Webpage created: June 27, 2017.
Webpage updated: June 27, 2017
Mr Nicholas Bennett had left his wife, Joan, 'a palace, dwelling house, and certain cellars and lofts within the Town of Plymouth', which he held following the demise of Mr Richard Ford. These properties were in the hands of trustees operating on her behalf.
Mrs Joan Bennett, by her will dated August 10th 1650, declared that upon her death, these properties should be set aside for the maintenance of two scholars of divinity in either the University of Oxford or Cambridge. One of these scholars was to be 'of the posterity of her said husband's brother's sons'. The other was to be 'of the posterity of one of her sisters'. In the meantime, until one of the above was 'fit for it' she could nominate such persons.
In addition, Mrs Bennett gave the mayor and commonalty of Plymouth:
It would appear that the palace, dwelling house, cellars and lofts may have been rented out to a Mr Pollard because the next item in her will required a Mr Pollard, or his wife, to pay £6 for the preaching of a sermon in 'the great church of Plymouth' every Saturday before the first Sunday in the month or before the celebration of the Lord's supper. Any residue was to go towards the maintenance of the two scholars mentioned earlier.
There is a question mark over who actually owned all these properties because at the end of her will she asked her executors to use her goods, chattels, money, plate and debts to purchase these properties should they be able to or to buy any other land to their value in order to maintain the above-mentioned Gifts. Once purchased the properties were to be held by the mayor and commonalty but managed by her executors until their deaths. The executors must have managed to acquire some property because the Charity Commission Report of 1821 states that the Corporation were 'now in possession of a freehold house, with warehouses and lofts behind it, in Southside Street, Plymouth,' but they were unable to locate any purchase deed or conveyance of fee simple.
In September 1820 the house was in the occupation of Mr Ralph Ord, for which he was paying £55 a year. This had been reduced from £60 at Michaelmas 1817. It transpired that the original premises had been burned down in 1795 and had been rebuilt by Mr George Ord, Ralph's father, for which the Corporation gave him £500 towards the cost.
The Commissioners also discovered that although the Corporation had received the rents of these premises since 1678 and had expended £732 for 'exhibitions' (presumably the two university scholars) and £500 for the rebuilding, there had been no claims for the maintenance of any scholars since 1799 and the Trust was in credit to the tune of £442 18s 7d. They could not find any trace of the amounts of £30 and £50 ever being lent out.
In respect to the payments for the preaching of the sermon, the Commissioners came to the conclusion that the land in the occupation of Mr Pollard was something separate from the prosperity from which the other monies were earned as it was clearly held leasehold and there was no evidence that the executors had been able to purchase it once the lease had expired. Furthermore, the vicar of Saint Andrew's Church, Doctor Gandy, who had known the parish since 1764, sais he was totally unaware of any gift from Mrs Bennett.
Needless to say, the Charity Commission was not pleased with this situation and from their Report in 1908 we learn that the Attorney-General brought a court action against the Corporation. The court found that the property of the Charity consisted of a freehold house (identified below), Consols to the value of £1,799 1s plus £53 19s 6d in cash. By an Order of the Court dated August 20th 1834 a scheme was approved by which the income was applied in the maintenance of exhibitions at the Universities of Oxford or Cambridge for the benefit of the sisters of the testatrix, Mrs Joan Bennett, or in default of any qualified candidates, for the sons of inhabitants of Plymouth. After many years of advertising for any descendants of Mrs Bennett, with no success, that part of the scheme was dropped.
By an Order of the Charity Commission dated January 14th 1887 the property belonging to the Charity, number 29 Southside Street, was sold for £950, which sum was invested in Consols to the value of £924 11s 5d and placed with the Official Trustees of Charitable Funds.
A new scheme, framed under the Endowed Schools Acts, was approved by Her Majesty in Council on November 17th 1888 and given the name of "Joan Bennett's Exhibition Endowment". The governing body consisted of Her Majesty's Inspector of Schools for the Plymouth District; a representative of the Lord Bishop of Exeter; and three chosen by Plymouth Town Council.
Under this scheme, the sum of £50 was to be awarded annually for three years for any place approved by the governors at any university in the United Kingdom. It was open only to boys of not more than nineteen years of age and they had to be sons of residents of the Parliamentary borough of Plymouth. The parents had to be, in the opinion of the governors, 'of limited means'. The awards were to be given only after successfully completing an examination but the governors did not have to set their own: they could accept those already operating in schools in the area. The governors also had the authority to extend a grant for a maximum of one year longer.
The Charity Commissioners made a number of Orders between October 19th 1864 and June 26th 1894 transferring various amounts of residue into the hands of the Official Trustees of Charitable Funds so that by 1908 the Foundation had £4,411 16s 7d worth of Consols, including the £924 11s 5d mention earlier. The governors in 1908 were Mr John Shelly, Mr William Bray and the Venerable Archdeacon Doctor Wilkinson and there were four co-opted governors: Mr Henry Hurrell, Mr J P Brown, Mr H Penrose Prance, and Mr T G Greek Wills. Mr Edmund Pridham was the clerk to the governors at a salary of £15 per year.
At the time of the Charity Commission Inquiry in 1908 there were three exhibitioners, all formerly pupils of Plymouth College. (This seems a bit unfair considering the requirement that their parents had to be 'of limited means'). One was attending Worcester College, Oxford; the second was at the Royal College of Science, London,; and the third was a non-collegiate student at the University of Oxford.