When I started researching my family history, I had an image of my family as firmly rooted in London’s East End. As I’ve progressed with my research, I’ve been surprised to discover their extensive West End connections. Two of my great grandfathers – Charles Edward Robb (1851) and Joseph Priestley Roe (1862) – were born in Soho. During the course of the nineteenth century, branches of both my father’s and my mother’s family migrated eastwards – from the West End, via the ‘old’ East End of Stepney and Mile End, to the new suburbs of East and West Ham.
I’ve also been fascinated to see how the various strands of my family overlapped with each other geographically, often living, unknown to each other, in neighbouring streets. It’s fascinating to think that various members of the Robb and Roe families may have passed each other in the street in the 1850s, in Soho or in Stepney, even though there would be no connection between them until my parents met a hundred years or so later.
The Robb family’s West End connections may derive from the fact that Charing Cross was the terminus for coaches arriving from outside London. When Charles Edward Stuart Robb and his family arrived from Yorkshire in the 1820s or 1830s (having moved there from Scotland some years earlier) they may simply have found the nearest affordable lodgings. The 1841 census gives their address as ‘Charing Cross’ but doesn’t provide a house or building number. The proximity to the law courts (at the other end of the Strand) may have helped, though we can’t be sure whether Charles’ and his sons’ legal interests predated the move to London, or were a result of the need to find work once they arrived (Charles worked as a solicitor’s clerk, as did his son George, and William was a law stationer’s clerk).
In 1851 we find Charles’ son William, recently widowed, living in Queen Street, Soho, and his two daughters staying with his in-laws in nearby Gerrard Street. As far as we know, Daniel and Mary Ann Roe had not moved to the area by this date, though Mary Ann’s uncle David Blanch had lived in nearby King Street ten years earlier, and the Ellis family with whom the Blanches were closely linked were still living in neighbouring Richmond Street.
In fact, as the Roe and Blanch families moved west, the Robbs were moving east. 1861 finds Daniel and Mary Ann Roe in Great Crown Court on the western edge of Soho, together with Mary Ann’s parents who have moved from Stepney. At the same time, we find that William Robb has moved to Stepney, with his second wife Marianne and their young family. He would later move further east to Mile End and eventually die in Whitechapel.
This move eastwards not only brought the Robbs into close proximity with the Bowman family of Whitechapel, thus making it possible for William’s son Charles Edward to meet and marry Louisa Bowman in 1877. It also meant they were now in the same part of London as Frederick French, a Limehouse shoemaker, and George Webb, a Wapping house decorator, whose children would marry and produce a daughter, Polly, who would eventually marry Charles’ son Arthur Robb.
The fact that Charles and his wife Louisa moved eastwards to the new suburbs of West and East Ham was probably inevitable, given the general shift eastwards among the population of the East End, and the availability of work in the expanding docks (Charles worked there as a tally clerk for a while). Joseph Priestley Roe’s move east was more accidental, and was due first to the death of his parents around 1870, and the fact that one of the aunts who looked after him was Emma Trader (nee Blanch), who happened to live in West Ham with her butcher husband Walter, with whom the young Joseph worked for a time. Soon afterwards he met and married Eliza Bailey, a young jute spinner from an old agricultural family living in Wall End, East Ham.
After a number of house moves, Joseph and Eliza Roe and family ended up in Katherine Road, East Ham, which is where their daughter Minnie Louisa would meet her future husband, George John Londors, from another old agricultural family in Barking.