The Spence Watson Archive Project involves the creation of a series of participatory digital artworks using heritage and archival material from Tyne & Wear Archive (TWAM) and other local collections. Concerning the Spence Watson family and their time living at Bensham Grove House, Gateshead, the project is a collaboration with Bensham Grove, artists and community members and a local school, to develop digital art and heritage art and events inspired by the archive material. The results of each workshop were displayed in the house itself, which is now a community centre, as well as online.
Material used in the project includes the personal items of Elizabeth and Robert Spence Watson and were found in local archives and libraries in Newcastle and Gateshead. Items include hand written letters to and from family members and acquaintances (including many prominent Victorian artists, poets, politicians, social activists, academics, scientists and adventurers); a hand written poetry book; and typed books of recollections of their time in the house. The content include discussions and recollections about visitors to the house, talks by speakers at the Lit & Phil and Durham Medical College (which became Newcastle University), concerning local elections, social and historical issues as well as mundane family life. There is also discourse concerning educational reform, the suffragette movement and the promotion of women in education and society.
The project acts as a visual artwork and as an educational tool that brings the history and heritage of the area to a wider audience, enable the archive to be visible beyond TWAM and the other collections and produce new archival material about the area of Bensham. The overall aim is to bring the archive to life and to local people who may not know the history of the building and area and to create a sense of pride and interest for further heritage and art based events and research.