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British Industrial History

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Cleone de Heveningham Benest

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Cleone de Heveningham Benest (1880–1963), motorist, engineer, and metallurgist,

Also known as C. Griff

1880 Born at Forest Gate, London, daughter of George Philip Benest (1853–1930?), house proprietor, and his wife Edith Maria, née Powell (1857–1930). Shortly after Cleone’s birth, her mother took her to live with her maternal grandparents, Thomas and Eliza Powell, in St Aubin, Jersey[1]. Her father seems not to have been part of the family from then on, although he also returned to live on Jersey[2].

By 1891 the Powells and their daughter and grand-daughter had moved to Ryde, Isle of Wight.[3]

Early 1900s Cleone Benest became well-known as a pioneering female motorist with her own cars which she maintained in her well-equipped home workshop, as well as driving local buses.

She gained certificates from the City and Guilds Institute and passed the Royal Automobile Club’s examinations in driving and car mechanics.

Also competed with the British Ladies’ Fencing teams

1910 She passed the Portsmouth Municipal College’s local examination in "heat engines". She entered a competition in Flight magazine, to design "A speed alarm for flyers", and her design was printed in the magazine.

By special invitation she attended meetings of the Incorporated Institute of Automobile Engineers.

1911 Living at Ryde with her mother and grandmother[4]

Her war work was as an Aircraft Engine Inspector; she became a Government Aircraft Inspector at Vickers Ltd. This work took her to the Midlands and she remained living and working in the Birmingham area until at least 1928.

From 1916 many of her recorded exploits were under the name of Miss C. Griff

1920 When the Institute of Automobile Engineers changed its rules, Benest was one of the first women admitted as an associate member.

By 1939 she had resumed use of her original name: Cleone Benest was living with Frederick Crinage, a diesel engine expert (ex-RAF), in Olney, Buckinghamshire; she described herself as a "Gyrotillage executive", mechanical engineer, and metallurgist, and technical journalist; she was a member of the Women’s Land Army; she recorded her birth date as 1890[5].

1953 Benest moved to various addresses in Dorset.

1963 She died at Poole General Hospital, Poole.

  • Gyrotillers were heavy agricultural machines for ripping up land to be brought into food production. It is not clear whether she was an adviser on their use and maintenance, or whether, at the age of sixty, she was able to drive one of these monster machines.

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. 1881 census
  2. 1903 Directory
  3. 1891 census
  4. 1911 census
  5. 1939 Register
  • Biography of Cleone de Heveningham Benest, ODNB