A few weeks ago whilst out on a 11 day tour of Newcastle. Northumbria, Durham and the Lake District, with the lovely Lorraine from Tasmania, I had the opportunity to revisit the Beamish Open Air Museum.
The working and living museum is 50 years into an incredible 200 year plan to preserve and re-enact for future generations, what life was like for the people of North East England in years gone by from the Georgians right up to the 1950’s. The museum is continually expanding and opening up new areas and eras to just inside common living memory which is now considered to be the 1950’s.
It’s hard to believe sometime around 2100 AD, tourists and school children will be visiting to find out what life was like for us in 2020AD and wondering how we all got by without flying cars, holographic projection phones and no doubt total horror at the use of plastic and fossil fuels still in stubborn use when the region itself is so gifted with potential sea and wind energy.
Many of the buildings or indeed towns in the vast museum are alive with staff living out roles from times gone by; transport is through Victorian trams, old steam trains and omnibuses and one can buy sweets and foods from museum shops and hear all about the plight of wealthy and poor Georgians, coal-miners and how life was for child evacuees in WW2.
This time I had the opportunity to explore an additional area which is sometimes missed by visitors in the rush to the more famous areas of Beamish. One of the interesting houses is slightly unusually for the museum, a rebuilt cottage of a man known as Joe the Quilter.
Joe the Quilter lived and worked in a small cottage in Warden, near Hexham, and his work was reportedly sent as far as Ireland and America. Tragically Joe was murdered in 1826, this unsolved crime shocked the nation and indeed due to his business, kind nature and viciousness of the crime, the rest of the English speaking world.
A cottage which was the site of an infamous murder in 1826 has been rebuilt, offering people an insight into 19th Century life.
Joseph Hedley was a successful quilter and who worked for clients across the British Isles and as far afield as North America. His dreadful death led to the government offering a reward of 100 guineas for information about his killer which was an incredible sum for the time.
The crime created so much outcry the government issued a reward notice of 100 guineas for any information about “Joe the Quilter’s” killer.
The notoriety of Joe’s death meant a large amount of documents had survived offering an “extraordinary record” of the life of an ordinary man. In fact there are still older residents in the village where he died where people remember their grandparents telling them of the murder, such an impact it made.
The remains of the cottage in Warden, near Hexham, were uncovered during an archaeological dig by Beamish staff and local people. The museum used a postcard which features a drawing of the cottage as a guide for its restoration.
It’s believed Joe lived in the cottage from infancy. He regularly took in travellers and pedlars, so his isolated home became recognised as a local refuge. Joe was savagely murdered when he was about 76, Joe had outlived his wife Isabel, who was 25 years older than him.
His body was found in the cottage and medical surgeons who examined it said they found 40 wounds. The killer was never caught, but the cottage was ransacked possibly thinking that his relatively skilful trade and respected reputation meant that the successful quilter had money hidden away. However it is thought that Joe was a kindly and generous man and his comfortable though modest cottage wouldn’t immediately indicate that he was sitting on a hidden fortune.
This tour was based on my Magical Northumbria – Castles, Conquest and Cathedrals with Ye Olde England Tours