Chapter 9

Jubilee & Tragedy; 1887

The year 1887 marked 50 years of Victoria's reign, and Redditch was preparing to celebrate, as was the whole country. William Webb, the youngest son of William and Susannah, had been running the successful bakers and confectioners at number 33 Evesham Street since the death of his father ten years previously. Woodman and Webb was one of a number of similar bakeries in the town, but William saw a chance to expand the business, and also to provide better living accommodation for his growing family. William (aged 46) and his wife Sarah (34) had by this time 4 children under 6 years of age, and another was conceived in 1887, so living space was at a premium. See Family Tree J. He had done well for himself - on the register of electors for 1884 (the year of the death of his mother Susannah) he was shown to also own freehold houses in Edward St, Littleworth. The year before he had acted as executor to the will of his friend (and second cousin) James Webb, the innkeeper of The Red Lion, and was quoted as being a "baker and corn dealer". A chain of events was to lead to a business opportunity which would establish the Webb family in Church Green East for the next 100 years.

20 Church Green East

For many years maltster and corn dealer Benjamin Sarsons had been living and trading from a fine establishment on Church Green East. The house, on three storeys plus basement and cellars, was built in 1774 and is of a similar style to the adjoining bank. It was probably the house once owned by Mr Peakman, whose wire drawing mill is shown on Norman Neasom's illustration, taken from Monk's description of Redditch in 1776 (see Chapter 1). When Sarsons lived there it was number 17, but between 1891 and 1892 it became number 20, as it is today. It is not known why this renumbering came about, but records show that the whole street was affected (Ref 1) shows how the house numbers in Church Green East were changed.

In his later years Ben Sarsons was retired, and lived with his blind sister Harriet (who died in 1884). It seems that from the 1881 census that the business was run by William J Palmer, who lived on-site, but there was also a Henry Palmer, baker, maltster and corn dealer at Church Green (no number given), and a C. Palmer in Alcester Steet from at least 1896 - 1900 (and indeed, Palmers Cornstores was well known in Redditch until relatively recently.) It has not yet been established how the Palmer family interacted with Sarsons, but an interesting sequence of events led to the acquisition of what we now know as 20 Church Green East by William Webb. He was to rent the premises, but his descendants later bought the freehold.

1887 was a truly eventful year - Ben Sarsons died on April 17th, Henry Palmer died in April or May of the same year, and WJ Palmer, baker of Church Green East, committed suicide at the asylum in Rubery on June 13th.
Ben Sarson's complex will (with 3 codicils) left the premises to his nephew, the son of his sister Eliza Maria Adams.
The will is particularly interesting as it clearly describes the premises: (Ref 2) gives details.

The beneficiary of the Church Green East / Peakman Street property, George Augustus Adams (who was living with Ben Sarsons at the time of the 1881 census but by 1887 lived near Rochdale), was apparently not interested in taking over the business. Perhaps the arrangement had been in place for some years, or perhaps the deaths of both Palmers so soon after the demise of Ben Sarsons led to an offer being made by William Webb. Whatever the explanation, by the end of May 1887 William was advertising in The Redditch Indicator of his plans to move to Church Green, while Mr Young prepared to move into number 33 Evesham Street:

He placed the advert on May 28th, June 4th, 11th, and 18th, and we note that he planned to move "at midsummer" i.e. at or around Tuesday, June 21st, which was the day chosen for the main festivities throughout the nation to celebrate the Queen's Jubilee. The Parish Magazine records how the day passed in Redditch - (Ref 3)

Amid all this jollity and excitement, William and Sarah were trying to move into their new home, no doubt full of plans for expanding the business now that they had so much more space and potential. How optimistic they must have been, although it had not been an easy year thus far. Just a few weeks before this, in May, they had buried two-year-old Emily Gertrude and his poor wife Sarah had to deal with this loss as she prepared to move to a much larger house with 3 young children and another on the way.

But far worse was to come. On July 2nd, barely a fortnight into their new life at Church Green, tragedy struck. The Redditch Indicator reported the tragic news to the town - (Ref 4) The following week (July 9th) The Indicator reported the inquest ; (Ref 5) and details of the funeral: (Ref 6)

So Thomas and Catharine, having recently settled in Aldershot to set up in business with John Hickley, received the devastating news, summoning them back to Redditch as soon as possible. What a terrible shock for the whole family, and what big decisions lay ahead, now that the new business venture in Church Green was deprived of its main protagonist. No doubt Sarah was anxious to leave the house which had once been the centre of expectation of a better future, and indeed she is later found at an address in Mount Pleasant, where her mother moved in to help her with the children.

Thomas Edward had to revise his own plans in the light of this new and totally unexpected situation. Although he had no training as a baker, he evidently decided that the business could be made to work under his supervision, and eventually he and his family settled in the house at Church Green which Sarah had hoped would be her family home. Thomas, enterprising as ever, was able not only to take over the business, but to develop and expand it considerably in the years that followed.

Surprisingly, William did not leave a will, so letters of administration were granted to Sarah on August 3rd:

Sarah's new son John Timms Webb was born March 1888. (Timms was the maiden name of Sarah's mother, who lived with the family at Mount Pleasant until her death in 1892, though she was buried back in Wolverley.) Some time after that, Sarah and family moved to Bedford, and it would be interesting to know the reason - no family connections have yet been found. They all kept in touch with the Webbs back in Redditch, and were still in Bedford by the time of the 1901 census.

When eldest daughter Lilian Mary married Henry Thompson in 1907, her address was in Wimbledon. They had a daughter Lilian Charlotte who was born in 1910.

It is not known what became of Sarah's sons William Harvey and Arthur Ernest, but John Timms Webb (civil servant) was killed in May 1915 on the battle fields of France. The date and place of Sarah's death have yet to be found.

from The Commonwealth War Graves Commission site