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Alfred Olby 1845-1939


The Olbys can be traced to the marriage of Robert Olby and Frances Overed at Blofield, Norfolk on 8th March 1790. Frances was baptised at Blofield on 6th May 1766, her parents were James and Frances Overed (or Overett); their marriage has not been traced. Robert and Frances appear to have settled in Brandon around 1800, the births of their sons Robert and John, born about 1790 and 1796, respectively have not been traced but may have been in Mile End or Stepney (see below).

In any event the family settled in Brandon, where Robert probably worked as a gunflint maker. He died at the age of 51 years and was buried at Brandon on 26th January 1820. Later that year the Overseers of the Poor of the parish served a Removal Order which stated "Frances Olby Widow and William her son aged seventeen(?) years and Anne her daughter aged twelve years did lately come to inhabit the said Parish of Brandon in the said County of Suffolk not having gained legal Settlement there, and that the said Frances Olby and William and Anne her children are actually chargeable to the said Parish of Brandon in the said County of Suffolk. We the said Justices upon due proof made thereof, as well upon the examination of the said Frances Olby upon Oath as otherwise, and likewise upon due Consideration had of the Premises do adjudge the same to be true; and we do likewise adjudge, that the lawful Settlement of them the said Frances Olby and the said William and Anne her children is in the township of Mile End Old Town within the said parish of Stepney"

This strongly suggests that Robert came from Mile End, or had acquired settlement rights there by the time of their marriage in 1790, these rights then applying to his widow Frances and their children. In 1817 a similar order had been served on Robert and Frances' elder son, Robert Olby junior, his wife Diana and their children Mary aged three and Robert aged two for removal to the parish of Stepney. Thus Robert junior had presumably been born in Stepney. His wife, Diana Garner, daughter of Peter Garner and Mary Newell, had been born in Weeting, Norfolk, just to the north of Brandon, where Diana had been baptised on 27 March 1791. Both the children, Mary and Robert, mentioned in the removal order had been born and baptised in Brandon, but their settlement rights and their mother's would have been the same as those of their father.

However, it appears that neither removal order was enforced effectively, as Robert Olby junior appears to have been buried in Brandon on 7th November 1834 at the age of 44 and his mother Frances was still living in Brandon at the time of the 1841 census. Frances Olby eventually died on 1st September 1844 in Marylebone, where she may have been visiting her grandson (see below).

Robert Olby the third, born in 1815, married Elizabeth Talbot at Brandon, Suffolk on Christmas Day 1838; Robert was described as a bachelor and publican, aged 23, and Elizabeth a spinster, aged 19. Their fathers were named as Robert Olby, a furrier, and John Talbot, a labourer, respectively. John Talbot apparently later became a stone mason. Their first child, Elizabeth Olby, who appears to have been born before their marriage, as she was baptised at Brandon on 24th March 1838, died in infancy and was buried at Brandon on 26th March 1838. She was succeeded by a second Elizabeth born in 1839. The 1841 census records Robert as a shopkeeper, aged 25, living in Brandon High Street, with Elizabeth aged 20 and two children, Elizabeth aged 2 and Robert aged 6 months. Soon after this the Olbys appear to have moved to London, where both their young children died, Elizabeth at St. George in the East and Robert in Marylebone. A further daughter, also named Elizabeth, was born in Marylebone in 1843 but appears to have died in 1850. When Alfred Olby was born at 80 Lisson Grove North on 28th December 1845, his father's occupation was given as a 'agent'. A third son, another Robert, was born in 1848.

Robert Olby the third is listed in Kelly's Post Office London Directory for 1849 as a plate glass factor of 98 Lisson Grove North; his 1851 census entry records him as a plate glass factor aged 35, living at that address with his wife Elizabeth, aged 31, their children Alfred, aged 5, and Robert, aged 3, and Hannah Talbot, Elizabeth's sister, aged 20.

On the 27th August 1851 disaster struck, Robert Olby the third died of gastric fever after a 16 day illness, leaving Elizabeth with two young children to care for. Robert's will, witnessed by Henry Pearson and Joseph Lees, was a model of brevity "I will and bequeath to my dear wife Elizabeth Olby all my goods and chattels - Robert Olby". Elizabeth took over the business (she is listed in Kelly's Directories from 1853 to 1862 as 'Olby Elizabeth (Mrs), plate glass factor, 98 Lisson Grove North') and early in 1852 gave birth to Robert's posthumous son, Augustus Robert Peter Olby.

On 24th May 1860 Elizabeth married John Porter and the household was recorded in the 1861 as John Porter, a carver and guilder aged 25, living with his wife Elizabeth, aged 27(!!), sons-in-law Alfred, aged 15, and Augustus, aged 9, and daughter Rosa, aged 3 months. Clearly John Porter was reluctant to disclose to the census enumerator that his wife was some 16 years older than himself. Elizabeth died of heart failure and bronchitis on 12th October 1867, John Porter remarried shortly afterwards and by 1881 had moved to West Ham.

Alfred Olby married Lucy Woodward at The Tabernacle, Praed Street, Kensington on 19th September 1868. Lucy had been born in West Bromwich in 1844, where her father was a builder. In 1875 Alfred started business in a small way as a painter and builders' merchant at No. 27 King Street, Ramsgate, the approach to the premises at that time being through a garden. The premises were rebuilt in 1877 and in 1907 the firm became Alfred Olby, Ltd. Although Alfred handed over control of the business to his son, John Olby, at this stage he continued to maintain a keen interest in the company.

After Alfred Olby's retirement from actual business the firm opened branches in Margate, Canterbury. Ashford and Folkestone. During his career he had built up a small one-man business into an organisation with branches in several towns and with more than 200 employees. Two other sons, Henry Olby and Hugh Olby, controlled similar businesses at Dover and at Lewisham, respectively.

The restructuring of the company in 1907 may have been a consequence of the death of Lucy Olby in Ramsgate on 10th February 1906, she and Alfred had been married for 37 years and they had had ten children. On 24th October 1907 Alfred married Frances Alexandrina Forrest. After Alfred's retirement they lived at St. Leonards where Frances died on 26th December 1936 at the age of 70. Alfred continued to live at St. Leonards until April 1939 when he was knocked down by a car whilst crossing the road to catch a bus. He suffered extensive scalp wounds and a fracture of the skull, and died an hour and a half later without regaining consciousness. The inquest conducted by the Hastings Borough Coroner heard that for his age, 93, he had been in excellent health, and had apparently not seen a doctor for 55 years. His sight and hearing were good and he was extremely active. The jury returned a verdict of "Death by Misadventure" after hearing from his housekeeper that he was very erratic when he was out and would dart across the road suddenly without making sure that it was clear of traffic. His funeral at Hastings Cemetery on 27th April 1939 was attended by his many surviving children and grandchildren. His will contained a few specific bequests, including one to his half-sister Rosa Chamberlain (formerly Porter); the residue of his estate was left in equal shares to his five surviving children.

Alfred Olby may have inherited his entreprenuerial flair from his father Robert Olby, a humble flint-knapper's grandson, who in his short life had moved to London from the relative obscurity of rural Suffolk and set himself up in business as a plate-glass merchant. And Alfred wasn't the only member of the family to succeed in business; his younger brother Augustus, Robert's posthumous son, also established a successful builder's merchant and ironmongery business in south east London.

  1. Brandon, Suffolk Parish Register
  2. Removal Order on Frances Olby and her children, 1820, Suffolk Record Office, Bury St. Edmunds
  3. Removal Order on Robert and Diana Olby and their children, 1817, Suffolk Record Office, Bury St. Edmunds
  4. Robert and Diana Olby's marriage and death certificates
  5. Alfred Olby's birth, marriage and death certificates
  6. Alfred Olby's Obituary, 'The East Kent Times', 29th April 1939
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Author : Chris Newall
Page created on : 2nd November 1999
Last modified : 21st October 2003