Beamish, England’s Open-Air Museum Depicting the Industrial Revolution

While on a week’s holiday touring Durham County, England, we spent the weekend at Beamish, an open-air living museum representing life in northern England during the height of the Industrial Revolution. The highlight of our visit was the DLI (Durham Light Infantry) display.

I love history; it forms the basis of my interest in genealogy and has an influence on our itinerary when on family holidays.

Beamish in northern England

Taking You Back In Time

Beamish is an open-air living museum in northeast England in Durham County. The 350 acres (140 ha) estate was established in 1972, and its guiding principle is to preserve an example of everyday life in urban and rural northeast England at the peak of the Industrial Revolution.

Typically, living museums are created by rescuing period buildings due for demolition, dismantling them brick by brick, and rebuilding them on the Beamish site. The museum comes alive because an army of volunteers dress in period costumes and reenact the roles of the people who originally occupied those premises. It takes you back in time pretty effectively!


The site is so huge with the different themed areas being spread out, that the most effective way to get around the site is via the free public transport—consisting predominantly of ‘in period’ buses and trams from the late Victorian to the Edwardian eras.

Some of Beamish’s ‘in-period,’ free, and on-site public transport.

Our Two Day Holiday Trip to Beamish

You can’t see the whole site properly in one day, ideally, you need two. The ticket (which isn’t expensive) is valid for 12 months, and allows you to come back as often as you like within that time period.

While on holiday in Durham for the week, we visited Beamish on Saturday and Sunday because it was over the weekend the DLI (Durham Light Infantry) was there to do their display.

Although we were there for two days, we didn’t quite get to see everything because we spent so much time with the DLI. For example, we didn’t get to see the 1950s farm although we did visit the 1940s one. Below is a quick overview of the themed areas we did manage to visit while we were at Beamish.

Themed Areas and Events Visited at Beamish

DLI (Durham Light Infantry)
1820s Pockerley Old Hall
1820s Pockerley Waggonway
The Quilters Cottage
St Helen’s Church
1900s Pit Village and Colliery
The 1920s and 1950s towns
The 1940s and 1950s farms

DLI (Durham Light Infantry)

This was the highlight of our visit to Beamish. When we visited years previously, we also saw the DLI display. Since our last visit, the new additions to Beamish included the Quilters Cottage, St Helen’s Church, the 1950s farm and the 1950s town. We considered it worthwhile to go again so we could see the changes, particularly if we could plan our visit to coincide with the DLI display. It was held, like last time, near the 1820s Pockerley.

DLI (Durham Light Infantry) just prior to their display

1820s Pockerley Old Hall

This is the site of the original building on what is now Beamish. It used to be a fortified Georgian farmstead.

1820s Pockerley Waggonway

This depicts the early steam engines from the same era as Stephenson’s Rocket. This occurred just prior to the development of the railway network and commercial steam trains across Britain.

The Quilter’s Cottage

The quilter’s cottage has been faithfully reconstructed on site, including the large crack in the wall which was due to the lack of foundation. The quilter who occupied the cottage in the 1780s was Joseph Hedley (born 1750), who was brutally murdered in 1826 in a crime that shocked the nation.

The crack in the wall, which has been faithfully reproduced in the rebuild, was due to no foundations

St Helen’s Church

St Helen’s church, which is a recent addition to the site, dates back to around 1100. It was rescued from demolition in 1998 by Beamish who then dismantled it brick by brick, and recently rebuilt it on site. The museum placed a plague inside the church in dedication to Dr Frank Atkinson CBE, founding Director of Beamish Museum, who died in 2014 at the age of 90.

1900s Pit Village and Colliery

During our tour of the Pit Village and Colliery, we explored:

Pit Village School
Pit Village Coalminers Cottages
Drift Mine
Winding Engine House and Colliery Railway

Browsing around the school was awesome, and having a volunteer dressed as a schoolmistress from the time in period costume was a nice touch.

Exploring all the pit village cottages was just as fascinating. In each of the cottages there were volunteers dressed in costume, sitting in front of their coal fires. They were there to tell the history of each cottage and answer questions.

The highlight of our visit to the pit village was a guided tour of the drift mine, which is original to the site.

1920s Town

The 1920s town is perhaps the most spectacular of all. While there, we explored many of the buildings including the bank, Masons Lodge, shops and houses.

After exploring the town itself, we then walked past the town’s park and bandstand to visit the 1920s Town Fairground and 1920s Town Railway Station.

1950s Town

This town is still under development, with just a few shops including a bakery, fish and chips shop and a few residential houses. Still, it’s worth a quick visit and when fully developed it should be another spectacular addition to the site.

1940s and 1950s Farms

These farms are typified examples of farming in northern England during these periods. Wartime and post-war farm life are brought alive by a small selection of farm animals and volunteers dressed in period costumes sitting in front of a warm coal fire. They’re there to tell visitors about the history and times of the period and to answer questions. We enjoyed exploring the 1940s farm but didn’t get a chance to visit the 1950s farm because we spent the time viewing the DLI (Durham Light Infantry) display instead.

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© 2022 Arthur Russ