In the last post I speculated about the background of my great-great-great-grandfather Robert Bowman (1801 – 1842), whose granddaughter Louisa married my great grandfather Charles Edward Robb. In this post, I’ll say more about Robert and his wife, my great-great-great-grandmother Caroline Reed.

Robert Bowman and Caroline Reed were married on 20 January 1828 at St. Mary’s church, Whitechapel. Both were said to be living in the parish. Robert signed his name and Caroline inscribed her mark. The witnesses were John Doughty and Charlotte Wylie.

We know from later census records that Caroline was born in 1797 or 1798 in Stepney or Mile End Old Town. Searches for her birth records have thrown up one or two possibilities, the most intriguing of which is the christening of a Caroline Bowman Reed, daughter of William and Rebecca Reed, at St. John of Hackney on 10 March 1799. Is the middle name just a coincidence, or is it possible there was an existing link between the Reed and Bowman families, and that this explains how Caroline came to meet her husband Robert?

I haven’t been able to find a definite match for the marriage of William and Rebecca. There are a number of possibilities outside London, but the only candidate in the London area around the right date is the marriage between William Reed and Rebecca Thippin (?) which took place in February 1794 at the church of St. Dunstan in the West. I’m hoping that further research will uncover more details of the Reed family and their possible connection with the Bowmans.

Robert and Caroline Bowman’s first child, my great-great-grandfather John, was born on 19 December 1928 and baptised on 11 January 1929 at All Saints church, Poplar. The family’s address is given simply as ‘Bow’. In my last post I stated that John was the eldest of five children, but I was relying on census records and hadn’t checked the International Genealogical Index records at the Family Search website. This has revealed an additional sister Sarah (named after Robert’s mother?), who was born on 30 October 1830 at Pleasant Row, described by one source as one of ‘a series of rundown and overcrowded courts’ in the Jacob’s Island district of Bermondsey, and baptised at St. Saviour’s church, Southwark, on 21 November.

Jacob's Island, Bermondsey

A third child, Robert, was born at the same address on 7 November 1832 and baptised on 2 December at the same church. Sarah died in 1834 at the age of 3 years 6 months and was buried at St. Saviour’s. By this time the family was living in Park Street, not far from Borough Market.

By the time their son Joseph was born in the September of the following year, Robert and Caroline Bowman had moved to Barrowfield Lane, Edmonton. Joseph was christened at All Saints church on 18 October (see previous post).

They had moved again by January 1838, when their daughter Charlotte was born. Her baptismal record at St Botolph without Aldgate states that the Bowmans were living at 8 Harrow Alley, just south of Aldgate High Street. Another daughter, Maria, was born in the following year at the same address and baptised on 18 December at the same church.

Aldgate from Horwood's 1792 map, with St. Botolph's church, and Harrow Alley at extreme right

The 1841 census finds Robert, Caroline and their five surviving children still in Harrow Alley, but now at No. 4. The census official was rather slapdash with names, using mostly abbreviations and getting some wrong: Charlotte is mistakenly called Caroline, Joseph could be read as James, and Maria becomes Mary. As elsewhere, Robert senior is described simply as a ‘labourer’.

Robert died early in the following year in Harrow Alley and was buried on 12 January at St. Botolph’s. He was 40 years old.  His youngest child Maria died later in the same year, on 7 October, at the age of 3. Her address is given as ‘East London Union’, which was a workhouse with premises in Aldgate, suggesting that the Bowman family were thrown into poverty on Robert’s death.

By the time of the 1851 census, however, Robert’s widow Caroline was living at 3 Somerset Court, Aldgate, not far from Harrow Alley, and working as a charwoman. Still living at home were sons John, 22, now working as an umbrella frame maker; Robert, 18, a light porter; and Joseph, 15, an errand boy. Charlotte, 13, was still a ‘scholar’.

In November of that year Caroline’s eldest son John married Elizabeth Jane Larke at St. Philip’s church, Bethnal Green. At some point in the next few years, John’s brother Joseph married his first wife Elizabeth.

Their sister Charlotte died early in 1854 at the age of 16. Interestingly, her burial on 22 January is recorded in the register for Wycliffe Congregational Chapel, confirming my suspicion (see my last post) that the Bowmans were Nonconformists. Charlotte’s address is given as 3 Somerset Court and the cost of her funeral is said to have been 10s 6d. Wycliffe Chapel was in Philipot Street, between Commercial Road and Whitechapel Road, about 15 minutes’ walk from Somerset Court (and a few streets away from Little Alie Street Baptist chapel where my mother’s Holdsworth ancestors would have been worshipping at around the same time). It’s probably just a coincidence that the minister at Wycliffe at this time was Rev. Andrew Reed.

Wycliffe Chapel

When the 1861 census was taken, Caroline Bowman, 64, was living at 2 Little Somerset Street, Aldgate, with her unmarried son Robert, 27. She was still working as a charwoman and he as a painter. Ten years later, she can be found living with her son Joseph, his second wife Jesse, and their children, at 1 Crown Place, Mile End Road. She died there four years later, in 1875, at the age of 78.