Joseph Webster (c1777 – 1833) & Jane Uings (?1779- )

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Haberdashers almshouses just before 1800
By the start of the 19th century Hoxton was beginning to lose its rural appearance. During the previous hundred years many of its large houses had been converted into asylums and Hoxton had fast become home to nearly all the private lunatics in London. As well, City Livery Companies had built almshouses for the poor, and the wealthier residents were beginning to move out to the suburbs. There could be little doubt that the area was becoming less desirable as Joseph and Jane moved there shortly after their marriage nearby.

Joseph had probably lived in Shoreditch all his life [1]and was educated, signing his marriage entry in a firm hand. He was butcher, his literacy suggesting that he ran his own business, although there is no direct evidence for that. Meat did not feature much in the lives of most Londoners, so most of Joseph’s business was aimed at the better off, but the job was a messy and unpleasant one. Writing at the end of the previous century, C.P.Moritz said that "Nothing in London makes a more detestable sight than the butchers' stalls, especially in the neighborhood of the Tower. The guts and other refuse are all thrown on the street and set up an unbearable stink." The situation would have been no different near Hoxton.

The old Smithfields market
There was no refrigeration at the start of the 19th century, so animals were killed shortly before being eaten, and butchers needed to be close to a market or slaughterhouse. In Joseph’s case that would have been Smithfield. The new Smithfield would not be built for fifty years, despite the fact that the old one had remained unchanged for hundreds of years, and despite the pressure and complaints which continued well after Joseph had died. Joseph would have recognized Charles Dickens’ description in Oliver Twist:

‘It was market morning. The ground was covered nearly ankle deep with filth and mire; and a thick steam perpetually rising from the reeking bodies of the cattle, and mingling with the fog, which seemed to rest upon the chimney tops, hung heavily above ... Countrymen, butchers, drovers, hawkers, boys , thieves, idlers, and vagabonds of every low grade, were mingled together in a dense mass: the whistling of drovers, the barking of dogs, the bellowing and plunging of beasts, the bleating of sheep, and the grunting and squealing of pigs; the cries of hawkers, the shouts, oaths, amd quarrelling on all sides, the ringing of bells, and the roar of voices that issued from every public house; the crowding, pushing, driving, beating, whooping and yelling; the hideous and discordant din that resounded from every corner of the market; and the unwashed, unshaven, squalid, and dirty figures constantly running to and fro, and bursting in and out of the throng, rendered it a stunning and bewildering scene which quite confused the senses.’

Spitalfields in 1815

Joseph and Jane baptized five children over the next twenty five years with no apparent pattern as to how old the children were at the ceremony: Joseph (b 18/7/1803; bap Dec 1810) when living in Hoxton Town; Mary Ann (b 7/9/1805; bap Apr 1806) when living in Turners Square; Mary (b 9/2/1812; bap 13/3/1820) – butcher of Webb Square; Ann (b 5/2/1814; bap 20/8/1826) – butcher of Twinert’s Square; John (b 25/1/1818; bap 11/2/1821) – butcher of Hoxton Square;

What the baptisms also show is that the couple moved around a great deal, for whatever reason, Hoxton had recently been declared a separate parish from St Leonards, Shoreditch, and a new church was built between 1822 and 1826, but the completion of the Regents Canal in 1820, offering an easy route for building materials, meant an ever increasing population, so that Hoxton rapidly became one of the most densely populated areas in Europe. Smithfield market continued to be a problem with local roads clogged regularly as 2,000,000 sheep and cattle a year were be "violently forced into an area of five acres, in the very heart of London, through its narrowest and most crowded thoroughfares" and the market described in deeply unflattering terms: ‘Of all the horrid abominations with which London has been cursed, there is not one that can come up to that disgusting place, West Smithfield Market, for cruelty, filth, effluvia, pestilence, impiety, horrid language, danger, disgusting and shuddering sights, and every obnoxious item that can be imagined; and this abomination is suffered to continue year after year, from generation to generation, in the very heart of the most Christian and most polished city in the world’. Although Jane could not sign her name, one might have expected that Joseph’s apparent education would lead to his children becoming clerks or other professions that required literacy. That was certainly the case for John, who did indeed become a clerk and agent to a silk manufacturer, and was later described as a ‘gentleman’. For others the same doubts remain as with Joseph: his eldest son became a sawyer, but whether he ran a business or was simply a sawyer is not clear. Joseph and jane moved again and, in 1833, he died at the age of 56.

References

  1. There was a Joseph born in 1780 in Shoreditch to George and Elizabeth (nee Fowler) Webster, but this is not the right person. A pity, as George was a silver buckle maker and it is still possible to buy/see buckles he made. His son Joseph became a gunmaker. Surpringly there are not many Joseph Websters born around London near that time. The strongest candidate is probably the Jospeh Webster baptised in Jan 1778 at St Botolphs, Aldgate. His father, George, was a tailor, who died in 1786. A pauper settlement shows his widow, Mary, asking for help as she had been required to leave their house in Nightingale Lane, where they had lived for nearly twenty years. Her youngest of five surviving children, including a seven year old Joseph, is listed as an unnamed male of 11 months. A Thomas Webster, son of Mary Webster (no named father; she was not described as single or widowed)of Robertson Workhouse, was baptised in St Leonards Shoreditch, which would tie the family to the right area; but there is no evidence beyond this to link the two families.