Take a sneak peek inside the 1950s Town as major Beamish Museum development takes shape

Dust off your petticoats and winklepickers and get ready to jive back to the fabulous fifties as Beamish Museum unveils the latest building in a major new development.

By Katy Wheeler
Tuesday, 18 June, 2019, 16:30

As part of its £20million Remaking Beamish project, the open air museum launched the first building in its much-anticipated 1950s Town.

With its Formica worktops, NHS clinic, posters for diphtheria vaccinations and space for tea dances, the exhibit is a replica of Leasingthorne Colliery Hall and Community Centre, near Bishop Auckland in County Durham, which was opened in 1957 thanks to subscriptions from local miners.

In the biggest development in Beamish’s history since it opened, Remaking Beamish will see the popular County Durham museum welcome a 1950s Town featuring a farm, bus depot, cinema, houses, shops, cafe, fish and chip shop, hairdresser’s and bowling green.

The project, which was made possible thanks to a £10.9million National Lottery Heritage Fund grant, will also see the expansion of the Georgian area.

Buildings of particular local interest which will feature in the new town are the former Grand Electric Cinema from Ryhope, Sunderland, which will be moved brick by brick to Beamish; a replica of a semi-detached house from Red House, Sunderland as an example of social housing; the recreation of popular John’s Cafe and ice cream parlour, from Wingate, County Durham, featuring original interiors and a replica of Marsden Road Aged Miners’ Homes, in South Shields.

Over the next three years, the buildings will be opened in phases with the Aged Miner’s Homes and John’s Cafe the next to open.

The building is the first exhibit in the 1950s Town

Richard Evans, director of Beamish Museum, who’s been working on the Remaking Beamish project since 2009, said it was great to see the ambitious plans taking shape.

Speaking about the hall, which was mostly built by the museum’s dedicated construction team, he said: “It’s quite unusual for us to be stood in a new building as often we look for things that are weathered and worn. But this is a replica of an existing building built by subscriptions raised by miners.

“People from the community where the hall still stands are with us today and it’s an honour to tell their story. The idea of Remaking Beamish is to get people involved and to tell the story of the North East through stories that are rooted in our communities. And we take the meaning of those stories very seriously.”

He added: “This is the most ambitious project we’ve ever undertaken and it’s quite emotional to see the buildings open because of all the effort that’s gone into working with the communities. Beamish is at its best when it feels like family. We don’t want to tell people their history; it’s a place for them to remember and connect with previous generations.”

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The new 1950's Leasingthorne Colliery Welfare Hall and Community Centre at Beamish Museum with Director of Beamish Richard Evans and The National Lottery Heritage Fund Ivor Crowther (R)

Remaking Beamish received the largest single grant ever awarded to the north by The National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Ivor Crowther, head of investment for the North for National Lottery Heritage Fund, said: “The reason we chose to donate such a large grant to Beamish is because of the way it has created such a unique experience for the people of the North East. Its visitor numbers grow year on year, but museums can’t stay the same, they need to evolve. 

“This development will provide so many more opportunities for visitors, creating links with communities and educating people about history. As well as bringing buildings to Beamish, the project brings with it the memories of those communities.”

*The 1950s Welfare Hall will be officially unveiled this Saturday, June 22, with a grand parade from the museum’s Events Field at 1pm through the 1900s Town to the hall. The afternoon will feature 1950s music, entertainment and activities.

The new 1950's Leasingthorn Colliery Welfare Hall and Community Centre at Beamish Museum in the NHS clinic with nurse Emma Sayer and Cassie Robson

Celebrations will continue on Sunday, June 23 with more 1950s fun including skiffle songs and a tea dance from 2.30pm to 4.30pm.

The original hall which is still in use today by the communities of Coundon and Leeholme in County Durham
The new 1950's Leasingthorne Colliery Welfare Hall and Community Centre at Beamish Museum with costume fittings Amy Turner and Kirsty Parkes (R)
The new 1950's Leasingthorne Colliery Welfare Hall and Community Centre at Beamish Museum
The new 1950's Leasingthorne Colliery Welfare Hall and Community Centre at Beamish Museum with Lisa Powell of the amateur dramatics
1950s entertainment at the launch of the hall