Wednesday 22 November 2023

(565) Benson of Lutwyche Hall

Benson of Lutwyche Hall
The story of this family begins with Moses Benson (1738-1806), who came from a yeoman farming family in the Furness district of Lancashire. He found employment as the captain of a vessel belonging to Abraham Rawlinson, a Lancaster merchant who was engaged in the 'triangular trade' between England, West Africa and the Caribbean. He later settled in Jamaica as Rawlinson's local representative, and became a senior figure in the English community there. Although he cannot be identified as a plantation owner himself, he certainly owned slaves, and continued to make money from the importation and trading of slaves. While in Jamaica he formed a relationship with a woman (described as 'a Mustee' or octaroon) called Judith Powell, and they produced four sons and two daughters in ten years. They never married, but at some point after 1781 they moved to Liverpool, where Moses established his own merchant house, which was responsible for at least eighty slaving voyages over the next twenty-five years. His surviving sons, Ralph Benson (1772-1845) and Moses Benson (1780-1837) were also associated with the business, which was continued by Moses junior alone after his father's death. Moses senior left an estate worth some £265,000 at his death in 1806, and his immensely complex will appointed five trustees to administer it. In 1807 they purchased the Lutwyche Hall estate in Shropshire for Ralph Benson, who left the mercantile house at this time and set himself up as a landed gentleman, openly devoted to hunting, racing and gambling and more covertly to dalliance. In 1808 he was convicted in the civil courts of adultery and paid damages of £1,000, but both his reputation and his marriage seem to have survived. As early as 1807 he stood for Parliament, and he was twice elected for Stafford, serving as MP for the town in 1812-18 and 1826-30. A combination of gambling and election expenses meant that he quickly ran through the substantial fortune his father left him, and after leaving parliament in 1830 he went abroad to avoid his creditors, though he returned to England at the end of his life. Lutwyche Hall was let, and seems later to have been handed over to his son, presumably to avoid it being sold to pay his debts, which amounted to more than £76,000 by 1841.

Ralph and his wife Barbara produced two sons, Moses George Benson (1798-1871), who succeeded to the Lutwyche estate, and the Rev. Ralph Lewen Benson (1799-1849), who became rector of Easthope, one of two livings in the gift of his brother. In 1826, M.G. Benson married Charlotte Riou Browne, whose father had been killed in rioting in Dublin in 1803. The unusual name Riou was a family surname which was adopted by subsequent generations of the Benson family. During the 1830s and early 1840s, Moses and Charlotte lived at Malvern Wells (Worcs.) and most of their children were baptised at Hanley Castle, in which parish their house actually stood, but they moved back to Lutwyche after 1845 and during the 1850s remodelled the house so as to re-establish and emphasize its Elizabethan character. Their eldest son, Ralph Augustus Benson (1828-86) was educated at Oxford and the Inner Temple, and became a barrister and later a judge, serving as both Recorder of Shrewsbury and a Metropolitan Police magistrate. He evidently had a strong desire to enter Parliament, and stood for election three times, in each case unsuccessfully. He married a daughter of the architect, C.R. Cockerell (1788-1863), and her brother, Frederick Pepys Cockerell, was responsible for completing the alterations to Lutwyche around 1860. Ralph and his wife had three sons and two daughters. The younger sons pursued careers in the armed forces, while the eldest son, Ralph Beaumont Benson (1862-1911) attended Oxford and the Inner Temple. Unfortunately, he did not show the same appetite for his studies as his father had done, and he neither took a degree nor was called to the bar. His wife, Caroline Cholmondeley, came, however, from a notably literary family, and their delicate and troubled daughter, Stella Benson (1892-1933) became a writer whose novels were admired by Virginia Woolf, while their younger son was a barrister and judge like his grandfather.

When Ralph Beaumont Benson died in 1911 he left an estate valued at nearly £70,000, but the financial pressures on landed estates in the early 20th century were already making themselves felt. His elder son and heir, George Reginald Benson (1888-1961) pursued a career in the army which was cut short by ill-health at the end of the First World War. He progressively dispersed the estate through a series of sales, and the contents of the house were sold in 1928. After the Second World War the house was let to a school, and in 1952 the freehold of the house and the last part of the estate was sold, bringing to an end the family's status as landed gentry after around 150 years.

Lutwyche Hall, Rushbury, Shropshire

The house stands on Wenlock Edge at the northern end of Rushbury parish, but much closer to Easthope, where many of the Bensons are buried. The Lutwyche family, who took their name from the manor, were established here by the 14th century, and by the early 16th century the manor house was evidently a gabled structure of coursed limestone rubble. Two gable-ends on the rear (north-west) elevation and the cellars may be survivals from this time. Edward Lutwyche, a Chancery cursitor, who had inherited by 1586, largely rebuilt it as an H-plan manor house, and a datestone of 1587 (though not thought to be original) may provide the approximate date of construction. The new work was in fashionable red brick, decorated with a diaper pattern in blue bricks. As first built, the house was very similar to nearby Shipton Hall, built for Edward's brother John a few years later: it had a short central hall range with symmetrical gabled cross-wings and tall thin towers in the re-entrant angles on the entrance side. The base of the northern tower formed a porch leading into a screens passage with a stair turret at its far end. The house was taxed on fourteen hearths in 1672. Little is known about the original interiors of the house, but in 1735 the Rev. William Mytton visited Lutwyche and described and made sketches of heraldic glass in the windows which survive among his papers at Birmingham University.

Lutwyche Hall: watercolour by Moses Griffiths, 1793, showing the 18th century alterations. Image: Miles Wynn Cato.

In the mid 18th century, the house was remodelled and modernized for William Lutwyche (d. 1773), apparently in a series of campaigns spread over a considerable period. A new two-storey brick block was added behind the hall range, with a fine new staircase at its west end, and the principal rooms were given new panelling in a contemporary style. The south-west side elevation became the entrance front and was given a new sash windowed facade of five bays, with a three-bay breakfront rising to a pediment enclosing a Diocletian window. The hall and screens passage were merged and redecorated in a fashionable Rococo taste, with a fine plaster overmantel and overdoors of unusually fanciful form. In the grounds, a new 
stable block of red brick was built north-east of the house, with a central carriage arch beneath a large pediment, and the grounds were landscaped, with a stone temple built south-west of the house.  

Lutwyche Hall: the entrance hall in 1974. Image: Historic England.
Although differences in style proclaim that the work was not the result of a single coherent campaign, there is sadly no documentation to show conclusively who was involved. However it does seem likely that Lutwyche sought design and craftsmen from the major Midlands building concern, based in Warwick, that was run successively by Francis Smith (d. 1738), his son, William Smith (d. 1747) and their former employees, William (d. 1776) and David (d. 1758) Hiorn. The late Andor Gomme suggested there were three phases of work on the interior: firstly the building of the rear block, the construction of the staircase, and the refitting of the library in the south-west corner of the house; secondly, the refitting of the drawing room in a plainer, neo-Jonesian style; and finally, the plasterwork decoration of the hall. The library panelling and staircase he attributed confidently to the joiner, Thomas Eborall, who worked closely with Francis and William Smith, and the richer, more elaborate style of these rooms than the other interiors does suggest they are earlier. 

Lutwyche Hall: staircase in 1974. Image: Historic England 
Gareth Williams has pointed out that the Diocletian window on the new south-west front at Lutwyche was a feature particularly favoured by the Hiorn brothers, who built nearby Delbury Hall in 1752-56. The staircase at Delbury was constructed by Benjamin King and employs balusters that are nearly identical to those at Lutwyche, but the general form of the staircase seems very different and distinctly later in feel. Nonetheless, the Hiorn Brothers seem very likely candidates for Gomme's second phase of work, including the refitting of the drawing room at Lutwyche. The elaborate plasterwork decoration of the hall feels later again, and has some similarities to the Rococo overmantel in the hall at Shipton Hall. Although T.F. Pritchard (d. 1777) was working at Shipton in 1757-59, there is no mention of Lutwyche in his surviving album of drawings. An alternative suggestion, made first by Andor Gomme, is that the very free plasterwork at Lutwyche and in the overmantel at Shipton might be the work of Thomas Roberts of Oxford. That feels plausible but not totally convincing, but whoever was responsible, it seems likely that the work was amongst the last to be completed, in the late 1750s or even the 1760s.

William Lutwyche died, deeply in debt, in 1773 and legal disputes between his illegitimate son and one of his sisters and co-heirs led to the sale of the estate in 1785. Before 1793 a long, two-storey service wing had been built on to the northern end of the house. A little later, the gables on the entrance front were removed and the house was stuccoed. Thus the house stood in 1807 when it was acquired by the trustees of Moses Benson (1738-1806) for the latter's son, Capt. Ralph Benson (1773-1845), who is not known to have made any changes to the house. However, his son, Moses George Benson (1797-1871) brought in Samuel Pountney Smith (1812-86) of Shrewsbury in about 1851 to begin returning the house to its Elizabethan form. The 18th century stucco was removed, the classical south-west elevation was replaced by mullioned and transomed windows and a new bay window was built; at the rear, the 18th century block was extended in a crude and heavy manner. Inside, less was done, but the dining room was repanelled, and stained glass was restored to the windows of the hall, and it is possible that the ceiling of the hall - remarkably keeping in keeping with the Rococo plasterwork below - was created at this time. A fuller restoration of the entrance front took place in 1860, when Frederick Pepys Cockerell, who was related by marriage to the Bensons, added two-storey bay windows and gables to the wings, and created a three-storey porch between the towers with a first-floor oriel window. The result is a rather crowded and heavily ornamented, but undeniably effective, design.

Lutwyche Hall: the entrance front as remodelled in the mid 19th century by F.P. Cockerell. Image: Historic England
In the early 20th century, the usual taxation and other pressures on landed estates led to the sale of over 1,000 acres of the estate in 1921. The contents of the house were sold in 1928, and further sections of the estate were sold in 1937-38. After the Second World War the remainder of the estate was sold and the house was leased as Wenlock Edge School from 1948. In 1966 the school closed and it became an hotel. Institutional use was accompanied by progressive physical decline, and by the 1970s it was in poor shape. In the 1980s a major restoration was undertaken for a new American owner, Dr. Roger Pearson, but a major fire in 1989 all but gutted the north-east wing of the house, which was subsequently re-roofed as a shell. The stable block, which had long since lost its cupola, was given a new one designed by the owners' son.

Lutwyche Hall: the house today

Descent: Richard Lutwyche (d. by 1586); to son, Edward Lutwyche (d. 1614); to son, Edward Lutwyche (d. 1639); to daughters, Elizabeth and Sarah Lutwyche, with remainder to grandson, Sir Edward Lutwyche (d. 1709), kt.; to son, Thomas Lutwyche (d. 1734); to son, William Lutwyche (d. 1773); to sisters, Elizabeth Lutwyche (d. 1776), Anne Fazakerley (d. 1776) and Sarah Winford (d. 1793), of whom the first two left their shares to William's illegitimate son, William Lane (later Lutwyche), who sold 1785 to Bartlet Goodrich; sold 1794 to Thomas Langton (d. 1805); sold after his death to trustees of Moses Benson (1738-1806) for his son, Ralph Benson (1772-1845); to son, Moses George Benson (1798-1871); to son, Ralph Augustus Benson (1828-86); to son, Ralph Beaumont Benson (1862-1911); to son, Maj. George Reginald Benson (1888-1961), who sold most of the estate by 1947 and the house in 1952 to Wenlock Edge School; sold 1966 to Lutwyche Hall Hotel...Mr & Mrs M.F. Jones sold 1975... sold 1979 to Dr. & Mrs. Roger Pearson; sold 2000... Simon Vincent Lloyd-Jones (b. 1968).

Benson family of Lutwyche Hall

Benson, Moses (1738-1806). Son of John Benson (1684-1766) of Ulverston (Lancs), yeoman, born 1738. He became a captain in the West Indies trade for Abraham Rawlinson of Lancaster, merchant, and the latter's representative in Jamaica (where he held office as a Lt-Col. of the militia and was first treasurer of the Kingston Chamber of Commerce) before returning to Liverpool to establish his own trading house, becoming one of the most successful Liverpool merchants in the 'triangular trade' and amassing a substantial fortune. Although he is not known to have owned any plantations in the Caribbean himself, he did own slaves, advertising a reward for information leading to the capture of a slave sailor who had absconded in 1780. He is said to have been a liberal patron of the fine arts, and of educational and religious objectives in Liverpool. He had illegitimate issue by Judith Powell 'a free Mustee woman':
(X1) Ralph Benson (1772-1845) (q.v.);
(X2) James Benson (b. 1773), born 23 October and baptised at Kingston (Jamaica), 30 October 1773; probably died young in the lifetime of his father as he is not mentioned in the latter's will;
(X3) John Benson (b. 1775), baptised at Kingston (Jamaica), 2 December 1775; probably died young in the lifetime of his father as he is not mentioned in the latter's will;
(X4) Mary Benson (1777-1858), born 10 February 1777 and baptised at Kingston (Jamaica), 3 February 1779; married, 4 November 1817 at St Mark, Liverpool, Rev. Charles Thomas Gladwin (c.1786-1846), vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields, Liverpool; died 7 August 1858; will proved 24 August 1858 (effects under £25,000 but later resworn as under £450!);
(X5) twin, Moses Benson (1780-1837), born 13 February 1780 and baptised at Kingston (Jamaica), 3 April 1781; merchant in Liverpool, who succeeded to his father's business and was bankrupted, 1828; an officer in Royal Liverpool Volunteers (Capt. 1803); married, 23 September 1803 at Christ Church, Liverpool, Margaret (c.1778-1854), daughter of Capt. John Kendall, and had issue; died 1 March, and was buried at St James, Toxteth, Liverpool (Lancs), 7 March 1837;
(X6) twin, Jane Dorothy Benson (1780-1861), born 13 February 1780 and baptised at Kingston (Jamaica), 3 April 1781; married at St Peter, Liverpool, , 29 April 1800 and again 15 February 1801, Richard Elmhirst (1771-1847) of West Ashby Grove (Lincs), and had issue five sons and six daughters; died 11 August 1861; will proved 13 September 1801 (effects under £800).
He lived in a mansion house with extensive gardens in Duke St., Liverpool. After his death, his trustees bought the Lutwyche Hall estate in 1807.
He died 5 June and was buried at Liverpool, 11 June 1806; his immensely long will was proved in the PCC, 29 November 1806 (estate under £265,000), but eventually required an Act of Parliament in 1830 to resolve its complexities. His partner, Judith Powell, is said to have accompanied him to Liverpool, but her death has not been traced. Since she was not mentioned in his will, she may have died before 1806.

Benson, Ralph (1772-1845). Elder illegitimate son of Moses Benson (1738-1806) and Judith Powell, 'a free Mustee woman', born 21 July 1772 and baptised in Kingston (Jamaica), 8 March 1773. Educated at Manchester Grammar School. An officer in the 85th Foot (Capt. 1793; ret. 1795 as a result of a fever caught at Walcheren in 1794) and in the West Shropshire militia (Capt., 1808). After leaving the army he joined his father's business as a merchant in Liverpool, but after his father's death his brother took over the management of the business (which became bankrupt in 1828), although he maintained some links with the Liverpool merchant elite, serving on the committees of the Ship Owners’ Association, the Royal Institution for Literature, Science and the Arts and the Mechanics’ Institute. Bailiff of the Borough of Sefton, 1804 and Mayor of Sefton, 1806. DL and JP for Shropshire and Staffordshire. In politics he was a Conservative and a supporter of Canning; he stood unsuccessfully for Parliament in Stafford, 1807 and Bridgnorth, 1820, but was elected MP for Stafford, 1812-18, 1826-30. His wife was said to host 'delightful parties' but Benson was addicted to horse-racing and gambling and was considered 'too much of a Lothario'; and in 1808 he was convicted of 'criminal conversation' (adultery) with the wife of a fellow Liverpool merchant, and had to pay damages of £1,000. As time went by, he suffered from increasing financial difficulties. His election expenses went unpaid for long periods and in 1826 and 1829 he lost civil actions for debts incurred in the elections of 1820 and 1826. After leaving Parliament he moved to France to avoid his creditors, and probably transferred the Lutwyche estate to his son. He is said to have been outlawed for non-payment of taxes, 1835, but returned to England in 1840, where he appeared in the insolvent debtors court in 1841 and admitted to debts over £76,000 and was discharged. He married, 22 July 1794 in Limerick (Ireland), Barbara (c.1777-1852), third daughter and co-heiress of Thomas Lewin (d. 1797) of Cloghans (Co. Mayo), and had issue:
(1) Moses George Benson (1798-1871) (q.v.);
(2) Rev. Ralph Lewen Benson (1799-1849), born 6 May and baptised at St Stephen, Byrom St., Liverpool, 5 June 1799; educated at Christ Church, Oxford (matriculated 1819; BA 1823; MA 1825); rector of Easthope; married, 28 August 1827 at St Mary, Bryanston Sq., St Marylebone (Middx), Amelia St. George Browne (1807-73), daughter of John Dyer, surgeon with the East India Co., and had issue two sons; died 23 August 1849.
His father's trustees bought Lutwyche Hall for him, but he let it from 1830, when he went to live in France, and he seems later to have handed it over to his son. His widow lived latterly in Cheltenham (Glos).
He died 23 October and was buried at St James, Toxteth, Liverpool, 31 October 1845; his will was proved at Chester, 15 May 1851. His widow died in Cheltenham, and was buried at Toxteth, 19 January 1852.

Benson, Moses George (1798-1871). Elder son of Ralph Benson (1772-1845) and his wife Barbara, third daughter and co-heiress of Thomas Lewin of Cloghans (Co. Mayo), born 20 January and baptised at St James, Toxteth, Liverpool (Lancs), 26 January 1798. Educated privately and at Christ Church, Oxford (matriculated 1819). JP for Shropshire from 1834 (Chairman of Church Stretton Petty Sessions and for some years of the County Police Committee) and for Worcestershire; DL for Shropshire from 1835. A Conservative in politics. He married, 11 April 1826 at Great Malvern (Worcs), Charlotte Riou (1800-75), only daughter and heiress of Col. Lyde Browne (d. 1803), and had issue:
(1) Dora Georgina Harrington Benson (1827-80), born 27 May and baptised at Hanley Castle (Worcs), 1 June 1827; married, 22 November 1853 at Easthope, Rev. Frederick Jonathan Richards (1824-96), vicar of Boxley (Kent), 1853-96, second son of William Parry Richards, and had issue one son and three daughters; died 3 June and was buried at Boxley, 9 June 1880; administration of her goods granted to her husband, 9 September 1880 (effects under £200);
(2) Ralph Augustus Benson (1828-86) (q.v.);
(3) Charlotte Julia Mary Benson (1830-94), baptised at Cheltenham, 26 July 1830; lived latterly at Llanfyllin (Montgomerys.); died unmarried, 13 October, and was buried at Easthope, 18 October 1894; will proved 15 November 1894 (effects £7,960);
(4) twin, Mary Elizabeth Benson (1832-93), baptised at Hanley Castle (Worcs), 7 March 1832; lived latterly with her twin sister at Leamington Spa (Warks); died unmarried and was buried at Easthope, 20 April 1893; administration of goods granted to her sister, 15 June 1893 (effects £3,326);
(5) twin, Fanny Mary Benson (1832-1901), baptised at Hanley Castle, 7 March 1832; lived latterly with her twin sister at Leamington Spa (Warks); died unmarried, 11 February 1901; will proved 2 May 1901 (estate £9,872);
(6) Rev. Riou George Benson (1834-96), born 1 December 1834 and baptised at Hanley Castle (Worcs), 26 January 1835; educated at Durham University (L.Th, 1859); ordained deacon and priest, 1860; rector of Hope Bowdler (Shrops.), 1860-96; JP for Shropshire; married, 11 April 1861 at Honley (Yorks WR), Mary (1840-1913), daughter of Thomas Brooke of Northgate House, Honley, merchant, and had issue seven sons and six daughters; died 18 January and was buried at Hope Bowdler, 21 January 1896; administration of goods granted 8 May 1896 (estate £10,254);
(7) Madeline Barbara Benson (1837-1909), born at Brussels (Belgium), 28 July 1837; married, 31 January 1882 at Easthope, Rev. Louis Arthur Cockerell (1836-1929), rector of North Weald (Essex), son of Rev. Henry Cockerell, but had no issue; died 12 March 1909; will proved 11 May 1909 (estate £4,063);
(8) Philip Riou Henry Benson (1842-66), born 4 June and baptised at Hanley Castle, 28 July 1842; farmer at Stoneburn Station, Dunedin (New Zealand); drowned in the sinking of the steamship London in the Bay of Biscay, 11 January 1866; administration of goods granted to his father, 4 July 1866 (effects under £1,500);
(9) Lyde Ernest George Benson (1845-1924), born 27 May and baptised at Hanley Castle, 19 July 1845; educated at St John's College, Oxford (matriculated 1864) and the Inner Temple (admitted 1868; called 1872); barrister-at-law; JP for Shropshire; lived at Larden Cottage (Shrops.); married, 5 May 1885 at Rushbury (Shrops.), Emily Harriet (1858-1932), daughter of Rev. Frederick Harry Hotham, rector of Rushbury, and had issue one son; died 12 September 1924 and was buried at Easthope; will proved 8 December 1924 (estate £14,892).
He inherited Lutwyche Hall from his father in 1845 and also maintained a house at Malvern Wells (Worcs).
He died 11 April, and was buried at Easthope, 18 April 1871; his will was proved 3 May 1875 (effects under £25,000). His widow died at Malvern Wells, 8 July 1875; her will was proved 27 July 1875 (effects under £4,000).

Benson, Ralph Augustus (1828-86). Eldest son of Moses George Benson (1798-1871) and his wife Charlotte Riou, only daughter and heiress of Col. Lyde Browne, born at Malvern Wells (Worcs), 11 August and baptised at Hanley Castle (Worcs), 16 August 1828. Educated at Winchester, Christ Church, Oxford (matriculated 1846; BA 1850; MA 1864) and Inner Temple (called 1854). Barrister-at-law. A Metropolitan Police magistrate in Southwark, 1867-79 and Recorder of Shrewsbury, 1866-79. A freemason from 1848. An officer in the South Shropshire Yeomanry Cavalry (Cornet, 1850; Lt., 1871; retired 1879). A Conservative in politics, he stood unsuccessfully for parliament in the Reading (Berks) constituency in 1859 and 1860 and at Wenlock (Shrops.), 1880. He married, 7 August 1860 at St James, Piccadilly, Westminster (Middx), Henrietta Selina (1836-82), daughter of Charles Robert Cockerell (1788-1863), architect, and had issue:
(1) Ralph Beaumont Benson (1862-1911) (q.v.);
(2) Frederica Mary Benson (1863-1928), baptised at St Paul, Knightsbridge (Middx), 19 June 1863; married, 14 January 1891 at St Margaret, Westminster (Middx), Francis Edward Prescott-Decie (1861-1927) of Bockleton Court (Worcs), barrister-at-law, son of Col. Richard Prescott-Decie, and had issue one son and three daughters; died 5 September 1928 and was buried at Bockleton (Worcs); will proved 20 December 1928 (estate £3,407);
(3) Vice-Adm. Robert Edmund Ross Benson (1864-1927), born 23 April and baptised at St James, Dover, 5 June 1864; joined the Royal Navy, 1877 (Midshipman, 1879; Sub-Lt., 1883; Lt., 1887; Cdr., 1900; Capt., 1906; retired as Rear-Adm., 1918; Vice-Adm., 1923); appointed CB, 1916; married 1st, 25 May 1897 at Kingswear (Devon), Williama Margaret (1871-1924), eldest daughter of Lt-Col. St. John Edward Daubeny of The Beacon, Kingswear (Devon) and had issue one son (who died young); married 2nd, 5 August 1926 at Pyrford (Surrey), Alice Helen (1882-1980), only daughter of Charles Echlin Gerahty of The Yews, Whitchurch (Hants); died 3 February 1927; will proved 12 April 1927 (estate £6,422);
(4) Philippa Jessie Benson (1866-1930), baptised at St Paul, Knightsbridge, 10 March 1866; died unmarried, 19 September 1930; will proved 2 December 1930 and 21 April 1931 (estate £10,774);
(5) George Conolly Benson (1867-1900), born 12 March and baptised at St James, Dover, 5 May 1867; educated at Eton and Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst; an officer in the army (2nd Lt., 1887; Lt. 1890; Capt., 1898) who was seconded to the Colonial Service in the Gold Coast; died unmarried when he was killed near Kumasi (Ghana), 29 August 1900; will proved 2 November 1900 (estate £3,228).
He inherited Lutwyche Hall from his father in 1871 and had a town house in Montagu Sq., London.
He died at his house in London, 11 March, and was buried at Easthope, 18 March 1886; his will was proved 16 April 1886 (effects £5,975). His wife died 23 August, and was buried at Easthope, 30 August 1882; administration of her goods was granted 18 April 1883 (effects £203).

Benson, Ralph Beaumont (1862-1911). Eldest son of Ralph Augustus Benson (1828-86) and his wife Henrietta Selina, only daughter of Charles Robert Cockerell RA, born 10 March and baptised at St Paul, Knightsbridge (Middx), 24 April 1862. Educated at Harrow, Balliol College, Oxford (matriculated 1880) and Inner Temple (admitted 1882). An officer in the Shropshire Volunteer Rifles (Lt., 1884) and Shropshire Yeomanry (Lt., 1885; Capt. 1891; ret. 1897); JP for Shropshire. A freemason from 1892. He married, 22 June 1886 at Hodnet (Shrops.), Caroline Essex (1861-1934), second daughter of Rev. Richard Cholmondeley of Condover Hall (Shrops.), rector of Hodnet, and had issue:
(1) George Reginald Benson (1888-1961) (q.v.);
(2) Catherine Maia Benson (1890-99); baptised at Easthope (Shrops.), 10 May 1890; died young, 22 May and was buried at Easthope, 26 May 1899;
(3) Stella Benson (1892-1933), baptised at Easthope, 6 March 1892; a sickly and nervous child who received little formal education; she worked for suffragist organisations and charities in London before travelling to America and then China, where she met her husband; between 1915 and 1931 she produced eight novels of which Tobit transformed (1931) is the best-known today, as well as short stories and travel writing; she married, 27 September 1921, James Carew O'Gorman Anderson (1893-1946), a commissioner in the Chinese customs service (who m2, 1935, Veronica Beatrice (1905-88), daughter of Hon. Sir Frank Trevor Roger Bigham, a deputy Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, and had issue two sons and one daughter), only son of Brig-Gen. Sir Francis Anderson KBE CB of Ballydavid (Co. Waterford), but had no issue; died of pneumonia at Hongay (Vietnam), 6 December, and was buried there, 7 December 1933; administration of her goods granted 16 April 1934 (effects in England, £5,939);
(4) Stephen Riou Benson (1896-1961), born 11 October 1896; educated at Charterhouse and Inner Temple (admitted 1920; called 1923); barrister-at-law; Recorder of Abingdon, 1929; deputy chairman of Oxfordshire Quarter Sessions, 1958-61; a Conservative in politics, he stood unsuccessfully for Parliament in the West Ham South constituency in 1935 and was a member of London County Council (for Wandsworth, Balham and Tooting), 1937-42; married, 28 February 1935 at St Mary, West Kensington (Middx), Phyllis Mary (1900-78), daughter of Henry Charles Hawkins of Addington (Surrey), rope manufacturer, and widow of Edwin Cawston (d. 1928) of Frinton-on-Sea (Essex), and had issue two sons; died 29 November and was buried at St Mary, Addington (Surrey), 4 December 1961; will proved 7 January 1963 (estate £500).
He inherited Lutwyche Hall from his father in 1886.
He died at Folkestone (Kent), 16 October 1911; his will was proved 14 November 1911 (estate £69,648). His widow died 19 December 1934; her will was proved 8 February 1935 (estate £1,330).

Benson, George Reginald (1888-1961). Elder son of Ralph Beaumont Benson (1862-1911) and his wife Caroline Essex, second daughter of Rev. Richard Cholmondeley of Condover Hall (Shrops.), rector of Hodnet (Shrops.), born 25 April and baptised at St Mary, Bryanston Sq., Westminster (Middx), 29 May 1888. Educated at Eton and Royal Military Academy, Woolwich. An officer in the army (2nd Lt., 1908; Lt. 1911; Capt., 1914; Maj., 1916; retired on health grounds, 1919). He married 1st, 24 November 1917 at St Philip, Kensington (Middx), (div. 1938), Violet Martha Helena (1897-1990), daughter of William H. Estorffe of New Zealand, and 2nd, 17 November 1938, Jane Frances (1904-93), daughter of Thomas Hood Henderson Walker of Monifieth (Angus) and widow of Capt. William Morrice, and had issue:
(1.1) Ralph Benson (1919-94), born 17 March 1919; educated at Eton and Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst; an officer in the Coldstream Guards (2nd Lt., 1939; Lt., 1941; Capt., 1946; ret. 1951); private secretary to Governor of Northern Ireland, 1952-55; married 1st, 19 November 1947, Helen Mary (d. 1951), younger daughter of Lt-Col. Charles Walter Villiers CBE DSO and formerly wife of Capt. Nicholas Richard Michael Eliot (1914-88), Lord Eliot (later 9th Earl of St Germans), and had issue one son and one daughter; married 2nd, 18 September 1952, Wanda (1924-74), only daughter of Lt-Col. Francis Leger Christian Livingstone-Learmonth CMG; died 28 November 1994; will proved 3 April 1995 (estate under £125,000);
(1.2) Georgina Benson (1921-97), born 31 August 1921; married 2 February 1947 (div. 1954), as his second wife, Claude Mowbray Berkeley (1906-78), only son of Sir Ernest James Lennox Berkeley KCMG CB (1857-1932), and had issue one son and one daughter; died August 1997;
(1.3) John Benson (1922-55), born 19 September 1922; died unmarried at Harts Hospital, Woodford Green (Essex), a tuberculosis sanatorium, 10 May 1955; will proved 24 June 1955 (estate £213);
(1.4) Riou Benson (1923-2014), born 27 November 1923; educated at Stowe; solicitor in London; married, 11 February 1950 at St Nicholas, Arundel (Sussex), Elizabeth Mary (1922-2010), youngest daughter of Ven. John Godber of West Tarring (Sussex), and had issue two sons and one daughter; died 17 January 2014; will proved 22 May 2014;
(1.5) Barbara Benson (1930-2020), born 11 September 1930; married, 21 April 1958 at Berne (Switzerland), Robert Charles Frederick Eden (1916-2014), son of Frederick Morton Eden of Allmendingen, Berne (Switzerland), and had issue one son and one daughter; died 7 January 2020.
He inherited Lutwyche Hall from his father in 1911, but progressively dispersed the estate through sales of land, culminating in the sale of the house in 1947/1952. The house was let to a school from 1948.
He died 23 March 1961; will proved 29 June 1961 (estate £17,349). His first wife married 2nd, Michael Richard Lavie Robinson (1908-92) and died 18 January 1990; administration of her goods was granted 21 May 1990 (estate under £100,000). His widow married 3rd, 12 July 1962, Cdr. Robert Martin Dominic Ponsonby RN (1911-95), only surviving son of Sir George Arthur Ponsonby KCVO, and died 30 May 1993; her will was proved 29 June 1993 (estate £688,843).

Principal sources

Burke's Landed Gentry, 1969, pp. 40-42; VCH Shropshire, vol. x, 1998, pp. 52-72; A. Gomme, Smith of Warwick, 2000, pp. 243-45; J. Newman & Sir N. Pevsner, The buildings of England: Shropshire, 2nd edn., 2006, p. 388; G. Williams, The country houses of Shropshire, 2021, pp. 405-09; 

Location of archives

Benson family of Lutwyche Hall: deeds and papers, 18th-20th cents. [Shropshire Archives]

Coat of arms

Argent, a ship under sail at sea, the colours flying proper; out of a chief wavy azure, a cubit arm, vested gules, cuff or, in the hand a sword erect of the first pommel and hilt or, sustaining on the point a balance of the last, and between two pineapples of the second.

Can you help?

  • Can anyone provide photographs or portraits of the people whose names appear in bold above, for whom no image is currently shown?
  • If anyone can offer further information or corrections to any part of this article I should be most grateful. I am always particularly pleased to hear from current owners or the descendants of families associated with a property who can supply information from their own research or personal knowledge for inclusion.

Revision and acknowledgements

This post was first published 22 November 2023.

Wednesday 15 November 2023

(564) Bennett and Leigh-Bennett of Thorpe Place

Leigh-Bennet of Thorpe Place 
The story of this family begins with John Bennett (1698-1765), a solicitor in Aylsham (Norfk). He married Mary (c.1708-46), the daughter of a gentleman called Wolley Leigh of Hevingham (Norfk). In 1740, the courts decided that she and her sister, Anne Spencer, were the rightful heirs to the extensive estates in Surrey and elsewhere of Sir John Leigh (d. 1737), kt. of Addington (Surrey). In 1767 the Bennetts and the Spencers obtained an Act of Parliament to partition these estates between them, with the result that the Spencers acquired Addington and the Bennetts the Thorpe Place estate in Surrey, as well as other lands in Norfolk and Middlesex. The principal Bennett beneficiary was Mary's second son, the Rev. Wolley Leigh Bennett (1733-90), who was rector of Hevingham but also the chaplain to successive owners of Stowe (Bucks), where he probably actually lived in his later years. His younger brother, Thomas Leigh Bennett (1736-97) was articled clerk to his father in 1753 but there is no evidence that he ever practised law, and by 1771 he was living in London, where he seems to have become an entrepreneur, or least an investor, in the entertainment industry, with interests in Ranelagh Gardens, the Theatre Royal, and the Pantheon.
Seagate Hall, Long Sutton, the vicarage rebuilt in the 1780s for
Rev. Thomas Leigh Bennett (1736-97). Image: Richard Humphrey. Some rights reserved.
He seems also to have bought the advowson of Long Sutton (Lincs), and although he retained his other investments until his death, he took holy orders in the early 1780s, and after serving a brief curacy at Thorpe he presented himself to Long Sutton on the vicarage becoming vacant in 1784. Although the clerical tradition was to be unusually strong among the descendants of John Bennett, it was unusual at this time for a middle-aged man to take orders, and it would be interesting to know why he did so, especially as a sudden religious enthusiasm would have been more likely to lead him into one of the rapidly growing Methodist splinter groups of the time. Long Sutton was a wealthy living, and Thomas seems to have committed to the parish, building a new vicarage (now Seagate Hall) as his place of residence and working there in person and not employing curates. The patronage of Long Sutton remained with his family for four generations, and his son, great-nephew and great-great-nephew all served as vicars there, albeit not continuously.

Lechlade Rectory, as altered by Richard Pace
for the Rev. John Leigh Bennett in 1804-05, from Pace's tradecard.
When the Rev. Wolley Leigh-Bennett died in 1790, his property at Thorpe Place and elsewhere descended to his eldest son, John Leigh Bennett (1767-1835), who took his degree at Oxford in 1790 and was ordained in 1792. He married his first cousin, Harriet, one of the daughters of the Rev. Thomas Leigh Bennett, in the same year, and after serving a curacy at Newton Purcell (Oxon), he was appointed vicar of Lechlade (Glos) in 1795. He evidently served at Lechlade in person, occupying the vicarage house on the east side of the market place and remodelling it in 1804-05 to the designs of the local mason-architect, Richard Pace (c.1760-1838). In 1805, the rectory at Thorpe became vacant, on the death of the Rev. James Liptrott, and John, who owned the advowson of the parish, presented himself as Liptrott's successor. His resigned the living at Lechlade in order to take up his new appointment, but almost immediately changed his mind and was re-installed at Lechlade, where he remained until 1809. It seems very probable that this was occasioned by his deciding to pull down the old Hall Place at Thorpe and built a more up-to-date house to replace it. It is tempting to wonder whether, having so recently employed Richard Pace to remodel the rectory at Lechlade, he might have used him again for the new house at Thorpe, but stylistically this seems unlikely, and the designer of the new house at Thorpe remains anonymous.

The Rev. John Leigh Bennett's eldest son predeceased him, so at his death in 1835 he was succeeded by his second son, the Rev. Henry Leigh Bennett (1795-1880), who was then rector of Croughton (Northants), but who presented himself to the living at Thorpe in 1849 and remained the incumbent until he retired in 1874. He was survived by two sons and a daughter, with the eldest son, Henry Currie Leigh Bennett (1852-1903) inheriting Thorpe Place, while his daughter, Mary Leigh Bennett (1851-1926) married Marmaduke Head Best (1847-1912) of Donnington Grove (Berks). Henry Currie Leigh Bennett became a barrister and was very active in local administration in Surrey. He adopted the hyphenated name Leigh-Bennett, and was generally so called, although he seems to have taken no steps to make the change officially. In 1897 he was elected as MP for Chertsey and he was still in the House when he succumbed to an attack of appendicitis in 1903, aged just fifty. His heir was his son, Henry Wolley Leigh-Bennett (1880-1951), who formalised the change of name in 1913. Like his father, he trained as a barrister, but he appears not to have practised, and by 1908 he was acting as resident land agent for Lord St. Levan in Devonport (Devon), while his mother continued to live at Thorpe Place. After the First World War, however, he began to disperse the estate, selling land in 1919 and 1921. The house was offered for sale in 1921 and 1927 but remained unsold until 1930, when it became a centre for the treatment of female inebriates run by the Community of St Mary the Virgin at Wantage. By then, Leigh-Bennett had inherited Donnington Grove from his aunt, and he and his wife lived there for some years before that house too was sold in 1936.

Thorpe Place, Surrey

The manor of Thorpe belonged from the 7th to the 16th century to Chertsey Abbey, but a part of the property was granted away in 1303 and became a separate manor of Graveney alias Thorpe Hall Place. After the Dissolution of Chertsey Abbey in 1537 the main manor passed into the hands of the Crown, which leased it out but retained ownership until 1627, when it was granted to William Minterne, who had already acquired the smaller Hall Place manor from a cousin in 1609, and the two manors were reunited. The manor of Hall Place had a manor house of the same name described as 'a capital messuage' in 1548, and it was probably rebuilt or improved in the early 17th century, when the prominent red brick walls that are still such a distinctive feature of the village centre were constructed: one is dated 1613. Although nothing is known of the appearance of this house, it is known to have stood on the same site, close to the parish church, as the present Thorpe Place.

Thorpe Place: the south front in 1927, from a sale notice of that year.
The present Thorpe Place is a big seven-by-five-bay three-storey stock brick house, built for John Leigh Bennett (1767-1835), probably in 1806-09, when he settled at Thorpe. The house has a pediment and two canted bays on the south front and a big 19th century porch on the entrance side. In the 1930s, when the house was acquired by the Community of St Mary the Virgin, Wantage (which relocated its sanatorium for female inebriates here from Bedfont (Middx)), a good set of early 18th century gates and a chapel were imported from the previous site. The chapel (now used as a library) was designed by Sir Ninian Comper and had been built at Bedfont in 1907, but when it was moved to the forecourt of Thorpe Place in 1931 it was slightly extended. It has roughcast walls and a beautiful interior with lightly traceried screens between the nave and aisles, gilded Tudor Gothic cornice and crestings, painted ceilings, and a complex kingpost roof. In 1974 the sanatorium was again relocated, to Harpenden (Herts), and site was acquired by The American School in England (TASIS), which has doubled the size of the house by adding a large wing to its east that keeps to the style of the original building. The school has also acquired Thorpe House on the other side of the village street.

Thorpe Place: the garden and side elevations of the house, today. The late 20th century additions can be seen in the distance. Image: TASIS.
South of the house is an 18th century lake, and near the church there are an ice house and a walled garden that probably dates from the early 17th century, as it uses the same red bricks as the walls in Coldharbour Lane.

Descent: Sir Francis Wolley (d. 1609); to cousin, William Minterne (d. 1627); to grandson, Wolley Leigh (d. 1644); to son, Sir Thomas Leigh (1639-77), kt.; to son, Sir John Leigh (1660-91), kt.; to son, Sir John Leigh (1681-1737), kt.; to cousins, Mary Bennett (d. 1746) and Anne Spencer (d. 1786); by an Act of Parliament in 1767 that divided the estates, Thorpe was allotted to the heirs of Mary, and came into the possession of her son, Rev. Wolley Leigh Bennett (1733-90); to son, Rev. John Leigh Bennett (1767-1835); to son, Rev. Henry Leigh Bennett (1795-1880); to son, Henry Currie Leigh-Bennett (1852-1903); to son, Henry Wolley Leigh-Bennett (1880-1951), who sold 1930 to Community of St Mary the Virgin, Wantage; sold 1974 to The American School in England.

Bennett (later Leigh-Bennett) family of Thorpe Place

Bennett, John (1698-1765). Son of John Bennett of Norwich and his wife Susan, baptised at St John, Maddermarket, Norwich, 7 August 1698. Solicitor in Aylsham (Norfk) and at Furnivall's Inn, London.  He married, 24 September 1731, Mary (c.1708-46), daughter of Wolley Leigh (1664-1715) of Hevingham (Norfk), and had issue:
(1) John Leigh Bennett (1732-72), baptised at Aylsham, 7 August 1732; probably suffered from physical or mental incapacity as he was passed over in his father's will and left only an allowance of £2 a week to be paid in cash; died unmarried and was buried at Hevingham, 11 October 1772;
(2) Rev. Wolley Leigh Bennett (1733-90) (q.v.);
(3) Mary Bennett (1735-1802), baptised at Aylsham, 5 May 1735; married, 5 October 1756 at Wroxham (Norfk), John Wace (c.1720-95) of Wroxham and the Middle Temple, but had no surviving issue; died at Bath (Som.) and was buried at Charlcombe (Som.), 12 April 1802; will proved 28 April 1802; 
(4) Rev. Thomas Leigh Bennett (1736-97) (q.v.); 
(5) William Bennett (1738-39), baptised at Aylsham, 26 June 1738; died in infancy and was buried at Hevingham, 31 October? 1739;
(6) Elizabeth Bennett (b. 1744), baptised at Aylsham, 2 September 1744; married, 12 December 1768 at Wroxham (Norfk), Silvester Richmond (c.1753-93) of Acomb (Yorks); living in 1795 but death not traced.
He lived at Aylsham (Norfk) at the time of his marriage. His wife was found to be the co-heir (with her sister, Anne Spencer (d. 1786)) of Sir John Leigh (d. 1737), kt., and in her right he inherited a moiety of the Leigh estates in Addington and Thorpe (Surrey), East Wickham (Kent) and Stanwell (Middx).
He died 12 June 1765 and was buried at Hevingham, 22 June 1765; his will was proved in the PCC, 15 June 1765. His wife died 1 October 1746 and was buried at Hevingham, 6 October 1746.

Bennett, Rev. Thomas Leigh (1736-97). Third son of John Bennett (1698-1765) of Aylsham (Norfk) and his wife Mary, daughter of Wolley Leigh of Hevingham (Norfk), baptised at Aylsham, 2 November 1736. Articled clerk to his father, 1753, but there seems to be no evidence that he practised law. He seems instead to have become an entrepreneur or investor in the London entertainment industry, being a shareholder in Ranelagh Gardens from 1771, the Pantheon in Oxford St., London from 1781 and the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane, from 1775. In later life he took holy orders and was curate at Thorpe, 1783 and vicar of Long Sutton, 1784-97, where he rebuilt the vicarage (now Seagate Hall) in the 1780s. He married, 11 April 1764 at St Clement Dane, Westminster (Middx), Grace (1746-97), daughter of Thomas Horne of Enfield (Middx), and had issue:
(1) Martha Leigh Bennett (1765-1808), born 17 October and baptised at Aylsham, 22 October 1765; married, 2 December 1783 at Thorpe, Rev. Morton Rockcliff (1752-85) of Woodford (Essex) and later of Littleton-on-Thames (Middx), son of Moreton Rockcliff, and had issue one daughter; died at Woodford, 6 April and was buried at Thorpe, 13 April 1808;
(2) Mary Barbara Bennett (1767-1849), born 22 February and baptised at St Giles-in-the-Fields, Holborn (Middx), 21 March 1767; died unmarried and was buried at Thorpe, 23 January 1849; will proved in the PCC, 17 February 1849;
(3) Harriet Eliza Bennett (1770-1846), born 26 February 1770 and baptised at Thorpe, 21 June 1772; married 31 March 1792 at St George, Hanover Sq., Westminster (Middx), her first cousin, Rev. John Leigh Bennett [for whom see below] and had issue four sons and one daughter; died 11 December and was buried at Thorpe, 18 December 1846
(4) Caroline Bennett (1774-1858), born 31 March and baptised at St Anne, Soho, Westminster, 12 May 1774; died unmarried, 11 January 1858; will proved 2 February 1858 (effects under £12,000);
(5) Rev. Thomas Leigh Bennett (1775-1844), born 14 July 1775; educated at Eton and Christ's College, Cambridge (matriculated 1794; BA 1797; MA 1802); ordained deacon, 1800 and priest, 1801; rector of Allexton (Leics), 1802-14 and Skeffington (Leics), 1802-16; vicar of Nettlebed and Pishill (Oxon), 1814-43; vicar of Long Sutton, 1816-43; married, 21 August 1816 at St George, Hanover Sq., Westminster, Frances (d. 1850), daughter of Francis Willock; died at Highmoor Hall, Nettlebed (Oxon), 12 December 1844 and was buried at Thorpe, where he is commemorated by a monument; will proved in the PCC, 25 February 1845.
He lived in London, initially in Soho Square and later in Mayfair until in the 1780s he moved to the new vicarage at Long Sutton.
He died 30 May and was buried at Thorpe, 6 June 1797; his will was proved in the PCC, 13 June 1797. His wife was buried at Thorpe, 16 May 1797.

Bennett, Rev. Wolley Leigh (1733-90). Second son but principal heir of John Bennett (1698-1765) of Aylsham (Norfk) and his wife Mary, daughter of Wolley Leigh of Hevingham (Norfk), baptised at Aylsham, 31 July 1733. Educated at Hertford College, Oxford (matriculated 1752; BA 1756). Ordained deacon, 1757 and priest, 1758. Rector of Hevingham, 1758-87 and of Finmere (Oxon), 1788-90; domestic chaplain to Richard Grenville-Temple (1711-79), 2nd Earl Temple and George Nugent-Temple-Grenville (1753-1813), 1st Marquess of Buckingham, 1779-84. He married, 6 December 1765 at Stratton Audley (Oxon), Rachel (1744-1813), daughter of Richard Capps of Cawston (Norfk), and had issue:
(1) Rev. John Leigh Bennett (1767-1835) (q.v.);
(2) Mary Leigh Bennett (1769-1841), baptised at Broadwell (Glos), 7 July 1769; married, 18 July 1792 at Buckingham (Bucks), Rev. William Dickins (c.1765-1801) of Cherington (Warks), vicar of Long Sutton, 1797-1801, son of Anthony Dickins of Westminster, and had issue one son and three daughters; died at Elwick Hall (Co. Durham), 21 April 1841 and was buried at Elwick;
(3) Eliza Leigh Bennett (1772-1851), baptised at Broadwell, 2 April 1772; died unmarried and was buried at Brompton Cemetery (Middx), 15 March 1851; will proved in the PCC, 7 July 1851;
(4) Rev. Wolley Leigh Bennett (1774-1839), baptised at Finmere (Oxon), 8 September 1774; educated at Merton College, Oxford (matriculated 1794; BA 1797; MA 1808); ordained deacon and priest, 1798; rector of Foscote (Bucks), 1802-19 and Water Stratford (Bucks), 1818-39; married, 1810 at Cork (Co. Cork), Margaret (1778-1866), daughter of Rev. William S. King, and had issue at least two sons and five daughters; died 21 February 1839 and was buried at Water Stratford; will proved in the PCC, 6 May 1839.
By the Act of Parliament (7 Geo III c. 57) of 1767 which partitioned the estates of Mary and Anne Leigh, he came into possession of the Thorpe Place estate in 1768.
He was buried at Finmere, 22 July 1790. His widow died at Buckingham, 25 June, and was buried at Finmere, 2 July 1813.

Bennett, Rev. John Leigh (1767-1835). Elder son of Rev. Wolley Leigh Bennett (1733-90) and his wife Rachel Capps, baptised at Stow-on-the-Wold (Glos), 12 June 1767. Educated at Brasenose College, Oxford (matriculated 1787; BA 1790; MA 1796). Ordained deacon, 1791 and priest, 1792. Vicar of Lechlade (Glos), 1795-1809 and Thorpe, 1806-35.  He married, 31 March 1792 at St George, Hanover Sq., Westminster (Middx), his first cousin, Harriet Eliza (1770-1846), third daughter of Rev. Thomas Leigh Bennett of London, and had issue:
(1) John Leigh Bennett (1794-1832), baptised at Finmere (Oxon), 15 March 1794; educated at Exeter College, Oxford (matriculated 1812); an officer in the Royal Eastern Middlesex Regiment of Militia (Capt., 1814); died without issue at Orleans (France), 25 January 1832;
(2) Rev. Henry Leigh Bennett (1795-1880) (q.v.);
(3) Mary Anne Bennett (1797-1864), baptised at St Marylebone (Middx), 10 February 1797; married, 17 August 1824 at Thorpe, Rt. Hon. Sir Richard Torin Kindersley (1792-1879), kt., barrister-at-law and later a master in chancery and one of the vice-chancellors, 1851-66, eldest son of Nathaniel Edward Kindersley of Sunninghill (Berks), and had issue three sons and three daughters; buried at Thorpe, 2 February 1864; administration of goods granted to her husband, 30 July 1864 (effects under £4,000);
(4) Rev. Edward Leigh Bennett (1799-1886), born 8 November and baptised at Thorpe, 18 December 1799; educated at Merton College, Oxford (matriculated 1817; BA 1821); ordained deacon, 1823 and priest, 1824; curate at Lechlade, 1823-32; vicar of Lechlade, 1832-43 and of Long Sutton (Lincs), 1843-86; JP for Lincolnshire; married 1st, 11 May 1826 at Wroughton (Wilts), Ellinor (1799-1842), daughter of William Codrington (1753-1802) of Wroughton, and had issue two sons; married 2nd, 19 September 1843 at Kempsford (Glos), Anne Hudson (1812-96), daughter of Rev. Thomas Huntingford (c.1783-1855) of Kempsford, and had further issue three sons and one daughter; died 9 November and was buried at Long Sutton, 13 November 1886; will proved 12 January 1887 (effects £8,763);
(5) Frederick Leigh Bennett (1801-35), born 2 July and baptised at Thorpe, 12 September 1801; probably the man of this name who was a flax merchant at Kingston-upon-Hull, initially in partnership with John Berthelot until 1828; died unmarried, 1 June, and was buried at Thorpe, 8 June 1835.
He inherited the Thorpe Place estate in 1790 and probably rebuilt the house in 1806-09.
He died 27 April and was buried at Thorpe, 4 May 1835; his will was proved in the PCC, 26 May 1835. His widow died 11 December and was buried at Thorpe, 18 December 1846.

Bennett, Rev. Henry Leigh (1795-1880). Second, but eldest surviving, son of Rev. John Leigh Bennett (1767-1835) and his wife Harriet Eliza, daughter of Rev. Thomas Leigh Bennett, born 17 May? and baptised at St George, Hanover Sq., Westminster (Middx), 16 June 1795. Educated at Christ Church, Oxford (matriculated 1812; BA 1817; MA 1819). Ordained deacon, 1818 and priest, 1819. Rector of Croughton (Northants), 1823-49 and vicar of Thorpe, 1849-74. JP for Northamptonshire. He married, 11 September 1845 at Sunninghill (Berks), Caroline (c.1816-98), second daughter of George Henry Crutchley of Sunninghill Park, and had issue (with another daughter, stillborn in 1846):
(1) Grace Leigh Bennett (1848-52), born 3 May and baptised at Thorpe, 25 June 1848; died young and was buried at Thorpe, 4 August 1852;
(2) Julia Leigh Bennett (b. & d. 1849), born 23 July and baptised at Thorpe, 26 August 1849; died in infancy at Brighton, 8 September, and was buried at Thorpe, 13 September 1849;
(3) Mary Leigh Bennett (1851-1926), born 12 February and baptised at Thorpe, 28 March 1851; married, 1 August 1877 at Thorpe, Marmaduke Head Best (1847-1912) of Donnington Grove (Berks), son of Head Pottinger Best (1808-87), but died without issue, 11 April 1926; will proved 6 July 1926 (estate £157,508);
(4) Henry Currie Leigh Bennett (1852-1903) (q.v.);
(5) Herbert James Leigh Bennett (1854-1928), born 25 July and baptised at Thorpe, 24 August 1854; educated at Jesus College, Cambridge (admitted 1872); married 1st, 19 July 1877 at Christ Church, Paddington (Middx), Charlotte Maxwell (1858-81), daughter of Thomas Miller Mackay, and 2nd, 20 July 1882 at St Patrick, Hove (Sussex), Beatrice Honora (1857-1947), eldest daughter of Col. Sir George Francis Coventry Pocock (1830-1915), 3rd bt. and had issue four sons and three daughters; died 30 November 1928; will proved 27 February 1929 (estate £5,604).
He inherited the Thorpe Place estate from his father in 1835. His widow lived latterly with her daughter at Donnington Grove.
He died 31 August and was buried at Thorpe, 4 September 1880; his will was proved 3 November 1880 (effects under £12,000). His widow died 4 June and was buried at Thorpe, 8 June 1898; her will was proved 16 August 1898 (estate £8,196).

Henry Currie Leigh-Bennett (1852-1903) 
Leigh-Bennett, Henry Currie (1852-1903).
Elder son of Rev. Henry Leigh Bennett (1795-1880) and his wife Caroline, second daughter of George Henry Crutchley of Sunninghill Park (Berks), born 25 July and baptised at Thorpe, 5 September 1852. Educated at Winchester, New College, Oxford (matriculated 1871; BA 1875) and the Inner Temple (admitted 1874; called 1878). Barrister-at-law on the Oxford circuit. DL and JP for Surrey (Deputy Chairman of Quarter Sessions); a member of Surrey County Council, 1889-1903; Chairman of Chertsey Rural District Council. Conservative MP for Chertsey, 1897-1903. A director of the London & South-Western Railway. Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. He took the name Leigh-Bennett in lieu of Bennett. He married, 23 July 1878 at St Peter, Cranley Gardens, Kensington (Middx), Florence Nightingale (1856-1933), third daughter of Thomas Miller Mackay of South Kensington, and had issue:
(1) Thomas Leigh-Bennett (1879-81), born 24 April 1879; died in infancy, 16 February 1881;
(2) Henry Wolley Leigh-Bennett (1880-1951) (q.v.);
(3) Margaret Leigh-Bennett (1883-1967), born 20 September and baptised at Thorpe, 18 October 1883; married, 9 March 1911 at Thorpe, Maj. Edward Philip Carter (1882-1965), only son of Lt-Col. Edward Medley Carter, and had issue one son; lived latterly in Roehampton (Surrey); died 3 December 1967; will proved 27 March 1968 (estate £25,428);
(4) Arthur Leigh-Bennett (1885-1915), born 25 November 1885 and baptised at Thorpe, 31 January 1886; educated at Winchester and Royal Military College, Sandhurst; an officer in the Coldstream Guards (2nd Lt., 1905; Lt., 1907; Capt., 1914) who served in the First World War and was awarded the DSO and MC, and was mentioned in despatches twice; played polo, cricket and golf for his regiment; died unmarried when he was killed in action near Hulluch, 3 October 1915; will proved 25 November 1915 (estate £1,110).
He inherited the Thorpe Place estate from his father in 1880.
He died of appendicitis, 7 March, and was buried at Thorpe, 11 March 1903; will proved 3 July 1903 (estate £30,494). His widow died 11 April and was buried at Thorpe, 15 April 1933; will proved 23 June 1933 (estate £988).

Leigh-Bennett, Henry Wolley (1880-1951). Second, but eldest surviving, son of Henry Currie Leigh-Bennett (1852-1903) and his wife Florence Nightingale, third daughter of Thomas Miller Mackay of South Kensington (Middx), born 30 August and baptised at Thorpe, 3 October 1880. Educated at Winchester, New College, Oxford (matriculated 1899; BA 1902) and the Inner Temple (admitted 1902; called 1906). Barrister-at-law. He served as an officer in the Coldstream Guards (Lt., 1916) in the First World War. Employed as a land agent by Lord St. Levan at Devonport (Devon). He was a freemason from 1899. In 1913 he had royal licence to continue the use of the name Leigh-Bennett in lieu of Bennett which his father had adopted. He married, 29 October 1907 at St Peter, Eaton Sq., Westminster (Middx), Elma Rose (1886-1969), youngest daughter of Cdr. George Edward Price RN, and had issue:
(1) Barbara Leigh-Bennett (1908-99), born 14 November and baptised at Devonport, 15 December 1908; married, 22 November 1937 at St Paul, Knightsbridge (Middx), Lt-Cdr. Hon. Peter Cuthbert Carew RN (1908-80) of Croft House, Gt. Bealings (Suffk), youngest son of Gerald Shapland Carew (1860-1927), 5th Baron Carew, and had issue two sons and one daughter; died 18 January 1999 and was buried at Great Bealings; will proved 11 August 1999;
(2) Diana Mary Leigh-Bennett (1911-84), born 15 February 1911; married, 10 July 1935, as his second wife, Ernest Augustus Ingram (1892-1954), son of Ernest John Ingram, and had issue one daughter; died 7 October 1984; will proved 21 Feburary 1985 (estate £349,817);
(3) Julia Leigh-Bennett (1912-2003), born 2 November and baptised at Devonport (Devon), 18 December 1912; married 1st, 19 July 1947, Patrick Guy Gathorne-Hardy (1911-66) of Greys End, Rotherfield Greys (Oxon), banker, son of Lt-Col. Hon. Nigel Charles Gathorne-Hardy DSO, and 2nd, 29 May 1974, Col. Edward C. Croft (1910-99); died 19 June 2003; will proved 29 March 2004;
(4) Arthur John Leigh-Bennett (1919-23), born 28 November 1919; died young at Devonport, 25 February 1923;
(5) Elizabeth Anne Leigh-Bennett (1925-2009), born 7 August 1925; married, 26 June 1948, Vice-Adm. Sir Stephen Ferrier Berthon RN (1922-2007) of Deddington (Oxon), only son of Rear-Adm. E.C.P. Berthon CB of Crapstone House, Buckland Monarchorum (Devon) and had issue two sons and two daughters; died 19 April 2009; will proved 27 August 2009.
He inherited the Thorpe Place estate from his father in 1903 and Donnington Grove (Berks) from his aunt, Mary Leigh Best, in 1926. He dispersed the estate at Thorpe Place through sales in 1919 and 1921, sold the house in 1930, and gave the advowson to Keble College, Oxford in 1932. He sold Donnington Grove in 1936, and lived latterly at addresses near Newbury (Berks).
He died 17 June 1951; his will was proved 30 October 1951 (estate £126,116). His widow died 31 July 1969.

Principal sources

Burke's Landed Gentry, 1952, pp. 157-58; G. Leveson-Gower, Notices of the family of Leigh of Addington, 1878; VCH Surrey, vol. 3, 1911, pp. 437-40; C. O'Brien, I. Nairn & B. Cherry, The buildings of England: Surrey, 3rd edn., 2022, p. 679.

Location of archives

Leigh-Bennett family of Thorpe Place: deeds, manorial, estate and family papers, genealogical records and photograph albums, 12th cent.-1950 [Surrey History Centre 2609, 2675, 7624, 10204]; Norfolk estate deeds and papers, 1659-1799 [Norfolk Record Office, MC 2495]

Coat of arms

Quarterly, 1st and 4th, azure, three demi-lions rampant, argent, on a chief argent three hurts; 2nd and 3rd, or, on a chevron sable, three lions rampant, argent.

Can you help?

  • Can anyone provide photographs or portraits of the people whose names appear in bold above, for whom no image is currently shown?
  • If anyone can offer further information or corrections to any part of this article I should be most grateful. I am always particularly pleased to hear from current owners or the descendants of families associated with a property who can supply information from their own research or personal knowledge for inclusion.

Revision and acknowledgements

This post was first published 15 November 2023 and updated 29 November 2023 and 1 January 2024. I am grateful to Sophie Waterhouse for a correction.

Saturday 11 November 2023

(563) Bennett of Thomastown Park

Bennett of Thomastown Park 
The Bennetts of Thomastown were yet another family using the same coat of arms as the Earls of Tankerville and other English Bennet or Bennett families. It seems possible that they were closely connected with the Bennetts of North Cadbury Court, since both families were in the wine trade in the 18th century, but this is far from certain, and the fact that the Bennetts of Thomastown were Roman Catholics may be evidence to the contrary. The story of the family really begins with Thomas Bennett (d. 1795), who seems to have been a wine merchant in Dublin, and who purchased the Ballyvonine estate in King's County (now Co. Offaly) before 1784, changing its name to Thomastown. Thomas died without issue and his estate passed to his younger brother, Francis Bennett (d. 1800), who was also a Dublin merchant. Francis did not marry until 1787, and at his death left a young widow, who survived to 1845, one son, and two daughters, several other sons having died in infancy. The surviving son, Valentine Bennett (d. 1839), was educated at Stonyhurst, but by 1813 he was back in Ireland and had joined the King's County militia. In 1820 he spent several weeks touring south-west France, but his diary of his travels does not explain the purpose of his journey. Since he is not known to have had any mercantile occupation, it seems unlikely that he was there on business, and since he was constantly on the move it is unlikely to have been motivated by financial retrenchment; it was probably a simple holiday. He married in 1824 and he and his wife produced seven sons and one daughter (who died in infancy). Three of his younger sons became Roman Catholic priests in the Liverpool area, and two more joined the army. Of these, Col. George Henry Bennett (1827-67) enjoyed very rapid promotion during the Crimean War, rising from Ensign to Lieutenant-Colonel in less than eight years. His brother, Valentine Francis Bennett (1828-55) was less fortunate, being killed at Sebastopol. The heir to the Thomastown estate was the eldest son, Francis Valentine Bennett (1826-90), who was educated at Oscott College in Birmingham, and then studied estate management with his late father's agent, George Garvey. Garvey, who was agent for the Birr Castle estate and several nearby properties, was known for his harsh dealing with estate tenants, and Francis and his brother Frederick Philip Bennett (1830-1905), who also studied under Garvey and became his brother's agent, seem to have adopted a similar approach. When Francis died in 1890 Frederick succeeded him, but since none of the seven brothers ever married, on his death in 1905 he bequeathed the estate to his cousin, Valentine John Eustace Ryan (1882-1947), desiring him to take the name Bennett in lieu of Ryan. Ryan declined to change his name but accepted the estate, which he in turn passed on his son, Group Capt. Richard S. Ryan, who sold it in 1951, when he was about to take up an overseas posting.

Thomastown Park, Co. Offaly

For what was once quite a significant landed estate, remarkably little can be said with any confidence about the history of Thomastown Park. Burke's Visitation of Seats and Arms gives the fullest account of the house, saying

"There is an old castle upon this estate: this was besieged and reduced to ruins by Cromwell's army, which seems to have swept over the land with all the destructive violence of lava from a volcano. Many curious reliques have been, from time to time, picked up amongst the mouldering and disjointed fragments. The present mansion was built in the year 1730, by Mr. Leggat, and stands in the centre of a well-wooded park, commanding a fineview of some distant mountains. The grounds are much celebrated for the beauty of their walks and drives."

Unfortunately, the site of the castle is not recorded on the 1st edition Ordnance Survey map, so its very existence cannot be confirmed. 

Thomastown Park, Co. Offaly: the entrance front in 1951. Image: Country Life.
A photograph of the Georgian house published when it was for sale in 1951, which appears to be the only known visual record of the building, shows that the it was a five-bay, two-storey block with the wider central bay having a projecting single-storey porch with narrow niches to either side and similar features flanking the first-floor window. A single dormer window in the centre of the roof enhanced the emphasis on the centre. To the left of the house and recessed by almost its entire depth was a two-bay block labelled on the Ordnance Survey map as a private chapel. The elegant and carefully planted walks and drives referred to by Burke can also be identified on the Ordnance Survey map, which shows the surviving, minimally Gothic, lodge at the main entrance, and another, now lost, on the western approach. Also surviving today are the dilapidated remains of a gatescreen of c.1800, comprised of shallow quadrant walls, flanking a pair of tall ashlar gatepiers with simple iron gates.

Descent: [forename unknown] Leggat (fl. c.1730)...sold before 1784 to Thomas Bennett (d. 1795); to brother, Francis Bennett (d. 1800); to son, Valentine Bennett (d. 1839); to son, Francis Valentine Bennett (1826-90); to brother, Frederick Philip Bennett (1830-1905); to kinsman, Valentine John Eustace Ryan (1882-1947); to son, Group Capt. Richard S. Ryan (fl. 1951), who sold 1951...

Bennett family of Thomastown Park

Bennett, Nicholas. Parentage unknown. He married Mabel O'Kelly from Co. Roscommon, and had issue:
(1) Thomas Bennett (d. 1795); probably the man of this name who was a wine merchant in Dublin; acquired the Thomastown Park estate before 1784 and gave it his name; died unmarried; will proved, 1795;
(2) Francis Bennett (d. 1800) (q.v.);
(3) Mabel Clare Bennett; married, 1776, as his second wife, John Ball (1728-1804), of Dublin, silk manufacturer, and had issue one son (Rt. Hon. Nicholas Ball, justice of common pleas) and four daughters; living in 1821 but death not traced;
(4) Anne Bennett; living in 1804; died unmarried.
His date of death is unknown. His wife's date of death is unknown.

Bennett, Francis (d. 1800). Second son of Nicholas Bennett and his wife Mabel O'Kelly, of Co. Roscommon. He was evidently the merchant in Dublin of this name whose shop and warehouse were looted by rioters in 1779. He married, April 1787 in Dublin, Elizabeth Laffin (c.1758-1845) of Co. Kilkenny, and had issue:
(1) Thomas Bennett; died young;
(2) Nicholas Bennett; died young;
(3) Francis Bennett; died young;
(4) James Bennett; died young;
(5) Valentine Bennett (d. 1839) (q.v.);
(6) Mary Catherine Bennett (c.1796-1893), born about 1796; married, 1817, Lt-Col. Henry Peisley L'Estrange (1793-1847) of Moystown (Co. Offaly), and had issue at least nine sons and three daughters; died in Norwich (Norfk), 20 December 1893; will proved 6 January 1894 (effects £142);
(7) Elizabeth Emily Bennett (c.1800-85); married, January 1820, John Farrell (1784-1870) of Moynalty (Co. Meath) and had issue three sons and one daughter; died 22 September 1885; will proved 21 October 1885 (effects £9,199).
He lived at Usher's Quay in Dublin until he inherited the Thomastown estate from his elder brother in 1795.
He died in 1800; his will was proved 8 March 1800. His widow died in Dublin, 23 September 1845.

Bennett, Valentine (d. 1839). Fifth?, but only surviving, son of Francis Bennett (d. 1800) and his wife Elizabeth Laffin. Educated at Stonyhurst. Adjutant of the Kings County Militia, 1813. JP and DL for King's County; High Sheriff of King's County, 1830. In 1820 he spent two months travelling in south-west France, but the purpose of his journey is uncertain. He married, 7 January 1824, Elizabeth Helen (d. 1863), daughter of George Ryan of Inch House (Co. Tipperary), and had issue:
(1) Francis Valentine Bennett (1826-90) (q.v.);
(2) George Henry Bennett (1827-67), baptised at Eglish (Co. Offaly), 1 April 1827; an officer in 20th Foot (Ensign, 1846; Lt., 1852; Capt., 1854; Maj., 1858; Lt-Col., 1859; Col., 1864); died at Little Crosby, Liverpool (Lancs), 7 November 1867; administration of goods granted 10 December 1867 (effects under £4,000);
(3) Valentine Francis Bennett (1828-55), baptised at Eglish, 3 April 1828; an officer in the 33rd Foot (Ensign, 1848; Lt., 1852); killed on the attack on the Redan at Sebastopol in the Crimea, 18 June 1855;
(4) Fr. Thomas Joseph Bennett (1829-67), baptised at Eglish, 27 May 1829; a Roman Catholic priest; canon of Liverpool RC Cathedral; died 'of a malignant fever', 10 January 1867; administration of goods granted 21 February 1867 (effects under £300);
(5) Frederick Philip Bennett (1830-1905) (q.v.);
(6) Fr. Henry Grey Bennett (1832-87), born 31 January 1832; a Roman Catholic priest at Little Crosby (Lancs), 1863-87 and canon of Liverpool RC Cathedral, 1878-87; died 11 May 1887; will proved 20 August 1887 (effects £2,097);
(7) Elizabeth Marian Bennett (d. 1833); died young, 1833;
(8) Fr. Albert Augustus Bennett (c.1839-1902), born posthumously and baptised at Eglish, 11 August 1839; a Roman Catholic priest; founder and rector of St Thomas of Canterbury, Waterloo R.C. parish near Liverpool, c.1869-1902; died 27 June 1902; will proved 25 July 1902 (estate £4,227).
He inherited Thomastown Park from his father in 1800. At his death the estate encompassed some 5,322 acres.
He died at Thomastown, 23/25 May 1839; his will was proved in the Prerogative Court of Dublin, 18 July 1839. His widow died in Dublin, 1 March, and was buried at Meelick (Co. Galway), 5 March 1863; administration of her goods was granted 23 April 1863 (effects under £1,000).

Bennett, Francis Valentine (1826-90). Eldest son of Valentine Bennett (d. 1839) and his wife Elizabeth Helen, daughter of George Ryan of Inch House (Co. Tipperary), born 28 January/4 February 1826. Educated at Oscott College and trained in estate management by George Garvey, agent to his father and other estates. Walford's County Families, (1871), says he was 'formerly an officer in the army', but I have found no evidence to support this. JP and DL for Co. Offaly; High Sheriff of Co. Offaly, 1854. He was a Conservative in politics, and served as Vice-President of the King's County Unionist Association. He seems to have been a rather prickly customer, exemplified by the comment of one of the Guardians of the Poor for the Parsonstown Union that he had 'made a generous offer in an ungraceful manner'. He was unmarried and without issue.
He inherited Thomastown Park from his father in 1839 and came of age in 1847.
He died 27 September 1890; his will was proved 12 November 1890 (effects £2,797).

Bennett, Frederick Philip (1830-1905). Fifth son of Valentine Bennett (d. 1839) and his wife Elizabeth Helen, daughter of George Ryan of Inch House (Co. Tipperary), born 25 July 1830. Trained in estate management by George Garvey and acted as land agent to his brother at Thomastown before he inherited the estate. JP and DL for Co. Offaly; High Sheriff of Co. Offaly, 1895. He was unmarried and had no issue.
He inherited Thomastown Park from his elder brother in 1890. At his death he bequeathed it to his cousin, Valentine John Eustace Ryan (1882-1947).
He died in Monaco, 4 April 1905; his will was proved 18 August 1905 (estate £4,699). 

Principal sources

Burke's Landed Gentry of Ireland, 1904, pp. 33-34; Sir B. Burke, Visitation of Seats and Arms, series II, vol. 2, 1855, p.7; C.J. Reilly, 'Land agents and estate management in King's County during the Great Famine, 1838-53' PhD thesis, National University of Ireland, Maynooth, 2010; J.A.K. Dean, The gate lodges of Leinster, 2016, p. 324.

Location of archives

Bennett of Thomastown Park: misc. family papers, 1795-1905 [University College, Cork, Boole Library BL/EP/R/3/1]

Coat of arms

Gules, a bezant between three demi-lions rampant argent.

Can you help?

  • Does anyone know more about the ownership history of Thomastown before 1784 or after 1951, or exactly when the house was pulled down? Any further photographs or paintings of the house would also be of great interest.
  • Can anyone provide photographs or portraits of the people whose names appear in bold above, for whom no image is currently shown?
  • If anyone can offer further information or corrections to any part of this article I should be most grateful. I am always particularly pleased to hear from current owners or the descendants of families associated with a property who can supply information from their own research or personal knowledge for inclusion.

Revision and acknowledgements

This post was first published 11 November 2023.