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Christmas(ish) At Beamish

by Richard Elen on 23 Nov, 2011

in History, Science & Technology

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When­ev­er I’m in the NE of Eng­land, I try to get over to Beamish - “The Liv­ing Muse­um of the North”. It’s a won­der­ful place built around a road/tramway loop on which run vin­tage bus­es and trams.

On this occa­sion (20 Novem­ber) I was up for the week­end to go to Lumiere in Durham, so nip­ping over was a chance I couldn’t miss. It was fog­gy on leav­ing Durham but approach­ing Beamish the sun came out and it was gor­geous­ly sun­ny until the dri­ve home, when the fog closed in again.

Dif­fer­ent sites around the tramway loop recre­ate dif­fer­ent eras, each cre­at­ed from build­ings that have been lov­ing­ly trans­plant­ed from their orig­i­nal sites: the Town, for exam­ple, is Edwar­dian, with a Bank, a gor­geous Mason­ic Hall (rebuilt with the help of the Masons, appar­ent­ly), a Co-Op depart­ment store, sweet shop/factory and lots more. It also has an adja­cent Steam Rail­way and sta­tion and a steam-pow­ered fair­ground.

The Pit Vil­lage is per­haps some­what ear­li­er, and fea­tures a col­liery and a rel­a­tive­ly new addi­tion: a coal-fired fish & chip shop that uses beef drip­ping to cook with, result­ing in utter­ly tasty meals that you have to queue for twen­ty min­utes or so to get, it’s so pop­u­lar. Yet anoth­er area, Pock­er­ley, is more Geor­gian, with a Wag­gonway that fea­tures steam locos from the ear­li­est times and Pock­er­ley Old Hall. I’ve talked about Beamish before, here.

From this time of year until Christ­mas itself, Beamish is hav­ing a series of Christ­mas week­ends, includ­ing Santa’s Grot­to some­where over by Pock­er­ley I think, com­plete with snow, an ice-rink in the Col­liery Vil­lage (above), and dec­o­ra­tions up in the Town.

I had to pop into some of the ter­raced hous­es, sev­er­al of which con­tain busi­ness­es, such as a solicitor’s and a den­tist — the tor­ture cham­ber itself is shown below. In those days you would have had the option of (unreg­u­lat­ed) nitrous oxide (with a fair risk of death) or cocaine as anaes­thet­ics, the lat­ter effec­tive­ly remov­ing your short-term mem­o­ry, so things hurt but you didn’t remem­ber it (rather like intra­venous Val­i­um it would appear, which I always loved as an adjunct to den­tal oper­a­tions).

Anoth­er house includ­ed peri­od Christ­mas dec­o­ra­tions in the front room.

Across the street is a lit­tle park, with a band­stand, and there was the Mur­ton Col­liery Band prepar­ing to play some suit­ably sea­son­al music, which they pro­ceed­ed to do beau­ti­ful­ly.

Here’s some video of extracts from their pro­gramme:

The band was formed as the Mur­ton Gospel Tem­per­ance Blue Rib­bon Army Band in 1884, and play­ers were request­ed to wear a blue rib­bon on the sec­ond but­ton of their waist­coats. They became Mur­ton Col­liery band in 1895. When the col­liery closed, the band became self-sup­port­ing — and it still is today. They’re also one of the few remain­ing bands to con­tin­ue to call itself a ‘Col­liery Band’, and they still proud­ly march through the vil­lage dur­ing the Durham Min­ers Gala and Armistice Day. I don’t know about you, but brass band music and Christ­mas do seem to go togeth­er rather well.

There was time for a good wan­der around and trips on some of the trams — includ­ing a 1930s enclosed dou­ble-deck­er Black­pool tram, which is tech­ni­cal­ly a lit­tle late for their re-cre­ations but very impres­sive — and I had some good chats with the tramway staff, notic­ing that they wore the arche­typ­al “wheel and mag­net” emblem of British Elec­tric Trac­tion (lat­er to become the par­ent, sur­pris­ing­ly, of Red­if­fu­sion Tele­vi­sion) on their caps. The shop at Beamish should sell those cap badges — I would have bought at least one.

Final­ly it was time to head off on the 3+ hour home, and soon after get­ting back on the A1 the fog closed in, and it end­ed up tak­ing a good deal longer than that. But it was a great day out.

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