Tag Archives: Stories

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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The hunt for an Inn continues…

Clara studying a plan at the Tyne and Wear Archives in Newcastle's Discovery Museum.

Clara studying a plan at the Tyne and Wear Archives in Newcastle’s Discovery Museum.

We’ve been continuing with our search for lost Coaching Inns throughout the North East, and last week Clara and John visited several Archives looking for more information and some plans. Unfortunately, while we did find a number of great plans, most of them were of Inns that are still in business – which is great news for the buildings, but a shame for us!

None of the ones that are lost had plans that are complete enough for us to copy, so the search continues! We did come across a fantastic story from an Inn though. A newspaper from 12th Feb 1790 tells of an duel that took place in a Coaching Inn in Morpeth – thankfully it ended happily – without anyone being injured!

On the evening of Friday night a misunderstanding took place at Morpeth between a Mr B. and a Mr L. in consequence of which they met attended by their seconds in a room of the Phoenix Inn. They took their ground at six yards distance and agreed to fire together. But after poising and looking and looking and poising and chameleon-like alternating and changing colours it was discovered that the pistols would not go off. The seconds then interfered assuring their parties that they had sufficiently proved themselves men of honour which it was said they were highly pleased to hear and the matter was finally adjusted without blood-shed.


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Collecting Codd Bottles

A sample of the Codd bottles in our collection.

A sample of the Codd bottles in our collection.

As part of our on going search to find yet more exciting collections to fill W. Smith’s Chemist and Photographers’, our office is slowly being invaded by funny shaped old bottles…

They’re called ‘Codd’ bottles and were the most common type of bottle used for containing fizzy drinks from the late 19th century until the early 1930s. Patented in 1872 by Hariam Codd, the bottle was sealed by a marble that was forced against the mouth of the bottle by the pressure of the gas produced by the aerated water .inside. To drink the aerated waters inside you used a special opener to push the marble down. Then when tilted upwards, the marble was captured by two checks on either side of the bottle, allowing the drink to flow out.

Locally made Codd bottles.

Locally made Codd bottles.


For the marble feature to work the bottles had to be filled upside down using an inverted bottler. These bottlers are now incredibly rare, we only know of four that are left in the entire country. We are planning to use a modern Japanese version of the Codd bottle, which have screw tops, so that they can be filled upright using a type of bottler that we have in our collections. This also reduces the chance of any potential choking hazards the marble might cause!

A rare surviving Codd bottler, held at the Museum of Bath at Work.

A rare surviving Codd bottler, held at the Museum of Bath at Work.

Jim is particularly interested in  Codd bottles as a way of telling local history, as each manufacturer of fizzy drinks had their own branded bottles. So far, some of the more  unusual examples that we have collected include, one from Newcastle made by R. Emmerson Junior that shows a man riding a penny-farthing, and one from Gateshead with a picture of a bird sitting in a tree. We also have bottles from Stockton, Morpeth, Kirbymoorside, Houghton-le-Spring and many other local places. Our dream is to eventually have a bottle from every village in the North East. Please let us know if you have any that you would like to donate.

Jim is particularly excited about our growing Codd bottle collection.

Jim is particularly excited about our growing Codd bottle collection.


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The dastardly deeds of the infamous Vyvyan Moyle

Those following the progress of our rebuild of Eston Church may have noticed a few references to our resident owl, the Revered Vyvyan Peck. Our choosing the name ‘Peck’ has a fairly obvious explanation, but the more uncommon ‘Vyvyan’ is derived from a fascinating story of a 19th Century criminal – The Revered Vyvyan Moyle.

At first glance Moyle, who was born in 1835 to relatively wealthy parents, appeared to be a typical 19th Century vicar of a rural parish. He was appointed Vicar at Eston in 1868, the same year St Helen’s was upgraded from a chapel in the parish Ormesby to a parish church, having served as a curate in Ormesby. He was married to Wilhemina Wade, who was allegedly an Irish heiress. Moyle showed all the signs of being a wealthy, successful member of society in the North East – he delivered lectures to influential people (including Members of Parliament) and was apparently generous and well liked. He even paid for a new Gothic-style East window for St Helen’s.

Moyle's window from the Chancel, photographed in the 1980s.

Moyle’s window from the Chancel, photographed in the 1980s.

The same window when Beamish first arrived at St Helen's. Unfortunately, due to us setting the Church in 1822 this later window isn't included in our rebuild, but we'll endeavor to lay it out somewhere nearby in the churchyard.

The same window when Beamish arrived at St Helen’s in 1998. Unfortunately, due to us setting the Church in 1822 this later window isn’t included in our rebuild, but we’ll endeavor to lay it out somewhere nearby in the churchyard.

Considering his relatively modest income, Moyle lived an extravagant life. His house was what is now the Manor House at Normanby, and he had a vast array of luxurious possessions, including a collection of artwork. The source of this wealth became apparent in December 1872, when Moyle was arrested and charged with four counts of fraud, including forgery. The company he was accursed of defrauding was Jackson, Gill & Co., a furnace makers, who alleged that he had stolen £22,000 – a huge sum in the 1870, worth well into the millions in today’s equivalent.

Moyle pleaded guilty, but wasn’t given bail because of how serious the charges were. Whilst awaiting trial he was declared bankrupt and the contents of his home were auctioned. At his trial in March 1873 local dignitaries spoke of his previous good character, but this had no impact, and Vyvyan was sentenced to seven years imprisonment. His trial and conviction caused quite a stir of media interest – the story was even reported in the New Zealand press!

He was released on October the 19th 1878, and moved to Berkshire with his wife and family, being titled a ‘clergyman without care of souls’. In 1885, despite the circumstances of his conviction being explained to the Bishop, Moyle was given a vicarage and appointed vicar of St Clement’s Church, Ashampstead, Reading – the Bishop seeking to give him another chance as a repentant man. In 1895 Vyvyan wrote ‘Notes on the Ecclesiastical History of Ashampstead, Berks., for the last 50 years’. It appears that his wife and son (who was also a vicar called Vyvyan) had left him, as they were living in Sussex in 1901.


St Clement’s Church, Ashampstead.

Sadly Moyle’s peaceful and honest life didn’t last. In 1906 at the age of 71 he was tried, alongside a William Davenport, for conspiring to defraud. They were convicted of trying to induce people to be depositors in a false company entitled ‘South & South-West Coast Steam Trawling & Fishing Syndicate’. Moyle pleaded guilty and was given eighteen months’ hard labour, although this time he didn’t survive, and died shortly after his release in 1908.

As far as we know the Revered Vyvyan Peck doesn’t share any of the criminal leanings of his namesake…

(Alongside court records, census returns and death indexs, information for this post was drawn from an article on the Normanby History Group’s website,which is well worth reading if you’d like more information).


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Progress at St Helen’s Church

The reclaimed panelling that will be used on the front of the church's gallery.

The reclaimed panelling that will be used on the front of the church’s gallery.

The work on St Helen’s Church is continuing. Yesterday, a section of panelling arrived, which has been reclaimed from a chapel in Butterknowle, County Durham. This panelling is remarkable similar to that which originally made up the front of the gallery at St Helen’s and will be used as in its place. In the afternoon we also received a very exciting delivery of cylinder glass (an early method of producing sheet glass), which will be used to glaze the replica Georgian lancet windows in the nave.

Shaun and Dan unpacking yesterday's delivery of cylinder glass.

Shaun and Dan unpacking yesterday’s delivery of cylinder glass.

As well as glazing the windows in the nave, our local specialist glazier Barry Swinburne, will also be working on the two much older windows in the chancel.

The view from the church's gallery. The replica Georgian lancet windows are visible to the side, and the 15th tracery window at the end of the chancel.

The view from the church’s gallery. The replica Georgian lancet windows are visible to the side, and the 15th tracery window at the end of the chancel.

The first is a lovely 15th century tracery window which sits behind the site of the altar on the east end of the church. This will be glazed with leaded glass in a diamond pattern, as was typical of the date. The second window was reputedly inserted into the south wall of the chancel by the Tudors. There is no record of what this window looked like, other than that it was a stained glass window that depicted an image of St Helen. Using research done by John into other 16th century windows that showed the saint, Clara has created a design that will be used by Barry to recreate the window using traditional methods.  The window design includes a small homage to the Reverend Peck, our resident owl.

Clara's design for the recreated Tudor stained glass window at St Helen's.

Clara’s design for the recreated Tudor stained glass window at St Helen’s.

Additionally, the two bells that will be installed into St Helen’s tower are being sent away this week to be restored by our heritage blacksmith, Andy Basnett. Before the 17th century tower was added, the church had a small medieval belfry with a single bell. Subsequently, another bell was installed into the tower as part of the church’s Georgian refurbishment. We have collected two bells, one which dates from 1598 and another from 1778, to represent St Helen’s originals. Eventually these will be hung in the belfry to be rung for special events at the church.

The belfry at St Helen's.

The belfry at St Helen’s.

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Stories for the Chemist and Photographer’s

Long before we began building the Chemist and Photographer’s, along with Lindsay Curry our Head of Engagement, we started looking for some stories of Edwardian Chemists and Photographers in the North East that we could base the interior and stories of our shop on. We knew that Chemists and Photographers often had a close relationship, but have been surprised to find no recorded instances in the North East of a business being both a Chemist and a Photographer’s studio. We have however, found plenty of examples of Photographer’s Studios, and Chemists selling photographic equipment alongside medical supplies. There a few names that have particularly relevant stories:

A temporary recreation of the interior of a Chemist's Shop in the early days of the Museum

A temporary recreation of the interior of a Chemist’s Shop in the early days of the Museum.

William Smith

Mr William Smith was a Chemist in the early 20th Century who based in Durham City, initially on Crossgate Peth and later on Silver Street. William was a Chemist’s assistant in 1891, and by 1901 is registered as a Chemist. It’s unknown where he learnt his trade, but the remarkable record we have from his prescription books show that he is making a variety of recipes using a variation of the (by 1901) relatively antiquated ‘apothecary’s system’ of weights and measures. These prescription books, alongside some accounts books (both held at the Durham Record Office) give us an incredible record of the concoctions Smith is creating, as well as the kind of equipment he was buying.

George Fillingham and Mason & Co. Ltd

Whilst we don’t know of any Chemists who also have photography businesses, we have found a 1911 record of a Photographer – George T Fillingham who is at 69a Saddler Street, right next door to a chain of Chemists – Mason & Co. Ltd, who are at number 69.

The interior of Edis' Photography Shop in the early 1920s.

The interior of Edis’ Photography Shop in the early 1920s.

John Edis

The best recorded Photographer we’ve discovered is John Reed Edis, who, along with his daughter Daisy, ran a very successful Photographic studio on Saddler Street. Daisy began helping her father aged 13 in 1901 and went on to become a well-known photographer herself. We have Oral History recordings from a number of other female Photographers and Photographer’s Assistants from this time, including Thelma Watts and Clara Bolam (née Thomas), demonstrating women’s involvement in the industry. A number of the photographs taken by the Edis family have been cataloged and are available to view online via Durham University.

The introduction to Charles Nicol's advertising booklet from 1904

The introduction to Charles Nicol’s advertising booklet from 1904.

Charles Nicol

In the Beamish Collection we have a large number of photographs associated with an early 20th Century Photographer based in Newcastle – Charles Nicol. Nicol was from a wealthy family and established his business in his home in South Gosforth in 1900. His photographs include an image of a circus parade including more than a dozen elephants marching through central Newcastle, as well as a shot of the world-famous operatic tenor Enrico Caruso outside Central Station.


One of two Chemist’s shops Beamish collected in the early days of the Museum, Hallaway’s of Carlisle was run by John Hallaway and his son Robert, as a fantastic example of a Victorian Chemist.

Interior of Walker's Chemist

Interior of Walker’s Chemist.

Hardcastle and Sons

The second Chemist’s shop in the Beamish collection, Hardcastle’s of Stockton was famed for their secret recipe – the ‘Balm of Gilead’ – a great example of individual Chemists creating their own remedies. Hardcastle’s also had a link with the famous John Walker – inventor of the friction match – whose stock and effects were removed to Hardcastle’s shop upon Walker’s retirement in 1858.

J Gilpin and W Owen

An diversification of many Chemists was into the production of Aerated Waters, many had small back-room manufacturing plants, but some, including J Gilpin of 56 Pilgrim Street engaged with mineral water production on a considerable scale. W Owen was another such Chemist. In 1894 his second shop at Barras Bridge had a large mineral water factory behind it.  Here, in the 1920s a citrus flavored energy-drink containing glucose, known as ‘Lucozade’ was prepared.

Contact us…

We’re still pulling together stories for the Chemist and Photographer’s, so if you have any memories you’d like to contribute, please do add comments, or contact our Community Participation Team via the Museum Switchboard on 0191 370 4000.

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