From rags to riches: The story of a real life Dick Whittington

Benetfink and Co was a great London emporium in it’s time, and its impressive storehouse dominated curious passers-by in popular Cheapside. Describing themselves as “furnishing ironmongers” they offered shoppers everything from baths and stoves to tea-trays and cameras, and won over gentry with a variety of goods to stock any mansion. They successfully traded for the best part of 60 years from their establishment in the 1840s to 1908 when they were merged with A. M. Gamage of High Holborn – perhaps better known as Gamages, arguably one of the most successful and renowned toy stores in Britain.

The story of the founder started far from the fine commodities of his business. Samuel Alexander Benetfink was a foundling. He was discovered on the steps of the St Benetfink church, of which he was named after. Despite his uncertain start in life he strived for an education. When he reached 28 years old, after serving an apprenticeship to the ironmongery trade, had saved enough to enable him to start business.

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And so Benetfink and Jones were founded as furnishing ironmongers in Cheapside, and subsequently became Benetfink and Fox before Benetfink and Co in 1855. By 1860 the business had gained an international reputation and millions were attracted to visit notorious Cheapside.

After Mr Benetfink passed away in 1869, his legacy was continued by Mr George Evans for almost a quarter of a century. The store maintained its successful reputation and enjoyed being a pinnacle of London’s retail trade.

When Mr A. W. Gamage acquired the business in 1908 the business had already developed additional departments devoted to cycle and motor accessories, sports and athletics. He became governing director of Messrs Benetfink, and the company became Gamage’s City Depot.

The London City Press once compared Benetfink’s story to that of the literary legend Dick Whittington. It certainly is a powerful reminder and inspiring example that proves every child can achieve success in life, no matter how humble their origin.

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