The Bensham Grove Chronicles Summer 2015

A long delayed summer has arrived here at Bensham Grove, as indeed it has in the whole of Bensham itself. In the long rows of Victorian and Edwardian streets that surround our Centre, and stretch as far south as wonderful Saltwell Park, the residents are stirring. Winter-pale figures emerge blinking into the sun-shine and thoughtful frowns convey the owner’s stressful dilemmas. Is to-day the one to gaily abandon winter clothing and display areas of flesh that even the tattooist hasn’t seen, or is that playful little breeze likely to move on to an out and out storm requiring a full-hooded cover up?

The members of Bensham Grove appear to miss a lot of this indecision but I’m sure they have dress problems of their own. Yours truly has noticed that in our secluded, walled and comparatively-shielded from traffic enclave, we have our own dress codes, and yes, it is quite often dictated by the weather. The members with cars very rarely wear heavy out-door gear even in winter’s extremes. If they can manage to get parked in our almost vertical car-park, a quick dash to near-by buildings relieves the necessity of a cover up. Or they are so hot and bothered by trying to squeeze their vehicle into the surrounding street and running the gauntlet of annoyed neighbours that full thermals are totally unnecessary.

On the other hand the bus travellers, or those who walk in the winter, need full gear of parkas, plus a unique selection of Christmas woolly hats, scarves and gloves, as well as water-proof foot-wear. Summer days of course require the jettisoning of all the above gear as often our old house swelters in the warmth, despite doors and windows opened to any little passing breeze.

What however does one wear to a class or meeting at Bensham Grove you may well wonder? The gardeners sport old tee-shirts, jeans and, quite often, wild hair. Their progress through the house and into the kitchen for tea can be followed by the sprinkle of soil and the smear of occasional muddy foot-prints. The Potters can also be traced to the kitchen and the loos in the Activity Hall but this time the foot-prints are white and dusty. Miss Marple would have no problems here. They can also be recognised by the selection of pottery-induced detritus on the aprons they wear.

The Silver-smiths, who are moving to their own residence in the 1930’s Hut in the garden, show none of the hands-on, thumping of the clay look of their previous neighbours in the pottery, but wear a more ethereal arty look. Both groups however produce art work in its various forms to a wonderful high standard.

The Ladies Indoor Carpet Bowls Group wear sensible shoes balanced by elegant hair-styles and discreet jewellery. They are very happy as long as they have their long mat and a little bit of space. Access to a kettle goes without saying. The Craft and Needlework and Art Groups, wear suitably arty and crafty clothes, jewellery and a plethora of scarves depending on the different seasons.

The Fund-Raising/Events Group wear haunted and frazzled expressions in all seasons!!

Now that the various classes will be closing down for the summer break the house still need to earn a living. The Finance Group has worked out how much each room needs to earn on a daily and weekly basis. To do this we need to fill them with people. If not the classes bringing in the income then who?

This is obviously where a new/old group is required to arise again, which begins the whole chain again of one group leading to a whole clutch of others, The Fund-Raisers need events to produce the where-with-all to keep our heads above water which brings forth the Events Group. The Events people can, however, come up with the ideas but others are needed to make these happen. Teas, cakes and buffets need people to make and serve them. Events need organisers as well as people to attend. Publicity need attending to or no-one will come to the events. Gardeners are needed to tidy the grounds and cleaners, and dare I say, scrubbers would be useful to help our very busy caretaker. Is it any wonder hair stands on end, eyes glaze over and people can be found muttering to themselves in corners.

However we love our house and Centre. We hope visitors will keep visiting and will help us by their support at the events that miraculously do eventually take place. We need you to keep watching and support this wonderful, eclectic and unique little haven.


The Bensham Grove Chronicles March 2015

From somewhere deep inside Bensham Grove can be heard a tap-tapping. It’s not particularly loud, nor is it particularly annoying, and it only happens on certain days. It’s just enough to arouse a certain amount of curiosity as it is quite new, adding another dimension of sound to all the other house noises. To the more fanciful it brings to mind stories of shoe-maker elves tapping merrily away, to the more prosaic it sounds like problems with the water pipes.

Where it’s coming from is another mystery and only a few of the initiated know that it comes from a little room up in the attics. Who is making this noise I hear you ask. Well it’s our new volunteer, named, rather pretentiously on our part, our ‘Art Curator’, Graham.

Here at Bensham Grove we have long wanted someone to help us with the Fine Art side as opposed to the crafts. We have a few bits and pieces we really like, such as two large portraits and some interesting 1930s engravings, but we have also wanted to display local artwork. We know that in the days of Robert and Elizabeth Spence Watson the wall were covered with pictures contemporary to the period, some of these Pre-Raphaelite paintings. They were providing space for local artists as well and we would like to continue with this into the future. If it worked then, why not in our little gallery today.

So why don’t you try to see if you can spot our new Art Curator with his long grey coat and Rupert Bear scarf. It could be thought of as on a par with the search for the lesser-spotted woodpecker! He is busy framing the incoming artwork, using a selection of old, donated frames from the bowels of the Laing as well as some found in local charity shops. We are not proud!!

Talking of the two portraits in our collection, one of Robert Spence Watson and the other of his wife Elizabeth, we recently had our feathers ruffled a little. We had decided to have them cleaned. Years of cigar and cigarette smoke seemed to have covered them in a dark brown substance, particularly on Elizabeth who also has a little tear in her canvas. Enter an expert art conservator with a suitably arty look and a little light which was shone on our two, much loved, portraits very reminiscent of one of those trendy BBC art programmes, and delivered a verdict.

Poor old Robert, who has hung in the main entrance hall since he was donated by family members, is not a painting but a print!! Shock, horror! Nothing can be done about him. The sepia colour is part of the original painting but can’t be removed because it is a photograph. Elizabeth however proved to be far more interesting.

“There’s evidence of previous botched work” says our conservator.

“Look at the halo around her head, some-one’s been messing around there, and those hands look very dodgy”.

We suddenly remember half-listened to stories from older members about Elizabeth being stolen and eventually found in a second-hand shop on Saltwell Road. What happened to you, you poor soul? Will we ever find out? The  upshot is that only Elizabeth will once again go off into the unknown, in this case the tunnels under the Laing, and have her face attended to and not forgetting those dodgy hands.

There has been some louder noises recently as well, but this time more like a frustrated banging than gentle tapping, and coming from the garden. Our disappearing, on-off gardener has appeared again. Turning up unannounced, in his time here he is a man-sized tornado, hammering rotten garden furniture together, mending punctures in wheel-barrows and finding things to paint.

It is in the borders though that he really goes to town. Nothing gets in his way. In a fine fog of soil particles plants go flying. No difference is made between delicately nurtured flowers and thunking big weeds. His sole aim is dedicated to beautifully turned soil without an invading plant in sight.

I mused about this whilst forlornly gazing at a newly denuded herbaceous border which had appeared over- night, debating on whether it had really been getting so over-grown that it needed starting over again, or have we really lost a wonderful colourful summer display. Heigh-ho! Please refer to previous blog about community gardens and who owns them.

Don’t forget you can start now booking your seats for our J.B.Priestly event on the 24th May as part of the May History Month. Chris Phipps who starts off the day with his talk about Priestley’s journey through the North in 1933 was a sell out when he did his stuff at the Lit and Phil last year. He will be here to tell us why Priestley disliked Gateshead so much and why he was so rude about the unemployed men at the Bensham Grove Settlement. To counteract the argument there will be a series of displays showing what he missed.

The Bensham Grove Café will also be open. Please refer to forthcoming events on our web-site.