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 ...

Posts Tagged "Archbishop Justin Welby genealogy":

The Chronicles of the Welbys (part the third)

You are perhaps wondering why I illustrate today’s chapter with a picture of the Queen of Spain wearing a head-dress of ostrich plumes in 1820? Well, there is a perfectly sensible answer, but you will have to wait until further down the page to find out.

Today we are launching into the story of Bernard Welby, and I had hoped to bring you my hypothesis, of which I had grown rather fond, that he was the descendant of Katherine Welby, daughter of the Rt Revd Thomas Earle Welby, in turn the son of Sir William Earle Welby, the second baronet. In St Helena she had married Saul Solomon, an Anglican Jew who was the nephew of the great liberal political reformer in South Africa. Their descendants live on as the Welby-Solomons today. However, in the course of gathering further material to adduce in support of this lovely romance, I stumbled instead on the truth. And the truth, in its own way, is just as strange and romantic as my hypothesis.

Bernard Welby, formerly Weiler, 1867-1930

Bernard Welby was born in about 1867 in Germany. He was one of four brothers who came to London: Siegfried Hermann (1857-1935), Max (1865-1927), Bernard (1867-1930), & Ernest (1870-). All four became ostrich feather merchants. It seems  that Siegfried came first and established the business, and was then joined by Max and Bernard, who arrived together in 1886 (the year that Siegfried was naturalised British). To begin with, they both lived with their brother at 21 Warwick Road, North Paddington. They were not exactly struggling, the 1891 census shows that they had two live-in servants.  On 4 July 1893, Bernard and Max became naturalised British citizens.

In 1898, Bernard is on a ship bound for Cape Town, presumably in search of ostrich feathers. He is not in the 1901 census, so it may be he spent some time furthering the business of Weiler Bros in general while he was there. By 1909, Ernest leaves the family firm. This is also the year that Bernard marries Edith James, in the first quarter of 1909. They have two children, Peggy Kathleen in late 1909, followed by ‘Bernard G’ (ie Gavin) in 1910. Edith was born in about 1886 in Finsbury Park, and although her name sounds rather Anglo-Saxon, Bernard describes them both as ‘Hebrew’ on a ship’s passenger list.

On 4 August 1914 Britain declared war on Germany and on 25 September, 1914 (in what is surely a case of post hoc ergo propter hoc)  the following notice appeared in THE London Gazette:

I, BERNARD WELBY, heretofore called or known by the name of “Bernard Weiler,” of “Ivycot,” Maxwell-road, Northwood, in the county of Middlesex, and of 16 and 17, Devonshire square, Bishopsgate, E.C., Ostrich Feather Merchant, Hereby give public notice that I have renounced and abandoned the use of my surname of “Weiler,” and in lieu thereof have assumed and adopted the surname of “Welby,” and such change is formally declared and evidenced by a. deed poll under my hand and seal dated the 22nd day of September, 1914, and enrolled in the Central Office of the Supreme Court of Judicature on the 23rd day of September, 1914.­ Dated the 23rd day of September, 1914. BERNARD WELBY.

Interlude for assessment

This seems a good moment to pause for breath and assess.  We have already found all the clues to the strands that had been suggested: Jewish, German, South African and the change of name to Welby. The only niggle that remains for me is whether the family came here, as suggested, to escape anti-Semitism. The period when the Weilers came to Britain was a relatively benign one for Jews in Germany itself, although pogroms began in Russia in 1881. Also, it must be admitted that anti-Semitism was generally prevalent in Britain at that stage – think of Fagin, Melmotte and the novels of John Buchan, whose villains are often Jewish.

This is an area which needs exploring in more depth than I can at present, but I found the following passage interesting, although it shows a conflicted attitude on the part of the Germans:

Anti-Semitism gained ground in Germany during the 19th century. Anti-Semitic libels were published everywhere, and the economic crisis of the early 19th century was blamed on the Jews. Thousands of Jews fled to Germany from the pogroms in Eastern Europe at the end of the 19th century – thus keeping up the level of German xenophobia. In a climate of economic crisis in Germany towards the end of the 19th century, Jewish bankers were blamed. The Jews were seen as evil and exploiting capitalists, and several anti-Semitic parties were founded. University teachers and other learned people also pleaded for anti-Semitism. In connection with the growth of modern nationalism and the motto of ‘one state, one nation’, the German author and philosopher Paul de Lagarde wrote, “I have long been convinced that Jewry constitutes the cancer in all of our life; as Jews, they are strangers in any European state and as such they are nothing but spreaders of decay.” Friedrich Nietzsche’s theory of the “superman” – Übermensch – as a race biologically and intellectually better shaped than others, was misused by anti-Semites, and later by the Nazis. Some Germans felt like a part of this race of superior human beings at the end of the 19th century.  “Scientific” race theories also surfaced as a new current in Europe and Germany in the 19th century. The Aryan myth came to play an important and terrible role during the Nazi era – including the idea of a special Germanic spirit and race that was superior to all else. In spite of the anti-Semitism, Jews were awarded legal equality in Prussia in 1859, and later in the rest of Germany. This, however, did not significantly alter the popularity of anti-Semitism.


Another area which you may like to explore further is the whole business of ostrich feathers and the luxury trade therein. Here I recommend a fascinating book by Sarah Stein called ‘Plumes, Ostrich Feathers, Jews and a Lost World of Global Commerce‘ – how’s that for a title. You can download it on Kindle as I did, quite reasonably.
Stein explains: ‘Nearly 1 million pounds of ostrich feathers, valued at £2.6 million, were exported from the Cape in 1912…over a 20 year period the value of Cape ostrich feathers had tripled’. She does not mention Weiler Bros, so they were presumably only minor players, but can you imagine what £2.6 million in 1912 would be in today’s money? It is hardly surprising that even minor players were doing so well for themselves. The market, however, was highly volatile. Stein goes on to explain: “some had lost their wealth once or twice over, particularly between 1886 and 1896, when shifts in fashion caused the value of ostrich feathers to plunge by 75 %…the mercurial feather market would ensure that in a few years time ostrich feathers would be nearly worthless, and many buyers would be deeply in debt.”
But to return to Bernard’s domestic life. In 1911, he was living comfortably at Ivycot, Maxwell Road, Northwood with his wife, two children and three live-in servants in a house of 8 rooms (bedrooms and reception rooms) . By 1913 he had moved to 54 Platts Lane, Hampstead, still a leafy street of solid villas.
However, (Arch)bishop Justin remembers his father Gavin telling him that Bernard lost all his money in ‘the crash’. The normal presumption would be that this the general crash of 1929.  But, given Bernard’s source of income this seems more likely to have been ‘the feather crash’ which, according to Stein, began in the late winter of 1914. In 1921 and 1926, Bernard put some pictures up for sale at Sotheby’s followed, five years later, by some  Oriental objets d’art.














There is not a great deal left to tell. Bernard and Edith moved to Torquay, where they lived at Dunalister, Torwood Gardens until Bernard’s death, on 5 February 1930, at the Trinity Nursing Home, Torquay. The cause of death was coronary thrombosis. Edith returned to London to live after Bernard’s death. And Gavin, father of our future Archbishop of Canterbury, set off to America to restore the family fortunes, which he successfully did.

The illustration is a portrait of Maria Josepha of Saxony, Queen of Spain (1803-1829) by Francesco Lacoma y Fontanet, downloaded from Wikimedia.

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…

We rely on donations to keep this website running.