My great grandfather Charles Edward Robb married Louisa Bowman on 16th December 1877 at St. Luke’s church, Victoria Docks. He was 26 and she was 21. I’ve written about the Bowmans before, but now that more London parish records are available at Ancestry, I’ve been able to fill in some of the gaps in the story of my great grandmother’s family.

Louisa Bowman was born on 29th September 1856 and was christened on 15th June 1863 at St. Matthews church Pell Street in the parish of St. George in the East, as part of a mass family baptism that also included her sisters Mary Ann and Charlotte and her brother John, as well as her cousins Mary Ann and Sophia. The address given for Louisa and her siblings was 15 Pell Street, a road running north to south from Cable Street to Ratcliffe Highway, between Wellclose Square to the west and Princes Square to the east.


Ratcliffe Highway

Princes Square

Princes Square

Louisa was the daughter of John Bowman, an umbrella (frame) maker, and Elizabeth Jane Larke, who were married on 2nd November 1851 at St. Philip’s church, Bethnal Green. At the time of their marriage John was living at 2 Somerset Court and Elizabeth at 39 Pell Street.

The Bowmans

John Bowman was born on 19th December 1828 and baptised at St. Mary’s, Stratford-le-Bow on 11th February 1829. The family address is given simply as ‘Bow’. John’s father was Robert Bowman, a labourer, and his mother was Caroline Reed.  Robert Bowman was born in about 1802 in Middlesex, but so far I’ve been unable to find out anything about his family. Caroline Reed was born in Stepney in about 1798, but beyond that her origins are as obscure as her husband’s. The couple married on 6th January 1828 at St. Mary’s, Whitechapel.

John was their first child, their other children being Robert (born 1832), Joseph (1836), Charlotte (1838) and Mary (1840). The family seems to have moved around the London area: Robert junior was christened in the parish of St. Saviour’s, Southwark (address given as Pleasant Row), Joseph at All Saints, Edmonton (Barrowfield Lane), and Charlotte and Mary (or Maria) in St. Botolph’s, Aldgate (8 Harrow Alley).

At the time of the 1841 census the Bowmans were living at 4 Harrow Alley. This narrow street ran south from Aldgate High Street, close to the point where it meets Whitechapel High Street. It was also known in the 19th century as Blood Alley, because of the number of slaughterhouses located there.

horwood aldgate

Aldgate in Horwood’s 1792 map: Harrow Alley in bottom right hand corner

Robert Bowman senior died in January 1842, age 40. His son John was 13 years old. The next record we have for John is ten years later, in the 1851 census, when he was still living with his widowed mother Caroline, a charwoman, though the family address was now 3 Somerset Court, Aldgate (John would also give No. 3 as his address when he married in 1851), which I assume was close to Somerset Street, a little to the east of Harrow Alley. John, 22, worked as an umbrella frame maker, an occupation he would pursue for most of the rest of his life. Also still at home were Robert junior, 18, a light porter; Joseph, 15, an errand boy; and Charlotte, 13. I assume that Mary/Maria, born in 1839, did not survive.

In 1861 John’s mother Caroline, now 64, was living in Little Somerset Street (another name for Somerset Court?), with her unmarried son Robert, 27, a painter. By this date Joseph, a packing case maker, had married Elizabeth and was living at 4 Thomas Place, close to Pell Street. They had two children: Joseph, 4, and Sophia, 2 (the latter, with her sister Mary Ann, would be christened in 1863 at the group baptism ceremony mentioned above). I’ve yet to find any record of Charlotte Bowman after 1851.

In 1871 Caroline Bowman was living with her son Joseph and his family in Crown Place, Mile End Old Town. She died there four years later.

The Larkes

Louisa Bowman’s mother, Elizabeth Jane Larke, was born on 14th May 1831 but not christened until 17th February 1833, at the church of St. John in Wapping. She was the daughter of Charles Larke, a labourer, and his wife Mary. It’s likely that the family was living at the address in Neptune Street where they could be found 7 years later, in the 1841 census.

Neptune Street, which was only just in Wapping, ran south from Wellclose Square to the Ratcliffe Highway.

Horwood Neptune Street

A section from  Horwood’s 1792 map, showing Neptune Street running south from Wellclose Square, and Pell Street just visible to bottom left of Princes Square

According to the excellent website of St George’s in the East, there was a notorious prison in the street:

The prison in Neptune Street was commonly known as the ‘Sly House’, because felons who entered it left by a subterranean passage to the Tower and the docks, from which the convict ship Success left. When it closed and the King’s Arms public house took over the site, the landlord would open the cells, with their heavily-bolted doors, grilles, plank beds, fetters and straitjackets, to visitors.

Other sources are more sceptical, and it seems more likely that the prison was mainly used for debtors, sent there from the Court House in the same street. The street no longer exists, with today’s Wellclose Street standing in its place.

We know little of Elizabeth’s father Charles Larke, beyond the fact that he died in 1840.  As for Mary, we know from later census records that she was born in Chard, Somerset, though others give her place of birth as Dorset. Although I’ve yet to find any record of their marriage, Charles probably married Mary in about 1823, since their first child John Thomas was born around 1824 (according to his marriage certificate).  In fact, he is almost certainly the John Thomas Trawin Larke, born to Charles and Mary Larke on 14th September 1824 and baptised on 3rd October at the parish church of St. Pancras. His parents were said to be living in Ashby Street at the time, and Charles was working as a labourer. The additional middle name ‘Trawin’ may give us a clue as to Mary’s maiden name, or alternatively it could be Charles’ mother’s maiden name (there were a number of Trawins living in Devon at the time, but I’ve yet to find a Somerset link).

Another older brother, Charles Simeon Larke, was born on 31st May 1829 and baptised at St John’s Wapping, the family address being given as Neptune Street.  It’s intriguing that Charles senior’s occupation has changed in the intervening five years from labourer to clerk. Of even greater interest is the possibility that Charles Simeon Larke was baptised twice. There’s a record in Pallot’s index, and also in the parish records, asserting that a Charles Simeon Larke, son of Charles and Mary Larke of Ashby Street, was baptised at St. Pancras in 1826. Of course, the simpler explanation might be that the first Charles Simeon died in infancy, and the next son to come along was given the same name.

Elizabeth also had a younger sister, Louisa, born in about 1834, but so far I’ve been unable to find any record of her birth.

The 1841 census finds the widowed Mary Larke, 35, living in Neptune Street with her four children. John, 15, is the only one working: his occupation is virtually illegible, though I imagined for a while that it included the word ‘umbrella’, thus providing a possible clue as to how his sister Elizabeth met her future husband.

At some point in the next ten years, the Larkes moved to 39 Pell Street, which was the address given by Elizabeth when she married John Bowman in 1851, and also by her brother John Thomas when he married Elizabeth Neighbour in 1857.  The 1851 census has 49 year old widowed laundress Mary living at what looks like No. 2 Court Pell Street, with her son John, 24, a labourer, and her daughter Jane, 19 (I’m assuming this is Elizabeth Jane, and that she used her two Christian names interchangeably). Interestingly, the latter is said to be working as a parasol maker: another clue as to how she might have met her umbrella-maker husband John Bowman.

In 1861, Mary was living at 15 Pell Street with her daughter Elizabeth, son-in-law John Bowman (they were working, presumably together, as an umbrella coverer and umbrella frame maker), and her four grandchildren (though they were classed as two separate households within the same building). By now, Mary was working as a confectioner, so perhaps No. 15 Street was a sweet shop. In 1871, when she was 69, Mary was still living with the Bowmans (now at 29 Pell Street) and was described as a ‘small shop keeper’. Similarly in 1881, when she was 79 and still working a ‘shopkeeper (sweets)’.  There’s a record of a ‘Mary Larks’ dying in the parish in 1883 that looks like a match: she is certainly not mentioned in the 1891 census.

In 1861 John Thomas Larke could be found living in Deal Street, Stepney, with his wife Elizabeth and their sons Robert and John, and working as a police constable.  I haven’t yet found them in the 1871 census, but in 1881, John, described as a labourer, and Elizabeth, were living in Saxon Road, and in 1891 John, by now retired, and Elizabeth were in Alfred Street, Lower Holloway. John died in Islington in 1901, at the age of 77.

A Charles Simeon Larke turns up in the electoral roll of Wellington, New Zealand, for 1865-6, living in Murphies Street. I can find no record of what happened to their younger sister Louisa.

The children of John Bowman and Elizabeth Larke

Before Louisa, John and Elizabeth had another daughter, Caroline Jane, born in December 1853: at the time of her baptism the following February the family was living at 19 Christian Street, not far from Pell Street. Louisa’s younger siblings were John (born 1859), Mary Ann (1860), Elizabeth (1865), Joseph Robert (1869), William Charles (1871) and Charlotte Emma (1874). All of these were born at 29 Pell Street.

John Bowman worked as an umbrella frame maker for most of his life, though in 1891, when he was 62, he was employed as a light porter. In 1901, when he and Elizabeth were living alone at 29 Pell Street, the 72 year old John was described as a packer of furniture. John Bowman died in 1906 at the age of 77. Elizabeth died in 1910, age 79.