Gateshead homes become slice of social history

Post-war homes for North East families will provide a trip down memory for thousands as they become a slice of social history

A block of four Airey houses from Kibblesworth in Gateshead
A block of four Airey houses from Kibblesworth in Gateshead

Post-war homes for North East families will provide a trip down memory for thousands as they become a slice of social history.

Saved from demolition for posterity these former homes from Gateshead, are to become the building block for the future development at Beamish Museum.

It’s more than a year since the four prefabricated Airey Houses in Kibblesworth escaped the wreaking ball days after being vacated by tenants in Coltspool where they’d stood the test of time as family homes for more than 50 years.

After being painstakingly deconstructed, packed up and transported a few miles down the road to County Durham the vacant homes will once again be filled with people when they form the basis for the new 1950s era at Beamish.

Revealing its plans for the next two years bosses at the museum hope to start on their latest ‘brought to life’ era by 2015.

The houses, which will be open to the public like those already seen in the museum’s Edwardian pit village, will star in a 1950s town along with a cinema, aged miners’ houses, community centre, garage and football pitch.

A spokesman for Beamish said: “The houses were loaded on to pallets and transported to Beamish. Here they have been carefully stored until work begins on a new 1950s area, when they will be rebuilt as part of a typical north eastern post-war urban development.

“These four dwellings had been recently vacated and were due for demolition, when The Gateshead Housing Company offered the whole block to Beamish. The museum was delighted to accept and appointed Compass Developments (NE) Limited to dismantle the houses and transport them to Beamish.

“We got all of the houses safely to Beamish and they’re now waiting, in storage, to be rebuilt in the 1950s area which is part of our long-term development and engagement plan.”

Constructed in large numbers at the end of the Second World War, an Airey house is a prefabricated building often used as a temporary replacement for housing destroyed by bombs. Designed by Sir Edwin Airey they featured a frame of prefabricated reinforced concrete columns covered with a series of concrete panels.

Although only meant to be a temporary measure many Airey houses were lived in for decades and a small number remain in use more than 70 years later.

Other future plans for the museum, which in September saw 54,454 visitors through its gates up from 45,617 last year, include creating a chemist and photographers in the 1900s town, developing a 16th Century post mill from Blyth, a candle house from Westgate and a Great north Road coaching inn allowing people to spend the night at the museum.

The developments are all part of the museum’s ongoing £23m masterplan to 2020 which could see more than 100 jobs created.

Having opened in 1972 Beamish has built up exhibits from Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian life and is now turning its attention to recreating a decade familiar to many.

Kate Reeder, keeper of social history and collections administration for the museum, said: “It may be a shock to North Easterners who grew up in the 50s to see the decade now cast as history.

“But it is more than 60 years ago and the concept of Beamish was that three generations of a family could visit and the grandparents could relate to some of what they saw.

“In the 1950s there was a lot of urban development and industrial changes.

“People who had lived in slums and single rooms could now become tenants of council houses with luxuries like gardens, bathrooms and indoor toilets. Shopping was changing with the first self-service stores, the coffee bars and juke boxes emerged and more people were buying TVs.”

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