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.


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