A few weeks ago I discussed the theory that my great-great-great-great-grandfather William Holdsworth (born in 1771) might have been a carrier, running carts between between Whitechapel and Woodford, Essex, perhaps with his brother John. If true, this would contradict, or at the very least add to, our existing understanding of William’s career as a cordwainer or shoemaker.

In my earlier post I mentioned three pieces of evidence that supported this theory. The first is that William’s daughter, my great-great-great-grandmother Eliza, gave her (late) father’s occupation as ‘carrier’, at the time of her second marriage in 1845. Secondly, my fellow researcher Ron Roe has found advertisements for William Holdsworth’s carrier service in trade directories for 1826. Thirdly, William’s grandson Thomas Parker, son of his daughter Sarah Holdsworth and silk weaver Thomas Parker, who was born in 1828, gave Woodford as his place of birth to the 1881 census enumerator.

The last will and testament of William Holdsworth

Now, thanks to the collection of London wills and probate records newly available at Ancestry, I have found evidence which appears to confirm the theory. A document ‘for executors or administrators, with will annexed, when there is no leasehold property’ was filed on 24 September 1827 in the consistory courts of London ‘in the goods of William Holdsworth deceased’. The document continues:

Appeared Lydia Holdsworth of Woodford in the county of Essex widow the sole executrix named in the last will and testament of the said William Holdsworth late of Woodford aforesaid shoemaker deceased

The document, which declares that William left money and goods to the value of less than £100, is signed with Lydia’s mark. The attached will (see image above) was written and signed one year earlier, on 27 September 1826. It reads as follows:

In the name of God Amen. I William Holdsworth in the parish of Woodford in the county of Essex being of sound mind and memory do make this my last will and testament

First I resign my soul to God who gave it and I desire my body may be decently interred Secondly I give and bequeath to my beloved wife Lydia Holdsworth all my household furniture linen wearing apparel and all property of every description that I shall be possessed of at the time of my decease and I do hereby nominate and appoint my said wife Lydia Holdsworth sole executrix of this my said will and testament in witness whereof I have set my hand this 27 day of September 1826

The will is signed by William and witnessed by Samuel Rybold and Samuel Nevill senior. Appended to the will is this note, written on 24 September 1827:

Lydia Holdsworth the widow the relict of the within deceased and sole executrix in this will named was duly sworn to the truth and faithful performance hereof and as usual and that the whole of the deceased’s goods chattels and ?? do not amount in value to sum of one hundred pounds.

Under the lawyer’s signature we read: ‘The testator was late as within shoemaker and died the 14th inst.’ And at the foot of the page is this final addendum:

On the twenty fourth day of September 1827 the will of William Holdsworth late of the parish of Woodford in the county of Essex was proved at London before the worshipful Charles Coote doctor of laws and surrogate (?) by the oath of Lydia Holdsworth widow the relict of the deceased the sole executrix to whom ?? was granted having been first ?? duly to administer. Sub £100. 

Old map of Woodford, Essex

Of course, there’s no proof that the William Holdsworth mentioned in these documents is my 4 x great grandfather. But the the fact that he was a shoemaker and that his wife’s name was Lydia, as well as the dates, together with our existing suspicions of a Woodford connection, make it almost certain that he was. If this is indeed ‘our’ William’s will, then it tells us a number of things.

Firstly, we now know the date and place of William’s death: 14 September 1827 in Woodford, Essex. He would have been 56 years old when he died. This appears to contradict my earlier theory that William and Lydia both died in 1830 and were buried at the Wycliffe Chapel in their ‘home’ district of Stepney. We would need to check the Woodford parish burial records to be sure, but is it possible the couple were ‘re-buried’ later in the grounds of the Nonconformist chapel they had formerly attended? As for my discovery that Thomas Parker junior was born in Woodford in 1828: presumably his mother Sarah was staying with her widowed mother Lydia at the time.

Secondly, we learn that, even if it’s true that William ran a carrier operation from Woodford in his later years, he continued to work (and be known) as a shoemaker. Is it possible that his cart service was an occupational sideline? If so, it appears to have made him very little money, judging by the evidence of the will.

Windmill in Woodford, Essex

This is not the first time I’ve found a Woodford connection in my family tree. William Holdsworth was the ancestor of Minnie Lousia Roe (1902 – 1987), my mother’s mother. My mother’s father was George John Londors (1896 – 1921). His great-grandfather was farm labourer John Londors (1785 – 1876), who was actually born in Woodford, though he had moved to nearby Barking by the time of his first marriage in 1815. More recently, I discovered that Mary Ann Ellis (whose family is linked to my mother’s Blanch ancestors) and her husband John Blacklock followed the same route as William and Lydia Holdsworth, moving from Whitechapel to Woodford in about 1850, though they moved back again shortly afterwards. Mary Ann’s brother Edward Ellis made a similar, and similarly temporary move, to neighbouring Chigwell at around the same time.

What could account for these relocations from the East End to rural Essex? I wondered if the outbreaks of disease that plagued the East End in the 19th century might have driven some families to move, for a time, to the relative safety of the countryside, but these dates don’t appear to coincide with any known epidemics. And why Woodford? Clearly, more research is needed before we can suggest answers to these questions.