The Mug of John Phillip Babb (1830)

One of our members spotted this ceramic mug in the completed auctions on eBay and sent it to me. The item has since rolled off in the 5 months since she collected it and this writing. The answer as to the owner isn’t exactly straightforward and seeing this I kept delaying my research for a time when I could delve into it deeply. I’m on vacation and, as we all know, there is no where to go right now. So, yesterday I sat down and spent several hours researching the back story of this mug.

There were several questions about this mug that I needed to answer before I could say with any degree of confidence which John Phillip Babb this belonged to. There simply isn’t a John Phillip Babb born in 1830 in England. There is a John Philip (Philip with one “L” not two) baptized in 1825 and he is the singular person in the tree with this name combination, But there are a number of John Babbs that we don’t know a middle name for and perhaps this could have belonged to one of them.

This baptism record also happens 5 years prior to the date on the mug and my working theory was that it would be the date of birth on the mug. So, it just didn’t line up.

The eBay listing mentions that it’s origin is likely in Swansea which is in Wales due to the item that it was found with. So, I started my search there and had absolutely no luck. I then cast a wider net and looked across the entire UK. This is tedious because even when you input the middle name and select Exact Match only it gives you all the entries that have no middle name included. So, I had wade through more Johns than Stormy Daniels. This is what made the search take so long.

A singular record surfaced with a John Phillip Babb (Correctly Spelled) in Hackney which is a borough in London. His age at the time would point to a birthdate in 1830-1831 so I felt that this was our man and I proceeded down the rabbit hole. Moreover it indicates there is more than one John Phil(l)ip Babb in England and we need to sort out which one this could be.

So, the record in question is based on his interment in an Asylum in Hackney, London in a book called the “Register of Lunatics”. This word isn’t used anymore but was in common use at the time.

Click on image to view full sized copy. John Phillip’s record is second to the bottom of the sheet.

Normally once someone entered the Asylum or Workhouse system it was a one way ticket and they often died in the system with little to no chance to recover. So, I assumed he probably died there and thought I might not be able to prove this at all. I first set about trying to find him in the 1851 London Census, but that is a giant hot mess. Over the centuries London has gobbled up dozens and dozens of neighborhoods, small towns and large parts of surrounding counties. Making matters worse you never know exactly which municipality the record might have been recorded in when dealing with the Metropolis. I was getting despondent as I found nothing and my only good option was to once again resort to a UK wide search which would have yielded the same nothingness I got the first time.

In no mood for that I started to take a closer look at the record for anything else it might offer.

As it is very hard to read I’ll transcribe the important parts here:

Date of Admission: 27 Jul 1863
Name: John Phillip Babb
Age: 32
Location: Coloney Hatch
Residence: 58 Culford Road
Marital Status: Single
Whether Account is Settled: No
If Settled How: Order of Inter[ment] made on Stoke Damerel, Devon
Whether relations pay for the maintenance, and if so, the sum paid: Sept 1863
Observations: Mrs Wm Lethby, Sister, 58 Culford Road

So, this offers many more questions than it answers and I had to research each one for clues.

Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum

Friern Hospital (formerly Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum) was a psychiatric hospital in the parish of Friern Barnet close to a crossroads which had a hamlet known as Colney Hatch. In 1965, it became part of the London Borough of Barnet and in the early 21st century was converted to residential housing as Princess Park Manor and Friern Village. The hospital was built as the Second Middlesex County Asylum and was in operation from 1851 to 1993. After the County of London was created in 1889 it continued to serve much of Middlesex and of the newer county, London. During much of this time its smaller prototype Hanwell Asylum also operated.[1]

By Philafrenzy – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

At its height, Colney Hatch was home to 2,500 mental patients and had the longest corridor in Britain (It would take a visitor more than two hours to walk the wards).[2] For much of the 20th century, its name was synonymous among Londoners with any mental institution.


58 Culford Road

The building at 58 Culford Road where John lived with his sister and brother-in-law appears to have been replaced since that time. Today there stands a 4-plex multi-unit housing building. The street name has been changed to Lawford Road.

58 Culford (Lawford) Road, courtesy of

If Settled How: Order of Interment

While the other clues provided context, they do not answer the fundamental question of who this John Phillip Babb is. That changes now. The record states that John Phillip was interred by order of Stoke Damerel, which is a neighborhood name that you will no longer find on a map. It has been incorporated into the city of Plymouth in Devon, England. This is home to a significant enclave of Babbs and a place that is well known to me along with the neighboring locations of Morice Town, Devonport & Plymouth. The names are often synonymous in various records.

This signifies that John Phillip comes from Stoke Damerel. This now gives me a way to narrow my focus once again. There are 158 Babbs in the tree with Stoke Damerel connections and I have now just 10 Johns to search through. Seven of the 10 have known Middle names, so I can exclude all of them except for John Philip (One “L”) Babb who also lives there.

I’m still not ready to call this one done. John is a very common name and I need to eliminate all other possibilities. Two more are eliminated by their ages leaving John Babb (born 1831) in Monkleigh, but is located in Stoke Damerel by 1862 when he gets married to Sarah Southern. They proceed to have children over the next several years in Devonport, so he can safely be excluded for two reasons. He is married and our John Phillip in the Asylum is not. Additionally, he has no proximity to London to place him there.

I’m still lacking the smoking gun that I need to say with confidence that this is the right person and that there might not be another John Phillip that we haven’t discovered yet. You can’t prove a negative, but you need to give it all you’ve got before you give up. So, I keep further down the rabbit hole.


This one seems useless on the surface. The entry is exceedingly hard to interpret. At first is read it as Mr. Wm Lethby. Seeing it says sister just below that, I realize that it is Mrs. Wm Lethby. Still without a first name of the sister I have nothing to go on to prove this through what we refer to as a Collateral Relative. In lay terms it means to try to make the connection through a family member who will have different records that will shed light on your main search. It’s a last ditch effort since nothing else has panned out just yet.

The spelling of the last name is in doubt though, so I once again cast a wider net. I’ve had no luck finding John Phillip in the 1851 Census in London. So, I’m dreading it a little. My initial search for William and an un-named Babb come up empty in London, so I try in Devon and get the same results. My last ditch effort isn’t going so well.

Having recently been burned by Ancestry’s lack of records in Cornwall, I turned to and in moments am presented with the Marriage Record for William Letheby (sic) and Mary Ann Babb.

Finally, we have something to go on. William is listed as Traveler on the Marriage Record which explains how they ended up in London after their marriage. Mary Ann’s father died sometime between 1841-1851 and the family splintered into a number of directions. Without the primary bread winner families would often starve to death, so marrying off the kids was imperative to your survival.

Mary Ann is also a common given name, so there were a few of them to pick from, The father’s name John is also common, but there was only one person who fit the bill and her brother is no other than John Philip Babb!

Armed with this information I was able to locate William and Mary Ann in the 1861 Census living at 58 Culford Road! William is a Commercial Traveler of Woolen Cloths and we find that he was born in Plymouth and her in Devonport.

So, there you have it. We have come full circle and proven this connection through a secondary source. We eliminated the possibility of a secondary John Philip Babb along the way. It was a super long road to get there.

In Summary

This mug likely was likely given to him at his fifth birthday. As I said that out loud to my self I realized that no one would give a ceramic mug to a new born. The date on the cup is likely the date of creation and not the date of his birth. Why it is misspelled is something I cannot answer.

John Philip was apparently released a few months after his arrival at Colney Hatch and returned to live with Mary Ann & William. The following year on 13 May 1864 he died and his belongings were left to one of his other sister’s Harriet who he lived with and his mom in the 1851 & 1861 Censuses.

He does not appear to have married or bore offspring, so there would be no living descendants.

His father, John Babb is the Progenitor of the tree we refer to as Devon Pedigree 16.

Special Thanks to Cynthia Babb for making this amazing find! eBay giveth!

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