Cumbria's Beacon Museum And Gallery Reopens In Whitehaven

By Caroline Lewis | 04 October 2007
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photo of a re-created wooden sailing ship with rigging and a ship's wheel

The Maria Lowther - jump aboard to find out about seafaring heritage. Courtesy The Beacon

Cumbria’s Beacon museum and art gallery in Whitehaven is re-opening on October 5 2007, unveiling a brand new look and a host of new displays and interactives developed with input with the local community.

The museum and gallery has been closed since June, and busy craftsmen and designers have done wonders in the intervening months, transforming the harbourside landmark in a £2.2 million project reflecting local heritage, from seafaring to ballroom dancing.

One of the most important aspects of the project was to make The Beacon a community hub, not just a place for tourists, so lots of consultation was carried out to find out what resources locals wanted.

“We had a number of focus groups and ideas from a variety of different people, be they Age Concern, under-fives or young archaeologists,” said Sue Palmer, Beacon and Tourism Services Manager. “It’s guided our designs and we’ve invited them back to have their input on final tweaking.”

photo of a couple in a ballroom dancing pose outside the Beacon building

Dancing the Copeland Tango outside the new improved Beacon: former National Champion David Hall, Workington, and Linda Straughton of Maryport. Courtesy The Beacon

The annual VIP ticket at just £6.70, is a good sign that The Beacon will be fulfilling its role as a community resource.

Reminders of the area’s long seafaring tradition are on show, with interactives giving the sights, sounds and smells of a vessel under sail. A moving deck and ship’s wheel give landlubbers the chance to feel like they’re on the ocean wave. And that’s a bit of fun for all ages, not just children.

“I’ve seen an awful lot of adults on there enjoying it and having a go on the pulleys!” said Sue. “Of course children will play on it, but adults are most welcome.”

photo of a child with his face framed by a wanted poster

The Law and Order gallery. Courtesy The Beacon

Educational facilities have been improved so that schools will be able to make the most of what The Beacon has to offer, and classes are also on offer for adults.

You don’t need to join a class to learn the Copeland Tango, though. Enthusiasts wanted to mark the widespread interest in ballroom dancing in the area, so they came up with the Copeland Tango. Its intricate steps have been laid out on the second floor of The Beacon for those who would like to try it out.

Archive films of everyday life in West Cumbria from the 1920s-1960s will be screened, and entertainments from pre-television days are available – shove ha’penny, bagatelle and bar skittles. Memories of World War Two come in the form of ration books, wartime recipes and an air raid shelter.

photo of a family group with a telescope inside a building

The telescope gives great views of Whitehaven and beyond. Courtesy The Beacon

History from much earlier times also has a place, for the first time, in the museum.

“I’m most proud of the early history display,” said Sue. “We’ve never had archaeology on show, and as an archaeologist, to get that out was a delight for me.”

As with many museums, although The Beacon has wonderful collections of archaeological finds, it hasn’t had the space to display them, so they have lain in storage. Now that’s changed, and archaeological artefacts are taking their rightful place in the museum displays.

The re-opening celebrations will begin on Friday October 5 and continue all weekend, bringing a carnival atmosphere to the harbour with entertainment including face painting and magic.

The re-development has been funded by the European Community Development Fund, the Heritage Lottery Fund, West Lakes Renaissance, Copeland Borough Council, the West Cumbria Development Fund and British Nuclear Group.

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