Frederick Harold Whibley: The mysterious disappearing family

Frederick Harold Whibley 1878-1921

Gardener and Store Keeper of Lambeth, Mitcham, Epping, Woolwich and Guildford and my 2nd great uncle.

I’ve been continuing my delve into all things Whibley, determined to find my connection with my mysterious DNA probable second cousin once removed “Ronan Quick”, and this has involved probing the lives of the brothers and sisters of my great grandmother, Emily Whibley.  Could any of them, or their children, have gone to Georgia?

Emily’s youngest sibling was Frederick Harold Whibley.  Born at the end of 1878 and baptised at Southwark St Jude, he would have been brought up at the King Edward’s School, where his father Richard worked as a gardener.  There is a mention of him in the local newspaper when he and some friends set fire to a holly bush in the gardens of the school and a stone flew out hitting him in the eye.  According to the paper, it was feared Frederick would lose his sight, but as he is not listed with any infirmity in the subsequent censuses, this tragedy seems to have been averted.

The school grounds are now the park that surrounds the Imperial War Museum

Aged 22, he was still there with his parents, where his occupation was also listed as “gardener”, but two years later it was all change: he was living in Robinson Road in Mitcham (a more suburban area on the London/Surrey borders) and marrying a young lady from Northamptonshire, Florence May Maud Berrill.  Florence was six months pregnant at the time of the wedding.  From searching the GRO indexes, I found that Frederick and Florence had four children: Margery Ellis Whibley (Lambeth, 1903), Frederick Charles Hugo Whibley (Wandsworth, 1905), Ernest Melvyn Wilson Whibley (Wandsworth, 1906) and Dorothy Maud (Epping, 1908).   Epping is on the borders of London and Essex and not somewhere I would expect to find a Whibley.

But the really strange thing is what I found on the 1911 census.  Frederick and Florence are now living in North Woolwich (the area that now houses London City Airport) and Frederick is a storekeeper at the now demolished 59 Auberon Street.  But the four aforementioned children are not with them.  Margery is in a Barnardo’s home near Epping, Frederick Jnr and Ernest are being fostered in Norfolk, and Dorothy is nowhere to be found at all.  Strangest of all, Frederick and Florence DO have a child with them, a six year old named Florence Whibley, who they describe as their daughter.  Her birthplace is left blank.  There was never a child named Florence born to this couple, and no child called Florence Whibley was born in or around 1905.  I can find no trace of her after this (the only Florence Whibley born in 1905 on the 1939 register was a married woman) or indeed before.  Who was she?

Street Party, Auberon Street, Silvertown 1945
Auberon Street in 1945 from Newham Story

What could have happened to necessitate Frederick and Florence putting their four children into care?  And how could they have ended up with another child living with them instead who wasn’t even their own?

I wondered if somehow I had made a mistake – maybe “my” Frederick and Florence died and the F+F on the 1911 register were namesakes?  But I can find no other possible death record for either of them, and it would be a remarkable concidence for both Florences to have come from Northamptonshire.  The electoral registers for Woolwich reveal that the Frederick on the 1911 has the middle name Harold.  I’m convinced that it is the same couple.

Barnardos do offer a family history research service, but as I am unlikely to be the closest living relative to these Whibleys, it is not available to me – and at £100 per person, I wouldn’t be able to afford it anyway!  This is a terrible shame as I am sure their files contain some fascinating information that would shed some light on what happened – and maybe who little Florence was too!

The electoral registers show that some time between 1922 and 1925, Frederick and Florence relocated from Woolwich to Guildford, Surrey.   Frederick died in 1927, aged just 48.  It seems that before his death, he was reunited with his children.  Margery’s 1927 marriage took place in Guildford.  So did Dorothy’s in 1933 and Ernest’s in 1935.  Frederick Jnr was witness at both the latter weddings – indicating the siblings had not lost touch despite being fostered in different places.

Florence remarried in 1948 and died in 1961, aged 82.  The four children also married, had children of their own, and lived long lives.  Florence Jnr was never seen again.  And of course none of this brings me any closer to nailing Ronan Quick, and just gives me another mystery to add to the list!

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