EXTRACTS FROM “THE VILLAGE AT WORK” by Janet Burtt and Peter Clarke
At the 1901 census, out of a population of 319 working men and boys, 152 were working in agriculture, employed by ten farmers. Seventy-four of these were agricultural labourers and the rest had more skilled jobs. There were also men employed in service – three coachmen, three grooms, seven gardeners, one house-boy and one gardener’s boy.
In 1901 at Crowmarsh Battle farm it took about six permanent farm hands to work the land and livestock, and eight servants.
The village was mostly self sufficient in craftsmen too, dealing with saddlery and harness-making, thatching, basket-making, hurdle-making, confectionery and baking, tailoring, and boot-and-shoemaking [cordwainery].
Henry Lane rented Birmingham Yard from Mrs Lane, of Lane House, Castle Square, but they were not related. Henry died in 1903 and his wife, Ellen was recorded as a blacksmith in 1915. The photograph below left shows her sons, Albert, Ernest and George Lane, who were blacksmiths in Birmingham Yard, which also housed a millwright, wheelwright and carpenter.
There were two huge "ironers" in the yard, on which the iron tyres for cart wheels were made.
Albert, Ernest and George Lane, Benson blacksmiths
One of the carriers, which served the village
Other men were involved in inn-keeping and beer retailing, general dealing, grain dealing, building trades, carrying, haulage and shop-keeping. The coal wharf was in existence by then and provided employment. A postmaster, several rural postmen and a telegraph boy were also recorded, along with a police sergeant, a police constable and one ‘Inspector of Nuisance’ – the Sanitary Inspector.
Two men were recorded as lime-burners in 1901, while another was a stone-digger. The kilns were situated in the vicinity of Beggarsbush Hill, which lies on the area of Lower Chalk of the Chilterns. In the 19th century there had been brick-making activity here, but this gave way to lime by 1900.
Transport was a vital part of Benson life, going back to coaching days, and continuing when motor transport brought the Black and White and other bus companies to the village. This provided not only an amenity, but also employment.
Carting was a large part of agricultural work and hauliers and carriers were a lifeline to access the wider world. There were three carriers who served the Benson area: Young’s, Cherrill’s and Andrew’s.
In the late 1920s some people set up their own businesses, which also helped with employment for family members. Mr Gaius Williams bought Walnut Cottage in Brook Street and developed a nursery garden which he and his son Clifford ran together. They extended it when they bought ‘The Acre’ in the 30s and had about 1,000 square feet of glasshouses. They grew tomatoes – both plants and fruit for sale – as well as chrysanthemums for cut flowers, pot plants, bedding plants and vegetable plants.
Walnut Cottage, Brook Street William's Nursery, Walnut Cottage
Isabel Taylor, a resident of Crown Lane, remembered some other twentieth century Benson businesses and their delivery rounds,
"Mr and Mrs Butcher went round with their horse and cart, delivering oil for lamps. Mr Butcher was also a chimney sweep. Then there was Mr Witney from Crown Lane, who always wore a bowler hat and sold wet fish from his pony and trap. Wood's, the shop in Castle Square, delivered bread to the door, and on Saturdays, the muffin man would come round ringing his bell and selling muffins and crumpets."