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History of Benthall Hall

A view of the south west front of Benthall Hall and garden, with trees and topiary hedges in the foreground and a cloudy sky above
The south west front of Benthall Hall | © National Trust Images/Matthew Antrobus

Benthall was recorded in the Domesday Book as part of Wenlock and belonged to Wenlock Priory. Members of the Benthall family took their name from the place, and were described at various times as lords of the manor and would have held the property from the priory. Discover more about the history of Benthall and its family here.

The Benthall family lineage

The Benthall family can trace its lineage back to the Anglo-Saxon period on this site. The first documented member of the family was Anfrid de Benetala. Two heralds are recorded as stating that they had seen deeds or charters in Anglo-Saxon that documented the family’s existence here before the Norman Conquest.

The first record of a house at Benthall dates to 1250, when Philip de Benthall is recorded as granting to Buildwas Abbey the right to carry stone and coal over his land in Benthall Edge. On his death, Philip left three daughters but no son. In 1283, the estate was acquired by Robert Burnell, Bishop of Bath and Wells and Lord Chancellor of England.

From Burnell back to Benthall

The estate then passed to John Burnell's elder son, Philip, who is named Philip Burnell de Benethale in a deed dated 1322. The estate descended through the male line to William Benthall, who is believed to have built the present house (or at least part of it). The first phase of the current house seems to date from around 1535, with major improvements around 1580.

For over 300 years, the great events of history passed Benthall by, and its inhabitants made no mark outside their immediate neighbourhood. The family history becomes little more than a catalogue of marriages with Shropshire families.

In the troubled times of Elizabeth I, the family was Catholic in sympathy, if not in practice, and remains of hiding places have been found in the house.

Oak wall carving in the Priest's room at Benthall Hall, showing the escape of Charles II from Boscobel House after the Battle of Worcester
Oak wall carving in the Priest's room at Benthall Hall | © National Trust Images/John Hammond

Civil War at Benthall

The Benthall family played its part in the Civil War, with Lawrence Benthall heading up a garrison at the house. Being Royalists, the family supported King Charles I, and this meant confronting the Parliamentarians on a number of occasions.

On the outbreak of the Civil War, King Charles I made his headquarters for a time at Shrewsbury, where he rallied many of the local gentry to his cause. Colonel Lawrence Benthall fortified his house for the King and, in March 1643, he commanded the garrison in a successful attack on a Parliamentary plundering party led by Colonel Mytton of Wem.

For two years or more, the King’s garrison at Benthall seems to have been maintained but, in February 1645, the Royalist stronghold of Shrewsbury fell in a surprise night-time attack led by Colonel Mytton. The surrounding country soon came under Parliamentary control and in July, a Parliamentary garrison occupied Benthall. At this time, the neighbourhood of Benthall and Broseley was one of the most important coalfields in the west of England.

An attack on Benthall Hall

The Parliamentarians valued Benthall garrison as a base to command the River Severn and to prevent its use for carrying coal to the Royalists at Bridgnorth and Worcester. Its strategic importance was recognised by the King’s men too and, later in 1645, a Royalist force made an attack on Benthall Hall at daybreak.

After an hour’s hard fighting, the Royalists were forced to withdraw. From the damage done to the Drawing Room window and to the panelling, the attack seems to have impacted this end of the house most.

The church is destroyed

The church at Benthall was also destroyed during the Civil War, along with the original Benthall village that lay to the north of the house. The village was not rebuilt on the same site: new cottages were built half-a-mile to the east, nearer to the coal mines.

The church was rebuilt and is now a fine example of a Restoration church.

Sundial on the south wall of St Batholomew's Church added at the end of the 19th century. Below is the stone head of a lion whose mouth forms the entrance to a beehive in the gallery of the church.
Sundial on the church wall at Benthall Hall | © National Trust Images/Matthew Antrobus

The family leave Benthall

For just over a century, Benthall Hall came out of the Benthall family's possession because of a lack of heirs and from 1845 to 1930 it passed from one tenant to another.

Notable tenants

Two notable tenants who lived at Benthall were George Maw, a distinguished botanist who assembled a collection of rare plants in the garden, and Robert Bateman, the son of James Bateman (creator of Biddulph Grange).

These two tenants made many changes to the interior of the house, including tiled floors in the entrance hall (now hidden) and in other rooms of the house, along with major changes to the garden. Robert also made changes to the garden and added embellishments to the church. The dovecote in the rose garden can be attributed to Robert.

When the house came up for sale in 1843, a member of the Devon branch of the Benthall family tried to acquire the house, but was unsuccessful.

The Benthall family return

In 1918, the Reverend Charles Benthall leased the house and lived there for a few years with his family. This was the start of the family's return to Benthall.

In 1934, the property again came up for sale at auction and Mary Clementina Benthall managed to purchase the house and estate for £6,000.

After leaving their estate in Devon, Clementina and husband James Floyer Dale moved to Benthall and set about restoring the family home. Both she and her husband, were grandchildren of Edward Benthall, whose surname they took.

The Second World War

During the Second World War, Clementina rented the hall to an evacuated school before returning to Devon. She drove a canteen around Exmoor, delivering refreshments to anti-aircraft sites. During this time, her husband James was institutionalised and died in a nursing home in 1942.

Cared for by the National Trust

In 1958, Clementina gifted Benthall to the National Trust on the agreement that she and any successor could continue to live in the hall.

A keen traveller and activist until her death in 1960, Clementina never retired from her charitable causes. She secured the future of her ancestral home and, with it, a legacy of determination and tireless enterprise.

First tenants of the Trust

Sir Paul and Lady Benthall became the first tenants of the National Trust, from 1962–1985. Sir Paul’s son, James, and his wife Jill then took on the tenancy and continued to live in the house until their deaths.

In 1996, Richard Benthall, James’s twin brother, took over the tenancy and lived at Benthall with his wife, Stella, until 2004. The tenancy has now passed to Richard’s son, Edward and his wife, Sally.

Visitors talking to a room guide who is pointing at an artwork above a bookshelf at Benthall Hall

Benthall Hall's collections

Explore the objects and works of art we care for at Benthall Hall on the National Trust Collections website.

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