Benson Local Government

Manor Courts & Officers
Benson Manors Court or ‘Hallmoot’ was mentioned in Henry II’s Reign,  when (as later) Sessions were probably held every 3 weeks for Tenants in Benson and other Parishes. By the 13thC the Tithingmen of Benson, Warborough, Shillingford, and (probably) Nettlebed all made Presentments there, Court Business including Debt & Trespass Cases, Brewing Offences, Blocked Ditches, and collection of Manorial Dues. A separate View of Frankpledge was attended annually by the Tithingmen of Benson, Warborough, Shillingford, Nettlebed, Up Holcombe (in Newington), and Northfield End in Henley, who reported similar Offences including Assault & Excessive Mill Tolls, and paid Certainty Money. By the 16thC the Courts Baron met possibly only twice a year but, with the Views, fulfilled similar functions to earlier, including (in 1545) Fining 3-men for illegal Card Games. By then Benson had 2 Constables & 2 Tithingmen who doubled as Ale Tasters, together with 2 or more Affeerers (Fine Moderators).

Courts continued following the Manors Sale in 1628 by Charles l, Meeting usually once or twice a year and dealing with Copyholds (mostly in Warborough), Encroachments, & (until c.1700) Field Orders. Leet Jurisdiction (including collection of Certainty Money) was retained by the Crown, until in 1778 a Court of Survey held by the Stapletons re-asserted their Right to a twice-yearly View of Frankpledge and to Jurisdiction over the Manors Ancient Members of Warborough, Shillingford, Nettlebed, & Northfield End.  Thereafter irregular Courts Leet or Views were held alongside the more regular Courts Baron, appointing Officers for all those Places and Dealing with Encroachments, Quitrents & (until Inclosure) Field Regulation. Courts met at leading Benson Inns, with occasional Sessions at Warborough or Shillingford, while Benson Officers appointed at the View included 2 Constables, 2 Tithingmen & a Hayward. No Views were recorded after 1842, but nominal Courts to ratify Copyhold Transfers continued until Copyholds Abolition in the 1920s.  Separate Courts & Views for Crowmarsh Battle Manor reflected privileges Granted by William I, and in the 14thC met at least twice a year.  In the 1630s an annual View & Court Baron dealt with Copyholds, Blocked Ditches, Field Orders, and (in 1635) repair of the Stocks, electing a Constable, Tithingman, and 2 Affeerers.  

Most such Offices probably lapsed soon after, when the Manor was Inclosed.  Lords of Fifield owed Suit to Dorchester Hundreds 3-weekly Court in 1279, though in the 1620s the Lord claimed his own Court Leet & Court Baron, perhaps reflecting earlier practice.  Roke Tenants presumably attended the relevant Manor Courts at Benson, Ewelme, or Chalgrove, and by the 16thC Roke’s Tithingman attended the Ewelme View of Frankpledge.  In 1564 a Lessee of Turners Court was to entertain the Queens Officers if they came to hold Courts or make a Survey, though none are recorded.

Parish Government & Officers
Benson’s Vestry (mentioned Intermittently from the early 17thC)  appointed the usual Parish Officers, including (by the 1550s) 2 Churchwardens and a Parish Clerk, by 1635 2 Overseers of the Poor, and occasionally 2 Sidesmen.   Other Officers included Constables for Benson & Crowmarsh Battle (mentioned sporadically from the 1660s),  Surveyors of Highways, a Cowherd & Field Keepers Overseeing the Shared Fields.  As elsewhere the Vestry passed Accounts, and Oversaw Poor Relief & Church Repairs; by the time of the earliest surviving Vestry Book in 1842 it also set Rates, nominated Constables & Overseers to the Magistrates, and regulated Footpaths, appointing separate Waywardens for Benson & Preston Crowmarsh. Meetings were sometimes held several times a year, usually in the Vestry Room or Major Inns and later in the National School. Minutes were occasionally signed by over 20 people, but more commonly by only a handful of leading Inhabitants including the Curate & Parish Officers.  By 1849 the Constables were assisted by a Resident Police Constable, and a Police Sergeant lived in Roke in 1903

1750 Newsham Estate Pumper

Parish Property comprised the 57-a. Church Estate (including Cottages on Brook Street), which was managed by Feoffees overseen by the Vestry and Perpetual Curate.  An additional 10 a. of Poor Allotments and a 4-a. Recreation Ground were Vested in the Churchwardens & Overseers at Inclosure in 1863, although Allotment Wardens were already being appointed by 1854.  A Parish Fire Engine (bought in 1744) was housed by 1820 in a Shed on a Plot of Parish Land adjoining the White Hart. The Vestry appointed Local men to maintain it, and from 1892 retained a Brigade of 8-Volunteers at 5s a week. The Engine was used in neighbouring Villages as well as Benson, but in 1928 it was retired and moved to Barns at Crowmarsh Battle, where it was rescued for renovation in the 1980s. In 1907 the Engine House doubled as a Mortuary.

Castle Square early 20thC, showing the White Hart (left, with adjacent Fire Engine Shed), the Castle Inn Beyond.

Under the 1894 Local Government Act the Vestry was succeeded by a Parish Council with reduced Powers, which in 2015 retained responsibility for the Parish & Youth Halls, Allotments & Recreational areas. The Parish itself was transferred in 1894 from Wallingford Poor Law Union & Rural Sanitary District to the new Crowmarsh Rural District, passing to Bullingdon Rural District in 1932 and to the new South Oxfordshire District in 1974. Two Churchwardens continued in 2014.