Benjamin Smith

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Date published: 30/06/2013
© Newbury Weekly News

BENJAMIN SMITH

 

DEATH OF ALDERMAN SMITH

RECORD OF CIVIC USEFULNESS

 

The hoisting of the Union Jack half-mast at the Municipal Buildings on Thursday afternoon was the mournful intimation that another old, well tried and respected townsman had passed away. Mr Alderman Benjamin Smith had been suffering for the last six weeks from cerebral irritation, and that it was known that he was lying in most critical position. Hence the announcement of his death was not unexpected, but at the same time there was widespread regret at the death of one who had rendered his native town long and meritorious service.

 

AS OLD “BLUE”

 

The deceased was a member of an old Newbury family. He was born in 1835, and being fortunate enough to claim kinship with John and Francis West, he enjoyed the advantage of being educated at Christ's Hospital. As an “old Blue” he ever retained the most affectionate regard for the school where he was so well equiped for his business life. So conscious was he of the great value of this educational endowment to the town of Newbury, that he was one of the staunchest champion on behalf of Wests' Kin, for whom the benefits were preferentially intended. In 1884, Mr Smith became treasurer of the Association, formed for protecting the interests of those able to claim relationship with the founders, and actively associated himself with all efforts made on their behalf. He was regarded as the representative of the Kin, and as a member of the civic governing body was able to voice their opinions on occasions when schemes were under consideration for the amended administration of the Bequest. Mr Smith was very decided in his views that the Kin were entitled to full and fair preference, but he also felt that hen this had been done, the poor children of the borough should be allowed to share in these educational benefits.

 

AS AN ODDFELLOW

 

Mr Smith had from early manhood taken a prominent position in connection with the Manchester Unity of Oddfellows. He was associated with the “Jack of Newbury” Lodge for some fifty-five years; not content with mere membership, he was always a zealous promoter of the principles of the brotherhood. He successively filled all the offices of the Lodge and was Grand Master of the Newbury District. In 1884 he succeeded the late Mr. T.A. Newton  as treasurer of the “Jack” Lodge and followed the late Ald. Lucas as district treasurer. His business ability and financial capacity proved of great service to Oddfellowship, and the stability of the Order locally was greatly enhanced. Mr Smith was a trustee of the “Jack” Lodge, and President of the Juvenile Lodge, in the founding of which he took a leading part. A leading event of Ald. Smith's Mayorality was the opening of the Oddfellows Hall in Craven-street in 1887. It was a peculiar satisfaction that the occupant of the civic chair on such an auspicious occasion should be the one who held high and honourable office in the Order, and these feelings were appropriately expressed in an illuminated address, the presentation of which was a pleasing incident in the ceremonial.

 

The address was as follows;-

To the Worshipful The Mayor of Newbury

P.P.G.M. Benjamin Smith

Dear Sir and Brother- We the undersigned management committee of the Britons Pride Lodge of Oddfellows knowing the interest in all matters tending to advance the pleasure and comfort of your fellow townsmen, and the zeal you have always shown in the causes of Oddfellowship, were induced to ask that you would do the Officers and Brethren the honour of opening this our new Hall; and we have to thank you most heartily on behalf of the Lodge for ready compliance with the request. We assure you that we feel proud to see a Brother of our Order holding the distinquished position of Chief Magistrate of the ancient Borough, and therefore ask you to perform this ceremony, we feel we could not have made a choice which would have given more general satisfaction amongst the members of the Society. Your year of office of Mayor of Newbury will be marked by many events more or less memorable, but we venture to believe that the opening of this Hall will be remembered by you as not the least amongst the public acts of your Mayoralty. Although not intended as a memorial of Her Majesty's Jubilee this building will be to the Loyal Briton's Lodge a most appropriate and lasting memorial of a great national event. That you may long be spared to see this building used for the purpose for which it has been erected, namely of spreading the principles of Benevolence and Charity, and inculcating habits of Independence, Providence and Thrift amongst the industrious working classes, is the earnest wish of yours most respectfully and fraternally.

Signed by James H. Lucas, Henry White, James Pyke, trustees; Robert Willis, Henry Harbut, Thos. A. Stillman, Francis Staunton, David Geater, George W. Batt, John T. Ransley, Edwin Sims, lodge officers; Henry J. Lucas, treasurer; Henry Pratt, secretary.

 

BENJAMIN SMITH

 

 

 

(continued)

 

 

 

THE ALDERMAN'S CIVIC CAREER

 

 

 

Alderman Smith's civic career commenced in 1878. This was the year of the enlargement of the borough, when a number of new members had been elected to represent the added portions of Greenham and Speenhamland. At the first meeting of the newly-constituted Council vacancies were created by the election of Messrs. J. H. Lucas and W. G. Adey as aldermen. Mr Smith was one of the candidates for the North ward, and was returned at the top of the poll in company with Mr Walter Money. He asserted himself with his characteristic zeal to the duties, and in course of time was appointed to the responsible positions of chairman respectively of the Gas and Finance Committees. During his presidency the Gas Undertaking was considerably developed, and he was able to present Annual Reports to the Council showing satisfactory profit, which was either devoted to the relief of the rates, or a reduction in price to the consumers.

 

The alderman was particularly identified with the financial administration of the borough, and was always an advocate of economy as far as was consistent with efficiency. It was his business as Finance Chairman, to meet the  bills of the spending committees, and he frequently took occasion to urge the necessity of the greater supervision of expenditure. All things considered it cannot be said that rates in Newbury have been unduly oppressive. Many improvements have been carried out, and the town is generally admitted to be well governed, to which the combined efforts of such men as the deceased alderman, who have given their time and trouble to town affairs, have largely contributed. He was elected alderman in 1899, in succession to the late Mr. James H. Lucas, whom he had followed as Finance chairman and in several other public offices.

 

 

 

THE 1887 JUBILEE MAYOR

 

 

 

Alderman Smith had the special distinction of serving the office of Mayor of Newbury during the year of the Jubilee of Queen Victoria. Much patience and tact were necessary in presiding at numerous meetings of committees held to arrange for the celebration, on account of the wide diversity of opinion as to the character of the permanent memorial which it was hoped to provide in commemoration of the fifty years reign. A scheme was put forward to establish a Free Library, and this secured the support of many leading townsmen in public meeting assembled, but there were doubts as to how the amount of £5000 said to be necessary for endowment and building could be raised. Eventually the idea was abandoned and efforts were made to substitute other projects, including an enlargement of the Hospital, or the erection of a clock in the Broadway. The Mayor, however, declined to allow these to be entertained without the sanction of a towns meeting. The consequence was that, in the end, there was no public memorial, although it is a coincidence that all three schemes have since  witnessed fruition by other means. Still, these failures were not allowed to interfere with the loyal and enthusiastic celebration of the Jubilee. Under the Mayor's guidance a full programme of festivity was arranged, and carried out with that thoroughness which has always characterised Newbury celebrations. The town was decorated lavishly, there was a public dinner in the streets, and other jubilations. The Mayor attended a large united service in the Corn Exchange, in connection with the Corporation. His worship also opened the Oddfellows Hall, afterwards attending in state at the thanksgiving service in the Parish Church, when he unveiled the Queen Victoria Memorial window inserted by the Stained Glass Window Society. Unfortunately he sustained a slight sunstroke during the celebrations, and was obliged to refrain from active participation in some of the proceedings, and this may have been the beginning of the brain trouble which, although quiescent for many years, has now ended in death.

 

 

 

THE TOWN'S RECOGNITION

 

 

 

Generous recognition was made of the manner in which the Mayoral duties had been discharged during a memorable period, by the presentation of silver tea and coffee service, together with a gold watch for the Mayoress.* Mr John Bance, in making the presentation, thus summed up the Mayor's virtues: “You have shown yourself a worthy and honourable Mayor, and proved how easy and essential it is for the well-being of the borough to keep the Mayoralty free from the noisy partisanship of politics and the rancour of religious bigotry. You have shown such zeal, honour and integrity and unostentatiousness, in the discharge of your duties as to merit the warm appreciation of your fellow townsmen. As magistrate you have tempered justice with mercy and also with discretion for you have shown from........... …..........tender feelings of youth. You have also shown an impartial firmness in administering the law, where the safety and interest of the general public were concerned. In his response the Mayor recalled the memorable events of the Jubilee Day and said, “All joined together to make the ceremony worthy of the town. That day of rejoicing did more towards bonding all classes together than anything else. Rich and poor, gentle and simple, tradesmen and mechanics all dined together and nothing could have been better carried out.”

 

 

 

*The coffee and tea service have since been presented to the Museum by the late Mrs Ethne Tucker, a descendant of  Alderman Smith. JG.

 

 

 

AS A TOWNSMAN

 

 

 

The late Mr. Smith was a trustee of the Municipal Charities and also the Church Charities. He carried on the business of a  corn merchant in Bartholomew-street for many years, and was also the tenant of Hamsted Mill. He wife predeceased him, and of a family of nine children, five survive.

 

The deceased Alderman was of a bluff, hearty, genial disposition, a man who persistently adhered to his own opinions. His honesty of purpose was never doubted, although sometimes his position appeared a little incomprehensible. He took a prominent part in Town Council discussions, and often illuminated them with flashes of humour, but latterly seemed to lose that grip of public matters which distinguished his early years. He was a regular attendant at the Parish Church, where reference was made to his death on Sunday, and was a supporter of the Conservative cause.

 

 

 

THE FUNERAL

 

ATTENDED BY MAYOR AND CORPORATION

 

ALSO ODDFELLOWS AND TOWNSMEN

 

 

 

The funeral took place on Tuesday morning, and was attended by the Mayor, members of the Corporation, borough magistrates, borough officials, representatives of Oddfellowship and other departments of public life with which the deceased alderman had been identified. The first part of the ceremony took place in the Parish Church, where he was a regular worshipper. The Rector of Newbury (Re. Lionel H. Majendie) officiated, and with the church wardens, Messrs H. J. Davis and H. C. Count, met the body at the western door as it was borne through the opened out ranks of the procession, the Rector preceding it and reciting the opening sentences of the Burial Service. Following the family mourners came the civic procession. The Mayor (Mr. Councillor Stephen Knight), wearing his official robes and gold chain, enshrouded with crepe, was preceded by the mace bearers, the borough regalia being similarly veiled. The members of the Corporation present were

 

 

 

For a list of the numerous people attending the funeral see the Newbury Weekly News account in the 22 August 1912 issue.

 

 

 

The mourners included Mr Benjamin Smith (son), Messrs W. Hopton, H. Hopton, W. Innes, W. Taylor (sons-in-law), Mr. T. Adams, Mr. H. Brown.

 

The ceremony in the church was simple and impressive, the mace-bearers standing at the head of the coffin during its progress. At the beginning the Mr. Bernard |Knight, son of the Mayor, played “O rest in the Lord”, and at the close gave an effective rendition of Handel's “Dead March “ in “Saul”, the congregation meanwhile standing. The body was borne out of the church and carried to the Cemetery for interment, all along the route residents giving evidence of their respect for the deceased. The Rector having read the committal sentences, the solemn office of the Oddfellows was read by Lecture Master Jordan and the sad ceremony was concluded.

 

 

 

The coffin, of polished oak, with brass furniture, bore the inscription:-

 

BENJAMIN SMITH

 

Died August 15th 1912

 

Aged 78

 

The interment was in the family grave containing the bodies of the alderman's wife and daughter.

 

There follows a long list of givers of floral tributes. For further details see the account in the Newbury Weekly News 22 August 1912.

 

CIVIC SYMPATHY

 

 

 

The civic procession returned from the church to the Council Chamber, and the Mayor, addressing the members said- We are gathered here this afternoon to pay the last mark of respect to another of our colleagues. Three Aldermen have been taken from us within the space of twelve months. Perhaps in the hurry and stress of life we may have lost sight of the solemn fact of death, but when it comes among us, as it has done lately, it makes us pause and think. No more shall we see the genial face, or hear the kindly voice of Alderman Smith. The work he has done for the town will be remembered for many years to come, and the record of his service to the borough are to be found in the chronicles of the Corporation. This is not the time or place to say more, and I beg to move the motion that the Town Clerk  be requested to send a letter of condolence to the relatives of the late Alderman Smith.

 

Ald. Ravenor seconded, and the motion was approved in silence.

 

Letters of apology for inability to attend were received by the Mayor by Councillor Parfitt. The Town Clerk, Colonel Ricardo and Mrs Metcalf.

 

 

 

Newbury Weekly News 22 August 1912

 

 

 

Sources:Newbury Weekly News 22 August 1912

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