Chester-le-Street Heritage Group

Frank Atkinson, the man who conceived the idea for Beamish Museum has died at the age of 90 years.

Dr. Frank Atkinson CBE was the inspirational founder of Beamish Open Air Museum with his extra ordinary dedication and futuristic vision captured and preserved the rapidly disappearing life of the North East’s heritage.

Frank was born in Yorkshire on 13th April, 1924, his father was a labourer and his mother a teacher, later to become the headmistress of an infant’s school. His interest in museums began at an early age, when at 10 years old he collected his first fossil. He attended Mapplewell School near Barnsley and then moved on to the Grammar School. In the 1930s he became the youngest member of The Museum of Naturalists and Scientific Society. At 16 years of age he had decided on a career in museums. He studied for a science degree at Sheffield University. Following his time at University he found work in the coking and by-products industry in Wakefield, but he also volunteered at Wakefield’s Museum and Art Gallery, where he was later appointed as a Museum Assistant.

Whilst travelling through Norway and Sweden in 1952, Frank was impressed with their ‘folk museums’ which demonstrated the dying way of country life and decided there and then that a similar museum was needed in England. Frank then left Wakefield to become Director of Halifax Museums and Art Gallery later in 1952, where he learnt about how to manage and publicise, as well as planning and arranging exhibitions, eventually becoming responsible for three museums in Halifax.

In 1958 Frank applied for the Curatorship of Bowes Museum in Barnard Castle and started work on the 31st August. It was while working here that he conceived the idea of an ‘open air museum’.

Frank left his Directors position at Bowes Museum on 31st July 1970, to become Director of Beamish Open Air Museum at Beamish Hall, with his family moving from Barnard Castle having found a Victorian House in Low Fell where he turned the basement into a workshop and darkroom. His first exhibition at Beamish Hall opened in May 1971 entitled ‘Museum in the Making’.

In 1972, Beamish Museum opened in its present location covering some 350 acres and in 1978 Beamish welcomed its one millionth visitor.

In 1986, Beamish was named ‘Museum of the Year’ and in 1987, Frank retired but remained President of ‘The Friends of Beamish’ and in 1995 he was awarded a CBE in the New Years Honours list.

Dr. Frank Atkinson CBE was a true visionary who’s tireless work has provided the North East of England with a major tourist attraction and has helped retain the culture any life style of the area in 1913 and now there are moves towards the 1950s and 1960s.

Frank had been suffering from Alzheimer’s and died in the early hours of 30th December 2014 at Wellburn House care home in Ovingham, Northumberland.

Frank Atkinson dies at age 90.

Dr. Frank Atkinson 1924 to 2014

BELOW: The Main Entrance to Beamish Museum.

Bowes Museum at Barnard Castle where Frank started as a Curator and later became a Director.

The Town Centre - Beamish Museum