History of Beamish

Beamish began as the vision of Dr Frank Atkinson, today it is one of the best Open Air Museums in the World!

Beamish Unlimited

Beamish was the vision of Dr Frank Atkinson, the Museum’s founder and first director.

Frank had visited Scandinavian folk museums in the early 1950s and was inspired to create an open air museum for the North East. He realised the dramatically-changing region was losing its industrial heritage. Coal mining, ship building and iron and steel manufacturing were disappearing, along with the communities that served them.

Frank wanted the new museum to “illustrate vividly” the way of life of “ordinary people” and bring the region’s history alive.
Beamish remains true to his principles today and brings history to life for hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.

Frank passed away on 30th December 2014. Click here to read more about his amazing life.

1958: Frank Atkinson, then director at the Bowes Museum in Barnard Castle, presented a report to Durham County Council, recommending items of everyday history were collected to eventually form part of an open air museum. A policy of “unselective collecting” – “you offer it and we will collect it”- saw an army camp of 22 huts rapidly filled with objects ranging from steam engines to sewing machines.

1970: Frank took up his post as director, with three staff, at Beamish Hall and the museum was born.

1971: “Museum in the Making”, an introductory exhibition opened in Beamish Hall.

1973: The first Beamish tram, Gateshead 10, went into service on a short demonstration line.

1975: HM Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, visited the museum.

1976: Poet Laureate Sir John Betjeman opened Rowley Station

1978: We welcomed our millionth visitor.

1979: Mahogany drift mine was opened.

1983: Home Farm welcomed its first visitors.

1984: The Co-op store, from Annfield Plain, opened its doors to visitors.

1987: Beamish was named European Museum of the Year. Frank Atkinson retired this year.

1992: The rebuilt Board School opened in The Pit Village.

1993: The Beamish Tramway, circling the entire site, began operating.

1994: Jubilee Sweet Shop was opened by MP Mo Mowlam and The Town garage was unveiled by Lord Montagu of Beaulieu.

1995: Our silver jubilee year saw the opening of Pockerley Old Hall, showing life in the early 1800s.

1999: Pockerley Waggonway opens in the Georgian Landscape.

2002: The replica of 1815 built Steam Elephant was completed for Pockerley Waggonway.

2006: HRH The Duke of Kent opened the Masonic Hall in The Town in a ceremony supported by 2,000 Freemasons in full regalia. The replica of 1813 built Puffing Billy first ran at Pockerley Waggonway.

2009: The Colliery Lamp Cabin was opened.

2010: Beamish’s 40th anniversary year saw the arrival of the Steam Gallopers and the refurbishment of the Entrance building and Tea Rooms.

2011: Davy’s Fried Fish Shop served up its first fish and chips.

2013: Herron’s Bakery, in The Town, and Hetton Silver Band Hall, in The Pit Village, opened.

2014: Wartime arrived with the launch of the The 1940s Farm, and the Pit Pony Stables welcomed their first equine inhabitants.

2015: Beamish Rural District Council Depot, a base for active steam roller demonstrations, opened in the Station Yard.