Thomas Stebbings, born in 1782, was a farmer at Foxes Farm on Foulness and lived until he was 80 years old. He had seven children by his first wife Anna who died the same year their last child, John, was born. Thomas remarried, to Sarah, but had no more children.
Thomas and Anna’s son Thomas (jnr), born in 1819, became a bargeman and waterman. He married Rebecca and they also had seven children. The shipping records from the 1861 census record Thomas (Jnr) as the master of corn trader barge, Hope. Also aboard was Thomas’s son William Stebbings, born in 1843, whose occupation was listed as carpenter. William had a brother Charles who was also a carpenter and two other brothers, Thomas and George, who were both mariners. William also had two sisters, Harriet, who married Charles Yardley, and Emma, who married John Ambrose. Their seventh child, Henry, died in infancy.
By 1871, the 28 year old William Stebbings had married Mary Ann Stammers and they had just had their second child, Mary Anne. They were living in Chapel Row, Burnham, and William was working as a shipwright for S. Addison. William and Mary’s first child died in infancy and they would have nine children in all.
Spencer Addison was a Southend oyster merchant who was part of The Burnham Oyster Company along with a number of Burnham oyster merchants. It is thought that William Stebbings worked for Addison’s from about 1871 to the time that he founded his own business, W. Stebbings, around 1880.
At some point William wrote a record of the boats he helped build for Addison’s and this document is still held by the family. It is not the easiest of texts or hands to follow but it lists 25 or so boats, from small skiffs of 11 feet, through to a few smacks and yachts, including oyster smack Mayfly, built in 1875.
Of William and and Mary’s nine children the brothers William Thomas (born 1873) and Albert Harry (born 1879) both became shipwrights. They worked for W. Stebbings & Sons and in time took over the running of the business from their father, who died in 1907 aged 64. Of the other children, the girls who didn’t marry (Nellie and Kate) spent some time working as housemaids (1911 census). Mary Anne “Minnie” Stebbings married William Barker, oyster dredger turned photographer, who ran a photography business in Queens Road and whose name can be found on the back of some old postcards of Burnham. Of the other children, William (b.1869) and Frank (b.1885) both died before their first birthday and Sarah died aged only 16. Elizabeth (b.1875) married Willie Pipe from Southminster.
Albert Harry Stebbings married Julia Gosling from Mayland in 1907 and for a time they lived in Queens Road. They had two children, Harry (born in 1908) and Ellen (born 1912). At different times Ellen had bookeeping jobs at the post office, Stebbings and at Cranfield Sails.
Harry Stebbings became indentured to his father as a shipwright. Following the death of William Thomas, Albert Harry bought his share in the business and continued to run the yard. In 1942 the business was sold to Mr Lloyd Shakespeare mainly because Albert Harry’s health was failing (he died in 1946). His son Harry continued to work for the new owner but eventually left to work for Petticrow’s.
At the outset of WWII, business at Stebbings had been very slow and Harry went to work at a boat yard in Hampton, on the Thames (probably Thornycroft’s), having only just become married to Irene Phillips. After a few months Stebbings received their own contract from the Admiralty to build lifeboats and whalers for the war effort, and Harry returned to Burnham. Harry was an accomplished carver and he built and carved the wooden war memorial boards in St Mary’s Church, Burnham. Harry was also an amateur artist and a keen bell ringer – he was Tower Captain at St Mary’s for over 60 years.
William Thomas Stebbings married Grace Agate, from London, and they went on to have four children – Grace, Nellie, Gladys and William “Bill” Stebbings. Nellie went on to marry Bay Read and Gladys married Albie Rice. Bill became an apprentice shipwright at Stebbings and served in the Royal Navy as a carpenter during WWII, seeing service in Norway, South Africa, Sri Lanka and Singapore at the end of the war with the Japanese. After the war Bill worked for Petticrows. Bill was an accomplished helmsman, winning the National Enterprise Championships. He also built a number of Enterprise’s for other top sailors of the day. Bill married Chrissie.