Searching for information about my Holdsworth ancestors, I’ve come across some new and interesting information about Eliza Holdsworth. This is not the Eliza Holdsworth (born in 1801 in Stepney) who married shoemaker Daniel Roe in Bedfordshire, but rather her cousin, sister of the Keziah Holdsworth who married John Blanch. This Eliza was born in 1798 in Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire, the daughter of carpenter John Holdsworth. The Holdsworths must have moved to the East End of London some time before 1827, when Eliza’s sister Keziah married John Blanch at St. Anne’s, Limehouse.
I’ve already referred to Eliza in previous posts, including this one, where I mentioned that in 1851 she was working as a servant in Regent’s Terrace, near Regent’s Park, alongside her niece, Keziah’s daughter Keziah Sarah Blanch. In 1881 Eliza was a visitor in the home of Mary Combe in Ealing, where Kezia Sarah was working as a cook and domestic servant, and she was there again (or still) ten years later. Eliza appears to have died in Brentford in 1900, at the age of 101.
I recently discovered a census record for Eliza in 1871 which cast fascinating new light on her life. I can’t remember exactly how I found it, but I think it might have been attached to Adrian Holdsworth’s family tree at Ancestry. In that year 73 year old Eliza Holdsworth was working as a nurse at Hengistbury House, in the village of Purewell near Christchurch (then in Hampshire, but now in Dorset). The head of the household was the Independent Congregational minister of Christchurch, Joseph Fletcher, 55, and the house seems to have functioned as a girls’ school. Besides Joseph, his wife, widowed mother, and two daughters, one of whom was a teacher, there were 7 teenage pupils at the address, together with various other servants besides Eliza.
I wondered how Eliza came to be working so far from London, and why a school would employ a 73 year old woman as a nurse. At this stage, the only decades for which I did not have an address for Eliza were the 1840s and the 1860s. As yet I’ve failed to find any trace of her in the 1861 census, though I know she wasn’t with the Fletchers at Hengistbury House (which, curiously, was at that stage a boys’ school). However, in the 1841 census I came across an entry for an Eliza Holdsworth born in 1801, but since that census notoriously rounded people’s ages up or down, I decided to go ahead and take a look. According to this record, Eliza was one of two family servants in the Stepney home of a Joseph Fletcher, Dissenting minister. The coincidence confirmed that this must indeed be ‘our’ Eliza. The address is given as Cottage Grove, which lay to the east of Grove Road and just north of Mile End Road, in Mile End Old Town (not far from the present-day Mile End tube station).
However, despite their identical occupations, the ages of the Joseph Fletcher in the 1841 census and his counterpart in 1871 don’t match up. The Congregational minister in Christchurch was 55 in 1871, meaning that he was born around 1816, while the Dissenting minister in Stepney in 1841 was 56, so would have been born in about 1785. It would take some extensive online searching before I discovered the answer to this anomaly.
First, I found some more information about the later Joseph Fletcher. Apparently he was the Independent minister at the Congregational church in Hanley, Staffordshire, for about ten years. (Coincidentally, the family of Marianne Mansfield Palmer, the second wife of my great great grandfather William Robb, was associated with the Methodist church in Hanley.) His first wife died and he remarried Mary Ann Hudson in 1845, and in 1849 they moved to Christchurch, where he was ‘a respected Independent Minister’ until his death in 1876. White’s 1859 Directory of Hampshire refers to him as an Independent Minister, resident at Hengistbury House. This is now a listed building and appears to have been turned into apartments.
The Joseph Fletcher to be found in Stepney in 1841 is almost certainly the father of the Joseph who was a minister in Christchurch. Like his son, this Joseph Fletcher was a Congregational minister. He was born in 1784 and died in 1843 (dates which match the 1841 census record) and seems to have achieved some fame as a preacher and theological writer. Before coming to Stepney, Joseph Fletcher senior apparently worked in Blackburn, Lancashire – the birthplace of his son, as confirmed by the 1871 Christchurch record. One memoir, written in 1831, describes how Joseph senior moved in 1822 from Blackburn to the chapel at Stepney Green, apparently one of the oldest Congregational churches in England, and concludes: ‘In this place he has ever since remained stationary, preaching to a large and affectionate congregation, and evincing his love for them in return, by using every exertion to promote their temporal and spiritual welfare.’ Another online resource relates how Fletcher contracted a ‘severe cold’ en route to a religious meeting in Lancashire in the autumn of 1842 and declined in health until the following June, when he died.
It seems likely that the 20 year old Elizabeth Fletcher who was also living at the Cottage Grove address in 1841 was Joseph senior’s daughter. As we know, his son Joseph was a minister in Hanley at this time. The 1871 Christchurch record includes Joseph junior’s widowed mother Mary, born in Blackburn in about 1788, but I don’t know why she was absent from the family home in 1841.
One imagines that the Fletchers must have maintained contact with Eliza, their former family servant, after the death of Joseph senior in 1843, and called on her services again, some time between 1861 and 1871. As for her advanced age: perhaps she was in straitened circumstances and they offered her the position partly out of charity? Speculating further, I wonder if this is an indication that Eliza Holdsworth was a member of Joseph Fletcher senior’s congregation in Stepney? We know that her uncle and aunt, William and Lydia Holdsworth, were members of the Little Alie Street Baptist meeting, but perhaps Nonconformists were as relaxed then as a they are now about changing denominations (speaking personally: I was christened in a Congregational church, brought up a Methodist, and one of my younger brothers is now a Baptist)?
I don’t know why I didn’t notice this before. Eliza Holdsworth’s employer at 11 Regents Park Terrace in 1851 was 63 year old widow and annuitant Mary Fletcher, born in Blackburn, Lancashire in about 1788. In other words, she was almost certainly the widow of the Rev Joseph Fletcher for whom Eliza was working in Stepney in 1841. At the same address was Mary’s unmarried son John, 39, also born in Blackburn, whose occupation is illegible; two young student boarders, one from Lancashire and the other from Cheshire; as well as Eliza and her niece Keziah Sarah, cook and housemaid respectively. Mary Fletcher’s annuity must have been considerable, as Regent’s Park Terrace was then, as it is now, a rather high-class address.
I haven’t managed to find Mary Fletcher in the 1841 census, but new information suggests that Eliza’s relationship with the family probably lasted for a number of years. Perhaps it was Mary, who would later live with her son Joseph junior in Christchurch, who recommended Eliza for the position of nurse for his house and school there.