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Starling Benson of Swansea

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Being a leader of Swansea society, it follows that many of the Benson family activities would have been reported in detail in the local newspaper (the Cambrian), and the authors have relied heavily on the Cambrian to reconstruct events. And there were plenty of events. Benson was a major landowner in the town and the land he owned was at the centre of constant argument and discussion over the expansion of the harbour. Benson had his detractors as well as his enthusiasts again ensuring vigorous coverage of his dealings in the Cambrian. His political career was also eventful, by 1843 he was installed as one of the youngest mayors in the history of the town. At the same time he became a member of the infamous Swansea Harbour Trust which although created to facilitate the development of the port, was widely regarded as a bureaucratic and badly led public body riven by internal politics and self interest. Eventually, Benson became Chairman of the Harbour Trust, an indication of his stamina and the high regard that his colleagues had for him, for he is regarded as being instrumental in providing a stable influence in the Trust enabling substantial progress in managing and rebuilding the port in the 1870s.

Although the book is necessarily centred on the business activities of Benson as a Victorian industrialist, his role as town councillor and magistrate offer fascinating insights into social history with glimpses of life in a busy Victorian port. As a councillor Benson contributed to the creation of a safe and reliable water supply (a slow process that took half a century to complete), as a magistrate he dealt with the underworld of Victorian society, largely alcohol related crime and poverty.

This is good history, well referenced and readable. It is not a comprehensive view of nineteenth-century Swansea but it is very well detailed on some of the contemporary obsessions of the town; the port, copper, coal, public order, and public health. We follow the career of Mr Benson through various ups and downs and learn much about who was who in Victorian Swansea. A good read at a good price.

Starling Benson of Swansea

Dorothy M. Bayliffe and Joan N. Harding

ISBN 1 871 808 42 5

Published 1996

Paperback 303 pages

Published by D. Brown and Sons Ltd., North Road, Bridgend Industrial Estate, Bridgend.


This book deals with one of the most exciting periods of Swansea’s history, that period of great development and growth that characterised early Victorian Swansea. Although this is primarily a biography of Starling Benson the industrialist, there is far more here. Benson was central to so much of Swansea’s social and industrial life that it was unavoidable that the significant events in Benson’s life were likewise significant to the town.


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Oliver Rackham's book is a classic for anyone who wants to understand the way Britain's countryside has changed over the past two thousand years. I have never came across any other book that offered so many insights into trees, hedgerows, and roads explained in such a readable and interesting way. The author starts in Roman times and goes into marvellous detail to explain the way in which roads and hedgerows shaped the landscape. He looks at the 'new arrivals' such as rabbits and sycamores. The differences between woodlands, wood pastures and commons are better described here than any other book I have come across. A comprehensive reference and bibliography section give you plenty of further ideas for more reading. (Nigel Robins)

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