William Gurney Benham

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William Gurney Benham
William Gurney Benham.png
Gurney Benham c. 1916
Born(1859-02-16)16 February 1859[1]
Colchester, Essex, England
Died13 May 1944(1944-05-13) (aged 85)[2]
Colchester, Essex, England[3]
ChildrenHervey Benham

Sir William Gurney Benham, FSA, FRHS (/ˈbɛnəm/; 16 February 1859 – 13 May 1944) was a newspaper editor, published author and three times Mayor of Colchester.

Early life and family[edit]

William Benham was born on 16 February 1859 to Edward Benham, a printer, and Mary Carr. He was educated at the Merchant Taylors' School until 1873[4] and then at Colchester Royal Grammar School, a school about which he has written, of whose old boys' society he was later President and which still has a building named after him.[3] In 1904 he married Ethel Hervey Elwes and had three children: Edith Tayspill Benham (1905-1955), Hervey William Gurney Benham (1910-1987) and Maura Elwes Mary Benham (1912-1995).


His first job was as a journalist in Wiltshire in 1881.[4] In 1884 he took over the family printing business and began his 59-year editorship of the Essex County Standard.[4] From 1892 to 1929 he edited the newspaper jointly with his brother, Charles Edwin Benham. A "conscientious as well as an excellent scholar",[5][6] he is now mainly known through his many publications, many of which are transcriptions of official documents from mediaeval times, particularly those related to his home town of Colchester. He also compiled a number of books of quotations, leading a reviewer in the Journal of Education to comment after his death, "it is remarkable that one man — Sir William Gurney Benham — was able to collect and arrange some fifty thousand quotations and proverbs".[7] For ten years he was also editor of the Essex Review.[8]

In addition, Gurney Benham was mayor of Colchester three times, for the years 1892/93, 1908/09 and 1933/34,[9] in 1933 was appointed to the honour of High Steward of Colchester and was knighted in 1935 in recognition of his public service.[3] He remained editor of the Standard until 1943,[6] and was a director of the Colchester Gas Company for over forty years, being chairman until his resignation on grounds of ill health the day before his death.[2]

Death and legacy[edit]

Benham died on 13 May 1944.[2] Gurney Benham Close, a street in Colchester is named after him.


  • Playing Cards: The History and Secrets of the Pack
  • Book of Quotations, Proverbs and Household Words (1924, reprinted 1929)
  • Dictionary of Quotations. 1948 [1907].[10]
  • Prose quotations: classified under prose-headings, and fully indexed. London: Cassell. 1926.
  • A Short History of Playing Cards
  • Benham's New Book of Quotations
  • The oath book; or, Red parchment book of Colchester


  1. ^ "Birthdays". The Independent. 16 February 1996. Retrieved 2 January 2010.
  2. ^ a b c "Obituary". Gas Journal. 243/4. 1944.
  3. ^ a b c "Obituary list: The Late Sir Gurney Benham". The Colcestrian. Colchester Royal Grammar School. July 1944. pp. 30–1.
  4. ^ a b c School, Merchant Taylors'; Merchant Taylors' School (London, England) (1923). Merchant Taylors' School register, 1851-1920. p. 70.
  5. ^ Partridge, Eric (1986). Dictionary of Catch Phrases. London: Routledge. p. 251. ISBN 978-0-415-05916-9.
  6. ^ a b A P Baggs; Beryl Board; Philip Crummy; Claude Dove; Shirley Durgan; N R Goose; R B Pugh; Pamela Studd; C C Thornton (1994). Janet Cooper, C R Elrington, eds. Social and cultural institutions. A History of the County of Essex (The Borough of Colchester). 9. pp. 298–303. Retrieved 2009-04-08.
  7. ^ "Benham's Book of Quotations: Proverbs and Household Words [review]". The Journal of Education. 81: 56. 1949.
  8. ^ "The Antiquaries Journal". The Antiquaries Journal. 24/5. 1944.
  9. ^ "Colchester Borough Mayors since 1836". Colchester Borough Council. 9 July 2009. Retrieved 2 January 2010.
  10. ^ Partridge, Eric (1986). Dictionary of Catch Phrases. London: Routledge. Abbreviations. ISBN 978-0-415-05916-9.

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