This week saw the opening of the 1950s Terrace at the living museum of the North in County Durham, a major milestone in its ongoing Remaking Beamish project, a £20million development which will see a host of new attractions open over the next couple of years.
The terrace features four new businesses: 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; Elizabeth’s Hairdresser’s, based on an end-terrace shop from Bow Street in Middlesbrough and a recreation of the 1950s Spennymoor home of North East artist Norman Cornish.
And, much like the rest of Beamish, the new additions are interactive. Here’s a round-up of what you can do at the new Front Street terrace.
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::Get yourself a 1950s hairstyle
Elizabeth’s is a gloriously kitsch step back in time to the days of bouffants and bobby pins – and you can treat yourself to an authentic 1950s hairstyle.
Appointments can be booked daily on site for a 20-minute slot where you can have your hair styled in a chignon, twist or a bow.
Priced £5 per style, you’ll need to book in person once you’re there and it’s first come, first served.
Engager Abby Nicholson was previously in the 1913 village and she says it’s great fun to fast forward forty years to bring to life such a fun decade.
“This was a decade when it was very popular for women to go to the salon to get their hair styled, and if they couldn’t afford that, they would learn how to do things like perming at home,” she said.
"It’s been great fun in the 50s terrace this week, we always say we’re like time travellers working here. You can go from the Edwardian era one day to the 50s the next.”
::Enjoy a chippy tea
You can’t get much ‘batter’ than a chippy tea and Middleton’s fish and chips is recreating this fifties favourite daily.
Unlike Davy’s fish and ships in the pit village exhibit, which serves up fish lots from coal-fired ranges using beef dripping, Middleton’s is gas-powered and uses vegetable oil – meaning vegetarians can tuck in to a cone of chips too.
It’s open from 11.30am to 3.30pm daily, with a fish and chips priced £8.30, a dab and chips is £5.90 and a cone of chips is £2.40.
::Tuck into an ice cream sundae
Memories have been flooding back for visitors to John’s Café, which was a much-loved meeting spot in Wingate until it closed in 2006.
Visitors can take a seat in the booths once more to enjoy banana splits, sundaes, oxtail soup and sandwiches, with a sundae costing £5.95.
“It’s been wonderful to see people coming in and reminiscing about when they were courting and would come to John’s,” said volunteer Jean Ruffell. “Someone came in the other day and was looking for their name as they remember inscribing it in the marble tables.
"People had more disposable income in the 50s after the war years, so they could come and socialise in places like this, they could get their hair done, and they could dance to some great music. It was a fun decade.”
::Try out your artistic skills
In the 1950s, mining was still the lifeblood of many North East communities, a way of life that was beautifully documented by pitman painter Norman Cornish.
The late artist’s former family home in Spennymoor, in which he, his wife and children lived from 1953 to 1967, has been brought back to life on Front Street.
Norman drew what was around him and, as well as his working life, he also drew family life with this home featuring in many of his sketches.
Volunteer John Rippon said Beamish has always been about creating exhibits in living memory, so it’s great for people to come to the Norman Cornish house and see items, from the TV to encyclopedias, that once featured in their homes.
"It’s true nostalgia here and if a visitor doesn’t remember something, their grandma certainly will,” he said. “The Edwardian town is great, but that is part of history now, whereas this is all part of people’s living memory.”
Upstairs at the house, there’s an art and craft workshop space so that people can try their hand at sketching, for free.
Engager Alex Green said: “The Spennymoor settlement paved the way with clubs such as sketching clubs. After the war, they wanted to give people a chance to rebuild their lives, so they set up clubs in things such as reading, writing and sketching.
“Norman Cornish himself attended one of the clubs, and they went on to be copied around the country.”
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 biggest project at the museum in decades will also see the arrival of 1950s Spain’s Field Farm, bus depot and expansion of the Georgian landscape including a blacksmith’s, pottery, drovers’ tavern and overnight accommodation so that people can actually spend the night at Beamish.
Foundations are currently being laid for the former Sunderland cinema which will be opposite the new businesses in Front Street – and it will even screen films.
Natasha Anson, Remaking Beamish project officer, said: "This is a fantastic project to bring the museum into living memory. We held a number of freeview events for the communities linked to these buildings ahead of opening and it was great to see them reminiscing.
"People keep asking if they can actually book a hairstyle or if the cinema will screen films, but of course, the museum has always been an immersive experience for visitors. We are all about telling their stories.”