Englefield House, Berkshire
Processes and Practices
by Kate Smith
The eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century history of Englefield House, particularly its connections with the East India Company in this period, remain largely hidden. There is no sign of the East India Company and its Indian ventures on the exterior of the building. There is no published record of individuals visiting Englefield and noting its East India Company connections. Nevertheless objects, people and wealth all linked Englefield House to the East India Company in the eighteenth and early nineteenth century. Using correspondence, wills, inventories and objects this case study reveals how such connections shaped Englefield in the eighteenth and early nineteenth century.
Rather than treating Englefield as an inert object, this case study examines the country house as a series of processes to uncover the histories that are seemingly absent from Englefield’s exterior. Building on Mark Girouard’s contextual approach to country house history, it particularly focuses on the movement of people, objects and money into and through this house and explores the different processes that prompted such movement.  Marriage, inheritance and renting ensured that new people unconnected with the original Englefield family entered and occupied Englefield House in the eighteenth and early nineteenth century. For a longer introduction to the central arguments in this case study – click here.
PART I: The Movement of People
Richard Benyon, Lady Margaret Clive and Elizabeth Sykes were all connected to the East India Company and came to reside at Englefield House at different points during the eighteenth century. Richard Benyon worked for the Company, Lady Margaret Clive was effectively married to the Company and Elizabeth Sykes was daughter to a Company man. This section of the case study tracks how such individuals came to inhabit Englefield House.
The East India Company Arrives (1745-1776)
In 1745 the widow Mary Wrighte married Richard Benyon of Gidea Hall, Essex. In doing so she began Englefield’s long connection to the East India Company. This section explores Richard Benyon’s early life and questions how and why he came to be reisdent at Englefield House in the mid-eighteenth century.
The Wrightes Return (1770s)
When Mary Benyon died in 1776, Englefield passed to Paulet Wrighte the Younger. While in possession of the house, Wrighte made many changes to the interior and exterior of Englefield House. In making these changes, however, Wrighte incurred debts, which had important consequences for the next owner.
Lady Margaret Clive at Englefield House (1780s)
In the 1780s Englefield House required a tenant. Lady Margaret Clive took up residence in 1782. Although we know little of the objects Lady Clive brought to Englefield, correspondence provides evidence of the people she invited there.
The Benyon Legacy (1796-1854)
When Richard Benyon’s grandson Richard Benyon, inherited Englefield in 1796 the house began to be shaped by another generation of Benyons. This section explores the changes Benyon made and the legacy he established.
PART II: The Movement of Things
By the early decades of the eighteenth century luxury Asian objects, such as porcelain, lacquerware and silks, had become an important part of the British country house interior. Such wares were generally brought into Britain along trade routes travelled by the European East India Companies. This part of the case study examines the movement of such objects into the interiors of Englefield and questions how personal objects brought back by individual East India Company officials were differentiated from other luxury Asian objects brought in by the Company. It asks what did these objects mean to the families who transported and owned them?
An inventory survives for Englefield House for 1741, four years before Richard Benyon entered it. Compiled by a certain Richard Chillingworth, the inventory depicts a house filled with luxury global objects – Turkey carpets, japanned dressing boxes and ‘India’ pictures. How did this house come to contain such objects?
As an East India Company official working in Madras, Richard Benyon knew about textiles. He came to use that knowledge not only in his work but also in his personal life when sending gifts and mementoes. Through the deployment of detailed material knowledge Benyon was able to express affection and regard to distant relations. For Benyon, objects were important things.
Both Mary and Richard Benyon understood how objects could be used to strengthen familial ties across space and time. In bequeathing Indian objects to her son, Mary not only expressed affection through the transmission of valuable commodities, however, she also created a connection between her son and the East India Company. Such objects provided a material record of the family’s history.
The text and research for this case study was primarily authored by Kate Smith.