Benthall lies on the right bank of the Severn facing the town of Ironbridge in Shropshire. Benthall was recorded in the Domesday Book as belonging to Wenlock Priory and the Benthall family took their name from the place. Described as lords of the manor, they held the property from the priory. The first record of a house at Benthall dates to 1250 when Philip de Benthall owned land in Benthall Edge. The estate was acquired in 1283 by Robert Burnell, Bishop of Bath and Wells and Lord Chancellor of England. The estate passed from Robert to his elder son Philip and from him the estate descended in the male line to William Benthall. William is believed to have built part of the present house which dates to circa 1535 with later, major improvements around 1580. The two storey building, with attics, is constructed of brick faced sandstone and features continuous mullioned and transomed windows on each level. The building has a central hall, eastern service wing and western parlour wing. The Hall also has semi-octagonal bays on the west side of the parlour, on the hall and on the service end.
Lawrence Benthall was the owner of the estate in 1642 and he married Katherine Cassy of Whitfield, Gloucestershire. They made many improvements to the interior of the house when the southern rooms were richly panelled and made into additional parlours or bedrooms. Panelling and a moulded plaster ceiling in the parlour are probably contemporary with a new staircase. Its older fittings are now of the 18th century and perhaps contemporary with alterations, including new fireplaces in both wings, attributed to T. F. Pritchard. New doorcases at the foot of the staircase and a new ceiling there were probably inserted after a fire in 1818. The overmantle in the parlour (below) shows the Benthall and Cassy crest joined together.
King Charles I rallied many of the local gentry to his cause when he made Shrewsbury his headquarters on the outbreak of the Civil War. Col. Lawrence Benthall fortified his house for the King, and, in March 1643, commanded the garrison in a successful attack on a Parliamentary plundering party led by Col. Mytton of Wem. The King’s garrison remained at Benthall for a further two years until February 1645 when the Royalist stronghold of Shrewsbury fell in a surprise attack led by the same Col. Mytton. The surrounding country then came under Parliamentary control and in July of the same year, a Parliamentary garrison occupied Benthall. The neighbourhood of Benthall and Broseley was one of the most important coalfields in the west of England at the time and Benthall was a strategic vantage point from which to command the River Severn. The Parliamentarians used Benthall as a base to control coal to the Royalists at Bridgnorth and Worcester. A failed Royalist attack in 1645 led to a window and panelling in the Drawing Room sustaining damage.
Lawrence was succeeded by his eldest son Philip who died in 1713. His son Richard died in 1720 with no children but his uncle Edward had a daughter named Katherine. Married to Ralph Browne of Caughley Hall, Katherine had a daughter named Elizabeth whom Richard had settled his estate upon. Upon Richard’s death, litigation ensued from his two sisters when they made claim to the estate. The case was decided in favour of the Brownes in 1746 by the House of Lords and it remained in their possession for over a century. Another Ralph Browne inherited the estate and from him, Benthall passed to his wife’s niece. She married the Rev. Edward Harries and their son, Francis Blythe Harries, continued to own the estate until 1843. Following the fire of 1818, a new wing containing a large dining room was built at the east end of the house. In 1962 this was demolished except for two rooms in the basement, leaving a raised terrace.
The house was sold in 1844 to the 2nd Lord Forester who was the owner of the neighbouring Willey estate. Various tenants occupied Benthall between 1845 and 1930. George Maw took up residence in circa 1852 when Maw & Co began to make tiles in the parish. Maw was a distinguished botanist and assembled a collection of rare plants in the garden which included 3-4000 distinct species. In 1866 he published A Monograph of the Genus Crocus. Another notable tenant was Robert Bateman, the son of James Bateman, the creator of Biddulph Grange. Both Maw and Bateman made changes to the interior of the house and major changes to the garden. The dovecote in the Rose Garden (above) is attributed to Robert and is thought likely to have been a garden room.
Benthall came up for sale at auction in 1934 and Mary Clementina Benthall managed to purchase the house and the estate. In 1958 Mary proposed to leave the estate to her cousin Sir Paul Benthall. Sir Paul persuaded her to leave it to the National Trust along with some of the contents. Sir Paul and Lady Benthall became the first tenants of the Trust from 1962 until their deaths in 1992 and 1988 respectively. Sir Paul’s son James and his wife Jill then took up the tenancy and in 1996, Richard Benthall, the twin brother of James, took over with his wife Stella until 2004. While grand, the understated exterior of this beautiful property conceals a wonderfully lavish interior that is rich with ornamentation and detail.
Benthall Hall is Grade I Listed.