Every now and then, a routine genealogical search turns up something totally unexpected. The other evening, I was reviewing the information I have on my Robb ancestors, when I decided to have another try at filling in the gaps in my knowledge about Elizabeth Robb and her husband Joseph Boden.

Elizabeth (whom I wrote about in an earlier post) was the youngest daughter of my great great great grandparents, Charles Edward Stuart Robb and Margaret Ricketts Monteith, and the younger sister of my great great grandfather William Robb. She was born at Malton, Yorkshire, on 21st June 1820. The next we hear of her is when she marries Joseph Boden at St. Martin in the Fields, London, on 22nd February 1841, a few months before her twenty-first birthday. Her address is given as Charing Cross and her father’s status is described as ‘Gent’.

Until now we’ve known very little about Joseph. From their marriage certificate and the 1851 census record we know that he was a dentist, and that he was born in Derbyshire, the son of farmer John Boden. At the time of his marriage to Elizabeth, Joseph was said to be living at 32 Great Castle Street, to the north of Oxford Street. However, in searching on Ancestry for more records relating to Joseph, I discovered that he featured in another member’s family tree. I contacted the owner, Tony Bennett, and his swift reply provided me with much more information about Joseph Boden’s origins.

Joseph Woolley Boden was born on 19th February 1814 in Morley, Derbyshire, the oldest son of John Boden (1783 – 1861) and Ann Woolley (1792 – 1840), who had married the previous November. John Boden was a farmer, born in Abbots Ripton, Huntingdonshire, the son of another John Boden and Ann Smith. Ann Woolley was the daughter of Joseph Woolley and Ann Brentnall. John and Ann Boden had seven other children after Joseph: these were John, Jane, Ann, William, Sarah and Mary. There are plenty of Bodens, Woolleys and Brentnalls in the Nonconformist registers for Derbyshire, but as yet I’ve found no specific records for Joseph’s relatives: however, there’s a good chance they were Dissenters.

Joseph Boden’s mother Ann died at the age of 48 in 1840. In the census of 1841 John is described as a farmer, and is said to be living in Morley with his adult and teenage children, his brother (?) Richard, and a number of agricultural labourers, who I assume are his employees. At the time of the 1851 census, John was a visitor in the home of Derbyshire–born bookkeeper Joseph Weston in Lodge Lane, Toxteth Park, Liverpool. He is described as a widower, and as a farmer of 210 acres employing two labourers. Meanwhile his son John is at Morley Hays, where he too is described as a farmer of 210 acres employing two men: obviously he was minding the farm while his father was away. At the same address are his sister Jane, a female visitor, and two servants.

The 1861 census finds John senior, now 77, back at Morley Hays, where his farm has expanded to 214 acres and he now employs two men and three boys. John died in September of that same year. The executors of his will were his son John and his brother Robert, a surgeon: clearly, medicine as well as farming was in the blood. This is a photograph of his tombstone in Morley churchyard, kindly sent to me by Tony Bennett:

As for Joseph Boden and Elizabeth Robb, the only record we have of them together after their marriage is the 1851 census, which finds them living at 54 Lawrence Lane near Cheapside in the parish of St Mary-le-Bow in the city of London, with 18 year old house servant Elizabeth Earl. According to the record, Joseph is still employed as a dentist.

Elizabeth Boden née Robb died at the age of 39 in January 1860, in the house of her older sister Matilda, at 30 Gillingham Street, Pimlico. She was found dead in bed and it was stated that she might have died from the effects of a fractured skull some seven years earlier. At the time of her death, Elizabeth was a widow, but until now we have had no information about the date of Joseph’s death. However, Tony Bennett has found a note in the Derby Mercury of the death in London of a Joseph Boden, dentist, eldest son of John Boden of Morley, in 1855. This corresponds with a record in the online BMD index, which records a Joseph Boden dying in the second quarter of 1855 in west London. I have sent for the certificate, to determine whether this is indeed ‘our’ Joseph, as well as the circumstances of his death.

As I was writing up this information, some even more intriguing facts about Joseph Boden came to light. Carrying out one more search at Ancestry, I was surprised to find mention of a marriage between a Joseph Boden and Georgiana Westbrook in St. Pancras parish church on 13th December 1838 – three years before Joseph’s marriage to Elizabeth Robb. Any suggestion that this might be a different person with the same name vanished when I read that this Joseph was also a dentist, and that his father was also John Boden, a farmer. So it seems that Joseph had already been married before he met Elizabeth.

Obviously, the most likely explanation is that Georgiana, Joseph’s first bride, died soon after they married. But two facts militate against this. Firstly, on the certificate of his marriage to Elizabeth in 1841, Joseph is described as a bachelor, not a widow. Secondly, no record of Georgiana’s death has come to light. On the contrary, there is a record in the 1841 census of a ‘Georgina Boden’, whose age matches that of Joseph’s wife, living in Gresse Street, where her status is described as ‘independent’. Gresse Street runs off Stephen Street, between Rathbone Place and Tottenham Court Road, to the north of Oxford street. The final nail in the coffin is that 27 Gresse Street was the address given by Georgiana and Joseph at the time of their marriage three years earlier. As section from Greenwood’s 1827 map below shows, Gresse Street was very close to the Great Castle Street address given by Joseph Boden at the time of his marriage to Elizabeth Robb (click on the map to enlarge: Gresse Street and Great Castle Street are near the bottom, in the angle created by Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road):

The census was taken on 6th June 1841, nearly four months after Joseph Boden married Elizabeth Robb. If the ‘Georgina Boden’ mentioned in the census is indeed Joseph’s first wife, then we can only speculate about the possible explanation. Perhaps he had divorced her: but I undestand that divorce was unusual at the time, and if this was the case, why had Georgiana kept her married name and remained in what looks like their marital home?  And does ‘independent’ (income) mean that Joseph was maintaining Georgiana, while he was married to Elizabeth?

In search of explanations, I began to research Georgiana Wesbtrook’s family background. She was born on 18th March 1816, the daughter of Thomas Westbrook and Elizabeth Molloy, and baptised on 8th April of that year in St. Mary’s church, Marylebone Road. Georgiana was the third of three daughters. Mary Ann Isabella Westbrook was born in St. Marylebone on 8th June 1810 and died in November of that year at the age of 5 months. The fact that Mary was buried at St. Sepulchre Holborn suggests that the Westbrooks moved around London: their address at the time of her death is given as Cow Cross (Street). I can’t find the record now, but I seem to recall that one mention of Thomas Westbrook described him as a ‘trader’.

Another sister, Cordelia Harriet Isabella Westbrook (who went by the name of Harriet in later life), was born on 23rd July 1812 and baptised on 13th August of that year at St Mary’s Marylebone. Cordelia married Charles Hobbs at St. Pancras parish church on 28th March 1837, the year before her sister Georgiana married Joseph Boden at the same church. We know from later records that Charles was, like Joseph Boden, a dentist. Is this just a coincidence? Or were these two friends or colleagues who married two sisters?

According to census records, Charles and Harriet’s first child Elizabeth was born in about 1837, though I’ve been unable to find a definite record of her birth. A second child, Charles George, was born on 5th Ma7 1839 in Bishopsgate and baptised eleven months later at St. Botolph’s Without Bishopsgate, though the family’s address is said to be Marylebone. A second daughter, Maria Georgiana, was born on  25th January 1841 and baptised in the parish of St. Pancras on 11th April. By this time the family was living in John Street, on the western flank of Golden Square, which is where they would be at the time of the census taken in that year. This record describes Charles as an ‘assistant dentist’.


A caricature of 19th century dentistry.

(from Zene-Artzney)

Three other children are mentioned in later census records: Henry R. Hobbs, born in Dalston in 1844′ Susan, born in Soho in 1848, and Emily, born in 1850, possibly in Covent Garden. We have three further census records for Harriet Hobbs, but curiously, none of these mention her husband Charles. At the time of the 1851 census, Harriet, 33, described as the head of the household but still married, was living at 2 Tavistock Court, Covent Garden, with all of her children – but no Charles. Ten years later, Harriet was at 46 Devonshire Street in the parish of St George the Martyr with son Charles, 20, a solicitors’ general clerk, Maria, 18, described as ‘theatrical’, Henry, 17, a shirt cutter, and Susan, 13, a scholar. The last record we have for Harriet is from 1871, by which time she is living with son Henry, now a woollen warehouseman’s assistant, and his wife Amelia and two young children, in Clifton Grove, Camberwell. I’m not sure whan Harriet died, but she was no longer with Henry in 1881, when he and his family were living in West Ham, or in 1891, when they were back in Camberwell.

I’ve been unable to find any trace of Charles Hobbs senior, Harriet’s husband, after 1841. The fact that he was absent on the occasion of both the 1851 and 1861 census seems unlikely to be coincidental, but if he had died by this date, who was the father of Harriet’s younger children? Perhaps Charles, like his fellow-dentist Joseph Boden, was leading a double life?


Looking again at Greenwood’s map, I notice that there’s also a John Street crossing Great Castle Street. If this was where Harriet Hobbs and her children were living in 1841, then they were very close to the address given by Joseph Boden when he married Elizabeth Robb in that year, and only a few streets from Harriet’s sister Georgiana in Gresse Street. Curioser and curioser.

I’ve now searched the 1851 census for Gresse Street and can find no trace of Georgiana Boden/Westbrook. Nor can I find any other records for her after 1841, in either her maiden or married names. As for John Street, there is nobody by the name of Hobbs or Westbrook there in 1851, and the house occupied by Charles Hobbs and family in 1841 (next to Mrs Jefferson) is now occupied by another family. The 1841 census record for Great Castle Street includes no familiar surnames, despite the fact that Joseph Boden gave No. 32 as his address when he married Elizabeth Robb that year. They must have set up home elsewhere by the time of the census, but I have yet to find any record of them.

Unfortunately many of the 1841 census records for the parish of St Mary le Bow appear to be missing from the archive. Joseph and Elizabeth might have moved here soon after their marriage, but we have no way of knowing. I’ve found an entry for Joseph at Lawrence Lane in the London Post Office Directory, but as this was published in 1851 it only confirms what we already knew from the census of that year.

At the time of the 1841 census Elizabeth Robb’s parents, Charles and Margaret (my 3 x great grandparents) were living at 29 Charing Cross. As mentioned in an earlier post, they appear to have lived over the tobacconist shop belonging to Matthew Cholerton. According to the census, Cholerton was only 20 at the time, though we need to bear in mind that the 1841 census officials tended to round ages up or down to the nearest five. He was also said to be born outside the county (of Middlesex).

A search for individuals of this name and age online yields a number of possibilities – one in Gloucestershire, and a couple in Derbyshire, in the Belper area, only a few miles from Morley. Is it possible that Joseph Boden was a (Derbyshire) friend of the Matthew Cholerton who ran the shop above which the Robbs lived, and that this is how he met Elizabeth?


I’ve just noticed that, in his last will and testament, written on 9th June 1853, Charles Robb (Elizabeth’s father) instructed his son William, once he had paid the funeral expenses, to ‘divide the surplus equally between himself the said William Robb my son John Robb and my two daughters Matilda Robb and Elizabeth Boden as tenant in common the share of the said Elizabeth Boden to be free from the debts or control of her husband’ (my emphasis).

This confirms three things. Firstly, Joseph Boden was still alive in 1853. Secondly, he was in debt. And thirdly, his father-in-law didn’t trust him with his money.