My last post explored the lives of the children of Godfrey Holdsworth, a plumber in early nineteenth-century Stepney, and his wife Diana. I’ve decided to discuss their son Charles William Millrow Holdsworth in a separate post, partly because his life and those of his descendants are so remarkable.
Charles had been born in Stepney in December 1811 in Mile End Old Town, and I suspect his unusual third name may derive from the family of his mother Diana Cam: perhaps it was her own mother’s maiden name? The next we hear of Charles Holdsworth is when he marries Elizabeth Hart at the church of St. Anne and St. Agnes, Aldergate, in 1834. The church, now St. Anne’s Lutheran church, was in St Anne’s Lane, now Gresham Street, off St. Martin-le-Grand, and had been rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of London. We have a record of the banns of marriage for 3rd August that year, which tells us that the witnesses were Abiah Hart and James Fry. Abiah was Elizabeth’s widowed mother and James would soon become her second husband.
Elizabeth Hart had been born on 26th September 1809 in Samuel Street, in the parish of St George-in-the-East, where she was christened on 17th January 1810. She was the daughter of carpenter William Hart, who was born in 1784, and his wife Abiah Higgson, the latter having been born in Coalbrookdale, Shropshire, in 1786. Her parents appear to have married at St. Leonard’s Shoreditch in 1813, though it seems that two of their children may have been born before this date: one of them being Elizabeth, and the other her older sister Ann, who was born in the city of London in 1807. William and Abiah Hart had three other children: Caroline in 1821, William Henry in 1824, and George in 1828, all of them born in the city of London, the younger two at 9 Bull and Mouth Street, to the west of St. Martin-le-Grand, where the family can be found in later records. This street, named after the Bull and Mouth Inn, would later be built over. William Hart senior seems to have died in about 1831, at the age of forty-seven.
Bull and Mouth Inn, St Martin-le-Grand
Abiah Hart married her second husband, James Fry, a widower and another carpenter (perhaps her late husband’s business partner?), at St. Leonard’s, Shoreditch, in the autumn of 1834, soon after the marriage of her daughter Elizabeth to Charles Holdsworth. James Fry had been born in Dorset in about 1801. In 1822 he had married Sophia Bennett in Salisbury, Wiltshire, but they must have moved to London shortly afterwards. Their first son, George Bennett Fry, was born in that same year and baptised at the Countess of Huntington’s Sion Chapel in Union Street, Mile End Old Town in 1823, confirming that either the Frys or the Bennetts (or both) were Nonconformists: (Abiah’s Old Testament-derived first name suggests that her family were also Dissenters.) By the time their second child, Mary Bennett Fry, was born in 1825, the family had moved to the City of London: she was baptised at St. Giles Cripplegate in May 1829, on the same day as her brother Joseph, who was born in that year. It would appear that Sophia Fry died in 1834, at the age of about 37.
James Fry and his children seem to have moved in with Abiah, at 9 Bull and Mouth Street, after their marriage. What’s more, Charles and Elizabeth Holdsworth appear to have joined them there soon after their own wedding in the same year. On 20th October 1835 Charles and Elizabeth’s first child, Charles William, was born. He was christened at the church of St. Anne and St. Agnes on 2nd November. The baptismal record notes that Charles senior’s profession is bookbinding, a trade shared by his nephew Edward and George Holdsworth, sons of his brother Edward James: indeed, it’s possible that they were apprenticed to their uncle. A second child, Elizabeth, was born on 13th December 1836 and christened at the same church on 15th January 1837; and another daughter, Caroline, was born on 13th February 1839 and christened there on 13th March that year.
The 1841 census finds James Fry, carpenter, and his wife Abiah, at 9 Bull and Mouth Street, with a motley household consisting of bookbinder Charles Holdsworth and his wife Elizabeth; two of their children, Charles, six, and Elizabeth, three (there’s no trace of two-year-old Caroline); James’ son Joseph Fry, aged twelve; Abiah’s son George Hart, fourteen, from her first marriage; a twenty-four-year old woman by the name of ‘M. Hart’, who is working (presumably with the Holdsworths) as a bookfolder; and various non-family members with the surnames Moore, Stracher and Baker.
Bull and Mouth Street and Dove Court are visible in the top left-hand corner of this section from Horwood’s 1792 map of London
By the time of the 1851 census, the Frys and the Holdsworths have moved a couple of streets away to 4 Four Dove Court, which they share with two other families. Living with James and Abiah Fry are James’ son Joseph, who is now working (again, almost certainly with Charles Holdsworth) as a book edge gilder; Abiah’s sons from her first marriage: William, a carpenter, and George, a news vendor; and an Irish lodger – widower and Chelsea pensioner Edward Morrison, aged eighty-three. Charles Holdsworth is described as a bookbinder’s journeyman while his wife Elizabeth is working with him as a book folder; with them is their daughter Caroline, now twelve. I’m not sure where their son Charles was at this date (he would have been sixteen), but their daughter Elizabeth, seventeen, was working as a servant in the home of ivory and pearl worker George Staight in Bull Head Court.
James Fry must have died some time before 1861, as the census of that year describes Abiah as a widow of eighty. She is still living at 4 Four Dove Court with Charles and Elizabeth Holdsworth and their adult children Charles and Caroline. Ominously, Charles senior’s occupation is ‘not known’.
In 1864 Charles and Elizabeth Holdsworth’s daughter Caroline married artist’s brush maker and widower Charles Reynolds, who was from Westbury, Wiltshire, at St. Leonard’s, Shoreditch. The 1871 census finds them living in Forster Street, Shoreditch with Elizabeth, ten, Rosa, eight (both of whom were presumably the children of Charles’ previous marriage), and Florence, four. Caroline’s brother Charles was also married around this time, to a woman named Emily, and in 1871 they are living in Cross Street, Islington, where Charles is following his father’s occupation as a bookbinder. They have four children: Ellen, six, Ada, four, Beatrice, three, and Emily, one. I haven’t been able to discover where Charles and Elizabeth Holdsworth’s third child, Elizabeth, was living at this date.
The 1871 census finds Charles Holdsworth senior fallen on hard times. Now sixty years old, he is a resident at the City of London Union Workhouse in Bromley St. Leonard, leaving his wife Elizabeth alone in Great Lion Court, Aldersgate. I assume that her mother Abiah had died by this time, though I’ve yet to find a record of her death. Things hadn’t improved much by 1881, when Charles is still – or once again – in the workhouse. He appears to have died a year later in Poplar, which is also where Elizabeth was living when she apparently died in 1884.
Charles William Millrow Holdsworth’s dramatic decline into pauperism, which contrasted so starkly with the fortunes of some of his cousins, may have been an influence on the radical political opinions of his son and grandson, whose lives I’ll explore in the next two posts.