A web site for residents of the Parish of Beenham  

A Short History of Beenham

The earliest known documentary reference to Beenham was in A.D. 956, during the Saxon period, when it was referred to as Benna's Hamme, which translates to Benna’s meadow or enclosure.  It is, however, a matter for conjecture whether there was a Saxon settlement here at an earlier date and whether the men of Beenham were drafted into the “Fyrd”, which King Alfred led when he beat the Danes in the neighbouring settlement of Englefield in A..D. 871.

We do know, however, that people were living and hunting in and around Beenham from Neolithic times, as the Berkshire Field Research Group reported in their magazine (Bulletin Dec 1993) the discovery of a Neolithic greenstone axe at Beenham, which led to the further discovery of a ring ditch on land between the junctions with Beenham Hill, Grange Lane and the Bath Road.

During the excavation of the so-called Aldermaston Wharf site the remains of a Roman bathhouse was discovered. West Berkshire Heritage Service is confident that it was part of an important Roman Villa site and that the rest had been destroyed at an earlier date during the process of gravel extraction. They also found evidence of multiple-period use of the site, including Bronze Age finds.

At the time of the Norman Conquest, Beenham, with Reading, was part of the King's domain, which was probably the reason that there is no reference to Beenham in the Domesday Survey (1086).   There is, however, record of the manor and advowson of the rectory of Beenham being granted by Henry I to the Abbot and Monks of Reading Abbey on its foundation in 1121.  In 1276 the abbot had free warren in Beenham, in the manor of Reading and in 1291, during the reign of Edward I, Beenham was described as a hamlet attached to Reading, contributing to taxes towards the cost of the crusades.

There has been much confusion associated with Beenham over the years with the villages of Benham Valence, Benham Lovel, Hoe Benham and Marsh Benham in the western part of the county.  Similarly there has been confusion over the Manor of Beenham.  It would appear that there were two manors.  One in the ownership of Reading Abbey centred around what was known as Beenham Farm now The Grange, situated in the valley floor on land, which now, in part, contains Beenham Industrial Estate.  Following the dissolution of the monasteries, Henry VIII granted the manor of Beenham, comprising 37 acres to Sir Henry Norreys.  

It is documented that in the late 16th Century, the second manor, now known as Beenham House, had been under leased, by the Perkins family of Ufton from Reade Stafford, Lord of the Manor of Bradfield, who held it directly from the Crown.  There is no mention in this document of any connection with the Abbey at Reading; we can in all probability, therefore, conclude that this part of the parish had always lain outside the possessions of the Abbey.  Both manors have had a number of different owners and been let to tenants and in consequence their histories have become somewhat confused.

During the first Civil War 1642-1646 much of Berkshire was a no mans land between the Parliamentary troops in Reading and the Royalists in Oxford until the King established outposts in Donnington and Basing.  Marauding troopers abounded sacking Aldermaston House and a barmaid at the Black Horse Beenham was murdered.  There was an attack on Hall Place Farm by nine troopers, who were half starved and probably desperate.  Mrs Hildesley managed to send a message to her husband who rushed home accompanied by a number of neighbours, who managed to drive off the soldiers all of whom were injured and unable to return to their quarters.  Richard Webb of Beenham   sought recompense for their services to the Parliamentarians but didn’t appear to receive the remuneration he was expecting.  On 25th October 1644 prior to the second Battle of Newbury, the Parliamentarian Army camped on Beenham Heath, making plans for the ensuing battle. 

The village developed in two parts, which only joined together in the 20th century. One group of houses clustered round The Stocks Public House; the other, possibly older part dating from the 17th century around the Six Bells Public House. The pub took its name from the bells of St Mary’s, Parish Church, which was situated between the two parts of the village. The village forge used to be near the Six Bells but now only the cottages connected with it remain. A Methodist Chapel was built in Clay Lane behind Holly Cottage but was superseded by a new Chapel opposite the village green in 1862 at a cost of £150.  It is now an interesting family home.

The census of 1801 shows that there were 70 inhabited and two uninhabited houses in Beenham. There were 381 inhabitants, incorporated into 73 families and no less than 14 families were 'paupers' supported mainly from the Poor Rate.  The population peaked in 1871 with 556 inhabitants but had dropped again by 1901 to 508.

The Parish Church of St. Mary's is on the site of two previous ones. The first of Saxon origin was destroyed by fire in 1794 after being struck by lightning. The second church was also destroyed by fire except for the brick tower and replaced by the modern day church in 1859.  The most notable incumbent was Thomas Stackhouse M.A., (1733-1752) ordained London in 1704, a prolific writer, author of "New History of the Bible from the Beginning of the World to the Establishment of Christianity", an important theological work at the time. He was rescued from extreme poverty by the appointment at Beenham, through the good offices of the Bishop of London, Edward Gibson, in 1733.  He lived in the lovely Rectory, now St. Mary's Farmhouse. The Bushnell family provided four vicars to the parish of Beenham in the 19th and early 20th Century.  The current patron of St. Mary's is Keble College, Oxford.
Other notable buildings are Beenham House, overlooking the Kennet Valley; White Cottage the oldest house in the parish, a late Medieval Hall House with its cruck barn; Awberry Farm and Oakwood Farm; Butlers Farm, of 16th and 17th century origins, has the further attraction of being the headquarters of the Wolf Conservation Trust, where wolves from various parts of the world can be seen. Before its closure in 1999, The Stocks Public House had served in its time as a shop, a bakery and an alehouse.

Community activities and special celebrations continue today on the Village Green, in the Community Room in the village school and in the “new” Working Men’s Club and in the Victory Hall, which was built by subscription, in memory of those who had lost their lives in the First World War.  The Victory Hall continues today as a centre for adult education classes, private functions, village meetings and societies.

N.B. Archaeological information has been provided by West Berkshire Heritage Service, Newbury Museum, The Wharf, Newbury, Berks.


Beenham Remembers

First World War Commemoration
Communities throughout the country have commemorated the centenary of the First World War in different ways. In Beenham, the war memorial in the church cemetery lists the names of twenty men with local connections who made the ultimate sacrifice.  Local amateur historians have recognised the contributions that these men, and others, made to the “war to end all wars”.

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the men's death, Chris Curry will publish short biographies of thirty men with village connections.  These will be issued on the centenary of the month they died, over the four years of the war.  The publications will be included in the church magazine and on this web site. As each biography is published, the name below will appear as a hyperlink: underlined and in blue. When clicked, each will open as a separate document in it's own window, and can be saved or printed should you wish.

“For their tomorrow, we gave our today”

This is the list of Beenham soldiers who gave their lives:  

BIRD Sidney
CLARKE Charles
COTTRELL Alexander J
DAVIS Frederick A
GREEN Ernest P
GREEN George
HEDGES Frederick M
HOOD Harold


PRIOR John Thomas
SIMS Arthur A
SLADE William 
SMITH Edward
WARMAN Charles
WEBB Charles F
WHALE Albert Lott


As part of a national project, the bell ringers of St Mary's church recognised the 100th anniversaries with dedicated ringing in the month of these men's deaths.

"We shall remember them”

Another piece of Beenham history

Samuel Auchmuty Dickson
A story of Beenham, The East India Company, Ireland, bankruptcy and a family rift.

In a quiet corner of Beenham churchyard, beneath a large spreading lime tree, lies two remarkable marble graves. On the first, the inscriptions read:

Samuel Auchmuty
Eldest son of Maj Gen W Dickson CB
Lt Col Commandant Royal Limerick Militia and formerly Capt 13th Light Dragoons
Died 2 June 1870 aged 53 years
Major General William Dickson CB
Of Beenham House In This Parish
Col of the 6th Madras Cavalry
Died 11th Sep 1848 aged 69 years
Also Harriet his wife who died 27th Dec 1876 aged 80 years

and on the second grave
Maria Theresa
Widow of the late Colonel Dickson
Royal County Limerick Militia
Formerly of the 13th Light Dragoons 

Who was Samuel Auchmuty Dickson and why did he choose, if choose he did, to lie here in our Church, in our village? And just what was the Irish connection?

The story begins not with his father Maj. Gen. William Dickson but with his grandfather, Samuel Darcy Dickson (1738-1818) of Ballinaguile, Croagh, Co Limerick. Samuel Dickson was a tenant and agent of one debt-ridden Edward Croker who owned Croom Castle, Co Limerick. Samuel had three daughters and five sons that included, Stephen Dickson (1776-1839), a barrister, the Revd Richard Dickson (1780-1867), and Major General William Dickson (b. abt. 1780 Ballynaguile, Co Limerick, Ireland d.1848). By 1795 William Dickson was a Cadet in the Madras Army and in December of the following year, a Lieutenant of the Bengal Army, one of the three Presidency Armies of the East India Company.

William Dickson married Harriet Dallas some eighteen years his junior (b.1798, India d. 27 Dec 1876 at Portman Sq., London) on 2 April 1816 in Bath, Somerset but by 1841 was recognised as a Major General in the East India Company. They had two sons, Samuel Auchmuty Dickson (1817-1870), and William Thomas Dickson (b.1830, Madras d.1909), who served in the 16th (Queens) Lancers for 22 years and commanded between 1862 and 1869, and three daughters, Mary Eleanor (b.1818, Madras), Harriet Eliza (b.1821 on board a ship off the coast of Cornwall d.1902) and Fanny Charlotte (1822-1870), who married Mortimer Sackville-West (1820-1888), 1st Baron Sackville, in 1847. Her nephew was the father of the English novelist, poet, journalist, letter writer and diarist Vita Sackville-West (1892-1962).

Why William Dickson purchased the Beenham Estate in 1834 for £40,433 from Sir Charles Henry Rich we’ll never know, but at that time he was a retired Indian Officer and Colonel of the 6th Madras Light Infantry. As described in the book “Beenham. A history.” (ISBN 0 9537470 0 X), William Dickson did little to improve the house and again as alluded to in the previous paragraph, may not have spent much time there. Many years later in 1877 the church clock tower was erected in memory of his wife, Harriet who had died the previous year and whose body was also buried in the churchyard, by their two surviving children Harriet Eliza (by then, Neeld) and William Thomas Dickson.

William died on 11 September 1848 aged 69 at Beenham House whereupon the estate passed to his eldest son, Samuel Auchmuty Dickson who was born in Madras, India, in 1817 whilst his father was in the army. The death of William, or more accurately, his will was to cause considerable controversy within the family. As reported in the Berkshire Chronicle of 17 May 1851, in his will William had bequeathed the sum of £10,000 to his wife, Harriet and a similar amount to his daughter, Mary Eleanor with the instruction to his executors, his son Samuel Auchmuty, his son-in-law, John Neeld and the Hon. Mortimer Sackville West, to invest the £10,000 for the benefit of Mary Eleanor and any of her subsequent children. However a subsequent codicil said “Finding that my daughter contemplates remaining in a Roman Catholic convent and becoming a nun, I consequently hereby declare that in the event of her carrying out her intention of taking the veil, becoming a nun, continuing to reside in a convent, or in any way associating herself permanently with any Roman catholic establishment of that nature, she would forfeit all claim to or benefit from the said sum of £10,000.” Moreover, the codicil went on to say “in order to prevent any portion of my property from being appropriated to other purpose than the benefit of my family, I hereby exclude my said daughter, Mary Eleanor Dickson from all reversionary advantages whatsoever from my said will.” The net result was that Mary’s benefit of £10,000 was shared with Samuel Auchmuty and his brother, William Thomas, no doubt resulting in quite a family rift.

Samuel Auchmuty had entered the army as an Ensign in the 32nd Foot in 1835. He became a Lieutenant in 1839, appointed to the 13th Regiment of Light Dragoons in February 1841 and in 1854 appointed Lt. Col. of the Royal County Limerick Militia. He continued to live at Croom Castle. After failed attempts to be elected as a Member of Parliament for Co Limerick (1850), Reading (1852) and Kingston upon Hull (1854), he was eventually elected Conservative MP for Limerick (1859-1865). Hansard records no references to any active Parliamentary business and thus how well he represented his constituents we’ll never know. He held the seat until 1865 after which he did not seek re-election. He had married Maria Theresa Sanders (b. abt 1816 d. 23 Feb 1896) in St Pancras Parish Chapel, Camden on 5 June 1847 but there were no children. Clearly he moved in the right circles as a member of the Carlton Club of St. James’s, the original home of the Conservative Party.

The National Library of Ireland records that in 1855, the Chief Herald of Ireland granted Samuel Auchmuty a “confirmation of arms” through his grandfather as follows “Confirmation of arms to the descendants of Samuel Dickson of Ballynaguile in Co. Limerick and to his grandson, Lt. Col. Samuel Auchmuty Dickson of Clonlehard, Co. Limerick and Beenham House, Berkshire, eldest son and heir of Major General William Dickson, Jan. 8, 1855.

A confirmation of Arms confers on a person and his or her descendants the right to bear a particular coat of arms or armorial bearings. It is one of the ways in which a person may lawfully bear arms in a jurisdiction regulating heraldry.

coat of arms

The Dickson coat-of-arms on the family vault in the Church of Ireland churchyard in Croom (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

In February 1864, Samuel Auchmuty sold 107 acres of land at Croom Castle at auction but it appears that his fortunes were to take a turn for the worse. The Reading Mercury of 4 May 1867 reported that Samuel, who was living at 25 Wellington Square, Chelsea was declared bankrupt having been arrested and imprisoned. Earlier, the Dublin Daily Express had reported his reasons as being “insufficiency of income, heavy losses through failure of others and heavy electioneering expenses”. The Dublin Evening Mail of 1 July that same year reported that he owed about £2,000 to London creditors and that the whole of his properties in Berkshire and Ireland had been valued at £50,000. The case rumbled on. In January 1868, the Cork Examiner reported aggregate debts of £66,931.

One of life’s two certainties, death and taxes was to intervene. On 2 June 1870, Samuel Auchmuty Dickson died at the relatively young age of 53 at 26 Nottingham Place, London survived by his wife Maria Theresa. Details of his funeral remain obscure but the fact remains his body was interred in the grave we see today in the churchyard of Beenham.

Upon his death, the Beenham estate passed to his unmarried brother General William Thomas Dickson who at the time owned 8,559 acres in Co Limerick and 513 acres in Co Tipperary. William Thomas provided funds for the alteration of the church chancel and, when he died on 19 August 1909 aged 79 at 26 Portman Sq. London, was awarded a full military procession with his body transferred from Aldermaston station to Beenham church.

Chris Curry, October 2021

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