Sunday, 19 April 2015

A Story of Three Brothers

Well, sort of. The archetypal “three brothers” story usually involves transatlantic travel, but my story involves travel between two far-flung locations in 19th Century England. It also includes a small lesson for family historians.

My mother’s grandmother was a Gertrude Webber, born 1885 in Nottingham, but Gertrude’s grandfather was a Robert Webber, born 1816 in Chard, Somerset. It was always something of a mystery why he travelled from Chard to Nottingham, a distance of nearly 200 miles to the north-east. While Nottingham was a quickly-growing industrialised town, Chard was a relatively small town in the south of the county of Somerset, quite close to the point where the counties of Devon and Dorset adjoin. Even before I started this research, I had expected it being something to do with work but I didn’t anticipate putting a case together for why.
Figure 1 - Chard St. Mary the Virgin, 2007.[1]

Robert was born to a Benjamin and Alice Webber in 1816 in Chard. Benjamin had married Alice Keetch on 21 July 1811 at Chard St Mary the Virgin, by Banns. Both bride and groom simply made their mark in the register, but the witnesses: N.G.Chapman and Ann Benneet, both signed their own names.[2]

Some of their children were baptised in Chard while some were baptised in Combe St. Nicholas, a small village less than 3 miles NW of Chard. As well as being a village, Chard was also a registration district that included both of these villages, and Merriott (9 miles NE of Chard) and Ilminster (6 miles N of Chard). A good selection of images of old Chard, and neighbouring locations, can be found in the Francis Frith Collection. These are copyrighted images although copies may be purchased.

Figure 2 - Chard and Combe St. Nicholas region (“active” Goole Map).

Using parish baptism and burial images supplied by the Somerset Archive and Local Studies, the following children were identified:

Given name
Burial (Age)
5 Jan 1812
Combe SN

9 Mar 1820 (8)
Combe SN
14 Feb 1813
Combe SN

25 Sep 1814
Chard Parish

1 Sep 1816
Combe SN

20 Dec 1818
Combe SN

8 Apr 1821
Combe SN

2 Mar 1823
Combe SN

19 Dec 1824
Combe SN
19 Jan 1829 (4)
11 Nov 1828
Chard Borough

20 Jun 1830
Chard Borough
12 Sep 1830 (1)
17 Aug 1831
Chard Borough
5 Oct 1832 (1)

Wadeford is about 2 miles NNW of Chard, and Willhayne is a tiny hamlet just outside of Wadeford. It’s clear that the family didn’t move very far in these early years.

By combining these details with later marriage details, using both FreeREG and civil registrations, the following tree was constructed (NB: dates are baptism/burial rather than birth/death):

Figure 3 - Webber Family Tree.

Some of these dates are yet to be determined, and Simeon Webber in particular will be the subject of his own article at a later date, but it gives enough of a picture to proceed with this article.

So where were this family in 1841: the year of the first full English census? Well, Robert was already in Nottingham by that time, but he hadn’t been there for very long. He was lodging with the family of a lace maker called Charles Legg on Pipe Street, but also present were his younger brother, William, and a John Trask who was three years older. The above tree shows that this John Trask was the husband of Mary Webber and so was Robert’s brother-in-law. The two Webber brothers were single but John’s wife was still in Chard — hence my reasoning that they hadn’t been there very long. All three were recorded as lace makers.[14]

The rest of the family appeared to be in Chard, still, residing on High Street.[15]

Benjamin Webber

Ellis [Alice] Webber

John Webber
Joseph Webber
Joshua Webber
Simeon Webber

Thomas Williams
Mary Trask
Dress maker
née Webber, Daughter

The details in the 1841 census were quite limited, and so it’s not easy to determine what is meant by the generic term ‘Labourer’. Somerset was a very rural county given over to various types of agriculture, and in later census returns, John, and his two sons: Benjamin and John, were all agricultural labourers. However, we cannot guess what type of labourers the rest of the family were. In all the records that I’ve seen mentioning the father (Benjamin) — census, parish records, and civil records — only the generic term was ever used.

Looking at the state of agriculture, both in Somerset and nationally, was quite revealing about life in that time period generally. It was sufficiently important that the Somerset County Gazette advertised the launch of an “Agricultural Correspondence” column in order to keep all interested parties in touch concerning problems, changes, and developments, although I could find no evidence of this idea actually materialising.[16] Crops, in particular, affected the lives of everyone. The larger Somerset farms rotated their crops of wheat (1st), barley (2nd), clover, vetches, and potatoes (3rd), and then wheat again, but without any intervening fallow. The opinion was that corn was just as good after the other crops, including turnips, beans, and peas, but especially after flax and hemp, as when preceded by a fallow. Flax (often involved in the making of linen) and hemp were widely cultivated in the rich fertile country extending from Wincanton, through Yeovil, to Crewkerne, but successful cultivation required considerable care and attention.[17]

The year of 1839 was very wet with southern England receiving twice the average rainfall during the summer. Although 1840 then had a drought, notably March and April, with April receiving just 14% of its average rain, the three winter months were extremely cold.[18] Early 1840 saw more agricultural labourers out of work than usual at that time of the year, with the poor houses seeing a 75% increase on previous years. This was partly due to the long course of wet weather and partly due to the discharge of many railway workers[19] — presumably because various stages of work on the Great Western Railway (GWR) were reaching completion.

These highs and lows of the weather were made all the more relevant to ordinary people because of something called the Corn Laws. These were introduced in Great Britain by the Importation Act 1815, and were an attempt to favour British grain — including wheat as well as corn, and anything else that required grinding — over foreign imports by imposing harsh import duties. Powerful and influential landowners wanted to maximise their profits but the overall effect was to raise the price of food, and especially that of bread. This then conflicted with the less-influential industrialists who wanted to maximise their profits through lower wages. Ordinary families suffered as a result, especially when crop yields were low. The Anti-Corn Law League was a successful national lobbying group, founded in 1838 by Richard Cobden and John Bright, who wanted the Corn Laws to be abolished. However, it was the first two years of the Irish famine of 1845–1852 that finally forced a resolution, and it was Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel who achieved the repeal via the Importation Act 1846.

The way that these laws divided the country according to their wealth and life-style might be summarised by two different newspaper articles from 1840. In July, the Bristol Mercury[20] wrote a long article contrasting the importance of the harvest between the farmer (to pay his rent to the landowners), the merchant & banker (wealth), the mechanic & labourer (employment), and the "poor mother" who simply needed food for her family.  The harvest had become a life or death issue for many, and whereas a Russian grain shortage had caused their Emperor to import foreign grain duty-free, British landowners still believed that the laws were good for the country. It described the position of the Corn-Law advocates as “the most unnatural and repulsive", and the harvest as a “sword of Damocles” hanging over landowners since a future bad harvest was inevitable. In the following December, the Taunton Courier[21] reported on a speech by the Rev. H. F. Yeatman at a meeting of the Sturminster Agricultural Association. In that speech, he asked: “What will become of the 5,000,000 agricultural labourers, who will, more or less, be thrown out of employ if the Corn Laws are repealed, and the poorer soils thrown out of cultivation?”

Somerset’s livestock agriculture had long supported a thriving woollen trade, but this started to suffer greatly as a result of the woollen mills in the north of England, fuelled, as they were, by the mechanisation of the Industrial Revolution. Rescue arrived in 1819 in the form of the lace trade, and the relocation of several lace manufacturers from Nottingham. Nottingham Lace was already world-renowned but the activities of the Luddites — textile workers who during 1811–1816 protested against the machines taking their jobs — forced several of them to find new labour. This was good for Chard as some of the older woollen mills were converted for lace manufacture.[22] Given that the “three brothers” identified themselves as lace makers in the 1841 census of Nottingham then we can now be fairly sure that this was also their occupation in Chard.

Nottingham was an important town in the textile industry, and in particular for its lace. The power loom had been invented by a Nottinghamshire clergyman called Edmund Cartwright way back in 1784. Although refined by several other inventors thereafter, it wasn’t until 1842 that a semi-automatic design was available — one that required stopping only to recharge the shuttles. A revolution in lace making came in 1808 with bobbin net: a strong but light form of machine-made tulle, pioneered by John Heathcoat (pronounced heth-cot) in Leicestershire, which contrasted with the labour-intensive bobbin lace, or “pillow lace”. Although born in Derbyshire, Heathcoat set up a business in Nottingham but then decided he had to move to Leicestershire to escape the invasive competition between inventors. Unfortunately, his new factory was attacked by former Luddites in 1816 and he further moved his business to Tiverton in Devon.

Figure 4 - A Roberts loom in a weaving shed in 1835.[23]

The Continental lace industry was also expanding, and the French had imposed a 50% import duty that contributed to the depressed year of 1834 in England. The application of steam power in the Nottingham lace factories may have been to the detriment of small, hand-operated machinery, but it was also needed in order to deal with the foreign competition. Although it was technically illegal to export lace machinery, this still occurred and the government consistently failed to prosecute the culprits. Following the case of King v. Faber, where machinery for export was seized, and the subsequent legal action by Faber for illegal seizure, campaigns to prevent export were abandoned. From 1838, the Board of Trade started granting licences for the export of machinery and machine parts, although campaigns to prohibit the export of lace, especially to the French, continued.[24] Of particular concern was the export of bobbin-net machinery. In a letter published on 19 March 1834, John Hall, Honorary Secretary, Nottingham, explained to people that workers were being enticed to go to other countries with promises of good wages and accommodation, only to find that they were simply being used in the instruction of foreign workers on the making of bobbin net. He promised that the Executive Committee (appointed for the prevention of Exportation of Bobbin Net Machinery) would not only pay these workers their passage and expenses back to Nottingham, but also their further expenses until new work could be found for them, if they could provide proof of who was exporting the associated machinery.[25]

In the early 1840s, Nottingham’s textile industry was boosted by the application of steam power to hosiery and lace machines, and later by the Enclosure Act 1845 freeing up extra land for the development of new factories and housing. It was therefore a good time for my ancestors to move there. Equally important, though, was the fact that the Chard lace industry was going through a bad time. In January 1842, Thomas Wakley M.P., on visiting friends and family near Chard, declared “The lace trade is, we are sorry to state, is in a very low condition here. Most of the mills have begun to work short hours".[26] Later that year, a cut in wages caused a walk-out by lace mill workers, and angry scenes that became known as the “Chard Lace Riots”. The following extract from a later statement by the acting Magistrates describes how it came about:

On Monday 22nd August [1842], the workmen of Messrs. Wheatly and Riste suddenly left their work, and, as it is called, "turned out". These, uniting with others belonging to Mr. Oram's factory, previously out of employment, proceeded at 2 o'clock, when the workplace of Mr. Hill's factory returned from dinner, and forcibly prevented them, by threats, and by blockading the gates of the premises, from going into work. A few of the workmen, however, were admitted into the factory through a private garden. About an hour after this, Mr. Hill came to the mayor in great alarm, and, after some conversation, swore that he apprehended tumult, riot, and felony, would take place in the borough, and that serious damage would be done to his property, praying, at the same time, that the justices would adopt such measures for his protection and the preservation of the peace as they might deem necessary.[27]

The Magistrates dispatched an application for assistance to the commanding officer of the Scots Greys, stationed in Taunton, and also to a Lieut. Nicholetts requesting him to hold the Ilminster Yeomanry in readiness. Provision was also made to swear in householders as Special Constables. The Scots Greys arrived in the town but quickly left with new orders routing them to Clifton. The "turn outs" were understood to be drinking heavily in the neighbourhood of Mr. Cuff's factory and the Yeomanry were called in, anticipating larger intoxicated numbers returning to the town. The situation was delicate as the Yeomanry could have easily fired on the mob under provocation, but an agreement was reached between the mill owners and the workers allowing the Yeomanry to withdraw. Although the mob was initially held back, this could not be sustained and they followed the Yeomanry, throwing stones at them.[28] By 1843, Mr. J. Oram, struggling lace manufacturer of Chard, was bankrupt.[29]

My ancestor’s move was probably at the very tail end of the Industrial Revolution, but the times were still changing: huge railway developments (see GWR, above) and canal projects — the Chard Canal was opened in 1842 but was a financial disaster. It may be little-known that Chard claims to be the birthplace of powered flight, since it was there, in 1848, that John Stringfellow, a former maker of bobbins and carriages for the lace industry, first demonstrated that engine-powered flight was possible. He and William Henson, a Nottingham-born engineer who also worked in Chard’s lace industry, collaborated on the design and production of the Aerial Steam Carriage. Looking back at the 1841 census of Chard (see note [15]), John Stringfellow was actually the neighbour of Benjamin Webber, appearing in the very next household on High Street.

Robert Webber married Elizabeth Cooke at Sneinton St. Stephen on 12 June 1842. Robert was recorded as a lace maker of Carlton Road, and Elizabeth was living at Minerva Terrace, Sneinton. Robert’s father (Benjamin) was recorded as a labourer, and Elizabeth’s father (George) as a boatman. Witnesses were a John Cooke and Sarah Heaton.[30] Unfortunately, Robert’s father died the following year, on 30 September 1843, aged 60 of ‘Obstructed bowel’. The informant, who was present at the death, was a Mary Larcombe, and the 1841 census (see note [15]) shows her to be another neighbour on High Street, Chard.[31] Robert’s younger brother, William, married Emma Burrows at Nottingham St. Mary on 24 December 1844 (Christmas Eve).[32] Both brothers were clearly now quite settled in Nottingham.

In 1851, John and Mary Trask were living at 24 Beck Lane, Nottingham. With them was Mary’s 64-year-old widowed mother, Alice Webber, but also two members of the Peadon family: Abraham [Mitchell] (aged 22) and John [Plyer] (aged 20), and a Benjamin Sellers (aged 21). These were also lace makers from Chard lodging with the Trasks.[33] The Peadon brothers (alternatively spelled Peaden and Peeden) were born to a Robert (a ‘Cotton twist labourer’) and Mary Peadon in Chard. In 1850, Abraham and four others were dismissed from the Perry Street (a hamlet near Chard) lace manufactory by Mr. John B. Payne for leaving without notice, contrary to their contract.[34] A good explanation of his 1851 appearance in Nottingham was that he was looking for new work with his younger brother — despite the previously cited newspaper report indicating that their jobs were conditionally returned to them — and that he and John Trask may have previously worked together in Perry Street. In 1861, though, Abraham was back at Perry Street as a mechanic in the same lace factory. Alice Webber also returned to Chard before 1861, and she died there on 17 August 1864 at Combe St, Chard Borough, aged 76, of ‘Chronic Bronchitis, some years. Debility’.[35] It’s possible they returned at the same time, and were accompanied John and Mary Trask since there was no further evidence of them in Nottingham after that. Unfortunately, the Trask surname is much more common in Somerset and their final whereabouts isn’t yet known. The younger John Plyer Peadon remained in Nottingham and had a family there. He and his son, Arthur Frederick Peadon, bought a machine and set up their own business in 1884 (trading as Peadon and Son) in Long Eaton, just over the border in Derbyshire, but by 1891 they had gone bankrupt.[36] Despite this, the name ‘A. Peadon and Sons Ltd.” persisted in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire until it was finally wound up in 1951, at which time its registered offices were at: Messrs F. Stokes and Ricks, Sherwood Buildings, Sherwood Street, Nottingham.[37]

On reading this, it may be reasonable to question whether I’ve actually proved anything. Well, of course, I haven’t proved why any of the Webber family came to Nottingham, but what I have done it to present documented evidence of their lives, and of the events affecting both those towns and the country as whole at that time. These may be considered distinct overlays when looking at the combined history. While we cannot provide evidence of a definite connection between those layers, we can demonstrate that the family had to make choices, and also show some of the primary choices that were open to them. A simpler description of this two-layer case is that industry, agriculture, politics, and the weather provided a backdrop to the choices and events in the family’s lives, and from that perspective they provide a greater understanding of those lives. In a more complex case, though, then there may be more than two layers: each encapsulating distinct sets of related events and evidence, but whose inter-layer dependencies are more subjective. It is then up to the historian to make a case for how the events in one layer will have affected those in another layer. My recommendation: look beyond the records relating directly to their lives, and don’t be worried about making tentative conclusions; nothing is 100% in genealogy. The insights into life during those times will be well worth the effort.

[1] Chard St Mary the Virgin, 2007. Image by Dbown100 [GFDL ( or CC BY 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.
[2] St. Mary the Virgin (Chard, Somerset), Baptismal Register, p.94, entry 974, marriage of Benjamin Webber and Alice Keetch, 21 Jul 1811; certified image (printed from digital camera) supplied by Somerset Archive and Local Studies (SALS), 8 Apr 2015.
[3] St. Nicholass (Combe St. Nicholas, Somerset), Baptismal Register, unnumbered p., baptism of James Webber, 5 Jan 1812; certified image (printed from digital camera) supplied by SALS, 8 Apr 2015. Burial Register, p.16, entry 124, 9 Mar 1820; SALS.
[4] St. Nicholass (Combe St. Nicholas), Baptismal Register, p.1, entry 6, baptism of Mary Webber, 14 Feb 1813; SALS.
[5] St. Mary the Virgin (Chard, Somerset), Baptismal Register, p.22, entry 170, John Webber, 25 Sep 1814; SALS.
[6] St. Nicholass (Combe St. Nicholas), Baptismal Register, p.15, entry 116, baptism of Robert Webber, 1 Sep 1816; SALS.
[7] St. Nicholass (Combe St. Nicholas), Baptismal Register, p.23, entry 181, baptism of William Webber, 20 Dec 1818; SALS.
[8] St. Nicholass (Combe St. Nicholas), Baptismal Register, p.32, entry 255, baptism of Joseph Webber, 8 Apr 1821; SALS.
[9] St. Nicholass (Combe St. Nicholas), Baptismal Register, p.39, entry 311, baptism of Joshua Webber, 2 Mar 1823; SALS.
[10] St. Nicholass (Combe St. Nicholas), Baptismal Register, p.46, entry 366, baptism of Amelia Webber, 19 Dec 1824; SALS. St Mary the Virgin (Chard), Burial Register, p.118, entry 938, 19 Jan 1829; SALS.
[11] St. Mary the Virgin (Chard), Baptismal Register, p.195, entry 1559, baptism of Simeon Webber, 11 Nov 1828; SALS.
[12] St. Mary the Virgin (Chard), Baptismal Register, p.15, entry 117, baptism of Henry Webber, 20 Jun 1830; SALS. Burial Register, p.139, entry 1106, 12 Sep 1830; SALS.
[13] St. Mary the Virgin (Chard), Baptismal Register, p.32, entry 253, baptism of Charles Webber, 17 Aug 1831; SALS. Burial Register, p.159, entry 1267, 5 Oct 1832; SALS.
[14] "1841 England Census", database,  Ancestry ( : accessed 13 Apr 2015), household of Charles Legg (age 33); citing  HO 107/869, book 4, folio 15, page 22; The National Archives of the UK (TNA).
[15] "1841 England Census", database,  Ancestry ( : accessed 13 Apr 2015), household of Benjamin Webber (age 50); citing  HO 107/8949, book 1, folio 30, page 1; TNA.
[16] "To the Farmers of Somerset and Dorset", Somerset County Gazette (7 Dec 1839): p.2.
[17] John Billingsley Esq., General View of the Agriculture of the County of Somerset (Bath: R. Crutwell, 1797); digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 16 Apr 2015).
[18] “Historical Weather Events: years 1800–1849”, Booty ( : accessed 16 Apr 2015).
[19] Taunton Courier, and Western Advertiser (22 Jan 1840): p.6, col.4, last paragraph; originally printed in the Berkshire Chronicle.
[20] "The Crops, the Country, and the Corn Laws", Bristol Mercury (25 Jul 1840): p.5.
[21] "The Landed Interest", Taunton Courier, and Western Advertiser (9 Dec 1840): p.8.
[22] “A Brief History of Chard”, Chard Museum ( : accessed 17 Apr 2015).
[23] A Roberts loom in a weaving shed in 1835. Image Credit: © Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images ( [CC BY 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons, Library reference: Slide number 5208, Photo number: L0011293. Originally published by Edward Baines, "Power loom weaving", History of the cotton manufacture in
Great Britain (London: H. Fisjer, R. Fisher, P.Jackson, 1835), p.2389.
[24] Roy A. Church, Economic and Social Change in a Midland Town: Victorian Nottingham 1815-1900 (London: Frank Cass & Co. Ltd., 1966), p.99; digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 16 Apr 2015).
[25] “Exportation of Bobbin Net Machinery to Foreign States”, Nottingham Review and General Advertiser for the Midland Counties (21 Mar 1834): p.2, col.7.
[26] “Chard”, Bristol Mercury (8 Jan 1842): p.8 col.3.
[27] "Chard", Exeter and Plymouth Gazette (8 Oct 1842): p.3, col.5.
[28] "Chard Riots", Taunton Courier, and Western Advertiser (Wednesday 31 Aug 1842): p.5, col.4.
[29] "Bankrupts", Taunton Courier, and Western Advertiser (26 Jul 1843): p.4.
[30] England, marriage certificate for Robert Webber and Elizabeth Cooke, married 12 Jun 1842; citing 15/818/313, registered Chard 1842/Jun [Q2]; General Register Office (GRO), Southport.
[31] England, death certificate for Benjamin Webber, died 3 Jun 1843; citing 10/263/448, registered Chard 1843/Dec [Q4]; GRO.
[32] Nottinghamshire Family History Society (NottsFHS), Parish Register Marriage Index, CD-ROM, database(Nottingham, 1 Jan 2013), database version 3.0, entry for William Webber and Emma Burrows, 24 Dec 1844.
[33] "1851 England Census", database,  Ancestry ( : accessed 19 Apr 2015), household of John Trask (age 36); citing  HO 107/2132, folio 581, page 15; TNA.
[34] “Chard: Leaving Service”, Exeter and Plymouth Gazette (9 Mar 1850): p.8, col.2.
[35] England, death certificate for Alice Webber, died 17 Aug 1864; citing 5c/315/188, registered Chard 1864/Sep [Q3]; GRO.
[36] "The Bankruptcy of Ilkeston Lacemakers", Nottingham Evening Post (15 Oct 1891): p.4.
[37] The London Gazette (27 Jul 1951, Issue 39296): p.4057.

No comments:

Post a Comment