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home > Towns & Villages > About Wallingford > Benson


Benson is a small Thames-side village with about 4,500 residents, situated about 1.5 miles outside Wallingford, on the A4074 (mid-way between Reading and Oxford). There is a shop lined High Street, marina and riverside café on the Thames.
Evidence exists of human presence dating back to the Palaeolithic period - around 10,000 BC. The village itself occupies the site of an ancient British town known to have been occupied during the Roman period.
In the 18th and early 19th centuries Benson became an important staging post for coaches running between London and Oxford via Henley. Its broad, open square was surrounded by coaching inns and at its peak the village had four large inns, ten smaller alehouses and a blacksmith. The Henley - Dorchester road was disturnpiked in 1873, and the decline in coaching, and the agricultural depression led to a fall in population. The village also lost out when the Cholsey and Wallingford Railway was not extended to Watlington, which would have meant a station at or close to Benson. This left the village increasingly isolated as passenger transport between London and Oxford increasingly went via a railway which ran nowhere near the once-vital coaching stop.
Benson has had a lock on the River Thames since the late 1300s when a mill and a weir were recorded. It wasn’t until 1877 that the first timber lock was built, being replaced by a stone one in 1870.
The village should not be confused with the well-known RAF station and airfield, which is host to several helicopter squadrons, flying the Merlin and the Puma. It is the home base for Team Merlin helicopter display team. For security reasons the airfield is rarely open for public events. The RAF airfield boundary is immediately adjacent to the village, and the aerodrome's construction closed the former ' London Road'.  The RAF station buildings are on the opposite side of the airfield to Benson village, adjacent to the village of Ewelme.

Claims to Fame:

The parish church tower of St Helen was rebuilt in 1794. It has a single clock face on the east-facing side with hours displayed in Roman numerals. The clock face erroneously has the nine o'clock marker painted as "XI". The eleven o'clock marker is also XI. This mistake gained fame during the Second World War when Germany's English-speaking propaganda broadcaster, William Joyce (Lord Haw Haw) promised an air raid on "an airfield near the village whose clock had two elevens". RAF Benson was bombed soon afterwards.

Benson also has a tenuous link with RMS Titanic. Reginald Robinson Lee was aged about 16 when his family moved to Hampshire. Reginald was born in Bensington (one of the original names for Benson) in 1870. Reginald was the son of William Lee (schoolmaster) and his wife Jane, and was baptized at the church of St. Helen, Bensington on 19 June 1870. Reginald signed on to the RMS Titanic in Southampton on 6 April 1912, aged 42. He was in the crows' nest with Fred Fleet when the iceberg was sighted at about 11.40 p.m. on 14 April 1912, and survived the tragedy, being rescued in lifeboat 13.

Lee subsequently testified before the Board of Trade inquiry. He died 16 months later whilst serving aboard the Kenilworth Castle.
Things to do in Benson:
  • Visit St Helen's Church
  • Visit Benson Veteran Cycle Collection (by appointment only, April - end July. Tel 01491 838414). Here you can see vereran and vintage cycles from 1818 to 1825.
  • Take the self-guided historic walk
  • Relax in one of the two local hostelries
  • Visit the Waterfront Cafe and watch the boats on the river
  • Hire a boat, camp by the river, or fish at Rivermead

Things to do near Benson:

  • Walk to Wallingford across Benson weir and lock, along the towpath to Wallingford Castle Meadows and Gardens. Can return by bus.
  • Walk to Warborough along the bridleways and visit The Six Bells which is the Black Swan in Midsomer Murders
  • Walk along the river to Shillingford
  • Walk to Ewelme

Image of The Lock Keepers House at Benson © Copyright Steve Daniels and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence.


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