The house was given to the National Trust by the family in 1958. There is a grey slate plaque in the church, on the grounds, which commends the extended family of James F. Benthall (1883-1942). The plaque in the church reads: “They saved the home of their ancestors from destruction in 1958, they gave it to the nation 1958” “Tende bene Et Alta Pete”.
Visiting Benthall is like going back to your family home. As soon as you step onto the grounds you feel peaceful and when you walk through the front porch and into the entrance hall and are greeted by the stewards, you feel as if somehow you’d been there before, everyone is so welcoming.
The Benthall family are still residents at the hall and regularly attend church. The present resident, Edward, remembers playing in all the secret places of the house as a child.
The house, dated approximately 1535-1583, is made of stone from a local quarry, has 2 large bay windows, 5 gables and is clad with the flowers and scent of wisteria. On the outside of the front of the house you will notice 5 stone circles with symbols which are supposed to represent the wounds of Christ’s suffering. The Benthalls were Catholics and people passing by would see these symbols and know they could find safety and sympathy. There is a “possible” priest hole in the floor in the alcove above the porch and in one of the bedrooms is a staircase that leads down to two tunnels which would let one escape to the fields or the River Severn at Ironbridge.
Every room in the house has a unique feel to it and there are information sheets for each describing its use and the special furnishings. There are willing stewards ready to enlighten you on a interesting feature or “hidden treasure”.
The Entrance Hall is big and grand and if you are lucky, perhaps the steward or custodian will share with you the special butterfly collection that is in the Antwerp inlaid cabinet made of ebony and tortoise shell and metal. At one time the famous Maw brothers of the Jackfield Tile Industry lived in the house and to impress visitors they laid their tiles in the entrance hall and various other rooms. In later years around 1918, the tiles were covered with wooden flooring and hidden for many years, now the stewards can lift a section of the floor to expose a section of the lovely tiles for viewing.
George Maw was an avid botanist who travelled about collecting special plant specimens and it is at Benthall you can see his famous collection of crocus.
A special secret in the garden is what our custodian call the “ mouse families”. She will take you out into the garden and part some shiny green leaves and you will find families of little "mice" with curly tails (flowers of the mouse plant-arisarum proboscidium). We aren’t sure if George Maw found these or not, but they are fun.
The Trust has a list of all the plants and their names in all the gardens for anyone interested in plant life.
The dining room and drawing room have interesting crinoid (fossilized) polished marble fireplaces designed by Thomas Pritchard in 1756. Thomas Pritchard was the Shrewsbury architect who designed the Ironbridge. Children will have a good time looking at the fine examples of fossils. In the dining room there is also a picture of a man named Bell, the 33rd child of one man!! Perhaps something to point out to the children when they complain that their brother or sister is being a pain!
The Benthalls are still collectors of the local pottery and porcelain and you will fine examples of Coalport, Caughley(1775-1799), Jackfield’s black pottery (1750), Staffordshire etc. throughout the rooms.
In the drawing room, see if the children notice the second crinoid fireplace and see if they can find the statue of a lady in a glass dome carved in beeswax (1620).
The carved staircase (1618) is one of the house’s finest features - it is of cantilever construction and many animals can be found in the carving.
The library or great chamber is bright and cheerful and full of old books, pottery of all types and periods, collections of giant sea shells from far away places and miniatures along the fireplace of all the Benthall family members.
The priest’s room is just off the library (above the front porch) and a comfy alcove in which to read or write. The priest’s hole, if it actually was one, has since undergone many renovations with the house and now is so altered; only wiring can be accommodated in its space. On the wall is a nice wood carving of the battle of Worcester showing Charles escaping from Boscobel and is said to possibly have been carved from a piece of oak from the original tree.
The gardens consist of three areas-
There is the a woodland themed garden to the left of the front door with a wandering path to a thatched summer house and other paths leading to a kitchen garden area and orchards and beehives (presently private).
There is grassy area they call the bowling green by the ancient yews which is probably the oldest part of the garden.
George Maw planted the famous crocus collection in the 1860’s which provide both spring and autumn colour. His collections were gathered from trips to North America, Turkey and Europe.
The next influence in the garden was 1890-1906 when the grounds developed rockeries, roses, terraces, shrubs and more unusual varieties of plants. This collection was made by Robert Bateman an architect of the time.
The gardens have filled in beautifully and round every hidden bend is something unusual to enjoy. There are small quiet ponds with 3 different types of newts and dragon flies in the summer and a dovecote with white fantail doves which add to the mystical feeling of the grounds.
Also on the grounds of the estate is the Church of St Bartholomew, built in 1667.
St. Bartholomew was the patron saint of bees and if you look at the outside wall above a bench you will see a sundial and a lions head underneath. At one time bees used to enter the lion’s mouth and go into a hive in the church. The honey was then given or sold to help the poor of the community. The bees have now moved to hives in other parts of the grounds.
Also almost across from the bench is a flat cast iron grave slab lying in the ground, have a look at it, it is in fine condition and a testimonial to a man called Eustace Beard. Why would we be interested in this grave? Eustace was a trowman (one who hauled the Severn Trows upstream, before the use of horse power). Eustace’s life was a hard one, he died at the age of 61 and never lived long enough to see the great Ironbridge, but his grave has suffered little since his death in 1761. The design has anchors and rope at the corners of the grave, a similar grave can be found at All Saint’s Church Broseley, but is not in such fine condition.
A visit to Benthall Hall is like going on retreat, its peaceful tranquillity takes away all the stresses of today’s busy life. Initially one might think it was a house solely for grownups, but there are plenty of intriguing stories or things to find amongst the collections to keep children interested and the stewards are happy to accommodate such endeavours.
The house has restricted wheelchair access except for the front porch, dining room and entrance hall. There are about 3 steps up to the drawing room and then the remainder of the house is accessed by the grand staircase. Parts of the garden are accessible by wheelchair as is the church and churchyard.