Meet the councillor who invented a tile

Central Gardens in Merrylands used to be a tile company owned by former Holroyd councillor, Harry Walker Benson.

The seventh of eight children born to James and Louisa (nee McKeown) Benson, Harry Benson was born in 1887 in Gundagai, NSW, and grew up to be a man of many interests.

An amateur boxer and wrestler, a fine tennis player and enthusiastic golfer, he was also a keen motorcyclist and often entered 24-hour reliability tests.

However little is known about Mr Benson’s early life, other than that he was educated at Paddington Public School and began to study law, but then quit his studies to find work in Queensland.

Newspaper articles of the day mention him travelling to Western Australia to seek his fortune prospecting for gold.

Later he settled in Merrylands, where he managed Sherwood Tile and Drainpipe Works — a well-known tile business located between Paton Street and Merrylands Road, Merrylands, originally founded by Arthur Todd Holroyd, the first mayor of Holroyd, or Prospect and Sherwood as it was then known.

The company’s name was changed to the Sherwood Tile Company in 1905 and it traded under the name of Walker Benson from 1917.

Walker Benson Pty Ltd manufactured machine and sandstock bricks, earthenware pipes, French, Italian and roofing tiles, Moravian and flooring tiles, and all kinds of clay and pottery ware.

The company also acquired I. Lazer and Sons, on the western side of Betts Road (now the Cumberland Highway).

Records name Mr Benson as the inventor of a new class of tile – the pantil – which did much to oust the French tile from the Australian market.

His company had 60 male employees and covered over 30 acres.

There were 10 kilns that burnt up to 50 tonnes of coal per week, making it one of the most important industries in the area.

It was also said to be the only firm in Australia to make hand-modelled glazed art pottery at that time.

Mr Benson married Doris Helena Rose Lewis in 1916 with whom he had two children, Valerie and Clem.

He entered local politics in 1926, serving on Prospect and Sherwood Council for one term, seeing in the new council name of Holroyd in 1927.

Unfortunately, ill health prevented him from serving any further terms and led to an early death from leukaemia in 1934 at the age of only 42.

But his company stayed open, albeit under different names, until the late 1980’s when it finally closed.

Keep digging

Look for more stories from our local historical societies at parramattasun.com.au on the first Friday of every month.

These stories will be compiled by the Granville Historical Society, Holroyd Local History Research and the Friends of Mays Hill Cemetery.

PS Magazine also has a regular historical section, called back in the day.

Pick up a copy of the monthly magazine in the Parramatta CBD.

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