Kenton, Benjamin (DNB00)

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KENTON, BENJAMIN (1719–1800), vintner and philanthropist, was born in Fieldgate Street, Whitechapel, on 19 Nov. 1719. His mother kept a greengrocer's shop, and he was educated in the charity school of the parish. At the age of fifteen he was apprenticed to the keeper of the Angel and Crown Inn, Whitechapel, and when he had served his time became waiter and drawer at the Crown and Magpie in Aldgate. A large crown of stone surmounted by a magpie of pear-tree wood was the sign, and sea-captains were the principal customers. The owner wantonly let the Magpie decay and changed the name to the Crown. Custom fell off; he died, and the business passed into Kenton's hands. The sea-captains who had previously purchased their ale for long voyages at the tavern still bought it of Kenton, who was famous as an attentive waiter. It often excited their admiration that, when they were dining above stairs, the waiter below in the bar knew when the candles wanted snuffing, and his explanation that his knowledge was due to no extraordinary instinct, but merely to the observation of a contemporary light in the bar, does not seem to have diminished their opinion of his sagacity. He restored the sign of the magpie, and became possessed of a secret which made his fortune, that of bottling ale so that it could pass through the changes of climate on the voyage to India round the Cape, without the cork flying out of the bottle. Thomas Harley [q. v.] was alderman of Portsoken, the ward in which Kenton took a house, and gave him judicious advice as to investments. He thus attained to great wealth, and on retiring from active business went to live in Gower Street, and there died 25 May 1800. He had been enrolled a member of the Vintners' Company 3 April 1734, and was elected master in 1776. A portrait of him in their court-room shows that he was a man of solid proportions with a slight inward squint. He was married and had one son, whom he bred a druggist, but who died young, and one daughter, who became attached to his clerk, but died before her father would allow the marriage. The clerk behaved in so honourable and considerate a manner in the difficult circumstances of the engagement that Kenton made him his chief friend, and bequeathed to him 300,000l. He was a liberal benefactor of the parish school where he was educated, of Sir John Cass's school in Portsoken, and of the Vintners' Company. He gave 5,000l. to St. Bartholomew's Hospital, of which his friend Harley was treasurer, and a surgical ward in the north wing is called after him. He was buried in Stepney Church, where he has a monument by Westmacott, and the master and court of the Vintners attend an annual sermon to commemorate his benefactions. A street near Brunswick Square, London, is named after him.

[Herbert's History of the Twelve Great Livery Companies, ii. 634, 637; Benjamin Standring's B. Kenton, a Biographical Sketch, London, 1878; Monthly Magazine 1802; information received at Vintners' Hall.]

N. M.