william moss (1843-
When William Moss was born on 17 May 1843 at China Row in Stratford, his parents,
George and Eleanor Moss (née Evans), had been living on the Essex side of the River
Lea for about four years. China Row was a row of wooden-
Life was a struggle financially for William’s parents, although it is likely that
William attended school for a few years, probably until about the age of ten, certainly
in 1851 he was described as a ‘scholar’. By the mid 1850s, William’s thoughts were
turning to work. Both his parents were skilled tailors, but from the mid-
What profession then, for a young man about to make his way in the world? Living
so close to the River Lea, the answer was on William’s doorstep. He decided to become
a lighterman. Before the days of mechanisation in the Port of London, lightermen
were essential to trade, transferring goods between ships and quays aboard flat-
“The number of canals by which the docks open into the body of the river ... are
streets of ships ... the innumerable riggings stretch a vast circle of spider-
It was usual for young men to be apprenticed at the age of 14, and in April 1861,
A few years later, he was bound in another way. In the early 1860s he met Eliza Gregory. She was living with her family at Langthorne Street in Stratford, which was adjacent to Chapel Street where William’s mother, Eleanor, was living. As well as being near neighbours, Eliza’s brother, Thomas, was a bargeman. Thomas and William would certainly have known each other so William most probably met Eliza through Thomas. On 18 September 1864 William and Eliza were married at the Church of St Thomas in Stepney. The bride and groom gave their residence as ‘Stepney’ and both made their mark in the register. Their daughter, Maria, was born at about the time of their marriage. A second daughter, Eliza, followed in March 1867 while William and his family were living at 1 Mays Buildings (see map).
During this time, William continued to work on the river, saving what he could so
he could serve a formal apprenticeship. Such an arrangement meant several years on
low pay while the apprentice learnt his craft, and with a wife and two children to
support, it would have been difficult for William. However, in the Summer of 1868
he was apprenticed to George Richard Watts. Only a few years older than William,
George and his wife Louisa had no children, so George probably needed another hand
lightering; apprentices were also cheap labour, although perhaps with his experience,
William came to a more favourable arrangement with his master. Under the Company’s
rules, apprentices had to be between the ages of 14 and 20 and were not allowed to
marry during their apprenticeship; in 1868 William was 25 and already married. The
fact that William completed his apprenticeship in five, rather than the usual seven,
years indicates that he had already obtained his two-
Crossing the river
About the time he was bound as an apprentice, William moved his family to Bromley-
During the years that followed, six more children were born. In addition to his rapidly
growing family, in 1871 William’s father-
Over the years and as they reached their fourteenth birthdays, William apprenticed six of his sons as lightermen; the first was William Thomas in 1884, and the last was Walter in 1895; because of their closeness in age, there were four Moss apprentices on the river in 1894; all of them, apart from Arthur, gained their freedom, so that by 1909, at the end of William’s working life, there were five Moss lighterman working the river from this one branch of the family.
Mayhew, in his London Labour and the London Poor, observed that lighterman “as far as their better circumstances have permitted them… have more comfortable homes [than watermen]”. If Ammiel Terrace could be described as a ‘comfortable home’, then it says little for the conditions that others lived in and sometime between 1881 and 1891, William and his family moved out. The move was prompted by necessity more than desire: in the 1890s, Charles Booth observed that the houses in Ammiel Terrace were “all jerry built, are now all down, were not pulled down but simply fell down of themselves”, so by the time that William and his family moved out in the 1880s, the house was not only becoming uninhabitable but dangerous.
They did not go far. Priory Street was a few streets south on the other side of the Church of St Mary and a short walk from the river. Charles Booth may have held the street in low esteem, commenting that it was the ‘resort of thieves’, but the house had at least five rooms. William’s decision to undergo a formal apprenticeship and gain his freedom had clearly paid off. Many working class families could not afford such luxury.
It was while they were living at Priory Street that Eliza died age 52 on 9 November 1896 of cirrhosis of the liver and cardiac failure. Whilst, according to Charles Booth, lightermen might be a sober class of men — for who would trust an intoxicated lighterman — drink was a perennial problem for women as well as men. Booth noted of nearby Devas Street that there were ‘public houses … with women sitting drinking, with children of 3 or 4 years either on their laps or playing on the floor’.
Keeping it in the family
On 22 June 1897, six months after Eliza’s death, William returned to the Church of
St Thomas in Stepney, this time to marry Susan Dodson (née Brown). William managed
to sign his own name, although on later census returns he still ‘made his mark’.
Susan was a 53-
In 1901 William and Susan were living at 12 Donald Street. It backed on to Bromley Sick Asylum, but as William was still bringing in a wage as a lighterman, he and Susan could afford to rent the whole house. Ten years later, William, by now 68 years old, was bringing home less money and he and Susan had moved to 5 Shenfield Place where they rented two rooms. Despite earning a good wage during his lifetime, it shows how difficult it was for working class people to make provision for their old age and how tenuous life was for many.
Susan died on 28 November 1911 and was buried in Bow Cemetery, a memorial ‘in loving memory’ card printed for her burial. William continued to live in the area. Early in 1916 he contracted bronchitis and was admitted to the Poplar and Stepney Sick Asylum where he died on 3 March. He was buried on 11 March in Tower Hamlets Cemetery.
who’s related to whom
William’s wife: Eliza Gregory
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|index of names|
|george c moss|
|james g bostock|
|edwin f bostock|
|marie wicks & sarah homan|
|homan bostock family|
|mary & ann steward|
|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|