Tag Archives: Historic Construction

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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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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Progress on W. Smith’s Chemist and Photographer’s

As we head towards the opening of the Chemist and Photographer’s in late Spring, and despite the snow, the Buildings Team have begun work on installing the period fixtures and fittings that will help to bring the new exhibit to life.


Shaun standing behind the shop counter in the reception area of the Photographer’s Studio.

In the Photographer’s, Shaun and his team have nearly finished fitting the impressive mahogany panels that will form the divide between the reception and studio. The shop counter has also been installed, which  has been made from the bottom sections of more of the mahogany panels (learn more about the Joinery Team’s work on the Chemist and Photographer’s here). The panelling will also continue along the walls of the corridor of the reception up to dado rail height, with specially reproduced wallpaper above.

wallpaper 1

The wallpaper that will be used in the Photographer’s Studio will be a reproduction of this 1907 sample.

The wallpaper is a copy of a pattern that was available to purchase from the Co-op in 1907. Clara found it in a catalogue that is in Beamish’s archives. It was chosen firstly because of its colour – ‘pea green’ was according to P. C. Duchochois’ 1891 book Lighting the Photographic Studio, a favourite with photographers due to its light reflecting qualities. It also has an Art Nouveau motif printed on it. By the early 1900s Art Nouveau had evolved from being an avant garde style, which originated in Paris to being one of the most popular and fashionable styles of the era. In contrast to the fussy foliage of William Morris-type patterns, its sinuous lines were considered to be extremely modern. This was something which a photographer, whose business relied upon fashion and up-to-date technology would probably have appreciated, and therefore we have decided to decorate the studio in the Art Nouveau style.


Paul installing the Art Nouveau fireplace in the Photographer’s studio.

With this in mind, the fireplace that Paul and his team are currently fitting in the studio with its exaggerated recessed-dome opening is in high Art Nouveau style. The wallpaper and fireplace, along with other details such as a beautiful restored gas chandelier and reclaimed early 20th century door furniture will help to make the space feel at the height of Edwardian fashion.

In contrast, the Chemist will be decorated in a much older style to reflect that it is a more established and traditional business. This means that although set in the 1910s, it will seem as if it has changed little since the 1880s, and in parts will appear to be even older, given that the building we are copying was original built during the mid-Georgian era. This means that the interior will include heavy, dark wooden shop fittings,which Shaun and his team have been restoring and resizing ready for their installation (look out for a further post with more details of this). Instead, of the stylish fireplace in the studio, the fireplace in the Chemists is a decoratively fussy, reclaimed hob-grate. When finished, the walls will be a dark ‘Pugin’ red that would have been very fashionable during the mid to late Victorian period, with reproduction ‘Anaglypta’ (or  raised textured) wallpaper on the ceiling, that will become increasingly stained by the gas lighting.


The mid-Victorian hob grate fireplace in the Chemist’s. 

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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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Progress of W. Smith’s Chemist and Photographer’s


The nearly completed façade of W. Smith’s Chemist and Photographer’s

The scaffold at W. Smith’s Chemist and Photographer’s has been partially dropped, revealing the impressive façade for the first time.


The mahogany panels that will form the divide between the reception and studio in the Photographer’s, and which once re-glazed with fully transparent glass will allow the visitors to see the photographer at work.

Inside, the beautiful mahogany panels in the Photographic Studio are beginning to be installed. And in the Chemist, the wonderful carved column has been put in place. Although not actually structural, it is intended to help to portray the Chemist’s as much older establishment than the other buildings in the street, and hint at the original building on Elvet’s Bridge past as a Georgian inn.

Shaun and column

Shaun and the carved column in the Chemist 

At the rear of the building Paul, Cos and Kearon are busy constructing the base for the  wooden-framed conservatory, which Shaun and his team will be building. Photographic studios conventionally had a conservatory or large skylight to enable enough light for a good quality exposure. Just like ours will be, this would have been located to side of where the sitters were photographed, with the light coming from the North, to provide a constant, non-glaring light, which was best for taking photographs in.


Jim and Paul discussing the rear conservatory

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St Helen’s Church opens to the public

Eston interior

The finished nave

Over twenty years since St Helen’s Church was first moved from its original location in Eston, Middlesbrough, it has reopened to the public in its new home at Beamish.

To get the church ready for the opening, a lot of work had to be done to finish the interior. The vestry, which the vicar and church wardens would have used as their office, had to be furnished with everything one would have expected to find. This included a Georgian bureau from Hamsterley covered in replica paperwork, candlesticks and a capstan ink well and quills. The glazed cabinet in this little room was filled with a collection of 1825 Adam Clarke Bibles,  a pewter mug and a brandy bottle! The whitewash on the walls were given another touch up and a resplendent and newly restored Royal coat of arms was hung above the gallery.   The beautiful box pews that were kindly donated from St Andrew’s Church in Wiveliscombe were being installed by Sid Lee and his tireless team right up to the morning of the opening!


The fully furnished vestry

Outside, the remains of Revd Moyle’s 1870s Gothic style window (which was a later addition to the chancel) were laid outside to form a flowerbed. Our contract blacksmith, Andy Basnett, created a wonderful arch, which supports an oil lamp, to go over the main gateway to the church yard. Still to do is to install the whale bone arch at the yard’s rear entrance. The two whale jaw bones from two different whales came from a Lincolnshire museum. St Helen’s did originally have a whale bone arch, which is not surprising given Eston’s close proximity to the coast.

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Some of the members of the team who worked on the church

On Saturday 14th a special service was held in St Helen’s for its former parishioners and community members – it was wonderful to see the church come back to life again!

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Frank’s Memorial at St Helen’s Church

St Helen's being publicly used for the first time in as the setting for a memorial to Dr Frank Atkinson.

St Helen’s being publicly used for the first time since 1985 as the setting for a memorial to Dr Frank Atkinson.

On Saturday afternoon St Helen’s Church became the setting for a memorial to the life of Dr Frank Atkinson – our founder director and the creator of Beamish. Although the church will not be completely finished, and opened to the public, until November, it seemed appropriate to hold the event in an ongoing project. Frank passionately felt that the Museum would never be completed, but would continue to grow as it recorded and collected the heritage of the North East.

Shaun, Keith and John completely the tricky task of hanging the chandeliers.

Shaun, Keith and John completing the tricky task of hanging the chandeliers.

Jim and Clara ringing the bells to signal the start of the memorial.

Jim and Clara ringing the bells to signal the start of the memorial.

The Buildings Team  and our local contractors were working hard last week to get the Church ready for the event. This included everything from installing and glazing the metal window in the chancel, to hanging the chandeliers, to repairing collections, to fitting the altar and gallery rails, to even fixing a leak in the roof! The final touch was to fill the church with items from our collection, including the huge Georgian commandment boards which were hung either side of the arch in the nave.

A huge thank you for everyone’s hard work!

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Piecing together pre-fabs: reconstructing the Kibblesworth Airey Houses at Beamish

In the summer of 2012, Beamish collected a block of four Airey Houses (no. 38-41) from Coltspool, Kibblesworth (Gateshead). Airey Houses were a type of permanent pre-fabricated house, which were developed to help solve the housing crisis that followed the Second World War due to bombing, baby booms and the continued clearing of inner city slums.

The Airey Houses in Kibblesworth before Beamish dismantled them

The Airey Houses in Kibblesworth before Beamish dismantled them.

The first prefabs were never intended to be permanent homes, but to relieve the immediate housing shortages, and as such they only had a planned life of approximately 10 years. Crucial to the design of the prefabs prototypes were that they could be constructed by unskilled labourers using non-traditional building materials. Immediately following the War, there were brick and timber shortages as suppliers, yards and factories had been requisitioned during the conflict to help with the war effort. Equally, the heavy losses, injuries and dispersion inflicted on the male population (who had prior to the war almost exclusively dominated the construction industry) meant that there was a lack of skilled craftsmen to build housing.

While temporary pre-fabs went someway to relieving the demand on new homes, only 156,000 were ever actually built under the Temporary Housing Programme during the 1940s and 50s, and the government was still required provide quick long-term solutions. As the economy began to recover in the late 1940s, the temporary houses actually ended up costing more than traditional builds. However, pre-fabrication was seen as the only way to deliver the number of new houses needed quickly. Architects, engineers and planners were therefore tasked with coming up with system builds that could be permanent homes.System builds differed from the earlier pre-fabs in that the pre-fabricated panels that made up their walls were attached to a frame rather than being self-supporting, making them more structurally durable. Additionally, they included more traditional construction features such as brick-built chimneys and pitch roofs with timber trusses. However, like the temporary pre-fabs, these houses were intended to be easily assembled using a relatively unskilled labour force. As they were long-term family homes they were generally designed to have two storeys with the basic inclusion of kitchen, living room, hall, bathroom and at least two bedrooms. This meant that for many moving into the prefabs, they had far more space and amenities than ever before!

An early Airey, built in 1947.

An early Airey House, built in 1947.

Although they shared similar specifications, as stipulated by the government, each type of temporary pre-fab or permanent system builds differed depending on which individual or company designed and manufactured them. Government contracts to supply system builds were a lifeline in the struggling post-war economy. Often existing companies that had supplied wartime products adapted means of manufacturing in order to produce the new homes. This was not entirely the case with Airey Houses. Although designed by Leeds industrialist Sir Edward Airey (1878-1955) in 1947, the technology itself (the ‘Airey Duo slab’), of using concrete frames, clad with pre-cast concrete slabs had actually been developed by the firm in early the 1920s. During the War, it had been used to build temporary barracks for American soldier who were posted at British bases.

Normally built as semis, the basic structure of the post-war Aireys consisted of walls made of pre-cast reinforced concrete upright posts, clad with pre-cast concrete slabs. The weather-boarding effect of the slabs, along with the houses’ conventional pitched roof was intended to make the pre-fabs look like traditional homes. Convincing people of this seems to have concerned the government, as a propaganda film entitled Country Homes was released in 1947. As well as footage of how the system builds were constructed, this film included scenes of a happy family enjoying a traditional rural life in their Airey, as emphasised by lines such as ‘a home a man can be proud of’.

The houses in Kibblesworth were carefully dismantled by the Museum and are now in storage. They will be rebuilt as part of the planned 1950s Town, in order to tell of the story of post-war austerity and the subsequent changes to social housing.

No. 37- 40 Coltspool are unusual in that they are a block of four with an alley between the two central houses, instead of the more common semi-detached Aireys. Built in 1951, they also included modern luxuries such as a back boiler and downstairs toilet, which the earlier Aireys did not have. In addition to this, these Aireys had a different floor plan to the one suggested by Airey factory plans.

Norma Bolton moved in no. 39 with her parents in 1951 (the rest of the street was still being built!). She has been helping us piece together what her home looked like. Previously, Norma and her family were squeezed into an upstairs flat in Gateshead. Their only source of water was one outdoor tap – which they had to share with their neighbours! She remembers moving into a brand new Airey as an enormous and very exciting change. We are planning to speak to many more members of the Kibblesworth community who lived in or remember the Aireys.

Clara talking to Norma Bolton about her memories of the Airey House that she lived in as a child.

Clara talking to Norma Bolton about her memories of the Airey House that she lived in as a child.

Please do get in touch with us if you have any memories of these or other pre-fabs in the area.

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