Looking for Captain Webb's House by M. Peel

Looking for Captain Webb’s House

Malcolm Peel

After taking a straw poll of older Dawley residents, and looking at various censuses and Tithe & Apportionment documents, it became obvious that nobody really knew where the house was that Captain Matthew Webb was born in. The breakthrough came with the weekly article in the Shropshire Star by Toby Neal entitled “Into the Archive”. In June 2009, under the 100 years ago section, he reproduced an article from the Wellington Journal and Shrewsbury News, dated June 26th 1909 and entitled “Captain Webb Memorial Meeting”. This meeting was basically the first meeting with the purpose of providing a memorial, in Dawley, to Captain Webb. The meeting was chaired by Dr. F.H. Davis who stated that it was a coincidence that he happened to be born in the same house as the late Captain and the site now occupied by some of the four shops adjoining each other, located at the bottom of the High Street.

It was therefore apparent that we had to trace Dr. Davis’s family line back to the time of his birth and hope that we could pin-point this house. First, we had to find his full name; to enable us to find him in the censuses. We knew his initials were F.H. and that he was the local doctor. From Kelly’s Trade Directory, we found his full name, i.e. Frederick Howard Davis, and that he lived at the Grove.

We then looked him up in the 1881 census, hoping to find names for his parents which we could then look for in earlier censuses. The 1881 census did give us his age of 27, which meant that he was born in about 1854. Also, there was an older sister who was born in about 1853. From these dates, and if what he was saying was true, it did look as if The Davis’s had moved into the Webb house after they had left because we know that Matthew only lived in Dawley for fourteen months after he was born in January 1848. Unfortunately, the 1881 census did not give us Frederick’s father’s name because he had died.


Webb’s mother. Sarah Webb (1822-1877)

From the 1861 census we find the Davis family living in Dawley Green Lane, the old name for part of King Street and Bank Road, and Frederick is then aged seven. His father’s name is George, and his occupation is a surgeon. Because Frederick was born in 1854, we have to look for his father and other members of the family in the 1851 census. We only find George at this date, and he is living with a nephew and servant in Dawley Green. (Dawley Green being the original name of this part of Dawley).The position of Captain Webb’s monument at the bottom of Dawley High Street has always been described as being a few yards from the house in which he was born. From the 1851 census enumerator’s description of the area in which this Davis house lies, the house would have been situated a few yards from the monument in an area behind what is currently Supersaver cash & carry store, and which had previously been four separate shops at no’s 57, 59, 61 and 63 High Street.

Previously, we had looked for the Webb family in the 1849 Tithe & Apportionment records for Dawley, but could not find them. So now we looked for the Davis’s. There was a George Davis living in the High Street at No 48, but this did not fall within a few yards of the monument. Also, we know that there was a George Davis living in the described area in the 1851 census, and so we compared a list of people from the 1851 census with a list of people from the apportionment records. We found five people in both census and apportionment schedule with the same names, and one, a John Crowcott, living next door to George Davis, in the 1851 census.

Tithe & Apportionments

It had been the practice, in Anglo Saxon times, to support the local priest by paying a “tithe” of one tenth of the produce from a farm or household to the church. This was usually paid in kind, such as corn or root crops, and was stored in a “tithe barn”. Eventually, these arraignments were taken over by individuals and were replaced by cash, particularly after the dissolution of the monasteries.

The tithe map was the name given to a map of a town or parish, drawn to indicate land and properties, which are given individual numbers. The map has an accompanying schedule, referred to as the “apportionment”, which along with a description of the property, lists the land owners and occupiers, against the numbers on the map. It is therefore possible to positively identify the place of residence of an individual person.

From the tithe map of 1849, we can precisely place the residences of these five people, and particularly John Crowcott. In the tithe map, the properties are numbered, and we can see that John Crowcott lived at 472; William Crowcott at 473 and 474 was listed as void. This means that the property was not subject to a tithe payment. We therefore think that this was the time when the Webbs had moved out, and the Davis moved in, and we therefore think that this is the house in which Matthew Webb was born. Also, we can see from the apportionment schedule, that there are no shops in this area, and in fact the area occupied by the old library was a timber yard. We also know that the area the house occupied was cleared and a group of four shops built in its place; No 57 High Street occupied in the late 1940s by W.E. Phillips & Sons, No 59 & 61 by Ball Brothers and 63 by William Smith a hairdresser.

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