My grandmother – my father’s mother – Mary Emily Elizabeth (‘Polly’) Webb was the daughter of George Webb and Mary French, both of whom were born in 1874. Having filled in some of the gaps in my knowledge of the Webbs, it’s now time to revisit the French family and see if newly available records can throw more light on their origins.

Mary French (born 1874)

Mary French married George Webb on 1st August 1897 at St Paul’s, Bow Common. The couple’s address is given as 92 Burdett Road. Mary is said to be the daughter of Frederick French, a bootmaker. I’ve yet to find a birth or baptismal record for Mary, but we know her approximate year of birth from census records.

Frederick French (1847 – 1917)

We know from these same records that Mary was the fifth of eleven (?) children, born to Frederick French and Emily Hindley.  Frederick, described at the time as a cordwainer, married Emily, the daughter of ship chandler William Hindley, on Christmas Day, 1867, at All Saints church, Poplar. The couple’s address is given as Canal Road (which was not far from Burdett Road).


All Saints church, Poplar

Four years later, at the time of the 1871 census, Frederick and Emily (both age 24) were living in nearby Rhodeswell Road, Mile End Old Town, with their children Emily Mary (born in 1869) and Frederick William (born 1870). Both children are said to have been born in Limehouse.

In 1881 Frederick and Emily, now age 34, were still at 13 Rhodeswell Road, where they are both described as shoemakers. They now have seven children: Emily (born 1869), Frederick (1871), Seth (1872), Mary (my great grandmother, 1874), Jessie (1876), Caroline (1879) and Katherine (1881). All the children are said to have been born in Stepney.

By the time of the 1891 census, 44 year old Frederick and Emily were living at the house in Burdett Road from which their daughter would be married six years later. Frederick is now described as a boot and shoe manufacturer, and they have ten children still living with them, a number of whom appear to be working for the family business. Emily (22) is described as a tailoress, as is Mary (17), while Frederick (21) and Seth (19) are both working as boot riveters. Also living at home are Jessie (15), Caroline (12), Katherine (10), Grace (8), William (6) and Francis (4).

In 1901, the Frenches were still at 92 Burdett Road, which the census record describes as a bootmaker’s shop: it was sandwiched between a lead merchant and a corn chandler, and other premises in the street included a wardrobe dealer, a tobacconist and a builders’ materials shop. 54 year old Frederick is described as a bootmaker and as an employer. Sons Frederick (30), William (16) and Francis (14) are also described as bootmakers, while daughters Jessie (25), Caroline (22), Katherine (20) and Grace (18) are tailoresses. All of these are said to be working at home.

In 1911, another family tree at Ancestry has 64 year old Frederick French living at 198 Crownfield Road,  Cann Hall, Stratford, and working as a boot repairer. Apparently he died in 1917 in Camberwell.

Frederick French (1810 –  1887)

Mary French’s father Frederick was himself the sixth of eight children born to another Frederick French and his wife Sarah. Frederick senior was born in 1810 in Dorchester, Dorset. The first record we have of him is in the 1841 census, when the 31 year old Frederick, a labourer, is living in Parnham Street, Limehouse, with Sarah, 25, and their children Sarah (born in 1832), Seth (1834) and William (1839).

We don’t know when Frederick moved from Dorset to London – whether this was as a child with his parents or as a young man on his own. Nor do we know when he married Sarah, but given the ages of their children it seems likely it was around 1830, when Frederick would have been about 20. In later census records Sarah’s place of birth is given as Horselydown, Surrey, which was in the Bermondsey area, just across the Thames from Limehouse. At least one other family tree gives her maiden name as Sarah Ann Bonner, but I’ve yet to find any independent confirmation of this.

In 1851 Frederick, Sarah and their family were still living in Limehouse, but by now they had moved to 5 Wilson’s Place. By now, Frederick was working as a shoemaker and Sarah as a shoe binder, as were their children Sarah, 18, and Seth, 16. William was now 14, and they also had four younger children: Susan, 9, Eliza, 6, Frederick (my 2 x great grandfather), 4, and Caroline, 1. The older two children were born in Stepney, while the younger ones were all born in Limehouse.


Limehouse Causeway

Ten years later, in 1861, the family was still in Limehouse. It’s difficult to make out the address, but it seems to have been off Rhodeswell Road. Frederick’s wife Sarah has obviously died in the interim: he is described as a widower. Of his children, five are still living at home: William, 21, Sarah, 28, Frederick, 14, Caroline, 11, and Charles, 9 (born in about 1852, so Sarah must have died after this date). The older three are working in the family trade: William and Frederick as shoe makers, like their 51 year old father, and Sarah as a shoe binder.

By 1871, 61 year old Frederick and 19 year old Charles, still both working as shoemakers, are living in Mary Street, Limehouse. They are living either with or next to the family of Dublin-born hammerman John Scully and his wife, Sarah. There’s a suggestion on another family tree that the latter is Frederick’s daughter. (Of course, by this date, Frederick junior was married and had opened his shop on Rhodeswell Road: did he take over the family business from his father?)

Confirmation is given by the 1881 census record, which has Frederick senior, now reunited with daughter Caroline, living with the Scullys at 66 Coutts Road, Mile End Old Town, where he is clearly described as a father in law and she as a sister in law.  Interestingly, although John Scully is working as a labourer in an iron works, his 16 year old son John is said to be a shoemaker, perhaps learning the trade from his grandfather.

Frederick French senior died in 1887, at the age of 77.


Most of the streets that were home to the French family – such as Burdett Road, Rhodeswell Road, Parnham Street – were clustered together in a relatively small area of Mile End / Limehouse / Bow Common, and many were new developments in the mid 19th century. Intriguingly, the Frenches would have been near neighbours of my Robb ancestors, who lived in nearby St. Ann’s Road and Turners Road at about the same time.