One of the intriguing things about my maternal family tree is the fact that two of my great-great-great-grandmothers were cousins. My great-great-grandfather Daniel Roe married my great-great-grandmother Mary Ann Blanch on 30th October 1848 at St Anne’s church in Limehouse, east London. Mary Ann’s parents, who were witnesses to the marriage, were John and Keziah Blanch. John, a shoemaker like his new son-in-law, was the son of Bristol-born patten maker James Blanch. Keziah was the daughter of carpenter John Holdsworth, who was the son of Elizabeth Holdsworth née Gibson. Daniel’s parents were another Daniel Roe, also a shoemaker, and his wife Eliza. Eliza was the daughter of William Holdsworth, another son of Elizabeth Holdsworth.
So Daniel’s and Mary Ann’s mothers (Keziah Blanch and Eliza Roe) were first cousins; their maternal grandfathers (John and William Holdsworth) were brothers; and they shared a great-grandmother in Elizabeth Holdsworth (my 5 x great-grandmother). This means that, as well as being husband and wife, Daniel and Mary Ann Roe were also second cousins.
John and William Holdsworth were both born, in 1765 and 1771 respectively, in the Essex village of South Weald, where their father Joseph was a farmer, parish councillor and leet jury member. Joseph, originally from the Calderdale area of Yorkshire, was Elizabeth Holdsworth’s second husband: they had married in Bermondsey in 1763, following the death of her first spouse John Collins of Epping. Elizabeth’s original surname was Gibson: born in 1733, she was the daughter of John Gibson and Mary Greene from the parish of St Botolph, Aldgate.
John Holdsworth, born in 1765, was Joseph and Elizabeth’s second child; their first, Elizabeth, was born in the previous year but died at the age of sixteen. There were then three other children – Henry (1766), Sarah (1777) and Joseph (1770) – before William’s birth in 1771. The youngest child was Godfrey, born in 1773.
As they came to maturity, from the mid-1780s onwards, Joseph and Elizabeth Holdsworth’s offspring began to leave South Weald, mostly for London. It’s not entirely clear why, but the most likely explanation is that neither their family, nor the rural economy, was able to support them. I haven’t yet come across Joseph’s will, but it doesn’t appear that he left any property or much money to his children, and each of his sons would have to take up a manual trade. It also has to be remembered that the 1790s were a difficult period economically: 1795 became known as the Famine Year, when price increases resulting from the Napoleonic Wars and poor harvests increased the numbers living in poverty, at a time when the move towards enclosures was already bankrupting many small farmers. At the same time, we shouldn’t forget that moving to London and learning a trade was not restricted to the poverty-stricken: an earlier generation of my mother’s family, who came from comfortable yeoman stock, also beat a path to the city from their Sussex villages.
Added to all of this is the fact that Elizabeth Holdsworth née Gibson had been born and brought up in Aldgate, where members of her family had been living for generations, and that her maternal grandfather Joseph Greene, a goldsmith, had deep ancestral roots in Stepney, in whose parish churchyard he had established the family tomb.
The first Holdsworth sibling to leave home seems to have been Sarah, who married plumber Edward Porter at the church of St Botolph, Bishopsgate in October 1786, when she was 19 years old. Two years later Edward and Sarah would be living in Mile End Old Town. We know from land tax records that Joseph Holdsworth junior was already living in Marmaduke Street, in the parish of St George-in-the-East, in 1790. Two years later, in February 1792, he would marry Margaret Miller at Christ Church, Spitalfields. William Holdsworth, my 4 x great-grandfather, married Lydia Evans St Botolph’s, Bishopsgate, in November 1792, when he was 21. Two years later he would also be living in Marmaduke Street and working, like his brother Joseph (and almost certainly alongside him) as a cordwainer. In 1793, Godfrey Holdsworth married Diana Cam at St Paul’s church, Covent Garden, and three years later they were living in Mile End Old Town, where Godfrey worked as a plumber, perhaps with his brother-in-law Edward Porter. As for Henry, we know that he was still alive in 1809 when his mother wrote her will, but we have no other records for him.
Although we can’t be sure, my other 4 x great-grandfather John Holdsworth seems to have been the last of Joseph and Elizabeth’s children to leave home, and may have remained in South Weald until after his father’s death in 1795. (It’s almost certain that Joseph’s widow Elizabeth left Essex for London at around this time, possibly living with her daughter Sarah in Mile End Old Town.) Unlike his siblings, John moved first to Oxfordshire, where he seems to have got married in 1797. Some sources give the name of his wife as Eliza Ann Webb. However, records found at FamilySearch indicate that John and Mary Holdsworth had a daughter Eliza christened in Chipping Norton in November 1798 and a son named William baptised in the same place in December 1800. We know from later census records that John’s daughter Eliza was indeed born in Chipping Norton, though it would seem that his son William did not survive. Census records also indicate that John’s daughter Keziah, my great-great-great-grandmother, was born in the parish of St Clement’s in Oxford in about 1804 and that his son Joseph was born in the same city in about 1809. Family sources suggest that John also had a daughter Ann, who would marry a Mr Morley, and perhaps another daughter Sarah.
In the meantime, William and Lydia Holdsworth had produced six children: Isaac (in 1794), Samuel (1795), Phoebe (1796), my other great-great-great grandmother Eliza (1801), Edward (1803) and Sarah (1806). The first three were born in Marmaduke Street, while the last three were born in Mile End Old Town. The births of at least two of these children – Phoebe and Eliza – can be found in the Nonconformist records: William and Lydia Holdsworth were members of the Little Alie Street Baptist meeting in Whitechapel.
John Holdsworth and his family seem to have joined their relatives in east London some time around, or shortly after, the death of Elizabeth Holdsworth in 1809. Certainly by 1812 John was paying land tax on a house in William Street, which was close to Marmaduke Street, and had been his brother Joseph’s address a few years earlier.
So by the second decade of the 19th century, my 4 x great-grandfathers John and William Holdsworth were both married with children and living in the Stepney area, where their daughters, Keziah and Eliza, my 3 x great-grandmothers, would grow up. In the next two posts, I will relate the life stories of these two cousins, both of whom survived into their eighties and thus witnessed at firsthand the enormous changes of the Victorian era.
Update: 1st October 2013
I’ve just come across evidence that John Holdsworth’s wife was called Mary, not Eliza Ann. In the archive of Oxfordshire parish records at Ancestry, I found a reference to the marriage of John Holdsworth and Mary Webb. The licence was issued on 22nd September 1797.