I had intended that my next blog would be about my grandfather, Charles William Hubbleday (1888-1964), and his three brothers but an email from the West Midlands Police Museum threw me onto another track. The Museum asked if I had a photograph of George Hughes (1881-1979) as they were digitising all of their records and had discovered that he was mentioned in my family tree.
George Hughes had been a policeman and although he was not in my bloodline, he is of special interest because he is linked to both my mother’s and my father’s families. George had married one of my mother’s aunts and their children were, therefore, my mother’s cousins. One of these cousins, Ellen, went on to marry Charles (known as Charlie) Hubbleday, one of Charles William Hubbleday’s sons. Charlie introduced one of his younger brothers, Kenneth Hubbleday, to one of his wife’s cousins, Renee Jones, who was lodging with them while working at the Birmingham General Hospital. It was in this way that my parents met.
I didn’t have a photograph of George but I thought that his grandson, Roger Hubbleday (my cousin), or his two sons, John and Alan, might know of one. They didn’t but John carried out some detective work on the internet and found an informative newspaper article which had two photographs. I have based this blog on that article and some further research I subsequently undertook.
George Hughes came from a long line of Birmingham iron workers. His father, Joseph Hughes, and his grandfather, John Hughes, were both nail casters. In other words, they made nails by hand using a small forge either in a domestic workshop or in a factory.
George’s mother, Mary, known as Polly, Wheeler, was the daughter of a Birmingham pistol maker, Nathaniel Wheeler.
George spent a few years as a caster before deciding that life in a Birmingham factory was not for him. As soon as he turned 18, he enlisted in the army and joined the Coldstream Guards. Although it had a recruiting office in Birmingham, this was not the usual regiment chosen by boys in the Midlands. It was normally either the Royal Warwickshire Regiment or the South Staffordshire Regiment. At only 5 feet 7 inches, George was not an obvious choice as a guardsman in one of Britain’s oldest and most prestigious regiments. We don’t know how he came to choose this route but the Regiment accepted him in June 1900 and he never looked back.
In the 1901 Census, he is recorded as a private living in Chelsea Barracks but in November of that year, he was promoted to Lance-Corporal. In April 1902, he was posted to South Africa to join the 1st Battalion, which was in action against the Boers. George thrived and was promoted to Corporal in August 1903 and then Lance-Sergeant just a few months later. He served ‘in the field’ as a machine gunner and was entitled to the Queen’s South Africa Medal with one clasp denoting the campaign in which he had been involved.
When George returned to England in 1903, he remained in the Coldstream Guards for a further four years to complete the seven years for which he had signed up. He was then required to transfer to the reserves for five years. His commanding officer at the time wrote in his army record that George was ‘. . . a hardworking, intelligent and trustworthy NCO.’ When his five years as a reserve were up in 1912, he re-enlisted in the reserves for a further four years.
On leaving the army, George joined the Birmingham City Police Force. He settled in Birmingham and married Ellen Jones in 1910. Ellen, my grandaunt, was the daughter of Edwin Jones, a brass caster whose father had also been a brass caster.
The couple’s first child was George Edwin Herbert, born in 1911. Their second was Ellen Doris Mary, in February 1914, but in August of that year, George was recalled to his regiment when war with Germany broke out. He served with a newly formed 5th Battalion of the Coldstream Guards, which was kept in reserve and never left England. George’s duties would almost certainly have been to do with training new recruits and maintaining discipline. He was promoted to Sergeant and finished the war as an acting Company Sergeant-Major. He was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal and his name was listed in The London Gazette in May 1919. The medal had been instituted in 1845 to recognise valuable service by non-commissioned officers ‘not in the field’ and the recipients received a small gratuity.
At the beginning of 1918, George and Ellen had their third child: Phyllis. At the end of the year, George returned to the Birmingham City Police Force and was soon promoted to sergeant. As far as we can tell from the records, he had a reasonably uneventful career as a policeman.
George retired in 1937, having served his thirty years in the Force, including his army service, and took a job as a watchman at the famous British manufacturer, English Electric in Preston, Lancashire. He may well have made the break from Birmingham because his son, George Edwin Herbert, was working as a draughtsman on aeroplane design for English Electric. The 1939 Census taken in the month that war broke out shows that George was living next door to his son. The company which they both worked for became famous in the war for producing the Halifax bomber.
George worked at English Electric for 18 years and when he retired, he was their Chief Security Officer. He moved back to the Birmingham area with his wife and when he was in his eighties, became the secretary of the Boer War Veterans’ Association. His wife died in 1970 and he lived for a time with his daughter, Ellen, and her husband, Charlie, before living with his youngest daughter, Phyllis Colley. He died in 1979, aged 98.
The newspaper article which provided much of the information for this blog was published in the Birmingham Post on March 22 1971. It came about because the Boer War Veterans’ Association wanted to parade before Queen Elizabeth II when she visited Birmingham.
Shortly after publishing the last blog, I was really pleased to discover an advertisement placed by William Robert’s two sons, James Ernest and Charles Edward. This was from the period when they were in business together for a few years before James set up his own pet shop in Soho Street.
And then, hot on the heels of this discovery, I received a fantastic email from Chet Haywood in Ontario. He is a great-great-grandson of William Robert Hubbleday and I had been in touch with his mother, Pamela Haywood (née Hubbleday) since 1998. She is my second cousin once removed but, like me, had been researching the Hubbledays without knowing of the existence of other branches of the family. We had both been excited to make contact and, a few years later, my brother, Brian, visited her when he was in Canada on holiday.
Pamela’s father was Charles Henry Hubbleday, born in 1909, who was the son of James Ernest Hubbleday who had the pet shop in Soho Street. As a boy, Charles had lived above the shop with his parents and elder brother. In 1951, when in his forties, he emigrated to Ontario, Canada.
Pamela had told me a lot about her father’s life but Chet’s email contained a beautifully written memoir by Charles himself. Chet had come across it while looking through some of the family’s papers.
Charles wrote his memoir in 1990, the year that his beloved wife, Elsie, died. He was able to remember his grandfather, William Robert, and knew that he had been a professional soldier. He seems to suggest that William Robert had fought in the Boer War but this would have been impossible as he was 57 years old at the time. He was probably confusing it with the New Zealand War, in which we know that William Robert fought. It would have been Charles’s father, James Ernest, who, I surmised in the last blog, might have gone to South Africa with the militia.
Here is Charles’s memoir.
Charles did travel back to England in 1991 and one of the places he wanted to visit was Coventry Cathedral because he had been involved with chrome-plating the cross of nails. He was very moved to be allowed to touch it as his eyesight had deteriorated so badly he couldn’t see it properly.
Charles died in Ontario in 1994 and the local newspaper published a wonderful obituary. This was clearly a life well lived and I am proud to have had the opportunity to celebrate it in this blog.
Charles’s memoir suggests that his brother, James, died at the age of 47, which is not quite right. In fact, James lived to be 70 and died in 1977. He had two sons, one of whom, Charles James (1933 – 2009), had two sons who, I believe, still live in the Birmingham area. However, I have not been able to confirm whether they have any sons themselves so it it is quite possible that the Hubbleday name may disappear from James Ernest’s branch of the family.
The next blog will look at my branch of the family name starting with my great-grandfather, Charles Edward Hubbleday (1869 – 1935), and his four sons.
Although our ancestors spent many centuries in the east of England and in London, all of the Hubbledays living in the 21st Century have their roots in the Midlands. The family’s association with this region can be traced back to the 1840s when William Robert Hubbleday was born in Dudley and lived there for a few years until his parents moved back to London. However, it was not until the 1870s that the Hubbleday name became permanently associated with the industrial Midlands.
This new chapter in the story of the name belongs to William Robert and his wife, Mary Ann, the most significant direct ancestors of every single Hubbleday living today. They are the great-great grandparents of my generation of Hubbledays and we owe them a lot. They established a stable family life based, no doubt, on William Robert’s experience of army discipline, and gave their children a better start in life than previous generations had received. Birmingham played its part by making education and work available but the opportunities had to be seized. The period covered by the last thirty years of Queen Victoria’s reign up to 1901 was a turning point in the family’s fortunes. Although solidly working class and never well-off, this was the first time in a hundred years that Hubbledays avoided destitution caused by early death, lingering illness, unemployment, marital desertion or fecklessness.
It was within a year or two of leaving the army in 1870, that William Robert brought his wife, Mary, his stepson William and my great-grandfather, Charles Edward, from London to Birmingham. The second city has been the backdrop for the family’s story since that time until the present day. It is not hard to understand why the family moved to Birmingham. The city was booming and was known as ‘the workshop of the world’ or the ‘city of a thousand trades’. In addition, William Robert’s wife, was the daughter of a silversmith from Birmingham. William Robert might also have wanted to distance himself from his disreputable brother, Robert, and his impecunious mother.
The family lived in various rented properties on the western side of Birmingham in and around Ladywood, an area of dense back-to-back housing surrounded by canals, railway lines and factories. Back-to-back housing was the 19th Century’s answer to the need for cheap working-class accommodation near to places of work. Typically, two rows of houses, each one room deep, would share a common back wall, with one row facing onto the street and the other row looking into a high-sided court. An alleyway from the street gave access to the court for both sets of houses because the court provided a communal water tap, washing line, wash-house and toilets. Birmingham was among the first local authorities to recognise the risks of these unsanitary arrangements and outlawed further building of back-to-backs in 1876. Nevertheless, they were still being lived in until the 1960s.
By the time of the 1881 Census, William Robert’s family included four more children in addition to his stepson and my great-grandfather. Lilian had been born in 1872; Mary in 1874, Elizabeth in 1877 and James Ernest in 1880. The family was living at 33 Icknield Port Road, Ladywood, near Rotton Park (now Edgbaston) Reservoir and William Robert was working as a bootmaker. His stepson, William, aged 15, was working in a metal tubing factory while my great-grandfather, Charles Edward, aged 13, was still at school. This last piece of information is significant because many parents were unwilling to support their children’s education after the age of eleven. Free elementary education wasn’t introduced until 1891 and it wasn’t until the beginning of the 20th Century that a law was enacted to prevent the employment of under-13s.
During the 1880s, William Robert and Mary had a further three daughters: Laura (1881), Florence Beatrice (1883) and Amy (1886). By the time of the 1891 Census, the family had moved a mile or so north into an area called Brookfields. They were living in three rooms at number 3 in the fifth court along Blews Street West. This road was on the other side of the canal from the workhouse and the City Infirmary, now City Hospital, Dudley Road.
It is unlikely that William Robert worried about the continued existence of the Hubbleday name but he might well have wondered about the imbalance between the sexes in his offspring. There were six girls but only two boys (not including his stepson).
He might have been more concerned if he had known what we now know. His was the only family of Hubbledays on the planet, which meant that, once again, the survival of the name hung by a thread. Each succeeding census since 1841 revealed how few Hubbledays there were. By 1891, the number of Hubbledays other than those in William Robert’s family totalled only three: a bachelor, Henry Hubleday, born in 1858 in Norfolk and living in Elm; and two widows in their seventies who had been born in Lincolnshire. Henry Hubleday did not reappear in subsequent censuses and so it was left to William Robert’s two sons, Charles Edward and James Ernest, to keep the name alive. They were not helped in this task by their stepbrother, William, as he disappears from the records, either through death or possibly because he reverted to his mother’s maiden name of Dudley.
The 1891 Census below shows most of the children still living in the family home apart from the three eldest: William the stepson, my great-grandfather Charles Edward, and Lilian.
William Robert’s wife, Mary, died in 1893 and he remarried in 1900 at the age of 57. His second wife was Rosina (Rose) Langston, a 39-year-old former domestic servant from Birmingham. There were no more children. In the 1901 Census, the recently married couple were living at 6 Ladywood Place in Rotton Park and William’s youngest daughter, Amy, was the only child still living with them. William was working from home as a bootmaker and Rose was now a steelpen carver, also working from home.
Ten years later, in the 1911 Census, they were living at 4 Prospect Place, Holborn Hill, Aston. William was no longer working as a bootmaker, the trade of his father, grandfather and great-grandfather, but was now engaged in a typical ‘Brummie’ occupation as a brass wire cleaner. All of his children had married and set up their own homes in Birmingham. The girls had tended to marry men who were working in the metal industries for which Birmingham was famous. Lilian and Mary had the distinction of holding their weddings in All Saints Parish Church on the same day in July 1891. Lilian, who was working as a cycle frame polisher married Samuel Lamb, an annealer who was the son of a glasss blower. Mary married William Wright, the lodger shown in the census of that year. He was a metal roller and the son of a police constable. The girls were able to sign their own names in the marriage register but Lilian misspelled it as ‘Hubbleeday’. Remarkably, William Robert also signed his own name rather than making a mark with a cross as he had done many years before when he registered his children’s births.
More weddings had followed. In 1896, Elizabeth married William Owen, a strip caster in a munitions factory. In 1899, Laura married James Earp, a labourer. In 1904, Amy married Thomas Butt, a brass burnisher in the bedstead trade, and in 1906, Florence Beatrice married George Henry Owen, a labourer. It would be fascinating to know the stories of each of these Hubbleday girls but, sadly, there is virtually nothing in the records to go on other than the names of their children. Even as late as the 1939 Census, the most common phrase written beside a woman’s name once she was married was ‘unpaid domestic duties’.
The two boys, upon whom the continuation of the name depended, had also married. This was the beginning of the expansion of the Hubbleday ‘tribe’ into two separate, thriving branches. If you are a Hubbleday, you are descended from either the Charles Edward branch like me, or the Jame Ernest branch.
In 1886, my great-grandfather, Charles Edward, a brass polisher, had married Minnie Amelia Hill, a silver plate scratch brusher, who was from Swansea and the daughter of a metal refiner. Although the marriage certificate stated that they were 21 and 19 respectively, they were, in fact, both only 17 years of age. Their first child was my grandfather, Charles William, born in 1888 at Lavinia Terrace, Osler Street which was next to Icknield Port Road.
The 1891 Census shows that they were living in Darwin Street near Highgate Park in Deritend, Balsall Heath, a mile or so east of Ladywood, and they had had another child, Minnie.
Soon after the 1891 Census, the family tried living in London and two more children were born. However, they were soon back in Birmingham, living mainly in Ladywood, including Icknield Port Road, but having spells in Sparkbrook and Quinton. By 1901, Charles Edward and Minnie Amelia had had ten children in all, but only six had survived. Fortunately for the Hubbleday name, four of the survivors were boys. Their stories will be in the next blog.
Minnie Amelia died in April 1904 at the tragically young age of 35, leaving Charles Edward with three children under the age of nine. It would have been impossible to look after them by himself as well as to work but within six months he had found another wife. She was Clara Rudkin, the daughter of a miner from Walsall.
Clara was four years older than Charles and had spent much of her working life as a domestic servant, firstly in Shrewsbury and then in Handsworth in the household of the Vicar of St John’s. In her thirties, however, she had set up as a dressmaker working from home and then, somewhat surprisingly, had become a ‘fried fish dealer’ near to where Charles Edward lived.
It seems that Charles enjoyed the opportunity to learn a new skill because the 1908 edition of the Commercial Directory for Birmingham lists him, not Clara, as the proprietor of a fish and chips shop in Smethwick.
In 1912, he appeared again but this time in Small Heath running a fish and chips shop in Herbert Road. A few years later, he was back in Smethwick but operating as a bird dealer. The 1915 Commercial Directory shows that he was in premises just north of Winson Green Prison and near the vicarage where Clara had been a servant. It was also near a similar shop recently opened by his younger brother, James Ernest.
Almost certainly, the main focus of the brothers’ shops would have been on racing pigeons. The sport, or fancy as it was called, was extremely popular during this period and especially so in working class areas around Birmingham and the Black Country. James was a well-known pigeon fancier in the 1920s. His name appeared frequently in the local newspaper, the oddly named Smethwick Telephone, which carried the results of the Smethwick Flying Club’s weekly races. During this period, the two Hubbleday brothers advertised a special corn mix that they had devised for racing pigeons. My father remembered going to visit one of their shops in the 1930s when he was about ten and they inspired him to take up the sport.
James was 12 years younger than Charles but on leaving school in the early 1890s had become a metal polisher like his brother. This was a tough job. In a memoir about growing up in Birmingham, the author, Victor J Andrews described what it involved:
In 1898, James had decided to enlist as a part-time soldier in the 3rd Battalion South Staffordshire Regiment at Lichfield. His attestation papers tell us that he was 5 feet eight inches tall with a sallow complexion, hazel eyes and brown hair. He was 19 years old but lied about his age.
The 3rd Battalion was a militia unit designed to be a reserve force for home duties. James would have hoped simply to supplement his income as a metal polisher by attending a training camp for 28 days each year. Sadly for him, he had not reckoned on the Boer War erupting in 1899 and his Battalion being ’embodied’ for active service. He would have been particularly upset about the prospect of fighting abroad because he had just married his childhood sweetheart, Gertrude Johnson, who had lived next door to his family in Icknield Port Road.
James did what many other young men did and chose to absent himself. He seems to have got away with it as he is listed straightforwardly in the 1901 Census living with Gertrude in Beach Street, Rotton Park . He was clearly not in hiding despite being listed in the Police Gazette in May 1899. He may have been dealt with by magistrates and fined, which was the normal practice for men in the militia, rather than being court-martialled.
James had enlisted for six years but it is not clear whether he continued serving, and, if so, whether he was required to go to South Africa. What is certain is that, unusually, his marriage did not produce any children for eight years. It was 1907 before he had his first child and then two years later he had a second son. There were no other children.
In the 1911 Census, James was working as a carter for a coal merchant and, at some point after this, launched his career as a bird dealer. His wife, Gertrude, died in 1937 and he remarried six months later to Clara Read, who was a shopkeeper at 37 Soho Road, opposite his own premises. He died three years later.
Meanwhile, James’s brother, Charles Edward, whose second wife had also been called Clara, had remarried for a third time. He married Elizabeth Cartlidge in 1934, three years after his second wife’s death. He was 64 and died eight months later leaving his whole estate to Elizabeth.
One surprise I had in researching the lives of my Birmingham ancestors was to discover how many times they remarried. It wasn’t only the men of the family who quickly found another spouse. Several of James’s and Charles’s sisters also remarried within a short space of time after the death of a husband. It was clearly an important feature of life before the advent of social security, the NHS, state pensions, electric washing machines, vacuum cleaners, fridges and freezers. You needed all the help you could get in order to run a home, especially if you had children. If you couldn’t afford to employ a housekeeper, you needed to find another husband or wife.
This chapter started with William Robert and will end with him because every single Hubbleday who has been born in the 20th and 21st Centuries has a direct genetic link back to him. Subsequent generations have sub-divided into separate branches but they can all trace their origins back to William Robert and Mary Ann. They were also the pre-eminent reason for an upturn in the Hubbleday family’s prospects. They had the good sense to leave London, which had served Hubbledays poorly since the 18th century, and make a home in Birmingham. They instilled a work ethic among their eight children and saw each one successfully married. Moreover, they ensured that the name survived by raising two healthy sons.
The electoral rolls for the 1920s show William Robert living in a small back-to-back house with Rose at 14 Back 77, Vicarage Road, Aston near to Aston Hall. Nowadays, you would locate it by saying it was on the left hand side of the A38 Aston Expressway just before the first junction after leaving the M6 at Spaghetti Junction.
William Robert died in 1928, aged 84. Born in poverty in London at the beginning of the Victorian period, he had seen the heyday of the British Empire as a lowly soldier on the other side of the World before settling in Birmingham and successfully raising a large family which ensured the survival of the name. Although I was born only 25 years after his death, his existence was completely unknown to me when I began researching my family history. I am very pleased to have discovered his significance and to be able to tell his story.
William Robert Hubbleday, my great-great grandfather who fought in the New Zealand Wars, had a younger brother called Robert who had been born in Holborn, London in 1851. He eventually followed William Robert into the army but this proved to be a disastrous step. Although enlisting was a common route out of poverty, in his case, it precipitated a decline in his fortunes.
Robert had been 14 when his father died in 1865, leaving the family in dire straits. Robert, unlike his elder brother, had not followed in the footsteps of previous generations of Hubbleday menfolk and learnt the trade of shoemaking. Instead, he lived on his wits as a hawker, making a living from selling goods in the street. For a few years, the money he earned probably helped to support his mother and younger sister, Jane, but this didn’t last long. As described in a previous blog, his sister was placed in a home for destitute girls and his mother went into the Holborn workhouse, beginning a period of over thirty years of moving from one such institution to another.
Robert, however, had reason to hope for better luck. He had fallen in love with a girl called Hannah Perkins. She was two years younger than him and was a willow weaver from Bethnal Green who probably worked in one of the many furniture factories in that area. As far as we can tell, her family led a respectable life but this had not been true in the previous generation. Hannah’s father had a steady job as a carter, carrying goods around the city in a horse-drawn cart, but her grandfather, David, had been a thief.
In 1840, David Morehouse Perkins had been tried at the Old Bailey for stealing a large amount of money from the owner of a draper’s shop. There is a verbatim account of the court proceedings in which several witnesses describe seeing him leaving the premises with a cash box wrapped up in a red handkerchief and wearing no shoes. His shoes were recovered by the police from behind a door at the scene of the theft and were matched to another pair of shoes at Perkins’s house. Part of his downfall was that he had a large bunion on one of his feet which meant that his shoes had a distinctive shape.
He was held in Newgate Prison until his trial, at which he was found guilty, and sentenced to 15 years transportation to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania). He was then consigned to one of the infamous hulks moored in the Thames awaiting his transfer to a convict ship.
Robert may not have known or cared about these events which had occurred before he was born. He was intent on marrying Hannah and the wedding took place in 1869 when he was 18 years old and Hannah only 16. He gave his occupation as a hawker and his deceased father’s as a cordwainer. He was living near the famous Bunhill Fields Cemetery, which was not far from Bethnal Green where Hannah lived.
Two years after the wedding, the 1871 census shows that Robert and Hannah had set up house in Finsbury. Robert’s occupation was now listed as a ‘general dealer’, which was probably a slightly posher way of saying hawker. The census enumerator had spelt the surname as hubbiday and Hannah had given her name as Ann but, strangely, no occupation was listed against her name. Also unusually for the age, the marriage had not produced any children.
Even more unexpectedly, just a few months after the census had been taken, Robert, for reasons unknown, enlisted in the Royal Artillery at Woolwich.
As far as we can tell, he never saw his wife again after joining the army. She may have died, perhaps in childbirth, or she may have left him. Sadly, I can find no trace of what happened to her. Elements of Robert’s subsequent life, on the other hand, have been captured in a newspaper article and a number of public records.
He came to the attention of the newspapers within a year of joining the army. In March 1872, he decided he had made a mistake in joining up and so chose to desert. With a fellow recruit, he made his way north out of London and after three days on the road had nearly reached Dunstable in Bedfordshire. It was at this point that Robert followed in the steps of his wife’s grandfather by launching a career as a thief. A full account of what occurred was carried in The Luton Times and Advertiser.
ROBBERY AT HOUGHTON REGIS
Albert Ackroyd (19), and Robert Hubbeday (21), tramps, were charged with stealing a sovereign at Houghton Regis on the 20th of March, 1872, the property of Thomas Grace, innkeeper, Houghton Regis. The prisoners were further charged with deserting from the 21st Brigade, No. 3 Battery, Royal Artillery, at Woolwich, on the 17th March 1872. Hannah, wife of Thomas Grace, Houghton Regis, said the prisoner went to her house and asked for some cheese and a pint of beer. She had taken a sovereign and a shilling for a ton of coal a very few minutes before. She made a memorandum of the money on a slate, and put the money by the side of it. A few minutes after they had gone she missed the money, and then sent to the police. She was sure the prisoners were the young men who came in.
P.C. Champkin took the prisoners into custody at Hockliffe. They told him they had not stopped at any house since they left St. Alban’s. Witness replied – “If so, you will be all right.” He brought them to Mrs. Grace, who identified them as the two men who had been to her house. Witness then searched Hubbeday, and found a sovereign in his scarf. It had been put in a hole and dropped in. He then charged them with stealing it. They did not resist. At the police station Hubbeday said – “We did have it, and we’ll plead guilty to it; what could you expect of two poor fellows hard up on the road? I saw the sovereign in the bar.”
The prisoners pleaded guilty. Mr Smyth thought that desertion was the beginning of their wrong doing. For stealing they would be sentenced to six weeks’ hard labour; it was a great pity that likely young men like them should do this, if they had remained they might have done well, and if they went back he hoped they would do better. The prisoners also pleaded guilty to deserting on the 17th, and were informed that the Horse Guards would be communicated with.
Luton Times and Advertiser, 25 March, 1872
Robert served his six weeks of hard labour in Bedford County Gaol and was then taken back to Woolwich under escort to face a court martial in May. He was sentenced to 56 days imprisonment and then there is no further record of his army service. He is unlikely to have been dismissed so he might have served, almost certainly unhappily, the remainder of the time he had signed up for. Alternatively, he may well have deserted again and not been found.
In fact, Robert did a very good job of disappearing from the sight of officialdom for the rest of the century. He does not appear in any of the censuses which were taken every decade and it is only at the beginning of the 20th Century that his name suddenly turns up. It is then that we can see why he was keen to remain hidden. He wanted to hide his movements from the police and had been using a number of aliases. Some of the aliases might simply have come about because he was illiterate and didn’t know how to spell his surname. However, the surname ‘Hodges’ is interesting because it was the name of his father’s stepfather.
Although the first offence which is listed above is dated 1897, it is likely that Robert was involved in petty crime well before this. The twelve summary convictions which are mentioned suggest that he was an inveterate thief and receiver of stolen goods. He had been repeatedly sentenced to short terms of imprisonment by the stipendiary magistrates at various London police courts and must have been a well-known figure.
In June 1902, he received a longer sentence of eight months’ hard labour at Wormwood Scrubs Prison in West London for stealing a case and 15 jackets from Pickfords Limited. His police record described him as a ‘dealer’, which presumably referred to the occupation of ‘general dealer’ which he had given for himself in the 1871 census. In another record in the same year, he was, more surprisingly, described as a London painter. On another occasion, he was listed as a London costermonger.
If proof were needed that crime was a way of life for him, it was provided by his inclusion in the Register of Habitual Criminals in 1902. This was an annual document circulated between police forces. From it we learn that Robert was nearly five feet and eight inches tall, with a fresh complexion, grey hair and brown eyes and that he had several scars on the back of his head, on an eyebrow, on his nose and on a finger. His date of birth, however, was incorrectly stated as 1841 instead of 1851.
After being released from Wormwood Scrubs in February 1903, he was back inside the prison in April. This time it was for receiving stolen goods: nine shawls.
There are no more police or prison records for Robert after 1903 but he lived for another 18 years. It is very likely that he spent quite a lot of that time in various workhouses, just as his mother had, but it is not possible to verify his identity.
The final record which we have for him documents his death, aged 70, in December 1921 when he was living at 81 Westmoreland Place, Shoreditch. He was buried at City of London and Tower Hamlets Cemetery, where his mother and father had also been buried. Despite apparently living for many years as Robert Hodges, he departed this life with the name he had been given: Robert Hubbleday.
I am thinking quite a lot about families at the moment as I am about to become a grandfather for the first time. Seventy-five years ago both of my son’s grandfathers were serving in the Allied armed forces so the 2020 celebration of Victory in Europe Day is an appropriate time to write about them. Neither wanted to be a soldier but events sometimes override personal ambitions and plans. The war trampled across their lives and altered their futures. However, the way they dealt with the experience was shaped by the values they had learnt, at least in part, from their parents.
My father, Kenneth Hubbleday, was conscripted into the army as a 19-year old in 1942. He had left school at 14 and worked in the Post Office as a telegram boy delivering messages on a BSA Bantam motorbike. Much to his father’s annoyance, he left this steady job and went to work on Birmingham market for a friend of the family. In his spare time, he looked after his racing pigeons, went fishing and tinkered with a cherished BSA 350.
When he was called up, he spent an unhappy two months at Catterick where he had all of his money stolen by a fellow recruit before being posted to the Royal Armoured Corps. He was assigned the role of a gunner in a tank regiment and he detested it. Luckily for him, someone spotted that he was a fish out of water and, after only three weeks, he was transferred to the Royal Corps of Signals. He remained there for the next five years.
He was sent to North Africa and served as a despatch rider in the 8th Army under General Montgomery. He was then transferred to the carrier pigeon unit because of the knowledge his hobby had given him before the war. He had fallen on his feet and he was made a Lance-Corporal. The only thing which threatened to spoil this happy situation was when his officers began talking of parachuting them into the Balkans to work with resistance fighters behind the lines.
In the end this didn’t happen but something else occurred which was an ordeal he wouldn’t have expected. He stood up for his men when they were ordered unfairly by a corporal to do extra duties. He could have kept quiet but he didn’t and as a result he was punished for insubordination. He was sent to the ‘glasshouse’, the army’s prison, and had to endure being treated as a hardened offender. He refused to talk about it other than to tell me once that the guards were sadists. When he was released, his commanding officer gave him money to go for a drink and made it clear that he was appalled by the whole business.
After the allied successes in North Africa, the 8th Army crossed the Mediterranean to Sicily and began fighting its way northwards. The battle for Italy was a tough campaign and it took much longer than expected for the Allies to reach Rome and then the Alps. The Battle for Monte Cassino held up progress for the first five months of 1944. Eventually, dad’s unit reached Austria in 1945. He then spent his happiest time of the whole war waiting to be demobilised while living on a farm where he was allowed to exercise the horses.
He arrived back in England in 1947, having been the only one of his nine brothers and sisters to have been called up. His discharge papers contained the following testimonial written by the major who had been his commanding officer: He is a good, keen and efficient worker who is always willing to assist in any work in excess of his normal duties. A thoroughly decent and reliable character.
He spent the rest of his life as an electrician working for his sister Doris and her husband Ron out of premises on the Stratford Road in Shirley. He was a quiet and thoughtful man with many practical skills and anyone who knew him would have recognised the truth of the army’s testimonial. Very sadly, he died of pancreatic cancer in 1985 when he was only 62.
The account that follows of my son’s other grandfather is based on some remarkable research which my brother-in-law, Chris Rowan, has done. I have produced only a brief summary of a detailed history which he has written.
My wife’s father was Ignacy Romaszko who was born in 1915, two years before the Russian revolution, in a small village in the west of tsarist Russia. In 1921, the area became Polish and that is how Ignacy thought of himself. His parents were peasants but his father was a skilled carpenter and had worked in St Petersburg to earn enough money to buy a small farm.
Ignacy won a scholarship to a college in Vilnius where he trained to be a teacher, graduating in 1935. He then began two years compulsory military service followed by service in the reserves. On September 1st 1939, Nazi Germany invaded Poland and Ignacy, who was now teaching in Vilnius, was called up for active duty. He returned home briefly to pack his bags before going back to defend the city with the 1st Legions Infantry Regiment. This was the last time he was to see his family or homeland.
The Polish reservists were heavily outnumbered by the German forces and short of heavy weapons. It was decided that they should evacuate to the neutral country of Lithuania, where they were interned. Meanwhile, Soviet Russia had invaded Poland from the east and begun a systematic extermination of officers and intellectuals. Lithuania was forced to cooperate and in July 1940, Ignacy was put in a freight wagon on a train and sent to the first of several Russian prison camps. His final destination in June 1941 was a forced labour camp on the Kola Peninsula, north of the Arctic Circle.
The conditions were inhumane and Ignacy was fortunate that within a month of arriving at the camp, Russia was invaded by Germany and came over to the Allied side. The imprisoned Polish soldiers were released but continued to be mistreated in the chaotic circumstances of the next few months. Eventually, a Polish army was reconstituted under General Anders, a former Polish cavalry commander, and Ignacy was appointed a platoon commander. After many months of wrangling between Russia, Poland and Britain, ‘Anders’ Army’, as it became known, moved to Uzbekistan and then to Iran where Britain wanted them to defend the oilfields.
In May 1942, Ignacy was transferred to Palestine, which was under British control, and assigned to the 3rd Carpathian Rifles Division. This was at a time when Britain feared that German forces in North Africa might overrun the British and capture the Suez Canal. However, this didn’t happen and at the beginning of 1943, Britain recruited Polish soldiers to join the RAF. Ignacy was selected and shipped to Greenock, Scotland in June. He was trained as a navigator and finished the war as a Flying Officer and the Adjutant at the Polish Air Force Apprentices School, RAF Halton.
After the war, Poland became part of the Soviet Republic and it was dangerous for Poles in exile to return since they were treated as traitors by Moscow. Ignacy made a new life in England and retrained as a teacher. At the end of his course, the Principal of Loughborough Training College wrote the following testimonial: He has wide experience of life and a resulting maturity of outlook. Of his character and personality one cannot speak too highly. He is most willing to co-operate, has an unusual courtesy of manner, and should prove a particularly acceptable colleague.
Ignacy changed his surname to Rowan to make it easier to fit in to his new homeland. He died of leukaemia tragically young in 1959 and links with his Polish family were gradually lost as the Cold War made communication impossible. In 2019, his son, Chris, managed to trace some branches of the family in Belarus and my wife and I joined him on a visit there. The Romaszko cousins were delightful and Ignacy had not been forgotten. Ironically, one of the cousins had been a colonel in the Russian army during the Cold War and his career had suffered because of his link with the West.
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The reunion was an emotional and uplifting occasion for all of us. Family ties are important and understanding something of your family’s history is important too. So tomorrow we will be remembering the past but, as a grandfather-in-waiting, I have written this blog for the future, for someone about to be born who will hopefully read it when he begins to wonder about the past that has helped to shape him.
Of all of the episodes in the story of the Hubbledays, this is the one I have most looked forward to writing. It has many of the elements of a romantic adventure story: hardship and poverty, far-flung travel, acts of chivalry and blind panic, self-destructive behaviour, a love affair and eventual redemption. In addition, there is even a story about how this story was discovered! To cap it all, the central figure is the sole reason that anybody bearing the surname Hubbleday is here today.
William Robert Hubbleday, my great-great-grandfather was born in the heart of the Black County in Tipton, Dudley on 16 September 1843 but his parents, Robert and Mary, were not from the area. They were both Londoners who had moved to the Midlands sometime in the 1830s.
Robert and Mary took their family back to the capital soon after their marriage in Wolverhampton in 1847 and lived in Holborn where they had another son, Robert, in 1851. They then moved to Reading but in 1856 were back in London. The family briefly experienced life in Newington Workhouse, Southwark before settling north of the river in Finsbury. Both of the sons learnt their father’s trade of shoemaking but neither devoted their lives to it.
As a young man, William Robert returned briefly to the Midlands. At the time of the 1861 census, when he was 18 years old, he was lodging at the home of a licensed victualler in Horsefair in the centre of Birmingham. His occupation was given as a cordwainer but he was described as a traveller meaning that he was just passing through, presumably looking for work. By the end of the year, he was back in London and on 9 January 1862, he went to the garrison town of Woolwich on the Thames Estuary, and enlisted in the army for a bounty of one pound.
The medical certificate which accompanied the attestation papers gives a few details of William’s appearance. He was 5 feet 5 1/2 inches tall with a sallow complexion, grey eyes, brown hair and a scar over his right eye. This is the earliest description we have of any Hubbleday and the short height is interesting since both my father and grandfather were of similar stature.
The regiment which William joined was called the Military Train and its barracks were in Woolwich in the former Royal Artillery Hospital. It would now be referred to as the Logistics Corps as it was responsible for keeping the front-line regiments supplied with ammunition, tents and food. It had been formed at the end of the Crimean War in 1855 as this conflict had exposed significant weaknesses in the way the army was organised.
William joined the British army at a reasonably quiet time in its history. It was five years since the Indian Mutiny and there was no particular reason to expect a major conflict to develop anywhere in the Empire. Nevertheless, life in the army was not a soft option. Men had to enlist for a minimum term of 12 years and barracks were often overcrowded and insanitary. Flogging remained a standard punishment until it was withdrawn in 1880.
Throughout 1862, unknown to William while he was learning to be a soldier, tensions were rising on the other side of the world in New Zealand. First discovered by Captain Cook in 1769, the two islands had attracted a gradual stream of white settlers from the early 1800s. There had been an outbreak of hostilities in 1845 – 46 as Britain tried to establish its right to rule but, generally, the country had been peaceful. Settlers acquired land from the Maori tribes by buying it rather than through force. The office of the Governor appointed by the British government and many of the missionaries sent out by various church denominations worked hard to see that Maoris were treated fairly. The first Anglican Bishop of New Zealand, George Selwyn, played a particularly influential role in defending the rights of the Maori. In fact, many white settlers came to dislike him intensely because they thought his loyalties were too strongly on the ‘wrong’ side.
By the end of the 1850s, the colonial settlers’ desire for more land than many of the Maori tribes were willing to give up had become a serious concern. Inconclusive fighting broke out in 1860 and was followed by an uneasy truce in 1861. A more serious conflict flared up in July 1863 when British forces moved against the King Movement, consisting of tribes who had united under a single leader in an area called the Waikato about 80 miles south of Auckland on the West coast.
The Colonial Office in London reluctantly agreed to send reinforcements to New Zealand and in November 1863, William Hubbleday found himself on a troopship bound for the other side of the world.
Although there had been ships powered by steam for around thirty years, sail was still the predominant means of propulsion. The Royal Navy had begun adding steam to its wooden sailing ships in the 1840s but even in the 1860s, its new ironclad ships were built with both steam and sails. This was important because they couldn’t rely on being able to refuel with coal while on long journeys. The merchant sailing ship, Empress, which carried William Hubbleday to New Zealand, did not have steam power and would have looked like the clipper in the picture below.
As the Suez Canal wasn’t opened until 1869, the route to New Zealand was down the Atlantic in a south-westwardly direction before swinging East to round the Cape of Good Hope. It was here that the ships picked up the ‘roaring forties’, the strong west winds which blow towards Australia. The journey took a little over three months. A newspaper article in The Sun (London) on 9 November 1863 reported that as well as the Empress having huge supplies of armaments . . . ‘a large number of pigs, sheep and poultry were shipped for the voyage and a patent distilling apparatus will supply 550 gallons of fresh water per day’.
The voyage of William Hubbleday and the 4th Battalion Military Train did not get off to a good start. Within a few days of leaving Woolwich there was a collision with another vessel off Spithead and the Empress and her steam tug Medusa had to put into Portsmouth for repairs. These were quickly completed and the rest of the trip proceeded smoothly. The battalion arrived in Auckland in the middle of February 1864 and the settlers were delighted to see that they were equipped with the latest breech-loading rifles rather than old-fashioned muzzle-loading Enfields still being used by some regiments. It was also noted that, in the absence of any cavalry regiments being sent from Britain, the Military Train might serve this purpose in addition to transporting supplies.
It was decided that a contingent of the Military Train would operate as light cavalry in support of the infantry while the majority of the battalion would carry out their supply role. The personnel for the cavalry troop were rotated so that everyone had their opportunity to see action. William Hubbleday was in the first contingent and served in the field from 18 March to 13 May 1864. It was during this time that two notable engagements took place.
The Maoris employed fast-moving guerrilla tactics and were skilled builders of a defensive fort called a pa which they constructed quickly out of wood and earth. One such pa was at Orakau and at the beginning of April it was defended by 300 Maori, including 20 women and some children, under Chief Rewi. The British and colonial forces who came up against this pa numbered 2,000 and they quickly surrounded it. The Maoris lost their access to water and had little food but withstood fierce attacks and bombardment for two days. On the third day, they were offered surrender terms but refused. Soon afterwards, the British were about to storm the fort when they were stunned to see all of the defenders emerge from a corner of the fort and come running towards them. Sixty managed to clear the British lines and escape but the majority were killed or captured. General Cameron wrote in his dispatches that, ‘It is impossible not to admire the heroic courage and devotion of the natives in defending themselves so long against overwhelming odds.’
The second engagement which took place while William Hubbleday was in the field occurred at another fortress at the end of April. This was Gate Pa on the Eastern side of North island. General Cameron had over 1600 soldiers, sailors and marines at his disposal against 250 Maoris but proceeded very cautiously. The pa was bombarded all day before an attack was ordered. Around half of Cameron’s force was positioned at the rear of the pa while the other half stormed through a breach at the front. The Maoris appeared to be driven back and defeated but their escape route was closed by heavy firing from the troops guarding the rear of the pa. The Maoris turned round and rushed back into the pa causing the British storming party to believe that these were Maori reinforcements. At the same time, Maori who were lying concealed in highly effective anti-artillery bunkers and rifle pits in the pa opened fire, killing most of the officers. Panic ensued and the British soldiers and sailors fled. This was one of the few occasions when British troops ran from an encounter with a native force anywhere in the Empire.
One of the Maori performed a courageous act of chivalry during the battle, which enhanced the respect many soldiers had for their enemy. There is some confusion whether it was a woman or a man but one of the Maoris risked their own life to fetch water for a dying British officer. This story made a strong impression on the Bishop of New Zealand. When he returned to England a few years later, he installed a commemorative stained glass window in the cathedral to which he was newly appointed. This was Lichfield Cathedral and, coincidentally, not far from where William Robert Hubbleday had been born. The Bishop himself is remembered by a memorial in the cathedral which includes a tiled fresco of a scene from New Zealand.
The 4th Battalion of the Military Train remained in New Zealand for several years while the war was played out, occasionally flaring up and then subsiding as the British troops extinguished remaining pockets of resistance. William Robert’s service record shows that he was far from a model soldier at this time. Although he received two good conduct awards in the first three years of being in New Zealand, he started to get into serious trouble at the end of 1866 and for the first half of 1867. He spent considerable lengths of time in the prison cells. Two of his offences are recorded as ‘breaking out of barracks’ and ‘drunk and riotous’, both of which were serious enough to require him to face a court martial. When his battalion left for England on 1 July 1867, he had spent the previous six weeks in the army’s prison. Whether he was simply bored or homesick and had turned to drink, we will never know. He might, perhaps, have been affected by hearing from England that his father had died in 1865 and that his mother and younger sister were destitute.
The contribution of the Military Train to the smooth running of the war was widely acknowledged. The battalion won particular praise for a cavalry charge in Nukumaru in 1865 when General Cameron himself had been in danger from an ambush.
William’s career in the army was totally unknown to me for many years. It was only by a wonderful stroke of luck that I happened to discover that a medal with his name on was being auctioned. One day in 2007, I did a random search on the internet for the name ‘Hubbleday’ and it threw up a listing in the catalogue of Philip Burman, a well-respected dealer in military medals. This was probably the most exciting family history discovery I am ever likely to make. I am pleased to say that I was able to purchase the medal and it is now a treasured family heirloom.
The battalion arrived back in Woolwich on 9 October 1867 and William Hubbleday’s conduct from that point on remained free of any further offences. His sudden unruly behaviour in New Zealand might be explained by what happened within a few months of his return. He married a woman called Mary Ann Dudley, the daughter of a silversmith from Birmingham. Their wedding took place at William Street Weslyan Chapel in Woolwich on 16 February 1868. Although Mary Ann gave her age as 22, she was, in fact, only 19 as she was born in 1849.
Given the speed with which they married, it is almost certain that they had known each other before William’s departure to New Zealand and might even have had an understanding between them. William’s visit to Birmingham in 1861 when he was recorded in the census as ‘a traveller’ may well have been the time when they first met, although she would have been only twelve years old. Mary Ann’s family lived in the parish of St Thomas which is by Bath Row and a short walk from Horesfair where William was lodging.
According to the marriage certificate, Mary Ann was a spinster when she married William. However, the 1871 census shows that she had given birth to a son in 1865 when William Hubbleday had been in New Zealand for 18 months. This news might have reached him at the same time as the news of his father’s death, also in 1865. It is easy to see how the shock of these two pieces of news might have resulted in a great deal of mental agitation when he was so far from home.
Soon after his marriage, William was attached to the 3rd Dragoon Guards and posted to Colchester, which was an important garrison town. At the beginning of 1869, his wife gave him a son: Charles Edward, my great-grandfather.
Later that year, William was involved in an altercation with a labourer and the incident was reported in the papers although it appears to have been of little significance.
During 1869, there was a major reorganisation of army supply and transport capabilities and the Military Train was disbanded. Many of its responsibilities were taken over by the Army Service Corps. The changes worked in William’s favour because instead of having to work out the full twelve years of his enlistment, he was discharged early. He left the army on 26 March 1870 after serving just over eight years. His discharge papers show that he had gained an inch in height and that his civilian trade was shoemaking. It was noted that he intended to live in Birmingham, presumably because this was where his wife came from. It was that decision which led to the next five generations of Hubbledays thinking of Birmingham as their natural home.
However, the family didn’t go immediately to Birmingham. At the time of the 1871 census, they were living in Finsbury, North London, which was where he had spent his teenage years. William was working in the London shoemaking trade just as his great-grandfather, also called William, had done a hundred years before. His five-year-old stepson, William, is listed in the census as a ‘scholar’, which meant that he was one of the first children in the country to benefit from the introduction of compulsory education in 1870. This piece of legislation transformed the opportunities available to subsequent generations. However, it took another hundred years before the first generation of Hubbledays were admitted to a university.
William and Mary Ann did eventually move to Birmingham and the story of their lives there will be the subject of another blog. However, there is an interesting story to tell before that one and it also involves a soldier: William’s brother, Robert, the black sheep of the family.
My third-great-grandfather, Robert Hubbleday, was born in 1813, two years before the Battle of Waterloo. His father and grandfather were both shoemakers. William Hubbleday (1755 – 1788), Robert’s grandfather, had arrived in London from King’s Lynn and lived in Petticoat Lane. William Hubbleday (1784 – 1854), Robert’s father, had deserted his family and served a month’s hard labour in Newington House of Correction. The deserted family consisted of Robert, his two brothers and a sister. They were brought up by their mother, Elizabeth, with the help, it appears, of a man called William Hodges.
The eldest child was Mary, born in 1810, but there are no records of her after she was baptised which suggests that she probably died as an infant. This was not unusual; in the first half of the nineteenth century around 30 per cent of children died before they reached the age of five. The three brothers, David, William and Robert, on the other hand, left plenty of evidence of their existence. They all became shoemakers, married and lived relatively long lives. However, they were never far from the workhouse and although they had large families, girls outnumbered boys by two to one. Moreover, several of the boys died in infancy or did not marry. Of those that did marry, only one raised boys who went to on have healthy sons of their own. Consequently, the survival of the name remained precarious, especially as two of the brothers renounced it in favour of their stepfather’s surname.
David’s Life (1811 – 1891)
The eldest brother, David, was born in 1811 and remained in Southwark, London all of his life. He married Elizabeth Farthing in 1830 in the same church in Newgate that had witnessed his parents’ wedding. They had seven children before Elizabeth died in 1863. There were four sons but one died of smallpox and two left no records either because they did not marry or else died young. Only one of the sons, Henry, married. Although this marriage produced a grandson for David, the boy disappeared from the records after his birth in 1876. David had remarried by this time to a widow, Caroline Crouch, but there were no more children and so the name ‘Hubbleday’ disappeared from David’s line.
Throughout his life, David was variously described in the records as a ‘shoe maker’, a ‘boot maker’ or a ‘cordwainer’. The word cordwainer comes from the Spanish ‘cordovaner’, a worker of cordovan leather from Cordoba. This was fine leather and so the term cordwainer tended to denote that the person was more specialised or skilled than a straightforward shoe maker. The Worshipful Company of Cordwainers was a well-respected livery company and one of the oldest in the City of London but, sadly, there is no record of any Hubbleday belonging to it.
David lived a very long life and, like his father, finished his days in a workhouse. He was admitted to Christ Church Workhouse in the St Saviours Poor Law Union, Southwark in 1890 after the death of his second wife. He was probably in the infirmary, which would have provided him with a reasonable level of care. He died in the following year, aged 80. His name was recorded as David Hodges, alias Hubbleday, indicating his rejection of a surname which held little meaning for him.
Unlike David, his two younger brothers, Robert and William, both moved away from London for lengthy periods of time but returned to the capital towards the end of their lives. They lived in several towns and cities in the Midlands and the North and at one stage were residing in the same street in Dudley in the Black Country.
Their willingness to travel more extensively than any previous Hubbledays was almost certainly due to the arrival of the railways. By 1838, it was possible to go from London to Manchester via Birmingham in a day. Gladstone’s Railway Act of 1844 made it obligatory for railway companies to provide third-class accommodation at no more than a penny a mile so that journeys were within the reach of all classes. By the late 1850s, the trains were capable of travelling at 60 mph, reducing the time from London to Birmingham to under three hours.
William’s Life (1815 – abt. 1875)
William, born in 1815, left London as soon as he was in his twenties and went straight to the most important centre for shoemaking in the country: Northampton. In the 1840s, nearly ten per cent of that town’s population of around 20,000 were engaged in the trade. Upper Harding Street, where William lived, was occupied almost entirely by shoemakers. When his first child, Ann Elizabeth, was baptised in 1838, her page in the parish register at All Saints Church listed eight baptisms, five of which were for the children of shoemakers.
The 1830s saw an increasing use of small factories in the trade, with owners specialising in one aspect of the process rather than manufacturing a complete shoe. However, most shoemakers still worked at home in a room adapted as a workshop and they were famous for liking their independence. They enjoyed operating as small, one-man businesses and as they had to keep track of orders and be careful about standardised measurements, they were often more literate than other workers. It is notable that William signed his own name on his marriage certificate whereas his wife was only able to make her mark with a cross.
In 1840, William and Elizabeth had a second daughter, Martha, in Northampton and then, at some point after this, left the town and moved to Dudley in Worcestershire. We know this because in 1843, they registered the birth of a third daughter, Mary Jane. William’s occupation was given as a cordwainer and he was living in Campbell Street, which was in Brockmoor near Brierley Hill. Two years later, his brother, Robert, registered the birth of a daughter, Betsy Elizabeth, and gave his address as the same street as William’s. It is very likely that they were living in the same house.
William and Elizabeth only stayed in the West Midlands for a few years. In 1845, they were back in London in Holborn where they had a son, William. In 1847, they arranged to baptise three of their children on the same day at Holy Trinity Church, Gray’s Inn Road.
William and Elizabeth were clearly restless spirits because three years later they were in Manchester. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly at this point in their lives, they got married three days after Christmas in 1850. They were living at 50 Silver Street in the centre of the city. Nowadays, it is a busy section of road backing onto the Britannia Hotel but in the early Victorian period was an area of back-to-back housing with closed courts and narrow alleys. The wedding took place in Manchester Cathedral, which was the parish church for the centre of the city.
The 1851 census shows that William and Elizabeth had had another daughter, Alice. They had chosen to drop the name ‘Hubbleday’ and were living as Mr and Mrs Hodges and all of their children were given this surname. The decision is an easy one to understand as William had been an infant when his father left home. It was his stepfather’s surname of ‘Hodges’ that would have meant more to him. The census gave William’s occupation as a shoe maker and listed three lodgers staying in the family home, all of them also shoe makers. One of William’s daughters, Elizabeth, who was only 12 years old was working as an ‘end mender’ in the cotton industry which, notoriously, depended on cheap child labour.
William’s wife, Elizabeth, died within a few years of the census, having had no more children. In 1856, William, as a widower, married a young widow, Catherine Tonge, who had four children. The marriage took place in the cathedral and William signed himself, ‘William Hodges Hubbleday’, and named his father also as William Hodges Hubbleday, a cordwainer. This appears to be an amalgam of his real father, William Hubbleday, and his stepfather, William Hodges.
A few years later, William was on the move yet again and left Manchester for London. He took his family back to the area he had known as a boy. Unfortunately, Catherine’s first experience of the capital was not a pleasant one as the family had nowhere to sleep and they had to resort to staying in Newington Workhouse for the night. Presumably, William was looking for lodgings because the next day Catherine was able to take her family out of the workhouse. Interestingly, she gave her surname as ‘Hubbleday’ despite having lived as Mrs Hodges for four years!
The page below from the Newington Workhouse register indicates the ages of Catherine’s family by showing which diet they were entitled to. Catherine was ‘5’, which was an able-bodied woman overthe age of 13; Alice was ‘7’, which was girls aged from 9-13; Emily and Georgiana were ‘8a’, which was girls aged 2-5; and Hannah was ‘9’, which was infants. Alfred Tonge, Catherine’s youngest son by her previous marriage, was ‘4’, which was boys aged 5-9.
By the time of the 1861 census, the family had moved north of the river and were living in Shoreditch, near where William’s grandfather had lived. William’s occupation was given as a cordwainer. His only son, born in 1845, does not appear in the 1861 census or any other records after the 1851 census so it is likely that he died as a boy. In 1871, most of the family were still together and that year’s census shows that Catherine’s son, Alfred, had adopted the surname ‘Hodges’ and had followed his stepfather, William, into the shoemaking trade as a cordwainer. His stepsisters, Emily and Georgina, were both book folders.
There is no record of William after this date but it is highly probable that he died in the 1870s as I have not been able to find him in the 1881 census. He would have been in his sixties but whether he was buried as a Hubbleday or as a Hodges, we cannot tell. The fact that he left no sons carrying the name ‘Hubbleday’ meant that, yet again, the continuation of our surname hung by a thread. It was only through the family of the third brother, Robert, that it survived.
Robert’s Life (1813 – 65)
At some point in his twenties, my third-great-grandfather, Robert, moved from London to the Black Country in the West Midlands. It is likely that his brother William was already there or it may have been Robert who made the journey first. The following description of the area from an 1851 guide book, Rides on Railways by Samuel Sidney, makes you wonder what made either of them think it was a good idea.
In this Black Country, including West Bromwich, Dudley, Darlaston, Bilston, Wolverhampton and several minor villages, a perpetual twilight reigns during the day, and during the night fires on all sides light up the dark landscape with a fiery glow. The pleasant green of pastures is almost unknown, the streams, in which no fishes swim, are black and unwholesome; the natural dead flat is often broken by high hills of cinders and spoil from the mines; the few trees are stunted and blasted; no birds are to be seen, except a few smoky sparrows; and for miles on miles a black waste spreads around, where furnaces continually smoke, steam engines thud and hiss, and long chains clank, while blind gin horses walk their doleful round. From time to time you pass a cluster of deserted roofless cottages of dingiest brick, half swallowed up in sinking pits or inclining to every point of the compass, while the timbers point up like the ribs of a half decayed corpse. The majority of the natives of this Tartarian region are in full keeping with the scenery – savages, without the grace of savages, coarsely clad in filthy garments, with no change on weekends or Sundays, they converse in a language belarded with fearful and disgusting oaths, which can scarcely be recognised as the same as that of civilized England.
In 1843, Robert registered the birth of his first child, William Robert, and gave his address as New Hall Street, which is in Princes End midway between Coseley and Tipton. His occupation was recorded as a boot maker. The mother’s name was given as ‘Mary Hubbleday, formerly Ward’. Two years later, when Robert was living in Campbell Street near Brierley Hill, Dudley, the same street as his brother William, he had another child, Betsy Elizabeth, and the mother’s name was given as ‘Mary Hubbleday, formerly Christy’. The confusion about the former names of Robert’s wife was because she had been married and then widowed before having children with Robert. She had been born as Mary Ann Ward and had married a William Christy in 1834 in Bethnal Green.
After the death of her first husband, Mary lived with Robert for several years before they married in 1847. They had moved from Dudley to Wolverhampton some time in the previous two years and the wedding took place in St Peter’s Collegiate Church in the centre of the town. The marriage certificate states that Robert was a cordwainer and that he was the son of W. Hubbleday, a cordwainer. Furthermore, the certificate possibly reveals that Mary Ann’s father was also a cordwainer. We can’t be certain about this because the registrar seems to have muddled her father’s name with that of her first husband! Neither Robert or Mary were able to write their names and instead both put a cross rather than signing the certificate.
By 1851, they were back in London and they had another son, Robert. They were living at 46 Eagle Street, Red Lion Square in Holborn, which was a more salubrious area than the Black Country. Unbeknown to them, for instance, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, founder of the Pre-Raphaelite school of painting, and his friends William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones, also lived in Red Lion Square in the 1850s.
However, it was an unhappy period for Robert and Mary as two of their daughters died and the family’s fortunes declined. They moved to Reading in Berkshire, presumably looking for work, and it was here that their last child, Jane, was born in 1855. However, by 1856, they were back in London, but south of the river in Southwark, and on 8 March they were all admitted to the Newington workhouse and listed as destitute.
It seems that Robert managed to find work quite quickly as he was able to bring his family out of the workhouse on 14 March. In the 1860s, they were north of the river again, living in Wilton Street in Finsbury, but Robert was becoming sick and was admitted to the famous St Bartholomew’s Hospital (Barts) in Smithfield. An 1850 guide to London praised the hospital because it ‘. . . gives relief to all poor persons suffering from accident or diseases, either as in-patients or out-patients. Cases of all kinds are received into the Hospital, . . . cases of urgent disease, may be brought without any letter of recommendation or other formality at all hours of the day or night to the Surgery, where there is a person in constant attendance.‘ Sadly, however, there was little that could be done for Robert and he died in 1865, aged 52, from peritonitis caused by stomach ulcers. He was buried on Christmas Eve at the City of London and Tower Hamlets Cemetery where his father had been buried.
Robert and Mary had had two sons and four daughters. Two of the daughters had died as young girls, and the other daughter and the two sons had left home by the time of Robert’s death. This left only the youngest daughter, Jane, still at home with her mother. As an impoverished widow of nearly 60 with a young girl to look after and before the days of state pensions or income support, the future was bleak. Their lives from this point onwards are reminiscent of depictions of the Victorian poor in the novels of Charles Dickens, such as Oliver Twist and Hard Times.
In 1867, Mary and Jane were admitted to the workhouse in Holborn, less than a mile from Charles Dickens’s home in Tavistock Square. This would have given some respite but was not a long-term solution, particularly for a young girl. Rather than risk her child becoming just one more street urchin surviving by begging and stealing, Mary gave her up. We don’t know exactly when this happened but it was probably soon after they had to leave the Holborn workhouse when Jane was aged twelve. At the time of the 1871 census, Jane was listed as an inmate of a home for destitute girls in Broad Street (now the Western end of High Holborn) in Bloomsbury.
The home was funded by voluntary contributions and the girls were trained in household work so that they could be found places as domestic servants. As well as washing and cooking, they were taught needlework and how to make and repair their own clothing. The only condition for admittance was destitution.
Although Jane had lost her father and, to all intents and purposes, her mother, she was probably better off as an inmate of the refuge than if she had stayed with her mother. She was looked after in a benevolent educational institution and was able to make a decent marriage to a Bethnal Green chair maker in 1873 when she was 18. She did not, however, escape from living perilously close to the poverty line. At the time of the 1881 census, she gave her occupation as ‘a cats meat purveyor’, which, surprisingly, was quite a common job. It involved collecting horses’ meat from the slaughterhouses and threading it on skewers to sell to cat owners. The writer of a magazine article in 1868 had this to say: ‘. . . this branch of street trade numbers among it . . . women, who can just manage to crawl along from house to house with their scanty baskets of horseflesh. It is impossible exactly to state the number engaged in this business in our streets, but there must be many hundreds.‘ Ten years later, she was a widow and working at a factory in Tottenham. She remarried in 1892 to a labourer, George Bull, who was ten years her junior. The last record we have of her is the 1911 census when she was still in Tottenham, but apparently without her husband, and working as a charwoman.
During most of this time, Jane’s mother, my great-great-great-grandmother, was trying to eke out a living as a street hawker and rag sorter in central London.
Mary endured a solitary downward spiral of destitution for an astonishing thirty years until her death in 1901 at the age of 91. She became well known in the workhouses of Holborn, Southwark and Bethnal Green, depending on them for food and somewhere to sleep, sometimes for months on end. She would have become very accustomed to repetitive manual work such as picking oakum just as her father-in-law had had to do when sentenced to hard labour in the House of Correction. Workhouses were designed to be forbidding places to discourage people from claiming poor relief. The huge wealth of the British Empire during Queen Victoria’s reign (1837 – 1901) did not soften the harsh living conditions of the working class. The elderly, infirm and unemployed often had little option but to embrace, as many of our ancestors knew from firsthand experience, the rigours of the workhouse. However, given Mary’s situation, the workhouse was quite probably more comfortable and secure than her life outside it.
The story of the Hubbledays in nineteenth-century London has not been a happy one, marked, as it has been, by early deaths, illness, family break-up and poverty. The next blog will deal with the lives of Robert and Mary’s two sons who I have deliberately not mentioned other than to note their births in 1843 and 1851. They both looked to the army for a way to better their lives and their experiences merit a chapter to themselves. Events did not turn out as they, or we, might have expected but the survival of the Hubbleday name, at least, began to look more hopeful.
My fourth great-grandfather, William, who was baptised at St Botolph Aldgate in 1784 and left fatherless four years later, had a troubled life. Somehow his widowed mother, Sarah, managed to raise him and his younger sister but it must have been a precarious existence. The seeds of later misfortunes in William’s life were almost certainly sown by a life of poverty as a young boy.
The first evidence of William as an adult is a record of his marriage in 1809 when he was aged 25. He married Elizabeth Fouldes in Christ Church, Greyfriars on Newgate Street opposite St Paul’s Cathedral. The church is no longer there as it was bombed in World War II. William and Elizabeth were living in the parish of St Leonard Foster Lane which is in Aldersgate, a ward of the City of London just north of the cathedral.
Elizabeth bore four children in the six years following the wedding, which was not unusual for those times, but must have placed a strain on the marriage.
The period between the marriage in 1809 and the birth of the last child, William, was a time of great turmoil in Europe culminating in the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 when Napoleon was defeated by the Duke of Wellington’s forces. The years after this were ones of great social unrest in England marked by riots and their violent suppression. The most notorious event was the 1819 ‘Peterloo Massacre’ in Manchester when a peaceful protest for political reform was broken up by mounted yeomanry resulting in hundreds of injuries and many deaths.
These years were also ones of great turmoil in William and Elizabeth’s domestic life. They had moved away from the area they had grown up in and gone south across the Thames to live in the parish of Newington in Southwark. With four young mouths to feed, Elizabeth must have despaired when William, for reasons unknown, abandoned her and stopped providing for the family. She had no option but to ask the parish for help. As a result, matters came to a head in July 1819 when the Overseer of the Poor had William brought before the magistrates at the Surrey Quarter Sessions.
The parish took a dim view of William not fulfilling his duty as a husband and father since it meant that parish funds were being used to support the family. Magistrates were keen to make an example of such people and the sentence of hard labour for a month was frequently used. Hard labour would usually consist of picking oakum by unravelling and shredding old rope into fibres which would then be mixed with tar and used as caulking on ships. Prisoners were sometimes made to walk on a treadmill as an alternative punishment. A house of correction, sometimes also called a ‘Bridewell’, was an institution exactly like a prison but used for minor offences. Newington House of Correction was in Horsemonger Lane in the grounds of Surrey Gaol and heavily overcrowded. The buildings have now been demolished and replaced by Newington Gardens.
This low point in William’s life was followed by a long period when there are no surviving records for him. He might have gone back to his wife and family and provided for them, or he might have come to an understanding with Elizabeth and parted company. There were certainly no more children from the marriage, which suggests the latter. On the other hand, there are no more reports of him failing to maintain the family.
It appears that Elizabeth found another man to look after her family. In 1838, a death certificate for one of her grandchildren lists her as the person who registered the death but gives her name as Elizabeth Hodges.
Further evidence suggesting that Elizabeth became the common-law wife of a man called ‘Hodges’ is that her youngest son, William, started using ‘Hodges’ as a middle name and her other two sons both used Hodges as an alternative surname in later life. In addition, when one of David’s sons got married, the ceremony was witnessed by Elizabeth and by a man called William Hodges.
Although we know nothing about the middle years of William Hubbleday’s life after his time in the house of correction when he was 35 years old, we do know a lot about his final years. In 1840, when he was 56, he suddenly appears in the records for Christ Church Workhouse, Southwark. This was the first of many occasions over the next fourteen years when he spent time there because he was unable to provide for himself. In one entry, we learn that he had been a journeyman shoemaker which means that he had completed an apprenticeship in his youth in the same trade as his father. In another entry, we learn that he was partially disabled through illness. Another entry scores his character and behaviour as a very low one out of six.
In 1854, aged 70, he made his way back over the river to the area near where he was born. He was admitted to the St George in the East Workhouse, Stepney in the East End between Whitechapel in the north and the docklands of Wapping to the south. He did not remain there for long. On 11 November 1854, the master of the workhouse simply wrote the word ‘died’ next to William Hubbleday’s name in the discharge register. He was buried as a pauper a few days later in the City of London and Tower Hamlets Cemetery.
It is highly doubtful whether any of his family attended the funeral. He had chosen to desert them nearly 40 years before his death and the three sons, David, Robert and William had, to all intents and purposes, probably largely forgotten him. It’s interesting to reflect that, in a strange quirk of fate, his youngest son had lost him as a father at the age of four in 1819, just as William himself and his father before him had lost their fathers at the same age.
The one link which the three sons did retain with their father was that all three became shoemakers like him and their grandfather. Their stories will be told in the next blog.
John and Mary Hubbleday, my sixth-great-grandparents, moved with their two-year old daughter, Mary, from Wisbech to King’s Lynn in around 1750, presumably to seek work although we don’t know in what trade. There were many to choose from as King’s Lynn was an important trading and fishing port and had a significant shipbuilding industry. Glass-making and brewing were also well established. Daniel Defoe famously said that the town was, ‘Beautiful, well built and well situated’. Mary gave birth to two boys after they moved to King’s Lynn and these sons were both baptised in the magnificent church of St Nicholas: Robert in 1751 and William in 1755. This blog is about their two quite different lives and how the name of Hubbleday almost disappeared.
John Hubbleday’s new life in King’s Lynn was relatively short. He died aged 40 in 1759, leaving his widow, Mary, with three young children all under the age of eleven. She remarried two years later to a widower, Edmund Wallington, so Mary, Robert and William spent their formative years in King’s Lynn with a stepfather. The daughter, Mary, married as soon as she was 21 and remained in King’s Lynn with her new husband, Thomas Lake. However, the two sons, Robert and William, left the town as soon as they were adults and started to carve out new lives for themselves.
Robert went to work in Great Yarmouth and married Elizabeth Baker there in 1776. Two years later they were in Attleborough, midway between Norwich and Thetford, and Robert was the landlord of The Crown Inn on Church Street.
Attleborough was on the main turnpike road through Norfolk which went from Norwich to London. Turnpikes were essentially toll roads which had been established by Acts of Parliament in the first half of the eighteenth century. The income they generated led to huge improvements in the quality of the roads and this opened up opportunities for would-be entrepreneurs. Robert went into business running a post-chaise service to Newmarket in Suffolk. Post chaises were small carriages owned by innkeepers who hired them out, with horses and post-boys, to people who wished to travel privately, rather than by stage-coach.
Sadly for Robert, it appears that this venture didn’t go well as only two years later he sold out to a rival innkeeper at The Cock Inn in Attleborough.
After the sale of his post-chaise business and his departure from the Crown Inn, there are no more mentions of Robert Hubbleday in the newspapers. The only record of his existence after this date is a single line in a record of apprenticeship indentures in Newmarket. Robert is listed as a master tailor who takes on an apprentice in 1792. It is hard to believe that this is the same person but there are two pieces of evidence which confirm that it is. Robert had two daughters: Elizabeth and Harriet. Elizabeth died in 1783 but Harriet married a stonemason in Newmarket in 1800, which strongly suggests that she had been living there with her parents before this date. In addition, we have a record of the burial in Newmarket of a Robert Hubbleday aged 48 in September 1800. This exactly fits the birth date of ‘our’ Robert Hubbleday in King’s Lynn in November 1751.
Robert’s younger brother, William, and my fifth-great-grandfather, lived an even shorter life. He died in his mid-thirties leaving a widow and two young children in poverty. At around the time that his older brother was setting up as an innkeeper, William had made the momentous decision to leave slow-paced, rural East Anglia and try his luck in London. His Uncle William, born in Wisbech in 1735, had already made the move and this might well have encouraged him. Although we can only guess at his motives, he was, no doubt, hopeful of finding a better life for himself in one of the world’s richest cities. Sadly, this was not to be. His miserable and brief existence in London can be pieced together through three, simple parish records which helpfully reveal more than is usually found in such documents.
The first reference to William in London is during George III’s reign, a year after Britain lost the American War of Independence. On 26 May 1784, William’s first son, also called William, was baptised in the church of St Botolph Aldgate. The record of this event in the parish register reveals a surprising amount of information. We learn that William is married to a woman called Sarah and that he lives at 5 Inkhorn Court in the area around Petticoat Lane. The last word on the line says, ‘poor’, indicating that William was receiving parish relief. This was money raised through local rates to help those in need and administered in each parish by an overseer of the poor.
The church of St Botolph Aldgate is a mile or so directly north of the Tower of London. Its parish lies partly within the old city wall to the west of the church and partly outside the wall and in the East End. Petticoat lane is in the north of the parish and close to the area we now know as Whitechapel. In John Strype’s 1720 ‘Survey of London’, the area where William came to live fifty years later is described thus: In this Petticoat Lane are divers Courts and Alleys, most of which on the West Side, which are in this Ward, have their Passages into, or out of Gravel Lane, where they have been treated of. But these that have not, are five; Inkhorn Court, a pretty open Place, with indifferent Inhabitants. By the nineteenth century, it had become a notorious slum area. John Hollingshead in ‘Ragged London in 1861’ wrote: Taking the broad road from Aldgate Church to old Whitechapel Church . . . you may pass on either side about twenty narrow avenues, leading to thousands of closely-packed nests, full to overflowing with dirt, and misery, and rags.
The next piece of evidence about William’s life is provided by another baptism entry but at a different church: Christ Church, Spitalfields. The entry is for the baptism of William and Sarah’s second child, a daughter called Mary Ann.
The record tells us that William has moved to Gun Court. This was very probably off Gun Street which still exists today to the north of what was Petticoat Lane and a few hundred yards to the west of Christ Church. The P, an abbreviation for ‘poor’, at the beginning of the line shows that William was still in receipt of parish aid. The most interesting new fact we learn is that he was a shoemaker. It is likely that William learnt his trade in King’s Lynn as an apprentice but we don’t know whether he was following his father into this line of work or whether he was the first Hubbleday to take it up. Whether he was the first or not, it is significant that from this time onwards for nearly a century, his descendants also worked in the same trade.
The final piece of evidence for William’s life in London is an entry in the parish registers for St Leonard’s Church, Shoreditch. This church is slightly further north than Christ Church and is in Hackney on the western edge of Bethnal Green. The church records show that William was buried there in March 1788.
We don’t know how William died but, given that he was only a young man, it was likely to have been of a disease such as smallpox, influenza, measles or cholera. The insanitary living conditions of the time, particularly for those in poverty, would have increased his chances of picking up an infection. The record indicates, by the ‘P’, that William was still receiving parish relief so he was unlikely to be eating well, especially as he had two very young children and their nourishment might have been his priority. As a pauper, he would have been buried in a common grave, which was a large grave kept open for several days until it was full.
William’s residence at the time of his death is shown as ‘Norton Folgate’. This was the small extra-parochial ‘liberty’ (i.e. outside the jurisdiction of the diocese) between Bishopsgate ward in the south, the parish of St Leonard’s, Shoreditch in the north and the parish of Spitalfields in the east. It was subsumed into Whitechapel in the middle of the nineteenth century.
The premature death of William, my fifth-great-grandfather, repeated the tragedy of his father’s early death back in King’s Lynn in 1759. William had been four when he was made fatherless. Now his own death left his only son, my fourth-great-grandather, fatherless, also at the age of four. It is salutary to recognise the fragility of the continued survival of the Hubbleday name at this point in history. All current Hubbledays are only here because those two boys, first the father and then the son, made it into adulthood and had male children. All other branches of the name died out.
William’s short life represents a significant turning point in the history of the family. Like many other families whose ancestors had worked on the land for centuries, the potential for better-paid employment in cities in the eighteenth century began to exert its influence. William’s grandfather, Robert, born around 1690, and his father, John, born in 1719, had already begun the movement away from agricultural labour by moving to the towns of Wisbech and King’s Lynn. However, they had probably never travelled beyond the countryside of East Anglia. William’s bold but unsuccessful attempt to better his life by going to London marked the moment when the Hubbledays turned their back on the land for good. The story of subsequent generations is set in the cities of London and Birmingham.
In previous blogs I have written about Hubbledays from the past without being able to trace a direct link to Hubbledays in the twenty-first century. While the rarity of the name and the clustering of Hubbleday families in just a few counties along the East coast strongly suggest that we all belong to one family, there has been no way to prove it. That frustration is now over. From this point onwards, I will be writing about authentic ancestors for whom I have documentary evidence which links each generation to our own across three hundred years of history.
The trail starts in the fenlands just south of Lincolnshire in the town of Wisbech and the nearby village of Elm. Wisbech, the ‘capital of the fens’, is at the north-eastern edge of Cambridgeshire and straddles the River Nene fifteen miles inland from where it flows into the Wash. It was a prosperous town in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries as its port benefited from increasing trade with the continent. During this time, several families of Hubbledays lived there although there is nothing to suggest that they shared in the area’s prosperity.
These Hubbledays were almost certainly related to those in Lincolnshire, a neighbouring county, but they do not appear to have had the same success as some of their more well-to-do cousins. The parish records are generally silent about the occupations and status of the Hubbledays who were baptised, married and buried in Cambridgeshire. Nor are there any wills or court documents to help us build a picture of their lives. Nevertheless, it is in Cambridgeshire in the first half of the eighteenth century that we find our most distant traceable direct ancestor and my namesake: Robert Hubbleday. He is my seventh-great-grandfather or, to put it another way, my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather. If you are a Hubbleday, he is also your relative since every other branch of the family died out before the end of the nineteenth century.
My hunch is that he was the son of Thomas Hubbleday who lived in Elm and who may have moved there from East Kirkby in Lincolnshire in the 1680s. However, the first record of Robert’s existence is in 1716 when he married Elizabeth Willson on 21st February at St Peter’s Church in Wisbech. Assuming that he was in his twenties when he married, he would have been born in the 1690s when William and Mary were on the throne in England, Louis XIV, the Sun King, ruled France from the Palace of Versailles and Sir Christopher Wren completed the building of St Paul’s Cathedral.
Robert and Elizabeth Hubbleday lived in Wisbech all their lives and had eight children between 1717 and 1735. Four of their five daughters died young and the record of their burials in the parish register sometimes notes that Robert is a ‘labourer’.
This is all that we know about him except that he died in 1758 and was buried in the churchyard at St Peter’s where he had married. The term ‘labourer’ is clearly not specific about the nature of Robert’s work but he might well have been involved in the huge, labour-intensive operations to drain the fens. This work had started in earnest in the seventeenth century when the Duke of Bedford had brought over the brilliant Dutch engineer, Cornelius Vermuyden. Alternatively, he might have worked at the port of Wisbech unloading ships or, quite simply, been an agricultural labourer.
One of his daughters, Anne, lived long enough to marry, as did his three sons, who all went on to have families of their own. However, the survival of the Hubbleday name remained precarious despite the three sons having fifteen children between them. The name soon disappeared from the area as all three sons, William, Robert and John, moved away from Wisbech and the only other Hubbleday family, who lived in Elm, failed to produce any healthy males.
Robert and Elizabeth’s youngest son, William, left Wisbech for Southwark, London and married Ann Perry in 1763. The marriage is interesting because William signed a marriage bond testifying that there was no impediment to the marriage. This was a device used to avoid having to attend church on four Sundays to hear the banns being read, for instance, if the couple were in a hurry to marry. They remained in London for the rest of their lives but in 1768 one of their children, Maria, was born in Wisbech, presumably while her parents were back visiting friends or relatives in the town. Although Maria had two brothers, William and Luke, there is no trace of them ever marrying.
Robert, the middle son, did not go far from Wisbech but he crossed from Cambridgeshire into Norfolk when, in 1748, he married Elizabeth Stanham from Tilney St Lawrence. This was a small village halfway between his parents’ home in Wisbech and King’s Lynn. They settled in the village and had five daughters but only one son, who died as an infant.
John, Robert and Elizabeth’s eldest son and my sixth-great-grandfather, also moved to Norfolk. He had been born in 1719 but, confusingly, only baptised ten years later when his sister, Anne, was being baptised.
He married Mary Witten in 1744 and had three children in Wisbech before moving to King’s Lynn, where he had two sons. The continued existence of the Hubbleday name came to depend on these two boys and it is their very different fortunes which will feature in the next blog.