The Bensington Society
In the Parish of Benson, Oxfordshire, England
By the end of the Second World War the nation wanted change. The new Labour government under Attlee was the political expression of that change and the 1951 Festival of Britain an example of the physical dimension. Everywhere there was a clamour for change.
Unfortunately, the exuberance and enthusiasm for change led to beautiful centuries-old buildings being demolished all over the country to be replaced by modern less desirable architecture.
This, too, started to happen in Benson. Declared an “area for growth”, the small agricultural community became more like the large village we live in today. This period of change reached a climax when College Farm, in the epicentre of Benson, was demolished and replaced by shops and houses.
The High Steet 1972
Those who loved the village as it was watched in dismay, and their protests became louder and organised. This led in 1972 to the establishment of The Bensington Society. The Society's first success was to overturn the proposal to demolish the vernacular houses that lie between the butcher’s shop, and the entrance to Millstream.
Following on from this success, the Society set out to monitor new planning applications to ensure all future construction work was not just a panacea for the property developer but had to be of real lasting benefit to Benson. Its first President was the Reverend Canon Alfred Barton.
To further preserve the Village, Canon Barton, two County Councillors and a number of other notable villagers set out to have the most significant parts of the village designated as a Conservation Area. Due to a vocal opposition this was not achieved until 1995; meanwhile much of the best of the village had been rescued. A proposed Conservation Plan was produced. This remains an important document to this day and is available to be read on the Bensington Society History Group website.
As the Society developed, a monthly supper club was established where village concerns could be aired, and action determined. The evening was enhanced with a speaker, and a supper prepared by the members; a format which remains to this day during the spring, autumn and winter months.
Subsequent work included reconnecting the village to its historical link with the Thames, and with generous support from the Benson Community Association and individual well-wishers the cash was raised to build a suitable crossing across the busy A4074.
Other initiatives have included the writing of four history books, one of which "A Century of Change: 1900 - 2000" was jointly authored by two past Presidents, Janet Burtt and Peter Clarke. The books will remain as valuable references and also for information for those that are arriving to become part of our expanding community. For more information on the books
In 2015 the Society became registered with HMRC as a Small Charity, so that it could claim Gift Aid on its membership fees.
In pursuance of its aim to keep the expansion of the Village within its present boundaries, the Society gave considerable support to the Parish Council in opposing the development of almost 1000 houses on green land on the northern side of Littleworth Road. Regrettably, due to the lack of an acceptable SODC plan with a five year land-bank, the Inspector ruled in favour of the developer and that development is proceeding.
In order to prevent further expansion and control development of the Village, the Parish Council, with the strong support of the South Oxfordshire District Council, decided to initiate the development of a Neighbourhood Plan. Throughout the development cycle the Society, through its Planning Officer, gave strong support to the Parish Council in its endeavours. The Plan has now being approved and provides a legal framework for the further development of the Village.
In 2018 concern was expressed by several members that the Society had drifted from its original aims in respect of the discussion of planning and other major issues in the Village. Following discussion with members, the Rules of the Society have been amended to ensure that there will be time made available for members to discuss and express their views on any matter of concern to the Village.
In view of the demise of the Benson Community Association which did such great work in support of the Village in the latter part of the 1900s, the Society is investigating other ways in which it can increase its support of the Village and its many organisations and clubs, in part by increasing its level of grants and donations.
It is very pleasing to note that after almost 50 years the Society is still going strong with over 150 members, finding ways to discuss and take action to keep Benson a lively and welcoming place to live, while still enjoying the comradeship of its members at the eight monthly Friday evening social meetings. It is a tribute to the founder members, some of whom still regularly attend our meetings.