Saturday 27 January 2007

John Willcox Web Recruitment


Dinah Read, of Bishop Sutton, made the following enquiry to Danny Howell, by letter dated 23 January 2007:

Dear Mr Howell,
I am working on some papers concerning a John Willcox Webb, the son of a farmer in Coleford. He enlisted in the Royal Marines at Warminster on the 31st of January 1846 and joined them at Portsmouth in mid-February ’46. He was enlisted by a Sergeant Greene and it seems most likely that he was with a Recruiting Party.

I wonder if this was at a Market or Fair - perhaps you could tell me?

After six months initial training he was sent to Cork Harbour where he served on the flagship, a steamer, Myrmidon until July ’47. As this was of course during the height of the potato famine I would give anything to know how he reacted. I do know that some naval officers were very disturbed by their first hand experience of the people’s suffering - but Willcox Webb was a ranker.

Later he served in the Mediterranean fleet & I have his personal log for that period although it stops abruptly at the beginning of the Crimean War.

You can imagine that everything I can find out about him (& there has been a surprising amount) is interesting to me.

When he was at home on leave he went to Frome & Shepton markets with his brother & it seems quite likely that he would have been to Warminster for some such gathering. It may be that he had a few drinks & enlisted on an impulse - or maybe as he was the second son he knew his brother would take on the farm. To me though it seems a remarkable move as the chances are that he had never seen the sea, let alone a naval vessel when he signed up!

I would be grateful for any scrap of information you can give me.
Yours sincerely,
Dinah Reed.

Danny Howell replied by letter dated 29th January 2007:

Thank you for your letter (dated 23 January 2007) with regard the enlistment into the Royal Marines of John Willcox Webb at Warminster on 31st January 1846.

You wonder if this recruitment took place at a fair or market?

Warminster traditionally had two fairs, one in April and one in October, with another fair, the Hang Fair, held in August. There was no fair in Warminster during January, so it is unlikely that Mr Webb was recruited at a fair in Warminster.

The market in Warminster, during the 1800s, and for centuries before that, was held on a Saturday. It so happens that 31st January 1846 was a Saturday, but I have no documentary evidence as to whether Mr Webb was recruited at the market.

Warminster didn’t have its own newspaper in the 1840s, but the Salisbury & Winchester Journal carried bits of news occasionally for Warminster. I have looked in the Salisbury & Winchester Journal to see whether they reported anything about recruiting in Warminster for that Saturday in January 1846 or whether there was anything else going on but there is nothing reported except the prices of wheat, barley, etc., at the Market.

I would think it more than likely that the market was the reason why Webb was in Warminster on that particular day though. The corn market at Warminster was the second largest (after Bristol) in the West of England and thousands of pounds exchanged hands on Saturday mornings, hence many businesses starting up here, and the reason why there were so many pubs in Warminster (51 in 1710 and 23 in 1815). The pubs not only offered somewhere for the farmers, millers and other traders to park their carts and stable their horses, but also offered dinners to the farmers after the market closed for business. These dinners were known as "farmers’ ordinaries" and individual farmers would usually frequent the same pub for their dinner on a weekly basis.
Maybe Webb, went to one of the pubs after the market and after dining at an ordinary, stayed on, maybe drinking, and then enlisted.

If I had to make a guess, and it would only be a guess, because I have no documentary evidence concerning John Willcox Webb, I would suggest his recruitment at Warminster was maybe as follows:

There is in Warminster, at Emwell Street, a pub called The Weymouth Arms. It was originally a privatehouse and inside is a Tudor arched fireplace. The property was extended in 1749. The exterior south wall features two datestones, one reads "17 DM 49" and the other reads "17 DC 71". It is not known to whom the first refers but the second is a reference to Daniel Capel, a wool merchant and clothier, who had workshops at the rear. He died, aged 71, in 1808. By the 1820s, Warminster’s clothing trade had declined and the property became a common lodging house, later acquiring a licence to sell beer. I think that the landlord of the Weymouth Arms in the 1840s was a man called John Cross.

Up until the late 1800s, Emwell Street was known by its former name of Back Street and the Weymouth Arms at that time was known locally by a nickname - The Drum & Monkey. This name was derived from the role of the inn, as a popular and well-known place for itinerants, particularly travelling entertainers, including musicians with drums and monkeys, to put up for the night, usually in less than salubrious conditions and "sleeping on the line," that is to say, stood up with their arms draped over a line across the room. There are reports that some travellers who had dancing bears stayed at the pub. It was certainly a place for cheap overnight lodging.

The Drum part of the name may have another explanation, because the inn was also used by the military as a place for recruiting - or should that be press-ganging? - men into the services. John Halliday, in his Warminster notes, stated "For a time the inn was called The Drum and Monkey. Recruiting sergeants used to take post outside it, drumming up recruits for the King’s Army."
No doubt recruits for the Navy were also "waylaid" here.

Emwell Street (Back Street), where the Weymouth Arms (Drum & Monkey) is, is just off Vicarage Street (the former West End), the street which brings traffic from Frome (and therefore Coleford) into Warminster town centre where the market was held in the main street.

Perhaps we can assume that the Weymouth Arms (The Drum & Monkey) is where John Willcox Webb enlisted. Maybe as you say in your letter "he had a few drinks and enlisted on an impulse," or maybe he had had a few drinks or was plied with drink and was duped into signing or was forced away with others against his will? It seems a plausible answer to your query, don’t you think?

The Salisbury & Winchester Journal featured a weekly column of Portsmouth news, with reference to the Naval Dockyard, listing appointments of officers, court-martials, ships in port, repairs to ships, ships leaving, and things like when the Royal family passed through en route to the Isle of Wight. I have looked through these columns for 1846 and noted the following extracts which I’m sure will interest you:

Salisbury & Winchester Journal, Saturday 7 March 1846:
" Portsmouth Friday March 6 . . . . The battalion of marines serving in Ireland is to be relieved by drafts from the divisions of Woolwich, Chatham, Plymouth and Portsmouth. The Superb, 80, is ordered to take 600 to Cork on Monday. . . . . The Scout, Snake and Myrmidon are ordered to Portsmouth, to be paid wages, and receive their sailing orders."

Salisbury & Winchester Journal, Saturday 28 March 1846:
" Portsmouth Friday March 27 . . . . Part of the detachments of marines relieved in Ireland have been returned here in H.M.S. Superb and Rattler. Those belonging to Chatham and Woolwich go up to London by Railway." And after a list of ships in port is mentioned: "The Myrmidon iron steamer went to Cork on Tuesday."

Salisbury & Winchester Journal, Saturday 3 October 1846:
" Portsmouth Friday October 2 . . . . The Admiralty having received orders to send a battalion of Marines to Ireland, two companies from each of the four divisions will be sent in steam-tugs. The officers to command the two companies from this division are Capts. Evans and Elliott, and four subalterns."

Salisbury & Winchester Journal, Saturday 10 October 1846:
" Portsmouth Friday October 9 . . . . The detachment of 200 officers and marines for this Division, for service in Ireland, will be sent to Cork in The Blazer, Acheron, and Comet steamers. The Acheron has arrived, and is in the harbour to coal and get ready. The others are expected."

Salisbury & Winchester Journal, Saturday 17 October 1846:
" Portsmouth Friday October 16 . . . . Part of the detachment of marines, from the division, intended trung across the for service in Ireland, have left. The Acheron and Dasher have taken about 100. The Blazer and Comet are to take as many as they have accommodation for, and the Crocodile troop-ship is in the harbour to be refitted, and prepared to take 200 now to their passage for Chatham in the Fearless."

Salisbury & Winchester Journal, Saturday 24 October 1846:
" Portsmouth Friday October 23 . . . . The Blazer steamer has gone to Cork with troops, and is to be attached to that command for the winter."

Salisbury & Winchester Journal, Saturday 31 October 1846:
" Portsmouth Friday October 30 . . . . The Comet steamer went on Tuesday to Cork, to be attached to that command."

You said in your letter that Webb went to Cork after six months initial training at Portsmouth. Perhaps he went from Portsmouth to Cork in October 1846 in one of the steamers, Acheron, Dasher, Blazer or Comet? And then boarded the Myrmidon which had been in Cork since March 1846?

I hope the contents of this letter will be of interest to you and help you with your quest.

Yours sincerely,
Danny Howell.

P.S. I enclose a picture of the Weymouth Arms, Warminster.