Some of you may remember the series of exhibitions held at the museum between 2014 and 2018 to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of World War One. During our research for these exhibitions the Archives team came across lots of stories that there just wasn’t space for at the time. One of those stories was that of Benton Madeley.
The story of Benton, who was killed during the War, was particularly poignant to us because his father was Charles Madeley, Director of Warrington Museum and Library.
To tell Benton’s story we perhaps should start at the beginning, below we have a page from the 1911 census showing Benton and his family.
If you look at the census entry you will notice that Benton, along with his father Charles Madeley, his mother Emma, and their maid Gertrude Ratcliffe, are all living at the museum. As Director of Warrington Library and Museum since 1874, Charles was provided with living accommodation on site. This means that the Benton Madeley we are looking into, born in 1888, literally spent his childhood in Warrington Museum, he grew up in the rooms we now work in.
We know that Madeley not only lived within the museum, but was as you might expect a part of Museum life. In 1905 we find that he is amongst several teenage botanists who have contributed wildflowers to the Museum’s wildflower table, shown below.
At the time the museum aimed to give people living in the town a better appreciation and understanding of the plants around them. It was felt that the best way to do this was to have amateur botanists around the town finding prime examples of local flora and picking them for display in specimen vases at the museum along with a description of the plant. In our more conservation-minded society of today we would no doubt photograph the plants rather than pick them, but to be fair to the amateur botanists of the early 1900s photographing plants would have been a difficult and expensive endeavour.
By the time of the 1911 census we looked at earlier, Benton is listed as a Bank Clerk. Records show that he was an employee of the Union Bank of Manchester, based at their Warrington branch. Now part of Barclays, the Union Bank of Manchester had branches across Lancashire, Cheshire, and Yorkshire.
We will now move forward to look at Benton’s military papers. They show that he joined up at Liverpool on 23rd September 1914 at the age of 26. We also learn from his military records that prior to the war he had served for 18 months in the Prince of Wales Volunteers, South Lancashire Regiment. This meant that on the outbreak of war Benton was already a special reservist.
One page of his records, shown below, shows his next of kin when on enlisting as Charles Madeley of the Museum, Warrington. It then shows this crossed out and his new wife Winifred added, recording that Benton had married Winifred Royle at Cairo Street Chapel, Warrington, on 3rd September 1917.
Amongst the various pages of his military record we find a description of Benton, he is 5ft 6 in height, weighs 119lbs, has a fresh complexion, blue eyes, and fair hair. This adds a lot to the grainy newsprint photo we had of him.
As mentioned earlier Benton’s records show that he joined the 3rd Battalion of the Liverpool Regiment on 23rd September 1914 with the rank of private.
He is sent to France on 7th November 1915.
The next we know of his military career he is in the King’s Liverpool Regiment, September 1916, being reprimanded for improper dress whilst in charge of a limbered wagon. A limbered wagon could move more quickly and more easily over rough terrain. I have included a picture below:
After this we hear that Benton has been granted leave back to the UK on 1st September 1917. He must have been quick off the mark, as we now from his next of kin records that he was married to Winifred in Warrington on 3rd of September. By the 15th he was back in France and sadly on 20th September he is killed in action, only 17 days into his marriage to Winifred.
In amongst his military papers is a very poignant letter written by Winifred which I have copied below:
It appears that a couple of weeks after his death news had still not reached home about the tragic loss. Note that the letter is written on Warrington Museum paper. We know that by this time Winifred is living at the Museum with Benton’s parents. We don’t know what reply Winifred received from the military authorities but on 6th October, 3 days after her letter, Benton’s obituary appears in the Warrington Guardian.
The obituary mentions his recent marriage to Winifred whose parents live at ivy Dene, Fairfield Road, Stockton Heath. It tells the reader how until his marriage Benton had been at the front without a break since 1915, almost two years. He is recorded as a fan of Shakespeare and a keen motorcyclist.
Benton Madeley is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial in Belgium and on the Warrington War Memorial and Boteler Grammar School’s memorial.
In 1918 Charles Madeley met with Museum Curators from across the country to discuss the idea of establishing local War Museums in towns across the UK. In Warrington the recently purchased Orford Hall had been suggested as the potential location for one of these new museums. His opinion is recorded as follows:
“A Memorial Museum would be judged as a museum. If it were a good museum, that would justify its existence and the memorial aspect of it would soon be forgotten.”
Charles doesn’t say directly whether he supports the scheme or not. The statement perhaps suggests that whilst the museums are a good idea for recording the War, making them as a memorial to the war dead would not be appropriate as their stories could well be forgotten amongst the entertainment of a day at the museum. Of course a modern War Museum would aim to tell the story of warfare through the lives of the individuals who were there, but that idea was still in its infancy at the time.
Benton’s mother Emma had died in April of 1915 shortly before he was sent to the front. His father Charles died On 11th May 1920 leaving Benton’s wife Winifred as executrix to his will. With Charles’ death came the end of a family so much a part of Warrington Museum’s story.
But whilst there is much sadness in this blog, I want to end on a more upbeat note. Whilst researching Benton I wondered as I’m sure you are at home, where his unusual first name came from.
The answer is a common one to genealogists, that Benton was the maiden name of his mother Emma. A mother’s surname was often passed down as a first name or middle name. Sometimes this is to ensure a family name survives, sometimes it makes clear a link to a more illustrious family.
There can of course be many reasons for passing on a name, but the Benton family’s connections in turn of the Century artistic circles were impressive. As a little indication of what Emma’s family connections brought we find that Charles and Emma Madeley’s names are inscribed on a glass screen at William Morris’ home “Red House” along with many other members of her extended family.
William Morris’ Red House image courtesy of Ethan Doyle White via wikimedia
The Glass Screen at Red House, image courtesy of Ethan Doyle White via wikimedia
Emma’s brother-in-law Charles Holme had purchased William Morris’ former abode in 1889. Charles was founder of the art magazine “The Studio”, a founding member of the Japan Society, and a respected collector of oriental art and artefacts. He was president in 1890 of the Literary Dinner Club “Ye Sette of Odd Volumes” whose members included naturalists, politicians, businessmen, artists, bibliophiles, and occultists, and whose meetings were attended by such literary notables as Oscar Wilde and Charles Dickens. Holme had travelled Japan and America with George Lazenby Liberty, founder of Liberty’s department store in London, the institution which like his “Studio” magazine was considered instrumental in introducing the Art Nouveau style to the UK.
Benton’s aunts and uncles were moving in very artistic circles, and his mother and father were often guests in these households. His wife Winifred obviously had her own artistic talents. Winifred was, amongst other things, a member of Warrington Photographic Society, St. Helens Camera Club and Leigh Camera Club. In 1926 she became the Lancashire and Cheshire Photographic Union’s first female president.
Photograph of Winifred Madeley