33 years later...
4 June 2010
We visited Beamish in 1977 - and guessed rightly it was time
for a revisit... Things have changed there somewhat in 33
years - not least the queue - we had to stand for 45 minutes
before we could get in. Yes, it was half-term week - but only
four tills out of eight were in use, and plenty of other staff
were in evidence. Not good enough for a £16-each entry fee -
our day was significantly shortened. We came very close to
turning away... (I'm assured that new signage, pro-active
queue management and review of the entrance building
should improve things)
Our visit was partly to view the museum and its exhibits per se,
and partly for the extensive range of transport-related material.
The tramway now extends around the site as a continuous
circuit, with trams operating clockwise and anti-clockwise,
passing at loops. Beamish is huge - it's a valuable service. Three
trams were in service - Gateshead No. 10, a single-deck bogie
car dating from 1925; Sunderland 16, an enclosed double-deck
car built in 1900, and (perfect for this hot day) open-topped
Newcastle 114 of 1901. We would travel on the latter - later.
First - a look at the Pockerley Waggonway.
Three replicas of ancient steam locomotives were in residence
on this line, an attempt to typify the earliest railways in the
north-east. Locomotion No. 1 is getting on a bit now - it was
built in 1975. Puffing Billy was built in 2006 by Alan Keef - and in
steam today, "Steam Elephant", a remarkable 6-wheeled, geared,
vertical-cylindered locomotive - quite an amazing sight when in
There are actually three standard gauge railways, unconnected,
at Beamish. Our next rail destination was the 1913 colliery
village, with its associated mine and railway. I'd hoped to see the
recently-restored Head Wrightson "coffee-pot" locomotive in
action - but sadly, it was under repair in the workshop (to quote
a friend from these parts "they've broken it"), and nothing else
was able to take its place.
Lastly, there's the 1913 railway station - not a replica, it's the
Geoff’s Rail Diaries
original station from Rowley, on the Consett to Tow Law line.
When we visited in summer 1977, the NER class C - the J21 - was
in action. A recent issue of the "Railway Magazine" had shown the
Furness Railway 0-4-0 at work - but sadly, this only operates at
weekends during peak times (I'd hate to think what the queue
would be like at "peak time"...).
What else for the transport enthusiast? Well, there's a fine fleet
of replica vintage buses, which chugged around supplementing
the tram service. There's a short stretch of replica wooden
railway. There's one of the Westoe electric locomotives "stuffed
and mounted" near the tram shed (Siemens 455 of 1908). There's
the Lewin from Seaham Harbour and the Armstrong-Whitworth
diesel-electric shunter built in 1933 (though we didn't actually
see either of them). In short - plenty of interesting things to see
Of course, Beamish is more than transport - for many visitors,
the transport exhibits would be incidental to the other things on
display. The shops in "The Town" are large and extensively
stocked, and the various professions are represented with their
premises (I can't remember which one it was - the solicitor? the
music teacher? - but the gentleman in one such building had
been baking, and offered samples to visitors - they were pretty
good too!). The highlight for my wife was the visit to the bank -
to discover that we could visit the vaults, down in the cellar -
"I've never seen anything like this before!". There's even a
Masonic Hall (no, you don't have to roll up your trouser leg, wear
your apron, or do funny hand-shakes to get in).
In short - we had a very good day, but came away feeling
somewhat envious of people who live within a reasonable radius.
One year unlimited passes are offered for the price we paid for
our day ticket. There's too much to take in, in a single visit - it
would be great to be able to revisit and devote a bit more time
to specific exhibits - and who knows, it might enable quicker
entry to the museum...