Discovering my link to the Winslow Dudleys

by William Dudley
3 June 2022

I have been researching my family history for many years, starting in the days before computers, the Internet, and DNA results.  Progress was slow.  It required hand-written letters, personal visits to record repositories, and discussions with family members.  More recently I made good progress on a number of family lines but, frustratingly, found myself against a "brick wall" when researching the ancestry of my Dudley family line.

My great-grandfather, John Gabriel Dudley (senior), came to Australia in the mid-1800s.  He was born in East London in 1832 and was indentured as an apprentice merchant seaman in 1847.  In recent years I established the details of his family in London.

His father, William Dudley, was variously described as a haberdasher and draper in official records.  He married Mary Rogers at St Dunstan, Stepney, in 1824, and they had seven children, born between 1826 and 1839.  When William Dudley died in 1866, the family was living at Mile End Old Town in London and his occupation was recorded as "Master Draper".

So where was he from?  Who were his parents and siblings? And who taught him his trade of draper?  This was my brick wall.

My only clues came from the census records of 1841 and 1861.  The 1841 census said the family lived at Mile End Old Town, Parish of St Dunstan Stepney, and it said William Dudley was NOT born in the county where he lived.  His age (rounded down) was recorded as 45 years.  The 1861 census said he was aged 74 years, born at Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire.

This was not a lot to go on, and was insufficient to answer my questions about the origins of my great great grandfather, William Dudley.  There were 'plenty' of Dudleys in and around Leighton Buzzard, but I was unable to pinpoint my William Dudley, draper.

Then in 2021 I discovered the Winslow History website – while searching the Internet for anything about Dudleys who were drapers.  In terms of Internet searches, the town of Winslow appeared to be ground zero for Dudleys who were drapers.  Here I found a family of drapers going back to the 1600s.  Could they possibly be my Dudleys?

I could not readily see a connection, but in these web pages I found a wealth of information.  In particular, the wills, and accompanying notes, were a gold mine.  I went through each will (or transcription) and dutifully mapped out a family tree.  Some of the wills give a great description about who is who in the family tree. The result was a tree spanning from Benjamin Dudley (d.1742), draper, of Winslow, through to multiple family lines.

Benjamin Dudley and his wife Elizabeth had at least 6 children:

Benjamin Dudley (1707 – c.1790) was a draper (living at 3 Market Square, Winslow in 1741), as was his son John Dudley (15 Market Square, Winslow) as well as John's sons, Benjamin Dudley and Samuel Greaves Dudley. 

There were also drapers in the family of Benjamin's older brother, William Dudley (1703-c.1765).  William's son Joseph Dudley (1731-1799) was a draper, and at least two of his sons were drapers.

As I mapped out a family tree for these Winslow Dudleys I noticed there was one tantalising branch that had two twigs with limited information - William Dudley and his brother Joseph Dudley – two of the great grandchildren of the William Dudley born in 1703.  William and Joseph were both born in the late 1700s, and both aged less than 21 years at the time of the 1799 death of their draper grandfather, Joseph Dudley (1731-1799).  Could this William Dudley be the William Dudley, Master Draper, who died in London in 1866, aged about 80 years – my great great grandfather?  He was said to have been born in Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire, and Winslow, Buckinghamshire, is only about 12 miles away.

Around the same time that I discovered the Winslow History website I had engaged the services of professional genealogist, David Annal, to assist in cracking my Dudley family brick wall.  David established that my 3 times great grandfather, William Dudley, married Mary Gurney at Linslade in 1786.  (Linslade adjoins the parish of Leighton Buzzard, just over the county boundary.)  The Gurney surname is another one that is prominent in the history of Winslow.

David further established that William and Mary had two sons - William Dudley and his brother Joseph – baptised at Leighton Linslade in 1788 and 1797 respectively, and likely raised there as children, before moving to London, where they worked as drapers. 

William Dudley (bapt 1788) was trading as a haberdasher at 45 Great Surrey Street, Blackfriars Road in the early 1820s, possibly in partnership with his brother Joseph.  The premises apparently were owned by their aunt, Hannah Gurney [Mentioned in the 1833 will of Hannah Gurney].  Also in the mid 1820s there was a trade directory entry for Dudley & Gurney, Linnen Drapers, 29 Commercial Road, St George's [Pigot's Directory of London (1825-26), col. 411].

So this seemed a perfect fit for the twig that was William Dudley and Joseph Dudley, on the edge of my Winslow Dudley tree of drapers.  It looked like I had found my William Dudley and his links to Winslow.  What did David Annal, professional genealogist think?  "Undoubtably" was his answer.

At last, I had solved the mystery of the origin of my great great grandfather – William Dudley, Master Draper, of London – raised at Leighton-Linslade, and descended from the Dudleys of Winslow, with a family history of drapery going back to the 1600s.  My quest was complete (but where did his great great grandfather, Benjamin Dudley (d.1742), come from?! – that may be a tougher question).

Click below for the family tree in PDF format: 
Family tree diagram, titled "Dudley family in Winslow Buckinghamshire".  Note that people in the diagram for whom there is a will available on the Winslow History website have the word "Will" next to their entry in the diagram.

David Annal's investigation of the origins of my great great grandfather, William Dudley, were featured in a six-page article he wrote for the September 2021 edition of Family Tree magazine – article titled "Consider the bigger picture!", starting on page 42.

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Copyright 7 June, 2022