J.B. Priestley in Gateshead

In 1933, the author J.B. Priestley visited the Bensham Settlement ‘one raw, gloomy evening’ as part of the research for his book ‘English Journey’. The government of the time re-defined the term ‘unemployment’ changing it to ‘enforced leisure’. They were jumpy. What would the people do in this time of ‘enforced leisure’? Fears of communism and Bolsheviks were bandied around. They decided to steer the men into worthwhile projects. Bensham Grove Settlement took part in this experiment.

Priestley was uncomplimentary. The men were ‘grimy and seedy’, with faces that were ‘dirty, young-old toothless masks’! Was this true?

At the Settlement the men:

  • Tended plots in the garden to grow vegetables.
  • learned new skills such as woodwork and cobbling.
  • Attended a variety of classes with the aim of opening up new ideas.
  • had somewhere to relax, read newspapers and socialise.

At the dawn of the Second World War most were again employed and never returned to the Settlement.

‘The dingy butterflies of the back streets’

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