Young Dorothy

Leave a comment

July 14, 2014 by auntkatefirmin

Since I’d already begun to research Dorothy Sylvester Hall, who I now know is the namesake of her maternal aunt Dorothy Seymour Blackford, married name Dorothy Sylvester, I’ll start with a post outlining the first part of her life story with the hopes of moving on to her aunt Dorothy, and then in time her great-grandmother Dorothy Seymour who married William Blackford.


Dorothy is, as far as we know, the oldest child of Harriet Blackford and Thomas Hall.  Her baptismal record provides the important clue that linked her mother Harriet to the Blackford family of Swindon for it gives her full formal name as Dorothy Sylvester Hall, daughter of Thomas and Harriet Hall of the parish of St. Marylebone. When she was born her father was 27 and her mother was 25. If she is their oldest child, they married a few years later than many but not remarkably so.  We know that her mother Harriet was unmarried in 1811 when she was a witness at the marriage of her sister Lucy, so from then until 1817 all we have is guesswork about the locations and occupations of Thomas and Harriet.

Dorothy was born on Saturday, the 6th of December, 1817, and baptised on the 28th. The parish registers for St Marylebone at the time don’t provide a specific address for her parents and her father is only listed as a laborer. The present St. Marylebone parish church was completed in 1817, although in nearly 200 years the interior has been extensively remodeled and there is not much that Dorothy’s family would recognize. (As an aside, the church of St. Mary in Marylebone was not built until 1824.)

Parish church of St. Marylebone about 1833.

View of the parish church of St Marylebone about 1833. From a Topographical and Historical Account of the Parish of St Mary-Le-Bone at

Just before Dorothy’s birth the mood in London, and throughout the country, was somber as Princess Charlotte, daughter of the Prince Regent and only legitimate grandchild of George III, had died in childbirth on November 5, 1817. Dorothy was only two years older than the future Queen Victoria, whose reign began in 1837 two years before Dorothy’s first marriage. It is not a period I had read much about (outside of Jane Austen) so I’m still digesting much of what I am reading.

Dorothy was born in the peaceful era between the Napoleonic and Crimean Wars. All was not rosy in the peacetime after Waterloo but I can’t do justice to the Regency, the industrial revolution, English tax laws and the Corn Laws in a single blog post. (I’ll leave you to find your own links …)

At this distance, the details of exactly where the family lived or how they fared can probably never be known but there is a great deal of information available on the streets where Dorothy lived after her marriage. In the long run, as newcomers to the City from Wiltshire and Northamptonshire I think it’s reasonable to say the Hall family did well in changing times as will be seen as Dorothy’s story unfolds.

In the census returns Dorothy was very consistent with her answers in giving her birthplace as Paddington, which would imply the western side of a large possible area, but no specific address for her parents has been found before 1837 after they moved a bit east. More than the lack of an address, I’m curious that Thomas is only described as a laborer in 1817. Was this an error, or was this an indication that he had only recently arrived in London and was still building up his resources in order to start his business as a cow-keeper?

When Dorothy was nearly three, the family grew with the addition of her sister Ann born on 1 August 1820.  This time the parish register doesn’t even include her father’s occupation so all we know is that the family is probably still in the parish of St. Marylebone. For a sense of scale, just a little later, in 1834, the area of the parish was 1490 acres with nearly 29,000 families in the parish alone. The borough, which included Paddington and St Pancras, was larger yet.

While the family continued to increase, I have not found any other records for the Halls until 1837 when all the other children were baptised on 24 July 1837 at St Leonard’s, Shoreditch and the family’s address was given as John’s Row – in the parish of St Luke, Old Street. (Views coming in the next post.)  It’s possible there was also a move around 1824 as in the 1861 census, Dorothy’s sister Emily specifically states that she was born in St Martin’s-le-Grand. This is a location north of St Paul’s Cathedral that had not been a church since the time of Henry VIII but remained as a place-name. Thomas Hall was living with Emily at the time of the census so this could be correct.

The picture sharpens in 1839 when Dorothy Sylvester Hall married William Smith, a cow-keeper living at 17 Benjamin Street, Cow Cross. She married on December 7th, in the church of St. Sepulchre, Holborn, about half a mile south of Benjamin Street. It was the day after her birthday and she was 22. The witnesses to the wedding were Thomas Smith and Charlotte Booth; I have not traced them or noted their names in other records. The marriage document ties the pieces together –  Dorothy, daughter of Thomas Hall cow-keeper, is living at 8 John’s Row, where her parents will be counted two years later in the 1841 census. I think we can assume the Halls lived at the same street number in 1837 as well. Based on records for Dorothy’s sister Harriet, the Halls were in the parish of St. Luke by 1833 and may well have been at the same address from 1833 through at least 1841.

It is interesting to note that Dorothy signed her own name. Did their mother Harriet teach the girls to read and write at home? What other skills did they learn? What attractions did the neighborhood hold? Did their father keep a shop as part of his business, and if so did they assist there?

When they married, William was 42 and I presume knew Dorothy’s father since they were both cow keepers living less than a mile from each other.  Based on what I’ve seen of the larger family history, butchers, cow keepers, victuallers (cook/caterers and publicans) and at least some carmen (owners of waggons for local hauling) were members of a network of stable and relatively prosperous group of individuals who formed part of the urban food supply chain and whose children might aspire to enjoy the finer things in life.

I would like to visit to see what traces of Dorothy’s London remain. Benjamin Street where Dorothy lived with William Smith still exists and Cow Cross is now Cowcross Street. Smithfield Market is just to the south of the area; in her day it was an open market.  Long before Dorothy’s time there was once a separate market for cows with its own market cross which gave the street its name – the cross stood at the modern junction of Cowcross and St John Street. By 1861 Dorothy and her second husband were in Whitecross Street, back in the parish of St Luke, and the area around Cow Cross was transforming as the railroad arrived, its tracks cut up the neighborhood, and Farringdon Station was completed in 1863.

Farringdon Station in 1866.

Farringdon Station in 1866.

Dorothy moved to Cow Cross shortly after Charles Dickens published Oliver Twist in 1838. Dickens placed his character, Fagin, just around the corner in Saffron Hill; from all accounts “wretched” was not an over-stated description for the area around Field Lane. In Dorothy’s day Booth’s gin was manufactured just to the north of Benjamin Street and the area, especially to the south and towards Smithfield, was the location for many slaughterhouses. On the other hand, their immediate neighbors in the 1841 and 1851 census seem to be respectable business owners so their portion of the street was, if not exactly genteel, not what the later Victorians would term “vicious and criminal.”

Cow Cross Street and Turnmill Street are an area about which much information is available online and it will take more time that this post allows to sort out in depth what life would have been like for Dorothy, William and her second husband Josiah in the years between 1836 when William insured his business and 1851 when Dorothy & Josiah were last listed in the census at 41 Cow Cross. For the moment, this will only be a general sketch. 

Smithfield Market.

Smithfield around 1830 when it was still an open air market. © Trustees of the British Museum

As a main thoroughfare into London the area of Turnmill and Cow Cross was developed as early as the middle ages.  The drover’s road ran down nearby St John Street from the Angel to Smithfield.  Catering to travelers, it was the location of many inns and taverns. The fabric of of some the houses was often quite old and the infrastructure in terms of water delivery was equally antiquated. Any views of the area seem to date from the late 1860’s and 1870’s just after Dorothy’s time in the area, and tend to emphasize either the quaint or old-dated aspects of the streets and alleys just about to be demolished. Dorothy and her family lived both in Benjamin Street, a narrow alley like the ones we associate with 19th century London which feature in the sketches and views, but my current understanding is that by 1847 she lived on the northeast corner of modern Turnmill Street and Benjamin Street in a more prominent location at what is now 93 Turnmill Street. This is based on the map and account from the Survey of London at British History Online. The map is too pixelated to be certain I’ve read the numbers correctly but the text supports this conclusion. If 17 Benjamin Street was on the north side of the street on the corner of Benjamin Street and Faulkner’s (once Falconer’s) Alley, then the properties were adjoining or perhaps separated by one of the un-numbered buildings which could have been a stable. The census of 1841 does not include house numbers and I can’t orient myself in the 1851 census to be certain about the house numbering. 

The current building at 93 Turnmill Street was built in 1905 for jeweler, number 89 was built in 1874, and and the neighboring buildings are also late Victorian. Just behind the building is the remnant of what the 1823 map calls the burial ground of St John Clerkenwell and is now St John Garden. As far as I can tell, it was also a public garden in Dorothy’s day, though the row of houses on the north side of Benjamin Street that probably included William & Dorothy’s residence were torn down some time after 1869. With no familiar buildings around it, not much in the garden would be familiar to Dorothy other than the remaining memorials.  Of the larger neighborhood, my first guess is that there must be some buildings familiar to Dorothy and William around the Charterhouse but I have not researched what remains. There is also St. Sepulchre’s, where they were married. 

A modern view of St Sepulchre courtesy of Nick Garrod on Flickr (creative commons license).

A modern view of St Sepulchre courtesy of Nick Garrod on Flickr (creative commons license).

Dorothy’s husband William was a widower aged 40 with two girls, Martha and Emma. He was not born in Middlesex though he had lived there since at least 1830. They were married for almost exactly six years when their son, Thomas Boyes Smith was born in January 1847. (The Boyes family are relatives on the Hall side although I’m not certain who Thomas might have been named for.)  In May 1847, when Thomas was baptised, the couple lived at 41 Cow Cross. I have not found any evidence that they had children together other than Thomas. The St. Sepulchre parish records show that William was buried in January 1848 when young Thomas was only a year old. 

So far I cannot trace William’s daughter Martha after the 1841 census; the girls were not in Dorothy’s household in 1851 when they would have been 21 and 16. Emma Smith married William Bird in Bethnal Green in 1854 and the family later moved to the United States. I have traced Thomas and hope to post about him separately.

Dorothy was still living at 41 Cow Cross when she married Josiah Hall, Cow Keeper, in 1849. Josiah was born in Grittleton, Wiltshire, only seven miles from where Dorothy’s sister Emily would later live with her family in Langley Burrell. (There is no reason to believe Josiah had any relation to her father’s family, the Halls of Northamptonshire.) Now that I know that Dorothy’s mother Harriet was born in Wiltshire, it seems likely to me that Josiah was part of an extended Wiltshire connection on the Blackford side.

Of the Hall girls, I can only trace Dorothy & Emily to adulthood. If my guess is correct and their mother Harriet (Blackford) Hall died in August 1847, Dorothy was 30 and her son Thomas was still an infant, Emily was 23 with two young boys and possibly living in Wapping with or near her husband’s family, while young Harriet was 14 and still living at home. I haven’t found Ann after 1837 when she was 17. If William Hall was alive in 1847, he would have been only 12. In 1847 the Hall siblings were all relatively close together in terms of distance, although socially might have been another matter.

1847 to 1848 was a very full year for Dorothy with the birth of Thomas, the death of her mother, and the death of her husband. She must have been a capable woman and it appears that she kept the business together herself for just over a year until she re-married in April 1849.  

This post has grown by leaps and bounds and has turned out to be pretty heavy on the text, so I’ll pause here and pick up Dorothy and Josiah in another entry and hope to include more views of Dorothy’s London. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: