I continue to be intrigued by the Roe family of Luton – specifically, Peter Roe and William Roe, both of whom were shoemakers in the town in the first half of the nineteenth century. I’m convinced that they are connected in some way with the Roes of nearby Pirton and Barkway, who were linked somehow to my own Roe ancestors, and particularly to my 3rd great grandfather Daniel Roe, a shoemaker in Biggleswade, who died in 1838. A number of my distant Roe relations have discovered DNA links to descendants of the Luton Roes, though I’ve yet to find such a ‘match’ myself.

I suspect that Peter Roe and William Roe were brothers. We know that William was the son of John Roe, also a shoemaker, who may be the man of that name and occupation who died of typhus fever in Luton in 1849 at the age of 66. In the next few posts, I’ll summarise what I’ve managed to find out about Peter’s and William’s families – starting in this post with Peter – in the hope that this may throw some light on their wider family connections.

Peter Roe was born in Luton, Bedfordshire, in about 1801. On 20thAugust 1827, when he was around 26 years old, Peter married Dinah Scrivener at St. Mary’s church in the town. Dinah was born in the village of Kings Walden, about five or six miles from Luton and just across the county border in Hertfordshire. From census records, we can determine that she was born in about 1798, so she was already in early thirties when she married Peter Roe. Peter and Dinah Roe’s eldest son George was born in Luton in May 1833. Two more sons, Daniel and James, followed, in 1835 and 1839 respectively.

At the time of the 1841 census, the Roes were living at Adelaide Terrace, George Street, in Luton. The record is difficult to read, but it looks as though Peter was working as a shoe maker, the trade he would follow throughout his life. Ten years later, Peter and Dinah, now in their early fifties, are still at Adelaide Terrace, and we can now see clearly that Peter is a shoemaker and that Dinah, like many other women in Luton and surrounding villages at the time, is working as a straw bonnet sewer. But it wasn’t just women’s work: their 17-year-old son George is said to be similarly employed, while 16-year-old Daniel is described simply as a ‘labourer’. As for their youngest son James, he is absent from the 1851 census record and may be the person of that name who died in Luton towards the end of 1841: if so, he would have been just two years old.

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Victorian Luton

In early 1861 Peter and Dinah’s son Daniel, now aged about 26, married Fanny Walton, 25, described in different census records as coming from either Aylesbury or Waddesdon, in Buckinghamshire. By the time of the census taken in that year, Daniel and Fanny were living with his parents (or vice versa) at 35 Princess Street, Luton. Peter Roe, 60, is still working as a boot and shoe maker and Dinah, 63, as a bonnet sewer, while Daniel is employed as a carpenter and Fanny as a dressmaker.

Daniel’s brother George had married three year earlier, to Elizabeth Hague, a cordwainer’s (i.e. shoemaker’s) daughter from Hemel Hempstead. Their first son Charles was born in Luton in 1860, but by the time of the 1861 census the young family were living in Bushey, Hertfordshire, where George was employed as a whitesmith. In the next ten years George and Elizabeth Roe would have three more sons: George (1865), William (1866) and James (1868), all of them born in Hemel Hempstead, which is where the young family would be living at the time of the 1871 census.

Meanwhile, Daniel and Fanny Roe had also produced three children: Edward (1865), Annie (1865) and Fanny (1869). By 1871 they, and Daniel’s parents, had moved to Stuart Street in Luton: Peter and Dinah (now 71 and 73 respectively) were at No. 16, with Daniel and Fanny and their children next door at No. 18.

Peter Roe would die two years later, in 1873, at the age of 72. By 1881, Daniel and Fanny, now both 45, had moved to Lee Road, Luton, where Daniel was now described as a master carpenter employing one man and one boy, and Fanny was working as a straw hat finisher. All three of their children were still at home: Edward, 16, working as a grocer’s assistant; Annie, 15, doing the same work as her mother; and Fanny, 11, still a ‘scholar’. As for Daniel’s widowed mother Dinah, who was now 83, she was living in an almshouse in Chobham Street, where she is described demeaningly as an ‘imbecile’. She would die later that year.


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Hemel Hempstead High Street in the 19th century

Daniel Roe’s brother George and his wife Elizabeth had produced three more children by the time of the 1881 census: Emma Jane (1872), Sophia (1876) and Albert (1880). By this time the family had moved to Bath Street, Hemel Hempstead. Sons Charles,21, and William, 15, were working as saddlers, and 13-year-old James as an errand boy. George and Elizabeth’s second son, George Roe junior, was no longer living at home but his whereabouts at this time, when he would have been about 16 years old, are unknown. It’s likely he was in London, studying for the occupation that he would follow later in life: as a pharmacist. By 1891 he would be married to his wife Kate and living in Fulham.

By the same date, George Roe senior and his wife Elizabeth, now 57 and 56 respectively, would be living in Hemel Hempstead High Street – presumably George’s whitesmith’s shop was there. Still living at home were Charles, 31, a stoker in an iron foundry; Emma Jane, 19, and Sophia, 25, both dressmakers; and Albert, 11, a ‘scholar’. William was no longer at home: he was now a corporal and saddler / harness maker in the Royal Engineers and in 1887 had married Bermuda-born Margaret Mary Clifford, the daughter of another soldier. At the time of the 1891 census the young couple, with their two infant sons William and George, were living in army quarters in Cheriton, Kent. In time they would produce seven children and seem to have lived a peripatetic live, moving between army bases in England and Ireland, until William retired from the Royal Engineers in 1907. I believe that William may have died in London in 1929 and his wife Mary in Hampshire in 1931.

The 1901 census finds George Roe senior and Elizabeth, now in their sixties, living by themselves at 3 Cherry Bourne, Hemel Hempstead, while their unmarried daughters Emma Jane and Sophia were still living together in the High Street and working as dress makers, on their ‘own account’.  I’m not sure where their son Charles was at this date, if indeed he was still living. His brother James was working as a clothier’s assistant and boarding with a family in Buckingham. Three years later James would marry Kate Elizabeth Newman from Luton: they would live in Kent, with their daughter Gladys Mary, where James would work as a gardener and then as a house painter. As for Albert, he was now working as an assistant to his brother George, the pharmacist, in Fulham.

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Victorian Fulham

George Roe senior died at the age of 69 in 1903 and by the time of the 1911 census his widow Elizabeth, together with her daughters Emma and Sophia, had moved to Fulham, where they were living with Albert, still working as a chemist’s assistant. Elizabeth Roe would die there a year later, at the age of 77.

Returning to George’s brother Daniel and his wife Fanny in Luton: by 1891, and now in their 50s, they had moved to Holly Walk. Their three children, all in their 20s, were still living at home. Edward, 26, was working as a carpenter, presumably alongside his father. Annie, 25, was still working as a straw hat finisher, while Fanny, 21, was a dress maker. Fanny Roe senior would die four years later, at the age of 59. Her death would be followed three years later, in 1898, by that of her son Edward, aged only 33. The 1901 census finds widower Daniel Roe with his two unmarried daughters, Annie, now working as a domestic servant, and Fanny, still a dress maker, still together in Holly Walk. Daniel would die at the age of 74 in 1909, leaving his property to ‘Annie Roe and Fanny Roe spinsters’. The two sisters would still be unmarried and still at Holly Walk in 1911, and indeed when the England and Wales Register was compiled in 1939. Both seem to have died in 1945.

A note on the family of George Roe junior, pharmacist

The story of George Roe junior, son of whitesmith George Roe and his wife Elizabeth Hague, and grandson of Luton shoemaker Peter Roe and his wife Dinah Scrivener, is interesting enough to merit a separate discussion – if only because George seems to have been the first member of his branch of the Roe family not to have worked as a manual labourer.

As noted above, George was born in 1865 in Hemel Hempstead and in 1871 was living with his parents and siblings at 152 Alma Road in the town, but has so far proved impossible to find in the census taken ten years later, when he would have been sixteen years old. However, by 1891, when he was 26, George was married and living at 23 Radipole Road in Fulham, where was working as a ‘hospital dispenser’. His wife, Kate or Katie, 27, is said to have been born in Battersea, though I’ve yet to find a record of her birth. It seems likely that the couple are the George Maslen Roe and Kate Rosina Bond who were married in Islington in 1887. By 1891 they had been married for four years, but there was no sign of any children, and nor would there be.

Living with George and Kate Roe in 1891 was 55-year-old Annie Damant, a single lady living on her own means and described as an aunt – presumably Kate’s? – from Waldringfield, Suffolk. They could also afford a domestic servant, 15-year-old Elizabeth Illing from Bermondsey. Also at the same address, though described as forming a separate household, of which he was head, was London-born Arthur Smith Loftus, a 32-year-old ‘registered medical practitioner’ and surgeon, born in Haggerston.

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At the time of the next census in 1901, George and Kate would be at different addresses. Kate was in Bournemouth, at ‘Lindisfarne’ in Christchurch Road, with her aunt Annie Damant, and the aforementioned Arthur Smith Loftus, who is now revealed to be Kate’s cousin. Interestingly, the census record reveals that the renowned religious writer Baron Friedrich von Hügel and his daughters were just a few doors away in the same street, at ‘Pembroke’, at this time. At first, I thought that perhaps Kate and her relations were taking a seaside holiday, but Arthur Loftus would still be at the same address in 1911.

Meanwhile, George, 35, was back home in Fulham, at 281 Lillie Road, working as a chemist and druggist and employing two assistants, one of them 60-year-old Henry Pearce, also described as a servant, and the other George’s younger brother Albert, 20 (see above). Another servant, Clara Caseley, a 40-year-old widow, was employed as a housekeeper. Kate Roe would also be absent from the family home ten years later, in 1911, when the census finds George, now 46, at the same address in Fulham, with only Mrs. Caseley for company. George is said to be married, so we know that Katie must still have been alive, though as yet I’ve been unable to find her in the census records. George Roe would die in Fulham in 1929 at the age of 63.

The reason for the couple’s apparent separation remains a mystery, as do Kate’s origins and her connection with Annie Damant and Arthur Smith Loftus, whose family stories often seem like something out of a Victorian novel. If Arthur Loftus was born in Shoreditch, then he is probably the child of that name born there in the second quarter of 1859, and it should be a simple matter to order a copy of his birth certificate and discover the names of his parents. However, it’s almost certain that he is also the Arthur Smith Loftus who, having been born on 17th March 1859, was christened seven years later, on 29th July 1866, at St Luke’s church, Chelsea. Arthur’s mother’s name is given as Jane Loftus but the name of his father is not supplied.

The details in the parish register make it possible for us to confirm that Arthur is the child who was present at the same address when the 1861 census was taken. At the time, he was two years old and described as a ‘nurse child’, in the home of Sarah Smith, a 77-year-old ‘almswoman’ and her daughter Eliza, 53, a cook and domestic servant. There is no sign of his mother Jane: was she living elsewhere, or had she in fact died, leaving Arthur in the care of a relative – or was he given the middle name Smith in honour of his carers?

I’ve been unable to find Arthur Smith Loftus in the 1871 census, but in 1881 he was still living with Eliza Smith, now 71 and described as a retired housekeeper, in Upper Cheyne Row, Chelsea. Arthur, now a 22-year-old medical student, is said to be Eliza’s godson. Ten years later, as we have seen, he was living in Fulham with his supposed cousin Kate Roe, her husband George, and aunt Annie Lamant.

Arthur Smith Loftus’ movements can be tracked, not only in census records, but also through city and medical directories. It’s interesting that his first appearance in a medical directory, in 1890, the year before he turns up in the same house as the Roes in Radipole Road, Fulham, places him at 8 New Crown Terrace in Lillie Road – the same road where George Roe would be living and working ten years later. This directory entry gives his date of qualification – L.S.A. or Licence of the Society of Apothecaries – as 1884, at Charing Cross (Hospital?), and lists a number of other qualifications and awards. An electoral register for 1894 gives his address as Lindisfarne, Fulham Road – the same name that he gave his (second?) home in Bournemouth. A city directory for 1900-1901 has him back at Lillie Road, Fulham. As we have seen, a number of local directories from this period also refer to Loftus’ address in Bournemouth, the last of them being from 1911.

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Arthur Smith Loftus in The Medical Directory of 1890 (via ancestry.co.uk)

Arthur Loftus appears to have been related both to his supposed cousin, Kate Roe, wife of George, and to her aunt Annie Damant. But in 1909 Loftus added another connection to the Damant family when he married Ellen Marianne Damant in Ipswich, Suffolk. Ellen, born in Ipswich in 1866, was the daughter of James Damant, a builder from Waldringfield, the same village as Kate Roe’s aunt Annie Damant, and his wife Emma Rollinson Smith – a common enough surname, but possibly a relation of the Eliza Smith who acted as Arthur Loftus’ godmother, and effective substitute parent? Arthur and Ellen would both have been in their early 40s when they married, so this seems like a case of two unmarried members of the same extended family – distant cousins? – seeking companionship in their declining years.

My search for Ellen in the records before 1909 has yielded very little so far. But it has thrown up another Ellen Damant – this time with the middle name Maria, rather than Marianne – who was admitted to St Luke’s Lunatic Asylum in 1874. Taken together with the mystery of Arthur’s parentage, his being raised by a poor housekeeper, but somehow managing to qualify and have a career as a respected surgeon, not to mention the unexplained connection to the Damant family and the mysterious separation of George and Kate Roe – and this begins to sound like a plot from a novel by Wilkie Collins or Charlotte Bronte. More research will be necessary to solve some of these mysteries – but if anyone with ancestral connections to these families can throw any light on them, I’d certainly welcome their insights.