Chapter 8

Founding the Firm; from 1830

As we have seen, the children of William and Martha gradually moved from Beoley to Redditch. Eldest son William, a papermaker like his father, married Mary Bate and they settled in Redditch soon after their marriage - according to Dr Taylor's List of Women Delivered their first child, Martha, was born in Redditch in 1791. Second son Edward (likewise, a papermaker) married Mary (Hubbard?) and their first child was born in Redditch in 1798, though subsequent children were born and christened at Beoley. When Edward was buried at Beoley he was noted as being from the adjoining parish of Ipsley (which covered some parts of Redditch). Joseph the sailor had moved away from the area altogether; James (whose second wife was Rachel Harder) apparently stayed in Beoley, and we know nothing of sister Martha. The youngest child of William and Martha, Charles, was christened at St Stephen's in Redditch in 1778, and lived in Redditch until his death in 1853.
See Family Tree A.

Chapter 4 summarised the careers of the sons of Edward and Mary who moved to Birmingham, but we now track the founder of the firm of Webb and Sons, that is William the fish hook maker. There is no record of him from the time of his christening in 1806 until the record of the baptism of his daughter at the Congregational Church in Evesham Street. (Ref 1) gives details of this and other references, and of the history of the church. see Family Tree C.

It may be that after the deaths of his wife and daughter William left Redditch to visit his brothers in Birmingham, for the next year (with indecent haste, by modern etiquette) he married again. His second marriage, to Susannah Gardner, took place at St Philips in Birmingham, (which became the cathedral church of Birmingham) where they both had claimed to be "of this parish".

copy of the marriage certificate issued to William & Susannah

On later censuses we find that Susannah was born in Solihull, but perhaps this was Solihull Lodge, where several Redditch needlemakers were employed from the late 1830s onwards. Possibly there is a connection which has yet to be followed up.
Their first child, Ellen Emily, was born in Redditch in 1833, perhaps to recall the earlier Ellen Webb, who had died as a toddler.
Family tradition has always maintained that William established a milling business in 1839 or so, but nothing has been found to substantiate this claim. It may possibly refer to the business established by the Sarsons family in Church Green.

One of the earliest references to William is in Bentley's Directory of 1840, which lists him as a beer seller and fish hook maker ; by 1850 he is listed as "William Webb, bakers and flour dealers" yet in the census of the following year he describes himself only as a fish hook maker! A few years later (Billings Directory 1855) he is a fish hook maker and shop keeper : at the marriage of his daughter Ellen in 1858 he gives his occupation as "fish hook maker" and in Billings 1860 edition a baker and fish hook maker.
By the time of the 1861 census he considers himself a confectioner (employing 2 men) , and in the 1868 edition of Kellys Directory, a baker. Perhaps we are being too harsh to seek an exact definition of what occupation he had - he could well have had a variety of jobs over the period, and this was not uncommon. What is clear is that he set up a business in Evesham Street, and that although it was only one of many bakery businesses in the town, it became one of the most enduring and successful. William and Susannah lived the rest of their lives in Redditch, as did their eldest son William, and their daughter Emma, but the other two children, Thomas and Ellen, moved further afield, at least for a time.

Son William joined his father in business from an early age, (unlike his brother Thomas Edward, who started his working life as a clerk for Abel Morrall, one of the needle companies). William junior is noted separately in Littleburys Directory of 1873 as being a "wine agent", but his main occupation was as a partner to his father in "William Webb and Son, bakers and confectioners" of Evesham Street.
Kellys directory of 1868 notes another confectioner in Evesham Street, James Woodman, who had previously lived in Walford Street, and the two businesses amalgamated in the mid 1870s to form "Woodman and Webb", with Woodman the sleeping partner who soon retired, leaving William the elder and his son to carry on the business until the father's death. William Webb, fish hook maker and baker, died in 1877, leaving a thriving business in the capable hands of his son William. He left a detailed will which shows that he owned freehold messuages and premises in Evesham Street and Ipsley Street (where he was living at the time of his death). His wife Susannah was well provided for, and after her death the estate was to be shared equally between his four children. One of the witnesses to the will was the aforementioned Frederick Hollington. Susannah, who was living in Upper Grove Street in 1881, died at the house in Ipsley Street in 1884, again leaving a detailed will. It is good to know that she lived to see some of her grandchildren, given that her daughters had no offspring, and her sons married quite late in life.

William and Susannah had two daughters - Ellen Emily, the eldest child of the family, left home to become a milliner's assistant in Warwick, and in the census of 1851 she is at the establishment of one Decima Walker, in the Cornmarket, Warwick.
In 1858 she married John Stephen Hickley, of Aldershot. They were married at the Wesleyan Chapel in Redditch, and made their home in Aldershot, where John had established a flourishing business supplying the nearby military camp. (Ref 2)
Both John and Emily Hickley left money to their favourite niece, Gertie, in their wills, and named Fred Hollington as one of the executors. This Redditch businessman and undertaker crops up regularly in the dealings of the Webb family, being a trusted friend and cousin of Sarah, wife of William (the baker in partnership with his father in Evesham Street).

Second daughter of William and Susannah, Emma Jane, was born in 1835, and became a dressmaker. She remained single until the age of 36, when she married James Cranmore at the Wesleyan chapel in Redditch (1871). James was a widower, his wife Letitia having died in 1856, possibly in childbirth. James was the brother of Moses Cranmore, of the popular ironmongers and drapers at numbers 2-6 Evesham Street. James was a needlemaker at the time of his first marriage, but then became a warehouseman for the family business. (Ref 3) contains further details of Emma and James.

William, second son of William and Susannah was born in 1841 and, as we have seen, became a partner in the bakery firm Webb and Son, which at the time of his father's death was known as Woodman and Webb. In 1880 William married Sarah Hollington, the cousin of Frederick Hollington. (Ref 4) gives details of their marriage. The year 1887 is so significant for the family, that it merits a chapter of its own (Chapter 9), so we return to the eldest son of William and Susannah, great grandfather of the author of this history, Thomas Edward. See Family Tree I.

Thomas Edward was born in the year of Victoria's accession to the throne, and of the start of civil registration for England and Wales, that is 1837. He lived with the family at Evesham Street certainly until 1871, and probably until 1873, the year of his marriage. He did not, at this stage, become part of the family business, but was a "clerk" and then "agent" for Abel Morrall, the needle company. He married Catharine Cheer, the daughter of John Cheer, a farm bailiff, who, according to a later relative, was "a bit of a rolling stone gathering mostly daughters". (Ref 5) gives an account of the Cheer family. John Cheer showed some acumen in coping with the marriages of his daughters, losing three of them at the altar on the same day! They were married at the parish church of Great Marlow on April 22nd, 1873 (Ref 6) gives an account of a Victorian Triple Marriage.

Catharine Cheer was what we would call a feisty young woman. She was good with horses and children (very fortunately, as it turned out) and though of diminutive stature was strong in body and determination, and lived until 1948. Like her mother before her, she had to cope with moving house with an ever-increasing young family until finally settling in Redditch.
Thomas and Catharine began their married life in a house on Prospect Hill, Redditch, and their first child, Clara Ethel, was born the following year when Catharine was aged 21. (Clara would be 21 herself when her youngest sister Nora was born, as Catharine continued to bear children for the next two decades). When Clara was christened in Redditch in 1874, Thomas gave his employment as "foreman". This was still the case at the christening of Ernest Edward, (grandfather of the author) in 1875 (though on the birth certificate Thomas gives his employment as "warehouseman"). A third child, Edith Mildred, was christened in Redditch in 1877 (the year of the death of his father William Webb, baker) but by this time the family had moved to London, and were living in Stoke Newington. It must have been exciting for the young couple to leave Worcestershire and set up home in a suburb of
London, where Thomas was a commercial traveller in needles (presumably still with Abel Morrall). (Ref 7) gives details of life in Stoke Newington in the 1870s and 80s.

Their second son, Edgar Bertie, was born in Stoke Newington in 1878, (but christened at Little Waltham in Essex, the home church of his grandfather Cheer). (Ref 8) outlines the births and deaths of some of their other children while they were living in Stoke Newington.

By 1887 Thomas and Catharine had moved to Aldershot, near Thomas' brother-in-law John Hickley, as in the electoral register for Redditch of that year, Thomas is shown as owning land in Redditch, but being resident in Station Road, Aldershot. He may have given up the trade in needles to take up in business with Hickley, and perhaps Catharine needed the support of her sister-in-law Ellen Hickley after the death of Harvey, and with another new baby in the family. These plans were all changed following the startling events of 1887 described in Chapter 9, and Thomas, Catharine and family moved back home to Redditch.

At the time of the move back to Redditch in 1887 / 8 Catharine had 4 young children, had buried two, and was pregnant yet again. Gertie was just a baby of 15 months when another brother, Victor Gordon was born in Redditch in 1888 (but christened back at St Faiths, Stoke Newington). This suggests that the family was still not fully settled, and we can only marvel at the stamina of this petite woman, journeying so frequently with her young family.

They seem to be settled in Church Green by 1890, but they suffered a further bereavement when Mabel Elsie lived for only 12 days ; this was followed by another birth in 1891 (Wilfred Harold Leonard). Catharine's youngest was Nora, born in 1895. No doubt the 54-year old Thomas was as relieved as his wife that their family was finally complete!

Thomas had obviously benefited from his brother-in-law Hickley's business sense, and from gaining a broader view by having experienced life in London. When he returned to Redditch to take over the bakery firm he was able to develop and expand it, so that it became one of the best known establishments in the town. He and his wife Catharine endured the joys and heart-ache of a large family, with several tragic losses, yet he was evidently a stoic man who was well able to adapt to changing circumstances. In so many ways he typifies the enterprising nature of Victorian society.

Catharine must have been quite a formidable woman - apparently the Webbs owned or rented fields round Easemore, and she threatened to run an employee through with a pitchfork if he didn't call one of her sons "master"! She was a widow for many years as Thomas died in 1917, and she also lost her daughter Gertie in 1919. She continued to be much involved in family life until her death in 1948 at almost 96 years of age - she had a store of wonderful memories, spanning the Victorian Era and two world wars. Her obituary is a fitting tribute -
From The Redditch Indicator August 20th 1948:
During this month the oldest member of the church (St Stephen's), if not the parish, passed to her rest. Mrs Catharine Webb, at the age of 95 years, was surely a link with a past Redditch that is rapidly disappearing. She had lived in Church Green for over 60 years, and was very widely known as a lady of good virtue and strong and determined character, for even until quite recently she dictated the orders of her household. It is yet to be seen whether our day and generation can reproduce the virtues of faith, calm and steadfastness that Mrs Webb so truly typified for her own generation.

  Catharine in the last years of her long life