The third of the Holdsworth siblings to marry was my 4 x great grandfather, William Holdsworth. Born in 1771, William had been christened on 16th September in that year at the parish church in South Weald, Essex. He was the sixth and penultimate child of my 5 x great grandparents Joseph and Elizabeth Holdsworth.

On 26th December 1792, ten months after the wedding of his brother Joseph to Margaret Miller, William was married at the parish church of St Botolph without Bishopsgate, the church where his older sister Sarah had married her first husband Edward Porter six years earlier. Once again, the reason for choosing this particular church, and the description of the couple in the record as ‘of this parish’, are mysterious, given that William and his wife both had close associations with Stepney, rather than with the Bishopsgate area.

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‘Declaration of faith’ by the Baptists of Little Alie Street, 1799

The name of William’s bride was Lydia, and she was the daughter of Francis and Elizabeth Evins or Evans. Francis and Elizabeth may be the couple who had married at the church of St Mary, Whitechapel, in December 1768. It is also likely, as we shall see from later posts, that Francis was originally from Bedfordshire, and almost certain that the Evans family were fervent Baptists. Whether William acquired his own Baptist faith from his wife, or whether he was already a member of the denomination when they met (and perhaps this explains how they met) is impossible to determine. We know that William’s father Joseph Holdsworth senior came from a Dissenting, possibly Methodist, family in Yorkshire, and that (as we shall see in due course) some of William’s siblings would also be Nonconformists.

What we know for certain is that by 1798 both William and Lydia were registered members of Little Alie Street Baptist Chapel, William being admitted to membership on 14th May and Lydia on 23rd July. (I’m grateful to my fellow researcher and distant relative Ron Roe for the discovery of these records.) Little Alie or Ayliffe Street was just to the south of the western end of Whitechapel High Street. Also known as the Church of Christ, the Little Alie Street Chapel’s history is usefully summarised on the excellent website of the church of St-George-in-the-East as follows:

This congregation’s life began in 1750, when members of the Little Prescot Street chapel who wanted James Fall as their next minister broke away. Fall, from Croydon, was ordained in the Independent chapel in Crispin Street, Spitalfields in 1754, with his father presiding. A few months later they moved into their new meeting house in Little Alie Street; it was, said a later observer, a somewhat small chapel. Fall’s life was short and tumultuous – he died in 1756. William Dowers was the minister from 1757-95. His obituary sermon by Curtis Fleming, together with two hymns and an oration at his interment by the Rev. Richard Hutchins, were published in 1795. 

In 1789 the deacon Mr Fleming baptized William Winterbotham ‘on profession of faith’, in the river at Old Ford. Winterbotham had renounced infant baptism and the Countess of Huntingdon’s Connexion, and became a Baptist minister. An orthodox and radical Calvinist, he was tried for sedition in 1792. The court claimed, If ever the trumpet of sedition was sounded in the pulpit it was done in this instance. He was in prison from 1793-97, during which he wrote books about China and the United States.

When Dowers died, the chapel was at a low ebb; it closed for a short time. Prescot Street then supplied a minister for a year until William Shenstone took charge from 1797 until his death (aged 62) in 1833; until 1795 or so he had been a General Baptist. During his time 680 members were admitted. He lived in Bedford [now Ford] Square, behind the London Hospital. In 1799 was produced A declaration of the faith and practice of the Church of Christ, in Little Alie-Street, Goodman’s-fields. 

The reference to the trial of William Winterbotham is a reminder that the 1790s were a turbulent period in English history, following the shock of the French Revolution, movements for reform at home, and government repression and treason trials. Edmund Burke famously excoriated Dissenting ministers, such as Richard Price and Joseph Priestley, for tacitly supporting the Jacobin cause. It’s not clear to what extent Winterbotham’s ‘seditious’ sentiments were shared by other Baptists attending Little Alie Street Chapel, though it may be significant that, as we shall in a later post, William Holdsworth’s Baptist grandson would name his own son after Joseph Priestley.

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A cordwainer or shoemaker

William and Lydia Holdsworth’s first child Isaac was christened at St George-in-the-East on 2nd February 1794, twenty-eight days after his birth. (I’m aware that before 1847 all marriages, even between Dissenters, had to take place in Anglican churches, but I’m not sure if this applied to child baptisms.) William is described in the parish register as a cordwainer and the couple’s address is given as Marmaduke Street. However, since William only started to pay land tax in the street in the following year, it’s possible that he and Lydia were living with his brother Joseph at this point. Their second child, Samuel, was born at the same address and christened at the same church on 12th July 1795.

These two sons were followed by two daughters. Phoebe Holdsworth was born on 19th December 1796. In addition to her christening at St George’s, Phoebe’s birth was recorded in the General Register of Protestant Dissenters held at Dr Williams’ Library in Redcross Street, Cripplegate. We learn from this source that her birth was witnessed by her grandmother Elizabeth Holdsworth and by the midwife, Susannah McClatchie, who was herself a Dissenter.

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Nonconformist birth certificate for Eliza Holdsworth

By the time the Holdsworths’ second daughter, Eliza, my 3 x great grandmother, was born five years later, the family had moved from Marmaduke Street to Mile End Road. The Meetings Book of Little Alie Street Baptist Chapel also notes the Holdsworths’ address at Mile End Road in 1800 and 1803. Eliza Holdworth’s birth, on 19th April 1801, was also recorded in the Dissenters’ Register. On this occasion the witnesses were once again Mrs McClatchie and also Eliza’s aunt Sarah, who by the time the birth was registered in 1805 had married her second husband William Parker.

On 28th January 1803 Lydia Holdsworth gave birth to another son, and he was christened at the parish church of St Dunstan and All Saints, Stepney, on 27th February. The child was given the name Edward Porter Holdsworth: as I noted in an earlier post, this was in memory either of the seven-year-old son of William’s sister Sarah, who had died in the previous year, or of her husband who had died four years earlier. Sadly, it’s likely that Edward Porter Holdsworth also died at a young age, since there are no further records for him.

Three years later, in 1806, William and Lydia Holdsworth’s last child, 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.

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Blue Board Inn yard, Aldgate/Whitechapel

Like his brother Joseph, William Holdsworth seems to have earned enough as a shoemaker to enable him to launch an alternative career in middle age, as well as buying a house in the Essex countryside. There is evidence that in the 1820s William Holdsworth ran a carrier service between London and the village of Woodford. Kent’s Directory of 1826 refers to a carrier service run by ‘Holdsworth’ between Woodford and the Blue Boar Inn. A listing in Pigot’s Directory of 1826 under ‘Woodford’ mentions ‘Stokoe, Spear’s, Well’s and Holdsworth’s Carts, daily,’ and under carriers to London lists ‘John Spears, every morning at nine, to the Black Bell, Whitechapel, & returns in the evening. – And Wm Holdsworth, every morning at nine, to the Blue Boar, Whitechapel, and returns in the evening.’

A suggestion that William may have partnered with one of his brothers in this enterprise comes in the same directory, which under London carriers lists John Holdsworth and gives his route as  ‘Woodford, Flower Pot and Marlboro’ Head, Bishopsgate St., Half Moon, Gracechurch St, and Blue Boar, Aldgate.’ (I’ll write about John Holdsworth in a later post.) The journey from Woodford to Whitechapel covered about ten miles or so and the Blue Boar was a popular destination point for stage coaches from around the country.

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The last will and testament of William Holdsworth, 1827

William was certainly living in Woodford at the time of his death. He wrote his will there in 1827, appointing his wife Lydia as sole executrix, and he died in the following year at the age of fifty-six. The issue of William Holdsworth’s burial is a curious one. The parish register of St Mary the Virgin, Woodford, claims that he was buried there on 24th September 1827. However, there are records of the burials of William and Lydia Holdsworth on 2nd April and 19th December 1830 respectively, at Wycliffe Independent Chapel in Stepney.

The website of St. George-in-the-East includes the following information about Wycliffe Chapel:

This chapel traced its roots to one of the early Independent congregations which met from 1642 at Haydon’s Yard, Minories, and then in Smithfield. The chapel in New Road (the original name of part of Cannon Street Road) was built in 1780, with a schoolroom added in 1785 and a Sunday School in 1790. It was long and narrow, seating up to 800 people, and lit by brass chandeliers holding candles (which had to be trimmed mid-service). It had a large burial ground.

Were the Holdsworths buried initially in Woodford, and then re-buried in a Nonconformist ceremony close to their original home in Stepney? And if so, is their place of burial an indication that they had transferred their allegiance from Little Alie Street Baptist meeting to a Congregationalist meeting – or did Wycliffe Chapel simply offer the only burial ground for Dissenters in that part of London?

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