Maura Benham

1913 - 1994


Maura Benham was born into a very well known Colchester publishing family. Her father, Sir Gurney Benham, was a Mayor of Colchester and editor of the Essex County Standard. Maura attended the London School of Economics and became Chief Almoner in Nottingham City Health Department. From there she went to Hong Kong to be Principal Almoner. On retirement Maura took a cottage in Church Street, Goldhanger which she named Tayspils, (now called Lavender Cottage) and undertook voluntary work involving mental health. She also enthusiastically participated in village and Church life.

Tayspils, Church St.

Maura was author of these publications:

1963   An Introduction To The Birds Of Hong Kong

1965   Hong Kong Bird Watching Society Bird Report – Maura was the Recorder

1970   History of St. Peters Church

1977   Goldhanger an Estuary Village

1980   Medical Social Work in Hong Kong

1985   The Story of Tiptree Jam - the First Hundred Years

1991   Byrthnoth’s Last Journey: from Maldon to Ely

1993   The Story of the Wesleyan Chapel in Goldhanger


The diaries of Eric Rudsdale, who was curator Colchester Castle museum during World War 2, were published in 2011 with the title of: Journals of Wartime Colchester. The book has many references to Maura as a young girl and friend of Rudsdale at the time she was living with her family in Colchester. Parts of the book also serialised at…

During World War 2 Maura was in her mid twenties. Here are some extracts from the book…

Maura Benham was the daughter of Sir William Gurney Benham. She worked at Paddington Hospital in London. Sir William Gurney Benham, was the proprietor of Benham & Co, printers of Colchester, and editor of Colchester’s local newspaper, the Essex County Standard. Benham was also Chairman of Colchester Corporation's Museum Committee.

28th July 1940 - A beautiful fine morning. Took the trap to Benham’s, looking very shabby, and unpolished, but can't be helped. Collected Maura and went off behind Lexden park, through a “mock-war”, during which we got stopped by guards and had moments of awkwardness as Maura had forgotten to bring her identity card. However, her natural charm got us past all obstacles. We went out to Rock Farm, Berechurch, and had lunch in the same field where we went before. The sun shone, sheep were grazing by the Roman River, and there was not a ‘plane in the sky. It was delightful.

28th August 1940 - An alarm today at 1 o’clock, while I was alone at the Castle. I had to remain on duty at the gate, and so was prevented from seeing a plane brought down near West Bergholt. Many planes were over tonight, and bombs could be heard in the distance. No sirens. Maura Benham came to the Castle with me this evening, and helped to clean my Mail-Phaeton.

22nd September 1940 - Got home at 2.15am. Slept until 10.30. Went down to Bourne Mill and met Maura, who had news from London. She appeared quite unconcerned from her experiences, and I was glad to hear that so far the damage in Paddington district has been very small. Neither the station, St. Mary’s Hospital, nor her “garette” have been hit. She seemed to have no fear of raids.

28th December 1940 - Maura Benham and her sister came to see me at the office this morning, looking very well. The raids do not appear to affect Maura.

12th January 1941 - Lay late, being my last chance for a while. Breakfast, and then went straight to the stables, loaded hay, fetched Bob, met Maura B. who looked very attractive, tall and stately, in a new grey overcoat, a yellow scarf, red head band, and new heavy shoes. We carted the hay, and then drove Hampshire’s little grey to Rowhedge and back, had a very jolly time. She still keeps very well, and there has been no further bombing in Paddington.

6th April 1941 - Down at Bourne Mill all morning and most of the afternoon with Maura Benham, who seems to really enjoy paddling about in the mud and water there. We had hoped to have a bonfire, but unfortunately the sticks were too wet and would not burn. We had a lunch of sandwiches, sitting in the old granary, which, although a cold wind was blowing, was quite enjoyable. Maura just the same as ever.

31st May 1941 - Work on the [Castle] Monument Room was finished today, and they appear to have made a very good job of it. Maura Benham came in today, looking very tall and gorgeous, with a scarlet turban round her dark hair.

13th January 1942 - Surprised to see Maura Benham come into the office this morning, looking very well after her illness. Had tea with her. She seemed in rather an odd mood. Talked of joining the A.T.S. I tried to reason with her, but without success. She said she felt the call of conscience, duty, etc.


an extract from…

Maura Benham undertook her social work education and training at the London School of Economics and Political Science, and at the Institute of Almoners from 1934-37. She then worked as an Assistant Almoner first at King's College Hospital, and then at St Mary's Hospital, Paddington, London, before moving to be Chief Almoner with the City of Nottingham Health Department in 1943. She remained in Nottingham for ten years before coming to Hong Kong in 1953 as the Principal Almoner, later called Principal Medical Social Worker, of the Medical and Health Department.

In 1967 she retired to England and has been engaged ever since in voluntary social work, particularly concerned with mental health and work with individuals in problematic situations. For three months in 1970 Maura Benham undertook an assignment with the Ugandan National Association for Mental Health, sponsored by the World Federation for Mental Health and the British Epilepsy Association.


In the 1960s Maura was the honorary ‘Recorder’ of the annual Hong Kong Bird Watching Society Bird Report...



In 1963 Maura published An Introduction to the Birds of Hong Kong...


an extract from…

Miss Benham's book is a worthy successor to Dr. Herklots' Field Note Book and The Birds of Hong Kong, first published in November 1946. That was a book to which many owe a great debt as it enabled them to start or continue in Hong Kong that most fascinating pursuit which gives increasing pleasure as one's knowledge grows. Before that date it was extremely difficult to identify Hong Kong birds as the only really good book available was La Touche's Birds of East China which described in minute detail the plumage of over 700 species but did not indicate which of the species occurred in Hong Kong and did not give a clear idea of what the various species looked like in the field. Dr. Herklots' book gave field descriptions of Hong Kong birds for the first time. It is however now out of print and also rather out of date in that it is based on observations ending in 1948, since when not only have a large number of new species been recorded but a tremendous development of roads and buildings has taken place. This had led to considerable changes in the distribution of birds within the colony.

Miss Benham has wisely restricted the number of species described (98 out of a possible total of about 340) and this makes her book of greater value to the reader for whom it is intended — the visitor or newcomer to Hong Kong and the beginner of all ages. It cannot have been easy to decide which species to leave out and the author has obviously taken into account the fact that visitors or newcomers from Europe will probably have a copy of the now famous Field Guide to the Birds of Britain and Europe which includes many of the birds, such as the Waders, which occur on passage in Hong Kong. All the birds which a newcomer or beginner is likely to see or hear are, however, included except for the rather surprising omission of the Indian Cuckoo. The descriptions of the ninety-eight species are clear and concise field descriptions and in; giving the length of a bird (from tip of bill to tip of tail) mention is made of the length of the bill, a useful bit of information often omitted in bird books. Also included are brief sections on Habits (again often omitted in bird books), Voice (if heard in Hong Kong), Habitat, World Range, and Records for Hong Kong (where, when and how frequently seen)…

…It has been a pleasure to review this excellent little book on which Miss Benham, her collaborators and her publishers are to be congratulated. If you already know something about birds in another part of the world it will enable you to get to know the rich variety of birds to be found in Hong Kong. If you know little about birds but would like to know more it will almost certainly entangle you irretrievably in an absorbing hobby which will give lifelong pleasure.



The Forward from:  An Introduction to the Birds of Hong Kong

This book has been compiled because of the demand made particularly by schools and young people's organisations for a simple introductory handbook with which to identify Hong Kong birds. All previous books were out of print, and although the Hong Kong Bird Watching Society had for some time had dreams of a volume covering all the birds seen in Hong Kong and fully illustrated in colour, it was decided that the need for a small inexpensive book was urgent, and must somehow be met.

Fortunately much of the work had already been done. Captain (now Major) A. M. Macfarlane had surveyed the field in a lecture delivered to the Hone? Kong Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society in September I960, and later printed in the Society's Journal, and Mr, J, L, Cranmer-Byng had written on bird watching areas and Mr D. S. Hill on binoculars in the Hong Kong Bird Report for 1961, published by the Hong Kong Bird watching Society, They readily agreed to their articles being used in this book, Mr. Cranmer-Byng re-writing and bringing up-to-date his account of bird watching areas. In addition, an annotated check-list had been made by Captain Macfarlane and Flight-Sergeant Macdonald, and it is on this list and numerical system that the Field notes herein are based, and from which the status and Hong Kong records of the birds have been taken.

The choice of birds for inclusion in these Field notes, approximately one third of those recorded in Hong Kong. had to he a personal one, and may not satisfy every reader; it was hard to leave out so many, but inevitable in so small a book.

The main source of information for birdwatchers in Hong Kong has for many years been the works of Dr. G. A. C. Herklots, and this handbook could hardly have been written without the details which he recorded during the years 1928 to 1948, The illustrations winch Commander Hughes has generously allowed to be used were first produced in Dr. Herktots' book Hong Kong Birds, published in 1953.

The Hong Kong Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society has kindly permitted the use of Major Macfarlane's article.

Grateful acknowledgement is made to the members of the Hong Kong Bird Watching Society for their advice and encouragement, m particular to Commander E. D. Webb and Mr, J. L. Cranmer-Byng who checked the descriptions of birds and added lo them from their personal observations.

Maura Benham.

Hong Kong, April, 1963.







In 1977 Maura published:   Goldhanger - an Estuary Village, it is the first and only published book on the history of Goldhanger. The complete book is available to read on-line in this website at…

Maura Benham's Book



In 1980 Maura wrote a chapter under the heading of: “Medical Social Work in Hong Kong” within in the book entitled: Community Problems and Social Work in Southeast Asia…







The book was published in 1980 by the Hong Kong University Press.   Here is an extract from the start of Maura’s 20-page chapter…

Medical social work began in Hong Kong just before the outbreak of World War II, and some seventeen months before the Japanese invasion and occupation. Sir Selwyn Clarke, in his contribution to the booklet issued on the occasion of the Hong Kong Almoners Silver Jubilee in 1964, wrote of this time (when he was Director of Medical & Health Services), '. . . the Colony suffered from a serious shortage of hospital facilities, it was subject to devastating epidemics of infectious disease often brought in by the increasing flood of refugees from Japanese-occupied China, and nutrition, housing and hygiene among the large proportion of the population, then numbering about 800,000, was of a sadly low standard.

Deaths from malnutrition were by no means rare, one in three babies born died before they were a year old, and thousands lived on street pavements or in shacks on the hillside, lacking water supply and sanitation of any sort.' There were not many social agencies to help, at least as compared with the number that exist today, but the Society for the Protection of Children, the Street Sleepers Society and the Anti-Tuberculosis Association are mentioned in these reminiscences of prewar days. Some social work, including a Probation Service, was also carried out in the Secretariat for Chinese Affairs, and several old-established orphanages and homes and schools for the blind and deaf were in operation. The Po Leung Kuk and the Tung Wah Hospitals were well supported by the Chinese Community.

Such was the situation when Miss Watson, an Almoner with English training and experience, came out to start medical social work in the Government hospitals and clinics in 1939. Miss Watson had need of the kind of sensitivity to situations which enables social workers to know how and where to use their particular skills as she explored a setting which differed so greatly both medically and socially from what she had known before. Again, after the Liberation there was strenuous re-thinking to be done, and so in the twenty years that have followed and in the years that lie ahead it seems to me that a constant sensitivity to situations must be of paramount importance. One must remember that although in all forms of social work Hong Kong must draw voraciously on the experience and the experiments of other countries, there can be no slavish following of fashions unless these fashions can really prove their worth in the Hong Kong setting.

The book includes a short biography of Maura...

Maura Benham undertook her social work education and training at the London School of Economics and Political Science, and at the Institute of Almoners from 1934-37. She then worked as an Assistant Almoner first at King's College Hospital, and then at St Mary's Hospital, Paddington, London, before moving to be Chief Almoner with the City of Nottingham Health Department in 1943. She remained in Nottingham for ten years before coming to Hong Kong in 1953 as the Principal Almoner, later called Principal Medical Social Worker, of the Medical and Health Department.

In 1967 she retired to England and has been engaged ever since in voluntary social work, particularly concerned with mental health and work with individuals in problematic situations. For three months in 1970 Maura Benham undertook an assignment with the Ugandan National Association for Mental Health, sponsored by the World Federation for Mental Health and the British Epilepsy Association.






In 1985 Maura published…

The Story of Tiptree Jam, the First Hundred Years

Below are some extracts and photos from the book relating to Goldhanger. SSW is Stanley Wilkin who lived at Bounds Farm from 1920 to 1946. J.S Wilkin is John Wilkin, Stanley’s son who lived at Bounds most of his life.



This booklet could not have been written without the drive and enthusiasm of Mr J.S. Wilkin who knows the story well and loves it. He provided most of the source material and worked with me on the production. Together with his wife, he sorted out the firm's vast collection of photographs and other records from which we have selected most of the illustrations. Mr P. Holmes, the Company Secretary, kindly entrusted me with Annual Reports for nearly one hundred years.

I am also grateful to the Chairman, Mr T.G. Wilkin, and to all the Directors for their written and verbal contributions, and for their checking of the script. Several retired employees have talked with me and added to the picture with their reminiscences.

Maura Benham

…The two brothers were well established by this time. CJW remained unmarried and lived at 'Frewlands. He liked to travel in a brougham, probably inherited from his father, driven by a coachman named Harry Edwards in a livery of green top coat and bowler hat. He would use the brougham to drive down to Mersea, where he had a house, a yacht "Heron", and a smaller boat "The Crab" which was a great favourite. When he wanted peace and quiet he went to his house-boat moored by Ray island, off West Mersea. SSW married in 1902 and went to live at Gatehouse Farm. He had by this time worked a fair way towards self-sufficiency, and had built up a herd of Guernsey cows with a milk round in Tiptree. He reared some 3,000 black pigs, with the overseas sales mentioned in CJW's Report for 1920. His flock of sheep produced not only meat for the table but also wool, some of which was spun by his wife and knitted into pullovers and woolly caps for the family. Bees provided honey. He kept fine horses and loved riding and hunting.

…On the death of their father in 1913 the two brothers had become the sole Managing Directors of the firm, and there were at that time no other members of the Wilkin family in the business. Disagreement arose between them in the early 1920's, CJW wanting the emphasis in the farms to be on growing fruits for the factory, while SSW wanted more livestock. It was a serious quarrel, and SSW decided to withdraw and buy Bounds Farm, recently acquired by the Company, but CJW was so upset by his departure that negotiations became impossible. Finally SSW moved into the farmhouse, renting 11 acres for a poultry business and managing the farmland with a salary appropriate to a farm manager.

 …There are memories of the 1920's. They recollect the competitions to estimate the weight of the crop growing in a field, and the value to the Company of having such accurate estimation. The best estimators within living memory seem to have been S.S. Wilkin, and Charles Ruffell, foreman at Park Farm and later at Bounds Farm, whose accuracy was uncanny. “They seem to have lost the knack now." They remember strawberry seasons when picking started a 4 a.m. On one occasion at Goidhanger two pickers turned up with candles! Jam making started at 8.30 a.m. Sometimes by 2 p.m. they were blowing the hooter to stop the pickers, because they had as much fruit as they could handle.

Mrs Barnard strawberry

picking at Goldhanger

Mrs Barnard outside her

cottage in Goldhanger

early Fish St strawberry

pickers with a candle

“the old road-mender”

and his mate at Goldhanger

The board of directors in 1980

with John & Daphne Wilkin in the centre




In 1991 Maura published the 20-page booklet…

Byrthnoth’s Last Journey: from Maldon to Ely

The Introduction…

the purpose of this booklet is to interest the visitor in the manner in which Byrhtnoth's body may have been taken to Ely for burial after the Battle of Maldon, and the various routes which might have been taken in the country through which the journey was made. We have no evidence to turn to, but there is considerable scope for conjecture. While we have benefited from the information and suggestions generously given by many more knowledgeable than ourselves, we know there is much we may have missed. Our hope is that this booklet may be helpful as an introduction for those who chose to make the pilgrimage and explore for them-selves this stretch of country.






Maura’s last known publication in 1993 was…

The Story of the Chapel in Goldhanger, which was written in 1993. This 12-page booklet was produced with the help of John Wilkin, who had been very involved with the chapel in his youth.

The booklet is now available online at… Story of the Chapel in Goldhanger



The picture and caption below were published in the Maldon and Burnham Standard in March 1993

 as part of an article entitled: Village Visit…meet the locals of Goldhanger

“Local Historian Maura Benham stands by the old pump in the centre of the village she loves.

Miss Benham wrote a history of Goldhanger in 1977 and is full of enthusiasm about its past”.

The complete article can be   seen here   in high definition


here is an obituary published in the Essex County Standard in July 1994…

Maura Benham was youngest daughter of the late Sir Gurney Benham, a former Mayor and High Steward of Colchester who was for 60 years editor of the Essex County Standard. Her brother was the late Hervey Benham, who took over the family business from his father and eventually became chairman of Essex County News papers.

Miss Benham, who retired to Goldhanger, trained as an almoner and medical social worker and enjoyed a fascinating career in England and abroad before retiring from professional work. She then continued her voluntary work almost to the end of her life. Having started school at St Mary's in Lexden Road, Colchester, Miss Benham continued at Wycombe Abbey School and took social studies at the London School of Economics before training as a medical almoner.

She worked in the heart of London throughout the Blitz, dodging bombs with the rest of the staff at Paddington Hospital. Later she moved to Nottingham and became involved in the pioneer work going on in readiness for the introduction of the National Health Service and the Welfare State. Her next move as to Hong Kong, where she worked for the Government as principal medical social worker with the health department, responsible for training the Chinese almoners.

Miss Benham was assigned a staff of 18 of them and by the time she left 14 years later, the number had risen to 77. Although she was far away from the family newspaper business, her writing instinct was not entirely missing. And before Colonial Service regulations enforced her retirement at 55, she compiled a book on the native birds of Hong Kong. After four years back in Britain, Miss Benham was off again, this time helping develop the Ugandan Mental Health Association. She also found time to climb Africa's highest mountain, Mount Kilimanjaro, in the steps of her great-aunt Gertrude Benham, a noted Victorian globe-trotter, naturalist and mountaineer.

Miss Benham returned to England to settle to voluntary work and live in a cottage at Goldhanger which she named Tayspills, after her Huguenot ancestral connections with Colchester. She became closely involved with the organisation MIND and was asked to promote the mental health cause in Essex, and Miss Benham became a prime mover in the formation of the Maldon and District Association for Mental Health. For 20 years she was its organising secretary, and helped with major local projects for the mentally ill.

and here is an obituary published in the Maldon and Burnham Standard at the same time...

Maura Benham

1913 – 1994

In 2010 Goldhanger Parish Council named the new estate at the north end of Church St. as

“Benham Close” in recognition of Maura’s lifetime achievements


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