BENYON, Benjamin (1767-1834), of Dogpole Court, Shrewsbury and Haughton Hall, Shifnal, Salop and 42 Wilton Crescent, Mdx.
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Family and Educationbap. 27 Sept. 1767, 3rd s. of Samuel Benyon (d. 8 Jan. 1791) of Whitchurch, Salop and Lydia, da. of Thomas Yate. m. 2 June 1791, Elizabeth Sankey, 3da. d. 6 Nov. 1834.
Capt. Salop vol. inf. 1803, W. Salop militia 1808.
Benyon, the youngest son of a Shropshire attorney from a well-established local family, was baptized on 27 Sept. 1767 in the Presbyterian chapel at Whitchurch, where his parents had married in 1759.1 After serving an apprenticeship with a Shrewsbury draper, Benyon and his brother Thomas set up as woollen merchants, supplying yarn to local weavers.2 Their business thrived and by the early 1790s they had accumulated some £13,000. In 1793 they were persuaded by John Marshall*, one of their suppliers, to invest £9,000 in a revolutionary flax-spinning process he had developed in Leeds. They became equal partners with him, taking a half-share of the profits, but proved to be far from the sleeping partners Marshall had envisaged, selling their business at Shrewsbury and moving to Leeds, where they soon acquired a controlling share. Against Marshall’s wishes a junior partner, Charles Bage, was commissioned to design and build a thread mill in Shrewsbury, and in 1797 Benyon returned there to help Bage manage the new concern, leaving his brother and Marshall to vie with one another for control at Leeds. On its completion the mill was hailed as ‘a very important improvement ... in the building of manufactories’ on account of its ‘fire-proof’ construction.3 Profits, however, were initially low and Marshall was keen to end the partnership, later claiming that ‘the difference of our shares was a continual source of jealousy’. In 1804, after a series of abortive compromises, Marshall bought his partners out completely. Taking plant and stock in part payment, the Benyons established new mills at the Canal Terminus in Shrewsbury and Meadow Lane in Leeds, initially in partnership with Bage.4 Both factories prospered until the 1820s, providing the Benyons with ‘ample fortunes’. The Shrewsbury mill employed ‘upwards of 400 hands’ and survived a gas explosion in 1814 ‘without injury to the premises’. ‘To the indefatigable perseverance of Messrs. Benyons’, remarked a local admirer, ‘is Shrewsbury indebted for the erection of its first manufactory of any size’.5
After a series of unsuccessful attempts to come in for Shrewsbury, Benyon had been returned at some expense for the venal borough of Stafford in 1818.6 At the general election of 1820 he offered again, citing his ‘consistent conduct in Parliament’ and ‘independent principles’. With the backing of the corporation, who created 80 new voters shortly before the poll, he was returned in second place.7 Benyon, who appears never to have spoken in debate, was listed as ‘one of Mr. Hume’s bodyguard’ in 1823 and was later described as ‘the most radical Member sent up from Staffordshire’, but he never joined Brooks’s. An almost continual presence in the division lists, he voted with the advanced wing of opposition to the Liverpool ministry on most major issues, including economy, retrenchment and reduced taxation.8 He divided for Catholic relief, 28 Feb. 1821, 1 Mar., 21 Apr., 10 May 1825. He voted in favour of Leeds becoming a scot and lot borough if it received Grampound’s seats, 2 Mar., and for parliamentary reform, 9 May 1821, 25 Apr. 1822, 20 Feb., 24 Apr., 2 June 1823, 26 Feb. 1824. On 21 May 1824 he presented a constituency petition against the beer retail bill, having voted for Grey Bennet’s licensing bill, 27 June 1822.9 Absent from the known division lists between February and May 1826, Benyon’s final recorded vote was for curbing electoral bribery, 26 May 1826. At that year’s dissolution he retired from Stafford, apparently offering no explanation.10 The expense of another contest and an urgent need to attend to his business may have been factors. By the mid-1820s the Benyons’ linen mills had begun to suffer from the slump in trade and increased competition from cotton goods. Benyon’s absence from Shrewsbury may have accelerated the decline of the Canal Terminus mill, where it was later claimed that ‘the spirit of discord affected its proprietors’. The factory closed in the late 1820s, having become the subject of chancery litigation, and was sold to a local builder for a mere £1,600.11 The Leeds mill, managed by his brother, who lived there, continued to trade as Benyons and Company until 1861.
Benyon died in November 1834.12 By his will, dated 15 Mar. 1826 and proved under £16,000, he left £10,000 in trust and a half-share in his London leasehold house to each of his two unmarried daughters, Lydia and Mary Ann. (His eldest daughter, Eliza, had already been provided for on her marriage to John Amphlett.)13
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: Philip Salmon
- 1. IGI (Salop).
- 2. This account of Benyon’s business career is based on W.G. Rimmer, Marshalls of Leeds and ‘Castle Foregate Flax Mill’, Trans. Salop Arch. Soc. lvi (1957-60), 49-68.
- 3. Salopian Journal, 6 Sept. 1797.
- 4. J. Morris, ‘Mayors of Shrewsbury’, Trans. Salop Arch. Soc. xlii (1923-4), 9.
- 5. The Times, 26 Dec. 1814; T.J. Howell, Stranger in Shrewsbury, 141-2.
- 6. The Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 338-9, 364; iii. 185.
- 7. Staffs. Advertiser, 4, 11 Mar. 1820; S.M. Hardy and R.C. Baily, ‘Downfall of Gower Interest in Staffs. Boroughs’, Colls. Hist. Staffs. (1950-1), 282.
- 8. Black Bk. (1823), 139; Session of Parl. 1825, p. 451; J.C. Wedgwood, Staffs. Parl. Hist. iii. 44;
- 9. The Times, 22 May 1824.
- 10. Aris’s Birmingham Gazette, 29 May; The Times, 31 May 1826.
- 11. C. Hulbert, Hist. Salop, vi. 312.
- 12. Gent. Mag. (1834), i. 442.
- 13. PROB 11/1842/66.