Joe the Quilter’s cottage rebuilt at Beamish

The cottage in which Joe the Quilter lived, worked and died from murder most foul has been rebuilt at Beamish Museum. The remains of the cottage where the infamous murder took place were unearthed in late 2015 by a team of experts from the museum and volunteers. Although the cottage was demolished in 1872 and a field boundary later cut through the location, significant parts of the dwelling were still in situ, among them the flagstone floor on which the skilled needleworker once walked and the bases of three of the walls.

The remains were raised, numbered and transported to Beamish, an open-air history museum near Stanley, County Durham, northeast England, where they have a section dedicated to life in northern England in 1820s. The component parts of the cottage were first kept in storage as the museum raised funds to recreate it on site combining the original remains with a historically accurate reconstruction of the rest.

This was only possible because Joseph Hedley, aka Joe the Quilter, was internationally known for his beautiful needlework quilts, so when a person or persons unknown brutally slew the impoverished, kindly 75-year-old man in his cottage with 44 cuts to the head, neck and chest, the murder made news all over the country. The government offered a large reward for any information about the crime, even offering immunity to accomplices as long as they had not committed the violence themselves. Nobody ever came forward and the crime was never solved.

A detailed drawing of the cottage was printed in the press and on postcards, and the scene was described in numerous stories and police reports complete with architectural plans. The little cottages of the working poor of Georgian England were not documented in that kind of detail, so Joe’s cottage gives a very rare insight into how the vast majority of people lived in that era. Experts were able to rebuild the cottage with a high degree of accuracy, down to the crack in the front wall and the little built-in stone bench next to the door, thanks to that unique documentation.

The reconstructed cottage is the first new exhibition in the Remaking Beamish project, an ambitious £18 million endeavor that is the biggest development in the museum’s history. The project is in large part funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund which has awarded it a £10.9 million grant. The living history museum will be significantly expanded with a full 1950s town, 1950s farm and, in the Georgian section where Joe the Quilter’s cottage now stands, a period coaching inn where visitors to the museum can spend the night as travelers to the area would have done in the early 19th century (with the addition of certain modern conveniences like flush toilets, of course).

Richard Evans, Beamish’s Director, said: “This is a really exciting moment for us all at Beamish. After years of planning we are finally opening the first of many new exhibits that are part of Remaking Beamish, a major £18million development that is currently underway at the museum.

“This beautifully-crafted, heather-thatched cottage gives us a rare chance to understand what everyday life was like in the North East during the early part of the 19th century.

“The quality of this latest addition to Beamish is outstanding – the result of many years of research, painstaking craftsmanship and the involvement of local community groups and schools. It is a real credit to the dedication and talent of our staff and volunteers, who have created this fascinating new experience for our visitors.”

Beamish Museum has created a video that tells the story of the cottage, its reconstruction and the new exhibition centered on cottage industry and the museum’s exceptional collection of 400 quilts, including one exceedingly rare piece by Joseph Hedley himself.


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Comment by Dawn Martinez-Byrne
2018-07-26 16:38:40

I hope you meant an 1850s town and farm!

Comment by Nancy
2018-07-26 20:52:32

Thanks so much for posting about Joe the Quilter’s cottage and its reconstruction. Especially, thank you for including the video. So very interesting.

Comment by Trevor
2018-07-27 05:21:03

No, it looks like 1950s. There is a bit of a mawkish fascination with ‘like back in the proper days’ in Britain these days.

Comment by Jenn
2018-07-27 09:19:52

The 1950s were 60 years ago, and it was a very different time, especially in small towns/on small farms. Many older people remember the 1950s, and this is a good timeframe for working on historical displays. When Henry Ford started Greenfield Village in the early 1900s, he started with buildings/sites that were “only” 60 years old.

(In addition, the furnishings are reasonably findable and affordable.)

Comment by Karlsdottir
2018-07-27 10:11:11

I was born in 1950.Thank you for posting this under “modern(ish).” ;)

Comment by Ann
2018-07-31 08:42:58

Thanks for the link to Beamish. What a wonderful project: first Joe’s house then the other parts. I hope to visit sometime.

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