Benjamin was a son of Joseph Fenner and his wife, Penelope/Penheli Buckland, and was baptised in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire on 27th December 1835, the son of a travelling tinker of West Wycombe. Buckinghamshire was a favourite county for the family, but records of Benjamin generally find him located in Wiltshire, where he chose to settle, perhaps because of an informal union.
His name is found in local newspapers in Wiltshire with reference to minor misdemeanours from 1878 onwards, when Hannah (sic) Gore, a lodging house keeper, was summoned for allowing a dog, owned by Benjamin Fenner, to roam at large and not under proper control. The woman was, more properly, Harriet Gore, and she had been found in the 1871 census working as a servant at the lodging house at Wootton Bassett, a widow, with a daughter, Amy. Seven years later she is the owner of the lodging house, and perhaps in a relationship with Benjamin Fenner, given that he appears to live permanently at this lodging house from the 1870s until 1890.
Benjamin also involved himself in a court case in which Harriet Gore was charged with not making a mortgage payment, which again suggests a relationship between the two. The Devizes and Wiltshire Gazette of 19th January 1888 notes that, at the conclusion of this case against Harriet, Benjamin Fenner had interrupted the proceedings twice and was ‘informed he must express his regret immediately, or go to Devizes gaol,’ adding that ‘Fenner chose to do the former.’
In census records Harriet claims birth at Hanbury, Worcestershire, and is probably the Harriet, daughter of John and Ann Gore, baptised on 9th December 1833, father a blacksmith. Her daughter, Amy Edith Matilda Gore, was baptised at Hanbury too, on 8th March 1864, the daughter of Harriet. It seems that, since she has a child, Harriet claims to be a widow when she works at the lodging house in Wiltshire.
The 1881 census finds Benjamin Fenner at the licensed lodging house at Wootton Bassett, Cricklade in Wiltshire, described as an unmarried man, born at Beaconsfield, a dealer in old metal, but he has clearly been living at the lodging house since at least 1878, and probably earlier, quite possibly with Harriet Gore.
Benjamin continues living at the lodging house, until, in 1890, he is accused of assaulting Amy Turner, a dressmaker, Harriet Gore’s daughter, who, although married, has returned to live with her mother. He seems to have turned her out of the house following an argument; Amy gave evidence that she did not believe Benjamin would actually hurt her, but he declared he would be happy to go to prison for a month in order to get a bit of peace!
She had married, as Amy Edith Matilda Gore, aged 22, at Swindon, Christ Church, Wiltshire, on 23rd June 1884, to a railway porter, Henry Turner, where she named her father as ‘George Gore, a blacksmith.’ Her mother was indeed the daughter of a blacksmith, and had a brother named George, who took up the same profession and remained living in Worcestershire, perhaps this is why such an assertion seemed a good idea.
The case was held over from February 1890 to April that year, when Benjamin, described as a ‘razor grinder and general dealer of Wootton Bassett,’ was sentenced to 21 days with hard labour; tragically, within a fortnight, Benjamin Fenner was transferred from the prison to Devizes Lunatic Asylum as he had been certified as insane. The certificate of insanity was issued on 26th April 1890, and the Asylum is where Benjamin is recorded in the 1891 census, a married man and a grinder.
There is no evidence that Benjamin married, but it is likely that he had an informal union with Harriet Gore. His death, at the age of 60, is recorded at the Wiltshire County Lunatic Asylum in the spring of 1895. Harriet remained running the lodging house, and Amy is still with her in 1891, but by the 1901 census Harriet, described as a common lodging house keeper, is alone; she dies in the winter of 1906 and is buried on 23 January in the local churchyard, more than 10 years after Benjamin Fenner, and fifteen years after his incarceration in the Lunatic Asylum.