In recent posts I’ve been exploring the lives of two of my maternal great-great-great-grandmothers, who happened to be first cousins. In the last post I wrote about Keziah Holdsworth, and this post I want to set down what we know about the life of her cousin, Eliza.

Birth and family background

Eliza Holdsworth was born three years before her cousin Keziah, on 19 April 1801, in the forty-first year of the reign of George III, the year in which the kingdoms of Britain and Ireland merged and the Union Jack became the flag of the United Kingdom. The month before Eliza’s birth, the first nationwide census had put the population of England and Wales at 9,168,000.

Mile End Road in 1798, a few years before Eliza was born

Mile End Road in 1798, a few years before Eliza was born

Eliza was born in Mile End Road, Stepney, the fourth of the six children of shoemaker William Holdsworth and his wife Lydia. William, who had been born in South Weald, Essex, in 1771, was the son of Yorkshire-born farmer Joseph Holdsworth and his London-born wife Elizabeth, formerly Collins, née Gibson. He had married Lydia, whose parents were Francis and Elizabeth Evans, at the church of St Botolph, Bishopsgate, on 26th November 1792. In the early years of their marriage, William and Lydia lived in Marmaduke Street, in the parish of St George-in-the-East. Contemporary maps, such as Horwood’s London map of 1792, remind us that at this time Stepney was still a semi-rural area, with open fields between the streets where the Holdsworths lived and the villages of Mile End Old Town and Stepney Green.

Marmaduke Street was the Holdsworths’ address when their sons Isaac and Samuel were christened at St George’s in 1794 and 1795 respectively, and when their daughter Phoebe was baptised in 1796. The latter event was also recorded in the Nonconformist register held at Dr Williams Library, suggesting that William and Lydia were already members of a dissenting congregation. The records of Little Alie Street Baptist Chapel in Whitechapel show that they were admitted to membership in the summer of 1798, when they were still living in Marmaduke Street. I’ve found no further records for Isaac Holdsworth, so it seems likely that he died in infancy, though we know that Samuel and Phoebe both survived, and would have been six and five years old respectively when their sister Eliza was born.

Birth record for Eliza Holdsworth

Birth record for Eliza Holdsworth

Like the birth of her older sister Phoebe, Eliza Holdsworth’s arrival in the world was recorded in the Nonconformist records. The register informs us that Eliza was born in Mile End Road, indicating that the family had moved by this date. There were two witnesses: Susannah McClatchie, the midwife, and Sarah Parker. The latter was almost certainly William Holdsworth’s sister: although she would not marry her second husband, William Parker, until 1803, Eliza’s birth was not actually registered until 1805.

Early life

In 1803, when she was nearly two years old, Eliza’s younger brother Edward Porter Holdsworth was born in Mile End Old Town and christened at St Dunstan’s church, Stepney. He might have been named after Sarah Parker’s first husband, Edward Porter, who had died in 1799, but it’s more likely that his name commemorated Sarah’s son from that marriage, Edward Parker Porter, who died in 1802 at the age of six. It’s probable that Edward Porter Holdsworth also died in infancy, since there are no further records for him. Three years later, in 1806, Eliza’s younger sister Sarah was born, though she would not be christened until she came of age. Later census records suggest that Sarah was born in Bethnal Green, and in fact the records of Little Alie Street Baptist Chapel indicate that by this time the Holdsworths were living in Wilmot Street, which ran south from Bethnal Green Road.

Bethnal Green and Mile End Old Town in Greenwood's 1827 map

Bethnal Green and Mile End Old Town in Greenwood’s 1827 map

In 1817, when Eliza was sixteen years old, her older brother Samuel married Lucy Roberts, a widow, at the church of St George the Martyr, across the river in Southwark. Three years later, in 1820, Eliza’s sister Phoebe married bricklayer Thomas Chamberlin at St John’s, Hackney. In 1821, Eliza’s younger sister Sarah married silk weaver Thomas Parker at the church of St George-in-the-East.

Bedfordshire and first marriage 

We can’t be sure when Eliza Holdsworth moved from London to Bedfordshire, or why. Given her later occupation, and that of other young women in her family (such as her cousin and namesake Eliza, sister of Keziah), one strong possibility is that she left London to work as a domestic servant. Another, not incompatible explanation, is that she went to live with relatives from her mother’s side of the family. The witnesses at Eliza’s wedding in 1825 were a certain Mary Evans and William Bowtell, the latter almost certainly the husband of Mary’s sister Martha. Mary and Martha were the daughters of Caleb Evans, a malt-maker and deacon of the Baptist meeting in Biggleswade. As I’ve noted before, Caleb’s wife Ann Marsom came from a long-established Bedfordshire Baptist family. Is it possible that Eliza’s maternal grandfather, Francis Evans, was related to this Bedfordshire branch of the family, and that this connection explains how Eliza came to be living there?

Blunham in about 1906

Blunham in about 1906

On 25th April 1825 Eliza Holdsworth married Daniel Roe in the parish church at Blunham, Bedfordshire. Daniel was a shoemaker, like Eliza’s father, whose family had roots in Bedfordshire and north Hertfordshire, though his precise origins remain obscure. I’ve speculated before as to why Eliza and Daniel were married at Blunham, given that the latter’s business was in the neighbouring town of Biggleswade, and why they returned there a year later for the christening of their first child. Did Eliza live and work in Blunham for a while before her marriage, perhaps in the household of the rector, the Rev Robert Porten Beachcroft (who officiated on both occasions), an evangelical who was known to be sympathetic to the local Baptist congregation? After all, Eliza would later work as a servant in another clerical household, that of Rev Robert Merry in nearby Guilden Morden (see below).

Daniel Roe’s shop was in Stratton Street, in the centre of Biggleswade, which is where he and Eliza were living when their daughter Anna (or Hannah) Maria was born early in 1826. In the next few years, the couple would have three sons – Richard was born in 1828, Daniel junior (my great-great-grandfather) in 1829 and Caleb (perhaps named after Caleb Evans?)  in 1833 – and a daughter, Eliza, born in 1833.

Biggleswade Old Town Hall

Daniel Roe senior seems to have died in about 1836, leaving Eliza a relatively young widow with five young children. In an earlier post I reported what seems to have been a case of double counting in the 1841 census, when Eliza and her children were still living in Biggleswade. They were either living in Sand Pitts, near the High Street and not far from the Evans and Bowtell families, or in a house in St Andrews Street to the west of the town. As I noted before, the duplicate entry might be explained by the fact that Eliza and her 15-year-old daughter Hannah or Anna, were working as servants for a family in the second location when the census was taken.

Hannah or Anna Maria Roe died in 1844, at the age of 18, and was buried in the Baptist burial ground in Biggleswade. Shortly afterwards, Eliza and her surviving children began their exodus from the town. I suspect that Eliza, Daniel junior and the younger Eliza  moved to Stepney shortly after Anna Maria’s death, perhaps living with their Holdsworth relatives in the William Street / Marmaduke Street area.  Caleb would stay behind in Biggleswade for a time, working as a servant in a solicitor’s household in Stratton Street, before moving to Stepney. His brother Richard also remained in the area, being apprenticed and then married in the village of Barkway.

Second marriage

The parish register of the church of St George-in-the-East, Stepney, notes that on 11th September 1845 Eliza Roe, a widow, married John Sharp, a widower. The witnesses were Sarah and Thomas Parker, Eliza’s sister and brother-in-law, who lived in nearby Bethnal Green, where they worked together as silk weavers. Both bride and groom gave their address as 16 Chapel Street, which was not far from the area where various members of  the Holdsworth family had been living half a century before.



John Sharp was a carpenter in Barkway in north Hertfordshire and it seems almost certain that he had been married previously to Martha Roe, who may have been Daniel Roe senior’s sister. Martha had died in May 1845, four months before John’s marriage to Eliza. So this may have been a case of a recently bereaved brother-in-law and sister-in-law coming together, perhaps for economic and social convenience.

Two years after marrying Eliza, John Sharp paid a fee of £20 which enabled his stepson Richard Roe to be apprenticed as a carpenter and builder for a period of three years to Nathan Warren of Buntingford. John is described as a publican in nearby Barkway, the village where he had lived with his first wife Martha Roe. This suggests that Eliza’s return to Stepney was brief and that she and John returned to his home in Barkway soon after their marriage.

In July 1848, three years after his mother’s second marriage, Daniel Roe junior married Mary Ann Blanch at the church of St Anne’s, Limehouse, a favourite family location. As I noted in the last post, Mary Ann was Daniel’s second cousin, the daughter of Eliza’s cousin Keziah Holdsworth and John Blanch, another shoemaker. It’s possible, as I’ve suggested before, that Daniel, who would also work as a shoemaker, was apprenticed to his future father-in-law.

In March 1851, Richard Roe married Fanny Elizabeth Debney, daughter of currier William Debney and his wife Ann. Despite the fact that Fanny’s parents William and Ann Debney were from Layston, not far from Barkway and Buntingford, the marriage took place at the church of St George, Hanover Square, in London’s West End. As was the case with his mother Eliza’s marriage to John Sharp six years earlier, the witnesses were Thomas and Sarah Parker, Richard’s uncle and aunt.

At the time of the 1851 census Richard and Fanny were living with the latter’s parents in High Street, Layston. Richard was working as a journeyman carpenter and Emily as a dressmaker, and they had a 10-month-old daughter Emily Anne Eliza. Some time in the next two years, Richard and Fanny would emigrate to Australia; their second child, Frederick William, would be born there in 1853, and they would eventually have six more children.

Parish church, Layston

Parish church, Layston

Meanwhile Richard’s brother Daniel and his wife Mary Ann were living in Bethnal Green with their six-month-old daughter Keziah Eliza. The census record describes Daniel and as bootmaker and Mary Ann as a bootbinder. As we have seen, Caleb Roe was still in Biggleswade, working as a servant. His younger sister Eliza was also in service, in the Tulse Hill home of Clarissa Clark, a merchant’s widow, and her family.

As for Eliza Sharp, formerly Roe, née Holdsworth, the 1851 census also finds her working as a nurse or nursery servant, in the home of the Walbey family, wealthy farmers and landowners in the village of Nuthampstead. Meanwhile, Eliza’s husband John Sharp, described in the census as a master carpenter (did he combine this with his role as a publican?), was living in the High Street in nearby Barkway. In fact, as will be seen, we have no evidence from census or other records that Eliza and John ever lived together. Perhaps theirs was a marriage purely of convenience, or perhaps there was an early separation? Either way, Eliza would spend much of the rest of her life in domestic service away from home.

In April 1853 Eliza Roe the younger married her cousin Thomas Parker junior, son of her mother’s sister Sarah and husband Thomas. By this time Thomas Parker senior was no longer a silk weaver but a licensed victualler, while his son was working as a baker. The wedding took place at the church of St George-in-the-East; bride and groom were both living in Chapel Street at the time, Thomas at No. 2 and Eliza at No. 9. Three years later, in July 1856, Eliza’s brother Caleb Roe, now working as a carpenter like his brother Richard and stepfather John, was married at the church of St Jude, Bethnal Green, to dressmaker Sabina Collinson, daughter of journeyman carver and gilder Enoch Collinson. Both parties gave their address as 10 Albion Buildings.

Eliza Holdsworth was nearly 60 years old when the next census was taken in 1861. She was still living away from home and working as a domestic servant, but by now she had moved to the household of Rev Robert Merry, vicar of Guilden Morden, just across the county border in Cambridgeshire. Interestingly, the abbreviation ‘m’ for married has been crossed out and ‘u’ for unmarried appears to have been substituted, thus casting further doubt on the status of Eliza’s marriage to John Sharp. Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to find John in the census, though I believe that he was still alive at this date.

St. Mary's church, Guilden Morden

St. Mary’s church, Guilden Morden

Meanwhile, Eliza’s son Daniel, his wife Mary Ann and their children were living in Soho, where they had moved with Mary Ann’s parents from Bethnal Green (see my last post). Richard Roe and his family were now settled in Australia, while Eliza’s other son Caleb, his wife Sabina and their three children were living in Shoreditch. Her daughter Eliza, husband Thomas Parker (now working for the Indian Military Stores) and their children could been found in Walworth in south London.

Old age and death

Ten years later, Eliza was still with the Merry family, but Rev. Merry had died in the interim and his widow had moved with her children to Braganza Cottage in Tormorham near Torquay. Mary Ann Mary took Eliza (as well as a number of other servants) with her, promoting her from nurse to housekeeper. The most curious fact about the 1871 census record is that Eliza, now 69, has reverted to her previous married name of Roe, although I believe that John Sharp was still alive and living in the workhouse at Bassingbourn. It appears that he died there later that year.

Torquay in the 1890s

Eliza’s daughter Mary Ann had died of tuberculosis by this time, and it’s likely that the latter’s husband Daniel also died at around the same period, leaving Mary Ann’s mother (and Eliza’s cousin) Keziah Holdsworth to look after their orphaned children. Caleb Roe and his growing family (there would eventually be a total of nine children) were still living in Shoreditch, while Thomas and Eliza Parker were now in Camberwell with their two daughters, and were also looking after Daniel and Mary Ann Roe’s youngest child, eight-year-old Joseph Priestley Roe, my great grandfather.

A photograph believed to be of Eliza Roe in old age

A photograph believed to be of Eliza Roe in old age

Ten years later, the census of 1881 would find Eliza Roe née Holdsworth living at the same address in Camberwell with her daughter and family. Presumably she retired from a life of domestic service some time in the intervening period. She would die there four years later. She was 84 years old.

Update: 6 November 2013

I’m grateful to my fellow researchers – and distant relatives – Julie Campbell and Ron Roe for providing additional information and pointing out mistakes in this narrative of our ancestor Eliza’s colourful life. See the comments below for Julie’s clarification about the photograph of Eliza. As well as correcting the date of Eliza’s second marriage (now amended in the above post), Ron also reminds me that when Richard Roe and Fanny Debney’s were married at St George, Hanover Square, the register gave their address as nearby Hanover Street, rather than Barkway. Was this simply an address of convenience, to allow them to be married at the church, or were they actually living in London at the time – and if so, why? I should perhaps have acknowledged in this post, as I have on previous occasions, that we owe much of what we know about Eliza’s, her husband Daniel,  their life in Biggleswade, and their connections with the Barkway/Buntingford area, to Ron’s pioneering research.