Queer Places:
Addington Palace, Gravel Hill, Croydon CR0 5BB, UK
St. Mary the Blessed Virgin Churchyard Addington, London Borough of Croydon, Greater London, England

Mary Eleanor "Nellie" Benson (October 10, 1863 - October 27, 1890) was the daughter of Archbishop Edward White Benson and his wife Mary (Minnie) Sidgwick. She never married, but had an affair with composer Ethel Smyth (her mother's former lover). Benson was the center of a large circle of lady workers and also the chief founder of the Women's University Settlement in Southwark in 1887.

She was born at Wellington College, Crowthorne.

Nellie was one of the pioneers of women's higher education, attending Lady Margaret's Hall, Oxford. Although also an avid sportswoman, excelling in tennis and a member of a lady's cricket team, she was not one of the notorious "new women," who challenged Victorian mores. After she left Oxford, she returned home to a conventional life in the archbishop's residence at Lambeth Palace, London. She was, her father said approvingly in a brief memoir that he wrote as an introduction to her study of the London poor, a person in whom there was "no shadow of self-assertion. It seemed as if there were no self to be asserted".

Selfless, yet needing purpose in her life, Nellie followed the acceptable Victorian lady's path of devoting herself to charity work, visiting the poor, and holding Sunday afternoon religious classes in slum areas. Keenly observant of the lives of the women whom she visited and taught, she recorded her observations in a volume originally entitled "Streets and Lanes of the City," published privately by her father after her early death in 1890. These observations are now republished as Lambeth Women Speak: Urban Poverty and Religion in Nellie Benson's London.

On October 21, 1890, she contracted diphtheria, probably while attending to the local poor, and died on October 27 at the family home, Addington Park, Croydon. She was buried at Addington church on October 29. Her family, in her memory and according to her wish, made a bequest to supply the training, outfit, and convalescence or holiday of poor girls in Lambeth. The Women's University Settlement established a nurseship for the poor in Southwark as her memorial.

Her only novel, At Sundry Times and in Divers Manners, was published posthumously with a memoir by her brother. In 1891, her brother, A.C. Benson, published Mary Eleanor Benson, a memoir.


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