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Craxford and sons, Fruiterers of Pentonville. Part 1: Into Islington

by Alan D Craxford, Sarah Richards and Reg Moore


The genealogy of the Craxford family in Northamptonshire has been well documented for many years. Similarly it is known that lines of migration away from the two ancestral villages of Gretton and Cottingham have been taking place for 250 years or more. A cursory glance at the most easily available records from London shows several foci of the surname concentrated in the northern districts of Islington and Shoreditch. However, bringing these families together into one coherent tree has been a slow, painstaking and tortuous journey often leading into blind alleys and requiring revision of previous assumptions. In the last year the release of the 1911 England census and the much earlier parish records from the London Metropolitan Archives has filled in many gaps and, allowing for one or two residual assumptions based on very strong circumstantial evidence, we believe this to have been achieved.

This article is perhaps somewhat more unusual in that one of its main players is not a person, but rather the dwelling that saw at least three generations over a period of seventy years live, love, work and die within its walls.

Northamptonshire beginnings

St James the Great, Gretton Parish Church

St James the Great, Gretton

The village of Gretton lies in the Welland Valley on the border of Northamptonshire and Leicestershire some three miles to the east of Rockingham Castle. The name is Saxon for Great Settlement although traces of Iron-Age and Roman excavations have been found nearby. It was a royal manor and favourite of William the Conqueror during the 11th century, the same period in which St James the Great Church was built. It became an important settlement within Rockingham Forest during the Middle Ages, and its development and economy were founded on the twin occupations of agriculture and ironstone quarrying.

The Craxford family emerged from the village in the early part of the 17th century: the first known, Richard, was born about 1620. For the best part of the next one hundred and fifty years successive generations were born into, married and buried in this tightly knit rural community eeking out a living through toil in the fields or other occupations which supported farming.

Richard's great grandson, William, became the progenitor of this current story. He was born in the village in the summer of 1728, one of seven known children. He married local girl Martha Cooper at the parish church of St James the Great on October 19th 1760 and over the next twenty years was the father of ten children. He died in January 1803.

There is nothing in the record to show where in the village the family lived and he spent his working life as a farm labourer. It is unlikely that he travelled far from his domestic environs. There is nothing remarkable about the life of William Craxford, except for the fact that two of his sons moved to London before the end of the century, starting the exodus from the village.

Generation 1: William, the innkeeper

The Bench: Painting by William Hogarth

"The Bench" by William Hogarth (2)

William was the third son of William and Martha, born during the early months of 1768. It is not known when the trek south began, but records confirm that William married Ann Easthop at St Thomas' Church, Southwark, London on March 5th 1791. Ann had been born in Gloucester about 1769. They set up house together and over the next two decades had nine known children. William was a publican. His status as the landlord of the Carpenter's Arms in Kensington (a hostelry long since disappeared) is documented in the proceedings of a court case held at the Old Bailey (3) in 1812 at which his wife and daughter, Martha, both gave evidence. This, and other cases, is recounted in Craxfords and the Old Bailey elsewhere in the PURPLE pages. In 1813 they were living in Henrietta Street, Bloomsbury.

Sometime after 1820, the family moved to a property in Pulteney Street, Islington just north of where the Regents Canal enters the Islington tunnel. (This area was heavily damaged during the blitz of World War II and the site of Pulteney Street is now covered by a recreation area called Barnard Park). On December 24th 1824, middle daughter Louisa married John Hughes, a greengrocer, at St Pancras Church and set up home with him at his premises in Suffolk Street, Pentonville. They had two sons and a daughter in the early 1830s.

William's youngest daughter, Esther, married plasterer Daniel Mitchell at St Mary's Church, Islington in 1836. For a time they continued to live with her parents at Pulteney Street. William died on April 25th 1847 following three days of paralysis (presumably due to a stroke). Although by this time she was living with her sister in Suffolk Street, Esther was present when her father died and registered his death. This was a function she performed for several more members of the family over the following years. They moved back to Pulteney Street to be with her mother until she died of tuberculosis on November 21st 1853.

The mystery of Harriott

William and Ann's fifth daughter (and eighth child), Harriott, was born on May 29th 1810 and was baptised at St George's Church, Bloomsbury on Janury 3rd 1813 while the family were still living at Henrietta Street. The mystery surrounding Harriott arises at the start of the 1840s. On June 22nd that year she married plumber Andrew Franks at St Mary's Church Islington. The marriage was witnessed by her sister, Ann, and by John Hughes, the husband of her sister Louisa. The certificate notes her father to be William, a licenced victualler. Andrew was living at 15 Vittoria Street, Islington, at the time. No record of the couple has been found in the census of 1841. However 60 year old widow Elizabeth Franks and 26 year old painter George Franks (presumably Andrew's mother and brother) were in residence in a house in Vittoria Street whilst several doors away a 30 year olf Andrew Franks (also a painter) was living with 30 year old Mary Franks.

Then, unexpectedly, Harriott entered into a marriage with jeweller Frederick Mente at the Parish Church of St Luke on February 9th 1843. Harriott's residence was given as Chiswell Street, Islington. Two pieces of evidence show this to be the same bride. The marriage certificate again notes her father to be William, a licenced victualler. The pair attended and witnessed Frederick's brother Henry's marriage to Margaret Eliza Greenfield at St Luke's Church Finsbury on July 30th 1845. The marriage lasted at most seven years for Frederick died of a massive haemorrhage due to tuberculosis on September 5th 1850. He was 38 years old. Harriott is not mentioned on the death certificate. Frederick's will was published later the same year. What is strange is that there is no mention of a wife and no provision for Harriott. However he had made bequests of £ 25 each to John and Ann Craxford of Suffolk Street, Pentonville and to Louisa Hughes (all three Harriott's siblings).

No further evidence of Harriott has been found in the records to date including the 1851 census. However, there was a plumber, Andrew Franks, living with his 30 year old wife, Sophia, at 9, Bryan Place, Islington. Is this, then, a case of bigamy? and if so, on whose part? Or is there a simpler explanation for which evidence remains to be discovered?

Significant others

William and Martha's second son, John, also moved to London before the start of the new millenium. He married Frances Gill at St Thomas' Church in November 1799, the ceremony witnessed by his brother, William. In attendance too was Nathaniel Harris who had also witnessed William's earlier marriage. Intriguingly Nathaniel Harris had previously married Sarah Gill, who is presumed to be Frances' sister.

John and Frances had a son in 1801 who they named Robert. Robert's son was William John Craxford, the actor, whose own children became associated with and ultimately managed the Britannia Theatre, Hoxton. Their stories (The Craufords of Hoxton) can be found in this section of the magazine.

The history of Suffolk Street. Part 1: 1790 to 1870

The Order of the Knights of St John of Jerusalem had their English headquarters at the Priory of Clerkenwell in the Middle Ages(4). In the 17th century, Clerkenwell became a fashionable suburb and resort on the northern reaches of the capital(5). In the latter half of the 18th century, the village of Islington consisted of a group of dwellings clustered around the Great North Road, north of London. In between these two settlements lay the rural estate which belonged to the Penton family and it was member of Parliament, Henry Penton, who leased out land for construction around the New Road (effectively Britain's earliest ring road) which ran from St Pancras to Marylebone. This development has been described as London's first planned suburb and was to become Pentonville.(6,7)

The pace of construction was unhurried. The layout of the initial streets (including Chapel Street, Penton Street, White Lion Street, Baron Street and Suffolk Street) was complete by 1790. St James Chapel was consecrated in 1793. The early maps of the area (engraved in 1793 and 1805) suggest that the dwellings were built in blocks of townhouses facing the street around an ample central garden courtyard.

A later version of the Islington map drawn in 1815 shows the line of the proposed Regents Canal and the Islington tunnel which ran under part of Pentonville although there had been very little further building spread to the north. The canal was designed to join the Grand Junction Canal to the River Thames and this section opened in 1820. The tunnel emerged to the west at Muriel Street. Progressively over the next decade, further housing developments took place along Charlotte, Copenhagen and Pulteney Streets. At the same time, there was infill building inside the original blocks of Pentonville leading to tightly packed enclosed courtyards and the loss of the gardens as small traders, workshops and other enterprises moved into the terraced premises. New Road was renamed Pentonville Road.

Continued in column 2...

Generation 2: Nathaniel (or was it James?), the general dealer

The protagonist of the next chapter of this story led a rather peripatetic lifestyle in his younger days, confusing the records by sometimes using the name Nathaniel and at others, James. Born in 1814, he was the youngest of William's sons. He married Mary Elizabeth Curtin at St Pancras Church on May 25th 1835, the ceremony witnessed by his sister Harriett. Over the next twenty years they had nine known children, although at least four died in infancy. For a time he found work as a lath renderer (Someone who rends -i.e splits- wood to form laths (8)) with his brother John in Lambeth. Prior to 1920, all interior walls of houses were made up of a trellis of wood battens which was constructed by the lath renderer. This was then plastered over to make a flat, smooth surface. It was quite a skilled occupation to acheive this. Nathaniel had moved back to the parental home in 1846 prior to his father's death.

John Hughes died during the 1840s, initially leaving his widow, Louisa, and son Richard to run the business. However by the time of the 1851 census they had moved to new premises in Copenhagen Street - a stone's throw away from Pulteney Street. In the meantime, this allowed Nathaniel and his family to move in the opposite direction into the house at 8, Suffolk Street and take over the greengrocery and fruiterers business.

Small Ad: Position Wanted by Nathaniel James Craxford's maid

Small Ad: The Times

The plain, brick built house ranged over three floors and stood on the east side of Suffolk Street next the covered entry into a rear courtyard, Suffolk Place. In the early years the Craxfords shared the accommodation with another family but successive census returns continued to show a high occupancy rate. It is likely that they were able to employ domestic help as this small advertisement from The Times would suggest. (9). Nathaniel continued to follow twin occupations describing himself as a lath renderer and coal dealer (10) in 1851 (although we wonder whether this was a misquote for corn dealer), lath renderer and greengrocer in 1861 and simply greengrocer after 1871.

In the late 1860s he and Mary moved away from Pentonville, taking his two youngest children, Daniel and Mary with them. Their new address was about three miles away in Sheringham Terrace, a row of houses on Westbourne Road not far from the Highbury and Islington tube station. Mary died in June 1869 from pulmonary tuberculosis when Nathaniel was still listed as a lath renderer. The Sheringham Terrace premises were listed as a greengrocery business in an 1884 directory (11).

Nathaniel remarried at St Mary's Parish Church Islington on May 8th 1876 by which time he was over 60 years of age. His bride was Eliza Sophia Osborn (by then aged 40). She had been residing with William Brunner since 1860 and had been known by his name during this period although they had never been married. The original marriage certificate declared her in the name of Brunner and to be a widow. The following year she was required to file an affidavit correcting her name and status. Eliza had one daughter, Florence (born June 1861) who was brought up as a Craxford after the marriage.

Nathaniel had retired by 1890 and shortly afterwards the family had moved again to Graham Street, adjacent to the City Road Basin, a wharf leading from Regents Canal. In 1894 the greengrocery business in Sheringham Terrace had been taken over by Frederick Richardson. Eliza died in 1900 at the age of 63 years. An inquest returned a verdict that the cause of death was "syncope and congestion of the lungs". Nathaniel's health deteriorated and less than six months later he was admitted to the St Luke's Workhouse on the City Road in Holborn, which stood just beyond the neighbouring Wenlock Basin. He died on July 24th the same year of senile heart failure. His death certificate described him as a general dealer. He was buried at St Pancras Church.

Daughter Florence married Ernest Attwell, a piano stringer and tuner, at the end of 1901. They settled in Vale Road, Finsbury Park. Perhaps mindful of the problems occasioned by her mother's matrimony, she wed under her given name of Florence Elizabeth Brunner.

Significant others

Nathaniel's oldest brother was christened William Easthop Craxford in honour of his mother. With his wife Mary he had two daughters and a son. He also brought up his granddaughter Sarah Ann Augusta as his own daughter. The unravelling of her story can be found at Sarah's Twisted Skein.

His second oldest brother, John, learned his trade as a carpenter in Lambeth before moving to the coastal town of Folkestone. There he established a business as a timber merchant and became a well respected member of the community. By the time of his death in 1857 he has accumulated a large portfolio of properties including a hotel opposite the harbour. His will is reproduced here: John Craxford, Gentleman of Folkestone. The husband of one of his daughters became mayor of the town in 1881.

Hard times and a mystery in Holborn

Nathaniel's daughter Anne married William Stock at Holy Trinity Church, Cloudesley Square, Islington in May 1860. They had no children. William died in 1902 and Anne continued to live in Chippendale Street, Hackney. She died in March 1926.

Nathaniel's youngest surviving son, Daniel, started work as a lath renderer. He married Emma Lock, the daughter of a Piccadilly Jewel case maker, in 1877. Details of his family life are hazy and the records show many short term occupancies around the Islington area. The birth indexes show the registration of a daughter (Emma Elizabeth) and two sons (Herbert James and William Alfred). Daniel's wife Emma died in the Summer of 1901. He spent almost a quarter of a century in and out of Poor Law Institutions. He was resident at the Holborn Union Mitcham branch, Croydon, at the time of both the 1901 and 1911 census. His final admission to the City Road (St Lukes) Workhouse was on January 23rd 1922 and he died there on February 24th 1924.

Of Daniel's children, nothing conclusive is known of William or Herbert beyond the dates of their birth. Emma Elizabeth was to marry twice, the first time to Thomas Ayling in St Clement Danes, Westminster in 1903. Emma died in December 1927 with the surname Connell although nothing has been discovered to account for the intervening years. The mystery surfaces when the enquiries into the estates of Anne Stock and Elizabeth Connell (14,15) are examined. Of particular interest is the reference to Herbert James Lock (or Craxford). A child of that name is present as a "nurse child" in the household of Caroline Chambers in Kensigton in the census of 1891. Beyond that he is felt to have "gone abroad or joined the army".

To be continued ...

A full list of references can be found at the end of Part 2.

Proceed to Part 2. Suffolk Street

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Added October 15th 2010
Last updated: September 12th 2015

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