Robert Whiting c.1755-1837

Parents: Daniel Whiting and Ann Spackman (nee Wilson)(2, 3)
Born: c.1755
Baptised: 22nd November 1755 at the Congregational Church, Haverhill (2, 3)
Married: Mary Hazlewood, spinster, on 11th December 1775 at St Mary's Church, Shudy Camps. Witnessed by Robert Pettit and William Freeman (1)
Children: Robert Whiting bpt.1776 died in infancy, Ann Whiting bpt.1777, Robert Whiting bpt.1779, Mary Whiting bpt.1781, [Amelia Whiting b. circa 1782] Mildred Whiting bpt.1782, James Whiting bpt.1785 and Ruth Whiting bpt.1792.
Died: January 1837 in Green Hill, Woolwich. Buried on 21st January 1837 at St Mary Magdalene Church, Woolwich.(4)

Bio: Robert's baptism entry in 1755 is traceable from the records of the Congregational Church at Haverhill. He was the son of Daniel and Ann Whiting, and most likely grew up in or around Haverhill. At the age of twenty, he married Mary Hazlewood at Shudy Camps church in 1775. She was originally from Castle Camps, and was the daughter of William and Mary Hazelwood. She had been baptised at All Saints Church, Castle Camps on 9th October 1757,(5) and would have been about eighteen at the time of her marriage.

Robert's surname is given as 'Whitton' in his marriage entry, this is just spelling variation; his identity is confirmed in later records.

Robert and Mary seem to have been living in Haverhill for fifteen years or so after their marriage as they had a number of children who were born here and baptised at St Mary's Parish Church. Their first son, Robert, was baptised on 17th November 1776. They have a daughter Ann baptised on 10th November 1777, and it was very likely the infant Robert who was buried at the same church on 25th March 1778, because they have another son called Robert who is baptised on 10th February 1779. Their next child Mary is baptised on 4th February 1781, followed by Mildred on 16th March 1782, James on 10th April 1785 and Ruth on 27th May 1792 (Ruth married in 1806 - suggesting her baptism took place several years after she was born)

On one of my visits to Suffolk Record Office I came across a letter amongst the Overseers Records in FL578/7/40 that is attributed to Robert Whiting.

It is not signed, which leads me to believe that it was perhaps written on his behalf. The language in it belongs to someone who thinks they can write in a business-like manner, but the standard falls some way short of that used by an educated person of this time.

The letter is definitely post-marked 'December 1806', but elsewhere 'Woolwhich 1808' is distinctly written. It was addressed to Mr Fincham, Master Weaver, who was the same man who produced the 'Fincham Token' with the image of the weaver at the loom that has been frequently used as a symbol of Haverhill.

Here is a transcription:

For Mr Fincham, Master Weaver, Haverhill in Suffolk
Woolwich, 1st December 1806
Dear friend I have taken the personal opportunity of letting you know that
I belong to a club that if my wife should die that I should get 30 pounds
and if I die she will get 10 and I can’t get nothing without my [certificate]
of my marriage and we was married at [Shudy Camps]
My name is Robert Whiting and my wife name was [Hazlewood] fore she was married.
And we have been married one and thirty years and I hope you will be so kind as to get it
for if you don’t we must all come home and if you won’t get it send me an answer
when you [direct] for me near the Horse and Star, Woolwich, Kent
So as remains your humble servants Robert and Mary Whiting
Please to send me an answer by return of post whether you get it or no, seal it up in a letter

The words in brackets in the transcription are badly misspelt in the original letter, although it is clear what is intended.

At the conclusion of the letter are some markings that could perhaps be Robert's. They are not a signature as such, yet could be his mark.

Robert is asking for proof of his marriage because he wishes to join a life insurance club. Life insurance was becoming more popular around this time. The Gambling Act of 1774 had 'banned the purchase of insurance on lives in which the policyholder did not have a real and documented financial interest'(6)

He seems to be getting a better deal than his wife, who would get 10 pounds if he dies whereas he would get 30 if she did. Ironically, he was to die first, although they both lived to a good old age.

Robert obviously knew Mr Fincham, perhaps a previous employer, and considered him an important person in the town of Haverhill and someone whom he could trust to procure proof of his marriage to Mary at Shudy Camps. He says they'd been married 31 years, which implies the date of the letter is 1806 and not 1808.

The Horse and Star was an Inn at Woolwich, and was situated near the dockyard in Church Street.

A reference in Boyle's view of London (1799) tells us that a Freemason's Lodge, the Perfect Lodge, held meetings there on the 3rd Monday of every month.(14)

It seems that the pub may have also been known as the White Horse and Star, because Masonic records show that the Perfect Lodge held meetings at this venue on Lower Woolwich Road (the same area as Church Street) in 1796 before moving to the Royal Artillery Hotel, Woolwich, in 1804. The Lodge had started in 1796 and was abandoned in 1822.(16)

Pigot's Directory 1832-4 shows the Horse and Star, Church Street, was run by William Chapman.(17)

In an account of the Old Bailey trial, 4th July 1836, of Edward Mills and Thomas Heas for violent theft on Henry Kingston, a seaman on The Albion, we see the Horse and Star mentioned as a pub in which all parties had been drinking that night. It is described as being not far from Woolwich churchyard, which is where the altercation took place.(15)

We find a reference to it again in the West Kent Guardian of 31st March 1838, concerning a property for auction: 'A substantial brick-built house, with shop, situate in Church-Street, near the Horse and Star, in the occupation of Mr Champion, Oil and Colourman'(12).

One source suggests that it was renamed the Roebuck and was burnt down in 1851 and rebuilt(7), and an extract from The Morning Post of 18th January 1851 gives an account of this fire: 'Extensive Fire at Woolwich. - On Tuesday morning, a fire broke out in the premises of Mrs Burch, the Roebuck Tavern, 43 Church Street, Woolwich.. ..plenty of water having been procured, the firemen, military, and police set to work in a most praiseworthy manner, and eventually succeeded in extinguishing the conflagration, but not until the tavern and all its contents were reduced to ashes, and the premises on either side, belonging to Mr Harwood, a broker, and Mr Seer, a grocer, were considerably injured by water. The origin of the fire is unknown.'(13)

Pigot's Directories of 1839 and 1840 both show that the Roebuck, run by Henry Burch, existed in Church Street(18,19). There is no mention of the Horse and Star in either edition of the directory which might lead us to suppose it had been renamed as the Roebuck. However, there is an article in the Morning Chronicle of 14th September 1837 about William Hennesey, a sailor that took his own life with prussic acid who 'for some months past..had been stopping at the Roebuck Tavern, Church-hill, Woolwich'.(20) As this pre-dates the West Kent Guardian extract mentioned earlier, the implication is that the Roebuck and the Horse and Star existed at the same time and were not in fact at the same venue.

Back to the letter! This provides a tantalising glimpse into the life of Robert and Mary who would have both been in their fifties by this time. How long they had been living in Woolwich is not clear, nor is why they had relocated there. Was there some connection with ships or the dockyard? Robert's younger brother Ezra had joined the navy and had died at sea five years before this letter was written. Unfortunately, I have found no mention of Robert's occupation anywhere yet.

In Barnabas Webb's diary, when mentioning Ezra Whiting's death in 1801 he says he had 'left home upwards of 7 years'. This would be around 1793. As Robert's youngest child Ruth was baptised in Haverhill showing he was still there in 1792, it could be that both he and Ezra left town around the same time.

I believe that Robert lived until 1837. There is a burial entry for St Mary Magdalene Church, Woolwich, on 21st January 1837 for a Robert Whiting aged 84. This would place his birth as 1753, and is close enough for me to suspect this is him considering the location too. Whether Mary received the £10 life insurance due to her, we'll never know!

Mary makes it on to the 1841 census as a widow of 84 living in Chapel Row, Woolwich dockyard. She is staying with William Fleming, 54, a labourer, and Ruth, 49, his wife, who turns out to be Robert and Mary's youngest daughter. This was Ruth's second marriage. She had married John Dorrington at St Mary Magdalene on 19th October 1806.(10) Her first husband died and she married again, to William Fleming, on 20th February 1828 at St Nicholas Church, Greenwich.(11)

Mary lived to the grand old age of ninety. I am certain she must have been the Mary Whiting, 90, who died on 15th September 1847 and was buried at Enon Baptist Chapel, High Street, Woolwich.(8,9)


(1) Shudy Camps Marriages, 1560-1950, CFHS.
(2) Haverhill Non-Conformist Registers, RG4/1844
(3) Barnabas Webb’s pocket-book, Suffolk Records Office, Bury St Edmunds. HA553/1
(4) London Metropolitan Archives, Saint Mary Magdalene, Woolwich, Register of burials, P97/MRY, Item 042; Call Number: p97/mry/042.
(5) Castle Camps Baptisms, 1563-1950, CFHS.
(6) 'Betting on lives: The Culture of Life Insurance in England', 1695-1775.
(7) Survey of London © English Heritage 2012
(8) Register of Burials at Enon Chapel, Woolwich, Kent from 1827 to 1853, RG 8/20
(9) Death Register. 3rd Quarter 1847, Greenwich District, Volume 5 Page 189.
(10) London Metropolitan Archives, Saint Mary Magdalene, Woolwich, Register of marriages, P97/MRY, Item 025.
(11) London Metropolitan Archives, Saint Nicholas, Deptford, Register of marriages, P78/NIC, Item 020.
(12) The West Kent Guardian, Saturday 31st March 1838, p.1.
(13) The Morning Post, Saturday, 18th January 1851, pg.7, issue 24059. British Newspapers 1600-1950.
(14) 'Boyle's view of London, and its environs...', Boyle, Patrick, London (1799), p.328, Eighteenth Century Collections Online.
(15) Old Bailey Proceedings Online (, version 7.0, 08 April 2014), July 1836, trial of EDWARD MILLS THOMAS HEAS (t18360704-1743).
(16) The Library and Museum of Freemasonry,
(17) Pigot's Directory, 1832-4, pubs and brewers of Kent, transcribed by Dorothy Holden,
(18) Pigot's Directory, Woolwich, 1840,
(19) Pigot's Directory, Woolwich, 1839, p.385,
(20) The Morning Chronicle, Thursday, 14th September 1837, issue 21165. British Newspapers 1600-1950.