William Holdsworth: cordwainer or carrier?

In my timeline for the Holdsworth siblings, the last date I listed for my great-great-great-grandfather, William Holdsworth, was 1806, when his youngest child Sarah was born and when, according to the records of Little Alie Street Baptist Meeting, he was living in Wilmot Street, Bethnal Green. William would have been about 35 years old at the time (he was born in 1771). We can’t be sure whether his eldest son Isaac was still alive, but of his other children, Samuel would have been 11 years old, Phoebe 10, Eliza, 5 and Edward Porter, 3 (though, since there are no further records of him, we can’t be sure if the latter survived infancy). As far as we know, William’s wife Lydia survived these seven births and was also alive at this date, and was probably about the same age as William.

Recently I found burial records from Wycliffe Independent Chapel which suggest that both William and Lydia died in 1830, when they would have been around 60 years old. If these records are the right ones, then my 4 x great grandparents still had 14 or so years left to live after the birth of their youngest child. Where were they, and what were they doing, during that time?

Here is a list of the main events in their lives during this period:

1817 Son Samuel marries Lucy Roberts at St George the Martyr, Southwark

1820 Daughter Phoebe marries Thomas Chamberlin at St John, Hackney

1821 Daughter Sarah marries Thomas Parker at St George in the East

1822 Grandson Thomas Chamberlin junior born in Sugar Loaf Alley, Bethnal Green

1824 Granddaughter Phoebe Chamberlin born in Providence Place, Bethnal Green

1825 Daughter Eliza marries Daniel Roe in Blunham, Bedfordshire

1825 Granddaughters Sarah and Eliza Parker christened: family living in Park Street,                   Bethnal Green

1826 Granddaughter Anna Maria Roe born in Blunham

1828 Grandson Thomas Parker junior born in West Street, Bethnal Green

1829 Grandsons Daniel and Richard Roe born in Biggleswade

Daughter Sarah Holdsworth Parker christened as adult at St Matthew, Bethnal                     Green: living in West Street

This last record, like all earlier records, gives William Holdsworth’s occupation as ‘cordwainer’. However, there are indications that he might have pursued a different occupation in his later years.

The record of my 3 x great grandmother Eliza Holdsworth’s second marriage, to John Sharp, at St George in the East in September 1845, gives her father’s name as William Holdsworth and his rank or profession as ‘carrier’.  In the 19th century a carrier was a man with a horse and cart who provided a regular service transporting goods between towns and villages. Carriers would have a regular route,  often using a shop or inn as their collection and delivery point.

Carrier's cart, 19th century

Was William Holdsworth a carrier in his later years, or did the minister or clerk at St. George’s mis-hear, or mis-transcribe, ‘carrier’ for ‘cordwainer’? (Incidentally, this mention of William does not necessarily mean he was still alive at this date – he would have been 74 if he had been – since dead parents are not always noted as being ‘deceased’ in parish records.) We might be tempted to dismiss this single reference, if we did not have access to other records that might support the theory that William changed his occupation.

My fellow researcher and distant relative Ron Roe (we are both descendants of William Holdsworth, via his daughter Eliza) has found some entries in trade directories from this period which support this theory. Kent’s Directory of 1826 mentions the following carrier service: ‘Holdsworth, Woodford, blue boar, whitec(hapel)’. A listing in Pigot’s Directory of 1826 under ‘Woodford, Essex’ mentions ‘Stokoe, Spear’s, Well’s and Holdsworth’s Carts, daily,’ and  under carriers to London lists ‘John Spears, every morning at nine, to the Black Bell, Whitechapel, & returns in the evening. – And Wm Holdsworth, every morning at nine, to the Blue Boar, Whitechapel, and returns in the evening.’

A suggestion that William may not have been alone in this enterprise comes in the same directory, which under London carriers lists John Holdsworth and gives his route as  ‘Woodford, Flower Pot and Marlboro’ Head, Bishopsgate St., Half Moon, Gracechurch St, and Blue Boar, Aldgate.’  The journey from Woodford to Whitechapel covered about ten miles or so and the Blue Boar was a popular destination point for stage coaches from around the country.

Blue Boar Inn yard, c. 1850

The dates of these entries are not incompatible with my speculation that William Holdsworth died in 1830. And if the John Holdsworth mentioned here is his brother, then we know that someone matching his details was still alive, and living in Wellington Street, Mile End Old Town, at the time of the 1841 census.

When I first studied these records, I was sceptical, since they suggested that William and/or John Holdsworth must have moved from Stepney to Woodford, since that was the daily starting-point for his/their cart service. However, I recently came across an intriguing reference that may support this theory. William’s grandson Thomas Parker junior, son of silk weaver Thomas Parker and Sarah Holdsworth, was baptised on 10 August 1828 at St Matthew Bethnal Green. His parents gave their address as West Street, Bethnal Green, and in the census records for 1851, 1861, 1871, 1891 and 1901 Thomas gives his place of birth as Bethnal Green. However, at the time of the 1881 census, Thomas gives a different birth place: Woodford, Essex.

Is this another clerical error, or evidence that although he was christened in Bethnal Green, Thomas was actually born in Woodford? His baptismal record states that he was born on 4 February 1828. Is it possible that his mother, Sarah, was actually staying with her parents – William and Lydia – in Woodford at the time, where her father’s (and possibly her uncle’s) carrier business was now based?

As for the burial records at Wycliffe Chapel: it’s possible that, even had they moved to Woodford, William and Lydia Holdsworth might still have expressed a wish to be buried at the Nonconformist chapel in  the area where they had spent most of their adult lives.

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