Welcome to

John Benson was born in 1877 at Wyke Regis, Dorset, the second son of Rev William John Benson, and the last male member of the Witheridge family. He was educated at Christ's Hospital and Selwyn College, Cambridge, where he obtained his M.A. degree, but rather than take holy orders, he became a schoolmaster for several years. In about 1906, he became tutor to the young son of a wealthy couple, who travelled much in Europe. He held this post for eight years, visiting many countries including Russia. Among the rewards he received for his work was a set of Faberge eggs, made of gold and encrusted with diamonds and other precious stones.

He came back to England before the 1914-18 war, but failed the necessary medical examination for service in the forces. In the early 1920s, he taught at Dartington Hall in the first years of its foundation in 1925, and later at Canford School. He had an engaging manner, and was popular with his pupils, but a legacy received in 1929 allowed him to retire at the age of 52, and to devote his energies to historical studies, which had long attracted his attention.

He moved to Foxdon upon his retirement, almost certainly because of his family connection with Witheridge and the surrounding district, and he was to remain here for the remaining 30+ years of his life. He lived in Foxdon until the early 1950s, at which time he had the house known as 'Moorview' built at the top of the village, and it was here that he died in 1961 at the age of 84.

In his own style, industriously, but without any apparent rush, John Benson began to accumulate documents covering his chosen subjects, and then, after sorting out all the data, he would pass them on to private correspondents or to chosen periodicals such as the "Devon and Cornwall Notes and Queries". This soon became his favourite platform for answering questions of a most varied nature, so much so, that between 1932 and 1959 he contributed nearly 200 items to that quarterly review. Many writers of important articles acknowledged his name, but he himself avoided the limelight

Although much of this did not touch Witheridge; nevertheless, he added appreciably to our knowledge of the manor, the church, and local families. His permanent contribution to the history of Devon and other counties is in the numerous manuscripts he so carefully compiled during the years of his retirement. He was, and remained, unmarried.

An explanation of his wide diversity of interests is best described in his own words, taken from a note by John Benson on page 1 of the index volume to his Devon Note Books, and to which Dom John Stephan refers in his tribute.

"My Devon Note Books were originally started on a hunt for Melhuish and Pulman. I then got intrigued with the history of Northam Manor and my own Benson connection with Devon. Then the history of Dartington entailing the Champernowne Pedigree and that of the Martins, the Audleys and Hollands, and the cross connections of these families led to a general interest in Devon genealogy.

Witheridge and the Hundred was another main interest. Then my connection with Devon and Cornwall Notes and Queries, and the need for papers for it still further widened my researches, and my Note Books became the depository of draft papers.

Apart from material on the subjects he mentioned above, John Benson also gathered together notes and extracts relating to the families of Champernowne, Dennys of Orleigh, Ferrers, Shortrudge, Hogg, Husband, Dabernon, De Moelys, Valletort, Peverells, Martin, Wrey, Melhuish of Witheridge and Northam, Giffard (chiefly correspondence with the Earl of Halesbury), Downe, Pulman and de Tracy.

In the latter years, much of his material was presented to a variety of bodies, but mainly the Devonshire Association, thereby insuring that his work would remain a permanent contribution to the rich history of Devon. In his address to the meeting of the parochial section of the Devonshire Association, held at the Devon Institution in Exeter shortly after his death, the Chairman referred to John Benson as one who "for many years had been one of the most distinguished members of the Association, and one to whom the Devon county is deeply indebted for much valuable work of a lasting nature".

After his death in 1961, a tribute praising his scholarship, his work for students and his generosity in sharing his learning appeared.

Acknowledgement: Tribute "Many Students will thank John Benson" by Dom John Stephan OSB

Previous      Go to Top      Home       Text Version      Next Page

Last Edited 03/07/2006    Copyright © 2000-2006 Witheridge

Unless otherwise indicated on the page in question, the photographic images reproduced on this site belong to the Witheridge Archives, and, as such may not be reproduced for commercial purposes without written permission. However, you are welcome to use any of the photographs belonging to the archive for personal and/or non-commercial use. Any material shown as not being owned by the archive may not be reproduced in any form without first receiving written permission from the owner of the material in question.