My great great great grandmother Eliza Holdsworth was the third of six children born to William L. Holdsworth and Lydia Evans. Eliza, who was born in 1801, had three older siblings – Isaac (born in 1794), Samuel (1795) and Phoebe (1796) – and two younger siblings – Edward Porter (1803) and Sarah Ann (1806).

We have no further information about Isaac Holdsworth. It’s likely that Samuel married Lucy Roberts in Southwark in 1817 and that they are the couple to be found living in Jane Street, in the parish of St. George in the East, in the 1841 census. I don’t think they had any children. The records appear to be silent about Edward Porter Holdsworth, after his baptism at St Dunstan, Stepney, in February 1803. As for Sarah Ann, we know that she was christened as an adult (she was 23) at St. Matthew, Bethnal Green, in 1829, but we know nothing more about her life after that.

However, we do know considerably more about Eliza’s older sister Phoebe, and I’ve recently made some interesting discoveries about her life which I want to set down in this post. It may seem odd to be spending so much time researching the life of such an obscure ancestor, but I believe it can help us to gain a better understanding of the Holdsworths and their lives in Bethnal Green in the early decades of the 19th century.

Born on 19th December 1796 in Marmaduke Street (a little to the north of Cable Street and to the west of Cannon Street), Phoebe wasn’t actually christened until she was eight years old – on 25th September, 1805, at the nearby church of St. George in the East. On 11th September 1820, when she was 24, Phoebe married Thomas Chamberlin at St John’s church, Hackney (the spelling of Thomas’ surname varies between records, and here I’m using the form he himself used for his signature). The absence of immediate family witnesses make it difficult to say anything definitive about Thomas’ background, except that (like Phoebe) he was said to be ‘of this parish’ and, despite the fact that he worked as a bricklayer, I have reason to believe that he came from a family of silk weavers, possibly of Huguenot origin.

The two witnesses who are named were probably friends of Thomas and/or Phoebe. Esther Ann Nevill was born in Shoreditch in 1799 and in 1841 would still be living with her parents Samuel and Eleanor in Mile End Old Town. George Harding was probably born in 1803 and in 1841 was living in West Street, Bethnal Green, where he worked as a weaver. He married his wife Sarah Denker in 1825, also at St. John’s, Hackney.

Thomas and Phoebe Chamberlin had five children, all of them christened at St. Matthew’s church in Bethnal Green. They were: Thomas (born in 1821), Phoebe (1824), William Holdsworth (1826), Frances, also known as Fanny (1827), George (1830) and Ann, also known as Hannah (1832). All of these, apart from Thomas, were baptised together on 6th March 1836.

Bethnal Green in 1851 from Cross's London Guide

(The map above shows many of the locations mentioned in this post. Click on the map to open in a new window, then click on it again to zoom in.)

At the time of Thomas Chamberlin junior’s christening in 1822, Thomas senior was working as a bricklayer and the family was living in Sugar Loaf Alley, which connected the green at Bethnal green with Back Lane. In 1836, Thomas was still a bricklayer but the Chamberlains were now living in Providence Place, to the north of the green.

Thomas Chamberlin died in 1837. I wonder if the prospect of his imminent death helps to explain the mass baptism of the Chamberlin children in the previous year? Phoebe was married for a second time on 16 November 1837, to baker James Young, at the church of St. George in the East. James was a widow, though I’ve yet to find any record of his first marriage. He was the son of another James Young, a coachman. The marriage record notes that Phoebe’s father was William Holdsworth, a shoemaker. The witnesses were Elizabeth Curtis and Mary Ann Young (who was probably James’ sister or mother). The couple are said to be living at 24 Charles Street (just north of Devonshire Street, near the bottom of the map).

The 1841 census finds the six Chamberlin children living with their mother Phoebe, her second husband James Young and their two year old son Edward, in Coventry Street, to the south-west of the green at Bethnal Green. Thomas Chamberlin junior, now 20, is working as a silk weaver, while his sister Phoeby (sic), 15, works as a charwoman, and brother William, 14, as a labourer. Fanny is now 12, George 11, and Hannah, 7.  Also at the same address is shoemaker George Thompson.

Old weavers' houses, Bethnal Green

Three years later, on Christmas Day 1844, the younger Phoebe Chamberlin married James Stewart Jones at St Leonard’s, Shoreditch. At the time James was living in Paradise Row and Phoebe, now working as a dressmaker, in New Inn Yard. Phoebe’s sister Frances was one of the witnesses.

In 1846, Phoebe’s brother Thomas Chamberlin junior married Elizabeth Sarah Clark at St. John’s in Hackney.  The witnesses were Elizabeth’s sister Clara and George Imbert (the latter seems to have come from another Huguenot weaving family in Bethnal Green). Elizabeth was the daughter of optician and sometime goldsmith Frederick John Clark and his wife Susan or Susannah, and was born in Clerkenwell in 1828; she was baptised at the church of St. Michael Queenhithe in 1829.

At the time of their marriage, Thomas and Elizabeth Chamberlin were said to be living in Jerusalem Square, Hackney, and Thomas was working as a weaver. Their first son, Thomas William, who was born on 15th July 1850, was baptised on 6th June 1851 at St. John’s church, Bethnal Green. The young family were now living at 3 Green Street, and Thomas was again working as a weaver. Unusually, the record lists the godparents, who were Thomas Kirby, James Stewart Jones and Mary Clarke. Thomas Kirby might be the weaver who married Sarah Provost at St. Leonard’s in 1822 and who was living in Sclater Street, Bethnal Green, in 1841. Mary Clarke is almost certainly Elizabeth’s sister. And James Stewart Jones was, as we know, the husband of Thomas’ sister Phoebe.

On the same day and at the same church, Phoebe Holdsworth and her second husband James Young had their daughter, Emily Caroline Young, baptised. Emily was actually 9 years old at the time, having been born in 1842. The godparents were James Stewart Jones and his wife Phoebe. This means that Phoebe Jones acted as godmother to her half-sister.

The baptismal record also reveals that Thomas and Elizabeth Chamberlin were living at the same address as James and Phoebe Young: in other words, Thomas was living with his mother and her new husband. This is borne out by the census of that year (1851), which finds Thomas and Elizabeth (now working as a map colourer) and their infant son Thomas at the same address as cook and confectioner James Young, 58, Phoebe, 55, and their children Edward, 12 and Emily, 9, together with James Young, 34, who appears to be James’ son from an earlier marriage. (Occupying another room in the house are dustman Robert Clunes and his wife.)

There’s another interesting fact about this census entry. The Chamberlins’ and Youngs’ next door neighbours, at No. 2 Green Street, were none other than my 3 x great grandparents John and Keziah Blanch, their children Joseph, Emma and John, and nurse child Mary Ann Ellis. Keziah was, of course, a Holdsworth by birth: so Phoebe Young, formerly Chamberlin, nee Holdsworth, was in fact living next door to her cousin.

At the same date, Phoebe’s daughter Phoebe Jones and her husband John Stewart Jones were living at 2 Temple Street, Bethnal Green (between Hackney Road and Old Bethnal Green Road), where John was working as a salesman. They were sharing a house with Phoebe’s sister Frances, who had married porter Joseph Richard Hilditch at St. John, Hackney in 1848.  Like Thomas and Elizabeth Chamberlin, Frances and Joseph gave their address at the time as Jerusalem Square. I’m beginning to wonder if the fact that all these relatives married at St. John’s in Hackney, despite living in Bethnal Green, indicates a sentimental (Chamberlin? Holdsworth?) connection to the parish, and whether the addresses given at the time of the weddings were merely nominal – to allow them to marry at the church.

It’s interesting that the two witnesses at the wedding were Frances’ sister Phoebe Jones, and one Thomas Parker. Judging by the signature, this was the same Thomas Parker (from another Bethnal Green weaving family whose lives were intertwined with the Holdsworths, Roes and Blanches) who would marry Eliza Roe five years later. [Update: Thomas Parker was, of course, a cousin to Frances and the other Chamberlin children: his mother Sarah Parker nee Holdsworth was Phoebe Holdsworth’s sister.]

I haven’t yet discovered, for certain, what became of Thomas and Phoebe Chamberlin‘s son William Holdsworth Chamberlin. There are a number of candidates in the census and marriage records, but for now I can’t be sure which is the right one.

As for their youngest daughter Ann or Hannah, she married butcher John Whiff on 4th March 1855, at St. John of Jerusalem in South Hackney (their address was given simply as ‘South Hackney’ and Ann’s brother Thomas was one of the witnesses). In 1861 they would be living at 33 Green Street, and John would be working as a tripe dresser. John and Ann had seven children: Ann Chamberlin (1855), Maria Frances (1857), Clara Rebecca (1860), James Stewart (1867), Harriet Eleanor (1869), Thomas (1871) and Charles (1875).

St. John of Jerusalem, South Hackney

Phoebe Holdsworth’s son Thomas Chamberlin junior and his wife Elizabeth had six other children after their son Thomas William: Elizabeth (born in 1853), George Arthur (1854), Frederick (1856), William (1859), Caleb (1861), and Jessie (1867). By the time of George’s christening at the church of St. Simon Zelotes in January 1855, the Chamberlins had moved to 28 West Street, on the western side of what is now Cambridge Heath Road. When William Edward was christened, along with his older sister Elizabeth Kate, at the same church in March 1860, the Chamberlins were living at 33 West Street. In both these records Thomas is described as a labourer. In the census of the following year (1861), the Chamberlins can be found next door, at 32 West Street, where Thomas now kept a beer house. Their neighbours appear to be mostly weavers. That same year, another son, Caleb John was born: in the baptismal record, the family is living at No. 23 and Thomas is now working as a dock man, so the beer house obviously didn’t make enough money. Their last child, Jessie Maria, was born in 1867.

James Young died some time between 1851 and 1881. At the time of the 1861 census, Phoebe Young (nee Holdsworth) can be found living with her son Edward, now 22, a labourer, at 4 Globe Street (which ran south from Green Street). Phoebe’s age is given as 78, but this is inaccurate: she was in fact about 65 years old. The census record states that she was working as a nurse. Her daughter Emily Caroline has married Abraham Samuels, a porter, the year before: both were living in Temple Street at the time.

I’m not sure when Phoebe died, but since I can find no further trace of her in the census records, I assume it was some time in the 1860s.


For some reason, I completely forgot to follow up Phoebe Holdsworth’s son George, who was born in 1830. My distant relative Julie Campbell, a descendant of Richard Roe, has contacted me from Australia with information that George Francis Chambelin emigrated to Australia. He married Emma Ball and they had the following children:

Frances Emily Born, born in 1853, in Prahan ( Melbourne)

Augusta Maria, 1854, Williamstown ( Melbourne )

Lucy Ann, 1857, Ballarat

Francis George, 1859, Ballarat

Harry Richard, 1861, Ballarat

Leonard Richard, 1861, Ballarat

Edith May, 1867, Ballarat.

Apparently George died in 1910, in the Melbourne suburb of St. Yarra.

Julie points out that Ballarat, where most of George and Emma’s children were born, is not far from Clunes, where Richard Roe and his family lived. Richard and George were, of course, first cousins – their mothers, Eliza and Phoebe Holdsworth, were sisters – so it’s almost certain that they were in contact with each other. Their close proximity in Australia is probably more than just a coincidence.