Category Archives: Remaking Beamish

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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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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Welcome to our new team member!


Shannon has joined us from Beamish’s Town and Pit Life Team as our new Buildings Team Assistant. She will be helping Clara to research the materials and period details needed for our Remaking Beamish project. Here she is with Reg, standing in a recently uncovered doorway at Spain’s Field – probably the first two people to do so for over a hundred years!  Learn more about Shannon and her role on Beamish Buildings Team page.


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Exciting discovery at Spain’s Field


The remains of a Georgian beehive bread oven has been discovered at Spain’s Field

Last Friday we made an exciting discovery at Spain’s Field. After taking out the mid-Victorian range in the main living room, we found behind it the remains of a Georgian brick-built beehive bread oven. These types of bread ovens were known as beehives because of their conical form – the traditional shape for a beehive. It is similar in construction to the one at Pockerley Old Hall back at Beamish. Originally, the rear of the oven would have bulged out beyond the gable wall, as the one at Pockerley does, but at Spain’s Field, this was destroyed and filled in when the kitchen and additional bedroom were squeezed in between the older house and the cow byre. The front of the oven has been largely destroyed with the insertion of the newer range.


The exterior of the beehive bread oven at Pockerley Old Hall is visible just behind the hedge. 

We suspected that there might be a beehive oven present because of the of the visible scarring in the stone work that could be seen behind the Victorian range, as well as the odd building lines in the exterior wall of the gable end. Additionally, the large bressumer (load-bearing) beam that ran from the interior of the external wall to the doorway, indicated that there had been an open inglenook hearth before the range, possibly with a peat plate and oven crane. The bread oven seems to date from the mid-Georgian period given the bricks used to make it.



In this photo the remains of the bread oven can be just about seen in the top right corner, with the Victorian range in front. 

We also uncovered the stone shelves of a former salt cupboard behind the later Victorian kitchen cupboard, which were built into the gable end wall. The salt cupboard would have been used to store and keep dry salt, spices and potentially other valuable items. The discovery of the oven helps to confirm our feeling that the older section of the farm house is early to mid-Georgian, and adds another layer of understanding to the story of the farm and its occupants. Beehive ovens were common in farms and houses in the area, indeed Thrush Nest (eventually owned by the same family who lived at Spain’s Field), which is just down the valley has one too. However, as happened at Spain’s Field, many were buried or destroyed by the addition of later ranges, making Spain’s Field’s a fairly rare survivor. The mid- Victorian range that was installed in front of the oven was made by Altham’s of Penrith, who were a well known local ironmongers that were established in 1831. Though damaged by rust and vandalism, the range was clearly high-quality and suggests that the occupants of Spain’s Field at that time were not too badly off- indeed they had enough money to purchase the range and make improvements to their farmhouse.

The oven and range have now been carefully recorded in situ and dismantled as part of the translocation of the farm buildings.

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The daily grind at Spain’s Field

Paul and CosAs well as recording the buildings at Spain’s Field Farm, we’ve been recording us at work on the project. Here are a few of our favourite photos of life as we know it at Spain’s Field – in all weather!

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Work begins at Spain’s Field Farm

Work begins to take down Spain's Field Farm

Work begins to take down Spain’s Field Farm

Work has begun of taking down Spain’s Field Farm in Weardale. It will be moved stone by stone to Beamish in order to be rebuilt as part our our Remaking Beamish project. We will use the buildings to tell the story of uplands farming and rural life in County Durham. The farmhouse was gradually abandoned from 1957 onward when the three siblings who lived there (Elizabeth, George and Joseph Raine) were asked to return to their parents farm on the other side of the valley, following their mother suffering a stroke.

Like most early vernacular buildings, the farm would not have been designed by an architect or even planned, but would have grown gradually  depending on the needs and fortunes of the farmers living there. Therefore the farm buildings are a really wonderful jumble. They comprises of a late 18th century house that was extended during the second half of the 19th century so that the house conjoined with the adjacent byre. The earliest stonework of this Main Byre probably dates from the 1700s or even earlier, but was later remodelled in around the 19th century during the completion of a domestic extension to the older farm house. Next to this, is another smaller byre (the Cow Byre), built sometime during the early 19th century, along with a later extension to the south that houses another byre (the Stirk Byre). Along the north side of the range there are a series of lean-to buildings dating from the latter half of the 19th century and early 20th century. There are other outbuildings including a pigsty, coal house and privy.

Recording of the farm has taken place over the last three years.

Recording of the farm has taken place over the last three years.

Since the farm was donated three years ago by the Jopling family (who now own the land it is situated on), the Buildings Team have been carefully recording the farm buildings in order to be able to accurately reconstruct them back at Beamish. This process has taken advantage of the various different skills that the members of the team have. The process started with John, who is a trained archaeologist, working with Clara and other members of the team to shovel through the layers of mud and sheep poo that had accumulated on the ground floor of the farm. Underneath, we discovered stone flags, which in places were covered with the original lino flooring. Additionally, mixed in with the mud and poo were lots of objects left by the family when the farm was abandoned. These were catalogued and sent to Beamish to be cleaned and recorded by Cassie and some of our volunteers. Clara, our buildings historian, then continued the process of recording by taking detailed notes and sketches of the farm buildings, looking for clues about the age of the various buildings and the stages in which they were constructed. During this initial period of recording, a LiDAR survey of the farm was undertaken by Geospatial Research, which created a 3D image of the farm buildings – you can view the survey by clicking here. More recently our in-house conservation architect Steve Elliot has conducted an architectural survey of the buildings and will be creating detailed drawings. We have also had rectified (or scaled) photographs taken by Peter Rickman from Kevin Doonan Architects, which will help us to accurately record the character of the masonry that makes up the walls of the farm.

Clara working with Mary Raine to collect her memories of the farm.

Clara working with Mary Raine to collect her memories of the farm.

When the farm is rebuilt at Beamish we will be returning it to how it looked in  the 1950s before it was abandoned. Therefore, as well as recording the standing structure, we need to find indications of what the building looked like before it began to decay. We have taken samples of the paint, wallpaper and flooring left at the farm, as well as looked at scars in the masonry and joinery which may suggest what is missing. The objects found at the farm will be crucial to helping us when we come to select objects from our collections to fill the farm with when it is rebuilt. However, most useful of all are the fantastic memories of Mary Raine (the younger sister of the three siblings who lived at Spain’s Field), who can remember how the farm looked in the 1950s. She has also inherited lots of the items that were originally in the building that her siblings took with them when they moved out. We will be working very closely with her to make sure we get the details right!



One of the early stages of the deconstruction is to strip the roofs of the buildings of their heavy stone slabs.

One of the early stages of the deconstruction is to strip the roofs of the buildings of their heavy stone slabs.

Over the last few weeks, Paul, and Cos (both of whom are experts in trans-locating buildings, having worked on the reconstruction of St Helen’s Church), have begun the exciting task of physically taking down the buildings. This began with deconstructing the pigsty and coal store that were outbuildings next to the main range of the farm. We needed to do this first as it was the only flat are on the hillside on which to situate our site compound! We then needed to remove internal joinery, such as the floorboards and remains of animals stalls in the byre in order to construct a scaffold inside and around the buildings. Next, with the help of contractors Sid Lee Ltd., we stripped the roof of its heavy stone slabs, to reveal the very crude timber roof structure – which seemed far too spindly to have ever supported the slabs! Throughout the next few months, the walls will be coming down course by course until we reach ground level. All the while John will be on hand to physically number key features such as the door lintels and window jambs, and to record the dumpy bags of stone that will be making their way to Beamish, so that we can keep track of the materials. Clara and Steve will also be helping with the continued process of recording the structure of the buildings. Keep following our blog for updates on our progress!

The recording work is one going at every stage of the deconstruction.

The recording work is one going at every stage of the deconstruction.

A key part of the process is physically numbering key features so that we can keep track of where they were on the building

A key part of the process is physically numbering key features so that we can keep track of where they were on the building

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Recreating Joe the Quilter’s Cottage: what has the excavation taught us?

Back in September John led an archaeological excavation of the site of Joe the Quilter’s cottage (you can learn more about Joe’s tragic story and the excavation of his house by clicking here) .  Our team of Beamish staff, local volunteers and archaeology students discovered the remains of the walls, flagstone floor and brick chimney breast of Joe’s little cottage.

Excavated Joe's Cottage foundations

The uncovered remains of Joe the Quilter’s Cottage

The clues revealed by the excavation have allowed Clara to piece together a more accurate interpretation of what Joe’s cottage originally looked like, which will form the basis of a recreation of the cottage at the Museum.

The initial interpretive plans of the cottage that Clara made, were based on contemporary images and descriptions that were made following Joe’s murder in 1826, as well as by using comparisons with other regional cottages of roughly the same age. One very significant plan and elevation printed by W. Davidson in January 1826 (shortly after Joe’s murder) of the cottage (which was intended to record grisly details such as where the body was found for the enthralment of the general public) gives an invaluable insight into the rough layout of the building. It suggests that internally the cottage was divided into a main domestic room and a storage room/animal shelter. The front (and only) door is shown as leading immediately into the main room, in which is depicted a recessed fireplace. This plan also gives additional details, including that the bed was located in the south west corner of the main room and that Joe kept his coals to the west of the chimney breast.

Joe the Quilters Card Reverse

A plan of Joe’s cottage, published by W. Davidson, shortly after Joe’s murder. 

Upon excavating the site, the lower two courses of the back wall and rear half of the two gable ends of the cottage were revealed. Unfortunately the front of the cottage has been lost due the disruption caused by the newer boundary wall of the field in which the cottage site sits. These sections of wall revealed that the length of the cottage was actually slightly larger than initially expected, being 30’ long. As the remains of the two gable walls are intersected by the boundary wall, their total length has to be estimated, based on other archaeological evidence; including information such as the positioning of what we believe are the remains of the chimney breast. This evidence has allowed us to reasonably interpret that the footprint of Joe’s cottage was approximately 30′ long by 20′ – still a very small dwelling for what was before the death of Joe’s wife, a family home.

joe's photo

A composite of aerial photographs of the excavated site. The overlay in blue shows the initial scaled plan of the cottage and the overlay in red shows the revealed size of the rear and south gable walls. 

Other discoveries, were that of the flagstones in front what appear to be the remains of a chimney breast, built from hand-made bricks, and the charred remnants of what we think was a wattle and daub divide between Joe’s living and storage rooms. Crucially, all of this evidence helps us to imagine what Joe’s home looked like when he was living there.

post ex plan updated

Clara’s interpretation of what the plan of the cottage looked like. The archaeological remains are shown in green. The locations of furniture shown is based on contemporary sources, including an sales notice that listed some of Joe’s possessions. 

However, unfortunately, archaeology can only take us so far in being able to understand what the cottage looked like. As only the lower courses of walls remained, we had no indication of the position of the doors and windows or what the roof structure was like. To gather this information, Clara had to return to looking at archive sources and other similar local buildings of an contemporary age to Joe’s cottage. For example, the etchings of Joe’s house that were made to be illustrate publications about his murder show that the cottage had a very shaggy thatched roof with a steep pitch. This led us to agree that the cottage must have been thatched with heather. Heather is often thatched in loose bundles and is left uncombed or trimmed, unlike straw or reed thatch, and therefore it requires a steeper pitch to through water and snow off of it. Additionally, due to its abundance and durability, heather was the most common form of roof covering on vernacular buildings in the North East until the early 19th century. Indeed the moor behind Joe’s house would have been full of heather!

The cottage

The elevation of Joe’s cottage that was published by W. Davidson in 1826.

As archival sources and oral histories record, heather was often thatch wet, with the roots intact, and left to form a semi-living roof of up to two foot thick. This of course would have been extremely heavy! Therefore the cottage’s roof structure would have had to have been very strong. It is unlikely that the cottage had a ‘king’ or ‘queen’ post that required advanced joinery skills, but it may have had a simple ‘A’ frame truss formed of two principle rafters and a tie beam. However, the combination of the need to support a heavy roof covering, with the requirement of a steep pitch, with the found nature of the cottage’s materials and its vernacular design, suggests that it may have had cruck trusses. Crucks are where the principle rafters of a truss are formed by the two halves of a split tree trunk. Often the natural curve of the trunks inevitably created a steep, almost Gothic arch, providing the sharp pitch needed for heather thatch. Recreating the cruck trusses and heather thatch roof will be a particularly exciting challenge, as both methods of construction have almost become lost skills. We are hoping that this is something that our team of volunteers from Warden (where the cottage is located) will help us with, by collecting heather and helping us to experiment with thatching techniques.

Post ex section

Clara’s interpretation of the cottage in section, showing the wattle and daub room divide, the cruck trusses, and brick chimney breast

The next stage is for Beamish’s architect, Steve, to transform Clara’s initial interpretative drawings into plans that can be used to recreate the cottage as part of our planned Remaking Beamish project (learn more about Remaking Beamish by clicking here). Look out for more posts for updates about Joe’s humble home!



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