Sarah was probably the first of the Holdsworth siblings to come to London and certainly the first to get married there. Baptised at the parish church of St Peter in South Weald, Essex, on 29th September 1767, she was the second surviving child and only surviving daughter of my 5 x great grandparents Joseph and Elizabeth Holdsworth.


The church of St Botolph without Bishopsgate, London in 1776, ten years before Sarah Holdsworth was married there

On 27th October 1786, a month or so after her nineteenth birthday, Sarah was married at the church of St Botolph without Bishopsgate in the city of London. The man she married was Edward Porter. He was able to sign his name, but she made a mark in the register, indicating that she was unable to read and write. Both bride and groom were said to be ‘of this parish’, but that is something of a mystery, given that all the other records we have for the couple place them in Mile End Old Town. However, there does seems to be have been something of a family connection with the church. Six years earlier, Sarah Holdsworth’s half-sister Frances Collins, the product of her mother Elizabeth’s first marriage to John Collins, had married her cousin John Godfrey Schwartz, son of Elizabeth’s sister Ann, at the same church. And six years after Sarah Holdsworth’s marriage to Edward Porter, the same church would witness the marriage of her brother (my 4 x great grandfather) William Holdsworth to Lydia Evans.

Working backwards from his burial record, we can determine that Edward was born in about 1766. I’ve found traces of a number of Edward Porters born around this time in the Whitechapel area, but nothing definitive. One thing we know about Edward for certain is his occupation: he was a plumber. That much we learn, together with confirmation of the couple’s residence in Mile End Old Town, from the record of their son Edward’s christening at the church of St Dunstan and All Saints, Stepney, on 19th March 1794.

Perhaps the most intriguing thing about this baptismal record is the child’s middle name: Parker. This was the surname of the man who would become Sarah’s second husband, after the early death of Edward Porter senior. Not only that, but (as we shall see in due course) later generations of Holdsworths would also marry into the Parker family. The fact that Sarah gave her son this name when she was still married to Edward Porter suggests that a close tie with the Parkers already existed. One possibility is that Parker was his mother’s maiden name, which would mean that Sarah Holdsworth’s first and second husbands might have been related.


By the time Sarah’s son Edward was born, three of her Holdsworth siblings had married and moved to Stepney: William and Joseph in 1792, and Godfrey in 1793. I’ll explore their lives in future posts. I’m unsure when their mother Elizabeth arrived from South Weald, but I suspect it was shortly after her husband Joseph’s death in 1795. It seems likely that Elizabeth went to live with her daughter Sarah: not just because there was a tradition, then as now, of daughters taking on the responsibility to care for ageing parents, but also because Elizabeth would make Sarah and her second husband William Parker the co-executors of her will.

There are land tax records for Edward Porter in the parish of Stepney, which included Mile End Town, in every year from 1788 until his death in 1799, paying rent to a number of different proprietors. This suggests that Edward and Sarah lived in the area for most if not all of their brief married life.

Edward Porter, a plumber of Mile End, signed and sealed his last will and testament on 11th September 1799. The witnesses were Joseph Fox and Benjamin da Costa, the latter being a surgeon and (we can deduce from other records) a member of Stepney’s long-established Sephardic Jewish community (Horwood’s map of 1792, part of which appears in the header image to this blog, shows a Jewish hospital and no fewer than three burial grounds on the main road in Mile End Old Town, as well as almshouses on nearby Devonshire Street). It’s not clear whether da Costa was present in a medical capacity, or simply as a neighbour and friend.

Edward Porter was buried at St Dunstan’s on 18th September 1799, only a week after composing his will. The parish register gives the cause of death as ‘brain fever’, a nineteenth-century term that could refer to any one of a number of conditions, including meningitis and scarlet fever. The register also notes that 4s 6d was paid for Edward’s burial, 9s 2d for the church service, and 10s 8d for the ‘great bell’ to be rung.

In his will Edward bequeathed everything to his wife Sarah, including the lease on their house, except for fifty pounds that he set aside to be given to their son Edward Parker Porter ‘as soon as he attains the age of twenty’. This bequest has a particular poignance, since Edward junior would die from the same illness as his father just three years later, at the tender age of seven years and eleven months, being buried at St Dunstan’s on 25th January 1802. According to the parish register, exactly the same sums were paid for burial, church service, and bell ringing, as when Edward Porter senior died.


Burial of Edward Parker Porter recorded in the parish register of St Dunstan and All Saints, Stepney

On 13th August 1803, almost four years after the death of her first husband and a year and a half after her son’s death, Sarah married again, this time to William Parker of the parish of St Mary, Whitechapel. The ceremony took place at the parish church of St Matthew, Bethnal Green, and was witnessed by Sarah’s brother William. There is evidence that the two siblings were close. Earlier that year, William had named one of his own children Edward Porter Holdsworth, in memory of either Sarah’s late husband or her dead child, or both. Three years later, he would give one of his daughters the name Sarah.

As was the case with Sarah’s first husband Edward Porter, we know very little about William Parker’s origins, apart from the fact that he came from Whitechapel. It’s possible that he was employed as an oil and colour merchant, something I’ve discovered by a circuitous route. When Sarah’s mother Elizabeth Holdsworth made her will in 1809, she appointed as executor a certain Richard Eykin Windle, a surgeon and apothecary who lived in Wellclose Square, Whitechapel, and who was probably a relative of the Thomas Windle who had been appointed as co-executor of her will by Elizabeth’s brother Sarah Gibson in 1789. As with Benjamin da Costa in the case of Edward Porter’s will, it’s possible that Richard Windle was the doctor who attended Elizabeth Holdsworth in her last illness.


Oil and colour man’s shop in early 19th century London

The Windles were a Shropshire family who moved to London in the eighteenth century, while retaining links with their home county. Richard Windle’s brother Thomas Hattam Windle was an oil and colour merchant with premises at 50 Whitechapel High Street, where he would eventually set up in business with his brother-in-law George Byron in 1826. However, Windle had been involved in an earlier partnership a few doors away on the same street. On 1st July 1812, this notice appeared in the London Gazette:

The Copartnership existing between us, and carried on under the firm of Parker and Windle, Oil and Colourmen, at No. 47, Whitechapel, in the County of Middlesex, was this day dissolved by mutual consent.—Witness our Hands,

William Parker. John Hattam Windle

Could this be the William Parker who married Sarah Porter née Holdsworth in 1803? After all, we know from the marriage record that he was from Whitechapel. It may not be a coincidence that a month after he dissolved his partnership with John Hattam Windle, William Parker took out a patent for an improvement in the manufacture of green paint. His fortunes were shortlived, however: six years later, in June 1818, William Parker of High Street, Whitechapel, Middlesex, oilman and colour manufacturer, was declared bankrupt.

Whether William Parker the oil and colourman was the same man who married Sarah Holdsworth remains, for now, a matter of conjecture. Despite my best efforts, I’ve been unable to find any records for William and Sarah after their marriage in 1803, except for the references to them in the will of Sarah’s mother Elizabeth. When Elizabeth died in 1809, she bequeathed ‘to my daughter Sarah Parker all my furniture and my apparel and all my residue’ and appointed Sarah and Richard E Windle as joint executors of her will. William and Sarah Parker were witnesses to the will, together with Richard Windle and Sarah’s brother William Holdsworth.