A new theory about the parents of Sarah Holdsworth (born 1806, Bethnal Green)

I’ve written before about the complicated links between my Holdsworth, Roe and Blanch ancestors, who lived in Stepney and Bethnal Green in the early 19th century. In that earlier post, I noted my discovery that the Thomas Parker who married Eliza Roe, daughter of my great-great-great-grandparents Daniel Roe and Eliza Holdsworth, was the son of the Thomas Parker who had married Sarah Holdsworth. At the time, I believed that Sarah was the daughter of John Holdsworth, and thus Eliza Holdsworth’s cousin. However, I now think that she was the daughter of John’s brother William, and thus Eliza’s sister.  This means that when Thomas Parker junior married Eliza Roe in 1853, he would have been marrying his first and not his second cousin. Although prohibited today, marriage between first cousins was perfectly legal in the 19th century: Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, and Charles Darwin and his wife Emma Wedgewood, were famous examples.

What has led me to this conclusion? Our knowledge of the history of the Holdsworth family begins with the family tree drawn up by Joseph Cook in the 1870s, as part of his campaign to prove a claim by his wife’s Holdsworth relatives to the Mortimer estate in Yorkshire (I intend to write about this claim, and about the Holdsworth family’s Yorkshire origins, in a future post). Work on the family tree was continued by James Joseph Holdsworth, to whom Cook passed the information when he departed for Ceylon in about 1880 (I’m grateful to my fellow researcher and distant relative Adrian Holdsworth, a descendant of J.J. Holdsworth, for these details).

According to the trees sketched out by these two men, which were based largely on family knowledge and memory, both John Holdsworth and his brother William (both of whom were, incidentally, my 4 x great grandfathers) had daughters by the name of Sarah. Neither tree provides any details of husband or children for John’s daughter Sarah, while under William’s daughter Sarah we read ‘dead, some children living’.

St Matthew, Bethnal Green, in 1818

We have no birth or baptismal records for Sarah Holdsworth, daughter of John. However, for William’s daughter Sarah we have the record of her christening, which took place at St Matthew, Bethnal Green, on 20 July 1829 when she was 23 years old: the register gives a birth date of 19 Jan 1806. Her father William is described as a cordwainer and her address is given as West Street, which was one of the roads leading off Green Street, to the east of Bethnal Green.

Although we don’t know when or where the other Sarah, daughter of John Holdsworth, was born, we know from census records that all of her siblings were born in Oxfordshire: Eliza (not to be confused with William’s daughter Eliza) in Chipping Norton in 1798, Keziah in Oxford in 1804, and Joseph, also in Oxford, in 1807. Apparently there were another two other children, John born in 1800, and Ann, but I have no further information about them.

What do we know about the Sarah Holdsworth who married Thomas Parker senior on 8 October 1821 at St George in the East? According to the 1851 census, this Sarah Holdsworth was born in about 1806. The date fits exactly with the one given in the adult christening record for William’s daughter Sarah. Of course, John’s daughter Sarah might also have been born in the same year. However, the 1841 census record clearly states that Sarah, wife of Thomas Parker, was born in Middlesex, and the 1851 census specifically records that she was born in Bethnal Green. Since we know that John Holdsworth and his family were definitely living in Oxford in 1804 and in 1807, it seems unlikely they would have been in Bethnal Green for the birth of their daughter Sarah. On the other hand, we know from the records of Little Alie Street Baptist Meeting that in 1806 William Holdsworth was living in Wilmot Street, on the borders of Mile End and Bethnal Green.

Bethnal Green in 1827: from Greenwood's map (West Street is to the south of Green Street, connecting with North Street and South Parade: click on image for enlarged view)

Moreover, the address given for the 1829 adult baptism of Sarah Holdsworth, daughter of William – West Street, Bethnal Green – is the same road where Sarah, wife of Thomas Parker, was living at that date. Thomas and Sarah were in West Street when their son Thomas was baptised in the previous year (1828) and also when their son William was baptised in the following year (1830): both children, incidentally, were christened at St Matthew’s. The fact that Sarah used her maiden name for her own baptism need not overly concern us: presumably that was a bid to keep things simple and make it clear that she was William Holdsworth’s daughter.

A slight doubt entered my head when I recalled that the 1853 marriage of Thomas Parker junior to Eliza Roe was witnessed by John and Keziah Blanch. Keziah was the daughter of John Holdsworth, and thus the sister of the ‘other’ Sarah. If my original assumption about Sarah’s parentage had been correct, then Thomas’ marriage would have been witnessed by his aunt and uncle. However, we know that Keziah was also close to her cousins – the children of William Holdsworth. After all, her daughter Mary Ann Blanch had married another of Eliza’s children, Daniel Roe, five years earlier, in 1848: John and Keziah were witnesses on that occasion too. And the Blanch family were close neighbours of the Parkers, living as they did in Green Street, Bethnal Green.

I developed this new theory about Sarah Holdsworth’s parentage while trying to find out more about her husband, silk weaver Thomas Parker. I’ll say more about Thomas in another post.

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