chapter  2
10 Pages

The making of two mining museums: Bowes and Beamish, North East England


The North East region of England boasts two of the most popular museums of their kind in Britain, the Josephine and John Bowes Museum in Barnard Castle and the Beamish Open Air Museum near Chester-le Street. Both Bowes and Beamish attract large numbers of visitors. After dropping down to around 60,000 visitors per annum in the 1990s, Bowes now attracts approximately 100,000 visitors per annum (Northern Echo, 2005), while Beamish attracts in excess of 320,000 visitors per annum (Beamish, 2003). Both of these institutions find their raison d’etre in that most potent symbol of North East England – deep coal mining. But in their origins, style and mission they are very different. The Bowes museum is a static, ‘disciplined’ museum, an institution that regulates ‘the performative aspects of their visitors’ conduct’ (Bennett, 1995: 6). The other being a vast open air museum where the visitor is highly mobile and somewhat less regulated and disciplined (Figures 2.1, 2.2). However, these two museums are also very different in terms of the passions they evoke. In this chapter, we argue that Bowes and Beamish articulate economic and social differences which reflect the region’s modern history and structure and ingrained patterns of regional identity and polity. In this sense at least, mining heritage in North East England is culturally significant and hotly debated.