My father, Peter Ernest Robb (born 1933), is the son of Arthur Ernest Robb (1897 – 1979) and Mary Emily Elizabeth (‘Polly’) Webb (1898 – 1965). My grandmother was the daughter of George and Mary (also known as ‘Polly’) Webb nee French.

Until now, I’ve had more luck researching the French family than the Webbs. Before last week the only firm information I had for my great grandfather, George Webb, was contained in two records. There’s a 1901 census record that has George Webb, a gas works labourer born in about 1873, his wife Mary French, born in 1874, and their two children, Mary E.E. (age 3) and Jessie C. (10 months), all born in Mile End, living at 32 Coutts Road, Mile End Old Town, together with lodger and widower Joseph Webb, age 51, a ‘vestry carman’, born in Bethnal Green. Since the details of his wife and children match family information, we can be fairly sure that this is ‘our’ George Webb. Then there’s my grandmother’s birth certificate, from June 1898, which has her father, George Webb, working as a journeyman house decorator, and the family living at the same address in Coutts Road.

However, I recently obtained a copy of my great grandparents’ marriage certificate, which offers a little more information. George Webb and Mary French were married on 1st August 1897 at the  district church in St. Paul’s, Bow Common. They were both 24 years old, so born in about 1873 or 1874 (thus matching the census record). The residence given for both is 92 Burdett Road. (It’s interesting that both the addresses we have for them were named after Angela Burdett-Coutts, the philanthropist who took a particular interest in Bethnal Green). The name of Mary’s father is given as Frederick French, bootmaker, confirming what we already know about her family, while George’s father is another George Webb, described, like his son, as a decorator. The witnesses to the marriage were Frederick French (presumably Mary’s father) and Katherine French (probably Mary’s sister, who would have been about 16 at the time). The absence of George’s father as a witness suggests that he had probably died by this date.

Using this information, we can attempt to trace George Webb’s family. Working back through the census records, the most likely match for 1891 is the family of house decorator George Webb, age 47 (so born around 1844), living at 50 Prusom Street, Wapping, in the parish of St George’s in the East. His wife, Elizabeth, 43 (born about 1848), is a tailoress. Their children are Elizabeth, 23, also a tailoress, George, 17, a baker, Alice, 15, Virtue, 10, and Alfred, 7. They also have a boarder, Jane Hogwood, 28, another  tailoress. George senior’s occupation and his son’s age both match what we already know. However, there are two slight discrepancies: young George’s birth place is given as St. George’s (his father’s is Wapping), not Mile End as in the 1901 census, and at this stage he is working as a baker not a decorator. 

In 1881 we find the same family living at 3 Cornwall Street, also in St. George’s. George senior is a house decorator, his wife Elizabeth is a machinist, and besides 7 year old George they have three other children: Susannah, 15, Elizabeth, 13, Rosina, 10, and Alice, 5. The ages of their children mean that George and Elizabeth would need to have been married by about 1866; but so far I’ve been unable to find any record of them in the 1871 census.

Besides this family, there are one or two other George Webbs in the records who are near matches for my great grandfather. In 1891, at 29 Turin Street, Bethnal Green, we find an 18 year old George Webb living with Herman Stellis, a 40 year old cook born in Whitechapel, his wife Maria, 45, and daughters James Stellis, 10, Maria Stellis, 7, and John Webb 14, a picture frame maker, all born in Bermondsey. The most likely explanation for this family arrangement is that George and John were Maria’s sons from an earlier marriage (presumably to a Mr. Webb) and that since her husband’s death or departure she had remarried Herman Stellis and moved with him to Bethnal Green. The Stellis children are either the result of this new marriage, or children of Herman’s from a previous marriage. There are two major discrepancies in this record with what we know of my great grandfather. One is his place of birth, which is given as Bermondsey. The other is his occupation, which is described as ‘sailor – seas’, though he was obviously at home at the time of the census. Curiously, however, my father has always thought that his grandfather was a sailor: but then, how to explain the occupation given in later records? 

One possibility is that Maria’s first husband was another George Webb, decorator, and that his son took up that trade later in life, after a period spent at sea. Attempting to trace this alternative Webb family back through time, I came across a Mary Ann Webb in the 1881 records. She is described as a labourer, 37 years old, born in Bermondsey, and lodging with her sons George, 8 and John 4 in Bermondsey. It’s possible that this is Maria, in which case it would seem that she had yet to meet Herman Stellis, but that her first husband (surname Webb) had left the scene before 1881. I’ve found no trace of Herman in the records for 1871 or 1881. The only definite record is in the 1861 census, when a 10 year old Herman Steyllis is living with his father Gerat (born in Hanover, Germany), a sugar baker, and his London-born mother and siblings, at 2 Samuel Street, St. George’s in the East.

Among the other possible George Webbs, only one stands out: the 1891 records mention an 18 year old brush maker, born in Bethnal Green, described as a visitor in the home of bricklayer William Beeson in Southampton Terrace, Bethnal Green. This might be the same George who appears in the 1881 census, as a son of Robert Webb, a brush maker of Weaver Street, Bethnal Green. There are also some details that match in the 1871 record for George Webb, a house decorator born around 1840 in Clapton, living in Stamford Hill with his wife Maria, born 1842, and their one year old son George.

Another way of tracing George’s family might be to try to explore the roots of Joseph Webb, the lodger mentioned in the 1901 census. My first thought was that this must be George’s father, but the marriage certificate undermined that theory. Perhaps he was an uncle? 

In 1891 a carman called Joseph Webb, age 42, was living at 2 Cologne Street, Mile End Old Town with his wife Eliza, also 42, son Joseph, 21, also a carman, Charles 17, a labourer, Martha 15, a brush/broom maker, Samuel 13, a van boy (‘carm’), and William,11.

Tracing this Joseph and his family back to 1881, we find Joseph, then age 32, working as an omnibus driver, living at 4 Wennington Road, Bethnal Green, with his wife Eliza, also 32, and their children Joseph,11, Charles, 7, Martha, 5, Samuel, 3, William 2, and Henry, 4 months (the latter obviously didn’t survive).

Ten years earlier, in 1871, a carman named Joseph Webb and his wife Eliza, a cape (?) maker, are lodging at 22 Roman Road, Bethnal Green, together with their 13 month old son Joseph. There is a marriage record for a Joseph Webb for the 2nd quarter of 1869, in Bethnal Green, which would match these details perfectly.

If we attempt to trace Joseph Webb back further, before his marriage to Eliza, there are a number of possibilities, from which one stands out as the most likely. In 1861 we find Sarah Webb, a widowed bootbinder of 38, living at 5 Fleet Street, Bethnal Green, with her sons Richard, 12, Joseph, 10, and James, 8, together with visitor Louisa Nokes, also a widow and a bootbinder. In 1851 we find Richard Webb, 41, a carman born in Shoreditch, living at 4 New Church Street, Bethnal Green, with his wife Sarah, 29, and sons Richard, 2, and Joseph, 1. So it’s possible that ‘our’ Joseph Webb followed his father’s profession, and that he lost his father before the age of 10.

However, so far I have found no connexions between this Joseph Webb and George Webb, my great grandfather, that might have led to the former living with the latter in 1901.