Tag Archives: John Walker

Emptying Aladdin’s Cave

Our industrious curatorial team has been even busier than usual recently; since November 2012 a steady stream of remarkable objects has been coming through our doors. Everything from taxidermy and shop fittings to road signs and pianos has been arriving by the vanload – where’s it all coming from?

All of these amazing objects are coming from Beamish’s huge off-site storage facility in County Durham – it’s a treasure trove of well over 2,200 historic objects, and we are emptying every single item out of it.

Last year we were awarded a special grant of £87,000 from Arts Council England to help us empty the old store and transfer the objects in it to better storage here at the museum. Every single item is being taken out and brought to Beamish for assessment, research, cleaning and conservation – it’s certainly keeping us occupied!

Stores are always an essential part of the way in which museums work: whenever you visit a museum of any kind, you’re usually only seeing a selection of the objects in the museum’s collection – the rest is usually in storage. Our stores help us to conserve and look after our collections properly and to use them more effectively. We’ve moved on since the old days though – the first storage facility Beamish used was an army camp!

Beamish's  first Director, Frank Atkinson, carries a bed end through Brancepeth Camp, 1966

Beamish’s first Director, Frank Atkinson carries a bed end through Brancepeth Camp, 1966

We are bringing those collections to the museum now so we can use them in some exciting future developments. These include a 1950s and 1980s area at the museum, new buildings for our Pit Village, and an open store where visitors can explore our incredible collection.

Getting everything out is a big and complex operation and everything has to be moved very carefully, but once it is all here at the museum, we can start using it.

There are some incredible objects in the stored collection, including John Walker’s apothecary shop from Stockton: Walker invented the friction match inside this very shop in 1826. There are also some eerie, mysterious things – like this little weighing machine with a wicker child’s seat attached. This is one of the objects that will be sent for special conservation work.

Weighing machine with child's seat

Weighing machine with child’s seat

Small or large, all of these objects are a valuable part of the history of the North East, and will help us tell this story to Beamish visitors. The team will be posting regular, detailed updates on the blog to give you a look behind the scenes of this project. We’ll be picking some of our favourite objects and telling you some stories about them, and showing you how we’re getting around some of the challenges of moving some very awkward things.

It’s an epic task, but it will definitely be worth it!