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Tyne and Wear HER(7671): Bensham, Sidney Grove, Bensham Grove Garden - Details

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Bensham, Sidney Grove, Bensham Grove Garden



Gardens Parks and Urban Spaces


Early Modern



The former garden of Bensham Grove (HER 8251). There are several quotations from the Watson family who lived there relating to the garden: "My life at this time was a very idle one. It was hot summer weather and the temptations to loiter in the garden and eat gooseberries with Emily were too great to resist". "Our large garden - two and a half acres I think - was a great joy. Here we played Hide and Seek, climber trees and learned to drop from a great height" {Mary}. "..we played tennis a good deal… a new acquisition for us…". "When I was five years old I planted laburnum seeds… hoping the tree would grow quickly so that I could climb it. I also grew a few (very few) wild strawberries… these when ripe were carefully collected on a saucer and with perhaps 1d I bought cream and gave them to mother" {Mary}{1}. In the early 20th century, the chronicle describes this ‘picturesque garden’ as being one of its [Bensham Grove’s] most valuable and beautiful assets’. These grounds were originally all part of the gardens to Bensham Grove, home to the Watson (later Spence Watson) family, but are now predominantly given over to a public park. The lie of the land slopes gently towards the west, so that when the landscaping was created, as well as providing a lush and picturesque setting for the house, it would have afforded remarkable views in this direction. This is acknowledged in 2 advertisements To Be Let in the early 19th century – “commands a fine view of the vales of Ravensworth and Tyne”. These advertisements also describe ‘an extensive garden, well stocked with fruit and other trees’ and ‘a vinery, heated by steam &c’. When established, therefore, it had obviously enjoyed considerable investment, and the fashion for growing tender plants in glasshouses followed. This description, together with the evidence from the 1st edition Ordnance Survey mapping, gives an interesting overall picture of the gardens. There appears to have been a kitchen garden to the immediate north west of the house, with a glasshouse in the corner of this plot. The attractive, enclosing orange brick walling surviving in this area supports this interpretation, with its inviting archway providing access as well as framing views. Further to the north west of this, further formally laid out plots could be an extension of the kitchen garden and/or an orchard. To the south, the land is open, with a small group of trees (possibly with aspirations to a modest arboretum) off-set from the centre, and a strong south-western boundary of what appear to be substantial mature trees. It is likely that a wild garden may have been located in this area, however, as it is recorded that the family picked wild strawberries. To the front of the house at this time the arrangement is rather informal, with a few scattered trees. During the later 19th century, it may well have been influenced by the naturalistic landscaping at Saltwell Towers, as Robert Spence Watson was doing work to house around the time Saltwell Park was opened, as well as unveiling a stature there. Even at this time, whilst the Spence Watsons were in residence, the garden was enjoyed by many, as the family were known for entertaining people from all walks of life, and it was therefore a valuable green space in a densely built-up, industrialised area. A later letter to the editor of The Friend (a Quaker journal) describes how ‘with its large garden set in the midst of an overcrowded district, Bensham Grove can yet continue to make a valuable contribution to the social life of a town which is lacking in beauty’. When the Bensham Grove Settlement was established in 1919, the aim was ‘to provide a centre for educational, social and recreational activities’, and the garden played a significant part in this aim. The initial proposals for the Settlement suggest that ‘the garden would be invaluable for rest and recreation, and might be used for teaching the beast methods of working allotments’ and the first Warden’s Rep




"Bensham Grove - The Jewel in the Town 1801-19199" leaflet, Bensham and Saltwell Information Seekers; Gateshead Council Local List X20/LLG/21; Bensham Grove Conservation Audit, North of England Civic Trust (2005); Gateshead Observer 25/11/1837 p1 c6: Gateshead Observer 02/03/1846 p1 c6: TWAS SX51/6/1 (Proposals for the establishment of a Settlement at Bensham; Warden’s Report Oct 1919 – Feb 1921; Newcastle Chronicle 17/7/1920; letter ‘To the Editor of The Friend’); TWAS SX51/4; TWAS Accession 4439/26/1-2

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