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Minstrels [Jan. 28th, 2015|10:17 pm]

I don't think I'd heard of Bensham Grove before last month, when we attended a lecture on William Morris's visits to the North East: someone asked where Morris would have stayed, and the answer was, with Robert Spence Watson at Bensham Grove. Watson was a Quaker, a radical, an anti-slavery campaigner, and Bensham Grove was the house that his grandfather has bought. So it isn't built in the Arts and Crafts style, it's too old for that, but the fireplaces carved with poetic mottoes and set with glazed tiles are pure Arts and Crafts, and the five stained glass panels showing 'minstrels' are Morris & Co.:

After the death of Robert Spence Watson and his wife Elizabeth, the family set up an educational trust, and in 1919 the house became a settlement: a base which offered everything from art classes to welfare clinics to the people of Gateshead, and was the site of the first nursery school in the north-east.

Bensham Grove is still a community centre, and continues to offer art classes. On Sunday they hwld an open day, to display the results of a recent renovations, in which members of the art classes participated. We went along to have a nose round, and were very impressed with what we saw, both the original features and the new work, the tiled floor of the conservatory, the new stained glass, the embroidery, the (lino-cut?) prints from the settlement days which someone had found at the back of a cupboard and rehung...

The best way to see more of my pictures is probably to click through the photo above, and then move up and down the photostream; and there are some more pictures in this press report, and an impressive list of people who visited Bensham Grove when it was a family house (including, I have just noticed, another of my heroes, though there is a mistake...)

Last night we went to a concert of 'English Lute Songs from the Golden Age' with Emma Kirkby and Jacob Heringman. S. joined us, and we met at Bill's restaurant for aomething to eat beforehand: it's new, and had had a great write-up in the local paper. It turns out that, as I suspected, Mark Tallentire is more easily pleased than we are. To be fair, we had certain restrictions. We said when we booked, and again when we ordered, that we needed to leave at seven, so when our main courses took half an hour to arrive, there was no question of dessert. Because we were in a hurry, and because S. observes dry January (which she extends to Easter), durham_rambler and I attempted to order beer. Our waitress was very sweet, but a little lost: she couldn't tell us anything about the 'Bill's Beer' - "I've only been in the job four days": - which is fair enough, but she had to be prodded into going and finding out. On the basis of her description durham_rambler decided to risk it, and I ordered the Adnams instead: she returned to tell us that they were out of the Sam Adams; no, I said, I'd asked for the Adnams. Oh, well, they were out of that, too. I drank water. I was surprised to be offered the choice of how well done I wanted my burger, but said 'rare'; naturally she returned to say that Health and Safety didn't permit this, and would I prefer medium or well done? The burger, when it arrived, was tasty, though the bun was dry (why do they toast the bun? this always makes it dry). The chips were good, but not fabulous (and, hang on, hadn't the menu promised skins? - ah, "skin on fries", whatever that means). It was OK, in other words, but not as good as it thought it was.

The concert, on the other hand, was lovely. They should probably have announced, somewhere in the advance publicity, that it was the culmination of work that Emma Kirkby and Jacob Heringman had been doing with the music students, and that there would be a fair amount of student participation. I wouldn't have been deterred by this, I have attended student recitals by choice, I'd just like to have been told. I had thought I was going primarily for Jacob Heringman's lute, because I mostly don't respond well to the classical music voice in general and the soprano voice in particular: but Emma Kirkby was wonderful, she sang with great clarity, and a sweetness that was not cloying. She had a rather charming manner of jumping into each verse as if she had thought of what she was about to say, as if it had come fresh into her mind. Lots of Dowland, and some Campion, and composers I hadn't heard of - not just one but two Alfonso Ferraboscos (father and son). Title of the evening: Captain Digorie Piper's Pavane.