Beamish, Part 6: The 1900s Town – Shops

Beamish, Part 6: The 1900s Town – Shops

Part of a series of reviews on the open air living history museum in County Durham, UK. Other posts in this series are:

1 – a review of the 1940s Home Farm
2 – a review of the 1900s Pit Village 
3 – a review of the Colliery (Coal Mine)
4 – a review of Ravensworth Terrace, the residential section of the 1990s Town
5 – a review of the print shop in the 1900s Town

My favorite aspect of visiting a new place, other than photographing it, is shopping there.  I don’t mean just souvenir shopping.  I think visiting the stores in a new area gives you a special kind of insight into what daily life is like there.  Happily, the folks at Beamish agree with me on this point, so they have set up many opportunities for shopping.

A large section of the 1900s town is occupied by retail establishments.  As you might expect, they are just as authentically detailed as the rest of Beamish. For starters, there is an authentic bakery, where you can purchase Edwardian era treats.  We each got a different cookie/pastry and agreed that they were delicious.  The bakery also had a huge contraption called a “Super Human Kneader” for making bread. It would have been a newfangled piece of equipment back in the day.  Also, the bakery oven was electric – a new practice that was gaining popularity because of the ability to control the temperature.

beamish-1900s-town-bakery

The Beamish Motor & Cycle Works is the town garage.  The motor industry was still in its infancy during the early 1900s, so garages in that period typically combined the skills of a blacksmith, wheelwright, and coachbuilder.  As a result, only one person in 232 owned a car in 1913.

The showroom at the Beamish garage contains well-preserved examples of what would have been new and second hand cars, motorcycles, and bicycles.  I took a picture of this penny farthing for Hubs, since he loves bicycling:

Beamish 1900s town penny farthing bicycle garage

It seems like it wouldn’t be very comfortable, doesn’t it?

Behind the showroom, we found a workshop area filled with vintage automotive items.  My grandfather owned a service station when I was a kid and I grew up seeing a slightly more modern version of this, so I really enjoyed seeing this room.

Beamish 1900s town garage

beamish 1900s town garage

Next to the garage was the local co-op, which was akin to what we might have called a general store back in the day.  It was a store that catered to every household need from cradle to grave, sorted into three departments:  grocery, drapery, and hardware.

The grocery carried many foods in bulk and sold them by weight.  For non-bulk items, color-coded packets helped customers who could not read.  Sugar, for instance, was sold in a blue bag to make the white sugar seem brighter.  Butter came in barrels and was molded into portions using wooden pats.  Fresh foods were displayed on a slab of marble to help them stay cool.  And, of course, many items lined the shelves of the Co-Op.

Beamish 1900s town Co-Op Grocery store

The hardware department sold the household goods for indoor and outdoor use – everything from lighting, heating, cooking utensils, sports equipment, and cleaning supplies. The miners in this time period provided their own tools, and the co-op was where they bought whatever they needed.

beamish-1900s-town-co-op-hardware-store

There was also a sweet shop by the name of Jubilee Confectioners. Visitors can visit the factory in the back of the shop to see period candy-making techniques and machinery.

Beamish 1900s town candy store confectioner

Beamish probably has the best collection of sweet rollers – used to produce candies in a variety of shapes – in the country.  Some well known candies and their shapes include:

  • Pineapple Chunks – cube shaped
  • Black Bullets – bullet-like shape, hence the name
  • Blacks and Rasps – berry-shaped
  • Fish in the Sea – fish-shaped.

Beamish 1900s town candy molds sweet rollers confectioners

 

A Lesson in British Coins

Naturally, in areas where people live, work and shop, there also will be a bank.  Beamish’s 1900s town is no exception.  This is where a kind and very patient gentleman took the time to explain Britain’s former monetary system to me.  Honestly, it was baffling.  Up until 1971, when the country adopted a decimal system (1 pound = 100 pence), they used a very different system.  Brace yourselves, because I’m going to attempt to explain it.  But first, a picture of the Beamish Bank:

beamish 1900s town bank

Prior to decimalization in 1971 Britain used a system of pounds, shillings and pence (‘£sd’ or ‘LSD’).  These L-S-D abbreviations came about because of the Roman influence in ancient Britain. A pound is represented by a stylized L because the standard Roman weight was called a libra.  Likewise, pennies were represented by a D, not P, because it stood for Denarius, a Roman coin.  The S for shilling actually stood for another Roman coin, the Soldius.

The smallest unit of currency was a penny, the plural of which was pence (or pennies). There were 12 pence in a shilling and 20 shillings in a pound.  As a result, that makes 240 pence in a pound.  But to further complicate matters, pennies also came in fractions:

1 farthing (the lowest value coin) = 1/4 penny.  Production of farthings ended after 1960 due to inflation.
A ha’penny (half penny) = 1/2 penny.  Production of ha’pennies ceased after 1969.

Multiple pence were called & coined as follows:

Threepence or Thruppenny Bit = 3 pence (pronounced “thruppence”)
Sixpence (also called a ‘tanner‘) = 6 pence
1 shilling = 12 pence (1s)

Like pennies, shillings were also called & coined in multiples:

1 florin (a beautiful silver coin) = 2 shillings
1 half-crown = 2 1/2 shillings.  Production of half-crowns ended in 1970.
1 crown = 5 shillings = 1/4 pound

The pound came in the form of a paper bill, called a note, or a gold coin, called a sovereign.

The Royal Mint stopped producing farthings after 1956 and withdrew them from circulation in 1960 due to inflation. In preparation for decimalization, they withdrew the ha’penny from circulation in 1969, followed by the half-crown the year after.

Made from copper, a penny could also be referred to as a copper.

Made of gold from the Guinea coast of Africa, a guinea (first issued on February 6th, 1663) equalled 21 shillings (or one pound and 1 shilling) in old British money. A guinea was widely considered to be a more gentlemanly amount than £1. A gentleman paid his tailor in shillings, but his barrister in guineas.

So to sum up, here is what would have been equal to a pound in the various types of coins:

960 farthings
480 ha’pennies
240 pence
80 threepence
40 sixpence
20 shillings
10 florins
8 half-crowns
4 crowns
1 sovereign

It seems like I would have needed a cheat sheet just to conduct simple transactions!  Thank goodness the only mental math I had to do was estimate how many dollars were equal to a pound!

Beamish is located at postcode DH9 0RG in County Durham, England.  Telephone 0191 370 4000. The museum opens daily at 10:00 AM except on holidays.  Beamish recently received a £10.9 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund to add a 1950s section, which should be open by 2021.

 

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