A recreation of the 'lost' home of a murdered quilter has become the first building to open in an £18million project at one of the region's best-loved tourist attractions.
Joe the Quilter’s cottage will give visitors the chance to look back in time into the home life of Georgian quilter Joseph Hedley, who was murdered in 1826, in an appalling crime that shocked the nation.
The cottage features stones from Joe’s original home, including flagstones where he stood 200 years ago. The remains of Joe’s cottage in Warden, near Hexham, Northumberland, were uncovered during an archaeological dig by Beamish staff and community members.
The exhibit, which tells the story of quilting and the growth of cottage industries in the early 1800s, has been painstakingly recreated by skilled museum staff.
A drawing on a postcard that was produced after Joe’s murder gave valuable details about how his home – which was demolished in 1872 – looked. A crack in the front wall of the original cottage, clearly visible in the 1820s drawing, has even been reproduced.
The building, in the museum’s 1820s Landscape, is the first fruit of the Remaking Beamish project - the biggest development in the museum’s 48-year history. The project also includes a 1950s Town, 1950s Farm, and Georgian coaching inn, where visitors can stay overnight.
Richard Evans, Beamish’s director, said: “This is a really exciting moment for us all at Beamish. After years of planning we are finally opening the first of many new exhibits that are part of Remaking Beamish, a major £18million development that is currently underway at the museum.
“This beautifully-crafted, heather-thatched cottage gives us a rare chance to understand what everyday life was like in the North East during the early part of the 19th century.
“The quality of this latest addition to Beamish is outstanding – the result of many years of research, painstaking craftsmanship and the involvement of local community groups and schools. It is a real credit to the dedication and talent of our staff and volunteers, who have created this fascinating new experience for our visitors.”
The Remaking Beamish project was awarded £10.9million by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), and museum chiefs have thanked National Lottery players for their part in the project.
The cottage was officially opened yesterday by Mr Evans, Ivor Crowther, head of Heritage Lottery Fund North East, and community volunteer Richard Young.
Community volunteers have been involved throughout the project, including the archaeological excavation, thatching and quilt making.
The 2015 dig at the site of Joe’s original cottage uncovered the base of the walls, flagstone floor, and many objects including pottery, buttons and a coin.
Mr Young lives in Wall, Northumberland, near the site of Joe’s cottage.
He has been involved in the project throughout, including the archaeological dig, gathering heather, the stone laying ceremony, splitting timber for the roof frame, helping with the wattle and daub partition wall and preparing objects from Beamish’s collections for use in the cottage.
He said: “I’m privileged to be part of it, it’s been quite a journey. I’ve been involved right the way through, from the original archaeology to finishing off the wattle and daub.
“To learn what’s been involved at every stage has been incredible. I’ve enjoyed every stage. I’m blown away by it all. All those who have worked on it have done an amazing job.”
He added: “I’m honoured to be involved. I’d like to thank Beamish staff, I’ve really been made to feel part of the team.”
The opening ceremony included a performance of “The Ballad of Joe the Quilter”, a firing display by the 68th Durham Light Infantry, Georgian food and dancing and a visit from the Parish Constable investigating the crime. One of Joe’s original quilts, which is in Beamish’s collection, was on display.
Four days of celebrations are taking place until July 22 with a packed programme of hands-on activities and entertainment, including music, Georgian food, stone masonry and wattle and daub demonstrations, help the Parish Constable to investigate Joe’s murder, get tips from the museum’s Gardens Team, see the quack doctor and meet the pack horse.
A quilting trail will run until July 26, when visitors can discover some of the quilts from the museum’s internationally-renowned collection.
Joe’s cottage has been built with traditional techniques and skills, using local materials.
Around 1,400 bales of heather were sourced sustainably from near Rothbury, Northumberland, and a master thatcher taught his craft to museum staff and volunteers. Stone dating back over 200 years, and 23 tonnes of oak for the roof frame also came from Northumberland, near where the cottage once stood.
One of Beamish’s blacksmiths made objects using traditional methods, including door locks, hinges and candlesticks and the door and windows were also made by the museum team.
Volunteers created a replica of Joe’s quilt from Beamish’s collection, which took more than 700 hours to complete.
For more information about the Remaking Beamish project, visit www.beamish.org.uk.