Beamish Museum starts month long celebrations

Beamish Museum in County Durham starts its Festival of Agriculture this weekend to mark the agricultural heritage of the North East of England

Neville Anderson with Heavy Horse Lion at Beamish Museum
Neville Anderson with Heavy Horse Lion at Beamish Museum

A world champion ploughman and horse expert with Hollywood connections are bringing to life farming’s forgotten skills.

The duo will be on hand at Beamish Museum in County Durham for the next month to celebrate the tourist attraction’s second Festival of Agriculture.

The four-week event which charts farming from the Georgian period to the 1950s comes as the visitor attraction celebrates its busiest summer in 20 years with a record 6,000 visitors in one day.

Four-time world ploughing champion Jim Elliott, 51, who lives at the museum’s Home Farm, said: “Ploughing with horses would have involved the whole family, everyone had their job.

“It would have taken six men to plough 150 acres and now that could be done in 45 minutes with a tractor.


“You can’t under-estimate the impact the tractors had on employment. Men’s jobs vanished overnight.”

The festival will hold special events over the next five weekends with heavy horses Lion and Tom warming up for the display ‘Agricultural Power from the Past’ which begins today.

Jim will be joined by horseman Jonny Owens, 65, during the four-day event to demonstrate to visitors how essential horses were to Victorian and Edwardian farms.

Whizzing alongside them will be a labour-saving 1930s Fordson tractor doing the job in a fifth of the time.

Jonny, who has driven horses on the sets of the Catherine Cookson TV series and the Mel Gibson film Braveheart, said: “It really is a dying trade.

“When I was a kid I was up at 6am sorting out four horses before school for my father and brother who were dealers for fruit and veg in Stanley.

“I’ve learnt to plough by hand since then and the public when they come to the museum get to see a skill that we are losing, and we desperately don’t want to lose it. The crops taste better too when it’s all done by hand when it’s just fresh off the land.”

An Edwardian era event ‘Growing Your Own’ follows on Saturday, September 7 and Sunday 8 with a traditional leek show.Between Thursday, September 12, and Sunday 15 there is a traditional agricultural show with farm animals and both a beer and ‘temperance’ tea tent.

A Hands on Heritage Skills weekend takes place on the weekend of September 21 and 22 with a chance to try dry stone walling, leather working and lace making.

Beamish’s annual Harvest Festival in the pit village church takes place on September 28 and 29 and the month-long festival finishes with a Georgian inspired Harvest Home feast on the weekend of October 6 and 7.


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