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

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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!

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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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Work continues on our Georgian Hearse House

In October of last year, after completing work on St Helen’s Church, the Buildings Team began work beside the church’s graveyard on a Georgian Hearse House.  It will help us to tell a more complete and in-depth story of our Georgian area. When finished, it will house one of the rarest objects in our collections; probably Britain’s oldest hearse, built in 1828. The simple two-wheeled hearse was collected by the Museum in the 1960s from Marrick Priory, a former Benedictine nunnery in the Swaledale area of North Yorkshire. This early and vernacular horse-drawn vehicle is exceptionally rare, and perhaps more so, as we are aware of its origin and history. We even have a record of its very first occupant, as the Marrick Priory registry records: ‘1828 April 2nd, Mary widow of Thomas Hillary [a farmer], Lanehead House, aged 67, Hearse first time used’. The completion of the hearse house at St Helen’s Church will mean that this amazing object will now have a permanent home of its own and be on display to the public for the first time in decades.

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The Marrick Priory hearse, built 1828

Our stone-built hearse house is a copy of the one at Marrick Priory which originally housed this hearse and is contemporary with our church, although it incorporates earlier elements of the Priory church.

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Marrick Priory Hearse House, North Yorkshire

The building is progressing quickly and the main structure is now complete. Paul and Cos have finished all of the stonework, while Shaun and Dan were responsible for the joinery in the building, including the roof structure and doors. The roofers are now busy working on laying the stone slab for the roof.

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The completed building, just waiting to be roofed

Once the exterior of the building has been completed, we will then turn our attention to the interior. Our newest team member, Shannon, has been researching the interiors of these kinds of buildings in order to inform how our own will look when finished.

 

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Welcome to another new member of the Buildings Team!

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The Buildings Team has grown again! Ben has joined us as our new Joinery Apprentice. While attending New College in Durham a day a week, he will be gaining hands-on experience through working with Shaun and Dan. Here he is standing with the Victorian four-panelled door that he has been restoring, trying out some of the heritage skills that he has been learning.

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Welcome to our new team member!

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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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New windows for the Tearooms

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Shaun peeking out from one of the newly installed windows at our Tearooms.

While our masonry team are busy at Spain’s Field, the joinery team have also been working hard to replace the old and rotting box sash windows at our Tearooms. This has taken a number of weeks as every window frame has had to be constructed, glazed and the sashes weighed to ensure that lead weights hung from the sashes provide the correct counter balance to allow them to be held open.

The word ‘sash’ is derived from the French ‘chassis’, meaning frame. However, sash windows have a long and noble history in this country. The earliest weighted box sash windows appear in 17th century country houses such as Chatsworth and Newby Hall,  as well as in royal palaces such as Kensington. Some believe that the box sash was invented in the studio of the famous Christopher Wren, and sashes appear in the gallery of St Paul’s Cathedral and at his extension of Hampton Court. Wren loved the sash because unlike a the frames of a casement window which would project from the face of a building when opened, the frames of sash could be opened vertically and therefore did not disturb the appearance of the facade. The use of a timber frame and glazing bars instead of lead also allowed for larger quantities of glass to be used, letting more light into buildings. By the mid-Georgian period box sash windows were extremely prevalent and popular in British architect and remained so until the Art and Crafts movement of the late Edwardian era, which saw the revival of the casement window.

 

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Exciting discovery at Spain’s Field

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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.

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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.

 

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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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