Joseph Woolley Boden – the man that Elizabeth Robb married at St Martin-in-the-Fields in February 1841 – was born twenty-seven years earlier, on 19th February 1814, in the village of Morley in Derbyshire. In the year of Joseph’s birth Napoleon was exiled to Elba and British soldiers burned down the White House.

The Bodens of Morley Hayes

Joseph was the eldest son of John and Ann Boden, who appear to have got married just three months earlier. John Boden was born in 1783 at Abbots Ripton in Huntingdonshire, but the Boden family’s roots were firmly in Derbyshire. John Boden was the son of another John Boden and the family were farmers who owned property at Morley Hayes, a mile to the north of the village of Morley, which is itself five miles north-east of Derby. Today Morley Hayes is home to a hotel and golf course and is a popular wedding venue.

morley hayes today

Morley Hayes today (via

Joseph’s mother Ann Woolley, born in 1792, was the daughter of Joseph Woolley and Ann Brentnall of Horsley, three miles north of Morley.There are plenty of Bodens, Woolleys and Brentnalls in the Nonconformist registers for Derbyshire, so it seems reasonable to assume that Joseph’s family were Dissenters. In 1851, a Jane Boden of Morley Hayes, who was probably an unmarried younger sister of Joseph’s, would be described as a ‘leader’ of the Wesleyan chapel in Morley.

Although Joseph’s father John Boden inherited the family farm, he had a younger brother who worked as a surgeon in the neighbouring village of Smalley. Born in about 1798, Robert Boden was a member of the Royal College of Surgeons and the Worshipful Company of Apothecaries. In the National Archives there is a letter from Robert Boden of Smalley, to the Poor Law Board, regarding the appointment of a medical attendant to the Heanor district of the Basford Poor Law Union. Boden alerts the Board to the fact that he is better qualified for the post than the person appointed, a certain Mr. Grant. The latter has ‘merely’ the College of Surgeons Diploma, while Boden has both this and the Apothecaries Hall Diploma. He feels he is best qualified for the post and asks for their attention. Robert Boden remained unmarried until late middle age, when he seems to have married his housekeeper.

John and Ann Boden had at least nine other children after Joseph. Unusually, perhaps, it would be Joseph’s younger brother, yet another John Boden, born in 1816, who would inherit the family farm.

Joseph Boden’s mother Ann died at the age of 48 in 1840, the year before Joseph married Elizabeth Robb. In the census of June 1841, taken four months after that marriage, John Boden is described as a farmer, and is said to be living in Morley with his adult and teenage children, as well as a Richard Boden (who from his age looks to be another brother), and a number of agricultural labourers who are obviously employees.

At the time of the 1851 census, John Boden would be a visitor in the home of Derbyshire–born bookkeeper Joseph Weston in Lodge Lane, Toxteth Park, Liverpool. Joseph, originally from Derbyshire, had married John’s daughter (and Joseph’s sister) Mary in that same year. The Westons would emigrate to Australia two years later, but both Mary and their two infant children would die on the voyage.

Joseph’s younger brother John Boden junior would be living at Morley Hayes in 1851, where he was obviously minding the farm while his father was away. At the same address are his sister Jane, a female visitor, and two servants. The 1861 census finds John senior, now 77, back at Morley Hayes, where his farm has expanded from 210 to 214 acres and where he now employs two men and three boys. John died in September of that same year. The executors of his will were his son John and his brother Robert, the surgeon. This is a photograph of his tombstone in Morley churchyard, kindly sent to me by fellow family history researcher Tony Bennett:


Joseph Boden: dentist

We don’t know when or where Joseph Boden trained to be a dentist, or if indeed he had any medical qualifications. According to one source, in the early nineteenth-century dentistry was still in the process of transforming itself from a trade into a respectable profession, while ‘many practitioners continued to follow dentistry as a sideline to their main occupation’. Undoubtedly many who claimed to be dentists were actually quacks. The leading anaesthetist and dentist James Robinson claimed that ‘a brass plate and brazen impudence’ were all the diplomas necessary to be a dentist in Victorian England.

dentist-caricature copy

A caricature of nineteenth-century dentistry (via Zene-Artzney)

However, given that his uncle was a qualified surgeon, it seems likely that Joseph was also properly trained, and indeed that Robert Boden might have influenced his nephew’s choice of career and even advised him to go south to London. If that’s the case, then Joseph probably began his training in London in his late teens. His near contemporary, the poet John Keats, was apprenticed to a surgeon and apothecary at the age of 14 and registered as a medical student at Guy’s Hospital when he was 19. Boden would have begun to practise as qualified dentist in the mid- to late-1830s, when he was in his early twenties.

First marriage

As in the case of his future wife Elizabeth Robb, it’s frustrating that (at this stage anyway) we don’t have any official records for Joseph Boden between his christening and his first marriage. And, as noted in previous posts, that marriage was not, in fact, to Elizabeth.

On 13th December 1838, a couple of months before his twenty-fourth birthday, Joseph Boden, described on the marriage certificate as a dentist and the son of John Boden, a farmer, married Georgiana Westbrook, daughter of the late Thomas Westbrook, at the parish chapel of St Pancras in London. Bride and groom were said to be of full age and both gave their address as 27 Gresse Street.

But who was Georgiana Westbrook, and how did Joseph Boden come to meet and marry her? The elusive Georgiana will be the subject of my next post.