I live around 5 miles away from one of the most magical museums I’ve ever been lucky enough to visit. I grew up in County Durham in the UK and just down the road is a wonderful place called Beamish Museum. As a child and now as an adult, this museum has always fascinated me. The main reason is that it is a working, living, breathing museum that can transport you right back in time from the 1800s to the 1940s. You don’t just look at artifacts in a glass box, you walk around real houses, villages, even go down a real drift mine! I cannot rave about Beamish Museum enough.
The museum grounds contain a real working 1940s Farm with pigs, sheep, ducks, geese and horses. The buildings on the farm are now converted into 1940’s replicas telling tales of the land girls, home guard and evacuees during the Second World War. There is also the Pit Village and Colliery, with a drift mine to explore, to represent the rich heritage of mining communities in the North East. You can take a walk down Francis Street, go to school or chapel, see pit pony stables, visit a colliery band hall and even sample good old fashioned fish and chips in newspaper.
From there, take one of the 1900s trams or buses into The Edwardian Town. The Town is a hive of activity with a Co-operative Store, Motor & Cycle Works, Printer’s and Stationer’s Shop, a bank, the Masonic Hall, a traditional sweet shop, the Sun Inn public house, Joseph Herron’s Bakery, the Town Stables & Carriage House, Ravensworth Terrace houses, Redman park and Bandstand and an actual Railway Station and running steam locomotives! You can explore everywhere and even buy traditional gifts or take part in activities. The final part of the site is Pockerley Old Hall. Part of the buildings you can go into date back to around 1440 with the newer part of the Hall dating back to 1820. There is a Waggonway open to the public from spring to autumn that allows steam rides in traditional carriages with locomotives. Traditional crafts and activities happen throughout the year and the estate has beautiful gardens and animals.
A few years ago Beamish Museum started to host a Christmas event. In the lead-up to the festive season, the museum opens its doors in the evening to the public (special tickets apply) for a whole host of Christmas themed activities and things to see. It truly is a real old fashioned Christmas. Everything and every member of staff is dressed in traditional Christmas attire and decorations and lights are hung throughout the 300 acre site. As soon as my family heard the news, we signed up for the first year and have been going ever since. It is now our annual Christmas event.
This year, we got to Beamish Museum at around 5:30pm, dressed in hats, gloves and warm clothing ready to discover what lay inside for us. We were greeted with maps and timings for carols and music as well as activities. After a welcome glass of mulled wine and a mince pie, we were on our way out of the reception area and into 1900s North East England. First Stop – Francis Street! In the Pit Village, we went into the houses on Francis Street and heard musicians playing traditional music of the era and ate more mince pies and had fruit punch from traditional recipes.
In the chapel, we heard the choir sing carols and watched the ice skating at the rink. Old cars and buses moved through the village decorated with lights and wreaths. The traditional cobbled streets and all of the old buildings glowing with warm lights made for a very festive atmosphere which kept us cheery and excited. The school musicians in the video were one of my highlights. Fantastic talent and by the glow of the coal fire, it was a wonderful touch to the experience.
We walked up the hill to the 1940s Farm next and visited the land girls in Garden Cottage who were playing the wireless. The sound of the music and the handmade decorations on the tree and around the room were lovely. We spoke to the staff dressed in 1940s clothes about wartime Christmas celebrations and heard about recipes during rations and how everything was make do and mend. Next door there was a finger puppet activity and more decorations. The rest of the farm was closed for winter so we headed for the tram.
The Edwardian Town in Beamish Museum is always full of things to see and do and this is especially true at Christmas. The market stalls are laid out around the Bandstand. A full brass band plays beautiful Christmas songs like ‘Silent Night’ and ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’. This has a strong connection to the miners heritage in the North East with each colliery having a band. A great reminder of the history is found in the music as we walked around.
We bought handmade Christmas baubles in the Stationer’s shop and were given cake in one of the houses on Ravensworth Terrace. The rooms were dressed in stunning reds and gold and the handmade wreaths were the envy of every door!
Music hall performances and clog dancing were scheduled in the Masonic Hall and I would recommend both. Very fun, especially songs like ‘Under the Bed’. Traditional machinery in the bakery and sweet shop make great old-fashioned treats to buy and take home. The sweet shop is an absolute must! A quick visit to the festive stables and the pub completed our time there and we got in line for another merry tram ride.
Christmas at Pockerley Old Hall included more citrus punch and pudding. Always a good thing! The decorations were beautiful and log fires warmed the downstairs rooms as a group of musicians played Georgian Christmas music. Its a trip back to ‘Pride and Prejudice’ era England and was very special. Down the lane from the Old Hall was Santa Claus in a grotto and activities for children and a steam powered carousel. The smell of roasted chestnuts, hot chocolate drinks and the sounds of laughter perfectly ended the night.
Beamish Museum Christmas should be on everyone’s list during the holidays. Have you visited? Did you go to one of the Christmas evenings?