Tag Archives: historic buildings

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.


Pottering about – our first adventure in collecting buildings

Hello, our names are Clara and Rosie and we are two of the new Curatorial Assistants working at Beamish. Here, at the Museum we not only collect interesting objects from the North East, but architectural elements and sometimes entire buildings.  As a part of the continued development of the Museum, we were given the task of collecting a potting shed from West Boldon in County Durham.  What makes this particular potting shed remarkable is the bricks that it is made from – but more about those later.  This would be our first intrepid step into the relocation of an historic building!

The potting shed at West Boldon

The potting shed at West Boldon

After an initial visit to the site, we began a survey of the potting shed. This rather complex process, in which every aspect of the building (down to the gaps between the bricks) had to be measured and recorded- which was a steep learning curve.  While Rosie took charge of taking measurements, Clara busily sketched:

Clara's initial sketch

Clara’s initial sketch

But as only Clara was able to understand her sketches, she developed a series of working drawings that looked more like this:

One of Clara's working drawings

One of Clara’s working drawings

From these we were able to produce much more accurate and detailed architectural plans from which our specialist builders will eventually rebuild the shed at Beamish.

One of eight architectural drawings of the potting shed. This drawing shows the facade of the shed at a scale of 1 inch to 1 foot.

One of eight architectural drawings of the potting shed. This drawing shows the facade of the shed at a scale of 1 inch to 1 foot

One of the challenges we faced, as part of the Metric generation, was working with a building that was constructed using the Imperial system. We couldn’t just convert its measurements to Metric, as by recording the shed in Imperial, it was easier to understand the building’s design features. For example, the three window spaces each measured 3 ft by 4 ft- much simpler figures to deal with than 0.91440m by 1.2192m.  On top of this, we soon discovered that the building had been put together in a haphazard fashion, with wonky walls and mismatched bricks!

Architectural plan of the roof timbers and inner walls of the shed.

Architectural plan of the roof timbers and inner walls of the shed

Indeed, getting back to those bricks, they were the key to understanding our interest in this seemingly humble potting shed. Written on the bricks was ‘Jones Brothers Pelaw’, which was one of the largest brick manufactures in the North East from 1911 until its closure in 1968. The potting shed had been in the grounds of Ashby House (now Ascot Court) that was built by one of the Jones brothers from the profits of the brickworks. The shed itself looks like it was made using seconds from the brickworks, as the brick ‘specials’ used on the cornices are rather elaborate for a potting shed. We think that it was probably constructed in the 1910s, after the brickworks changed its name to ‘Jones Brothers’, but if anyone has any local knowledge that could provide us with an exact date that would be really useful.

One of the bricks from West Boldon impressed with the name of the brickworks - Jones Brothers

One of the bricks from West Boldon impressed with the name of the brickworks , ‘Jones Brothers’

So what next for the West Boldon potting shed? Well, it has now reached Beamish in it’s disassembled state and will in the future be rebuilt to provide our gardening team with an historic setting to work in. Yes, it’s going to remain a potting shed!