Step Back in Time

26May11

“I need a pen!” my daughter hissed from the back benches of the classroom in the Edwardian Pit Village. As a space became free with an inkwell and a square of paper she craned over the heads of the other children at the benches and began to write, “The quick brown dog jumped over the lazy dog” in a wobbly cursive script copied from the blackboard. “It’s really hard!” she whispered as the ink pen scratched across the paper and the ink ran out half way through a word, “It keeps stopping.”

Above our heads, as we sat on the narrow benches, a gang of boys stood and pointed at the various stuffed animals that lined the glass fronted cabinets in the school room. From outside the classroom windows came the sound of metal hoops clanking onto the playground concrete and shouts of laughter from visitors young and old.

This is the appeal of Beamish Museum, ‘The Living Museum of the North’. From its open topped trams to its staff dressed in traditional costumes, Beamish draws its visitors into an ‘experience’ which appeals to all ages. A trip to the Jubilee Sweetshop and Sweet Factory in the Edwardian Town is one of the experiences that is not to be missed. The crowds in the factory ‘ooohed’ and ‘ahhhed’ as staff poured boiling hot sugar syrup into moulds, added sweet smelling syrups and dazzling colourings then rolled the mixture out onto a marble slab, twisting and turning the mixture into a sticky mass before putting into a metal mould then cracking the sweet jewels out onto a platter for everyone to try.

From the sweet shop it was on, appropriately enough, to the dentist where a costumed member of staff demonstrated the excruciatingly slow foot powered drill, waved a large pair of pliers around and explained that the reclining velvet chair that dominated the room was upholstered in deep scarlet red “to hide the blood”. An explanation of the hygiene practices of Edwardian times left us all feeling extremely grateful to whoever it was who discovered that hand washing and the use of clean water was linked to an increase in the number of people who actually survived a trip to the dentist.

Everywhere you look at Beamish there are reminders of the past, from the trams that take you on the mile and a half circuit of the museum, stopping off at each of the main attraction areas, to the music from the steam powered Carousel that rises above the whistles of the steam trains it is a place to experience and to return to again and again, if only to buy another bag of pear drops or cola-cubes from the Jubilee Sweetshop.

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