Beamish, The Living Museum of the North is launching a year of celebrations to mark its 50th anniversary.
The open air museum has also announced record visitor numbers of 803,148 for the past year – topping 800,000 visitors for the first time.
Beamish’s Golden Jubilee celebrations will begin with the Happy Birthday Beamish! event during February Half Term, from 15th to 23rd February. Visitors will be able to join in with birthday parties, games and activities across the museum.
The 50th anniversary celebrations will continue throughout 2020, with events, exhibitions, competitions and special souvenirs. Visitors are being asked to share their own memories of Beamish, from family days out to school trips.
Rhiannon Hiles, Beamish’s Deputy Director, started as a volunteer at Beamish 25 years ago – and is also celebrating her own 50th birthday this year.
She said: “We are so excited to be celebrating our 50th anniversary with all of our visitors, staff, volunteers and supporters and what a year we have in store!
“With record visitor numbers of over 800,000 last year, we are looking forward to a year to remember with activities and celebrations to mark our very special Golden Jubilee.
“Beamish is everyone’s museum and we are honoured to be part of the region’s heritage, it is the stories and memories of the people of the region that make Beamish what it is.
“I’ve worked at Beamish for 25 years this year and will be celebrating my own 50th birthday in style with the museum during our joint golden year.
“l am very proud to be part of the museum’s history and we are looking forward to hearing more stories and memories, so get in touch and let us know yours!”
Beamish was founded in 1970 by Frank Atkinson to preserve the region’s everyday ways of life for future generations to experience, including customs, traditions and dialect. Frank had observed dramatic change, with industries such as coal mining, shipbuilding and manufacturing disappearing, along with the communities that served them.
The museum’s costumed staff and volunteers bring this history to life, with buildings and objects donated from across the region, at 1820s Pockerley, The 1900s Town, The 1900s Pit Village, The 1940s Farm and the 1950s welfare hall.
Councillor Ossie Johnson, Chair of Beamish Museum, said: “All of us involved with Beamish Museum are immensely proud of how much the museum’s activities and exhibitions have developed over the last 50 years.
“Beamish is truly a living museum belonging to our communities which has allowed us, over the last 50 years, to enhance our visitor experience and we will continue to do this in future years.
“I am looking forward to celebrating our achievements with the trustees, staff and visitors.”
Beamish welcomes visitors from around the world and has more than 500 staff and 500 volunteers.
Among Beamish’s volunteers is Dr Linda Garbutt, Chair of the museum’s Access Panel, who has been a volunteer for nearly 20 years.
She said: “As a living museum, Beamish began with enthusiastic support from many people bringing their skills and knowledge to the enterprise.
“Beamish has grown and developed with many changes over the years, with the devotion, commitment and enthusiasm of all staff and volunteers remaining central and as strong as ever.
“This expertise of all kinds is what I observe at the heart of Beamish and, as it has contributed to this first 50 years, I feel that it will continue to do so into the future.
“As a volunteer, being part of the Access Advisory Panel, I have felt both privileged and valued as we were included in every stage of a development, from initial ideas, through planning and fundraising to the launch of the project. An early example of this process is that of the first accessible bus which presented the ongoing challenge of retaining authenticity and providing access.”
During the Happy Birthday Beamish! event (15th to 23rd February) visitors can join in Georgian, Edwardian, 1940s and 1950s celebrations, with parties, games, craft activities, cakes and other treats.
Objects donated to the museum in each of the past 50 years will be on display at the Entrance, while birthday-themed items will be on show in the Open Stores.
Beamish has been working with communities in Middlesbrough to look at the history of toys and childhood, linked to the development of the toy shop that will be part of The 1950s Town.
The museum’s £20million Remaking Beamish project is currently underway, the biggest development in its history, featuring a 1950s Town, 1950s Farm and expansion of The 1820s Landscape, including a Georgian inn where visitors can stay overnight.
Thanks to the money raised by National Lottery players, the Remaking Beamish project has been awarded £10.9million by The National Lottery Heritage Fund.
The museum has recently been awarded the national Customer Commitment Award at the British Chambers of Commerce Awards 2019. Beamish’s Emily Hope was named national VisitEngland Tourism Superstar and the museum was featured in Lonely Planet’s Ultimate UK Travelist. Beamish starred in the recent Downton Abbey movie, which featured the museum’s 1900s Town, staff and vehicles.