On a walking tour round the historic city walls and quayside area of Newcastle last Thursday, two friends and myself discovered this little gem. The house dates back to around 1657 as can be seen on the chimneypiece of the first floor main room which bears the arms and initials of past owners Cock and Davison.
I am not going to spoil your research by telling the story of Bessie Surtees - all the information is there for the finding.
The main room is very large and bright, with a fantastic elaborate plaster ceiling, magnificent carved oak panelling, leaden lattice windows, creaky wooden floor and a trestle table and benches. It could have been used for conferences, meetings, meals, family gatherings, etc. in days gone by. It is said that Bessie eloped from one of the windows in this room - which would have been a fair jump unless she was somehow afforded a soft landing by her husband to be.
The adjoining room which is up a few stairs, is also very tastefully restored and overlooks an internal courtyard. This room too boasts some wonderfully carved oak panelling and a handsome fireplace. In between there is a 'reading room' where information is available regarding the history of the property and its many and varied occupants.
The whole building and its interior have been beautifully and sympathetically renewed and restored throughout down the years. English Heritage, the conservation group, has offices on the premises so, unfortunately, there is no access beyond the first floor.
The property is a landmark of some distinction and the friendly lady on duty was most helpful and informative.
The architecture in Newcastle is a diverse eclectic mix of ancient and modern, Elizabethan and Georgian. Newcastle is not a tourist trap but has an energy and vitality coupled with a progressive outlook all of its own which projects itself into the challenges of the modern age.
Bessie Surtees House is well worth a visit and I would certainly recommend it. OK some might say it's disappointing because you don't get to see around the whole building but, hey, it's free so who can complain about that?! Also, photography is allowed.
Sadly, due to the steep stairs, this historic site is not suitable for wheelchair access or the severely disabled.
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