George Williams was born in Winchester, Hampshire and baptised on 2 April 1823 at St. Thomas Church. He was the fourth child born to Benjamin and Jane Williams. Their first child, Ann, was baptised on 7 January 1816 at St. Mary’s in Carisbrooke on the Isle of Wight but shortly after her first birthday, she died and was buried in Newport on 19 January 1817. Their second child, Jane, was baptised on 28 February 1819 at St. Mary’s Church in Carisbrooke but she too died before her first birthday and was buried in Newport on 30 December 1819. Their third child, Henry, was baptised on 4 February 1821, again at St. Mary’s Church. Sometime after Henry’s birth, Benjamin and Jane moved to Winchester. Perhaps they thought it would be a safer place for Henry, after the infant deaths of their two daughters or maybe Benjamin was looking for work as a coach maker but whatever the reason, the family was on the mainland in Winchester when George was baptised. Perhaps Benjamin’s new job did not work out or maybe the family was just homesick but sometime after George’s birth, the young family returned to the Isle of Wight.
When George was about five years old his younger brother Charles was born but not long after that, tragedy struck the family and George’s father, Benjamin, died at the age of forty. He was buried in Newport on 19 May 1829.
With no means of support now that Benjamin was gone, Jane did not know how she could feed her family. By the end of May, she had no choice but to swallow her pride and accept relief from the parish. As a widow with three children to support, Jane received five shillings a week from the parish and when it became clear that this wasn’t enough their allowance was raised to the maximum of six shillings a week. Jane continued to struggle to feed and shelter the children but finally, on 14 August 1830, with the baby Charles ill, she had no choice but to enter the “House of Industry” in Newport on the recommendation of the Guardians of the Poor Committee.
The House of Industry in Newport was built about 1771 to give food and shelter to the poor of the surrounding parishes. “The House” was a large building, capable of accommodating up to 700 people. Most of the inhabitants were blind, crippled, or elderly but those that were able bodied worked to produce sacks for coal, flour, or biscuits.
Not long after the family arrived at “The House”, little Charlie became ill and died. He was buried in the House of Industry cemetery on 8 September 1830. Stricken with grief over the loss of her baby and desperate to escape the workhouse, Jane discharged herself on 2 October 1830 leaving Henry and George behind.
With little choice in the matter, Henry and George settled to life at “The House”. As in many workhouses of the time, their daily breakfast would have been bread and butter served at eight o’clock in the morning. Their dinner was probably taken at noon. On Sundays, they might eat boiled beef and on Mondays they would likely have peas-porridge, made with the water from Sunday’s boiled beef. On Tuesdays they might have only bread and butter and Wednesdays might bring beef soup. Thursday was probably bread and butter again. Friday was often the best meal of the week with potatoes or green peas or beans with fat bacon or pork. Saturdays they likely had to make do with rice-milk. Their supper, after their days work was probably either more bread and butter or a bit of potato.
On 19 October 1833, Henry was discharged from the workhouse at twelve years of age. Probably he had found a situation where he could be apprenticed and work for his own keep. Finally on 2 June 1834, George was also discharged from the workhouse.
By the time of the 1841 census, George had found his life’s work. He was working as an apprentice gardener and living with the Young family. Next door to Young house was the Turner family consisting of Charles Turner a gardener, his wife Jane, and a thirteen year old daughter also named Jane. It was possible that George was apprenticed to him although an official indenture has not been found.
Ten years later, George was twenty-six years old and still working as a gardener. He lodged with Jacob and Helen Day and their young family at 45 Mount Street in Ryde. In due course, George met Helen Day’s sister Harriet and the two began keeping company.