The Roes of Luton revisited

In the last post, I speculated about a possible connection between the Huckle family of Biggleswade – one of whom, Elizabeth Milton nee Huckle, was looking after young Caleb and Eliza Roe at the time of the 1841 census – and Sarah Huckle, who married shoemaker William Roe of Luton. If it turns out that such a connection exists, it might provide evidence for a more significant link – between my great great great grandfather Daniel Roe, also a shoemaker, and the Roes of Luton.

As I noted in a much earlier post, I first became interested in the Luton Roes when I was searching for information about Daniel Roe. I kept being directed to records for two Daniel Roes in Luton, and the curious thing was, they were both the sons of shoemakers. In the 1841 census for Barbers Lane, Luton, we find William Roe, 25, whose occupation seems to be ‘shoemaker’, Sarah Roe, also 25, John Roe, Daniel Roe, 6, Sophia Roe, 5, Mary Roe, 3, and Isaac Roe, 6 months, as well as Mary Huckle, 55, occupation unclear (possibly dressmaker?).  (Remember, ages in the 1841 census were often rounded up or down.) The latter is almost certainly Sarah’s mother: we know that Sarah Huckle, daughter of John and Mary Huckle, married William Roe on 26th January 1831 at St. Mary’s church in Luton. Barbers Lane is a short, narrow alley in the centre of Luton, running south-west between Guildford Street and Silver Street, only a short walk from St. Mary’s.

Barbers Lane, Luton (Google Maps)

In 1851, William Roe, 40, now clearly described as a shoemaker master employing one man, is still in Barbers Lane with Sarah, 38, a straw bonnet maker, John, 19 and Daniel, 17 (both journeyman shoemakers), Isaac, 10, Mary Ann, 13, and William, 7; together with Sophia Fensome, 14, a niece and straw bonnet sewer, William Fensome, 20, a married nephew and journeyman shoemaker (presumably William senior’s employee?) and Sarah Fensome, 22, a married niece and also a straw bonnet sewer. All are said to have been born in Luton.

I’ve found out that Sophia and William Fensome were the children of Joseph Fensome and his wife Mary Huckle, who was the sister of Sarah Roe nee Huckle. William married Sarah Costin on 13th May 1848 at St. Mary’s, Luton.

According to other family trees at Ancestry, two of William Roe’s sons – John and Daniel – emigrated to America in 1854. In the US Federal Census of 1860, boot maker John Roe, his wife Eliza Cane, and their children John and William, can be found living in Foxboro, Norfolk, Massachusetts, two houses away from bonnet shop labourer Daniel Roe, his Scottish-wife Margaret Dixon and infant son Joseph. The remaining Roe children also seem to have scattered by the time of the 1861 census. Isaac Roe, 21, cordwainer, was living with his wife Eliza in Chobham Street, Luton at that date, and two of William’s other children – bonnet sewer Mary Ann Roe, 23, and her brother, William, 17, another shoemaker, were resident in Back Court, Luton. Both were unmarried.

There’s a record that appears to show William Roe’s wife Sarah dying in 1852. Certainly, if we are to believe the census record for Barbers Lane, then by 1861 William Roe had acquired a whole new family. The record shows William Roe, 50, a cordwainer born in Luton, together with his wife Elizabeth, 40, born in Shillington (a village about 25 miles north of Luton, now in Hertfordshire), daughter Sarah, 16, a bonnet sewer, son James, 14, a stationer’s lad, son Henry, 5, and two boarders – both bonnet sewers – the aptly named Harriet Straw, 25, and Charlotte Odell, 17.

St. Mary's church, Luton

It appears that William Roe remarried very soon after Sarah’s death. There’s a record of a William Roe marrying Elizabeth Maddocks at St. Mary’s in Luton on 7th June 1852. He was 41 and she was 31: ages that match the 1861 census record.  This is probably the same Elizabeth Maddocks, a straw bonnet sewer of 28, to be found lodging in Hitchin Road, Luton, in the 1851 census. Elizabeth is described as unmarried, but with her are Sarah Elizabeth Maddocks, 6, and James Maddocks, 4 – names and ages that exactly match two of the children to be found living with William and Elizabeth Roe in Barbers Lane in 1861. So it seems likely that Sarah and James are William’s step-children, and that on their mother’s marriage they took his surname, possibly to disguise Elizabeth’s previous unmarried status.

I haven’t been able to find any trace of William Roe after 1861, and there’s a record that shows someone of that name dying in Luton in 1863, when he would have been 52.

But William Roe and his sons are not the only shoemaking Roes to be found in Luton around this time. Elsewhere in the town, the 1841 census finds Peter Roe, 42, his wife Dinah, 40, and their children George, 8, Daniel, 6, and James, 2, in Adelaide Terrace, George Street. I haven’t come across them in the 1851 census yet, but in 1861 they were in Princess Street, and Peter is clearly described as a boot- and shoemaker. His wife Dinah Scrivener (they married in 1827) was born in Kings Walden, Hertfordshire (only a few miles from Luton). By this date George and James appear to have left home, but son Daniel, a carpenter, and his wife Fanny (they had married in 1861: Fanny was from Aylesbury) were living with them.

Princess Street, Luton (Google Maps)

By 1871 the family had moved to Stuart Street: Peter and Dinah Roe, now 71 and 73 respectively, were at No. 16, while Daniel, Fanny, and their children Edward, Ann and Fanny, were living next door at No. 18. Peter died in 1873 and in 1881 Daniel, Fanny and family were living in Lee Street, while Dinah was in an alms house in Chobham Street, where she died in the same year.

Were Peter Roe and William Roe, two men living in the same town, sharing a surname and a trade, related? If so, were they brothers, or cousins? And is it possible that either or both of them was related to my 3 x great grandfather Daniel Roe, another shoemaker living 20 miles away in Biggleswade – or to John Roe, also a shoemaker and possibly Daniel’s father, 25 miles away in Layston?

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