“Benson was the first to develop his designs out of purpose and character of the metal as material. Form was paramount to him. He abandoned ornament. In doing so he opened up new ground…………Benson was the leading spirit in electric appliances in England, on the Continent he was the fruitful instigator”
The Arts & Crafts movement got underway in London in the 1880’s just as W.A.S Benson was beginning to develop his distinctive metalwork and make his mark in the world of decorative arts. Since he was a member of the Morris and Burne-Jones circle, it was almost inevitable that he would play a part in the development of the movement during this decade.
His education stood him in good stead, many of his friends were members of the A.W.G, the principle representative body of the Arts and Crafts movement in London and the camaraderie of the Guild was very important to him.
During the 1880’s Benson’s business was taking off, he had large workshops, a show-room and a studio all with good skilled employees. Production at Benson’s Hammersmith workshop increased steadily and the number of patterns used in production could be counted not by the dozen but by the hundred. Benson opened a new show-room in 1887 at 82 New Bond Street, London.
New Bond Street was an elegant and fashionable area of dressmakers, milliners, jewellers and perfumers. Benson’s shop was located in the less fashionable Northern end, not far from Morris & Co at 449 Oxford Street. As the business grew, the premises soon became too small and the adjoining premises were added, the shop front was rebuilt to Benson’s own design
In November 1890 the Benson’s moved their London address to 39 Montagu Square, a larger house, nearer the bond Street shop, representing a definite rise in social status. In Victorian Society terms they were not “carriage folk” but they were better of than most Arts and Crafts people. They decorated their home to their own style, with Morris wallpapers and textiles and Benson’s furniture and light fittings.
Benson’s life and work progressed steadily into the nineties with no major events or turning points. Benson had trusted and skilled overseers at the works and their was no need for him to visit every day. By now his own designs for light fittings and hollow-ware could be assembled from standardised parts and did not need his constant intervention. His metal ware was being talked about and had become so popular that poor imitations were appearing in shops.
In the early 1900’s architectural jobs were taking up more of Benson’s time. He converted his old lathe-room into an architectural office and in 1906 William fulfilled a dream by designing a country house called “Windleshaw” in Sussex with eleven bedrooms, which took two years to construct.
In January 1923 with the cash from the sale of “Windleshaw” the Benson’s purchased a house at 18 Hereford Square in South Kensington. Benson spent his short retirement mainly at Castle corner, his house in Manorbier, bathing in the fairy coves, playing tennis and looking for fossils in the limestone cliffs. Benson died here in 1924 after a short illness.