Monday, 8 December 2014

Henry Wilkins (1851-1915), grocer and coffee house keeper.

I have recently made contact with Russell Wilkins, who is a second cousin to me - he is a grandson of Albert Henry Wilkins (1877-1928). Russell has kindly provided some photos of Henry Wilkins and his wife Jane, which I have included in the article below. 

Henry Wilkins was my great grandfather. He was the father of Gertrude Amy Taylor nee Wilkins (1890-1919), who was the mother of Eric William Taylor (1913-2003), my father. Henry's name is given as Henry William Wilkins on Gertude’s marriage certificate and as Henry Albert Wilkins on the register for the marriage of his daughter Ethel. It is given as Henry Wilkins in all other records I have found.

Henry was born in about 1851 in Bethnal Green. His birth does not seem to have been registered and I can find no record of his baptism. Henry’s father was Henry Wilkins, who was born 1825 in Bethnal Green. His mother Sarah (nee Perryman), was born 1826 in Mile End, London. Henry was the second of their eight children.

The 1861 census shows Henry Wilkins senior (aged 35, a cats meat dealer) living at 9 Sussex Place, Plumstead with his wife Sarah (34) and their children Sarah (10), Henry (8), William (5), Thomas (3) and Alfred (1).

In 1871 the family, consisting of Henry Wilkins senior (47, a street hawker), Sarah (47), Henry (20, a street hawker), William (17, a street hawker), Thomas (14), Alfred (13) and Ann (10) were living at 6 Taylor St, Woolwich. The house was near Woolwich Arsenal station but no longer exists.

On 28 October 1875, Henry married Jane Cornwell (from Kelvedon in Essex) at St Andrews Church, Islington. They were both listed as aged 24. Henry’s occupation is given as provision merchant. The church where they married still stands. It is in Thornhill Square, an area of Islington which still contains Victorian houses, most of which are in good condition.

Jane and Henry Wilkins

Henry and Jane’s first child, Elizabeth Jane was born on March 30th 1876 in Kelvedon, Essex. The dates indicate that Jane was pregnant when she married. Their next child Albert Henry, was born on the 26th December 1877. The family were then living at 13 Whitworth Place, Plumstead. Henry’s occupation is given as a fresh meat dealer. The rest of their children were Alice Annie (born 1879), Ethel (born 1881), Cecilia Mary (born 1884), Annie Louisa (born 1886), Herbert George (born 1888), Gertrude Amy (born 1890) and Mabel (born 1891), all born in Woolwich.

Parish records show that the family was still living at 13 Whitworth Place, Plumstead, when Albert Henry Wilkins was baptized on 27 Jan 1878 but had moved to 21 Prospect Place, Woolwich by the time Alice Annie was baptized on 16 Nov 1879. The 1881 census shows Henry Wilkins aged 29, a greengrocer and dairyman, living at 21 Prospect Place with his wife Jane (29) and their children Elizabeth (5), Albert (3) and Alice (1). They were still at this address on 24 Feb 1884 when Cecilia Mary was baptized.

In 1891 the Wilkins family were living at 31 Kidd St (a shop), Woolwich Dockyard and consisted of Henry (aged 41, a grocer), Jane (40), Elizabeth (15), Albert (13), Alice (11), Ethel (9), Cecilia (7), Annie (5), Herbert (3) and Gertrude (1). Kidd St is now called Wood Hill. The site of 31 Kidd St is now occupied by modern housing. 

The Greenwich Heritage Centre has Kelly's Directories for Woolwich. The earliest one they have is 1893 which lists Mrs Sarah Wilkins, Greengrocer, at 31 Kidd Street (Sarah Wilkins was Henry‘s mother – so it seems that Henry worked for the family business in 1891). The same entry appears every year until 1900. From 1901 to 1911 there are entries for Henry Wilkins, Dining Rooms at 11 Church Street, Woolwich Dockyard.

Jane Wilkins nee Cornwell in about 1900

The 1901 census lists Henry Wilkins aged 50, a coffee house keeper, living at 11 Church Street with his wife Jane (49) and children Albert (23, machinist shell factory), Alice (21, shirt machinist), Ethel (19, cook domestic), Cecilia (called Bessie, 16, shirt machinist), Annie (15), Herbert (13), Gertrude (11) and Mabel (9). The site of 11 Church Street is now occupied by post war housing.

Henry's mother Sarah died in Wandsworth on 19 August 1908. The death record gives her age as 84, although her date of birth indicates that it was 82. She is buried in Woolwich Cemetery in the same grave (U 87) as her daughter Annie (1862-1884). There is no marker on the grave (many of the gravestones in this cemetery have been cleared away).

Henry and his family were still living at 11 Church St in 1911. The household consisted of Henry (62, a dining room keeper), Jane (59), their daughters Gertrude (21) and Mabel (19) who were both rubber casing machine hands at Siemen’s Brothers Electrical Works and their granddaughter Florence Wilkins (7). Florence (born in 1903 when her mother was 19) was an illegitimate child of Henry’s daughter Cecilia Mary Wilkins. It is perhaps surprising that she wasn’t with her mother who married in 1905 and was living with her husband and their two daughters at 13 Gough St, Woolwich in 1911. The census return says that nine children were born to Henry and Jane of which eight were still living (their daughter Alice Annie died in 1910). The number of rooms the family occupied at 11 Church St is given as four. In 1901 ten people were living at this address, which must have been a squeeze !

The Kelly’s Directories for 1912 to 1916, show entries for Henry Wilkins, Dining Rooms at 14 Beresford Street, Woolwich. This is close to the main entrance to Woolwich Arsenal, which must have been good for business. There are no directories for 1917 to 1919, the next available ones being for 1920 and 1923, which list Albert Wilkins, Dining Rooms at 14 Beresford St (Albert was Henry‘s eldest son). The electoral register for 1914-15 lists Henry Wilkins as living at 14 Beresford Street. There are no more registers until 1919, when Beatrice Wilkins (Albert’s wife) is listed at the address.

The Wilkins Dining Rooms in Beresford Street, with Henry standing in the doorway. The photo was taken between 1912 and 1915.

Henry died on 15 July 1915 in Woolwich. The death register gives his age at death as 66. His wife Jane appears in the 1932 electoral register living with Beatrice Wilkins at 14 Beresford Street, but not at this address in 1933. Jane died 12 December 1934 aged 84. Both Henry and Jane were buried in Plumstead cemetery in grave K2058, together with their daughter Alice Sowersby nee Wilkins, who died in 1910 aged 30. I have located the plot, which is grassed over – there is no headstone or stonework.

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