I began this blog by taking a journey back through time, uncovering the connections between my mother’s immediate family and the generations that proceeded them. In the course of my research into my family’s history, I had discovered that they had roots in London going back at least to the middle of the seventeenth century.


Tower Hill at the end of the seventeenth century

During that troubled century, members of the Byne family migrated from rural Sussex to the capital, intermarrying with the Forrests, who had moved to London from rural Worcestershire, and who were linked in turn to the illustrious Boulton family. This first generation of London citizens were haberdashers, stationers, upholsterers and apothecaries, clustered mostly around Tower Hill in the parish of St Botolph without Aldgate, on the eastern edge of the fast-growing city. Their cousins the Boultons, living close by in the parish of All Hallows, Barking, were gunmakers, sea captains and shipbuilders, many of them in the service of the East India Company.

In the next generation, at the dawn of the eighteenth century, a link was forged with the Greenes, an old Stepney family, who had been mariners for generations. My ancestor Joseph Greene, son of Captain William Greene, was himself a citizen and goldsmith, also at Tower Hill; He married Mary, the daughter of John Byne, a Sussex-born citizen and stationer, and his wife Alice Forrest. Joseph and Mary Greene’s daughter, another Mary, married coal factor John Gibson and they established homes both at Tower Hill and on their country estate at Woodredon in Essex. The Gibsons’ only son, Bowes John, was another East India employee, as were two of his sons, who would serve with the Company’s military arm in India. The Gibsons’ daughters married farmers, mariners and merchants, while the children and grandchildren of these marriages would complicate the family story by marrying their own cousins and second cousins.


Mile End Road at the end of the eighteenth century

John and Mary Gibson’s daughter Elizabeth, my 5 x great grandmother, was married twice. When her second husband, Yorkshire-born Essex farmer Joseph Holdsworth died, Elizabeth returned to the city of her birth, where she lived out her old age, seemingly in straitened circumstances.

Elizabeth’s sons would work in the Stepney area as cordwainers, carpenters, plumbers and tallow chandlers. But their story lies beyond the remit of this blog, which draws to an end with Elizabeth’s death in 1809. Their story, and that of their descendants, is the story of the nineteenth-century East End, during another period of dramatic change, as it was transformed from a genteel semi-rural suburb into a dense network of crowded streets, teeming with migrants not only from all over England, but from across the world.

I plan to explore the lives of my nineteenth-century East End ancestors in a new blog. Watch this space for further details.