Narrative by (DS):
For me, there is a defining image of SELBY GUMMET, albeit one drawn from my imagination! It would have taken place in June 1802 when, I imagine, a vast crowd would have assembled to witness the Prime Minister of the day, William PITT, arrive in Wapping to perform a ritual to mark the commencement of an enormous event. He was there to lay the foundation stone of the proposed new London Dock and to set in motion its construction.
I imagine Selby in that crowd, looking on with very mixed feelings. As a mariner himself, he might have foreseen a boom time approaching, with new employment opportunities and an even more thriving riverside scene here in Wapping. But the price to be paid for this was the demolition of all the houses and buildings and orchards that stood in the way of this new dock over a 20 acre site. He lived there!
The next moment that I can imagine would have taken place in January 1805. The dock was newly completed and on a freezing day, the 'London Packet' became the first ship to enter it. I am sure that Selby saw this.
A month earlier, on the 7th December 1804, his first child was born in Wapping and, on the 2nd January 1805, she was christened. The family home was in 'Red Meade Lane'. Most of this once long road had been subsumed by the new dock. In the small portion of it that remained, the Gummet family lived. They probably looked out of their window to see the high brick perimeter wall that surrounded the dock.
Selby had been born in 1774 but his origins remain a mystery but we know that he married Henrietta in 1801 and was 30 years old when his first child was born.
On that freezing day, the 2nd January 1805, we can picture a small group of people proceeding together, possibly along Wapping High Street, heading east, passing the church of St John on their left before turning left and leaving the river behind them as they made their way a short distance north, coming to the Ratcliff Highway, that busy thoroughfare running east-west and conveying much of the newly-delivered produce from the docksides. Amidst the hustle and grime of this active place, the sight of the church of St George-in-the-East would come into view, its white exterior and tower shining (if they were lucky) in the winter sunshine.
Although further from their home, by a quirk of the parish boundaries, it was St George's and not St John's of Wapping that was their parish church. Entering the churchyard from Cannon Street Road at its western end, they would have passed through the impressive church entrance and, perhaps after a few greetings and social niceties, approached the font and, with due ceremony, HARRIET GUMMET was christened.
Both the London Dock and Selby and Henrietta's family continued to grow, The former thrived for a century and a half to come before suffering the same fate that its own creation had bestowed upon the unsuspecting neighbourhood - it was razed and something new (a residential estate) was built in its stead. The latter, down to the present day, quietly grew and grew.
On the 10th October 1806, a son was born to Selby and Henrietta. They named him SELBY FREDERICK. He too received a ritual daubing at St. George's church. One can never know for certain the extent to which the high infant mortality rates of the nineteenth century hit a family and the two year gap before their next child prompts such speculation. Their third child, a son, was born on the 3rd September 1808. He was named WILLIAM THOMAS and he was to become my Great Grandfather. He is the first of the family for whom a photograph remains, albeit taken in his old age.
When we consider (below) the wider world in the midst of which Selby and Henrietta wove their lives and take into account Selby's possible lengthy absences from home in his profession as a 'Mariner', we may speculate upon reasons other than infant mortality to explain the gaps between the births of their children. It was to be three years before their next child, another son, was born on the 18th August 1811 and ten months before he was christened JOHN WILLIAM JAMES at St. George's Church.
The continuing expansion of the Docks may have finally led to the removal of the GUMMET family from Redmeade Lane because, at some time between late 1808 and mid 1812, the family moved away from Wapping to Lower Chapman Street, some three-quarters of a mile north, away from the river and across the Ratcliff Highway towards Stepney. The housing in this area would have been relatively new as there were just fields there in 1746.
This move brought them much nearer to the church of St George-in-the-East where their fourth child, John, was christened in 1812. Strange then that they should immediately change their allegiance to the church of St Dunstan's, half a mile further east in Stepney! It was to this new church that four more children were brought for their christenings. They may have moved again after 1812. The christening records of their later children record Selby and Henrietta as living variously at Mile End Old Town and Ratcliff.
It may have been that Selby was away at the time of John's birth in August 1811, returning for his June 1812 christening and still at home in September 1812 when a fifth child was conceived. This was MARY ANN, born on the 14th June 1813 and christened on the 11th July at St. Dunstan's.
Selby and Henrietta's next child, their sixth, was sadly short-lived. JOSEPH was born on the 28th May 1816 but failed to make his second birthday. He died on the 3rd April 1818. This was only five days after the birth of a younger brother. JAMES was born on the 29th March 1818 but not christened until the 13th September. The birth of ANN FRANCES on the 22nd July 1821 proved to be the eighth and last one.