The Webbs of Wapping

In recent posts I’ve been trying to verify the origins of my great great grandfather George Webb – the father of my great grandfather, also George Webb (b. 1874). In the last post I explored the theory, which on the face of it seems fairly convincing, that the elder George was born in 1846, the son of cooper John Webb.

However, there are some records for my great great grandfather that point in a different direction. The census records give a number of different possible birth dates and places for George, as follows:

1871            about 1848            Middlesex, ‘K’ (?)

1881            about 1846            Middlesex, London

1891            about 1844            London, Wapping

1901            about 1847            London, St. George in the East

1911            about 1847     *

*I’ve omitted the place of birth from the 1911 record as George appears to have misunderstood the heading ‘birthplace’ and entered their current address – 50 Prusom Street, Old Gravel Lane, Wapping – for himself and his son Virtue.

The record that stands out as discrepant here is the 1891 census. If George really was the son of John Webb, then (as I noted in the last post) he was actually born in Whitechapel in 1846. Only the 1881 census reflects this exactly, while the records for 1871, 1901 and 1911 are only a year adrift, and might be broadly right about his birthplace.

But why did George tell the 1891 census official that he was born in Wapping in 1844, if he was actually born in Whitechapel in 1846? Perhaps we shouldn’t lend too much credence to what individuals told officials, especially as George’s knowledge of his date and place of birth appears to have been so vague. But what it we were to take the George of 1891 at his word? What if we looked for a George Webb who was born in Wapping in 1844?

This is what I did in an earlier post, in which I believed I had traced four successive generations of George Webbs. Now, in this post, I want to re-visit the Webbs of Wapping, as I think there’s still a chance they might be connected in some way to my great grandfather.

London docks

On 16 August 1844 a son, George, was born to waterman George Webb and his wife Elizabeth, of Green Bank, Wapping. He was christened on 22 September at the church of St. John of Wapping. The 1851 census finds George (the father), 30, now described as a lighterman, living at Wapping Dock Street with Elizabeth, 28, and their sons George, 7, and William, 4.

Both sons, George and William, are said to have been born in Wapping. Their mother Elizabeth was born in Rotherhithe in about 1823, and their father George in the parish of St. Clement Danes in 1821. It’s likely that Elizabeth’s maiden name was Hill and that she and George are the couple who were married at Newington St Mary, Southwark in 1843, the year before their son George was born.

If we look back through the records for traces of this Webb family, we find that the 1841 census mentions a George Webb, born in about 1821 in Middlesex, living in Queen’s Head Alley, which was off Green Bank in Wapping, one of a large number of children of yet another George Webb and his wife Sarah. The other children mentioned are John, 13, William, 11, Thomas, 9, Louisa, 8, Joseph, 6, Walter, 3, and Nancy, 1. The census record is almost illegible, but it’s possible that the older George Webb’s occupation was shipwright.

Wapping in 1859: a sketch by Whistler

In 1851, when their married son George and his family were living at Wapping Dock Street, George and Sarah were still at 2 Queens Head Alley, with Joseph, 17, an errand boy, Sarah, 29 (who appears to have been absent from the earlier census), Walter, 13, also an errand boy, Nancy, 11, and granddaughter Sarah Webb, 7. George is said to have been born in Wapping and Sarah in Deptford.

So far I’ve been unable to find George and Sarah in the 1861 census. However, we know that their son Thomas Adolphus Webb married Ann Eliza Bradford in Bethnal Green in 1856, and that by 1861 they were living at 9 Cinnamon Street, which connected with Wapping Dock Street. With them were their young sons Alfred, 2, and Joseph, 7 months. Also at the same address was Thomas’ nephew George (son of his brother George) now 16 and a dock labourer. According to the census record, Thomas Adolphus Webb, like his brother, was born in the parish of St Clement Danes.

I’ll say more about this Wapping branch of the Webb family in another post, but I’ll end this post with a question. When my great great grandfather moved with his wife and children to Prusom Street, Wapping, some time in the late 1880s, was it a random choice, or was he moving back to the area where he grew up, and where members of his birth family were still living?

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