On 24 June 1799, William Evans married Eleanor Hughes at the Church of St George the Martyr near Borough High Street in Southwark. Instead of the usual ‘X’, he made his mark in the marriage register with a ‘W’. The register shows that William was a widower, but when and where he was born, or how long he had been married previously, is unknown. Two years later, he and Eleanor returned to St George’s where their daughter, Eleanor, was baptised.
A year later, in about 1803, William moved his family a few miles east to Deptford. The year is significant. Britain had been at war with France from 1793 until 1802, when peace was declared. It proved to be rather tenuous and on 18 May 1803, King George III declared a breakdown in the peace: after less than fourteen months, Britain was back at war with her old adversary. War can stimulate growth and industry as effectively as prosperity, and William and his family settled in King Street alongside the Royal Dockyard and the Victualling Yard in Deptford.
Supply and demand
The Dockyard had been founded in 1513 by Henry VIII. By the eighteenth century, due
to the silting of the Thames, its use was restricted to ship building and the distribution
of stores to other yards and fleets abroad. Even so, it was one of the most complete
repositories for naval stores in Europe. It covered more than thirty acres of ground,
and contained every convenience for building, repairing, and fitting out ships-
King Street was situated just out of view on the left-
During this period, the area was a hive of activity, both on and off shore, and William
and his family were well-
Amongst the hubbub and other momentous events, life carried on in much the same way for William. A few months after Nelson’s funeral flotilla sailed up the River Thames, a third daughter was born, Elizabeth. She was baptised at the Church of St Nicholas, by which time, the family had moved to Hughes Fields, a few streets away. By 1808, they were once again within a stone’s throw of the Dockyard, living at New Row, a row of cottages built in the eighteenth century, presumably for shipbuilders and other artisans. The photograph on the right shows New Row a century or so later, although it would have looked much the same when William lived here. The houses provided a decent standard of living and sufficient space for a growing family, and it was here that William’s first son, William, was born in September.
A growing family
During these years when Britain was at war, William continued to work as a labourer, the humdrum of life punctuated with births and events of national importance, such as the launching of HMS Charlotte on 17 July 1810 from Deptford’s dockyard. The illustration on the left event captures something of the excitement of the event, which drew a crowd of about 20,000 people. Not long after, Eleanor gave birth to another son, David. Another daughter, Mary Ann, arrived in 1813 while the family were living at Broomfield Place. In nine years, the family had lived in at least four properties, all within a few minutes walk of the dockyards; the war had been good for business, at least for William and his family.
The Napoleonic War finally ended in June 1815 with Napoleon’s defeat at the Battle of Waterloo. Its end marked the start of the Dockyard’s demise; from 1821 only maintenance work was carried out there, and by 1830, it was used only for ship breaking. In contrast, William’s fortunes appear to have risen. When his daughter, Eleanor married in 1839, she gave her father’s occupation as a ‘licensed victualler’. In the nineteenth century, as well as referring to publicans, the term also covered people who sold alcohol and food, and beer retailers, and indicates that some time between 1813 and 1839, William purchased a licence to retail alcohol. Working at the victualling yard for a decade had clearly paid off, providing William with expertise, connections and a regular income, some of which he may have been able to save.
Unfortunately, no further information has been discovered about William, including details of his death, the commonness of his name making research difficult.
who’s related to whom
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|edwin f bostock|
|marie wicks & sarah homan|
|homan bostock family|
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|mary ann hockerday|
|emily a peters|
|henry j collins|
|florence a collins|
|ann e shepherd|
|sarah a rogers|
|albert j monger|
|mary a benham|
|john r cawte|