Newspaper article Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)

A Life in the Open Air for Frank

Newspaper article Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)

A Life in the Open Air for Frank

Article excerpt

Byline: By Ray Marshall

It would seem that Frank Atkinson, the man behind Beamish Open Air Museum in County Durham, was destined for the job.

Take a peek in his family album and you'll find a photograph of him, aged 10, helping pals to build a makeshift model of a pit head in his colliery village.

Forty years later Frank was doing it for real, overseeing the building of a colliery headstock at the fast-developing Beamish.

Now Frank, aged 80, is to be immortalised in bronze by North East sculptor Tom Maley who created the statue of Newcastle United hero Jackie Milburn.

And it's an honour he deserves, for it was Frank who had the vision of a vast open air museum which would show how people in the region lived and worked.

And so he set off on a collecting mission to save as much of the region's social history as he could, from pins and needles to buildings, before it vanished.

The son of a plumber, he started collecting and saving things as a young boy and soon he had built up his own small museum of odds and ends.

There could be no doubt about Frank's future career. "I knew I wanted to go into museum work because I was passionate about collecting," he said.

At 25 at Wakefield he was the youngest museum director in the country. In 1958 he was appointed director of the Bowes Museum at Barnard Castle.

Before coming to the North-East, Frank was inspired by open air museums in Scandinavia and he suggested to Durham County Council that while Bowes had fine collections of French material, local history and culture was disappearing in the post-war years of rapid change.

His dream of an open air museum devoted to County Durham was accepted and 40 years ago the collecting began.

"We started from zero," says Frank. Still director at Bowes, Frank had a van and two assistants to help him. …

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