Trades, Crafts, Shops & Inns

13thC occupational Surnames included Merchant, Soaper, Barber, Cook, Cooper, Croc (or Potter), Bodekin (dagger maker?), Cotel (cutler?), Lorimer (metal-worker), Smith & Miller, suggesting (as at Warborough) a relatively broad range of non-Agricultural Trades which probably served neighbouring Settlements.  Brewing was also common. From the 17thC Butchers, Bakers, Blacksmiths, Wheelwrights, Carpenters, Shoemakers & Tailors were recorded frequently (some of the Craftsmen & Tailors in the Hamlets),  and there was briefly some small-scale Cloth-working, with 1 or 2 Weavers and Clothworkers (including successive members of Prickett Family) noted at Roke & Preston Crowmarsh.  A Glazier mentioned in 1635 and Bricklayers from the 1670s reflected changing Architectural styles,  while Leatherworkers included a few Saddlers, Collar-makers & Glovers,  and (in 1718) a Tanner convicted of passing off Deerskins as Sheepskins.  Even so Benson’s Inhabitants turned for some Goods to Dorchester, Wallingford, Chalgrove, or Nettlebed,  and none of the Parish’s Craftsmen was particularly Wealthy. Some 17thC Farmers Malted Barley on-Site, and there were a few Specialist Maltsters, although over-all production seems to have been relatively small-scale.  Inhabitants’ ancient Freedoms from Tolls and other Dues throughout England (as Tenants of Ancient Demesne) were ratified in 1588.

Benson High Street looking towards the Crown Inn

Inns existed by the 1590s, and by 1638 both the Red Lion & White Hart occupied their later Sites.  Coaching was sufficiently Lucrative by 1700 to prompt ongoing remodelling of the Principal Inns,  in particular the Red Lion (run successively by the Quelches, Bartholomews, & Kemps), the Crown (run by the Pleasants & Costards), the White Hart (run by the Turners & Shrubbs), and from the 1720s the newly opened King’s Arms, renamed the Castle before 1779. That last Inn was acquired in 1750 by the Benson Coachmaster Edward Bigg (d.1761), whose son continued the Coaching Business, but apparently left others to run the Inn itself; he also Farmed (like several other Benson Innholders) on a sizeable scale.  Coaching presumably also employed significant numbers of Ostlers, Grooms & Servants and brought additional Custom to the Village’s Blacksmiths, Wheelwrights & Harness-Makers: the Padbury Family of Harness-makers expanded into Coach Building around the mid-18thC, and another Coachmaker (William Coles) was Established by 1785, followed by others as Coaching expanded.  Other Tradesmen may have benefited indirectly, among them a Grocer, Tallow Chandler, Soap Boiler & Spirit Merchant (d.1780) who imported Tallow from London, a Chairmaker mentioned in 1774,  and other Grocers recorded from the 1770s.  Benson also had a Resident Surgeon & Apothecary and in 1826 a Clockmaker, though it lacked the Range of Services & Shops found in larger Coaching Centres such as Henley.
Davis’ Map of Oxfordshire 1797


By 1801 an estimated 39% of the Population was employed in non-Agricultural activities, and in 1841 Farmers, Farm Labourers & 3 Corn or Horse dealers accounted for slightly under half of those in work. The rest (excluding 7% with Private means) included 55 mostly Female Domestic Servants (12%, including 7-Nurses), 18 people in Building Trades (4.5%), and 10 Shoemakers (2.5%), some in the Hamlets), while Shopkeepers & Craftsmen included Butchers, Bakers, Grocers, Drapers, Tailors, Blacksmiths, Wheelwrights, and one each of Coopers, Saddlers, Harness-makers & Sawyers. A few women worked as Dressmakers, Milliners, or Laundresses and Preston Crowmarsh had 2 Basket-Makers. Specialist Maltings were run by James Tubb (from a prominent Warborough Family) at Preston Crowmarsh, and by James Burgis (Maltster & Corn Dealer) in Benson. Coach-building still employed 25 people, 6 at Albert Baileys Yards near Castle Square and others possibly at Richard Archers premises at Littleworth.  The retired Coachmaker & Landowner Thomas Powell lived in some style at Kingsford House.

Kingsford House , High Street

By 1841, Thomas Powell had made his fortune from Coachmaking and had become a very rich local Landowner. Some of his Lands in the “Common Fields of Bensington & Ewelme” had been acquired from the Estate of Richard Costar (the Oxford Coach Proprietor, who was the son of William Costar). He had also bought Land from Kitty Burford, Widow of Richard’s nephew, Edward. Thomas Powell retired to Kingsford House, High Street, which was then a fine Villa, standing in extensive Grounds, extending as far as Mill Lane. He also owned Colne House, Brook Street, where his niece, Mary Ann Corsellis lived.

There is clear evidence that even before the final Key Roads had been vacated that an element of nostalgia was developing for the Traditional mode of Travel. Concern was expressed at renowned Coachmen being thrown out of work, the whole infrastructure of Proprietors, the Posting Hotels that served them, Ancillary Trades such as Farriers, etc, all were affected by what was a Sharp Decline. That questions were asked in Parliament also hints at another factor, which Charles G Harper makes much of: many prominent, wealthy, personages, including Peers, Politicians, Military Officers, even the odd High Churchman, were keen Amateur Four In Hand Drivers who were not unknown to have ‘Taken the Ribbons’ themselves during the course of regular Journeys, even been gainfully Employed thus.

The Red Lion closed as an Inn in the early 19thC (leaving a Pub of the same name opposite), and with the collapse of Coaching in the 1840s not only the Villages Inns but its Economy as a whole suffered significant decline, bringing Poverty & Unemployment.  Some Coach-makers reportedly turned to Railway-Carriage manufacture,  but only John Bailey continued in the 1880s, and thereafter Coach-building disappeared.  Late 19thC Benson nevertheless retained a relatively wide range of Shops & Trades serving the surrounding area, including food suppliers, clothing & boot suppliers, blacksmiths, wheelwrights, and several Beer Retailers. Small-scale malting continued, and 4 Coal Merchants listed in 1876 reflect the renewed importance of the Riverside Wharf.

Castle Cafe in Benson

The Villages role as a Service Centre continued through the 20thC, reflected in an above-average number of Shops focused mainly on High Street. In 1939 there were still butchers, grocers, drapers, a newsagent & hairdresser, several builders, 6 Pubs or Inns, and a Chimney Sweep, together with Weedon BrothersCoal Business, an Agricultural Machine Owner, a Blacksmith, a Horse Slaughterers’ & Scrap-metal Business, and a Dairy. The growth of Motoring & Tourism was reflected in 3 Motor Garages and several Roadside Cafe (one by the River and the rest on the London Road), while the Crown, Castle, & White Hart Inns had found new roles as Hotels, supplemented by the Old London Road Inn at Beggarsbush Hill.  The Village retained its range of Shops & Amenities in the early 21stC, but by 1965 Motor Transport meant that 75% of the Working Population were employed outside the Village, many in Oxford (29%) and Wallingford (18%), with others in Reading, London, or the Atomic Research Laboratories at Harwell & Culham. Within the Hamlets, Roke & Rokemarsh retained a Shop and a handful of Rural Trades beyond WW1 and both (like Preston Crowmarsh) still had their own Pub, of which Roke’s continued in the early 21stC.  Benson’s Crown Inn still offered Acommodation in 2014, but the Castle closed in 1986, and the White Harc.1988.

White Hart Hotel in Benson
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Wisteria Cottage’, No.2 Brook Street (or Plough Cottage) is at the Junction
with Old London Road. (It has now been renamed Plough Cottage, because it
was once The Plough Public House.) It was built with Ragstone and Brick with
roughcast finish and a clay tile roof. This was a Beer House Known as ‘The
Plough’ until about 1865. The brick and tiled building to the west (now
extended to a modern showroom with flat roof) was a blacksmith’s shop with
two forges and active from about 1791 to the last recorded blacksmith in 1863.

Farmer’s Man Public House. The Brick Street Elevation probably replaced a ragstone Wall of the 19thC but the Main Building is 18thC with a Slate Roof, but this was most likely Thatched originally. It is recorded as a Public House from 1910 but the Owners were listed as Beer Retailers from 1864. The Cast Iron Horse Trough by the Inn Sign in the road was in regular use up to 1945

No.33 Brook Street, beyond the the Farmer’s Man was the Lamb & Flag Public House is 17thC or early-18thC. The Stone Walls of the House and adjoining Barn are rendered and coloured. The Thatched Roof is very thick and probably the Original with periodical over-Thatching and repairs over the years. In 1979 a new Overthatching was undertaken with great skill & precision with a decorative Ridge Capping.