On a family tomb in the churchyard of St Dunstan and All Saints, Stepney, the following inscription can be found (or rather, it could be found back in 1896, when a member of the Holdsworth family copied it down):

Here lieth the remains of Mrs Elizabeth Holdsworth late of this parish who departed this life March 1st 1809 aged 77 years

Elizabeth was my great-great-great-great-great grandmother, the wife of my 5 x great grandfather Joseph Holdsworth. Their son, cordwainer William Holdsworth and his wife Lydia Evans, were the parents of Eliza Holdsworth who married Biggleswade shoemaker Daniel Roe. Eliza and Daniel’s son, another shoemaker named Daniel, married Mary Ann Blanch, and they in turn had a son, Joseph Priestley Roe, who married Eliza Bailey. Joseph and Eliza’s daughter Minnie Louisa Roe married George John Londors; my mother, Joyce Robb nee Londors, is their daughter.

Graves in Stepney churchyard (flickr)

Thanks to the pioneering research of my distant relatives and fellow family historians Adrian Holdsworth and Ron Roe, we now know quite a lot about Elizabeth Holdsworth and her family. For example, we have a copy of her will, which reads as follows:

In the name of God Amen. I Elizabeth Holdsworth of the parish of St Dunstans Stepney in the county of Middlesex widow being of perfect mind memory and understanding, make this my last will and testament. First I desire to be laid in a vault in the church yard of St Dunstan Stepney built by my grandfather and where my brothers and sisters lay. I desire to have a good plain elm coffin and the expenses of my funeral to be conducted with as little expense as is necessary, my son Joseph Holdsworth of William Street St Georges East in the County of Middlesex having forty pounds in money of mine in his hands and that my funeral expenses and all other expenses during my illness be paid out of that said forty pounds that my son Joseph Holdsworth has in his hands and what then remains of this said forty pounds to be equally divided between my five sons, and I do will and bequeath to my daughter Sarah Parker all my furniture and my apparel and all my residue. I do hereby nominate constitute and appoint Sarah Parker executrix and Richard E. Windle executor of this my last will and testament revoking and making void all former will or wills heretofore by me made declaring this and no other to be my last will and testament in witness whereof I have hereunto put my hand and seal this 11th day of February in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and nine. Eliza Holdsworth signed sealed and delivered by the within named estatrix to be her last will and testament in the presence of each of the subscribed our names as witnesses thereto Sarah Parkin, Wm Holdsworth, Richd Windle, Wm Parker.

When she died in 1809, Elizabeth had been a widow for 14 years, her husband Joseph having predeceased her in 1795. As mentioned in the will, she had five surviving sons and one daughter. Her son Joseph, the keeper of his mother’s funeral fund, would have been about 39 at this time, married to Margaret Miller since 1792 and with four children. William Street, where they lived, was to the north of Cable Street and west of Cannon Street. It was very close to Marmaduke Street, where Joseph’s brother William once lived, though by this date he and his family had moved to Mile End Road. William, one of the witnesses to his mother’s will, was my great-great-great-great grandfather, and he would have been about 38 at this date.

The will of Elizabeth Holdsworth, 1809 (first page)

The Sarah Parker mentioned in the will (and mistakenly called Sarah Parkin towards the end of it) was Elizabeth’s only surviving daughter. Born in 1767, she married Edward Porter in 1786, and after his death married again, in 1803, to the William Parker who was one of the other witnesses to Elizabeth’s will. Sarah would have been about 42 at the time of her mother’s death.

However, Sarah was not Elizabeth’s oldest surviving child. That was her eldest son John, born in 1765, who had married Mary Webb in Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire, in 1792. One of his daughters was Keziah Holdsworth who married Mile End shoemaker John Blanch.  It was their daughter Mary Ann who married Daniel Roe junior (son of Keziah’s cousin Eliza). This means that John Holdsworth was another one of my 4 x great grandfathers. John, who died on 2 December 1848, at the age of 84, is the only one of the Holdsworth children to be buried in the same tomb as his mother. His name is inscribed below hers on the north side of the tomb, and he appears to be the last person to have been interred there.

The upper slab of the vault in Stepney churchyard has the following inscription (I assume the dots represent words or letters that are unclear):

Here lie the remains of Capt. W. Greene late of Ratcliff mariner who died the third of January 1682 aged 60 also of Mrs. Eliz Greene who died the 14th of December 1712 aged 80 Also of Mr Joseph Greene Citizen and Goldsmith . . . late of the parish of St B . . . who died the 26th of December 1717 aged 60 years

The south side of the vault has the following:

Here lie the bodies of Ann Elizth and Joseph son and daughter of Mr Joseph Greene of Tower Hill goldsmith, and Mary his wife, Ann died the 23rd December of 1795 3 days old, Elizth died on the 27th of August 1725 aged 13 years and 11 months, Joseph died the – of October 1726 aged 25

Who were these people, and what was their relationship to Elizabeth Holdsworth?Finding answers to these questions has been a long and complicated process, but one that Ron and Adrian between them have, I think, accomplished satisfactorily, though (as we shall see) a number of key questions remain unanswered.

18th century goldsmiths at work

Some confusion was created by the fact that the person who married Joseph Holdsworth at St Mary Magdalen, Southwark, on 20 May 1763 was named Elizabeth Collins. However, she was said to be a widow, and it appears that she had been married previously to a John Collins. Ron Roe has found a record of a marriage on 21st February 1753 at St George’s Chapel, Mayfair, between a John Collins and an Elizabeth Gibson. This chapel was notorious for enacting clandestine marriages which did not require banns or a licence. We know from other sources that Elizabeth was probably aged 20 at the time, and therefore still in need of parental consent. It’s also interesting to note that John describes himself as a ‘gent’ of Epping, while Elizabeth claims to be from nearby Waltham Abbey. All of this looks decidedly suspicious: did Elizabeth run away from home to marry John, and did he disappear (or die) soon afterwards? At any event, he was off the scene by 1763.

In order to understand Elizabeth Gibson’s origins and her connection to the Greene family buried alongside her in the Stepney vault, we need to go back a couple of generations. Elizabeth’s grandfather – the person who she says in her will built the family vault – is the Joseph Greene, goldsmith, mentioned in the inscriptions cited above. Ron Roe maintains, rightly I believe, that the transcription of Joseph’s date of death is wrong and should read 1737 rather than 1717. If the other information on the tomb is correct and Joseph was 60 when he died, then he must have been born in about 1677. All of this would fit with what we know about the births of his children.

I’ve yet to estabish a definite record for Joseph’s marriage to Mary, or to determine her maiden name: there are a number of possibilities on other people’s family trees, but none that is properly evidenced. However, their marriage must have taken place before the birth of their first child, which was either in 1701 (if the writing on the tomb is to be believed) or in 1703, when he was baptised. Like his younger siblings, Joseph junior was christened at the church of St Botolph Aldgate. His parents’ address was said to be Tower Hill, which fits matches the information on the vault (and the half-obscured ‘St B…’ is presumably St Botolphs).

Besides Joseph junior and the two sisters buried in the fault, Ann and Elizabeth, Joseph senior and Mary Greene had another daughter Mary, born in 1710, who survived into adulthood. (The IGI also lists another Joseph, born in 1722: the details seem to match, but it would be odd to give a second son the same name, when the first didn’t die until four years later – unless that latter date is wrong?) On 8 July 1729, when she was 19, Mary Greene was married at All Hallows, London Wall, to John Gibson of the parish of St George (in the East?). At the time of his marriage, John was styled ‘lieutenant’, though we have no information about the nature of his military service. However, later records uncovered by Ron Roe suggest that John was also a silversmith, providing an indication of how he might have known the Greenes.

John and Mary Gibson had a number of children, though I’m a little puzzled about some of these (such as John, born 1822, and Ambrose, 1824), as they appear to have been born before their parents’ marriage. They had three daughters: Jane (1730), Elizabeth (1733) and Frances (1735). All of the children were baptised at St Botolph Aldersgate and, like the Greene family, the Gibsons lived at Tower Hill.

Frances Gibson married Michael Bonner at St Botolph Aldgate on 22 January 1761. They had one son, John William, born in 1762 in Darby Street, Aldgate. He married Sarah Ford at St Mary Whitechapel in 1781. A Frances Bonner was buried at St George in the East in 1768: she appears to have lived in Virginia Street, south of Ratcliffe Highway and close to the London Dock.

Elizabeth Gibson was my 5 x great grandmother, who first married John Collins in 1753 and then married Joseph Holdsworth in 1763.

Ron Roe has found the will of Joseph Greene, who died in 1737. He left £3,000 – a signficant amount of money in those times – to his daughter Mary ‘upon her marriage to her now husband Liet. John Gibson’. Presumably the sum also helped to pay for the construction of a large burial vault in St Dunstan’s churchyard. Ron has also retrieved the will of John Gibson, written when he was ill in 1736, though I believe he did not die until about 1740.

There is one more name on the Stepney tomb which helps to confirm this complicated story of Elizabeth Holdsworth’s origins. Just below Elizabeth’s name is that of  ‘Mr John Wm Bonner, nephew of the above, late of His Majesty’s Ordinance Office Tower who departed this life September 21st 1817 aged 55 years’. This is the person, mentioned above, who was the son of Elizabeth’s sister Frances, who married Michael Bonner. The Ordinance Office referred to here was, for many years, housed in the Tower of London, explaining the reference to ‘Tower’ here.

If Elizabeth Holdsworth, formerly Collins, nee Gibson, was my 5 x great grandmother, then Lieutenant and Mary Gibson were my 6 x great grandparents, and goldsmith Joseph Greene was my 7 x great grandfather. He is also the first confirmed person in my family tree to have been born in the 17th century: a significant breakthrough.

However, as I noted earlier, there are still a number of mysteries surrounding the inscription on the Greene family vault at St Dunstan’s. If Joseph Greene was, as seems likely, Elizabeth Holdsworth’s grandfather, then who are the Captain W(illiam?) Greene, mariner, and Elizabeth Greene mentioned with him, but who predeceased him? It seems likely that they were Joseph’s parents, but if so, how did they come to be buried in the vault that he constructed – perhaps he had their remains moved there? If they are his parents, it would explain the family’s connection with Stepney, as Captain Greene seems to have been a resident of the Ratcliffe area.

The second mystery is Elizabeth’s express wish to lie in the tomb alongside her brothers and sisters. But if she was a Gibson, where are the other Gibson siblings? Finally, I wonder how it was that Elizabeth, daughter of a silversmith and granddaughter of an obviously wealthy goldsmith, came to marry Joseph Holdsworth, who signed his name with a mark at the time of his marriage, and whose sons worked as carpenters, builders and cordwainers? Perhaps a clandestine first marriage to John Collins was followed by an unapproved second marriage to Joseph Holdsworth?


I think I’ve found the baptismal record for Joseph Greene. A child of that name was baptised at St Dunstan’s, Stepney, on 14 March 1677. He was the son of Captain William Greene, mariner of Ratcliff, and his wife Elizabeth. Joseph was 22 days old at the time, which means he was born around 20 February, the exact date depending on whether 1677 was a leap year.