Bessie Surtees House
A Jacobean home with a romantic history, Bessie Surtees House now contains offices, an exhibition space and splendid period interiors that are open to the public and free to visit.
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Events at Bessie Surtees House
The Late Shows
Bessie Surtees House will be taking part in the Late Shows this year on Saturday 19 May 7-11pm
The beautiful Jacobean public rooms will be open to visitors and playing host to the rock and roll band, The Rockafellas, who will be performing live music throughout the evening.
There will be a rare opportunity to tour some of the private rooms throughout the upper floors of the house* and a final chance to see Historic England’s post war public art exhibition ‘Out There’.
Tours will take place at 7.15-8pm, 8.15-9pm and 9.15-10pm. Tours of Bessie Surtees House are in high demand and spaces are limited. Please Call 0191 269 1255 to book.
* Tours of the upper floors involve uneven floors and narrow doorframes and staircases.
The Great Exhibition of the North
This summer, Historic England will be taking part in the Great Exhibition of the North’s Inspired By programme, celebrating Northerness as part of an 80 day line-up of exhibits, live performances, displays of innovation and new artworks, in what will be the country’s biggest event in 2018.
We have commissioned a new photography project that celebrates Northerness – putting today’s great Northerners in the places that have inspired them and helped shape their identity. The photographs will be used to provide a lively and engaging story of the North, a story that could only happen here.
The images will be available online and will feature in a new exhibition hosted at Bessie Surtees House, on Newcastle Quayside.
Keep up to date on Twitter @HE_NorthEast.
Permanent exhibition of the Bessie Surtees story
These two five-storey 16th and 17th century merchants' houses are fine examples of Jacobean domestic architecture. The Surtees house is best known as the scene of the elopement of Bessie with John Scott, later Lord Chancellor of England.
You can explore an exhibition illustrating the history of the houses on the first floor.
Free school visits
Bessie Surtees House is also available for free self-led school visits during standard opening hours. For booking enquiries, please contact the site on 0191 269 1255
Download the Historic England Teacher's Kit for Bessie Surtees House.
More about Historic England's education resources and Heritage Schools programme.
Standard opening hours are:
- Mon-Fri, 10am-4pm
- Closed on Bank Holidays
For enquiries, please ring 0191 269 1255
History of Bessie Surtees House
The two buildings now known as Bessie Surtees House stand on a stretch of Newcastle riverfront that has been used as a quayside since Roman times, when the first bridge was built over the Tyne. By the 16th century the commercial importance of the area was well established and many prominent merchants owned property here. The two buildings, originally numbers 41 and 44 Sandhill, were known respectively as Surtees House and Milbank House. Other houses further east along Sandhill are of a similar date.
Earliest record of the house
The earliest reference to a house on the site of Surtees House is from 1465. The property was recorded as being owned by Robert Rhodes, a rich lawyer. Carvings on the fireplace in the principal first-floor room of the house record a wedding in 1657. The groom was Thomas Davison and the bride a daughter of Ralph Cock, mayor of Newcastle in 1634. The couple's family owned the house until 1770, when it was sold to Snow Clayton, a merchant.
One of his tenants was Aubone Surtees, whose daughter Bessie is said to have eloped in 1772 from a first-floor window with John Scott, a coal merchant's son. They ran away to Scotland where they were married (and were remarried in Newcastle after the families were reconciled). Scott eventually became a successful lawyer and, as Lord Eldon, Lord Chancellor of England.
The site of Milbank House was occupied in the second half of the 15th century by Thomas Hanson. The ownership descended to Mark Milbank, who married Dorothy, another daughter of Ralph Cock.
Decline and restoration
From the late 18th century the richer merchants of Newcastle moved from the busy quayside to the more fashionable suburbs. The houses were divided up and let, and subsequently entered a period of slow decline.
The houses were eventually united by John Clayton, who owned Surtees House from 1880 and later bought Milbank House. In 1930 they were bought by SR Vereker, later Lord Gort, whose wife was descended from the Eldons. He employed an engineer, RF Wilkinson, to restore the houses using 17th century architectural fittings salvaged from properties which were due to be demolished.
Bessie Surtees House was bought from the Gort estate by Newcastle City Council in 1978 and leased to English Heritage (now Historic England) in 1989. The rooms on the first floor are now open to visitors, while the rest of the building is used as offices.
The buildings are rare examples of Jacobean domestic architecture, built towards the end of the timber-framing tradition. Both are five storeys high and had shops or stores at ground level with living accommodation above.
Milbank House was constructed in the 16th century but was refronted in red brick in the early 18th century. Its original timber-framed structure is now concealed behind a Georgian facade with elegant sash windows and shutters.
You can still see the timber-framed window through which Bessie Surtees eloped. A cast iron plaque below tells the story.
Surtees House is a 17th century structure with overhanging storeys above the ground floor. It has retained its original facade, featuring plasterwork decorated with classical details. The interior, in particular the principal room on the first floor, has fine carved oak panelling, elaborate plaster ceilings and carved fire surrounds.
- Heslop, D, McCombie, G and Thomson, C, 'Bessie Surtees House - two merchant houses in Sandhill, Newcastle-upon-Tyne', Archaeologia Aeliana, 22 (1994), 1-27
- Polley, R, Bessie Surtees House (English Heritage guidebook, London, 1997)
Note: The text on this page is derived from the Heritage Unlocked series of guidebooks, published in 2002-6. We intend to update and enhance the content as soon as possible to provide more information on the property and its history.
North East Office
Bessie Surtees House,
41 - 44 Sandhill,
Newcastle upon Tyne,