Dust off your blue suede shoes - work has begun on a new £18million development at Beamish Museum that’s set to transport visitors back to the 1950s.
Following years of planning and major investment, including a £10.9million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, ground has been broken on the County Durham museum’s largest development to date.
As well as a 1950s town, the Remaking Beamish project will see the addition of more than 30 new exhibits, including a 1950s farm and a Georgian coaching inn where visitors can stay overnight.
In total, the project will take up to four years to complete, but buildings will open as and when they are ready, with the first due to open as early as next year.
The new attractions tell the story of what life was like living in the North East during the 1950s, a period of great economic change for the region, as well as rural life in the 1820s.
North East communities have played a major role in the development, which will include:
•The former Grand Electric cinema in Ryhope being taken down at its current location in Sunderland and restored to its former glory in the 1950s town.
•The replication of a 1950s-built home in Red House, owned by Esther Gibbons, following a ‘nominate your house’ vote.
•The recreation of John’s Cafe, which was in Wingate, County Durham, featuring the interior of the original cafe, collected by the museum in 2013.
•A terrace of aged miners’ homes from Marsden Road in South Shields, which will be copied to provide a dedicated centre for older people.
Speaking about the milestone in the museum’s history, Beamish director Richard Evans said: “We will have more than 30 buildings in the new development, so hopefully there will be something for everybody. We have worked very carefully with communities across the North East on this project to paint a picture of what life was like in the region during this time.
“What’s interesting is that with the 1950s developments we are moving into living memory. When Beamish first opened in the 1970s, there will have been people who could remember what life was like just after the First World War but there aren’t many people left now who could. We want this to be an inter-generational experience, there will be people who remember that life from the ‘50s, and for others it’s the story of their grandparents’ experiences.
“Everyone can relate to this museum. It’s their museum, we’re just the custodians of it. This is their story.”
Speaking about the huge task of the removal of the former cinema in Ryhope 15 miles down the road to Beamish where it will become a centrepiece in the new town, he said: “There’s certainly not many people who move derelict buildings to another place and this will be the largest building we have ever moved. The cinema holds 500 people which will open up so many more opportunities to us for screenings and evening events.”
Ivor Crowther, head of the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) North East, says the benefits of Remaking Beamish, which will create 100 new jobs, apprenticeship schemes and bring in an estimated extra 100,000 tourists, are far reaching.
“We work alongside applicants to ensure that the projects we invest in are sustainable and this one is of so much value to the public and the region,” he said. “It ticked all the boxes for us because it’s so multifaceted.”
He added: “The fact it’s actually saving buildings is wonderful. The old cinema in Ryhope isn’t listed, so it would have been lost if not used here. I’m born and bred in Sunderland and it’s great to be able to talk to trustees of the HLF and set a case for investment in the North East. This is the largest grant we’ve given and it shows, nationally, the confidence that the trustees have in the North East.”
Hartlepool-based Seymour Civil Engineering has been contracted to carry out the civil and infrastructure work.
Managing director Kevin Byrne said: “This certainly isn’t a mainstream job, but we’ve worked on other historic structures, such as Cragside and the Town Wall in Hartlepool, so we know what care needs to be taken in these situations.
“Although we’ll be using modern machinery, all the materials will be sympathetic to the period to give the desired aesthetic. We’re really proud to be part of this investment in the social history of the region.”