A snapshot of a family in the 1841 census doesn’t tell you very much about their origins especially if the older family members didn’t make it to 1851. This is the case with my Skinner family living in Chapel Street in Stratford in Essex. The household consists of the widowed Mary Skinner, aged 35 and not born in Essex, and her five children aged from 13 to 2 years old. Also there are her mother Mary Holbrook, a nurse aged 65 not born in Essex, and her brother Robert Holbrook, aged 22 and a smith. Her youngest child, Henry, born on the 2nd November 1838, was the only one to get his birth registered, and that confirms Mary’s maiden name as Holbrook, and his father as John Skinner, a shoemaker, deceased. So Mary Holbrook and her daughter Mary are not Stratford natives: between the birth of her daughter Mary in about 1808 and son Robert in 1819 Mary and John Holbrook had moved into Essex. It is more than likely that there were other children and the baptism registers for West Ham All Saints do show a John and Mary Holbrook presenting six children for baptism between 1804 and 1819, including a Mary, born on the 17th September 1810 and Robert born 11th December 1819. Some, if not most of these, - excepting Robert - are probably the children of John Holbrook and Mary Maxwell who married in West Ham on the 23rd January 1803. In the 1841 census Mary Holbrook is sure her daughter Mary was not born in Essex - after all she was there at the time, and when she registered her death on the 4th September 1842, she gives her age as 34, so born in 1808. Now the search moves west a few miles across the River Lea out of Essex and into Middlesex where a Mary Holbrook was born on the 9th February 1808 in St Anne, Limehouse, with parents John and Mary, living in Limehouse Causeway. She appears to have had two brothers, John born on the 25th December 1805, and William born on the 19th July 1810. Unfortunately the most likely marriage of a John Holbrook to a Mary took place at St Leonard’s church in neighbouring Bromley on the 10th February 1807, where the bride’s surname looks like Motin - variously transcribed as Morton, Molton or Motton, though I quite fancy a mis-hearing of Mountain. Of course it wasn’t unheard of for people to get married after the birth of a child ... and these locations would certainly fit with John’s occupation of rigger, carpenter and shipwright as given on various certificates. The dates also make it possible that the George and Thomas Holbrook born in West Ham in 1813 and 1817 respectively also belong to my John and Mary. So I needed to find two Holbrook couples, both called John and Mary, in Stratford or West Ham in the 1830s and 1840s, and the clue seems to lie in the churches they attended: mine seem to be Chapel, the others seem to be Church. The Mary Holbrook who died on the 29th December 1841 aged 66, and a pauper was buried at West Ham All Saints on the 2nd January 1842; her abode is given as the Union House, Leyton. She appears there on the 1841 census, where her birthplace is given as Essex. She is, I hope, Mary Maxwell. Another Mary Holbrook died on the 1st August 1847, aged 66, in Stratford; she is described as the widow of John Holbrook, carpenter, and the informant is Emma Skinner, her granddaughter, from Angel Lane, Stratford. She was buried in the Brickfields Chapel graveyard on the 8th August 1847, aged (annoyingly) 62. So this one is the mother of Robert Holbrook and Mary Skinner, the family living in Chapel Street at the time of the 1841 census. John Skinner had died on the 1st October 1838, aged 33, and Mary Holbrook, his mother-in- law registered his death; his burial on the 7th October is also recorded in the Register of Births and Baptisms of Brickfields Chapel or Stratford Congregational Church. A John Holbrook, aged 64, was buried at West Ham All Saints on the 5th May 1833, so hopefully the husband of Mary Maxwell. Another John Holbrook died in West Ham, aged 49, in 1832, and he was buried in the Brickfields Chapel graveyard, so this would certainly suggest that he was the father of Robert and Mary. A Thomas Holbrook married Mary Plaistowe in Leyton on the 6th October 1839. He gives his own occupation as stocking printer, and says his father was John Holbrook, deceased, a shipwright. Now this could possibly apply to either John Holbrook; however the combination of rigger, carpenter and shipwright is plausible, and as one of the witnesses is Mary Skinner, I suspect he is a brother to Robert and Mary. To further muddy the waters the West Ham baptisms only give father’s occupation after 1813, so for George baptised that year John Holbrook is a labourer; for Thomas baptised in 1817 he is a shop keeper; and for Robert in 1820 he is a dealer. In 1841 a Thomas Holbrook, a stocking dresser is living in Chapel Street with an Ann - is it an error on the part of the enumerator? Or is that how his wife was known? Perhaps there were too many Mary Holbrooks! When Robert Holbrook married in Stepney in 1843 he says his father was John Holbrook, a Rigger. The two witnesses are Thomas Holbrook, Robert’s brother, and Mary Holbrook, who makes her mark, and who could be Thomas’s wife, or perhaps their mother. A fair proportion of the above is speculation as is clear, I hope, from my use of “probable” and “possible” and so on. It is however a more likely account than one I found on an Ancestry family tree, where Mary Holbrook was born in Westminster, had acquired a middle name of Elizabeth, had children in Stratford, and was buried in Clapham two years before she died in Westminster!
Bradley families: the Skinners … and the Stratford Holbrooks - Church or Chapel
Click on map to enlarge. Ordnance Survey Old Series East London 1805. Showing how close West Ham, Stratford, Bromley and Limehouse are to each other in reality; a fact that gets lost in modern day, overcrowded maps. A scan from the Timeline Historical Map 177 which now seems to be out of print.