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Beamish Museum in County Durham has turned 40
The Co-op store
The streetscapes are true to their origins

Beamish Museum in County Durham is celebrating 40 years of heritage on show.

To mark the occasion, the museum is holding a weekend of celebrations on Saturday 3 and Sunday 4 July.

It all started when the vision of Frank Atkinson became a reality.

Beamish became a museum that was to break the mould of convention.

A live museum

Atkinson wanted to preserve the customs, traditions and ways of speech in the region before it was too late.

And, for the artefacts, he embarked on his policy of "unselective collecting" - "you offer it to us and we will collect it".

Frank Atkinson talks to the BBC about his "unselective collecting"

It was this form of collecting that was to prove such a great success, becoming a bond between the museum and community.

From its inception, the museum was inundated with artefacts and memorabilia that brought the museum to life and it continues to do so today.

What sets Beamish apart from glass-case museums is that the story is told not by labels and interpretative panels, but by costumed staff who are proud of their heritage and happy to share their knowledge with visitors.

It really engages the visitor with history in a unique way.

Most of the houses, shops and other buildings have been dismantled from elsewhere and brought to Beamish and rebuilt.

But some, such as Home Farm, Pockerley Old Hall and the Drift Mine - were already in the Beamish locale.

All of the buildings are filled with furniture, machinery and objects, real artefacts from the designated collections that the museum has accrued.

Unique setting

Frank Atkinson talks about where Beamish started

Set in a basin shaped valley Beamish has grown to occupy 300 acres eight miles south west of Newcastle and 12 miles north west of Durham.

The museum conveys the sense of history at two important historic points in time in Britain - 1825 with the industrial revolution and the era around 1913 and the growth of heavy industry in the region.

The first exhibition was held in Beamish Hall in 1971. And, over the following two years, the present site opened to visitors with the railway station and colliery winding engine being erected.

Visitor numbers increased rapidly to around 450,000 a year during the first 10 years and the museum won the Museum of the Year title in 1986 and the European Museum of the Year Award in 1987. It also won Living Museum of the Year in 2002.

Although steeped in a living history, there is nothing traditional about this museum.

You can read all about the birthday celebrations planned at Beamish Museum here.

Beamish Museum goes back in time
10 Aug 09 |  History



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