A fine example, and fully restored, of a pair of Jacobean houses in Newcastle's Sandhill district they are named after the most famous occupant. So who was Bessie Surtees. Her sole claim to fame seems to rest on one action. In 1772 Bessie Surtees, a somewaht flighty girl by all accounts 18th century Newcastle, climbed out of the first-floor window of this historic house to elope with John Scott, a coal merchant's son who Bessie's father did not approve of, probably because of his reputation. John Scott was educated at Newcastle upon Tyne Royal Grammar School. He was not remarkable at school for application to his studies, though his wonderful memory enabled him to make good progress in them; he frequently played truant and was whipped for it, robbed orchards, and indulged in other questionable schoolboy pranks; nor did he always come out of his scrapes with honour and a character for truthfulness. On 18 November 1772, Scott, with the aid of a ladder and an old friend, carried off the lady from her father's house in the Sandhill, across the border to Blackshields, in Scotland, where they were married. The father of the bridegroom objected not to his son's choice, but to the time he chose to marry; it was a blight on his sons prospects, depriving him of his fellowship and his chance of church preferment. But while the bride's family refused to hold intercourse with the pair, Mr Scott, like a prudent man and an affectionate father, set himself to make the best of a bad matter, and received them kindly, settling on his son £2000. John did well for himself, becoming a successful barrister, Lord Chancellor of England and the 1st Earl of Eldon.
During the Civil War, the siege of Newcastle in 1644 caused considerable damage to the area and severely affected trading. By 1647 local people were able to repair the damage and this was an ideal opportunity to replace older homes with more elegant and fashionable buildings. Both houses were probably rebuilt and extended at this time and the Guildhall, directly opposite, was demolished in 1655 to make way for a new one. From this point in 1649, Sandhill was described as a teeming, bustling area full of shops and opulent merchant’s houses. The houses making up the modern Bessie Surtees were used separately as coffee houses. The Milbank House coffee shop closed in 1757. The one in Surtees House, known as ‘Nellies Coffee House’ traded until 1781 and then afterwards as ‘Bella’s Coffee House’ under a different proprietor. In 1771, after weeks of heavy rainfall, the Tyne rose above the high tide mark by four metres. A great flood devastated the Sandhill area, destroying all of the bridges along the Tyne Valley, except for one at Corbridge. The residents of what is now Bessie Surtees House, including Aubone Surtees, could only enter their property by boat. The house is split over multiple floors accessed by steps and is not wheelchair accessible.
Location : 41-44 Sandhill, Newcastle upon Tyne, Tyne and Wear, NE1 3JF
Transport: Newcastle Central Station (National Rail, Metro) 1/2 mile. Bus routes Q1, Q2 and Q3 stop outside.
Opening Times: Monday to Friday 10:00 to 18:00
Tel: 0191 2691255