33 years later...
4 June 2010
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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 action! 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 (or not). 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... Links: Beamish Museum
Chaldron Guard Steam Elephant on the Pockerley Waggonway Steam Elephant. Pockerley Mixed train... Puffing Billy at Pockerley Puffing Billy Locomotion No. 1 Wooden railway Time for the tram Trams cross at Pockerley Car No 16, Pockerley The mine South Durham Malleable No.5 - in need of some TLC L & H C No 14 - Hawthorn Leslie 3056 of 1914 Coffee Pots! No 17 is Head Wrightson 33 of 1873... Recently-restored (but broken!) HW of 1871 Catch the bus at the colliery village Cars nos 16 and 10 near the depot ...and then two come at once Car no. 114 is coming into service... Car no. 114 - we took a ride to the town Car no 16 in the high street ...followed by no. 114 I'd forgotten about these once-ubiquitous lineside ads! Signal box Railway posters Chaldrons NER Brake Van Footbridge From Westoe - No. 2, Siemens 455 of 1908 Leeds permanent way car, on loan from Heaton Park, Manchester Tram stop A last look at no. 114 A scene from 1977 - the J21 in action... ...framed in the pillars of the former Rowley station Pockerley farmhouse Annfield Plain Co-op