The Hearse House is now lime washed!

Cos and Paul have been busily working away to lime wash the interior of the Hearse House with a little help from our Buildings Team Assistant, Shannon



It was common for most vernacular buildings of the period to have lime washed interiors due to the antibacterial properties of lime wash. This would be especially true of a functional building such as the Hearse House, particularly with its association with the deceased.

hearse house lime wash

Now the interior is complete, the building is ready for the collections to be moved in. These objects have been selected to help us to accurately tell the story of life for working people in the Georgian North and illuminate the character of the church sexton who would be charged with digging the graves and overseeing the handling of the dead. Once the objects have been installed, the building will be ready to welcome the 1820’s hearse which is currently in the Beamish workshop for conservation and restoration work.

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Work begins on the Hearse House interior

With the Hearse House build finally completed, the team can now turn their attention to the interior of the building. Our Buildings Team Assistant, Shannon, has been collecting research on a number of similar buildings across the north of England in order to gain a better understanding of what the interiors of these buildings may have looked like in the Georgian period and what objects should be included to ensure historical accuracy.


There are a good number of hearse houses still in existence across the region, often owing their survival to being tucked away on church property and frequently repurposed as storage space. There are in fact quite a few listed hearse houses in the country, though generally listed in association with the church itself and based on age, rather than on architectural interest. Where records do exist, they generally focus on the exterior of the building with little record of the interiors. For our purposes, rare surviving examples offer a good basis from which to start. For us, the well preserved Georgian hearse house at St Mary’s Church, Prestwich (Greater Manchester), with its lime washed walls and original fixtures and furnishings was an excellent source.

A number of the hearse houses have decorated or carved key stones, usually either inscribed with the date of the building inscribed with the date of the building (St George’s Church, Hyde, Cheshire) or with depictions of ‘momento mori’ style images, such as the skull and cross bones see at St George’s, Hyde; St George’s, Tameside and All Saints, Stockport.

skull and cross bones key stone

Skull and crossbones keystone, St. George’s Church, Hyde, Cheshire

Similar images can also be seen in the interiors of these buildings, as visible at St. Mary’s Church, Prestwich where an earlier tomb chrest and a medieval tomb slab have been incorperated inot the later Georgian building.

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1668 tomb slab incorperated into the late building. St. Mary’s Church, Prestwich


These buildings would have all had lime washed interiors. This was common for most vernacular buildings during that period, whether functional or domestic, due to the antibacterial properties of lime wash.

While preparations begin to lime wash our building’s interior walls, Shannon has been busy down in the museum’s stores. She has been working with Rosie from our Collections Team to identify relevant objects from our collections which will help to give life to our building and tell the story of our Georgian grave digger.


Rosie from the Collections Team tagging objects from our stores for use in the Hearse House


These included some lovely examples of nineteenth century spades and shovels; the tools of the trade of a Georgian gravedigger. In the early nineteenth century grave digging was not a distinct profession as such, but often undertaken by a church sexton alongside their other tasks. The tools used by grave diggers at this time would therefore not generally be specialised for the task, but rather they would be general purpose farming tools of the day.


Examples of 19th century shovels and spades for inclusion in the Hearse House


The tools will hang in the Hearse House ready for our imagined gravedigger to use, along with a number of other more individual effects and objects to add a more personal touch to our grave digger. These will be items he would require to conduct his daily business; candles, a tinder box, a set of keys, perhaps carried on his belt and a place to hang his cloak and hat when he has come in from the bitter wilds.

Contemporary images often hold a wealth of historical information and we will often refer to them when trying to get the right historical ‘feeling’ and look of a building. This was also useful in thinking about our Georgian grave digger. We looked at a number of eighteenth and early nineteenth century etchings and paintings, including this nineteenth century engraving by Edward Dalziel that encapsulates the Georgian grave digger; from the keys on his belt, to the tear dropped shaped spade he carries.

grave digger 18th c

19th century image of a grave digger painted by Edward Dalziel (copywright Harvard Art)

Obviously our church yard at St Helen’s will not be in use but the hearse house helps to broaden the story we tell of life in the Georgian North and further expands the understanding of what life was like for ordinary working people at this time. It completes the story of how people’s lives interacted with the church in the late Georgian period. From their first interactions through baptism in the font, through to the celebration of marriage and the ringing of church bells, to their final journeys as customers of the hearse and grave digger, the church as an ever-present part of people’s lives. It is often only through parish records, like the ones from Marrick Priory that first record the use of our 1828 hearse, that we know any details of a person’s life prior to census records beginning later in the nineteenth century.

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Well done Paul!


Last week Paul completed an amazing challenge – spending five nights sleeping rough in the doorways of Beamish’s  1900 Town Street to raise money for the People’s Kitchen. The People’s Kitchen in Newcastle offer support for the city’s homeless community, providing vital things such as food and sleeping bags, most importantly friendship. Unfortunately, sleeping outside without shelter is a daily reality for many people, and Paul hoped that this Christmas he could help them in a small way. He has certainly done that raising an amazing £1,616!

Merry Christmas from the Buildings Team and everyone at Beamish!

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Paul Marron’s charity sleepout

Between the 12th and 16th of December Paul Marron from our Buildings Team will be giving up the comforts of a warm bed and central heating, as he will be spending each night sleeping rough in the doorways of Beamish Museum’s Town Street.




He is braving the wintry weather to raise money for the People’s Kitchen, a Newcastle-based charity who support the city’s homeless community by providing vital things, such as hot meals and sleeping bags. More importantly, the People’s Kitchen offers friendship and care for some of Newcastle’s most vulnerable people.


Paul Marron Sleepout at Beamish Museum (5).JPG


Please help Paul’s cause by contributing whatever you can. Donating through JustGiving is simple, fast and totally secure. Your details are safe with JustGiving – they’ll never sell them on or send unwanted emails. Once you donate, they’ll send your money directly to the charity. So it’s the most efficient way to donate – saving time and cutting costs for the charity.



Paul Marron Sleepout at Beamish Museum (3).JPG


Paul would also like to thank Beamish Museum for their support.

Thank you and Merry Christmas!

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The Hearse House is finished

We have now completed the build of the Hearse House at St. Helen’s Church in our Georgian area.


The Hearse House at St. Helen’s Church



The stone slab roof is now on and has been weather-proofed using a tradtional method known as ‘torching’. This involves adding a coat of lime pointing to the underside of roof slates, tiles or slabs to create a barrier against the elements, while still allowing the buidling to ‘breathe’.


Cos torching the roof


The interior floor has been flagged and the doors are now hung. With the scaffolding now down, the building is looking lovely for the start of the festive season.


The flagged interior of the Hearse House




The completed building


Work will start on the interior in the New Year ready to finally house the 1828 hearse from our collections.




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Coaching Inn research: A right royal visit!


Last week Clara took a trip down South with members from other teams at Beamish to visit Hampton Court. There, they met with various members of staff from Historic Royal Palaces to share ideas about everything from to how to recreate a Tudor heresy trial to cooking roast beef on a spit.

Clara, along with Rachel from Beamish’s Period Food Team went to speak to HRP’s Historic Kitchens Coordinator Richard Fitch about how the palace runs their period cooking operations. As part of our Remaking Beamish  project, we will be creating a late Georgian Coaching Inn. A major service that was offered by the coaching inns was to provide hungry travellers with a ready supply of hot food that could be eaten quickly before they had to catch their next coach. As such, our inn will have a huge Front Kitchen with a working Georgian range and bread oven, as well as several other fireplaces for cooking on throughout the building. We plan to use these fireplaces to prepare historically accurate Georgian fast food for our visitors and we went to Hampton Court hoping to glean from Richard some tips about cooking with ancient kitchen equipment. He showed us around the enormous Tudor kitchens, explaining the techniques that HRP use to cook the foods that would have once graced the table of Henry VIII in front of their modern-day visitors.

We were also shown the Chocolate Kitchens of the later, Baroque part of the palace. This would have been where specialist chefs and their assistants would have spent hours hand-grinding cocoa beans into a paste that would have used to create spiced drinking chocolate. The beans would have been roasted inside a container that was turned on a spit powered by a ‘fan-jack’, hidden inside the chimney breast above the cooking range. A ‘fan-jack’ is clockwork mechanism for turning a spit – it has a fan that is driven by the smoke rising from the fire below.They were the latest gadget in 18th century cooking, as they saved the need to have a servant to hand-turn a spit. By the time of our inn (the 1820s) chocolate would have become a more accessible luxury – available to the middle classes as well as to royals and aristocrats. While not every guest could have afforded it, it would have probably been served in an inn, alongside coffee and tea, which also had their own special rituals for preparation.

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Shannon’s new assistant

Enzo the Chihuaua came to to the office yesterday to assist Shannon with some vital work. He’s taking his new role very seriously and making sure the office is kept clear of distractions and everyone is getting their work done! He got to meet all the team and get cuddles and treats and threw in the odd growl for good measure. He plans to pop by every now and again just to keep a watchful eye on us all.

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Super moon over Beamish


Early yesterday morning Paul captured the magical spectacle of the ‘super moon’ sitting low over Beamish’s Town Street. The moon on Monday night was at its closest point in its elliptical orbit to the Earth – a mere 85 miles! Coincidentally, its proximity occurred at the same time that the moon was at its fullest in the monthly lunar cycle – which created the illusion of a larger than usual moon. This is something that has not happened since 1948 and will not happen again until 2034. So we have a while to wait until the next time we see a ‘super moon’ in the skies over Beamish!

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Work continues on our Georgian Hearse House under Reg’s careful eye

reg on the roof.jpg

Reg was busy on site earlier today inspecting Paul’s pointing on back of the Hearse House . He seems to have approved!

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Spain’s Field has gone!


We reached a huge milestone last Friday – work on Spain’s Field has finished until next summer’s archaeological excavation of the site. Following three years of careful recording work, the Team have moved 900 tonnes of stone, 50 tonnes of stone roof slates, 60 tonnes of rubble infill and 10 tonnes of timber over the last 17 weeks! This material will be used to carefully rebuild the farm at the museum as part of our Remaking Beamish project.

Next summer we will remove the final course of stone (which are acting as retaining walls) and lift the floor coverings that are protecting anything that might hidden underneath. We plan to conduct an archaeological investigation of the site to uncover if anything remains of an earlier farm building, as the land was occupied continuously from the mid-14th century.

The translocation of Spain’s Field has been a very exciting, long, and still ongoing journey for the team. Here are some of our best bits from the last few months.

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