The Bensham Grove Chronicles January 2015

The New Year is here, the volunteers are girding their loins, and the Chair is back in her chair! All is well in the world.

Yours truly is feeling much better. The sock-puller-upper, although a marvellous example of ingenuity for the afflicted, has been cast to the winds with gay abandon. The crutches, embarrassingly high toilet seat and chair-risers have all gone the same way.

If you are reading this and have been brave enough to trawl back to the very first musings you may realise that they are entitled The Bensham Grove Chronicles. Now they are a ‘Blog’. What!! How did that happen? How can a set of Chronicles, based on those of Elizabeth Spence Watson, our Victorian predecessor, have turned into the utilitarian title of ‘Blog’?

You may also have noticed that we are in the way of having a brand new website. Your writer has been sternly informed that twittering and tweeting, as well as face-booking, is absolutely the way to go. Well tough! I may concede that this is probably correct, but if you want to have permanent arthritis in your hands as middle-age approaches as well as forgetting how to write proper sentences then go ahead. Me, I’ll stick with the written word whilst continuing to observe the rich tapestry of life at Bensham Grove. Even if I have to call it a ‘Blog’.

I know I’m not being fair really because if you follow the Restoration click-ons on the new web-site I can guarantee that you will be astounded. Look at Ceramics, Needle-work, Stained-glass and Silver-smiths and wonderful colours, designs and inspirations will take your breath away.

It’s fascinating to see all the steps, processes and hours of hard work that have gone into the volunteer’s input into the house. The modern-day craft-work has clearly taken inspiration from the past. Nature abounds in their work as it did in that of William Morris and his friends.

Original window designs can be seen to have evolved into modern-day stained glass, copper door furniture, and needle-work. The ceramic tiles in the conservatory tell the story of Bensham Grove, from the original Quaker owners to modern day activities. Have a look!! You mustn’t miss it.

If you read some of the very first musings of this blog you will begin to notice the patch-work of groups that have evolved from the restoration and the writer’s conviction that one group spawns another group, and another . . .. Take for instance the Fund-raising Group. From that grew an Events Group and from that a Refreshments Group etc. etc.

I am therefore pleased to announce yet another spawning. The Bensham Grove Guides! The brainwave of the Chair who has been beavering away for years (and I do mean years) collecting and researching the history of this old house. This has resulted in tottering files and bulging boxes of research, ephemera and images, and only one person knowing which particular file to rummage in to find the answer to one particularly obscure question.

The problem had to be addressed and yet one more group has been born, the afore-mentioned Bensham Grove Guides, which now consists of eight people willing to give their time to enlightening the public about our wonderful, intricate history.

The truth of the matter though is that yours truly believes that if they had known the scope of the matter they may well have run for their lives. Two hour training sessions on Friday evenings and Sunday mornings resulted in dark mutterings such as ‘I didn’t know you were such a slave driver’, or ‘it’s very hard’ could be heard. Well of course it’s hard! It’s amazing that they have taken in as much as they have. Haunted faces approach asking ‘When did you say that extension was built? Was it 1850 or 1950?’ or ‘What on earth is the difference between Morris and Co. and Morris, Marshall and Faulkner’?

They are however very clever people who enjoy talking to visitors, passing on knowledge and working hard at their ‘difficult’ home-work.

January 5th, when we had an open day, was their debut and it is pleasing to report that half an hour after opening the whole house was buzzing and our Guides, thrown in at the deep end by their horrible leader, were soon chatting, explaining and doing that extraordinary waving of their arms outside in the garden that only a good Bensham Grove Guide learns to do. To the uninitiated who haven’t experienced a tour yet it is the explanation of the architectural additions to the house viewed from the outside.

Future Open Days where you can see our Guides in all their glory are being worked upon now. On May 10th we will be following the Arts Trail through the house at an Open day. On May 24th we will also host a talk by Chris Phipps, expert on J.B. Priesley, about his ‘English Journey’ in 1933. Why did the esteemed author hate Gateshead and was so rude about the unemployed men at Bensham Grove Settlement. Exhibitions and guided tours afterwards will point to the good things he missed such as the Mother and Infant Clinic, the very first Nursery in the North- East and a rather mad Art Group. This one will be by ticket only so keep watching for more details coming soon.

The Bensham Grove Chronicles Edition 4

What a mild winter we’ve had!  Our piece of the North East seems to have missed completely the terrible floods elsewhere.  Yes, we’ve had some rain but, for the first time in a long while, we haven’t had water coming through the roof at Bensham Grove.  An architect’s quick eye spotted the mystery historic problem during the restoration and, so far, the repairs seem to have done the trick.
Although the weather has been mild, it has produced a sort of gloomy, dank weariness at times.  This is also the feeling that our Chair is suffering from.  Expecting to be in and out of hospital for a hip operation before Christmas, it is now heading to mid-March before it can be done due to emergencies and cancellations.  The term ‘in limbo’ takes on very personal connotations, and whoever would have thought that a contraption called a sock-puller-onner could cause such elation.  She was unable to chair the recent Management Committee meeting, which is held bi-monthly, but stories of a rather rumbustious meeting are unfolding and the words ‘Health and Safety’ have taken an urgent place at the top of the agenda.  It would appear that we haven’t been taking things seriously enough and need to sort ourselves out in this matter.

Our small, cluttered and exciting little pottery is busy all day long: potters and tutors pounding away, mixing powders, creating dyes and generally producing wonderful stuff.  But the accumulated residue is clogging the drains and, due to lack of space, bags of this and piles of that are also blocking exits, light and escape routes, making it a H&S person’s dream (or is it nightmare?).  Added to this is the hard-learnt lesson that potters and silversmiths should never share the same space for their activities, even at different times.  Potters’ dust and silversmiths’ detritus do not make good bed fellows and never the twain should meet.  Lack of space is of course the problem (or, in politically correct terms, the challenge).  It is not possible to put two such messy and volatile disciplines in the main house or in the activity hall.  There is a scheme, spearheaded by John Sanders, our lovely architect, but it requires plans and of course money, which sends us back to the poor over-burdened Fundraising Group.  Watch this space!

Moving on to happier things, we have hosted the most wonderful International Women’s Day event, with large numbers of women cramming into our house, hall and garden.  Celebrating the role and the rights of women was the name of the game but it morphed into a right regular bun-feast.  As previously mentioned, we are renowned for our fabulous buffets to suit all tastes, and we also had workshops in such diverse crafts as beading, card-making and flower arranging vying with ones on how to make a glorious African headdress and on beauty pampering.  Two of our more mature committee members were spotted coming out of the library in a rather shaken condition after undergoing eyebrow threading treatments.  Elegant silver hair topped rather suspiciously-reddened brows but did they care?  Not at all!  They were off to have their nails done next.  A little suspicion lingers however that a strong cup of tea might have been needed to take away the heat of the brow when they returned home and took their first look in the mirror.  Another more seasoned fan of threading however, raved about the speediest, most pain-free session she had ever had, including those at Fenwick.