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A former Gateshead tram takes visitors around BeamishIf you're planning to visit or pass through Northumbria, like Reg Butler it's worth scheduling a day at the Beamish Open Air Museum

The 300-acre site is rated among the top attractions of the North East, with 350,000 visitors annually. There's something for all age-groups, from kids to grandparents. Beamish has several times been voted 'The Living Museum of the Year' and has a string of other awards ranging from Visitor Attraction of the Year to Britains Best Museum.

The museum splits into several main areas of interest. There's a drift mine; a village street of pit cottages with Board School and Methodist chapel; a town High Street that includes a fully-stocked Co-op; a working farm; and a manor house that shows how the gentry lived. 

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To get your money's worth from the entrance fee try to arrive at 10 a.m. opening time. Closing is at 5 p.m. You cannot get full value if you arrive after lunch. 

There's always something happening at Beamish. Before you go, check the website for Special Events. It may be worth revising your travel plans to hit an Event that specially interests you.

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It focuses on two time zones - 1825 and 1913. The dates were chosen because 1825 is seen as a beginning of the industrial revolution with passenger railways and mechanisation. 

1913 was the year of peak coal production in the North East. The town, colliery and mining village are all based on that period. 

Many things from 1913 remained pretty much intact until the late 40s or early 50s. Anyone of middle age will get waves of nostalgia, and enjoy telling stories about it to their children and grandchildren.

Beamish is staffed by 'interpreters'. In period dress, they have a lively interest in what they are describing.

Typically I watched three schoolkids listening enthralled in the Co-op to a simple demonstration of how a grocery assistant would tie his white apron. The adults were equally interested.

The interpreters make superb guides, bringing the past to life. It's far better than museums where you just look at things in a glass case which cannot answer questions. 

Old transport is always a hit. There's a Carriage House located behind the town pub. On display are horse drawn vehicles, including a removals van, a fire engine, a hearse and an omnibus.

Across the cobbled street is an Edwardian-era garage with new and second-hand cars, motorbikes and cycles. In those days, headlamps and horns were sold as extras, and petrol came in two-gallon tins.

Few kids or adults can resist the appeal of the Jubilee Sweet Shop which sells boiled sweets, toffee and sugar mice in the front, with a factory at the back. 

You can learn all about cinder toffee and watch it made. It's a very crispy toffee looking like honeycomb, and needs a good whack with a toffee hammer to break it up.
Most fascinating is the Co-op department store which dominates the High Street. Featuring grocery, drapery, outfitters and hardware departments, the building dates from 1893 but all the products are vintage 1913. 

A frequent family purchase to keep iron fire-grates black-leded In that pre-fridge era, customers came shopping several times a week for their butter, cheese, bacon, ham and other groceries. The divi was an incredible four shillings in the pound, keeping members faithful to their Co-op. 

For some older visitors, the hardware shop triggers memories of the outside toilet, bath night in a galvanised tin bath, Mondays with copper, washboard and mangle; and the coal fires with grates that had to be black-leaded.

Upstairs is the Co-op tearooms. But, because of the volume of visitors in summertime, it's laid out on self-service lines, and the toilets are 21st century.

Likewise, along the High Street, a tram shelter has been converted into a toilet block designed to look 'period'. Visitors still expect 21st century service and facilities, even in a 1913 environment.

Transport around the grounds is by an old-fashioned Gateshead tramcar, with a uniformed conductor who doesn't collect ticket money, but tells colourful stories as the tram rattles along.

Entry into the drift mine, which opened in the 1850s, is guided by ex-miners. In charge is the Drift Mine Deputy. He formerly was a manager supervising a work-force that included six shot-firers and twenty deputies.

In each of the pit cottages, built in 1860, daytime occupants describe the lifestyle of a pre-WW1 mining village - work, home cooking, hobbies and Chapel on Sundays. 

At the other end of the social scale is the 1825 life in Pockerley Manor, owned by a prosperous landowner. Servants' quarters faced north, while the master bedroom and main living rooms were on the sunny side.

A highly popular attraction is close to the Manor. The Pockerley Waggonway is an iron railway introduced in early 19th century to move coal from pits to riverside. 

Visitors can experience 1825-style transport in recreated carriages hauled by a replica of Locomotion No. 1, which introduced passenger transport for the Stockton and Darlington Railway and then the world.

Also on show is the replica of an even earlier coal-hauling locomotive called the Steam Elephant, dating from 1815.

The Home Farm still operates and trades in traditional 1913 style, with horse-powered ploughing and hay turning. 

Overlooking the pit cottages at Beamish The stock includes Shorthorn cattle, Saddleback pigs, Teeswater sheep and Clydesdale horses. Geese, ducks and hens are all free-range.

There's so much to see. If you're planning to visit Beamish, don't think you can knock it off in a couple of hours! 

Where else to visit in the North East

LEEDS - Soap trail around Emmerdale

NEWCASTLE - Cultural capital of the North

NORTHUMBERLAND - Go furthest north in England, Alnwick to Berwick

TEES VALLEY - Exploring Captain Cook Country

WEARDALE - Explore Weardale and the North Pennines

YORK - follow the Vikings and the ghosts

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