Hugh Cecil Benson was born on 3 July 1883 in London at 16, Young Street, Kensington Square, the elder son of Cecil Foster Benson (1857-1934) and Constance Mary Benson née O'Neill.(1860-1935). His birth was registered in the 3rd quarter 1883 in the Kensington registration district.
The 1891 census shows him living at Ufford Hall, Northamptonshire, with his parents, his younger brother Ralph Francis Benson (1885-1970), a housekeeper, a cook, a nurse, a parlour-maid and a housemaid. His father was described as living on his own means. In the 1901 census he was shown at 8 St Leonard's Terrace, Chelsea, with his parents, a cook and a housemaid. Although he was aged seventeen years there was no occupation given on the census however, his father was described as a land agent (auctioneer).
He was educated at Eton College from May 1897 to August 1899 and afterwards became an architect having attended the Royal Academy from 26 July 1905 to July 1910. His first major commission as an architect was the construction of St Thomas Church, Enham Lane, Charlton, Andover, SP10 4AN, in 1908. The 1912 edition of Kelly's Directory of Essex, Hertfordshire and Middlesex lists him as Benson, Hugh Cecil, architect, London Road, Hatfield, Hertfordshire.
On the outbreak of World War One he volunteered for service and having been a member of the Officer Training Corps he was offered a commission as a Temporary Lieutenant in the 9th (Service) Battalion, The Rifle Brigade (The Prince Consort's Own) on 30 December 1914. This was confirmed in the London Gazette dated 24 March 1915 and De Ruvigny's Roll of Honour shows that he entered France on 20 May 1915. He was killed in action, aged 31 years, on 22 June 1915 by concussion from a high explosive shell at Hooge, near Ypres (now called Ieper), Belgium. As he has no known grave, he is commemorated on Stone H in Bay 46 of the Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing, Menenstraat, Ieper, Belgium.
Probate records confirm his address to have been 35 Bedford Square, Bloomsbury and when administration was granted to his mother on 19 August 1915 his estate totalled £194-2s-8d. On 10 November 1915 she was sent his army effects totalling £53-0s-6d. He was posthumously awarded the 1914-1915 Star, the British War Medal 1914-1918 and the Victory Medal and these were sent to his mother at 11 Pelham Crescent, London, SW7 in August 1922.
He is shown as BENSON.·H·C on the Royal Academy war memorial, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London. He is also commemorated on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website, the Imperial War Museum's Live of the First World War website, in the List of Etonians who fought in the Great War 1914-1919 (also known as the Libro d’oro), on the Eton College war memorial in The Cloisters at Eton College and by a stained glass window at St Thomas Church, Charlton.
2022: We are grateful to Raymond Sore who contacted us advising that we had originally shown an 1888 incorrect date of birth and drawing our attention to Lieutenant Benson's first major architectural commission at St Thomas Church. Raymond also tells us that Hugh Cecil Benson was from a branch of the Benson banking family which ultimately became Kleinwort Benson and now Kleinwort Hambros, albeit his father was more to do with business than the mainstream banking. His father was a junior partner in the Ohio Land Company in USA that bought large tracts of land from the railway builders' concessions and sold parcels of them to settlers. They also did the same thing directly on behalf of the Railway Companies and that hence he believes the 1901 census description of land agent = estate agent, or realtor in modern American!
A graphic description of Hugh's fate is given in Blood and Iron: Letters from the Western Front, (ISBN 9781848842977 page 65) that reads:- Two 'C' Company officers were killed – Lieutenant Hugh Cecil Benson and 23-years-old Second Lieutenant Bernard Rissik. The death of Hugh Benson, 'a very nice fellow and a promising officer' angered Lieutenant Colonel Villiers-Stuart considerably. Benson had been hauled back to the British lines by the survivors where he had been placed in a dug-out. Villiers-Stuart had hoped that it would be possible to 'bury him decently after dark – but we were to learn nothing of that sort could be done in the apex of the Salient – it would offer too good a target for the Germans. In the end poor Hugh was buried quietly – only to be blown out of his grave by a shell later on. I was furious for losing such good officers and men for nothing.'
Hugh’s recorded address while at Eton was Ludwick Hall (at Hatfield Hyde in Hertfordshire). That address is also shown on some of the drawings for the St Thomas Church in 1908 but appears to have gone out of use by 1910. It seems to have been a country home whereas the London addresses were business residences.
Hugh is also shown as being at Kings College, London from October 1901 to 1903 but he is not listed as being recorded on their war memorial. He is also recorded as being responsible for a Vicarage at Bishops Lydeard, Somerset, that was opened within a few days of his death so was probably the last of his major projects. In the British Newspaper Archive the Taunton Courier dated Wednesday 30 June 1915 reports that the new Vicarage 'was dedicated last Saturday'. That would therefore be 26 June 1915 so just 4 days after he was killed. There is no indication in the report that they were aware of his death but it does confirm that he was the architect and says 'of London'. Given that he enlisted on the outbreak of war it is highly likely that it was his last substantial project indeed one wonders how much involvement he could have had during the building of the Vicarage.
Credit for this entry to: Andrew Behan.