Lay Anglicana, the unofficial voice of the laity throughout the Anglican Communion.
This is the place to share news and views from the pews.

Get involved ...

The Chronicles of the Welbys (part the second)

And so we continue to explore the roots of our new Archbishop of Canterbury. Bishop Justin himself described his father as ‘a mysterious character‘, and this is certainly the conclusion any genealogist would draw after several fruitless excursions down assorted blind alleys. I think it unlikely Gavin Welby had a secret life he was trying to hide (although employment in Her Majesty’s Secret Service cannot be altogether ruled out!). But the only time the official records seem to have pinned him down with any degree of certainty was on his death bed. Although even then, his date of birth is given as 28 November 1914, which does not tally with ships’ passenger records which suggest he was actually born three or four years earlier. He is usually listed as British, though on the 1940 Census he is said to have become a naturalised US citizen (again, I can find no trace of this via ancestry). His place of birth is variously given as Castletown, Uxbridge or Northwood, Hillingdon (but these London suburbs adjoin each other). If this were so, his birth should be recorded in English records but I can find no trace.

His father, Bernard, died in February1930 and in October 1930 Gavin arrived in New York, according to press reports with £5 in his pocket. Knowing of Edith Lutyens Bel Geddes’ experience ten years later, I know that it is not always a question of cash in hand: at that point New York, in particular, was very susceptible to English people and it seems Gavin fell on his feet and rapidly prospered, by bootlegging as his son claims or by other means. He made trips to England in 1937, 1938 and 1939, giving his mother’s address in Gloucester Place, London as his base.

During the Second World War, he seems to have returned to Britain to serve in the army as ‘Gavin Bernard Welby’ was gazetted on 9 August 1943 as being promoted to Second Lieutenant.

By 1951, it seems Gavin Welby was a man about town in London. The social page of The Times dated 16 June 1951 shows him as the proverbial spare man at a dinner given by the Chilean ambassador and his wife. And by October, he is standing as the Conservative candidate against Richard Crossman in the General Election at Coventry.








Gavin Welby’s marriage with Jane Portal was duly reported in ‘The Times’ as having taken place on 4 April 1955 in Baltimore where, according to press reports, they eloped in the face of disapproval by her parents. However, the Portals evidently relented since a month later they gave a reception to meet the couple at the home of Jane’s uncle, R A Butler, 11 Downing Street. The Butler side of Bishop Justin’s family has several priests, including three generations of  The Revd Weeden Butler: (1742-1823), (1767-1814) and (1806-1865). A brother of the second Weeden, the Revd George Butler, became headmaster of Harrow School.

“His father’s family were German Jewish immigrants who moved to England to escape anti-Semitism in the late 19th century”, says the official press release announcing Bishop Justin’s appointment. And indeed, on the ship’s passenger list in 1930, when Gavin Welby first went to America, he describes his nationality as British but his ‘Race or people’ as German.

He evidently returned to join the British Army during the Second World War as he was gazetted on 9th August 1943 as having been promoted to Second Lieutenant. (His name was given as Gavin Bernard Welby, rather than as Gavin Bramall Welby as seen on the register of his death).

Gavin and Jane Welby were divorced in 1958.  He continued to live at various addresses in South Kensington or Knightsbridge until his death in 1977.

In the next chapter of this chronicle, we will look at his father Bernard, which is where we come to the end of the known facts about the Welby antecedents and launch on the more speculative parts of this account…

9 comments on this post:

Kate ardern said...

Enjoyed both your Chronicles, Laura, Gavin does come across as a veritable international man of mystery. The other interesting connections are his close friendship with JFK and his brief engagement to Vanessa Redgrave.

Lay Anglicana said...

One aspect which is really puzzling is that Gavin was evidently suave, polished – perhaps a cross between Douglas Fairbanks and David Niven, that sort of man? He may have made his career through old Jo Kennedy, who was a bit of a rogue, but he evidently moved in the charmed circle of the Kennedy children. I doubt that he would have done this had there been too much of the whiff of the bootlegger about him, not to put too fine a point on it.

I am pretty sure I have identified Gavin’s father, Bernard, who was Bernard Welby at his death, whatever his name may have been at birth. He would have been born in about 1867. So if the German Jewish immigrant ‘Welbys’ came to the UK in the ‘late 19th century’, we are not looking much further back than Bernard. Anyway, more of all this anon…

16 November 2012 20:49
16 November 2012 19:05
UKViewer said...

Sounds like a cross between James Bond and Simon Templer 🙂

I can see him with a Dry Martini and a sly wink, looking upwards for a slightly bent Halo 🙂

And, a girl in every Port? Any Maritime History in all of this. For instance, what about WW2 service?

Lay Anglicana said...

Thanks UKViewer – there is definitely a whiff of James Bond, but even that I cannot substantiate. There was a glorious moment when I found that an unidentified male Welby was born aboard the SS Lusitania in 1909. I was looking forward to claiming him, but sadly further research showed that the Welby parents in this case were Irish. Half a day’s worth of blind alley…I have just found Gavin Bernard (not Bramall or Bramhall) Welby, (254074) gazetted on promotion to 2nd Lieutenant on 9 August 1943.
The mystery thickens when we get to Bernard. Any genealogical light you can throw on the subject would be very welcome!

16 November 2012 20:40
16 November 2012 20:03
Matthew Caminer said...

I doubt very much if you would find many records that predate the departure of Jews fleeing pogroms (yes pogroms in Russia/Eastern Europe if it was late 19th century). Many of the places don’t exist any more or have changed name, records were lost in conflicts, and many of the international borders have changed. Remember the TV programme about David Suchet tracing his Lithuanian Jewish routes? In his case also the trail ran cold at that point. So, I might have expected Bernard to come from further east than Germany…. perhaps travelling cross country VIA Germany rather than from Germany?

As for the name…. an anglicised version of, say, Welbeg, Wellbech or something of that sort if German, or perhaps something a little more complicated if further east?

16 November 2012 21:59
Grandmère Mimi said...

Laura, I enjoyed the results of your research into the family of the next ABC.

You gave me a laugh with the following comment:

“old Jo Kennedy, who was a bit of a rogue. he evidently moved in the charmed circle of the Kennedy children. I doubt that he would have done this had there been too much of the whiff of the bootlegger about him, not to put too fine a point on it.”

Old Joe was more than a bit of a rogue, I’d say. 🙂 Although there’s no proof, the word on the street is that Joe Kennedy made part of his money selling liquor during prohibition and having shiploads of booze waiting just outside US waters at the time of the law’s repeal.

Lay Anglicana said...

I had heard some hint to that effect…but of course the thing the British resent about Joe Kennedy was his saying, as US ambassador here, that we were going to lose the war. I was not born until 1948, but I grew up with the indignation that this statement caused ringing in my ears! The question remains, really, even if Gavin was bootlegging on behalf of old man Kennedy, how he came across him in the first place. I suppose we shall never know… (are there any diaries of JK, I wonder?)

Grandmère Mimi said...

Joe Kennedy’s actions in the period preceding WWII were unconscionable. He had a lot to account for when he arrived at the pearly gates, including taking his wife and his mistress, Gloria Swanson, on a cruise together.

Diaries of JFK would be hot sellers. If they ever existed, they were probably quietly destroyed by family members.

Lay Anglicana said...

Poor Rose!
Shame about the diaries – I’m sure you’re right 🙂

17 November 2012 20:22
17 November 2012 20:15
17 November 2012 20:09
17 November 2012 17:35

Leave a Reply

We rely on donations to keep this website running.