Tag Archives: collections

Beamish’s 20th century collections assistants: Second World War ARP First Aid Kit. Meg’s Diary.

This post details the processes involved when an item is donated to Beamish. In this case Meg processed a Second World War ARP (Air Raid Precautions) First Aid Kit (see photo below).

ARP (Air Raid Precautions) First Aid Kit with instruction card

ARP (Air Raid Precautions) First Aid Kit with instruction card

  • First of all every donor fills in a receipt officially giving the collection to Beamish.
  • Thursday 20th November 2014 – started listing the objects within the collection. Meg decided owing to the rare nature of the almost complete ARP First Aid Kit, the collection should be recorded in detail.
  • Friday 21st November 2014 – Completed listing and semi-permanently labelling each object. Depending on the object the semi-permanent labels are marked in pencil, black or white ink or sewn onto an object. Each donation is given a collection number (2014-184 in this instance). Individual items within the collection are sub-numbered (e.g. 2014-184.1) and an individual item can be separated into different parts for example .1a and .1b. This is so we can keep track of each individual object and have a good record of its appearance and size. Coincidentally item 2014-184.1BP was a bottle of Iodine B.P. ! Meg listed items from .1a to .1bx – that is a lot items in one collection!

Meg listing the objects within the ARP First Aid Kit.Meg listing the objects within the ARP First Aid Kit.

  • Monday 24th November 2014 – following listing and labelling each object is recorded on a Green Card, including a description, when and where the object was used and its estimated age.
  • Wednesday 26th November 2014 – Photographed and measured all 81 items! This is so we can identify objects when searching through the online catalogue and display images of our collection online.

Example of an object photograph. Elastoplast tin with instructions.Example of an object photograph. Elastoplast tin with instructions.

  • Thursday 27th November 2014 – today Meg started transferring the information recorded on the Green Cards onto the collections management system (KE-Emu).

Meg transferring data onto KE-EmuMeg transferring data onto KE-Emu

  •  Friday 28th November 2014 – continued to catalogue the donation onto KE-Emu.
  • Monday 1st November 2014 – Completed J. Now the ARP First Aid box is part of our collection and located in our stores.
Completed collection :)

Completed collection 🙂

This demonstrates that it can take one person 6 days to process just one donation!

At the moment the collections team at Beamish receive on average around 5 donations of objects every day.

Bottles of ointments and medicines in a removable compartment

Bottles of ointments and medicines in a removable compartment

Handmade dolls house furniture and accessories

This adorable collection of handmade dolls house furniture, reminiscent of DIY Blue Peter (BBC) creations, was donated to the museum in May 2015. The collection includes a pink bedroom suite, dining room furniture and two sets of drawers. 

The pink bedroom suite is made from a variety of household materials including; match boxes, cardboard boxes, polystyrene, paper fasteners, wood, bobbins, cupcake cases, plastic lids and miniature doilies. The pink dressing table also includes a mirror from a makeup compact – genius recycling! 

Handmade dolls house bedroom furniture and accessories. Made from everyday household materials.

Handmade dolls house bedroom furniture and accessories. Made from everyday household materials.

 The dining room furniture includes a wooden table and two chairs with yellow paper; chair backs, cushions and a matching table cloth. There are also handmade seasonal accessories – Christmas crackers (a personal favourite!) 

Handmade dolls house dining room furniture.

Handmade dolls house dining room furniture.

The two sets of drawers are constructed from a pile of Bryant and May’s match boxes, paper fasteners and polystyrene. They reflect the fashion of their time and are useful for storing dolls house nick-nacks!

Handmade dolls house white and floral patterned match box drawers.

Handmade dolls house white and floral patterned match box drawers.

Do you have any dolls house DIY memories? Perhaps you made other items out of everyday materials? The things you can do with match boxes, sticky back plastic, bottle tops and egg cartons!

A Useful Expression of Love


For the Festival of the North East, which will take place in June, museums all around the North East got together to select a hundred objects that together portray the history of the region. Beamish will contribute with six objects. These objects were already on display on site, but will get some extra attention during the festival.

While researching these objects, there was one that particularly appealed to me: the knitting sheath. This once ordinary object has now largely been forgotten about, but is a great example of an object telling both a very sweet and personal story and representing the history of an entire region.

In the early nineteenth century, it was customary for old and young people in the northern counties, both men and women, to supplement their wages by knitting. Children learnt to knit in school, in some places it was as important a skill as reading and writing. In the evenings, people often got together in someone’s house to knit, the so-called ‘knitting dos’.

The knitting sheath was a useful tool because it allowed people to keep on knitting while doing other jobs. The sheath was tucked into the knitter’s waistband or belt, or even stitched on an apron. Each sheath had a short tubular opening on the end to hold the needle, and a way of attaching it to the clothing. Sheaths were worn at the right-hand side and were used by knitters who worked in what was called the ‘German manner’. In this way, the right hand was kept rigid and that is where the knitting sheath came in. Its use was to steady the right hand and knitting needle. They were mainly used in the North of England.

Knitting sheaths were not made to sell, but were designed as gifts. Most of them were presents from young men to their sweethearts. Sheaths were thus often carved with emblems such as hearts and arrows, together with the initials of the giver and those of the girl. On most sheaths, the carving is very carefully done, with some inlayed with ivory, mother-of-pearl or different coloured woods.


Since they were all made by hand by amateurs, each knitting sheath is unique and there are a variety of types, mainly depending on the area they were from. Sheaths were made from different materials, people used whatever was available. Materials include wood, bone, leather with wood splinters, balls of horsehair, bundle of feathers tied together and goose-quills fastened upon a piece of flannel.

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth century the knitting method with the sheath gradually fell out of use, since education authorities considered it to be harmful to the posture, producing a weak chest and rounded shoulders. Instead, children were taught to knit without the sheath, in the modern manner used today.

The Golliwog Dilemma

Robertson's Golly

Since we started emptying our off-site storage, we’ve come across a wide range of objects: everything from doors to toy trains, and from postcards to shop interiors. Another remarkable object we found is this plaster Golly from the 1970s. For almost one hundred years, from 1910 to 2002, this figure was the face of Robertson’s Golden Shred Marmalade. Starring not only on the jars, but in all adverts and souvenirs, Golly became a celebrity and an integral part of British culture.

The golliwog on which Robertson’s based their Golly was created in a children’s book written by Florence Kate Upton in 1895: The Adventures of Two Dutch Dolls and a Golliwog. The golliwog, a ragdoll that looked like a blackface minstrel, became extremely popular and a common sight in England and other European countries.

Two golliwog dolls from our collection

It wasn’t until the 1960s that the popularity of the golliwog started to get questioned. As our society changed and became more diverse, racial issues became increasingly important and minority groups started to get a stronger voice. The blackface minstrels were no longer seen as entertaining, but as racist caricatures and crude stereotypes. The same was true for the golliwog: he may have had a more gentle character, but he was still an expression of the negative way Black people were formerly seen.

Although the golliwog obviously offended many people, not everyone agreed with the view that he was racist. The golliwog had become such a part of our culture that many people felt personally connected to him, having grown up with the Robertson’s Golly. Many saw him as a positive figure that wouldn’t hurt or offend anyone, at least not deliberately. Most of all, some felt that he was never created with any racist intentions in mind and should not be perceived in that way.

When thinking about displaying objects like this golliwog, museums are faced with difficult questions. In some of the time periods we cover at Beamish the golliwog would have been a very common sight. So if we want to be historically accurate we should display him. But how important is historical detail if it may offend large groups of people? On the other hand, leaving it out might suggest that racism didn’t exist in the past, so maybe telling the story within the right context would be better? The story of Golly can tell us a lot about how our society has grown and changed.

Golly’s days as the face of Robertson’s marmalade might be gone, but he remains an instantly recognisable and controversial 20th century figure. There aren’t many children’s book characters who can inspire warm nostalgia and offence in equal measure! It leaves museums like Beamish with an interesting but sensitive problem. What do you think about the golliwog dilemma?

Laying Out the Welcome Mat


Proggy mat from Beamish collection, 1956


Hello and welcome to our new Beamish blog! My name is Cheryl and I work in the curatorial team here at Beamish, as Assistant Keeper of Social History. We work with the collections here at the museum – our job is to use objects and stories to help us tell the story of the North East here at Beamish.

We’ve called this blog ‘Adventures in Collecting’ – doing this job is definitely an adventure. It’s a great, interesting job and it is a fascinating time here at the museum – we’re busy working on a lot of projects at the moment and we would like to tell you about some of them in this blog over the coming weeks.

2013 is a busy year: we are building a bakery and a band hall, moving a huge store full of fascinating objects and exploring the 1950s through our Category D project, and that’s just for starters!

We’ll be using this blog to give you a sneaky peek ‘behind the scenes’ of what we do. If you’ve ever wondered how and where we find the things you see when you visit Beamish, how we look after our collections, and what surprises are lurking in our stores, this is the place to find out.

It’s your blog as well – we’d like to you to join in the conversation, and we would love to know if you have questions or comments about the work we do. If you would like to know about a project, a building or an object at the museum, let us know and we will try and write about it.

Oh, and that lovely rug in the picture above? It’s one of the many proggy mats in our collection – it was made by Mrs Platten of High Spen in the 1950s. Today it welcomes you to our new blog as our first featured object – we hope it’s the first of many.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you come back to join us soon – watch this space for some Adventures in Collecting!