If you’re looking for a great family day out this summer where the kids discover that history can be fun, Beamish should be on the short-list.
Opened 40 years ago and much expanded since, the hands-on, open-air museum is set in 300 acres of countryside where it recreates life in Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian times.
Surrounded by false teeth in the gruesome dental surgery, we were given a demo of the foot-cranked drill and admired the sinister reclining dentist’s chair – tactfully furnished in blood-red velvet.
We popped into the sweet shop along the high street for some aniseed balls, visited the grocer’s, a dress shop and printing works, and called at The Sun pub for a refreshing pint of Beamish beer. All the buildings here are old properties moved from their original sites and rebuilt and today’s shop assistants, barmaids – and dentist – wear costume of the period.
Clanking trams and grand old buses with boneshaker suspension run a hop-on/hop-off service linking the other attractions.
At Pockerley Old Hall, cook was preparing elderflower fritters on the cast-iron stove (very tasty), and at the more modest workers’ cottages on Home Farm someone was knocking up a delicious-looking rhubarb sponge. Crumble had yet to be invented, we were told. There’s also a Pit Village where we learnt about the grim work of coal miners through the ages and the dangers they faced.
Even without children in tow I’m a sucker for these industrial heritage museums. Another favourite is Ironbridge Gorge in Shropshire, whose ten museums include a similar Victorian-styled town at Blists Hill.
Ironbridge was at the forefront of the Industrial Revolution. Smoke and fire first roared from its blast furnaces 300 years ago, turning the area into the country’s first major iron-making centre. You can learn about early iron production, don a hard hat to explore the Tar Tunnel – a source of natural bitumen – and tour factories producing Coalport china.
Working life was tough in the old days. And if you returned home after a day’s exhausting toil with raging toothache … well, that doesn’t bear thinking about!
*Just witnessing all that hard graft at close quarters is tiring in itself, so you may want to recover afterwards at a suitably historic but comfortable country house hotel. Beamish provides a popular day out for guests at 16th-century Headlam Hall, near Durham, while the Victorian Brokencote Hall in Worcestershire is a 45-minute drive from Ironbridge Gorge.« View all blog articles.