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‘Devoted to Englefield, its people and his charitable trust’ - tributes to Sir William

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Sir William, or Bill as he preferred to be known, was the father of Newbury MP Richard Benyon and owned Englefield Estate.
His father inherited the estate in 1964 from his second cousin, Sir Henry Benyon.
However, with his father in poor-health, Sir William, whose surname at birth was Shelly, took on the run-down estate and was saddled with the 80 per cent death duties.
An unexpected condition of the bequest was that the family changed its name to Benyon.
At the time, Sir William was a manager at the textiles company Courtaulds, but had not been out of the Royal Navy for many years. He enlisted in 1947, after passing out as Chief Cadet Captain at Dartmouth.
His career culminated in a staff job under the Governor of Kenya, Sir Evelyn Baring, during the Mau Mau emergency and he also served in Korea and Malaya. He left the Navy in 1957 ranked lieutenant.
In 1967, Sir William left Courtaulds and set about transforming his estate into the 14,000 acres in Berkshire and Hampshire it is today, comprising farmland, woodlands, and residential and commercial properties.
Sir William founded the Englefield Charitable Trust, which supports many causes in Berkshire including arts projects, church renovations, community halls and local education.
The acting chairwoman of the trust, Sir William’s daughter Catherine Haig, said that the charity was very personal to him and that he would always reply to correspondence with handwritten letters.
“It was very close to his heart and he would take a personal interest in the day-to-day running of it,” she said. “He set it up as a vehicle to help causes in the local community.
“He had no idea that the fund would grow to the size that it did. It gave him great pleasure that the trust was able to support and enable projects all over the country.”
Sir William also found time to be involved in both local and national politics.
He served as an MP for Buckingham from 1970 to 1983 and then Milton Keynes from 1983 to 1992.
He was a member of Berkshire County Council from 1964 until 1974, High Sheriff of Berkshire in 1995 and the Vice Lord Lieutenant of Berkshire from 1994 until 2005.
With an interest in education, he sat on the council at Reading University for more than 35 years, from 1967 until 2002, and was also a governor at Bradfield College, and the chairman of governors at Englefield Primary School.
A former president of Newbury and District Agricultural Society, he was the chairman of the urban housing charity The Peabody Trust and chairman of the Ernest Cook Trust, both between 1992 and 1998.
In tribute to his father, Mr Benyon, said: “He was someone I admired, not just as one’s father but I admired him for his human qualities.
“He was absolutely devoted to Englefield and to the people who are associated to the estate.
“In terms of his politics, he was courageous and had a willingness to stand up for what he believed in.
“He has always been fantastic to me. Even in his 80s, he was knocking on doors during the election in 2010 and was there at the count at 1am when the results came in.
“He never made a big deal about what he did, but there are many living memorials to him all around the place, whether it’s church buildings that he helped preserve or environmental projects.”
Sir William is survived by his wife Elizabeth, five children and 18 grandchildren.
His funeral will be held on Thursday, May 15 at 2.30pm in Englefield.

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