Sarah Ann Mathews, generally called “Annie,” was born to Edward Isaac Mathews and Maria (Bray) Mathews of Limehouse in Greater London on 24 March 1864, the fourth of their five known children. Annie’s parents had been part of the story of the changing landscape of England: Her father had been born in the Bermondsey area of Surrey while her mother had been born in rural Devon. Annie’s mother had migrated to London, but exactly when is not clear, as the first London-area record in which I have found Maria is her marriage to Edward at St. Jude’s in Whitechapel in 1857. According to this blog post, St. Jude’s was just 9 years old when Maria and Edward married there, but by 1873 it would be neglected and abandoned. Taken over and rescued by the area reformers Samuel and Henrietta Barnett at that time, who had requested the assignment, St. Jude’s would one day be destroyed in the London Blitz.
According to their marriage record, Edward, a widower, was a carpenter living at what looks somewhat like “Alis Street,” and Maria was a spinster living at the “same place.” As with Edward’s first marriage, both witnesses were members of the Mathews family. While Maria gave the correct father’s name, the occupation is wildly wrong; whether she did not know the correct occupation of the father who had abandoned her family when she was a child or lied about it, there is no way to know. Either way, Maria was part of the early wave of people moving from rural England to urban areas. Was Maria one of the many who saw a move to the big city as a as a chance to consciously reinvent herself? Regardless of whether her reinvention was a conscious choice or not, Maria’s move dramatically improved her lot in life.
Edward had at least one surviving child, Mary Jane Mathews, born to his first wife, Elisabeth (Godwin) Mathews, and baptized at St. Peter’s in Walworth, Surrey. Edward and Maria stayed within the Tower Hamlets area, initially settling in Poplar, then moving to Limehouse between the 1861 census and Annie’s 1864 birth. At Limehouse the family lived within easy walking distance of one of the busiest waterfronts in London. The East India Company had docks very close by. The nearest Church of England church, St. Anne’s, had the highest church clock in London, and rang its bell every 15 minutes in a long tradition to help merchant mariners and Royal Navy seamen orient themselves as they neared the docks. It is estimated that 6,000 ships docked daily. There were also a large number of factories, warehouses, and other industrial buildings in the neighborhood. I imagine it must have been a noisy, bustling place to live. On the well-known Booth Poverty Maps of London, where the criteria used means that the ranking can change dramatically from block to block, their block was ranked fairly well-off. While the family was living in Limehouse, some buildings at the dead-end of their tiny Aston-street were knocked down and Aston-street was expanded.
By 1890 Annie’s father Edward had gained the right to vote through his residence at their 67 Aston-street home. He continued to appear on the voter rolls until 1897, the year after his death. In 1898 Annie’s widowed mother Maria appeared on the voter roll in his place. What happened to Maria after this is not yet known, but in her lifetime she had gone from working as a servant as a desperately poor young teen in rural England to being on the voter roll of London.
Maria’s family had been non-conformist when she was a child, so whether Maria and Edward’s children do not appear in the local Church of England baptismal registers as infants because they were non-conformists or because Maria and Edward did not baptize them anywhere is unclear so far. Annie chose adult baptism in the Church of England church St. Anthony’s at Stepney on 21 May 1884, with “(Adult baptism)” scrawled in large letters above the entry. The register lists her as still living at her family’s 67 Aston-street home in Limehouse, so it is interesting that she chose to be baptized at a church in Stepney.
On 17 February 1889, Annie married fellow local John Crowley, a clerk, at St. Matthew’s in Limehouse Fields. Both single, Annie and John were listed on the record as both living at 67 Aston-street at the time they married. Annie’s father and one of John’s relatives witnessed the marriage. Annie’s father remained a carpenter and her new husband’s father was an engineer. Maria had signed her marriage record in the childlike writing of someone who may have only known how to write their own name, while Annie signed her full name Sarah Ann Mathews in the confident hand of someone who was probably fully literate.
On the 1891 census Annie and John and their oldest child, a son named Victor John Edward Crowley, were living at 67 Aston-street, as were Annie’s parents; the address is divided into two separate households by the enumerator. Had John moved into the other half of 67 Aston-street and then literally married the girl next door? Or had he moved there because he already knew and liked Annie? These are the kinds of questions it is difficult to answer in the types of records typically left for posterity. Regardless, in 1891 John was still working as a clerk and Edward was still working as a carpenter.
In June 1896 the Crowleys’ oldest child Victor was listed in a register for school, part of a large group of children in the register for Garden-street Temporary School in Tower Hamlets. The family’s address was listed as “67 Ashton St.”
By 1901 Annie and John’s family had expanded, now with three living daughters in addition to their still-living oldest son: Gladys Annie Lizzie Crowley, Eva Rose Irene Crowley, and Hilda Iris Crowley. Their family was now listed first at 67 Aston-street while a single working woman was listed as the resident of the other half of the building. John was still working as a commercial clerk.
By 1911 the family had left both Aston-street and Limehouse behind. They had moved to Forest Gate in the West Ham area of County Essex. All four children I’ve mentioned in this post were still alive, but the enumeration says that Annie had a fifth child who had died. Annie and John had been married for 23 years. For the first time a record gives a more detailed glimpse of John’s working life than “commercial clerk”; he is listed as a Ledger Clerk in the industry “Oil, Gas, & Electric Heating Apparatus.” Their son Victor was enumerated as working as a Stockkeeper’s Clerk in the same industry, and their oldest daughter Gladys as a Vest Machinist in the industry “Gentleman’s Underwear and Vest Manufacturer.” Their two younger daughters were listed as still attending school.
Like millions of other mothers, Annie watched her son Victor go off to war in what would later come to be called World War I. Victor served in the Royal West Kent Regiment. Luckily for their family, Victor survived the war; he was discharged on 24 January 1919 after over 3 years of service, having enlisted on 23 November 1915. Someone scanned and posted a photo of Victor in his uniform, listing the year as 1914, and I am grateful they gave me the opportunity to see the photo.
Annie died on 23 February 1935 at Queen Marys Hospital in Stratford, Essex. Though she died in hospital, she was still living in Forest Gate in the West Ham area. While she was a widow when she died, I have yet to find the correct death record for her husband John. Annie did not leave a will, and her small estate was administered by her son Victor, who by then was working as a commercial traveller.