Walking In The Footsteps Of Charles Robert Owen Jarvis
Having spent eight months meticulously researching my family roots back to the East End of London, it was on the 18th May 2017 that I set off, with my mum, to visit the places that I have come to know so well from my research. Funnily enough, having pored over maps of the area dating right back to 1831, I felt amazingly familiar with the streets and pretty much knew where I was going most of the time.
The most logical way to tour the places of my ancestors would obviously be to visit them in chronological order of their appearance in the story, however this would have been impossible without a great deal of time and physical walking. So my tour was structured so as to minimise the walk between each site of interest. However, in truth, much of the life of my ancestors is tightly bound into a very small area of Limehouse and Poplar. It was in these places that they lived, worked, brought children into the world, lost children to disease, and worshipped.
We started the tour by boarding the Docklands Light Railway at Tower Gateway and taking it for two stops to Limehouse Station. From there, it was a short walk to our first location, St Dunstan in the East, Stepney. It was here in 1819 that my great great great grandfather, William Jarvis, married Elizabeth Frazier. They produced five children, all of whom were baptised in the church - the first three children (William Jarvis, Martha Jarvis and Mary Ann Jarvis) were baptised on the same day in 1826. Their final two children, Sarah Ann Jarvis and Charles Robert Owen Jarvis (my great great grandfather) were baptised here in 1834.
I do not believe that William Jarvis was very religious. A pious man would not baptize his children in batches, but that is what he did. The knock-on effect of this is that in many cases, it is hard to know the exact date of birth of the children he baptized. There were no registration requirements in those days other than church, so the actual dates of birth of William Jarvis's children will never be clear.
St Dunstan in the East is the “mother church of the East End”, having once been the only church in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. By the 1840s, it was in the centre of what was fast becoming the worst slums in London, in fact Dr. Bernardo founded his first mission close to this spot in the late 1860s. Yet today, St Dunstan in the East is a peaceful oasis of greenery surrounded by quiet streets of small but pretty houses. It is amazing that in the hustle and bustle of London, you could have such a quiet neighbourhood of houses.
We were delighted to find the church was open so we walked inside to find a row of pews and an altar. It is amazingly small and could probably only handle 150 worshippers at a time. In pride of place just inside the main (west) entrance is the baptism bowl, remodelled from a Norman bowl.
The baptism bowl used to be in the north aisle but was moved to its present place in the year 2000. This baptism bowl is where all of William Jarvis’s children were baptised in 1826 and 1834. I don’t believe William Jarvis was much of a religious man - his decision to baptise his five children in two batches eight years apart illustrates to me that the church did not figure too significantly in his life. Baptism seemed to be an afterthought to William Jarvis.
From there it was a short walk along Narrow Street to Ropemakers Fields, where my great great grandfather Charles Robert Owen Jarvis attended a private school from 1840-42. He was in Mr. Glover’s class, and in addition to learning reading, writing and arithmetic, he was also schooled in shoemaking, carpentry and tailoring - essential skills for a person in the East End of the time.
Ropemaker’s Fields used to be a wide expanse of parkland but it is now a small tight park nestled between modern houses. Back in the 1840s, it was surrounded by the trades associating with the sea and as it’s name suggests, was particularly noted for where ship’s ropes were made.
We then left Narrow Street and took a tight passageway toward the River Thames so that we could see Limekiln dock. It was here that the notorious Black Ditch emptied the untreated sewage from Spitalfields into the river Thames.
In 1847-1852 Charles Robert Owen Jarvis served his apprenticeship at Limekiln Dock as a boat builder, working for a man named Joseph King. The layout and profile of the dock still exists today exactly as it did back in the 1840s but the buildings that surround it have all changed and the horrible Black Ditch is no longer in operation.
At this point, it was a good time to pause and imagine my great great grandfather serving his apprenticeship here. If he had looked out at the river, his view would be totally different to what we see today. So much has changed in this area.
From Limekiln Dock, it is a short walk to Newell Street. Back in the 1830s, this street was actually called Church Lane, and ran south-to-north on the west side of St. Anne's Church in Limehouse. It was on Church Lane that my great great grandfather Charles Robert Owen Jarvis attended his first school from 1834 to 1840. He was in Mr. Lay’s class, who taught him how to read and write. I cannot find any record that shows where the school was located, but I assume it was associated with the church, hence it was likely to have been on the right side of the lane.
Church Lane is very close to the canal that is known as the Limehouse Cut. This man-made canal connected the river Lee to the River Thames, enabling barges and canal boats to navigate through Tower Hamlets to the Limehouse basin.
We then crossed Commercial Road and went to the southern end of Copenhagen Place. It was here that my great great grandfather Charles Robert Owen Jarvis attended Limehouse National School between 1842 and 1844. Charles’ father, William Jarvis, had died in February 1842 and with it, his private school education came to an end. He then went to the local church-sponsored school and completed his education at the age of 13. In a later part of his life, Charles credited his private education for some of his success.
It was then back across Commercial Road to the northern end of Three Colt Street where St. Anne’s Church beckoned. Consecrated in 1730, St. Anne’s is one of fifty churches that were built during the reign of Queen Anne. It has the second-highest gothic-style tower in Britain topped only by the clock tower of the Houses of Parliament. You can still see the golden ball on the flag pole which was used in the 1800s as an aid to navigating the river.
St. Anne's is significant to my family in several ways. First of all, it was where Maria Vaughan (1832-1921), my great great grandmother, and wife of Charles Robert Owen Jarvis was baptised. It is also the place of burial of Charles’s father, William Jarvis. Maria Vaughan’s father Thomas, and her sister Jessie, are also buried here. Today, most of the gravestones have been relocated to the walls around the perimeter of the church grounds. We searched meticulously and found one gravestone which appeared to have William Jarvis inscribed on it although we could not be sure. Most gravestones were so old that their inscriptions had been lost to time.
We then walked up to the main door of the church but found it locked. As we walked disappointingly away, a man who had been sitting on a wall nearby walked up and offered to show us inside. It turned out that he worked for a company in Finland that had recently renovated the church organ. So in we went!
It was evident immediately that the church is in need of much renovation. To the right of the altar, the walls showed signs of leaking water and paint was peeling from the walls in various places. However, it was exciting to be able to see inside.
Having thanked our new Finnish friend, we left and headed to Three Colt Street, the northern end of which starts on the eastern perimeter of St Anne's Church.
If you dig up old maps of Limehouse, the one thing you will notice is that Three Colt Street appears on virtually all of them. It is first recorded in historic documents in 1362 and appears to have been the main thoroughfare from London to the western side of the Isle of Dogs. Back in the 1830s, it was a major business thoroughfare, with many shops catering to the needs of the urban population as well as businesses selling to the sea trade.
Charles Robert Owen Jarvis lived at number 6 Three Colt Street in 1841, opposite St. Anne’s Church. His father William worked at a hairdressing salon owned by John Scott at number 27. And in 1842, William Jarvis died, age 64, at number 6. Today, Three Colt Street still follows the exact same route that it did way back in the 1830s, but not a single building from that time still exists. This part of London was devastated by German bombing raids during World War Two. We walked the entire length of Three Colt Street and near the southern end your come to Milligan Street which is pretty much where Park Street was in the 1850s
Number 14 Park Street was Charles Robert Owen Jarvis’s home in 1854. By then he was married to Maria Vaughan and already had a daughter, Elizabeth. His second daughter, Maria, was born at number 14. Charles also had his mother living with him, and the house was also occupied by his sister Martha and her family. It was a crush, Back in the 1850s, Park Street was a collection of two-room cottages with an easy stroll to a nearby park. It had previously been part of the grounds for a 16th century mansion called Dusthill. Standing on Milligan Street, where Park Street used to be, we got a glimpse of Canary Wharf to the south.
We then headed back north to Gill Street, where the Jarvis family lived when the census of 1841 was taken. Back then, Gill Street was a slum occupied by poor or criminal classes.
The census shows William Jarvis aged 60, his wife Elizabeth aged 51, and four of their five children living at home - Mary Ann 20, Martha 16, Sarah Ann 13 and Charles aged 9. William Jarvis’s eldest son, also called William, is not at home and I have no idea what happened to him. But the family did not live in their two-up-two-down house on Gill Street alone - it was actually home to four families. There was Mary Ford, a laundry woman and her two children Emma and Daniel; the widow Sophia Gurney and her three children; Walter Harwood, a blacksmith, and his wife Margaret and their three children. And finally, there was a 13 year old orphan called Charles Homer. In total the small house with only 4 rooms and no indoor plumbing or bathroom was home to 19 people.
Running parallel to Gill Street, and our next stop, was Rich Street. Charles Robert Owen Jarvis was born at number 5 Rich Street in 1831.
Number 5 was where his widowed mother and her family lived in the 1851 census (together with various lodgers). Number 6 Rich Street was where Charles took his new bride Maria after their marriage in Islington in 1853. It was at number 6 that Charles and Maria welcomed their first daughter into the world - Elizabeth Christiana Ann Jarvis, in 1853. The poor child would die in 1866 of cholera.
From there it was a short walk to West India Dock Road. It was here in early 1845 that Charles Robert Owen Jarvis started his first job at the age of 13 ¾. He worked in the workshop of John Lilley, an optician specializing in the making of optical navigation instruments for mariners. Charles worked their for two years before he decided it was not his cup of tea and switched to an apprenticeship as a boat builder.
By now it was nearing lunch time, so we took a break to rest our legs. We were close to Canary Wharf, which sits where West India Dock was located during the 1800s. In its heyday, West India Dock was the principle employer in the area, taking thousands of men daily to assist with cargo of docked ships. If Charles Robert Owen Jarvis were to visit it today he wouldn’t believe the changes that have happened to this area of London.
Although the dock itself has disappeared, the original warehouses for West India Dock still stand. One of them houses the Museum Of The Docklands, which was out next stop. The museum tracks the building and impact of the docks on commerce in London, and has excellent information on the slave trade. I was hoping for a lot more information on the shipbuilding industry that boomed in the 1800s in the docklands area, but I was disappointed. The one fascinating display showed the “toolkit” of the Shipwright - and as my great great grandfather became a Shipwright, it was interesting to know what sort of tools he worked with.
Our next stop was All Saints Poplar,
All Saints was the local parish for Charles Robert Owen Jarvis when he lived in Poplar. His mother, Elizabeth, is buried here, as is his young son Charles Benjamin Jarvis, who died of convulsions when he was 3 years old. It is also the church where Charles’ mother in law, Elizabeth, remarried five years after the loss of her first husband, Thomas. She married William Elsden in 1857. Just like at St Anne's, most of the graves are now consigned to the outer perimeter wall of the church, so we walked it searching for any sign of a Jarvis. No luck. But we were lucky to find the church open, so we took a look inside.
From All Saints Poplar we then crossed East India Dock Road and proceeded north a few blocks to Southill Street which is the present day location of Ellerthorpe Street.
Back in the 1860s, this was the location of a vast terraced housing estate that had been built in the early 1840s. In 1860-1861, Charles Robert Owen Jarvis’s family lived here at number 16. It was also the place where his ill-fated young son Charles Benjamin Jarvis was born in 1861 - he was buried three years later at All Saints Poplar.
Ellerthorpe Street was demolished in the 1950s when the roads were reconfigured in Poplar, and the giant Lansbury housing estate was built at its location.
From what was left of Ellerthorpe Street it was a short walk to Northumbria Street which today stands where Northumberland Street stood in the 1850s.
It was at number 37 Northumberland Street that Charles and his family lived when his daughter Clara was born in 1857. There was sadness in 1859 at this address when Charles’ mother Elizabeth died here in 1859 - she is buried at All Saints Poplar nearby. This was also the birthplace, later in 1859, of Frederick William Jarvis who would go on to be my great grandfather.
By 1873, Charles Robert Owen Jarvis had returned from his expedition in Egypt, which is covered elsewhere on this website, and with his new-found wealth, settled with his family outside of Poplar at 120 Turners Road in Mile End. It wasn’t exactly opulent, as the local gas works was at the end of the street, but it was a significant step up from the slums of Poplar or Limehouse.
It was at Turners Road that the Jarvis family welcomed their final child, a boy, who was fittingly named Charles Robert Owen Jarvis. My great great grandfather had done everything backwards - it was typical to name your first child after oneself but he chose to name his final child in that way. It seems to me that he held back on naming a child after himself until such time as he felt he had achieved something.
After leaving Turners Road, we had a final opportunity to visit Copenhagen Place but this time we approached it from the north end. It was between 1842 and 1845 that Charles Robert Owen Jarvis completed his education at the Limehouse National School.
Our destination was now a mile away across the Isle Of Dogs. We followed East India Dock Road eastwards to where the enormous docks of East India Dock stood in the early 1800s. But before we got to the dock, we took an abrupt turn south and headed deeper into the eastern edge of the Isle Of Dogs. Our destination was Gasalee Street of which the southern end was called Norfolk Street in 1867.
Norfolk Street was known in 1867 as a place of “low cost housing to the lower middle classes”. We found a row of small terraced houses which were typical of the time but I don’t know whether they were the same cottages my family had lived in. Back in 1867, Norfolk Street was longer than it is today - Charles Robert Owen Jarvis had lived at number 12 Norfolk Terrace, which was no longer there.
It was at Norfolk Street that the Jarvis family welcomed their seventh child, Jessie Elizabeth Jarvis in 1867. Her middle name was a tribute to her sister who had died the previous year of cholera. Her first name was a tribute to the little sister of Charles’ wife Maria, who had been named Jessie and died aged 4.
We then continued to head south down the banks of the Thames as it twisted its way around the Isle Of Dogs. We paused at what used to be the canal that boats leaving West India Dock would navigate in order to return to the River Thames. It gave us a rather fetching view of what East India Dock has been replaced with today - Canary Wharf.
The view along the Thames path at this point was sublime. During the 1850s, Charles Robert Owen Jarvis looked at this part of the river virtually everyday because he worked at a shipyard here - and that shipyard was our next destination.
The Samuda shipyard was formed in December 1852 when Joseph D’Aguilar Samuda rented 370 feet of frontage on the east side of the Isle Of Dogs at a cost of 528 pounds per annum in rent.
Their goal was to build Iron Steam Ships for the world’s navies - something that made them instantly successful. Charles Robert Owen Jarvis joined Samuda in January 1853 to complete his apprenticeship as a shipwright and completed that apprenticeship in August 1854.
Charles would remain at Samuda until September 1869 during which time he would become the leading man and a key employee of Joseph Samuda. You can read about his career at Samuda elsewhere on this website.
Today the Samuda shipyard is gone, replaced by the Samuda housing estate in 1965. But in its heyday, the Samuda shipyard produced more ships than all the other shipbuilding yards on the River Thames combined. Surrounding the shipyard, Joseph D’Aguilar Samuda had allowed the construction of worker housing and it was here at number 3 Samuda Street in 1864 that the Jarvis family welcomed their sixth child, Thomas Charles Jarvis.
By now we were exhausted from our journey and it was time to call it a day. In a single day we had visited all the places where the Jarvis family had called home plus their places of birth, baptism, marriage and burial. Charles Robert Owen Jarvis left London in 1877, taking all his children with him, seeking better employment opportunities in the north of England. He never returned to the place of his birth, and ultimately died 11 years later in Middlesbrough on Christmas Day 1878.
It had been a rather emotional day. I felt like I was walking in his footsteps although in truth, everything has changed since he walked those streets. It is rather sad to know that not a single physical thing associated with him remains from his years in Limehouse and Poplar - everything except for the churches has been demolished and rebuilt.
London has evolved almost beyond recognition since the 1870s and with it every single link between the Jarvis family and London has been erased. I find that rather frustrating, but not surprising.
To end our day, we walked to the southern end of the Isle Of Dogs to look at Royal Greenwich and then took the Greenwich foot tunnel across the river back to the Jubilee Line.
Our plan for the next day was to visit the cemeteries. After Charles Robert Owen Jarvis died in 1887, his widower and all her daughters bar one returned to London around 1896. Would it be in the cemeteries where we would find that one physical piece of evidence that ties the Jarvis family to London? You’ll find a report of our cemetery visits elsewhere on this site.
Want to take your own tour? Let's do it! If you want to walk in the footsteps of Charles as he went about his day, here’s your itinerary:
If we visited the locations in chronological order, you’ll be walking many miles, so I have compacted them into specific areas to visit. Use google maps to give you directions to the places in italics.
Let’s start by taking a look at Islington, where Charles Jarvis and Maria Vaughan were married. Take the tube to Angel station and then go to St. Mary’s Islington where they got married.
Then head to Shepperton Road, which is roughly on the location of Shepperton Street. Charles claimed to live at number 23 and Maria at number 24.
Then head to Limehouse by taking the Docklands Light Railway from Tower Hill. Once you get off, head to St Dunstan’s Church Stepney, where Charles was baptised in 1834.
It’s then a short walk to Ropemaker’s Fields, where Charles went to school between 1840-1842. At this point you’ll find yourself on Narrow Street - follow it along and you’ll get to Lime-Kiln where the canal joins the River Thames - that’s where he served his apprenticeship as a shipwright. You will find a small passageway here, opposite the entrance to Ropemaker's Fields, that will get you to Limekiln Dock and a great view of the River Thames.
Following that we’ll head to his first school (1834-1840) which is just a short walk - it used to be on Church Lane but that is now called Newell Street.
Then head to Copenhagen Place, where Charles went to school for 1840 to 1842.
Continue walking along Copenhagen Place and you will eventually come to Turners Road. This was the last place that Charles and his family lived (at number 120) before they left London in 1878 and headed to Middlesbrough.
Then head to Northumbria Street, which used to be Northumberland Street where Charles lived in 1857 and 1873. From there it is a relatively short walk to Southill Street, which is pretty much where Ellerthorpe Street used to be, where Charles lived in 1860-1861.
It gets exciting now - let’s drop into St Anne’s Church, where his wife Maria was baptised and where his father is buried.
Then walk to Three Colt Street which is where his father William ran his hairdressing shop (number 27) and where he died (number 6) in 1842.
We’ll now visit his childhood homes by visiting Gill Street and Rich Street - their northern layout is exactly like it was back in 1840 although all the houses have been demolished and rebuilt.
Now continue to West India Dock Road where Charles started his career at John Lilley’s workshop in 1845. At this point you might want to drop in at the Museum Of The Docklands. The area around the Museum Of The Docklands is also a great place to grab a bite to eat.
Then head to All Saints Church in Poplar, located in Newby Place. It’s the burial location of Elizabeth Jarvis (nee Frazier), wife of William Jarvis and mother of Charles Robert Owen Jarvis.
You’re then going to head to Gaselee Street. On the southern end of this is what used to Norfolk Terrace, where his daughter Jessie Elizabeth was born.
Then head south to Ovex Close. At the junction of Ovex Close with Stewart Street is where Samuda Street was, birthplace of Thomas Charles Jarvis.
Then take a short walk to New Union Close. This was the entrance to the mighty Samuda Shipbuilding yard where Charles worked from 1854-1869.
Well done! You’ve completed your walking tour.