Text and picture courtesy of the Beamish Museum website.

A farm from Weardale has been carefully dismantled stone by stone, and is being rebuilt and preserved at the museum as our 1950s Farm.

Spain’s Field Farm, from Eastgate, near Stanhope, will tell the story of upland farming in the North East during the 1950s.  Official opening celebrations for the farm will take place in March 2022.

Visitors will be able to see the tough conditions faced by families living in rural areas during this time - there was no bathroom, only an outside toilet, and water had to be collected from a nearby spring.  As the original farm had no electricity, light was provided by oil lamps.

Visitors will also be able to try out or watch traditional rural skills which helped to keep the farm going, as well as taste some of the farm kitchen produce.

An impressive 1,170 tonnes of Spain’s Field Farm’s stone and timber was moved to the museum after the Jopling family very kindly donated the farm to Beamish.  Before being dismantled, the farm was carefully recorded with the help of 3D laser technology (the museum was assisted by Durham University with this work), photography, detailed notes and architectural drawings.

A Georgian bread oven and remnants of an earlier roof were discovered during dismantling.  Other objects found included a 17th century cannonball, 1950s Farmer’s Weekly magazines, furniture, farm tools and horse tack.  Samples of the remains of internal paint, lino and wallpaper were also taken and recorded.

Once rebuilt, Spain’s Field will tell the story of life on the region’s upland farms in the 1950s, which was a period of change for agriculture in general.  This post-war period saw new legislation and regulations affecting farming, the size of farms and profitability, including milk production.  Many upland farms from this time were being abandoned and have become ruins.

We’ve been working with the Weardale community, including schoolchildren, to explore Spain’s Field Farm and the area’s heritage.

The first stone of the reconstructed farm was laid at Beamish in August 2018 by Mary Forster (née Raine) who was 99 years old at the time.  Mary and other members of the Raine family were the last tenants of Spain’s Field and had occupied the farm for over 100 years.  Mary has since sadly passed away, but her memories of the farm have helped to shape the stories we will tell in the exhibit.

In the 1950s the farm was occupied by Mary’s three siblings, Elizabeth, George and Joseph Raine.  Their story is very much a typical Weardale story; other members of the family occupied neighbouring farms, they farmed sheep, cattle and kept poultry, grew vegetables in the garth, the men were casually employed in the local quarry and the family were very much part of the local community, attending the Methodist church and going to dances, etc.

From the early 1970s, Spain’s Field Farm was left empty.  Small upland farms were abandoned for many reasons; residents might have migrated for better prospects, the changes in farming regulations for milk production, the lack of economic viability of running a small farm and, in the case of Spain’s Field Farm, for personal reasons.

The three siblings living at Spain’s Field Farm returned to their parents’ home to look after their mother in the late 1950s, and the farm was still used to house cattle and sheep up to the 1970s.

The design of the interior of Spain’s Field Farm at Beamish has been helped with the painstaking archaeology prior to the farm being moved and the fantastic memories shared by Mary, younger sister of the siblings, her daughter Yvonne and Brian Raine, a cousin born in Spain’s Field Farm.

Our Remaking Beamish and Collections teams have been hard at work ensuring the details of Spain’s Field Farm reflect what life would have been like on an upland farm in the 1950s.

Spain’s Field Farm is made up of the main house, kitchen, two upstairs bedrooms, main byre, cow byre, stirk byre, dairy, pantry, stable, cat house, pig sty and outside toilet.  The stirk byre was nicknamed the “ham and egg house” as pigs were kept downstairs and chickens kept upstairs.

The main house was built in the late 18th century and was extended during the second half of the 19th century.  The earliest stonework of the main byre is thought to date from the 1700s, although it was later remodelled.

Spain’s Field Farm is believed to have existed from at least the early 14th century, when it is likely to have been a wooden longhouse, but the harsh climate meant that the farmhouse and buildings were regularly rebuilt, so nothing of the original medieval building remains above ground.

The Beamish Buildings Team is constructing the farm on land The 1900s Pit Village and The 1900s Town, using the same techniques that would have been used when the farm was first built.

If you have any memories of life in Weardale during the 1950s that you would like to share with us, please contact Lisa Kaimenas, Remaking Beamish Project Officer – Community Participation, email: LisaKaimenas@beamish.org.uk.


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