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Bennett Whiting 1883-1962


Bennett, the successful businessman.

As a young man.

As a teenager, from a cricket team photo. courtesy of Cheryl Wortley.

with wife Lily (nee Wills)

A Hawkins shop (from promotional material), location and personnel unknown. courtesy of Clive Hutchins. 

Cartoon of Bennett from 'Grocery', Feb 1926. courtesy of Clive Hutchins.
Parents:         Frank Whiting and Emma Spicer.

Born:              13th December 1883 in Haverhill. (2,5)

Baptised:       ?

Married:          Lilian May Wills, 21, spinster, of 1 Milestone Road, daughter of George Wills, pensioner, on 8th June 1908 at St Mary's Church, Stone-next-Dartford, Kent. Witnessed by G Wills and Mary Martha Keys.(2,4link to cityark scan

Children:        Elsie Marguerite Whiting b.1910, Doris Phyllis Whiting b.1913, Bennett Whiting b.1916 and Lily May Whiting b.1923

Died:                21st January 1962 at Mount Vernon hospital, Northwood, Middlesex. Ashes interred at Breakspear Crematorium, Ruislip.(5)

 
 
Bio:                 Bennett was the youngest son of Frank and Emma Whiting and was born at the end of 1883. He had without doubt a very keen business sense, because from relatively humble origins he went on to manage and co-own a successful chain of grocery stores which would have made him a multi-millionaire by today's standards.
On the 1891 census Bennett appears as a young boy living at 7 Chauntry Row, Haverhill, with his parents and two older brothers Arthur and Frank. Later they moved to 21 Broad Street, and he attended the nearby Cangle school which cost 1d a week before the days of free education.(6)

Apparently, Bennett got his first chance to hone his skills as an entrepeneur by selling pastries and pies door to door with his brothers before supplying the crowds at the local football and cricket matches with oranges, nuts and sweets.(6)
He left school at thirteen and after a short spell at Gurteen's he was taken on as a grocery and provision apprentice at the Haverhill Co-operative Society. His pay was 3/- (15p) per week for the first year, 5/- (25p) for the second, 7/- (35p) for the third before finally reaching the giddy heights of 12/- (60p). We see Bennett, aged 17, on the 1901 census in his role as grocers assistant living at 21 Broad Street with his parents and brothers. However, not content with his achievements here, shortly afterwards he decided to move to the big city to seek his fortune.

Bennett had a ready-made role model in his uncle Frederick Squire, who was a already a successful tallow fat contractor living in London with Esther Squire (nee Whiting). Frederick was a self-made man, and as well as providing an inspiration for Bennett, he may well have provided some contacts too. The Squires also supplied board and lodging for Bennett in their home at 168 Lancaster Road, Kensington, and the rent he was to pay them was eventually returned to him as a lump sum which no doubt aided his business exploits.

After getting a job at 17 with the Shepherds Bush branch of the Acton based firm of J Beauchamp & sons grocers on 18/- (90p) a week, Bennett set about putting in some hard graft working Monday and Tuesday 8am to 9pm, Wednesday and Thursday 8am to 2pm, Fridays 8am to 10pm and Saturdays 7am til Midnight! To cope with the winter sales hours were extended to midnight on all days except Wednesday with no overtime paid. Initially his duties were collecting orders, deliveries and occasional counter-work,(6) but he worked himself up to a more regular role behind the counter.

Bennett married Lilian May Wills on 8th June 1908 at St Mary's church, Stone-next-Dartford. His address at this time is still given as being 168 Lancaster Road, and his job title as 'Grocer'. It is unclear how he met Lilian, but this may well have been through his job as it seems he would have had little time to meet her anywhere else. Lilian was the daughter of a retired Asylum attendant, George Wills (see a picture of George on Bennet's father Frank's page), who was originally from Devon, and Elizabeth Lewis, of Gravesend. Six months later Bennett got his big break and was appointed manager of Beauchamp's chief grocery store in the High Street, Acton.

The London Electoral registers for 1910 show Bennett and his new wife living at 7 Aldine Street, Fulham, where he is renting 3 rooms on the top floor unfurnished at 9s per week.(7) The 1911 census the following year shows them at 11 Ormiston Grove, Shepherds Bush. He was now the proud father of a 7 month old daughter, Elsie Marguerite, and the holder of the job title 'manager'.

Bennett was to stay with Beauchamp & Sons for the duration of the First World War. In this time he would have another daughter Doris in 1913 and a son, also called Bennett, in 1916. The Electoral registers show he moved house several times during this period, living at 55 Devonport Road in 1914 and 164 High Street, Acton, in 1918.(7)
As his tenure with the firm neared its end, Bennett campaigned to restrict opening hours to a 6pm finish as had been implemented nationwide during the final years of the war. Having worked so many long shifts himself, he may have sensed the benefits of a fresher workforce providing better quality person-hours even if this went against the usual management principles.
When he took what was allegedly the first fortnights break in his working life in August 1919, he returned to find changes had been made in his absence that were not to his liking. He resigned, and in the fashion of a true entrepeneur, went into business on his own terms.

The firm of F Hawkins & Co was started up with two of Bennett's associates from Beauchamp's, Frederick Albert Hawkins and Percy Charles Orford. Despite the name, Bennett was the driving force behind the grocery firm and owned half the shares in the company. Hawkins owned 2/6ths and Orford, as the junior partner, 1/6th. It was at this point that the rent-money that the Squires had put aside for him came into its own and allowed Bennett to fund his share.
The company grew rapidly after starting out at a small shop at 61 Greenford Avenue, Hanwell, in 1918 with a second added at 9 Horn Lane, Acton, which is where Bennett and Lily also lived from 1922 before moving to 14 Rosemont Road.(7) 
They had their fourth and final child, Lily May, in 1923.

A feature in 'Grocery' magazine, February 1926, (kindly supplied by Clive Hutchins, a great grandson of Bennett, whose father Michael actually worked for Hawkins) entitled 'Sport and humour in Grocery' outlines how the rapidly expanding business of Messrs Hawkins & Co was fuelled by the proprietors penchant for 'manly sport' and that the company even had their own athletics club, 'Hawckonian A.C' with sections for football, cricket, bowls and golf. The cricket team was coached by Patsy Hendren and Jack Durston of the Middlesex XI, a batsman and fast bowler who were amongst the top cricket players in England between the wars. 
A nice quote from Bennett in the article captures how the three owners enthusiasm for sport mixed with good business sense seemed the ideal ingredients for a fast growing business: 'A tip for the retail grocer bent on opening a string of branches?..Well, say, don't worry. Delegate your duties and authority. Give everyone his job. Make him feel that he is just a bit more than one of the staff. Make him a personal unit, for it is human nature for most of us to like being rated very high. Give to each his position in the boat. If the seventh man pulls a better oar than the third man, move him. No boat race was ever won with a bad stroke - and no shop can hope to succeed with a bad skipper.'(10) With advice that could have come straight from the pages of 'How to win friends and influence people', by American author Dale Carnegie (himself a contemporary of Bennett), it shows that Hawkins & Co were right at the cutting edge of progressive business thinking at this time.

Hawkins retired from the partnership on 3rd June 1929 and his share was bought out by Whiting. The company now had eighteen branches and a head office at 95 Park Road, Acton. In 1931 F Hawkins & Co became a limited company with Bennett owning 5/6th shares.

An article was published in the West Suffolk Echo of 1st July 1939 entitled 'Haverhillite's Success in Business. Sketch of Mr Bennett Whiting's career.'(9), and it was similar to one that had appeared recently in the Acton Gazette. Here we were told that Bennett, who up to ten years ago had been known as 'the young governor', had won medals and diplomas in trade competitions and that he had taken a special interest in bacon-curing and had supervised the development of pig farms at Haverhill. It also refers to the fact that he was one time player and president of Acton cricket club. (see picture on left)
The article was written at the point in Bennett's career where he decided to move back to be nearer to Haverhill.
The company had moved its head office to Hawkco House, 35 Horn Lane, in 1932. There was more provision here for storage facilities and despatch departments. Also in this year, they had bought Old Hall Farm, Steeple Bumpstead, which is where christmas turkeys, poultry and bacon were reared/produced. Bennett was also a keen sportsman, and regularly had shooting parties up from London. They would often stay in the Bell or Rose and Crown in Haverhill.

In 1937 P.C Orford was tragically knocked down and killed in a traffic accident near the firms HQ, and his son took over his share in the company. Bennett Jnr also began to take a more active role in the company and was made a director around this time. 

By the start of the war in 1939 the company had 49 branches, 10 in Acton and the rest spread from Wandsworth Bridge Road to Greenford. There were some 400 empoyees.
Bennett bought a house called Long Lindeth, at Sturmer, and lived there during the war. After the war he handed control of the firm to Bennett Jnr. At its peak in the 1950's there were 56 stores.

Haverhill benefited from several contributions Bennett made during his lifetime. £125 was contributed towards the grandstand at Hamlet Croft, and he also paid for the playground equipment on the recreation ground. Every year he paid 10/- each to the pensioners of the town through the Pensioners Association. The Bury Free Press of 27th June 1952 recalls how "Five shillings was once again received by members of the Haverhill Old Age Pensioners Association when they went on their annual outing to Clacton-on-Sea last week, from their old friend and benefactor, Mr Bennett Whiting, of Acton, a successful business man, who left Haverhill, his native town, over 50 years ago. For many years Mr Whiting has repeated this magnanimous offer. Last year, to mark the 50th year he left the town, he raised the gift to £1 each" (11). He was also said to have given Steeple Bumpstead its bowling green and contributed money to Acton hospital. 

Bennett lived at 14 Rosemont Road, Acton, in his later years and died in 1962 at Mount Vernon hospital, Northwood. Probate was granted to his son Bennett Whiting and Stanley Farrell, his son-in-law, on 15th June with effects of £13,729 2s 7d.(8)

...to be continued

Sources:       

(1) Birth Register. 1st Quarter 1884, Risbridge District, Volume 4a Page 592

(2) Marriage Register. 2nd Quarter 1908, Dartford District, Volume 2a Page 1121

(3) Death Register. 1st Quarter 1962, Harrow District, Volume 5f Page 534

(4) cityark.medway.gov.uk, Stone next Dartford Parish Registers, marriages 1907-1917, p352

(5) details from Findagrave.com

(6) article from 'At the border: history at the junction of the three counties', p24, ed. Patrick Crouch. Largely drawing from an article in the West Suffolk Echo, Saturday 1st July 1930 which in turn borrowed from a piece in the Acton Gazette.

(7) London Electoral Registers, 1832-1965, ancestry.com

(8) Ancestry.com, National Probate Calendar.

(9) West Suffolk Echo, 1st July 1939, Microfiche, Suffolk Record Office, Bury St Edmunds.

(10) 'Grocery' magazine, February 1926, p.49. Clive Hutchins.
(11) Bury Free Press, 27th June 1952, p.8, Findmypast.