David Benfield, a Powder Mill Family from 1811


David Benfield was born Farnham, Surrey 1778 and was the great great great grandfather of Mary Dyson of Garden Cottages, who provided the information for this note. He was discharged from Nelson’s Navy on October 9th 1802 when his ship, a prize taken by the British ship‘Swiftsure’ at Aboubkir Bay in 1798, was sold out of commission. His discharge paper, carefully folded in a small pocket book, survives today and gave protection from the Navy press gangs which resumed after 1802 and the Peace of Amiens.

David travelled around the area of Tonbridge and Tudeley as a farm labourer, at one stage working for Mr Richardson of Nightingarl (sic) of Southborough (still called Nightingale Farm in the 1940s/1950s), and also for Mrs Brumfield of Bidborrow (sic). On 27 November 1809 he married a Tudeley girl, Elizabeth Whitehead, at Tudeley Church with Mr Dennis Denny the Curate in charge.

From 1808 to 1809 he was hired to John Barton and there is a further note “October 29th we went to the Powdermills to work”. He was, therefore, almost certainly one of the original Powder Mills workers from the start in 1812/13 and quite probably had one of the small cottages built for them. A daughter, Harriett, grew up and married John Johnson, a sawyer at The Powdermills, and they became the great great grandparents of Mary Dyson. The marriage was solemnized at “the Parish Church of Leigh in the County of Kent 29th day of June 1840 by Thomas May, Vicar”. On the marriage certificate, Harriett’s father is given as a witness and his occupation as “a Powdermaker”.

The names Batchelor, Cheeseman and Smith, all well known names locally, also appear in notes in the pocket book from two hundred years ago.

There are other things of interest in the note book, including an entry on the leather inside cover about Christmas 1813, which began, 25-26th with a great frost which “lasted till 29th January with a great snow and then it thawed. 30th there was a flood which washed away the Bridge” (might the bridge be at the site of the current Lucifer’s Bridge, which is near the Powder Mills?).

Parish Magazine Article: Aug 2006: by Mary Dyson


Feb. 2015:

Subsequent to this article, an email was received from a descendant, January 2015, saying that David Benfield died on 10 January 1845, accidental death, aged 69.  He was a Stove Man at the Powder Mills.  Also on the same day, his son, David aged 27, a labourer at the Mills also died.  How these accidental deaths occurred is not known.  Referring to Chris Rowley’s book “The Lost Powder Mills of Leigh” there was an explosion in 1845, but in July (reported by the Maidstone Journal), with no fatalities.  There are no references to their deaths via newspapers at the FindmyPast website.  Their accidental deaths may have occurred at their work at the Powder Mills (though not an explosion) as it seems a coincidence, or elsewhere.  Currently we do not know.  Without seeing the Leigh Parish burial registers (located at Kentish Archives, Maidstone) we do not know whether the Church Clerk recorded something with their burial entries.  We do know they were both burial at Leigh.