The family of George Webb

This post will probably be of little interest to anyone besides me, as I’ve yet to come across anyone else who is researching the history of the Webb family. If anyone with an interest in the Webbs finds their way to this blog, I’d love to hear from them (I’m already in contact with family historians researching the Robbs, Londors, Roes, Baileys, Frenches, Bowmans and Seagers).

I mentioned in a post the other day that the information on the Webb family in the newly-released 1911 census records might help us to trace the history of George Webb, father of Mary Emily Elizabeth Webb, my father’s mother. In an earlier post I suggested a number of possibilities for George’s antecedents, but mentioned that I was finding it difficult to be sure which of the various George Webbs I’d found was the right one. By confirming that ‘our’ George Webb was born in Shadwell (an area of east London close to the docks), the 1911 records have helped to exclude some of the false trails.

I now think it likely that George Webb, my great grandfather, was the son of George and Elizabeth Webb, who lived for most of their lives in the Shadwell/Wapping area. If we work backwards, we find them listed in the 1891 census, living at 50 Prusom Street, not far from Wapping High Street, south of Commercial Road. George was 47 and a house decorator (which fits with the information given on his son’s marriage certificate), and is said to have been born in Wapping. Elizabeth was 43 and a tailoress. Their 23 year old daughter, also Elizabeth, followed the same occupation as her mother, while 17 year old George (my great grandfather) was working as a baker – one of many occupations that he would take on in the course of his life. He had two younger sisters – Alice, 15, and Virtue, 10 – and a younger brother, Alfred, age 7 (I wonder if the name ‘Virtue’ indicates a religious household, or whether the name was in widespread use in Victorian times?). Also living with them was a boarder, one Jane Haywood, age 28, another tailoress.

If we go back 10 years to the 1881 census, we find what looks like the same family living not far away, at 83 Cornwall Street, which is just north of Cable Street and today is close to Shadwell tube station. The ages of the adults don’t quite match the 1891 record, but there are enough similarities elsewhere to make me think that either the Webbs, or the census clerk, weren’t very accurate about ages. In this record, George, 34, is again listed as a house decorator, while his wife Elizabeth, 32, is described as a machinist, as is their daughter, Susannah, 15. The other children are Elizabeth, 13, Rosina, 10, George (‘our’ George), 7, and Alice, 5.  The absence of Susannah and Rosina from the later record might be accounted for by the fact that by 1891 they were aged 25 and 20 respectively, and could easily have been married and/or living away from the family home. Obviously, daughter Elizabeth remained unmarried and living with her parents (and probably working at home alongside her mother) until what was quite a late age for the times.

It took me a while to find any record in the 1871 census that matched ‘our’ Webb family. However, I eventually identified a George Webb, dock labourer aged 23, and his wife Elizabeth, a needlewoman aged 22, living at 36 Sheridan Street, which is a little way north of Cornwall Street. One of their children more or less matches the later records: Elizabeth, age 3, though once again we need to remember the notorious inaccuracies in determining ages in these early censuses.

Besides Elizabeth, there were two other daughters: Ann, age 6, and Georgianna (not Georgina), 10 months. Since neither is mentioned in the later census records, it may be that both died in infancy. But a comparison with the 1881 census raises a further question: if this is the same Webb family, then where are Susannah, who would have been aged 5, and Rosina, who would have been born in 1871? Perhaps Rosina was born later in the year, after the census had been taken. Or could it be that Georgianna’s name was later changed to Rosina, and Ann’s to Susannah – either by the girls adopting a middle name as their preferred name, or by the parents deciding to change their name for them? Certainly, baby Georgianna was still at the age when parents (and certainly in those times) may still have been deciding what her name was going to be.

Certainly, the children’s 1871 names provide some kind of confirmation that we’ve found the right family. If Elizabeth was named after her mother, then Georgianna’s name is almost certainly a feminisation of her father’s. As for Ann, looking on the Family Search website for George’s and Elizabeth’s wedding turned up only one possibility: a George Webb marrying an Eliza Ann Redder at St. John the Evangelist, Limehouse. The only (possible) problem is that the wedding was in September 1867, 2 years after their first child was supposed to have been born.

So Ann could have been given her mother’s middle name (which might in turn be her mother’s first name, as was common). There’s another possibility. Searching for records of George Webb before he was married, I found a 16 year old George in the 1861 census, living at 9 Cinnamon Street, also in Wapping and not far from Prusom Street. He’s said to be the nephew of the head of the household, one Thomas Webb, age 30, and like George a dock labourer (thus providing a link with the George Webb of 1871). Thomas is said to have been born in St. Clement Danes, providing a clue as to the possible origins of the Webbs, while his wife Ann, 27 (I think it’s been wrongly transcribed as 21), was born in Shoreditch. They had two young sons: Alfred, 2, and Joseph, 9 months. We don’t yet know why George was living with his aunt and uncle: perhaps he boarded with them while he worked with Thomas at the docks, or perhaps his own parents had died and he was brought up by them. Either way, he may have named his first daughter after his aunt. It’s perhaps noteworthy that he would later give one of his sons the name of his cousin, Alfred.

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