Just back from The Late Shows, Newcastle-Gateshead’s annual nocturnal free fun fest. I’m typing this at 10pm which proves I’m not taking full advantage of the er, late opening of venues involved in The Late Shows. Most venues are open til 11pm or later.

late shows

If you don’t know what the Late Shows are then visit the website http://www.thelateshows.org.uk/home.html and find out more. You’ve missed ’em now until next May…

Tonight I visited Bensham Grove Community Centre for the first time. I only went because I wanted to see a couple of dance performances taking place in the Centre’s hall as part of The Late Shows. I got there early so wandered around the Centre. What a place! Bought by Cheesemonger and Bacon Purveyor, Joshua Watson  in the early 1800s, it was occupied by three generations of his Quaker family.

After Joshua there was Joseph his son followed by his son Robert Spence Watson who died in the house in 1911. Robert was a politician, educator, poet and writer.

robert spence and his wife

The house was given to the local community after the death of Robert’s wife, Elizabeth (seen above with hubby) and used by the newly-formed Settlement Association as a venue for adult education classes. The Settlement was similar to the one set up in Spennymoor which nurtured the talents of artists and writers including Sid Chaplin and Norman Cornish.

 J.B. Priestley visited Gateshead and called Bensham’s Setlement men “grimy and seedy.” The cheek of it!

Over the years Bensham Grove was visited by William Bell Scott, William Morris, Dante Gabriel Rosetti, Arthur Conan Doyle, Joseph Skipsey and Ford Madox Ford to name a few. It became a centre for adult education as well as the first nursery in the North East.

All ages have been nurtured, educated and encouraged and the building feels open, welcoming to newcomers like myself and other Late Show punters.


Bensham Grove Trustees and Management secured Heritage Lottery Funding which has helped restore and update the building.

It is a beautful building with a tranquil garden. In one room there is a quote on the fireplace: “Measure not the work until the day’s out and the labour done“. In another room the quote on the fireplace reads: “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, Old time is still a flying.”

Tiles on the floor of the conservatory have been created by the Centre’s pottery group. One reads: “Peace, Equality, Integrity, Simplicity.” Sounds like the principles of the Centre.

As I prepared to leave after the dance performances I saw it was raining. By the time I left the building the rain had stopped and two rainbows arched over Bensham Grove. Within minutes a large black cloud had covered them up.

There are no black clouds blocking the Centre’s future. It’s well worth a visit in person or check out the website http://www.benshamgrove.org.uk/ and next Sunday 24th, Chris Phipps will talk on J B Priestley’s visit to Tyneside in 1933. The talk, entitled Babies, Art and J.B. Priestley takes place at the Centre from 1pm.

Chris will ask did Priestley really dislike Gateshead so much and why was he so scathing about the unemployed men at Bensham Grove? Learn about things Priestley didn’t mention, such as a Mother and Baby Clinic, a mad Art Group, the very first Nursery in the North-East and over the top educational classes. Tickets a fiver ring 0191 433 6450 to book a place.