The Jewel in the Town

Bensdham Grove drawing

Bensham Grove (from a pen and ink drawing by Elizabeth Spence Watson).

In the early 1800s, Joshua Watson, a cheesemonger living over his shop in Newcastle upon Tyne, purchased Bensham Grove, together with three allotments on Gateshead’s Town Fields. He planned to use the house as a country cottage for his family.

The River Tyne, although not as polluted as it was to become in later years, was already showing signs of being the hive of industry and commerce of the future. It is no surprise therefore, that Joshua was attracted to the golden cornfields, bluebell woods and windmills of Bensham. It was near enough to continue his business on the quayside, but rural and healthy for the children.

And so began the life-long involvement that three successive generations of the same family had with the house called Bensham Grove. All belonging to a well-respected Quaker family, Joshua, Joseph and Robert Spence Watson lived with their families almost continually at Bensham Grove until 1919. Each generation enlarged and improved the house resulting in an eclectic mix of Regency and Victorian features.

Elizabeth Spence Watson was a moving light in women’s rights and education, as well as helping the poor of Gateshead in many ways. Robert and Elizabeth, at home in Bensham Grove, became host to a variety of visitors including artists, craftsman, educationalists, reformers, poets, and politicians. On the death of the Spence Watsons, Bensham Grove became an Educational Settlement doing much work during the Depression in the thirties. It is still a centre for Adult Education as well as a busy Community Centre.

In later years when the house was donated to the Bensham Community as a Centre of Learning it became known as the Bensham Settlement. Although suffering some inevitable changes, the essence of the house remains. It is easy to picture the children playing in the garden, or visualise the formal dinners where distinguished guests of all walks of life sat down with the three ‘fine specimens of good North Country Englishmen, Quakers . . . with strong solid intellect . . ..(Quote from Prime Minister Gladstone).

A Grade 2 Listed Building, the house still boasts many features such as stained glass windows, fireplaces, tiles and decorated ceilings. Many of these were fashionable at the time and bear a strong Arts and Crafts theme. William Morris and some of the Pre-Raphaelite painters were welcome visitors and their influence can still be felt in the rooms.

Bensham Grove to this day still follows their principals in promoting and improving life in the Bensham Community.

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