The Dibben’s of Sussex, England

Originally when I started this blog entry, I wanted to write about my Great-Grandfather Walter Dibben who was an entrepreneur from Chicago and made his fortune in Los Angeles with only an 8th-grade education.  But I have found that I can’t really tell his story without first telling the story of his parents John Dibben and Olive Marner who emigrated from England to Chicago in 1873. Walter was most definitely a product of his upbringing and the obstacles his family faced proved to be the biggest drive for his ambition. So first, let me tell you about John and Olive.

John Dibben was born in 1843 and raised in Worthing, Sussex, England. His father Reuben Dibben was a blacksmith and his mother Mary Ann (Boiling) was at home raising their 11 children. John followed his father in his career and was apprenticed as a blacksmith by the time he was 17 years old according to the 1861 census.

Olive Marner (born in 1849) lived a mile away from John in Broadwater.  Her mother also named Olive (Bright) ran a grocery store. According to the 1861 census, Olive (Jr.) is living with her mother, her 3 brothers, her sister Florence and a boarder Robert Slather. I have been unable to find a death certificate for Olive’s father so it is unclear if he died or ran off from the family. Olive (Sr.) later marries Robert Stather…so there is definitely a story there to be researched.

Olive and John married at the Parish Church in Broadwater on the 19th of Sept 1869 when she was 20 years old and he was 27.

St. Mary’s Church Broadwater (picture taken by Harry Dibben in 1928)

The newly married couple moved Islington (now northern London) where he worked as journeyman blacksmith by the 1871 census.

Worthing, Sussex to Islington is a distance of 58 miles. It takes an hour and a half on a train today.

They were living at 104 Georges Road in a building with 16 other people. All the adults in the families were skilled laborers: bricklayers, butchers, printers, and a dressmaker.  They were no doubt serving the growing population of industrial London. The conditions must have been crowded and keeping things sanitary must have been a struggle.

It was here in Islington, that they lost their first child Olive from a rare birth defect on the 8th of March 1871 when she was just 11 weeks old. 

Dibben Family Bible – 1st death is their daughter Olive Dibben in 1871

They returned to Worthing before the birth of the 2nd child John Jr. Sadly, he died on the 18th of March 1872 from marasmus (malnutrition/failure to thrive).

John Dibben Jr. Death Registration -permission to reproduce when Crown Copyright is acknowledged

Olive quickly became pregnant again with their third child. Their son Harry was born on the 17th of March 1873 at the Dibben family home and business on Montague Street in Worthing.

Home and shop of the Dibben’s on Montague Street in Worthing, Sussex. Harry Dibben took this picture on his trip to England in 1928.

Perhaps John and Olive feared the death of another child due to the conditions their daily lives exposed them to or they were unable to make a satisfactory living, but whatever their reasons, they made the decision to immigrate to the United States. Though no record of their ship crossing has been found yet, the records indicate they traveled to America sometime in 1873 after the birth of Harry. They made their way to Chicago to begin their new life. 

More about their life in Chicago in the next post!

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1 Response to The Dibben’s of Sussex, England

  1. Laura says:

    I’m excited to read the next installment!

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