My most recent posts have explored the lives of the descendants of Joseph Holdsworth and Godfrey Holdsworth, two of the Holdsworth siblings who came to London from South Weald, Essex, towards the end of the eighteenth century. We now turn to the offspring of their brothers, John Holdsworth and William Holdsworth, both of whom were my 4 x great grandfathers (an anomaly that will be explained in due course). Their sister, Sarah Holdsworth, left no surviving children that we know of.
We begin with the children of John Holdsworth, a carpenter who moved from Essex to Oxfordshire before arriving in Stepney in the early decades of the nineteenth-century, with his wife Mary and children Eliza, Keziah and Joseph. There was another daughter, Ann, who (according to some sources) remained in Oxfordshire and married a Mr Morley: nothing more is known about her.
In this post I’ll focus on John and Mary Holdsworth’s daughter Eliza, who is not to be confused with her cousin of that name, the daughter of John’s brother William, and my 3 x great grandmother, whose story I’ll relate in another post. An additional layer of confusion is created by the fact that both Eliza Holdsworths spent much of their life in domestic service, with the key difference that William’s daughter was married twice and left a large family, whereas John’s daughter never married.
Born in Chipping Norton in 1798, a year after her parents John and Mary were married there, Eliza Holdsworth was their eldest child. At some point the young family moved to Oxford, where Eliza’s younger siblings Ann, Keziah and Joseph would be born, and then to Stepney, certainly by the time Eliza was in her teens. As I’ve noted before, by 1812, when Eliza would have been fourteen, her father John was paying rent on a property in William Street, in the parish of St George-in-the-East.
The Stepney Meeting House (Independent or Congregational Chapel) in 1783
Eliza’s younger sister Keziah was married in 1827, followed by her younger brother Joseph in 1835: I’ll tell their stories in forthcoming posts. The reason why Eliza herself never married is unknown. Perhaps she was needed at home, possibly because her mother Mary died when Eliza’s siblings were still young, and thus missed her chance to marry. Alternatively, she may have begun her life in service at a young age, and the opportunity for marriage never presented itself.
The first reliable record we have for Eliza is the 1841 census, by which time she was already about forty-three years old, though the census record typically rounds her age down to forty. In my earlier post about Eliza’s father John I suggested that, like his brother William, he was a Dissenter, citing in evidence the characteristically Nonconformist use of an Old Testament name – Keziah – for one of his daughters. While William was a Baptist, John was probably a Congregationalist, like his nephew Joseph Edward Holdsworth, the son of their brother Joseph. If so, it’s likely that he too was a member of the Stepney Meeting, and that may be how his daughter Eliza came by the post in which she would remain for most of her life.
Section of Map of London 1851 from Cross’ London Guide, showing Cottage Grove on the north side of Mile End Road
In 1841 Eliza was one of two family servants in the Mile End home of fifty-six-year-old Joseph Fletcher, described in the census record as a ‘Dissenting minister’. Also present in the house were Fletcher’s daughter, Elizabeth, aged twenty, and a second family servant, Elizabeth Cawles (?), aged thirty. The family’s address was given as Cottage Grove, which lay to the east of Grove Road and just north of Mile End Road, not far from the present-day Mile End tube station.
Rev. Joseph Fletcher was a Congregational minister who had been appointed to the Stepney chapel in 1822. Born in Chester in 1784, he seems to have achieved some fame as a preacher and theological writer. Before coming to Stepney, Fletcher worked in Blackburn, Lancashire. One memoir, written in 1831, describes his move to London and concludes: ‘In this place he has ever since remained stationary, preaching to a large and affectionate congregation, and evincing his love for them in return, by using every exertion to promote their temporal and spiritual welfare.’
Rev Fletcher’s entry in the Dictionary of National Biography includes the following information:
In 1816 he added to his duties that of theological tutor in the Blackburn college for training ministers. While discharging the duties both of the congregation and the chair, with marked ability and success, Fletcher was also a voluminous writer. The ‘Eclectic Review’ had just begun its career, and Fletcher was one of its regular contributors. His papers gave proof of ample stores of information, and of a scholarly and powerful pen. On particular subjects Fletcher published tracts and treatises that won considerable fame. His lectures on the ‘Principles and Institutions of the Roman Catholic Religion’ (1817) won great appreciation, Dr. Pye Smith, Robert Hall, and others expressing a very high opinion of them. A discourse on ‘Personal Election and Divine Sovereignty’ (1825) was also much commended. A volume of poems (1846) was the joint production of himself and his sister, Mary Fletcher. In 1830 the senatus of the university of Glasgow conferred on him the degree of D.D. He was chairman of the Congregational Union in 1837. Without reaching the first rank, he showed a combination of reasoning power and emotional fervour which made him an instructive preacher. As a writer who gave birth to all his literary offspring amid the whirl of constant practical work and endless engagements he did little more than show what he might have done with leisure and other facilities for literary work.
Absent from the Fletcher family home in 1841 was Rev. Joseph Fletcher’s wife Mary, who may have been visiting relatives at the time. Joseph Fletcher had married Mary France in Blackburn in 1808. Besides their daughter Elizabeth, they had six other children: Robert (1809), John (1811), William (1813), Joseph (1816), Henry (1819) and James (1826). Joseph Fletcher the younger followed in his father’s footsteps, becoming a Congregational minister. From 1839 he served as the minister of the chapel in Hanley, Staffordshire and was married twice: after his first wife died, he married Mary Ann Hudson in West Bromwich in 1845. In 1849 the couple moved to Hampshire, where Joseph junior took up the post of minister at the Independent Chapel in Christchurch (now in Dorset).
Rev Joseph Fletcher the younger, by John Robert Dicksee, lithograph, mid 19th century (via http://www.npg.org.uk, used under a Creative Commons licence)
Like his father Rev Joseph Fletcher junior merits an entry in the Dictionary of National Biography, which includes this information:
He published, besides the memoirs of his father in 1846, ‘Six Views of Infidelity,’ a series of lectures given at Hanley in 1843; ‘History of Independency,’ an important work in 4 vols. 1847–9, reissued 1853; and ‘Life of Constantine the Great,’ 1852 (Congregational Year-Book, 1877). He is also credited with the libretto of an oratorio entitled ‘Paradise,’ by John Fawcett the younger.
In the autumn of 1842, en route to a religious meeting in Lancashire, Rev. Joseph Fletcher the elder contracted a severe cold and began to decline in health until the following June, when he died.
By the time of the 1851 census Rev. Fletcher’s widow Mary Fletcher, now aged sixty-three, had moved to Regent’s Terrace, near Regent’s Park, where the census record describes her as an ‘annuitant’: in other words, she was living on an annuity or pension. Living at the same address was her unmarried son, John, thirty-nine, whose occupation is illegible in the record. Mary Fletcher also had two young boarders: Alfred Bains, nineteen, and Joseph Powell, eighteen, from Lancashire and Cheshire respectively, suggesting that they were probably connected with the Fletcher family’s previous postings in some way. Both are described as students at ‘H. College’: this might be the Dissenting academy in Homerton established for the education of Nonconformist ministers.
Eliza Holdsworth, now aged fifty-two, was also present at Regent’s Terrace in 1851, though she is now described as the family’s cook. Also working for the Fletchers, as a housemaid, was fourteen-year-old Stepney-born Kezia Blanch. Kezia was Eliza’s niece, the daughter of her sister, also named Kezia(h), who had married John Blanch in 1827, and about whom we’ll have more to say in another post.
Hengistbury House, Purewell, Christchurch (via http://property.mitula.co.uk)
I haven’t been able to find either Eliza Holdsworth in the 1861 census, but I’m almost certain that she was still working for Mary Fletcher, whether the latter was still living independently or already living with her son Joseph, as would be the case ten years later. The 1871 census finds seventy-three-year old Eliza Holdsworth employed as a nurse at Hengistbury House (now converted into apartments: see image above), in the village of Purewell near Christchurch, Hampshire, the home of Independent Congregational minister Joseph Fletcher, fifty-five, his wife Marianne or Mary Ann, daughters Mary, twenty-one, and Sarah, thirteen, and his widowed mother Mary, now aged eighty-three. The house also functioned as a girls’ school, at which one daughter, Mary, was a teacher and the other, Sarah, a scholar. There were seven other female pupils, the youngest of them twelve and the eldest eighteen. Besides Eliza, the Fletchers also employed a young Welsh cook and a teenage housemaid.
The school at Hengistbury House had once had a number of male pupils, but in 1868 a terrible tragedy had occurred which would eventually lead to the school’s closure. Seven boys had drowned in a single incident during a bathing trip to Mudeford, as described in this account from The Evening Standard of 23rd May 1868:
Mary Fletcher, widow of Joseph Fletcher the elder and mother of Joseph Fletcher the younger, died later in 1871, while her son Joseph continued to serve as a minister in Christchurch until his death in 1876. The deaths of her employers would have left Eliza Holdsworth without a job, and also at an age when even domestic servants must have considered retiring. At the time of the 1881 census, she could be found in the home of widowed annuitant Mary Combe at 18 Sandringham Gardens, in Uxbridge Road, Ealing, where her niece Keziah Blanch, now aged forty-six, was working as a cook and domestic servant, alongside parlourmaid Frances Wilson, thirty-seven. Eliza, now eighty-three, is described in the census record as a ‘visitor’, yet she was again (or still?) in the same household ten years later, at the age of ninety-two.
Eliza Holdsworth died in Brentford in 1900, at the grand old age of one hundred and one. Having been born at the end of the eighteenth century, she lived long enough to see the beginning of the twentieth.