Beamish 1950s town takes visitors on trip down memory lane and back to their childhood
Part of the £20million Remaking of Beamish Project, this week saw the opening of John’s Cafe, a recreation of the popular cafe from Wingate, Middleton’s Quality Fish and Chips, a fried fish shop from Middleton St George, and Elizabeth’s Hairdresser’s, based on an end-terrace salon from Middlesbrough.
The street also features a typical terraced miners house which used to be home to Norman Cornish, the critically acclaimed North East artist.
While for many children and young people their visit was an experience steeped in history, for older visitors it was a trip down memory lane – reviving the museum’s fundamental principle of capturing living history.
Project Officer Natasha Anson said: “When we opened in the seventies, the Edwardian town was still in the living memory of our visitors and the creation of the 1950s street enables us to bring Beamish back into people’s living memory.”
It’s a sentiment shared by Pamela Clifford, 77, who was visiting with her nieces and nephews.
She said: “The new street brings back so many memories. I used to be a hairdresser and going into the salon just brought back all the sights and smells of what it used to be like.
"I’ve really enjoyed hearing the music. I used to be a big Cliff Richard fan.”
Pauline Wilson, 69, added: “It was seeing a lot of the items in the kitchen. The washing machine with the mangle, the wooden tongs and the pantry – all the things I remember from growing up.”
Returning the museum to the living memory of visitors also enabled grandparents to chat with younger generations about their memories and the features on display.
Bob Lear, 75, from Witherwack, said: “This really does bring back lots of memories. The cafe reminds me of Notarianni cafe which used to be in Sunderland.
"It’s great to be able to share this experience with my grandchildren and talk with them about some of the attractions and explain what life used to be like.”
Granddaughter Laura Stavers, 30, added: “The museum was losing that situation of being in living memory and this really brings the fifties to life. I’m a teacher, and walking down the street you have the smells of the chip shop and cafe – you can’t get that in a text book.”
Perhaps the most popular attraction has been John’s Cafe which was based in Wingate and became popular with youngsters from the surrounding pit villages thanks to its delicious ice cream and stylish booths.
One of those youngsters was 71-year-old Stanley Williamson, who was visiting Beamish with his granddaughter Esmae.
He said: “I used to go to John’s Cafe and it looks just how I remember it. People used to go there for the Jukebox and to play the latest music.”
Befitting of half-term, and in a time before the advent of the computers, children were able to take part in a range of 1950s street games including hula hooping, beanbag throwing and hopscotch.
Lilly Durnan-Fletcher, eight, said: “I really enjoyed playing the games and the ice cream from the cafe.”