Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Britain's Main Street USA: An Analytical Tour of Beamish Open Air Museum Part 4

The Town

The Town at Beamish represents a typical North Eastern market town in the years leading up to the First World War. Beneath what would be brand new street lighting, guests can find terraced houses containing a music teacher, dentist and solicitor, a traditional pub, a printers, a transportation depot, a toilet block, a bank, a Masonic Hall, a motor garage, a clothing store, Co-Op, general store and tea rooms. Nearby is the municipal park, and beyond that a Victorian fairground and railway station.

Just like Disneyland, the post box really does get collected.

The building on the right is a restroom block, known locally at the time as a 'netty'.

Inside the terraces are the family homes, dentist, music school and solicitors. Most rooms inside the building allow you to enter the room, but rope barriers stop you exploring more than around six feet.

The inclusion of a music teacher and dentist are particularly interesting: these same two businesses are the sources of background noises from upstairs windows along many of the Main Street USAs.

Behind the high street is a transportation depot, containing a barn full of motor vehicles and carriages, and stables next door.

Period signs and advertisements are everywhere - Beamish often has so much stuff that it borders on cluttered. In a dedication to period more extreme than Disney would ever dare go (quite rightfully), cartoon advertisements containing 'Golliwogs' are still displayed, a blackface minstrel character now considered racist.

The Beamish Motor & Cycle Works displays new and second-hand cars, motorcycles and bicycles, along with headlamps, horns, and two-gallon cans of petrol.

An old motorcycle is parked outside the garage, with a gentleman motorist in period costume conversing with passersby.

The Beamish Branch Office would serve as a newspaper distribution point and a printers upstairs. Now it additionally contains a small boutique selling postcards, stationary and books.

The display board posters give a sense of the major news stories of the time.

The highlight of Beamish for many children is undoubtedly the old fashioned sweet shop (candy store). With sugar and cocoa flooding in from the Empire, shops such as this sprang up packing shelves with glass jars of sugared almonds, toffees, sour plums, chocolates and other treats.

The shop sells everything on display, including many sweets adults last saw in their childhood.

But what makes the shop stand out is what's in the back: guests can watch hourly demonstrations of candies being made the old fashioned way.

Sugar is boiled up on the fire to the left, mixed with flavorings, then poured onto the center table.

When it has cooled somewhat it becomes pliable and can be kneaded like bread to get rid of air bubbles.

It is cut into chunks and fed through a press which shapes the mixture into traditional sweet shapes.

The result is strips of candies which when fully cooled and hardened can be simply dropped onto hard table surface, shattering the strips into the individual sweets. The brass contraption at the back is called a polisher, and rolls the sweets like a cement mixer to dull the sharp edges.

Numerous stamps are available to shape the sweets:

Further down the street is the bank, an 1896 Barclay and Company bank with a Swedish 'Imperial Red' granite front.

Downstairs, guests can see the vaults and storerooms ... including the rats!

Next door is a Masonic Temple, a common site across North Eastern towns.

In the main hall hangs an impressive portrait of Queen Victoria.

The commercial hub of the town begins with the Co-Op (Co-operative), comprising of grocery, drapery and hardware departments.

The grocery department bares a distinct resemblance to Disneyland's Market House.

The drapery department displays fashions of the time...

... and even allows guests to try on some of what's on display.

The "If you offer it we will collect it" policy was especially apparent in the photo above: the shawl once belonged to my great-grandmother Hannah Smith.

The hardware department supplies mangles, polishes, paints, pots and pans, lamps, shovels, tools and candles - especially important when pitmen had to provide their own gear.

A highlight of the Co-Op is the overhead Lamson-Paragon Cash System - a 'cash railway'. Not yet trusting counter employees with money, payments and change were placed in wooden balls which were hoisted up the ceiling with a pulley then allowed to roll along tracks to a secure cash office. Here, change was counted, then returned with a second chute.

Interestingly, Disneyland Paris's Emporium actually has a working cash railway, although it is a distinctly decorative element.

The overhead cash railway still works, and is often demonstrated to guests.

At the edge of town is the municipal park centered around ornamental flower beds and a Walter MacFarlane & Co. bandstand. The horticulture easily keeps a standard of quality on parallel with Disney.

Just around the corner is a favorite for young and old: a 'Gallopers', or steam roundabout - more commonly known as a carrousel - which is powered by a genuine traction engine. Nearby are some hand powered boat swings and a coconut shy. I remember coming here more than a decade ago when there was also a helter skelter (spiral slide) and mirror maze, but I don't know where these have now gone.

At the very outskirts of town is Rowley Station, a typical northern station of around 1910 - never lit by gas electricty, always relying on oil. Accessed across a wrought-iron footbridge or level crossing, guests are able to take short shuttle trips aboard the train.

"Your attention please... the Disneyland Great Britain Railway now boarding for a one-way trip around the Magic Kingdom. All aboard!"

The station is very much a mirror of Disneylands, with luggage ready to be loaded up and posters advertising tourist destinations throughout country.

Even the signal box can be explored.

Beyond the station is the Goods Shed and coal office.

In the final part, I will conclude the photo tour and present a more comprehensive analysis of the parks strengths and weaknesses.

Britain's Main Street USA: An Analytical Tour of Beamish Open Air Museum
Jump to: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5.

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