unfortunate end

Votes for (clockwork) Women!

Beamish is taking on a distinctly militant feel this week, as we get ready for a very special weekend of activity to celebrate the North East’s suffragettes. On the 29th and 30th of June, we’ll be commemorating the centenary of Emily Wilding Davison’s death and remembering the women who fought for that most fundamental of civil rights – the right to vote.

There will be lots happening at the museum, and you can find out more here on our website: We will be doing special behind the scenes tours of our collection store all weekend (come and see us, it’s worth it!), and in preparation I’ve been having a look to see if we can find some suffragette stories in the Beamish collection.

A peek in the Beamish trade catalogues always comes up with interesting results – we have hundreds in the collection, from Victorian dentist’s supplies to 1980s Kay’s catalogues. Normally,a look through the 1909 edition of the A.W. Gamage department store catalogue wouldn’t be expected to turn up a suffragette surprise, but it is amazing what you can find if you look carefully enough – and what these finds can tell us about society and attitudes.


A.W. Gamage 1909

Gamages were particularly renowned for their range of toys, games and sports equipment, including complex mechanical toys – Arthur Walter Gamage founded the store in 1878 as a watch repair shop, so clockwork mechanisms were a speciality. This catalogue is a pleasure to read, full of ingenious games and novelties. However, on one page, there are two somewhat shocking items among the jumping jacks and wooden animals – two mechanical suffragette toys.

In the first example, described as a ‘clever toy’, a squeeze of a ball causes a protesting suffragette to be pushed along by a police constable:

Squeeze the ball, move the suffragette

Squeeze the ball, move the suffragette

The second toy, titled ‘force feeding’ is even more alarming: at the turn of a handle, a monstrous looking suffragette swallows a tiny policeman:

Turn the handle, and a tiny policeman meets an unfortunate end

Turn the handle, and a tiny policeman meets an unfortunate end

It is difficult to know what to make of these images – to modern eyes they seem odd and sinister, but they are not unique. Many toys and boardgames were inspired by the women’s suffrage movement – often aimed at adults rather than children, and sometimes cruelly satirical.

Whilst our two Gamages examples are a more of a parody, pro-suffrage toys could be found too – some women’s suffrage organisations produced board and card games and toys to raise awareness of the movement, as well as much needed-funds. In 1908, the Manchester Doll Show even included a ‘Suffragette Exhibit’ within its displays.

An array of suffragette toys and games - image from

An array of suffragette toys and games – image from

Toys and games have always reflected the attitudes, concerns, and (crucially in the case of women’s suffrage) the fears of the society that produces them. If the Gamages toys tell us anything, it is that by 1909 the women’s suffrage movement had captured the imagination of the public. For better or worse, the suffragette was a recognisable enough character to feature as a commercially produced toy – she had become a part of Edwardian popular culture!

What do you think of these ‘novelty’ suffragettes – are they comic or cruel? What do they tell us about Edwardian attitudes to the women’s suffrage movement?




The Lindo Brothers – Pitmen Entertainers

This amazing pair of seventeen–inch long dance shoes has revealed a fascinating tale of performing pitmen who cycled to shows after a shift down the mine.


The boots are recent additions to the Beamish Museum collection, and are among items that belonged to County Durham miner Ben Lindsley .

Ben, his brother Jack and pal Herbert Stangroom performed as The Lindo Brothers, a musical comedy and dance act in the early 1900s.

2012-102.4    Untitled-2

They were all coal miners from Witton Gilbert and their show featured songs, dances, gags and a one-stringed fiddle.

They did “North country step-dancing”, which was performed wearing long boots, of which Ben had two pairs that were twenty-two and seventeen inches long, with wooden soles and steel rims on the end.

Ben used to dance on the tips of the boots and it was said that The Lindo Brothers taught this trick to professional artist Harry Relph, who was known as Little Tich. You can get some idea of how these boots were used with this performance from Little Tich from around 1902:

Jack was in charge of the music, mostly his own compositions and arrangements. The Lindo Brothers had a complete set of band parts, handwritten by Jack, which they carried with them and handed out to the resident band of the theatres they visited.


Ben specialised in stage make-up and he and Herbert choreographed the dances.

The three men were also members of a larger all-male entertainment group called the Jolly Boys, who performed across the North of England. They were all from Witton Gilbert and travelled by bicycle, usually after a shift at the pit.

There were several men in the group at varying times and some of the names were F Epple, Luke Almond, J Hardy, Joe Samuels, Luke Casey, W Holmes, G Luke, Fred Walton, Ned Whelan and W Whelan.

In the early 1900s, variety theatres in the North East would sometimes include amateur performers to help fill up the bill.

Ben’s long boots were among items donated to Beamish by his grand-daughter Dorothy Barker.

Other s included several musical scores from The Lindo Brothers and a musical score of The Bohemians, that was given to Jack Lindsley, and came from the library of Sir Augustus Harris, who was a manager of Drury Lane Theatre.

There is also a cartoon of Jack Lindsley when he was band leader of Bertram Mills Circus in 1931 and photos of The Lindo Brothers and Witton Gilbert Jolly Boys.

Dorothy, of Dronfield, Derbyshire, said: “They performed at most of the local clubs and halls, where they did traditional clog dancing, singing and telling gags.

“Benjamin also danced using long-toed boots, and he could actually dance on the tips of them.


“Both brothers were talented musicians too.  Jack played quite a few instruments but preferred the violin and Ben could play the piano and one-stringed fiddle. He could play a musical saw, which was a joiner’s saw.”

Dorothy added: “I understand they used to be a warm-up sometimes at the Empire in Sunderland.”

The Lindo Brothers and Jolly Boys items that were donated to Beamish came to Dorothy from her mother  Olive, who was Ben’s daughter. Dorothy said that after speaking to her brothers, the family decided to give the boots, photos and other items to the Museum.

Dorothy, 74, has fond memories of her grand-father. She said: “He was a wonderful person to be with. He was very humorous and would always tell you jokes.”

In another link to Beamish, Ben’s wife, Mary Isabel Henry, lived in a cottage in Francis Street, Hetton-le-Hole, before she married. Six cottages from this row have been rebuilt at the Museum.


Ben Lindsley (1881-1968) was born at Tunstall but lived most of his life at Witton Gilbert, in an area known as “The Clink”.

After the houses were pulled down, he went to live at 10 Fair View and later moved to newly-built senior citizens’ bungalows.

Ben worked at Bearpark Colliery and was a “putter”, who hauled the coal.  He was only five feet tall and could work in a very narrow seam.

He eventually became a deputy and fought hard for the rights of miners, such as having pit head baths installed. He also served on Durham County Council.

Ben later worked as a roadman between Witton Gilbert and the junction near Durham City, where he would tend to the verges and hedges and keep them litter free.

John Lindsley (1891-1954), known as Jack, was a collier but he was always musical. He learned to play several instruments, although the violin was always his favourite.

Untitled-3 Untitled-4 2012-102.3 (fixed)

He was in his teens when he set up The Lindo Brothers with Ben and Herbert.

Jack, who was single, had wanted the act to turn professional, but that was not an option for Ben and Herbert, who were married and had commitments.

In addition to the Lindo Brothers and Jolly Boys, Jack was part of a group of players known as The Black & Whites and he was also the conductor of St Hilda’s Colliery Band.

He became musical director at a Peterborough theatre and stayed there until 1932, when he joined Bertram Mills Circus, where he arranged music for the acts.


Advance to Grey Street, do not pass ‘GO’

A look in the Beamish stores can turn up the most unexpected things – we’ve been working on putting together a selection toys and games to loan to the Bowes Museum for their summer holiday exhibition. It’s always nice to be able to help out a fellow museum with a loan, and it gives us the opportunity to spend some quality time in the stores.

We’ve looked at all manner of toys from automota to teddy bears, dolls to Victorian toy building stones (the name doesn’t lie – these are actual stones, and really heavy!).

Looking through our huge selection of board games for the loan, we came across something very unusual indeed – a Monopoly board with a crucial difference:


The home-made Monopoly board

The home-made Monopoly board

It’s an entirely homemade, hand-drawn board, and instead of the usual London locations, this one shows the city of Newcastle. Instead of the usual stations and utilities we have Newcastle’s very own local transport:

A very carefully drawn vehicle

A very carefully drawn vehicle

The National Coal Board:

NCB - a bargain at £200!

NCB – a bargain at £200!

And (of course), the jewel in Monopoly Newcastle’s crown, St James’ Park:

Home of the Magpies and the hottest property on Monopoly Newcastle's board!

Home of the Magpies and the hottest property on Monopoly Newcastle’s board!

Yet more surprises lurk on the back though – the board is actually drawn on the back of a historic legal agreement. It’s a legal paper relating to a land agreement between farming branches of the Wales and Lumsden families, in the wake of an inheritance from a man named William Cuthbert.There’s quite a lot missing – the paper has been cut, folded and trimmed to Monopoly size.

It’s appropriate in a strange way that a game so focused on land and property should be played on the back of a document like this. The forerunner of Monopoly as we know it was ‘The Landlord’s Game’, developed by Elizabeth Magie in the United States in 1903. Elizabeth invented the game to demonstrate the often terrible effect of land monopolies – a long way from the ‘buy it all’ game that we now play.

The back of the board

The back of the board

It is a unique and fascinating object, and offers us a real snapshot of what was happening when it was drawn up. We don’t have a specific date for when the board was made, but because the NCB was set up in 1946 and took over the pits in 1947 we know it is definitely postwar, and we estimate that the board probably dates from the 1950s. If you can shed any light on who might have made it, please let us know!

This little board tells us about local pride, the nationalisation of industry, the re-use of materials, hobbies and pastimes and even 19th century land agreements!  It just goes to show how just one object can tell us many stories if we look carefully enough at the details – even the policeman is subtly different, with the usual Monopoly American-style cop replaced with a proper British bobby, and ‘JAIL’ with the pukka British ‘GAOL’.


Free parking in Newcastle?!

Nowadays, Monopoly versions of many different cities are a common sight – Newcastle and Gateshead have had their own officially licensed version of Monopoly for some time but our board shows that an enterprising northeastener got there first. It’s a long way from Atlantic City, the location of the original game, but I reckon Scotswood Road and Grainger Street beat Park Place and Boardwalk any day of the week! Have you ever made your own version of a game?  What about your Monopoly memories – were you a successful junior tycoon, or were you usually mortgaged up to the limit? Did conflict ever break out over the little green houses? It always did in my house!






‘Someone is looking at you’ – Women’s advertising in the 1950s

We’ve got a guest post today from Alice Botham, one of our ever-busy collections volunteers at Beamish. Alice has been looking at postwar advertising in the collection, with interesting results:

My name is Alice and I have been volunteering at Beamish Museum for the last few months. Initially my role in the museum has been looking through old magazines from the 1950s and finding interesting advertisements and pictures of large objects from the period that Beamish may find it hard to come by or display. In doing this I quickly became aware of the changes and attitudes that these advertisements showed about the people they were targeted towards, in particular those towards women in the ‘Housewife’ and ‘Women’s Weekly’ magazines.

It seems as though magazine advertisers put a lot of pressure on women to be perfect housewives. Personal beauty, taking care of your home, husband and children are all repeatedly highlighted as traits women should display. It seems as though these adverts fed into a culture of display, with women mainly concentrating on the image of themselves that they gave to others. This links into the fact that communities in the 1950s were usually a lot more close-knit than they are nowadays, and so a woman’s reputation was very important.

In the post-war years a return to day-to-day life meant that a lot of women returned to their role as housewives. The end of bomb scares and the rise in technological advances meant that home improvement was high on the agenda for many families. Magazine advertising played into this with ideas of what was once only aspired to becoming achievable.

There are many adverts, like this one for a Hoover electric washing machine, telling women that the item is not only going to change their lives for the better, but is also in high demand, insinuating that most women could afford it. Whether this was true or not is another matter. Adverts like this also show us that a housewife wanted higher standards of cleanliness in her home and gives the impression that there was a lot of gossip centered on the hygiene of a woman’s house.

Hoover - no more washday drudgery!

Hoover – no more washday drudgery!

Other adverts in these magazines also highlight pressures that housewives faced. This Trex advert from 1958 shows us the importance of a woman’s cooking to her family. The image of the all male family members looking in delight at the dish would prompt women to buy the product, as well as the description of it making cooking easier and taste better. The slogan ‘Treat your family to Trex cooking’ would make it seem to the reader that her dish would go from being something normal to a special treat.

'Treat your family to Trex cooking'

‘Treat your family to Trex cooking’

There are also a lot of advertisements for painkillers, ointments and other products to keep a family healthy or cure them when they are unwell. In most of these adverts the wife of the family is the main care giver and provider of these products. In short, it was completely up to her to look after the whole family and be prepared for if they were unwell. Today we think of Lucozade as a sports drink, but in the 1950s it was used to help people recover during and after illnesses. It was even used in hospitals and could only be bought from chemists.

In this advert from 1955 we can see that the idea of the woman nursing the family has been illustrated literally, as she is dressed as a nurse and attending her father. The caption that goes with the advert stresses the necessity of Lucozade for recovery. This advert also shows us that perfect 1950s women were responsible for all of the men in their life; her husband, children and father, and she was depended on to care for them.

'Health returns with Lucozade'

‘Health returns with Lucozade’

This advertisement from 1951 for a health tonic also shows that advertisers used the still present divide between women and men to promote a product. Here the advert is wishing back to a medieval ‘golden age’, where women were women and men were men and everyone stayed in the roles that their gender restricted them to. This advert shows that opinions at the beginning of the 1950s were still very far from the ideas of freedom between the sexes that flourished in the 1960s and that we still uphold today.


As well as housewives being able to fulfil all of the roles expected of them, 1950s women’s magazines also advertise a lot of beauty products. This is not unexpected in a women’s magazine of the time, but the slant of the adverts shows a very high level of expectation with regards to a woman’s appearance. With all of the adverts plugging their products for ease of living for housewives, it is unexpected that they would still be widely advertising corsets in 1958. The fact that they are shows that women were still expected to put looks over comfort in their daily lives.

Alstons 'Figure Hugger'

Alstons ‘Figure Hugger’

Other advertisements for cosmetics focused a lot on inclusion and exclusion in the way they talked to women. One face powder advert claims ‘Lovely women use Pomeroy’, implying that everyone who doesn’t use it is openly showing themselves in public as not being the ‘ideal lovely woman’. These adverts played into the importance of a woman’s reputation and what was needed to maintain it.

'Lovely women use Pomeroy'

‘Lovely women use Pomeroy’

For many housewives during the 1950s many of these items would be considered a luxury, for some they may have even been unattainable.

We live in a very different world now, but advertising still looms large in all our lives and it doesn’t always keep pace with changes in society – do you think advertising has changed a lot since the 1950s?

Logo (big)

The Great Donate: 5 days in

We’re just over half way through an exciting half term week here in the Beamish curatorial team: all week we’ve been holding our Great Donate event, collecting objects and stories from members of the public. We’ve been asking you to share your history with us by donating 20th century items, and by telling us your stories and memories.

We have launched our campaign to collect 20th Century objects as part of our exciting future development plans, which include a 1950s town and farm – we need your help to make this happen though, which is what the Great Donate is all about.

We’ve transformed our Collections Study Room into the Donation Station for half term complete with 1950s living room setup:

Reading a 1952 Woman's Weekly in our 1950s living room

Reading a 1952 Woman’s Weekly in our 1950s living room

And if ours doesn’t take your fancy you can design your own:

Some dream 50s interiors created by our visitors

Some dream 50s interiors created by our visitors

As well as tea, coffee and Tunnocks wafers on tap –what more could you need?

Authentic 1950s curator snacks - come and eat them before we do!

Authentic 1950s curator snacks – come and eat them before we do!

We’ve been here all week taking in some amazing objects: we’ve already had some great things brought in, from our lovely picnic hamper:

Picnic hamper

Pristine picnic hamper

To a classic (and very cute) 1980s E.T. – the Extra Terrestrial!


World’s cutest alien

We’ve also had some fascinating memories shared – we asked visitors what they remember about the 1950s, and the results have been very interesting! Here are just a few snippets that people remembered:

“The Goon Show”

“National Service and the 11+”

“Dick Barton – Special Agent”

“Moving to Peterlee New Town in 1954 when I was 7 and starting a brand new school – I was first through the door!”

And the timeless:

“Fell in puddle!”

It’s exciting to think that we’re just over half way through and we’ve already been given some brilliant things and told some wonderful stories. We’re here every day from 10am to 4pm until Sunday 24th February, so there’s plenty of time for more! If you would like to donate something to us you can find out how here.

That’s not all for half term though – if you come down to our Pit Village this week you’ll notice a definite 1950s feel, as well as some fierce debates going on. That’s because we’re telling the story of County Durham’s Category D villages – find out more here, or come along to Beamish and join the debate!

One of Clara's working drawings

Pottering about – our first adventure in collecting buildings

Hello, our names are Clara and Rosie and we are two of the new Curatorial Assistants working at Beamish. Here, at the Museum we not only collect interesting objects from the North East, but architectural elements and sometimes entire buildings.  As a part of the continued development of the Museum, we were given the task of collecting a potting shed from West Boldon in County Durham.  What makes this particular potting shed remarkable is the bricks that it is made from – but more about those later.  This would be our first intrepid step into the relocation of an historic building!

The potting shed at West Boldon

The potting shed at West Boldon

After an initial visit to the site, we began a survey of the potting shed. This rather complex process, in which every aspect of the building (down to the gaps between the bricks) had to be measured and recorded- which was a steep learning curve.  While Rosie took charge of taking measurements, Clara busily sketched:

Clara's initial sketch

Clara’s initial sketch

But as only Clara was able to understand her sketches, she developed a series of working drawings that looked more like this:

One of Clara's working drawings

One of Clara’s working drawings

From these we were able to produce much more accurate and detailed architectural plans from which our specialist builders will eventually rebuild the shed at Beamish.

One of eight architectural drawings of the potting shed. This drawing shows the facade of the shed at a scale of 1 inch to 1 foot.

One of eight architectural drawings of the potting shed. This drawing shows the facade of the shed at a scale of 1 inch to 1 foot

One of the challenges we faced, as part of the Metric generation, was working with a building that was constructed using the Imperial system. We couldn’t just convert its measurements to Metric, as by recording the shed in Imperial, it was easier to understand the building’s design features. For example, the three window spaces each measured 3 ft by 4 ft- much simpler figures to deal with than 0.91440m by 1.2192m.  On top of this, we soon discovered that the building had been put together in a haphazard fashion, with wonky walls and mismatched bricks!

Architectural plan of the roof timbers and inner walls of the shed.

Architectural plan of the roof timbers and inner walls of the shed

Indeed, getting back to those bricks, they were the key to understanding our interest in this seemingly humble potting shed. Written on the bricks was ‘Jones Brothers Pelaw’, which was one of the largest brick manufactures in the North East from 1911 until its closure in 1968. The potting shed had been in the grounds of Ashby House (now Ascot Court) that was built by one of the Jones brothers from the profits of the brickworks. The shed itself looks like it was made using seconds from the brickworks, as the brick ‘specials’ used on the cornices are rather elaborate for a potting shed. We think that it was probably constructed in the 1910s, after the brickworks changed its name to ‘Jones Brothers’, but if anyone has any local knowledge that could provide us with an exact date that would be really useful.

One of the bricks from West Boldon impressed with the name of the brickworks - Jones Brothers

One of the bricks from West Boldon impressed with the name of the brickworks , ‘Jones Brothers’

So what next for the West Boldon potting shed? Well, it has now reached Beamish in it’s disassembled state and will in the future be rebuilt to provide our gardening team with an historic setting to work in. Yes, it’s going to remain a potting shed!




Beamish's  first Director, Frank Atkinson, carries a bed end through Brancepeth Camp, 1966

Emptying Aladdin’s Cave

Our industrious curatorial team has been even busier than usual recently; since November 2012 a steady stream of remarkable objects has been coming through our doors. Everything from taxidermy and shop fittings to road signs and pianos has been arriving by the vanload – where’s it all coming from?

All of these amazing objects are coming from Beamish’s huge off-site storage facility in County Durham – it’s a treasure trove of well over 2,200 historic objects, and we are emptying every single item out of it.

Last year we were awarded a special grant of £87,000 from Arts Council England to help us empty the old store and transfer the objects in it to better storage here at the museum. Every single item is being taken out and brought to Beamish for assessment, research, cleaning and conservation – it’s certainly keeping us occupied!

Stores are always an essential part of the way in which museums work: whenever you visit a museum of any kind, you’re usually only seeing a selection of the objects in the museum’s collection – the rest is usually in storage. Our stores help us to conserve and look after our collections properly and to use them more effectively. We’ve moved on since the old days though – the first storage facility Beamish used was an army camp!

Beamish's  first Director, Frank Atkinson, carries a bed end through Brancepeth Camp, 1966

Beamish’s first Director, Frank Atkinson carries a bed end through Brancepeth Camp, 1966

We are bringing those collections to the museum now so we can use them in some exciting future developments. These include a 1950s and 1980s area at the museum, new buildings for our Pit Village, and an open store where visitors can explore our incredible collection.

Getting everything out is a big and complex operation and everything has to be moved very carefully, but once it is all here at the museum, we can start using it.

There are some incredible objects in the stored collection, including John Walker’s apothecary shop from Stockton: Walker invented the friction match inside this very shop in 1826. There are also some eerie, mysterious things – like this little weighing machine with a wicker child’s seat attached. This is one of the objects that will be sent for special conservation work.

Weighing machine with child's seat

Weighing machine with child’s seat

Small or large, all of these objects are a valuable part of the history of the North East, and will help us tell this story to Beamish visitors. The team will be posting regular, detailed updates on the blog to give you a look behind the scenes of this project. We’ll be picking some of our favourite objects and telling you some stories about them, and showing you how we’re getting around some of the challenges of moving some very awkward things.

It’s an epic task, but it will definitely be worth it!


Laying Out the Welcome Mat


Proggy mat from Beamish collection, 1956


Hello and welcome to our new Beamish blog! My name is Cheryl and I work in the curatorial team here at Beamish, as Assistant Keeper of Social History. We work with the collections here at the museum – our job is to use objects and stories to help us tell the story of the North East here at Beamish.

We’ve called this blog ‘Adventures in Collecting’ – doing this job is definitely an adventure. It’s a great, interesting job and it is a fascinating time here at the museum – we’re busy working on a lot of projects at the moment and we would like to tell you about some of them in this blog over the coming weeks.

2013 is a busy year: we are building a bakery and a band hall, moving a huge store full of fascinating objects and exploring the 1950s through our Category D project, and that’s just for starters!

We’ll be using this blog to give you a sneaky peek ‘behind the scenes’ of what we do. If you’ve ever wondered how and where we find the things you see when you visit Beamish, how we look after our collections, and what surprises are lurking in our stores, this is the place to find out.

It’s your blog as well – we’d like to you to join in the conversation, and we would love to know if you have questions or comments about the work we do. If you would like to know about a project, a building or an object at the museum, let us know and we will try and write about it.

Oh, and that lovely rug in the picture above? It’s one of the many proggy mats in our collection – it was made by Mrs Platten of High Spen in the 1950s. Today it welcomes you to our new blog as our first featured object – we hope it’s the first of many.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you come back to join us soon – watch this space for some Adventures in Collecting!