Le Chic En Rose

Diaries of an independent traveller

With Mlle Chic Fille setting off on her travels life has in many way come full circle.

I too set off wide eyed and overwhelmed with excitement as an 18 year old, off to start uni in the big metropolis.

The family connection with central London was stronger than we thought at the time. We knew my paternal great grandmother was a cockney but nothing more about that side of the family – it was rather a mystery. However with the wonders of modern day research, I was recently able to trace back my father’s grandmother’s maternal line (with me so far?) and discovered that my great great great grandparents, John James Powell and Elizabeth Mott, were married on 28th May 1826 in St Botolph’s Church Aldgate. After trawling through old census records and the like I found that the aforesaid John James was a trunk maker by trade and that the family moved from the eastern end of the City of London, via the parish of St James Westminster before finally settling in Paddington Street Marylebone. This research was subsequently corroborated by a distant cousin, (which would have saved me hours of online research but it was fun playing family detective).

What intrigued me was how so many members of the family were involved in the dressmaking and trunk making trades. Later some of them were more elegantly described as portmanteau makers. I love the idea of portmanteaus – a posh word for a piece of luggage that was usually used for carrying clothes (presumably a little smaller than a trunk) and used by the leisured classes on their travels. With my own love of fashion and travel it seemed rather appropriate that I should be a descendent of such a family line. I even discovered that the Powell’s youngest son, Joseph, (who I think was my 3rd great uncle), owned a house in Gower Street, Central London, which is where University College London, (of which I am an alumna), is situated. How interesting that I should have been drawn here to study many decades later (and no I don’t believe that property is still in the family well certainly not our branch of the family)!

And so it was that I persuaded Monsieur Le Chic to come with me on my search to locate St Botolph’s Aldgate during our flying trip to London last year. Since it was a glorious spring day we decided to walk from the Mall (near our accommodation) up to the eastern end of the city.

The walk took us from St James Park and the Mall via Trafalgar Square and Covent Garden and along the Strand. We paused to have a quick look at the beautiful church of St Clement Danes, rebuilt from 1680 to 1682 by Sir Christopher Wren and re-consecrated on 19 October 1958 as the Central Church of the Royal Air Force. We went up Fleet Street, where newspaper offices have long since made way for shops and other offices still interspersed with quaint old traditional pubs. Finally by the time we got to St Paul’s Cathedral we were getting a little tired (we had had rather a late night catching up with old uni friends in Covent Garden the night before so did have a reasonable excuse).

Just as we were starting to doubt the map we caught sight of a signpost pointing the way to St Botolph’s Aldersgate (spot the deliberate mistake?). I vaguely thought it sounded a bit different from my research notes, (which I hadn’t brought with me). It turned out to be rather a nondescript 19th century church built only a few years before my great great great grandparents married. The church was closed and did not look very inviting but there was a beautiful little park next door – a peaceful oasis from the office blocks which towered nearby.

After a pleasant interlude we set off in search of dinner and thought no more about it until I decided to do a bit more online research back at our hotel. I discovered to my dismay that the actual church I should have been looking for was St Botolph’s Aldgate – well it does sound rather similar to St Botolph’s Aldersgate! How curious I thought – St Botolph is not a very common name! I discovered that there were no less than four churches dedicated to St Botolph in medieval London. According to the website of St Botolph Without Bishopsgate, St Botolph was a young Saxon noble who was born in East Anglia, educated at a Benedictine Monastery in France and then founded a monastery back in his native land. He died in 680 AD and his work was carried on by other monks but when the monastery was overrun by the Danish Viking invaders in 870 AD, his relics were retrieved and brought to London for safekeeping at Westminster Abbey, passing through the four City gates of Aldersgate, Aldgate, Billingsgate and Bishopsgate. The churches at the sites of these gates were named after him. Apart from Billingsgate, destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666 and never rebuilt, they all survive in one form or another today. St Botolph became known as the patron saint of wayfarers and travellers. I had always thought St Christopher was the patron saint of travellers but now I had found out that St Botolph was too!

Fast forward a year and I was finally able to complete my thwarted mission of the previous year and visit St Botolph’s Without Aldgate to give it its official name. This time Monsieur le Chic couldn’t be there but I took my 81 year dad along with me for the day trip up to London – after all it was his family history too! The church is literally right by Aldgate Tube Station, dwarfed by large office blocks and surrounded by modern shops – a beautiful historical building in the heart of the City Of London (the present church dates from 1744 and since 1950 has been a designated Grade 1 listed building). Moreover it was open, welcoming and heated (it was rather a brisk spring day this time).

It was quite surreal walking up the aisle and imagining what it would have been like on the day my 3 times great grandparents were married there nearly 200 years ago. I wondered what had brought them to this part of the world. Elizabeth was 18 and from all the records I could find her family were farmers in Odiham Hampshire. What was she doing in the Big Smoke? Her husband John James was 26, no doubt working for one of the many tradesmen who had businesses in the area, (St Botolph’s Aldgate was known as a church where artisans and merchants mingled; a meeting point of the very rich and the very poor). Later in the late nineteenth century, it became infamous in the times of Jack the Ripper, as the Church Of The Prostitutes but I’m sure it was more salubrious in my great great great grandparents day! Alas I can’t get John James’s family history back any further so one day when I have a little more time, I’ll have to spend a day going through the parish records at the London Metropolitan Archives to see what I can unearth.

Even if you have no family connection with London a walk through the streets of the City is absolutely fascinating – there are surprises around every corner and it’s well worth going off the tourist trail to explore the side streets and uncover ghosts of the past!

Copyright © 2014 Rosemary Thomas Le Chic En Rose. All rights reserved

13 thoughts on “A Walk In Central London – Chasing St Botolph’s Tale

  1. colibrist says:

    So interesting visiting places related to family history! Must have been a little bit like traveling on time…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Laia I did feel a bit like a time traveller! I’d like to find out more about what it would have been like living in that part of London in the nineteenth century – very different from nowadays I’m sure!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. james powell says:

        wow! I belive john james powell and Elizabeth mott are my great great grandparents!!

        I’m not sure if I have made contact with you on ancestry.com? but doubt it as i think we have their children different.
        I only found this page googling 59 Paddington st.

        children of john james and Elizabeth I have are..

        john b.1833
        james . 1834-1900 [my great granddad]
        Frederick 1836-1837 [poor lil lad]
        mary anne 1838.

        well have to exchange trees!!

        james powell.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Yes so interested to hear from you! No we won’t have made contact via ancestry.com as my profile on that is set to private though I have got quite an extensive family tree for that side of my family! The information was in fact corroborated by a 2nd cousin of my dad’s who’d done all the research the old fashioned way via parish records so I know it is correct. I am descended from their eldest surviving daughter, Maria Powell, who was born in 1830. Their first daughter and son died as infants then came Maria. In addition to the children you have there were at least 3 others. I followed James Powell’s line too as there were quite a few interesting stories on that side of the family. He was a trunk maker like his father from what I found out. My blog email is lechicenrose@gmail.com if you’d like to contact me through that to exchange family tree info! Best wishes Rosemary

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  2. I love walking in London anyway Rosemary but this was walking with a difference. What a fascinating story and to walk up the aisle your ancestors did must have been an amazing feeling.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Joy 🙂 It certainly was an amazing feeling and even more amazing that although I lived for 9 years in London I had no idea about this family story back then! If I was famous I could get some nice TV researchers to do all the work for me like in “Who Do You Think You Are?” but I’ll have to continue with my research by myself! Next on my list is to go to the places I know my great great great grandparents lived as I have got that info from censuses. London is a wonderful place to walk around isn’t it? I always love my trips back there and now my daughter is going to be based there for a while I’ll have even more excuses to visit as if I needed any!

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  3. Globalresidence says:

    Exciting piece of family history! Thanks for the wonderful sharing! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much! I was so excited when I found all this out as I’d never realised I had so many ancestors who lived in central London. Such a coincidence that I went to live there myself for so long. I’m hoping to do some more sleuthing when I go over again next year – since our daughter is now living in London we’re planning to spend a few days there next April. Am looking forward to it already! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Globalresidence says:

        Looking forward to your updates on this. Always been fascinated and have a lot of respect for crafts and skills. To have this lineage is really awesome! Maybe could clue you in on somethings that you have always been interested in? 😉

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Yes that’s what I was thinking – for example I’ve always loved anything made out of wood (I have old family tables and china cabinets at home that I inherited from grandparents and I’ve just added some modern chairs to update the look). Trunkmaking would have been a real skill done by artisans as they were all made out of wooden frames. The girls were all dressmakers too – it must have taken hours of painstaking work to produce the lovely garments they wore in Victorian times. I also love fashion, shoes and especially bags so I was so interested about this family link as no one else is quite so interested in this stuff (except my daughters!). It must come from somewhere! When I go over again I want to visit some more places that were associated with my family so I shall definitely follow this up and do some more posts down the line! Thanks so much visiting again – always such a pleasure to have you call by!

          Liked by 1 person

  4. RuthsArc says:

    Love this post for a few reasons. Beautiful churches. I worked around the corner for several years, in Bishopsgate and in Aldgate and enjoyed some lovely carol services in these churches. I also enjoyed your family search. Genealogy has interested me too, the home made detective story that unfolds and the excitement when you make the right connection. A few years ago we visited Chelsea where my grandmother was born. Along with my daughter and my Mum, we actually knocked on the door of the house. My Mum could remember visiting her grandparents upstairs flat as a young child. The owner invited us in. I saw the house as it was now, a little untidy. My Mum only saw where the range had been, the big brass bedstead. A wonderful day.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Ruth – so interested to hear your story too! I find the family history research fascinating – I did so much online and was excited to make these discoveries. My dad later showed me a family tree a distant second cousin had done, which would have saved me all the work! At least I knew I’d done all the research correctly and it also helped to fill in a couple of gaps. It was so fun to do and I was so pleased to visit St Botolph’s Aldgate and have a look round. My husband used to work in Bishopsgate too but I had no idea of the family connection until recently. I went to the house my relatives had lived in too on my recent trip – off Marylebone Road (they lived there in the mid 19th century). I was so interested as I’d been drawn to this part of London as a uni student! What a lovely day it must have been to visit the house where your grandmother was born with your mum and daughter! Thanks for the follow too and I’ll enjoy following your blog as well 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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