Hidden Treasure Trail 11 - The People's Museum In The North East of England

By Caroline Lewis | 15 May 2006
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Welcome to Culture24's Hidden Treasure Trails, exploring the hidden treasures of the People’s Museum.

The BBC2 series People’s Museum explores the most fascinating objects on show at museums all over the country and asks the viewer to vote for their favourites - what they would put on display in a museum. A masterful portrait, a scientific first, or perhaps a touching journal? it's up to the people!

The Zetland lifeboat at Redcar's Zetland Lifeboat Museum has already been voted by the public into the People's Museum.

Culture24 is revisiting the featured venues and more, taking another look at at some of the amazing artefacts also featured in the People's Museum programme.

We have arranged them into region-by-region trails. Read on to discover some of the region’s rich collections and surprising finds – we hope it inspires you to get out there and visit them for yourself.

Discovery Museum in Newcastle has turbines, windscreen wipers, Romans and pitmen whereas over at the Newcastle Military Museum you can the origins of the jeep and many other military vehicles.

You can step back in time at the Beamish Open Air Museum with the help of its costumed staff and tremble at a visit to a Victorian dentist. Redcar’s Zetland Lifeboat Museum shows how the old fishing community lived.

We’ll begin our look at collections in the North East with the city of Newcastle Upon Tyne, where the Discovery Museum tells the story of the North East from the Romans to pitmen, in particular charting the contributions the area has made to science and industry. Joseph Swan's early lightbulb is the museum's nominee for the People's Museum.

Among its collection of firsts and foremosts made in the North East are both big and small inventions, all with a special place in history. Turbinia – the first turbine-powered vessel – whizzed past all other ships when she was built in 1894 and now takes pride of place at Discovery.

photo of a long craft with the name Turbinia on her side

Turbinia - the first turbine-driven boat. Courtesy Discovery Museum

At the other end of the size scale is the 1911 patent model of the first windscreen wiper, invented by Whitley Bay photographer Gladstone Adams.

No doubt the wipers were very useful indeed when the Great War arrived – you can see some in situ on military vehicles from the time at , which lives in the building where Discovery was until about 25 years ago. Its Alexis Soyer field kitchen, first used during the Crimean War, is in the running for the People's Museum.

Of all the 50-plus vehicles on show, one with a long-lasting legacy is the jeep. The first jeep was designed at the request of the US Department of Defence in 1940, by the Bantam Motor Company (remind your local ‘Chelsea tractor’ owner!). It was the British Army, however, who were the first to use jeeps in combat and the museum has some early examples on show.

photo of a khaki jeep

An early jeep from the British Army. Courtesy Newcastle Military Vehicle Museum

There’s more than just vehicles at the museum, though. Uniforms, weapons, photographs and other ephemera build a picture of conflict dating back to the First World War.

Leaving the city behind, Beamish Open Air Museum in County Durham recreates life in the North from the early 1800s to the first part of the 20th century. A colliery, farm and manor along with costumed staff tell the story of how the Industrial Revolution transformed the region. Its shorthorn cattle herd book is up for the vote at the People's Museum.

Coalmines brought a steady source of income for many families, but they also took lives in terrible disasters. The 1862 Hartley Disaster resulted in 204 lives lost and the 1909 Stanley Disaster saw 168 lives lost. Engraved glassware was sold following such accidents to commemorate lives lost and raise funds for victims’ families.

photo of a Victorian period style room with a woman sitting in a chair with pulleys attached

And what seems to be the problem? The Victorian dentist at Beamish. Courtesy Beamish

Those who have been the victim of the dentist’s drill don’t forget it in a hurry, but spare a thought for those whose teeth felt the pain of a pedal-driven dentist’s drill in times gone by – surely slower than an electric one, but useful in times of power failure! Visit the old-fashioned dentist’s surgery at Beamish safe in the knowledge you won’t have to have any fillings.

The world’s oldest surviving lifeboat, built in 1802, is the eponymous celebrity at the in Redcar. The museum also takes visitors inside an old fisherman’s house from the days when the town was little more than a fishing village, and has tools of the trade such as lobster pots on show.

Black and white photo of a group of men wearing lifejackets

Redar Lifeboat Crew, early 1800s. Courtesy Zetland Lifeboat Museum

More museums with fascinating collections to be found in the North East...

Bede’s World at Jarrow immerses visitors in the world of St Bede and his fellow monks at the site of their 7th century monastery. Early coloured glass and personal effects of the monks are on show.

Locomotion: The National Railway Museum at Shildon celebrates the old railway town, where the world’s first steam-driven passenger train set off for Darlington in 1825. Timothy Hackworth’s engine the San Pareil, built for the 1829 Rainhill trials, is the museum’s star exhibit along with a replica you can ride.

The Bowes Museum at Barnard Castle, in a jaw-dropping stately building with formal gardens, contains a sumptuous collection of European decorative arts from the 15th to 19th centuries. The most dazzling exhibit is the life-size musical automaton of a swan.

The Side Gallery in Newcastle is dedicated to documentary photography from around the world and has a brilliant collection of the work of its heroes Robert Doisneau and Lewis Hine.

Click here to go to the BBC People's Museum website and find out more about the featured objects.

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The Hidden Treasure Trails have been produced for The Campaign for Museums by Culture24 with support from the Foyle Foundation.

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