The Spence Watsons lived in the late 19th and early 20th century at Bensham Grove House, Gateshead and were prominent social activists in Newcastle and the surrounding area. Robert Spence Watson was as a practicing lawyer, an active member of the Liberal party and one of the founders of Durham College of Science (later Newcastle University), secretary and president of the Lit & Phil, and a prominent expert on labour law and an arbitrator. His wife, Elizabeth Spence Watson, was also active and heavily involved in women’s rights and educational reform and encouraged her daughters and acquaintances to become involved in the Suffragette movement. She was also a governess of local girls schools, a Guardian of the Poor Law at Gateshead’s Workhouse and active in helping and supporting poor children into education. They were Quakers and prominent social activists in Newcastle and the surrounding area supporting the abolition of slavery, human rights and actively anti-war.
They inherited Bensham Grove from Roberts father, Joseph a solictor, in late 1875 and lived there for the rest of their lives until Robert died in 1911 and Elizabeth in 1919. Prior to living at Bensham Grove they lived in a small property close by, called Mosscroft. Before Joseph, Robert’s grandfather, Joshua (cheese-monger, butter and bacon-dealer) lived in the house. Since 1919 Bensham Grove House has been an educational settlement and in 1948 a community centre, which it still is today.