Monthly Archives: April 2013

Disney’s Wonderful World of Knowledge

The museum's selection of 'Disney's Wonderful World of Knowledge'.

The museum’s selection of ‘Disney’s Wonderful World of Knowledge’.

‘These superstars teach your child the way no other teachers can’, proclaims an advert for ‘Disney’s Wonderful World of Knowledge’ and it’s true, writes David Rounce. The museum was fortunate lately to receive a lively set of Disney factual books for children, part of a collection of ‘twenty-three riveting volumes’ first published in the early 1970s and still available in various forms today.

Perfect set dressing for a  child’s bedroom in the museum’s projected 1980s town, our examples span two series: ‘Wonderful World of Knowledge’ (inc.‘ Transportation’, ‘Inventions’, ‘Science and Technology’, ‘Caves to Skyscrapers’, ‘Exploration and Discovery’ and ‘Treasures of the Earth’) and ‘Growing up Healthy’ (inc. ‘Avoiding Sickness and Accidents’, ‘How We Behave’, ‘Our Illnesses’ and ‘What Goes On Inside Us’).

In vol. 3, ‘Inventions’ Donald Duck discovers fire, and immediately wishes he hadn’t.

In vol. 3, ‘Inventions’ Donald Duck discovers fire and immediately wishes he hadn’t.

Each book is told from the perspective of, or illustrated by, various well-known Disney characters. This lends a slightly surreal air to the topics which range from the fascinating; Mickey Mouse explores the space race, to the disturbing; we learn what happens when Goofy gets pneumonia, and the frankly irresponsible; Scrooge McDuck extols the virtues of asbestos.

Kids might want to avoid Scrooge McDuck’s example; ‘... all of my money bags are made of asbestos. After all, I wouldn’t want those $100 bills to go up in flames’.

Kids might want to avoid Scrooge McDuck’s example; ‘… all of my money bags are made of asbestos. After all, I wouldn’t want those $100 bills to go up in flames’.

The museum’s examples date from 1973 and inevitably time has rendered some of the content rather quaint; for instance Professor Ludwig von Drake gets very excited about ‘Spools of recording tape as small as the palm of your hand. One tape can contain as much information as will fill many pages of an average book. Imagine carrying the text of a thick book in a few ounces of tape!’ However, in an age where it’s all too easy to look to the internet for information, these books with their lively images and entertaining yet informative text have an undeniable charm and so, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to sit down and let Donald Duck tell me about the Renaissance…

From ‘Growing up Healthy: How We Behave’

From ‘Growing up Healthy: How We Behave’.



Music, Miners and a Ghost

On Saturday 11 May, Beamish will see the festive opening of its newest building: the Hetton Band Hall. This small brick building represents the substantial role that music has played in the history of the North East, and provides the opportunity to show that this heritage has not ceased yet!

Hetton Band Hall at its original site

The Hetton Band Hall at its original site

Hetton Band Hall at Beamish

The Hetton Band Hall at Beamish

The Hetton Band Hall was originally built in 1912 and was then the only purposely built band hall in the region. The Hetton Silver Band used the building for rehearsals for nearly a hundred years. When they merged with the Broughtons Brass Band in 2009 they no longer needed the building, but they couldn’t bear seeing it demolished. Together with the wider Hetton-le-Hole community, the band members worked hard to have the band hall moved to Beamish to give it a lasting legacy.

This community spirit is not the only reason why the band hall fits in so well with what Beamish aims to do. Brass bands, and more specifically colliery bands like Hetton Silver band, have always been most successful in the North East of England and they had a major influence on life in this region.

Hetton Silver Band

Hetton Silver Band

The brass band movement came up in the second half of the nineteenth century. Forward thinking colliery owners provided education for the miners, including music lessons. Music was thought to have a humanising effect and would keep men from spending too much time in the pub. Many colliery bands were formed as part of a Miners’ Institute. Even though it took time for the established music scene to see the quality of brass bands, band members were very proud of what they did for their community and they worked hard to improve the quality of their performance.

Hetton Silver Band, founded in 1887, is one of the many colliery bands founded in this region. Together with their band hall, we collected objects and memories to do with the band. Vital to this were the interviews we held with members, some of which have been part of the band for decades. These stories provide us with a wealth of information and make the objects all the more interesting.

The 'haunted' metronome

The ‘haunted’ metronome

A good example is the story band members told us about the metronome they donated. Most nights after practice, band members stayed to have a drink together. The metronome, which had been broken for years, stood next to a clock on the mantelpiece. One night, while the group were drinking and talking, the clock stopped. The moment its loud ‘tick-tock’ died, the metronome started working. Scared to death, the group left and were only brave enough to return two days later to turn off the lights. One of the members thinks it must have been the ghost of his wife’s grandfather, who disapproved of them having a pint in the band hall.


Plaza and the Fully Fashioned Stocking

The costume and advertising collections are two of my favourites at the museum so you can imagine my excitement when I discovered an object in our off site store that combined both of my passions!

We believe that this wonderfully retro Plaza stocking display once belonged to the Craghead Co-op. We collected the contents of the Co-op 31 years ago, and as we are now emptying our off site store we are slowly finding all the interesting pieces that made the store come to life.  Plaza was a popular stocking brand from the 1930s right through to the end of the 1950s.  Plaza adverts featured in magazines such as Good Housekeeping (below and left, 1947,Image from and British Vogue (below and right, 1953, Image from

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Its popularity must have waned though as it is no longer a hosiery company and there is very limited information out there.  Do you remember the Plaza brand? Any information you have would be really fascinating and helpful.

Stockings have long been an integral part of ladies fashion.  Black stockings were once even worn to go swimming!  They haven’t always just been a garment worn by women there was a time when they were worn just as much by men. Men wore them with knee britches (a short trouser) the stockings finished just above the knee and were tied with a ribbon.  As the fashion for longer britches developed, the male stocking slowly evolved into the sock, a much more socially accepted item of clothing for men in the 21st Century!

Up until the early 20th century stockings were made from either wool, silk or cotton.  The changing style of the stocking has been determined by ladies fashions, skirt length being a significant factor.  As skirt lengths began to shorten stockings became regarded less as an under garment and considered more as a fashion accessory.

Plaza stockings were sold in the 1930s 40s and 50s, at this time the stockings were described as fully fashioned. This simply means they were knitted flat and tailored to fit the ladies leg.  They had a seam running up the back of the stocking. Unlike today however, this seam wasn’t merely decorative it was an integral part of the construction, holding the stocking together.

Plaza Stocking Holder from the Cragside Co-op

Plaza Stocking Holder from the Cragside Co-op

Fully fashioned stockings were made from a range of materials but at this time they were mostly made from silk or an artificial silk called Rayon.  The introduction of synthetic materials such as nylon heralded a new beginning for stockings, and paved the way for the stockings and tights that we wear today.

Stocking Display at Fenwicks department store in Newcastle - 1950s.

Stocking Display at Fenwicks department store in Newcastle – 1950s.

Nylon stockings were first introduced to the British just as the Second World War began. Nylon and silk were both allocated to the war effort though and making parachutes rather than stockings became a priority. By 1941 clothes rationing came into effect and stockings became a sought after black market item! Would you have bought stockings illegally?

 ‘Make Do and Mend’ was the ethos, but due to the fragile nature of silk stockings and the regularity in which they were worn, a couple of pairs of stockings were not likely to last the entirety of the war. Women therefore had to be inventive, and inventive they certainly were!

As it was considered socially unacceptable to appear in public wearing a skirt without stockings, women began to use gravy browning to stain their legs and eye liner to mimic the seam of the stocking! This gave the illusion that they were wearing fully fashioned nylon or silk stockings. The illusion however was sadly laid bare as soon as it rained!

Image from

Image from

By the mid 1950s nylons were readily available to buy again, rationing was lifted and advertising was in full force. A new and exciting world of stockings was ready to be worn. This new world included the wonder that is the seam free stocking!

The stocking has undergone quite a journey, from underwear to fashion accessory; along the way charting social and political change.  None of this however would have been possible without the invention of the knitting machine in the 1500s by a man named William Lee. Without this man we would not have had the iconic fashion garment that is the Fully Fashioned Stocking!