John Holdsworth, who was born in 1765, was the eldest surviving child of my 5 x great grandparents Joseph and Elizabeth Holdsworth, but the last to move to London. Born like his siblings in South Weald, Essex, John was my 4 x great grandfather, a distinction he shares with his brother William, since two of their grandchildren would marry and become my great great grandparents.

I suspect that John was the last of the Holdsworth siblings to leave South Weald because he was his father Joseph’s heir, and perhaps shared responsibility with him for the family farm. It is likely that Joseph’s death in 1795, when John would have been thirty years old, but still unmarried, was the signal for the remaining Holdsworths to leave the village, with Joseph’s widow Elizabeth moving back to London, her home city, where her other children Sarah, Joseph, William and Godfrey were already settled and married.

As for John, for some reason he chose not to come to London, at least not immediately, but instead moved to Oxfordshire. We know from later records that John worked as a carpenter, so perhaps he was tempted by the prospect of work in that county. The first definite record we have for John is of his marriage on 22nd September 1797 to Mary Webb, which took place in the Cotswold town of Chipping Norton. (Although the parish register clearly states that John’s bride was named Mary, some later records insist that her name was Eliza Anne.). Later records tell us that their daughter Eliza (not to be confused with her cousin of the same name, the daughter of John’s brother William) was born there in 1798, and her brother, variously given the name John and William in family records, two years later. The latter child seems to have died in infancy, since his name does not appear in any later records.

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By the time their next child was born, John and Mary Holdsworth had moved from Chipping Norton to Oxford. We now from later census records that their daughter Keziah, one of my 3 x great grandmothers, was born in St Clement’s, Oxford, a district to the east of the city, its main street linking the centre with Headington Hill. ‘Keziah’, like other Old Testament names, was popular among Dissenters, and suggests (together with evidence from the next generation of the family) that John Holdsworth may have shared his brother William’s Nonconformist faith.

The Holdsworths must have remained in Oxford until at least 1809, when their youngest son, Joseph, was born there. This was also the year in which John’s mother Elizabeth Holdsworth died in Stepney, an event that may have prompted the family’s move to London. However, family records suggest that John and Mary also had another daughter, Ann, who would either remain in or return to Oxfordshire, where she would eventually marry.

We know that John Holdsworth and his family were definitely in Stepney by 1812, when he began to pay land tax on a property in William Street, in the parish of St George-in-the-East, where his brother Joseph had been living three years earlier. John also paid tax in the same street every year between 1813 and 1817, and again in 1822. In each of these years he was described in the records as the proprietor as well as the occupier of the property, suggesting a certain degree of wealth. However between 1824 and 1826 John was said to be the proprietor while other names are given as the occupiers, indicating that the Holdsworth family had moved elsewhere while continuing to rent out their William Street house.

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‘A Carpenter’ by Thomas Rogers (1830) via bridgemanart.com

It’s possible that, as well as working as a carpenter, John was also a house builder – his son Joseph would certainly combine both trades – and that he actually built the family’s home in William Street, which (as I noted in earlier posts) was on the very edge of new building development at the time, overlooking the open fields that lay between Cable Street and Mile End Road.

It would appear that John’s wife Mary predeceased him. It’s possible that he is the 75-year-old carpenter by the name of John Holdsworth, living in Wellington Street, Mile End Old Town, at the time of the 1841 census, a few houses away from his daughter Keziah, who by this time was married with children of her own. But that record is puzzling, since it suggests that this John was born ‘in county’, i.e. in Middlesex, and not in Essex.

I’ll tell the stories of John’s surviving children, as well as the children of the other Holdsworth siblings, in future posts.

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