We have explored the burgeoning
town of Birmingham, home to three of Edward's sons, and travelled
to foreign parts with Edward Daniel Webb. Now we return to Victorian
Redditch, where William Webb was to establish the firm which
became Webb and Sons.
In order to obtain details from
a semi-literate population, an "enumerator"
was sent from door to door to make enquiries and to fill in his
forms. He needed to know who was living, or staying, at each
address for the night of Sunday June 6th 1841, and he no doubt
met with some opposition. He had to deal with suspicious and
devious characters, to cope with accents, dialects and those
who didn't know their true age or place of birth. No wonder the
results often leave something to be desired (including his handwriting!)
Pigot's directory of 1841 states that 8,000 workers were engaged in the manufacture of needles in the village and its environs. Kelly's Directory for 1841 informs us the nearest railway station was at Bromsgrove, four and a half miles away, and that letters from London and Birmingham would arrive from Bromsgrove by horse post at half past six in the morning, while letters from Alcester or Stratford would arrive by mail cart at half past eight in the evening.
Despite the advent of the railway, or because Redditch had yet to have a station of its own, coaches (that is, the horse-drawn variety) were still used for public transport. The Quicksilver from Evesham would collect passengers bound for Birmingham at the Unicorn Inn every morning at eleven, or they could catch the Dart from the Fox and Goose three days a week. The return coach from Birmingham to Evesham arrived at the Unicorn at seven every evening. By 1844 we learn from Pigot's Directory that there was a (horse drawn) bus service to connect with the rail services at Barnt Green, leaving at 7 in the morning, at a cost of 2s 6d (half-a-crown; 12.5p).
A humorous, if poignant glimpse of Redditch at this time is found in the following rhyme, quoted in John Rollins' book "Needlemaking" - (Ref 2)
This then was Redditch at the start
of Victoria's reign, when William Webb was reputedly establishing
his business in Evesham Street. The list of those who contributed
to the Poor Rate of 1849 summarises the number of houses in Redditch
at the time (although William Webb is not listed): (Ref
3) This totals 940 dwellings, not counting the farms. If
we allow an average of 5 persons per household, this gives a
total of 4,700, which is close to the estimated population of
4,518 in the next census of 1851. (It should be noted that the
details for the censuses quoted here are for Redditch parish
only - the part of the town to the south of Beoley Lane, including
Mount Pleasant, Headless Cross etc was in the parish of Ipsley,
and therefore listed separately.) The requirements for contributions
to the Rate must have changed, because by 1851 William Webb is
listed, in premises in Evesham Street owned by William Walford.
He paid 6d in the pound. Also listed are John Webb (his cousin)
living in a tenament in Wapping owned by William Reading, and
his brother Charles living in Chapel Green in a house owned by
the trustees of a Mr Williams. These members of the Webb family
also contributed to the Highway Rate in 1852.
Noake did however approve of the
Unicorn Inn, finding the landlord to be a man of
considerable taste - "the borders of the bowling green
are laid out in an agreeable style and adorned with a fine collection
of shrubs and flowers. The interior walls of the inn are covered
with many superior paintings, and an air of domestic comfort
seems to pervade the whole establishment".
As already noted, the development of Redditch was typical of the industrialisation of England which was such a feature of Victorian times. More and more people were leaving the villages to take up factory jobs in towns and cities so that by the 1850s there were, for the first time in the nation's history, more people living in towns than in the country. The Harvest Festival Service, so much a part of English church life, dates back to this era, when it was thought necessary to remind churchgoers in urban areas of their agricultural origins. Obviously there are older (Old Testament) traditions of giving thanks for the harvest, on which survival during the winter months depended, but the new Anglican service reflected a change in social life. Even today, with the advantages of television, the internet and greater scope for travel, some city children need to be taught that milk comes from cows, meat from animals, and that cereals do not come from packets, nor beans from tins.
To get some idea of the growth of Redditch we can compare the enumerator's route for the census of 1841 (Ref 1) with that for the census of 1851 (Ref 5) The town contained dwellings of every type, from gracious mansions to mean slum tenaments and cottages. In his book Household Words (1852) the writer Charles Dickens was fully aware that the needle pointers died at an early age of consumption, but was nevertheless pleasantly surprised by the well-planned and ventilated factories. He did not comment on the housing situation, but we get a good description of this from the local paper The Redditch Indicator. The centenary edition of The Redditch Indicator (1959) looks back to Redditch in 1859 and summarises what the early editions of the paper tell us of the town (Ref 6).
Modern readers should remember
that this summary is influenced by the reporter knowing the state
of the old properties after 100 years of use. All properties
and residential areas decline in time (some of the Victorian
buildings in Redditch today are not part of the affluent and
no doubt house-proud areas they were at the time of their construction).
The slums of the 20th century in any town were not undesirable
residences in the 19th. as can be seen from the following advertisement
for a tenement house in 1860:
The Redditch Indicator also reported that the town was in a state of great excitement in September 1859 when the link to the main railway network was finally completed. Everyone was hoping to go on the special excursion to Cheltenham to mark the opening, and the day finished with a dinner at the Unicorn Hotel. Before this link to Barnt Green, passengers had to take the road coach (horse drawn), either to Barnt Green to catch the train there, or travel the full distance by coach to Birmingham.
With the coming of the railway Redditch industry could send its products to all parts of the country, and to the ports for export. In later years Thomas Edward Webb would travel to London in his capacity as representative for the needle firm of Abel Morrall, and he would also use the railways to transport the small coffins of two of his children back to Reditch for burial.
(Ref 7) details the reminiscences of station master Thomas Diggles.
The town continued to grow and prosper during the next decade, but eventually the basic infra structure could not support the increase in population, and living conditions deteriorated for the populace of certain areas of the town. By 1877 Dr Alexander Japp (Industrial Curiosities) declared Redditch to be "a clean and beautiful little town". but this was a somewhat superficial assessment, as only two years previously the Medical Officer of Health had produced a damning report (Ref 8) Obviously public health was an important issue, and gradually changes were introduced, staunchly supported by Richard Bartleet, a needlemaker whose home and factory were situated on Fish Hill (later called Prospect Hill). For better sanitation the provision of piped water was essential. (Ref 9) Some of the details of this are recorded in Charles Stallard's book Early Beginnings of Redditch, published by Age Concern.
The subject of public health also had a bearing on the care of the sick. Although Redditch had been fortunate to have had the services of dedicated doctors such as Dr Taylor, by the mid 19th century the population had grown considerably, and many families could not afford to pay for health care. Thanks to a local benefactor, Redditch was at last to have its own hospital. (Ref 10). In addition to the building of the hospital, the town turned its attention in the 1880s to the upkeep of the Church on the Green - (St Stephen's)
So the town of Redditch blossomed
throughout the Victorian era; the generosity and public-spirited
nature of successful businessmen led to an improvement in the
well-being of the workers who had, over several generations,
helped to create the wealth of the town.