Benthall Hall is a National Trust property in Shropshire. It contains about 70 portraits that depict eight generations of a single family, together with their many relatives. The two portraits on the front cover are of William Bentall and Dr. William Marshall. They met in Devon and became friends in around 1760, one a young merchant and the other a medical student. They remained friends for life, and became the patriarchs of that large extended family. Their children and grandchildren intermarried, and in the 19th century this clan exemplified the importance of “incest and influence” in maintaining a successful merchant class (as engagingly described by the anthropologist Adam Kuper in his book of that title). Its most successful members sometimes brushed with greatness, becoming entrepreneurs or civil servants in the British government and its colonies. Several others lived colourful but less respectable lives. The author draws on public and private documents to bring this family to life and show how, for better or worse, they lived through the political and social developments of the 19th and 20th centuries.
Any net profits from sales of the book will be donated to the National Trust.
The author, probably the youngest great-great-great-grandson of William Benthall and Dr. William Marshall, was born in Calcutta (now Kolkata) in West Bengal and educated in England. After graduating from Cambridge University with a degree in Mathematics, he spent over fifty years working with computers, as an operations research analyst, management consultant and executive at a computer software company, before being coaxed into becoming a genealogist and amateur social historian.