Years in the making, with pauses in construction to contend with due to the pandemic, the first wave of businesses in the major new 1950s town at Beamish have opened their doors.
Plenty of cool cats headed down to the outdoor museum in County Durham on Saturday, February 19 for the first day of opening of Front Street terrace.
Just round the corner from the Edwardian town, it features John’s Café, a recreation of the popular café from Wingate in County Durham; Middleton’s Quality Fish and Chips, a fried fish shop from Middleton St George, near Darlington, which has been replicated to serve up this popular 1950s food; Elizabeth’s Hairdresser’s, based on an end-terrace shop from Bow Street in Middlesbrough, where people can book an appointment and a recreation of the 1950s Spennymoor home of North East artist Norman Cornish.
The four new attractions, which join the existing Leasingthorne Colliery Welfare Hall, are just the start of the 1950s town which, by the end of 2023, will include a rebuild of the old Grand cinema in Ryhope, a recreation ground, toy shop, electrical shop, police houses, semi-detached homes recreated from Red House in Sunderland and Airey houses.
Meanwhile, aged miners’ homes, from Marsden Road, in South Shields, will provide a centre for people living with dementia and other long-term health conditions.
The opening day was particularly poignant for John Cornish, artist Norman’s son, who was actually born in the house upon which the recreation is built, in 1956.
Norman, then a miner, and his family lived in the original house from 1953 to 1967. The much-respected artist, who passed away in 2014, had donated items from his house and his later studio to Beamish.
John says it’s incredible to walk back into his childhood home, which would once be filled with his dad’s easels who would paint at home after finishing shifts down the mine.
"I know how hard Beamish has worked on this, so it’s incredible, after eight/nine years, to see that hard work come to fruition and open today,” he said.
John, 65, who lives in Chester-le-Street, added: "We saw it from the development of the architect’s plans and the attention to detail is incredible. The smells and sights are so evocative and take me right back, from the smell of the coal fire to the washing powder.
"Dad drew what was around him, and is well-known for his paintings of the mining community, but this home features in many of his sketches.”
Rhiannon Hiles, Beamish’s Chief Executive, added: “After the pauses due to lockdown, it’s fantastic, and emotional, to be here today for the opening of the terrace. It’s a real milestone for the museum.
“Last Saturday the families connected to the attractions came down and we felt quite nervous. They co-curated this attraction, and we had to get it right, but the feedback has been fantastic. It must be quite strange for them to walk back into their homes and businesses, and there was quite a lot of tears.
"The conversations and memories that came flooding back in John’s Cafe were incredible. It shows how much Beamish means to people.”