1950s comes to life… First 1950s Town exhibit opening at Beamish Museum

The 1950s has been brought to life with the opening of the first building in a 1950s Town at Beamish, The Living Museum of the North.

Visitors will be able to enjoy a whole host of 1950s activities, including music, dancing, crafts, keep fit and amateur dramatics. The new exhibit also features an NHS clinic.

The hall is part of the £20million Remaking Beamish project – the biggest development in the museum’s history. Thanks to the money raised by National Lottery players, the Remaking Beamish project has been awarded £10.9million by The National Lottery Heritage Fund. 

Richard Evans, Director of Beamish, The Living Museum of the North, said: “We are all very excited to be opening the welfare hall – the first exhibit in a 1950s Town that we are building at Beamish.

“Thanks to the support of the National Lottery players and The National Lottery Heritage Fund, our staff and volunteers have been working with people from the community in Coundon and Leeholme in County Durham for the past few years to authentically recreate this typical example of a 1950s welfare hall – and bring their stories to life.

“It’s an important milestone for us at Beamish as we move into a new time period – and expand the stories we tell of everyday life in the North East. It’s a fantastic addition to Beamish for visitors to experience – a lasting tribute to the hard work of all our staff and volunteers as well as the people of Coundon and Leeholme who have helped us. An important story for future generations to enjoy.”

The hall will host 1950s activities for visitors to enjoy, with activities changing throughout the year.

Discover the birth of the NHS through our mother and baby clinic – how many ways can you fold a Terry towelling nappy? Enter a rehearsal session for the upcoming play, brush up on your 50s dancing skills while listening to live music, join in with the skiffle songs, or head along to the youth club and play the unusual sounding “socks in a saucepan” game.

Get creative with the sketching club, join in with 1950s exercise regimes, including ribbon, baton and hula hoop activities, try your hand at Subbuteo and other football-related fun, learn how to play whist and be the first to draw a beetle in our beetle drive. Younger visitors can also enjoy a 50s-inspired play group with crafts, rhymes and music.

The hall is a replica of Leasingthorne Colliery Welfare Hall and Community Centre, near Bishop Auckland, which opened in 1957. Beamish worked closely with the community members at the original hall – now known as Coundon and Leeholme Community Centre – who shared memories, stories and objects.

The original Leasingthorne Colliery Welfare Hall and Community Centre was funded by the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation, which provided welfare facilities for miners. People have shared memories of Leasingthorne Colliery miners paying a weekly contribution towards the hall from their wages.

Pam Hymas, trustee and treasurer of Coundon and Leeholme Community Centre, said: “We have felt proud and privileged to have worked with Beamish and the community.

“They have welcomed the help received from past and present members and the wider community in collecting information, memories and the history from 1957 to 2019.

“This has preserved the heritage of what the miners, their families and villagers achieved and now so many more will be able to see the hall at Beamish.”

The welfare hall is the first building to open as part of Beamish’s 1950s Town which will also include a cinema, houses, shops, café, fish and chip shop, hairdresser’s and bowling green. Aged miners’ homes will provide a centre for older people, including those living with dementia. The Remaking Beamish project also features a 1950s Farm and an expansion of the Georgian area, featuring a coaching inn, where visitors will be able to stay overnight, and early industrial buildings, including Joe the Quilter’s cottage, which opened last summer.

David Renwick, Area Director North, The National Lottery Heritage Fund, said: “The welfare hall is a unique insight into 1950s life and an exciting milestone for Remaking Beamish.

“From the creation of jobs and training opportunities to boosting the region’s tourism offer, we’re delighted to support Remaking Beamish, thanks to National Lottery players.”

The hall also features Changing Places accessible facilities, including a wash and dry toilet, hoist, changing bench and adjustable basin.

A grant from the Banks Community Fund, which is administered by County Durham Community Foundation, has contributed to the costs of the roof of the welfare hall.

Formica Group has donated Formica® laminate for the welfare hall’s table tops and kitchen units, featuring recreated patterns from the 1950s, and given advice and guidance about the installation.

The kitchen also includes two 1950s wall units from our collection and a Dovedale sink, made in a former Spitfire factory after the war.

Groups can be a part of history and the welfare hall during a visit to Beamish Museum. Beamish is the perfect place for group visits to North East England, with something for visitors of all ages and interests as they take a tram ride back in time and experience the sights, sounds, smells and delicious tastes of 1820s Pockerley, The 1900s Town, The 1900s Pit Village, The 1940s Farm and The 1950s (admission charge applies).

Enjoy a true taste of Beamish with Dainty Bites, a light buffet lunch to include sandwiches, crisps, cake, and tea/coffee, served in a private room overlooking the award-winning Town (subject to availability and excluding school and Bank Holidays – Dainty Bites must be booked in advance).

With free coach parking as well as free admission for coach drivers and group visit organisers (minimum 15+ paying visitors), a trip to Beamish is the perfect choice for groups.

For more information about group visits to Beamish or the Remaking Beamish project, visit www.beamish.org.uk.

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