This month, we had the privilege of welcoming to the store Rosie Ellerby and Mel Stockdale, granddaughters of our company founder, Harry Benson. We discussed his colourful life in tailoring, the rich legacy he left behind and why, today, we are celebrating his life more than ever.
Despite his short life, Harry Benson remains a much-admired man. Not only was he a dedicated husband and father, but he spent a life committed to the craft of tailoring, contributing hugely in building a business into the prestigious brand it is today.
Harry grew up in Richmond, a market town in North Yorkshire, with his mother, father and two sisters. At an early age he made the move to London and was apprenticed at Jermyn Street tailors Hawes & Curtis, where he learnt and perfected his craft for 15 years. During this time, Harry rose through the ranks to become one of the most prominent and important cutters within the firm, dressing members of royalty, both at home and abroad, as well as the highest ranked members of the British aristocracy – not to mention celebrated stars of stage and screen.
It was during this time that Harry was able to refine his own unique cutting style, that of “…producing the comfort of the draped effect and pleasing appearance of balanced proportion, creating a style that retains all the points of traditional formality and at the same time embraces the theory of style-construction that serve as a barrier between the old school and the new.” It was also during this time that Harry is credited with the creation of the first backless evening waistcoat, harnessing him a reputation as a leading authority in evening dress wear.
In 1937, Harry went into partnership with Thomas Clegg, establishing Benson & Clegg, setting up business in a club lounge tailoring shop on Mayfair’s Bury Street, with the Dukes of Kent and Gloucester among their first customers, as noted by one news publication of the day, “Popular Harry Benson and Tom Clegg have just opened [their] own premises…Duke [of Kent] hearing of it, drove up with cheery, “Hello, you two.”…gave lads flying start with nice orders for royal wardrobe.”
Harry will, of course, always be remembered for his dedicated service as personal tailor to His Majesty King George VI. He was a frequent visitor to Buckingham Palace, attending to the King for decades as maker of his civilian wardrobe, but also in the capacity of confidant and friend of the household. He would often be found at the palace for bridge evenings and it was upon one such occasion that he was introduced to Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret.
Harry was garnered with many honours throughout his life, but perhaps his greatest came on the day of the 1937 coronation, when he was given the duty of dressing the King for the ceremony, a duty for which he was awarded the Coronation Medal.
We can only speculate as to what Harry's legacy might have been had he not been taken from us so soon. In his short life he helped establish a business that planted its roots among the tailoring fraternity and grew into the respected brand it is today.
Here's to you, Harry.
Explore the Benson & Clegg public archive at 9 Piccadilly Arcade, Jermyn Street, London, SW1Y 6NH.