Sarah, Elizabeth and Godfrey, the three children of Joseph and Margaret Holdsworth whose stories I recounted in the last post, all achieved a certain degree of economic success and social status. Godfrey ran his own business as a tallow chandler, which he was able to pass on to his sons, while Sarah was married to a shopkeeper and Elizabeth to a chandler who became a landlord. Each of them was able to employ at least one domestic servant, that essential marker differentiating the genteel from the working classes. However, their social and economic achievements were modest besides those of their brother, Joseph Edward Holdsworth, who is the subject of this post.

Like his father, and his brother Godfrey, Joseph worked as a tallow chandler. The first record we have for him, after his christening in 1802, is his certificate of membership from the Tallower Chandlers’ Company, dated 1st April 1824, when he became a freeman of the guild. Joseph was twenty-two years old at the time and living at 235 Shadwell High Street, the same street where his brother Godfrey and sister Sarah lived and kept their respective businesses. Another important fact about Joseph Edward Holdsworth is that, like his uncle William and possibly his uncle John, he was a Nonconformist. But while William (my 4 x great grandfather) was a dedicted Baptist, Joseph Edward Holdsworth was a committed Congregationalist, being a member of the Stepney Meeting. Interestingly, but perhaps unknown to Joseph, a number of his seventeenth-century ancestors, members of the seafaring Greene family of Ratcliffe, had been early adherents of this congregation, at the time of the Restoration (see my Citizens and Cousins blog for further details). The chapel would also play an important role in the life of Joseph’s cousin Eliza, daughter of his uncle John, as we shall see in a later post.


Parish church of St Mary, Haggerston (via Wikipedia)

Joseph Edward Holdsworth was married twice. His first marriage was to Amelia Finch at the church of All Hallows Barking in the City of London, on Christmas Day 1828, when he was twenty-six and she was twenty-four. Joseph and Amelia were living in Brick Lane and Joseph was working as an ‘oil man’ (in other words, a tallow chandler) when their first daughter Elizabeth was baptised at St. Mary’s, Whitechapel, in May 1830. Sadly, the baby died three months later. When their second child, Joseph Finch Holdsworth, was christened two years later, the Holdsworths were at 12 North Place in the parish of St. Mary, Haggerston, at that time a semi-rural suburb lying between Bethnal Green and the village of Dalston. They were at the same address in 1834 when their daughter Sarah Crawshaw Holdsworth (named after Joseph Edward’s older sister) was born.

Amelia gave birth to one more child – Elizabeth, born in 1837- before she died in 1838, perhaps as a result of complications following childbirth. Joseph married again in 1840 at the parish church in West Hackney. His second wife was Emma Jane Webb, who had been born in Thundridge, near Ware in Hertfordshire, in 1809, the daughter of Benjamin Webb and his wife Elizabeth Hott. The parish register describes both Joseph’s and Emma’s fathers as ‘gentlemen’.

Joseph’s and Emma’s first daughter, Emma Amelia (presumably named after Joseph’s two wives) was born in December, 1841. I’ve been unable to find any trace of Joseph and Emma in the 1841 census, but at this date Joseph’s son by his first marriage, Joseph Finch Holdsworth, aged eight, was a pupil in the school run by Elizabeth Webb and her daughter Martha at Wellington Place, West Hackney As the 1851 census makes clear, Elizabeth was Emma’s sister and therefore Joseph’s aunt.

A Dame's School

Victorian ‘dame’ school (via

Four more children would be born over the next ten years: Edward Webb Holdsworth was born in 1843, Henry Godfrey in 1847, Louisa in 1949, and Margaret Jane in 1851, all in Mile End Old Town, presumably at the address they occupied at the time of the 1851 census. At that time, the family was living in Crown Row, Mile End Road, where Joseph’s sister Elizabeth and her husband John Moore, also a tallow chandler, had been living in 1841. Bearing in mind that by 1851 John was a ‘house proprietor’, it might even have been the same property. Joseph was still working as a tallow chandler and now employing fifteen men. Living with the couple were Joseph’s three children from his first marriage – Joseph, eighteen, Sarah, sixteen, and Elizabeth, fourteen–  together with three of the children born to Joseph and Emma: Emma, nine, Louisa, two, and Margaret, four months. They also had a servant, Caroline Lee.

At this date Joseph and Emma Holdsworth’s other two children, Edward Webb, seven, and Henry Godfrey, five, were living in Somerford Grove, Hackney, just off Stoke Newington Road, where they were pupils of their aunt Elizabeth and cousin Martha Webb. There was only one other young pupil at the address, and a servant.


Crown Row can be seen on the south side of Mile End Road, towards the right-hand edge of this section of Greenwood’s 1827 map of London

Ten years later, the Holdsworths were still at Crown Row, but now Edward, seventeen, and Henry, fifteen, were back at home and assisting with the family business. Elizabeth, twenty-one, and Emma, nineteen, were also still living with their parents. Sarah had married James Scrutton, a ship broker, in 1857 and by this time they were living in Bromley, Kent, with their two-year-old son James Herbert, as well as a servant and a nurse. At the time of the census they also had a visitor: Sarah’s ten-year-old sister Margaret. Thirteen-year-old Louisa was also away from home at the time, at a ladies’ boarding school in Thaxted, Essex.

Joseph Finch Holdsworth had married his wife Eliza in 1860 and in 1861 they were living in Bow, where Joseph was working as a clerk to a tallow chandler (his father, perhaps?). Joseph died in December of that same year, at the age of twenty-nine. The Holdsworths lost another child in 1865, when their daughter Elizabeth died at the age of twenty-eight.

My fellow researcher Adrian Holdsworth has found the record of a bankruptcy and deception case at the Old Bailey in 1869, in which Joseph Edward Holdsworth was a witness. In his evidence, Joseph says of himself:  ‘I am a wholesale tallow chandler, carrying on business in the Mile End Road—I have been in business there twenty-four years’.

However, the next few years brought big changes to the Holdsworth family. The 1871 census finds Joseph, Emma, and their children Edward, Louisa and Margaret, no longer in London, but living at Roundcroft in Cheshunt, Hertfordshire, together with a cook and a housemaid. In the decade since the previous census was taken, Joseph appears to have left the oil business behind and is now described as a tea merchant.

Joseph and Emma must have been living in Cheshunt by 1870 at the latest, since their daughter Emma was married there on 11th January, to clergyman and Cambridge graduate Henry William Meeres. By the time of the census of the following year, Henry and Emma were living in Keele, Staffordshire, where Henry was the curate of Silverdale.


Little Hallingbury Mill, Essex (via

According to another record found by Adrian Holdsworth, by this time Joseph Edward Holdsworth had also taken possession of Little Hallingbury Mill, near Bishop’s Stortford (the building is now a hotel). The record states: ‘The property passed to Joseph Edward Holdsworth (a tallow merchant) of Mile End Road who subsequently purchased various additional parcels of land; let or leased to varied tenants for such sums as 4/- per annum.’ In his will, Joseph would bequeath the property to the Scrutton family of Gracechurch Street, London: presumably his daughter Sarah and her husband.

Joseph Edward Holdsworth experienced at least one more change of address, since he would die at Montfort House, Chigwell Row, Essex, in 1880. He was seventy-seven years old. Joseph was buried at Abney Park, the Nonconformist cemetery in north London. In 1881 his widow Emma, who described herself in the census record as a ‘gentlewoman’, was still living at Monfort House, with her son Henry, thirty-four, an oil merchant (perhaps he took over his father’s business?), and daughter Margaret, twenty-seven, another gentlewoman. They also had a cook and a housemaid.

Ten years later Emma was living with her daughter Margaret and her husband, violin maker Herman Eisenmann (they had married in 1885), and their children in Streatham. She was still living with them in St. Leonard’s, Sussex at the time of the 1901 census, but died later that year.