Shropshire, Staffordshire, Shrouds & Shoes: Striking a Light on the Captain Webb Connection

In Shropshire, Staffordshire, Shrouds & Shoes I said I’d start to piece together my husband’s family tree. The project was inspired by my mother-in-law. She was very enthusiastic about it and retained that enthusiasm throughout. But sadly, as her health deteriorated, I found it wiser to quietly drop my research. I found she was becoming so involved she could no longer distinguish between past and present, fact and false memory. An example was frantic phone calls and threats to summon the police in the middle of the night because she had time-travelled. She was convinced she was back in the 1950s. It turned out she’d dug out some old newspapers before going to bed, woke up in the early hours, started reading them then saw the date.   

Things reached crisis point at the beginning of December when she was admitted to hospital on a long-term basis. In hindsight her detention has been a blessing as we now have a definitive diagnosis, Alzheimer’s, and she is finally able to access the correct treatment. 

She is now is out of hospital, the illness has truly taken hold, and she is no longer has her own home. In the process of clearing it we discovered more family papers which I will go through in due course, once things have settled down.  
But initially they have solved one mystery: the Captain Webb connection. He of the English Channel swimming fame. Even as far back as the early 1990s my husband had insisted they were related. He wasn’t sure how. 

My preliminary research yielded no obvious link. There was a common surname. My husband’s great great grandmother was Mary Webb. She was born in Adbaston/Flashbrook area of Staffordshire in around 1830. She married Joseph Haynes at Aston in Edgmond, Shropshire, on 10 February 1859. Joseph founded a wheelwrights business in Stone, Staffordshire. But I could see no link. However, my mother-in-law’s papers seemed to indicate Mary Webb was the supposed connection.  

In her possession was a “Nostalgia Notebook” article from the “Staffordshire Newsletter” dated 28 October 2004. It states that Joseph’s wife “Mary was believed to be the sister of Captain Webb…..”  

Captain Matthew Webb was the son of surgeon Matthew Webb and his wife Sarah Cartwright Garbitt. They married in 1845. Matthew was a bachelor, aged around 32, at the time of his marriage. Their second son, Matthew of the swimming fame, was born in Dawley, Shropshire in around 1848. He was baptised in Dawley Parish Church on 9 March 1848 and the entry is annotated with the words “Swam the English Channel August 25 1875”. 

In contrast Mary Webb’s baptism took place on 7 March 1830 at Adbaston Parish Church, Staffordshire. She was the daughter of William Webb, a wheelwright, and his wife Ann.  

Baptism entry for Mary Webb

 Her father’s name is confirmed on her marriage certificate. It is also detailed in various newspaper marriage announcement columns, including the “Wolverhampton Chronicle and Staffordshire Advertiser” of 16 February 1859. This goes on to say for 12 years she had been a valuable and faithful servant for William Sillitoe Esq., The Bridge, Newport. The 1851 census shows her as a house servant in this household. 

“Wolverhampton Chronicle & Staffordshire Advertiser” marriage announcement for Joseph Haynes & Mary Webb

I’m not ruling out a Webb connection further back. But if the link was supposed to be as stated, that my husband’s great great grandmother was the sister of Matthew Webb, it is false. As a result, my husband’s claim to family history fame seems to be on very dodgy ground with the flickering match flames rapidly extinguishing. And the Webb family have one bunch fewer kinsfolk.    
So be prepared when you start out looking into your family tree – you may end up disappointed and learning things you’d rather be oblivious to! 


  • Find My Past – newspapers, censuses & Shropshire & Staffordshire Parish Registers
  • Staffordshire Newsletter” – 28 October 2004

5 responses to “Shropshire, Staffordshire, Shrouds & Shoes: Striking a Light on the Captain Webb Connection

  1. Hello Jane. You may just have helped me find my own connexion to Captain Webb. My family inherited some of his belongings as he left no surviving close relatives. Many years ago, I traced my 2Gt Grandfather’s mother to be Sarah Cartwright born c1811, Little Wenlock? I also found that the Captain’s mother was Sarah Cartwright, born c1822 close by. That was as far as I could get.

    But your information that she was called Sarah Cartwright GARBITT provided the missing link. Her parents may have been Richard Garbitt and Sarah Clayton (m1820, Wellington) and their brothers Henry Cartwright and Henry Cartwright Clayton respectively(!). Henry’s son John could credibly have been my Sarah’s father. All born in Little Wenlock but it might move my Sarah out 15 miles to Moreton Corbet.

    A bit to corroborate but it’s looking good after all these years. It would make the Captain my 3rd cousin which sounds about right. Thank you. Can you share the source of the name Sarah Cartwright Garbitt?

    Best regards, Mark

    • That’s brilliant news. My husband is well jealous!
      Matthew Webb married Sarah Cartwright Garbitt on 14 Aug 1845 at Wellington All Saints. Her father was Richard, and her residence is given as Wellington. This according to a FMP transcript of Shropshire Marriages, Archive Ref P291/A/3/9
      And just checked the new GRO indexes and Capt Webb’s mother’s maiden name was Garbitt. Her middle name was Cartwright.
      Hopefully that is of help.
      Best wishes with your research

  2. Thanks Jane. I don’t seem to have replied – not sure the notification actually worked… Life got in the way since – hope you and yours are well. I can now see Sarah Cartwright GARBETT on Ancestry but probably would have missed the clue had it not been for your article. And it looks like it is as I suspected. Her mother was Sarah Clayton, her mother Sarah Cartwright, her brother Henry Cartwright, his son John Cartwright, his daughter Sarah Cartwright, her son and my Gt-Grandad Daniel Lambert. Thanks again! Mark

  3. HI. I am related to Captain Matthew Webb and I understand he has no surviving relatives. We have several contempory photos of him and photos of him as a young boy. He and his family stayed with his first cousin (my gt grandfather Charles Webb-accountant) in London before going to America. I know Charles tried very often to talk him out of swimming Niagara because he could patently see he was ill.
    I have a miniature of Damarius Hartshorn holding Matthew Webb’s (Channel Swimmer’s) father Matthew. The Webbs farmed in Croxall in Derbyshire and in Salop for many generations. As a hint they were also in Barton under Needwood. I don’t have my books with me so I can’t recall any dates.

    • Thank you for the additional information Sue. Those personal family memories are so precious. As yet I’ve still to find any connection with the family. I’m not sure how the story originated, other than the same surname. If I do find anything I will let you know. With best wishes, Jane

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