This blog tells the story of one family – my mother’s family – living in the East End of London in the nineteenth century. Based on my family history research, it sets out to rescue from obscurity four generations of men and women who lived and worked on the eastern edge of the nation’s capital as it was going through a period of dramatic transformation.
When my great great great grandmother Eliza Holdsworth was born in Stepney, at the very beginning of the nineteenth century, it was still a semi-rural suburb, with contemporary maps showing fields and market gardens between the patchwork of streets. As for East Ham, where Eliza’s great grandaughter (my ‘Nan’) Minnie Roe would be born a hundred years later, that was still a sleepy Essex village. By the time of Minnie’s birth, Stepney would be an overcrowded slum, accommodating a teeming mass of migrants from every corner of Britain and refugees from across the world, while East Ham had itself become a bustling town of terraced streets, absorbed into the greater mass of the East End.
My nineteenth-century ancestors worked as shoemakers, silk weavers, laundresses and domestic servants. Although one or two achieved a modest degree of prosperity, most were poor and lived and died in relative obscurity. Nevertheless, I believe that their stories are worth telling, both because they are intrinsically interesting, and also because they can throw light on the times in which they lived. I would argue that family history offers a unique way of getting ‘inside’ history, the details of individual lives and relationships giving a tangible sense of the feel and texture of the past.
I should note that, although much of the information shared in this blog is based on my original research, I am indebted to the pioneering work of my fellow family history researchers, and distant relatives, Ron Roe, Adrian Holdsworth and Robin Blanch, among others.
I hope that readers will find the stories told here as fascinating and engrossing as I do. If you have any information that can shed further light on these lives, I would very much like to hear from you. Please leave a comment on the blog, or email me at:
The header image is a section of Greenwood’s Map of London, 1827, accessed via http://users.bathspa.ac.uk/greenwood