On my first visit to Newcastle I was surprised to see old timber-framed buildings. For some reason I just wasn’t expecting to see any, but at Sandhill there is a group of impressive 17th century merchant’s houses including Bessie Surtees House.
Built in the 17th century, it was originally two houses, named after the merchants who lived in them – Millbank and Surtees. These five storey buildings are fine examples of Jacobean architecture, and even though they have gone through periods of neglect, today they are admirably cared for by Historic England.
To keep everything commercially viable most of the combined building is leased out for office space, but the impressive first floor is freely available for visitors to take a look at.
So, who was Bessie Surtees? Well, she was the daughter of a wealthy banker, Aubone Surtees, who was less than impressed with his daughter’s association with a local coal merchant’s son by the name of John Scott. He was, no doubt, even less impressed when Bessie used one of the windows on the first floor to elope with her lover to Scotland where they got married in 1772.
There was a happy ending though because both fathers forgave their offspring and John Scott became an MP, and then rose through the ranks of Solicitor-General and Attorney-General to become Lord Chancellor in 1801.
The window through which Bessie eloped is marked by a blue pane of glass on the first floor and the main room has a magnificent plaster ceiling and carved oak panelling.
Whether Bessie Surtees’ love life interests you are not, it’s worth popping in here to take a look at a fine example of medieval Newcastle – and it’s free, so there’s no excuse.