Horse-drawn carriages in Bethnal Green

I’m still trying to discover more about the ancestry of my great grandfather George Webb (b. 1874). In the last few posts I’ve established some facts about his immediate family, but I’ve found it difficult to push the story back beyond his father and mother.

In family history, when you keep coming up against the same brick wall, it can sometimes help to go around it: for example, by following up relatives, neighbours or friends, and seeing where it takes you. That’s what I propose to do in this post, by setting down what I’ve managed to find out about one of George’s relations.

One record for George Webb that we can be absolutely sure of is the 1901 census, which was the first to be taken after he married my great grandmother, Mary French in 1897. The census record for 32 Coutts Road, Mile End Old Town, shows it to have been occupied by three separate households. One is the family of crane driver Thomas Sammons. Another is my great grandparents – George, 28, a gas works labourer, and Mary, 27 – and their young daughters Mary Emily Elizabeth, 3 (my grandmother), and Jessie Caroline, 10 months.

The third household consists of one man: 51 year old widower Joseph Webb, a vestry carman born in Bethnal Green. The vestry was the forerunner of the local or parish council, and a carman was the driver of a horse-drawn carriage, whether a delivery vehicle or an omnibus or tram.

Horse-drawn tram, London, 1875

I’m assuming that Joseph is a relative of George and it’s not simply coincidence that he shares the same surname. But what was the nature of that relationship? We know that Joseph wasn’t George’s father, since the latter’s marriage certificate clearly states that his father was George Webb, a house decorator.  So who was Joseph?

The census of 1891, ten years earlier, finds carman Joseph Webb, aged 42 and born in Bethnal Green, living at 5 Cologne Street, Bethnal Green, with his wife Eliza, 42, and children Joseph, 21, also a carman, Charles, 17, a general labourer, Martha, 15, a brush/broom maker, Samuel, 13, a van boy ‘carm(an)’, and William, 11. The occupation and date and place of birth all match the Joseph from the 1901 census.

Assuming that this is the ‘right’ Joseph,  we find the same family in the 1881 census at 4 Wennington Road, Bethnal Green. Joseph, 32, is working as an omnibus driver, and he and his wife Eliza are both said to be 32 and born in Spitalfields. In addition to the children listed in the 1891 census, they also have a son Henry, aged 4 months: presumably he did not survive.

If we go back another ten years to 1871, we find Joseph and Eliza, together with their 13 month old son Joseph, living at 22 Roman Road, Bethnal Green, which appears to have been occupied by four separate families. At this date Joseph senior was working as a carman, while Eliza worked as a cape maker. He is said to have been born in Spitalfields and she in Bethnal Green, while son Joseph was born in Old Ford.

Given that Joseph junior must have been born around 1870, the most likely marriage record for Joseph senior and Eliza is for 6 June 1869 at St. Jude, Bethnal Green, when Eliza Sheppard, of 16 Green Street, daughter of salesman Samuel Sheppard, married carman Joseph Webb, of 10 Fleet Street, son of Richard Webb, also a carman. Bride and groom were both 20 years old, putting their dates of birth as around 1849-50 and thus matching the ages in the census records cited above.

St. Jude Bethnal Green

The witnesses to the marriage had the grand-sounding names of John Stewart Cranmer Gordon and Selina Jane Grace Gordon. Their family history is intriguing enough to warrant a separate post (John’s father appears to have been an Essex aristocrat who fell on hard times), but that will have to wait until another time.

More importantly for our present purpose, Joseph and Eliza’s marriage certificate provides us with vital clues as to Joseph’s family of origin, by giving us the name and occupation of his father. Building on this new information, the most likely record for Joseph’s baptism is for 22 August 1850, when a Joseph Webb was christened at St. Matthias Bethnal Green. He was the son of carman Richard Webb and his wife Sarah, who lived at 18 George Street. This record matches Joseph’s marriage record almost exactly, except that he would have been 19, not 20, at the time.

An older son, Richard, had been born to Richard and Sarah Anne Webb three years earlier, in 1848, when they were living at 13 Nottingham Street. A third son, James, would be born in 1852 at 4 New Church Street. All three children were christened at St. Matthias. The 1851 census finds carman Richard, 41, and Sarah, 29, with their 2 year old son Richard and 1 year old Joseph, living at 4 New Church Street, Bethnal Green.

Coming forward in time, the 1861 census finds Sarah a widow of 38, living with her sons Richard, 12, Joseph, 10 and James, 8, together with visitor Louisa Nokes, another widow, at 5 Fleet Street, Bethnal Green. Both Sarah and Louisa are working as boot binders. Although it’s a different house, the mention of Fleet Street links this Joseph with the Joseph Webb would marry Eliza Shappard eight years later. I’ve yet to find a record of Richard senior’s death, which must have occurred some time between 1852 and 1861.

In the next post, I’ll attempt to trace this branch of the Webbs further back in time, by exploring the family of Richard and Sarah Webb.