Not Just Your Run of the Mill Story

I am almost at the end of an extremely long and incredibly amazing journey, documenting the lives of all sixteen of my 2 x great-grandparents, this will be the fifteenth in the series and the last few have been the most challenging to research, due to a variety of reasons. This was one of those stories that has been in draft for far too long and if I waited until I had all the evidence , it might never get told! But in the meantime, let me introduce my 2 x Great-Grandmother Emily Butterworth. 

Emily was born on 12th February 1852, the sixth of nine children born to Charles Richard Butterworth and Elizabeth Arnott. At the time of her birth her father’s occupation was a Tailor and the family home was 40 Church Road, St. Georges in the East in Tower Hamlets in London.

The origins of the Butterworth line are from the Cotton Mills of Lancashire, more of that later, and we can presume that Charles Richard Butterworth saw an opportunity to better himself and the lives of his family, by breaking away from the Mills of the North, journeying South, to ply his trade as a Tailor in London, which at the time was the major capital for the clothing industry. The majority of today’s made to measure clothing is produced in factories, only a very small number of gentleman truly dress in bespoke clothing, made to measure by a Tailor. Whereas 200 years ago every single garment was made by hand, which created a whole Industry of its own and London was at the heart of it.Emily Butterworth Birth

(Emily Butterworth’s Birth Certificate)

The family lived in the heart of the ‘East End’ of London in Stepney, but I have been unable to find any baptism records for Emily in the parish records for St. Georges in the East in Stepney or Christ Church in Watney Street. The six first children were all baptised in either St. Georges in the East Church or the Christ Church in Watney Street. I have checked the original entries for both these parishes online, but there does not appear to be an entry for Emily. It’s also worth noting that there are no baptisms recorded for the four youngest children. There could be a reasonable explanation for this, maybe they had lost their way with the church or maybe because of Civil Registration they no longer felt the need to also baptise the younger children? Something that we can only speculate about, rather than say with any certainty.

There was never a recognisable settlement called St George-in-the-East, but the parish name provided a useful identity for the formerly anonymous area north of the London docks. The central thoroughfare was Cable Street, so called for its ropeyards and connections to the Royal Docks. With the construction of the Commercial Road and the arrival of the railways and heavy industry to the East End, St George-in-the-East became a densely populated and extremely poor parish over the course of the 19th century. Houses were cramped and living conditions poor and the Butterworth and Dodd families moved numerous times, as was the norm in those days, all within a very small condensed area, probably all within one or two square miles.


Flanked by Whitechapel Road and Commercial Road, these narrow streets were full of terraced houses, with limited or no backyards, with row upon row of houses crammed into such small areas, each street immediately backing onto the next one. Living conditions were cramped, squalid and pretty miserable, but that’s the only life that these families knew and there was a toughness and resilience of these East London families to just get on with life. Many of my extended family would have lived in the nearby streets and houses of Poplar and most likely these families would have known each other, went to school together, socialised together and worked together.



(A Typical East End Street)


(Two typical children growing up in the East End of London)

The 1861 Census shows Emily and her family still living at the same address of 40, Church Road in St. Georges in the East, living at the family home are her father, Charles Butterworth who is recorded as a Master Tailor along with her mother Elizabeth Butterworth as well as her siblings, Clara, Emma, Robert, Mary Ann, Alfred, Alice and James. The two oldest girls, Clara and Emma are following her father’s footsteps and are recorded as seamstresses. Tailoring was clearly a family business, but where do the origins of this trade lie, for the Butterworth family? Maybe we will find some clues later.

1861 Census

Emily Butterworth Census 1861

(Class: RG 9; Piece: 279; Folio: 12; Page: 26; GSU roll: 542605)

Prior to the 1871 census, Emily gave birth to a daughter out of wedlock, named Emily Dodd Butterworth. Emily was born on 22nd July 1870 and the assumption within the family has been that the father of Emily Dodd Butterworth was in fact Henry James Dodd who she marries five years later.


(Birth Certificate of Emily Dodd Butterworth with no father’s name mentioned)

The family moved to 51, Oxford Street in Whitehapel between the 1861 and 1871 Census, this was in fact shown as the families place of residence a year earlier on Emily Dodd Butterworth’s birth certificate. The 1871 census shows Emily now aged 19 as a Tailoress and all the residents of a working age, living at  the family home, are recorded as working within the same industry as Tailors, Tailoresses or Cutters. At home with Emily are her parents Charles and Elizabeth and siblings Robert, Mary, Alfred and the young Emily Dodd Butterworth.

Oxford Street

(Oxford Street)

1871 Census

Emily Butterworth Census 1871

(Class: RG10; Piece: 520; Folio: 71; Page: 25; GSU roll: 823383)

Strangely it took another five years before Henry James Dodd and Emily Butterworth were to marry and they were aged 25 and 23 at the time. They were married on 17th October 1875 at St. Thomas Parish Church, Stepney, London. Emily was living at 81, Sydney Street in Stepney at the time. Just over 30 years later Sidney Street was to become a famous historical landmark in the history of the Country due to the Sidney Street siege, which involved a certain young Winston Churchill.


(Sidney Street Siege)

The history and story behind the Sidney Street Siege can be found on the link below:

Sidney Street Siege


Henry James Dodd Marriage

(London Metropolitan Archives; London, England; Reference Number: p93/tms/030)

Henry Dodd Emily Butterworth Marr Cert

(Emily Butterworth and Henry James Dodd Marriage Certificate)

In 1881 the family have moved again, all within a close proximity of the East End of London, the family can be found at 41 Martha Street, St George in the East, London. Emily and her husband Henry are at home with their children, Julia aged 5, Alice aged 3 and Henry Junior aged just 10 months. A noticeable absentee is their child born out of wedlock, Emily Dodd Butterworth. In 1881 Emily Dodd Butterworth is living with her Great Aunt, Mary Blow (her Maternal Grandmother, Elizabeth’s younger Sister). She is also absent from the 1891 family census as well and this leads me to suspect that she was in fact, brought up by her Great Aunt and not by her mother. Emily and Henry went on to have a total of six children, Emily Dodd Butterworth born out of wedlock in 1870 followed by Julia born 1876, Alice born 2 years after in 1878, Henry born in 1880, Harriett Susannah born in 1887 and finally Godfrey born in 1878. Sadly Elizabeth lost her son Henry, at the age of 6 on 29th September 1886.

Martha Street


1881 Census

Henry James Dodd Census Returns 1881

(Class: RG11; Piece: 454; Folio: 126; Page: 8; GSU roll: 1341099)

Another move for the family by the time of the 1891 Census, again all around the East End of London and the Docklands, which is a prime location for Henry, given his Marine based work. The Family home is 5, Richardson Street, Mile End London and recorded at home alongside Emily and Henry are their children Julia aged 15, Alice aged 13 and Godfrey aged 2. 

1891 Census

Henry James Dodd Census Returns 1891

(The National Archives of the UK (TNA); Kew, Surrey, England; Class: RG12; Piece: 302; Folio: 86; Page: 19)

The Family have moved again by the time of the 1901 Census, again within the few miles of the East End of London, this time they are counted at 21, Anthony Street, St. Georges in the East, London. Living at home are his Wife Emily and youngest son, Godfrey, aged 12.

1901 Census

Henry James Dodd Census Returns 1901(Class: RG13; Piece: 312; Folio: 41; Page: 12)

By the time of the 1911 census Emily and her Family have moved back to Poplar and they are living at 33, Kerbey Street, Poplar, London, Henry is listed as a Ship’s Weigher Overside at the Port Of London Authority, an organisation I know only too well myself, as my first job after school was working for a Marine Engineering Company. A Weighman is someone who weighs the cargo of a ship or it could have been weighing the vessel – perhaps by water displacement. The term overside could mean that the ship was still afloat, in the docks, whilst the cargo was weighed. The children had all flown the family nest, which left just Emily and Henry living at home.

Kerbey Street

(Kerbey Street)

1911 Census

Henry James Dodd Census Returns 1911

(The National Archives of the UK (TNA); Kew, Surrey, England; Census Returns of England and Wales, 1911)

Between 1918-1920, Henry and Emily can be found in the Electoral Registers for Poplar at the following address: 33, Kerbey Street

1918 Electoral Register

1919 Electoral Register

1920 Electoral Register

(London Metropolitan Archives; London, England; Electoral Registers)

Screen Shot 2020-06-09 at 00.22.34

(Cawdor Street and Kerbey Street, Poplar)


Emily sadly died on 7th April 1920 aged 68 the cause of death was Carcinoma of the rectum, at the time she was still living at 33, Kerbey Street in Poplar and the informant at her death was her husband Henry of the same address.

Emily Butterworth Death

Emily was buried on 14th April 1920 at Tower Hamlets Cemetery, plot number R1652.

Emily Dodd Burial

Her mourning card states that Emily was 68 years at the time of her death and she was buried in Tower Hamlet Cemetery in Bow – Grave 1652R. The record above confirms the information found on the mourning card.

But that isn’t the end of Emily’ story or indeed the Butterworth story.

We finish with a family legend, as told by my cousin Eleanor:

“Your ancestors, the Butterworths, owned cotton mills in Lancashire, the mills were passed down the family.
Your 3 x Great-grandfather Butterworth was the next in line to inherit the mills and the money (the family was quite rich), but he refused to travel to Lancashire because he was afraid of highway men. In the end the
mills were sold to Coates. A 3 x Great Aunt was so annoyed she burnt all the birth and marriage certificates so that no one knew she was related to him.”

Below are a few images of what would have been a typical Lancashire Mill and somewhere that the Butterworths would have worked or even possibly owned if family folklore is true.




So is there any truth in this story? Or is someone spinning me a yarn?

By breaking this folklore down into a series of questions, I can at least point to the likelihood or probability of there being any truth in the story.

Is it true that our Butterworth ancestors were mainly from the north? Looking at the census returns for 1841, I was able to breakdown by County the locations of people with the surname Butterworth:

Lancashire: 5420 Yorkshire: 910 Cheshire 215 London: 263, all other counties had less than 50.

Is it likely that our Butterworth ancestors worked in cotton mills? A quick scan through the census records on ancestry, looking through the professions of the Butterworth’s of Lancashire, the majority worked in the cotton industry and the rest worked in agriculture. Although there is nothing scientific attached to this, the overall feeling is that if your name was Butterworth and you lived in Lancashire, the chances are that you worked at a Cotton Mill or worked the land.

Is it true that owners were rich? The cotton industry was certainly a wealthy industry for the Mill owners themselves The workers lived and worked in very poor conditions and it was an industry that was well known for abusing workers. To be wealthy you would have to own a mill or be involved in the manufacture and industrialisation of mills.

Did the Butterworth Family own mills? There are numerous references to Butterworths owning mills in Lancashire in newspapers, here are just a couple of examples:

15th September 1849 – Preston Chronicle – Preston, Lancashire, England

Butterowrth Court

31st January 1835 – Preston Chronicle – Preston, Lancashire, England

Butterowrth Fire

However, these articles do not necessarily refer to my direct ancestors and there is a lot more to explore here before we can stake any claim to owning any mills.

Is it possible that my 3 x great grandfather would have inherited cotton mills? The 3 x great grandfather mentioned in the story was Charles Richard Butterworth, Emily’s father. We already know that he was a tailor and was born in St Georges in the East, so if he were due to inherit he would have had to have relocated over 200 miles away. However, we know that his father, James Butterworth, was a shop keeper (stated on Charles’ marriage certificate). We do not know for a fact that James was born in Middlesex, however this is extremely likely. There is a possibility that the story is correct, or it’s at least based on some elements of the truth, but that it actually refers to the generation before. With so few Butterworths in Middlesex in 1841 it is likely James was the first of the family to arrive, and possible that he came from the north. Charles grandfather may have been the one to hand the mill down the family, all supposition and conjecture of course.

The part of the story that refers to the burning of certificates does appear to be a strange reaction, what possible motive would my 3 x Great Aunt have to burn the certificates? Getting rid of the certificates does not rid someone of the family connection, particularly in a time when people were unable to read and write and wouldn’t have given much credence the existence of a certificate. As a point of reference, I do actually have a copy of Charles’ unburnt marriage certificate, he wouldn’t have had a birth certificate as he was born before Civil Registration began in 1837. So this is probably the hardest part of the story to reach any kind of a logical conclusion.

So where do I believe that the origins of this family story were weaved??? The family legend is most likely to have started here with Emily Butterworth, but if there is no substance to the story, what are the alternatives? The truth is beginning to loom that this tale was spun (puns intended) by William Tom Wootton, Emily’s son-in-law and my great-grandfather, who I know was a great story teller! However, there are too many coincidences to dismiss this story altogether. It is interesting that “Granny Wootton” belonged to the Coates Cotton Company.

So what is my own take on this family legend? I believe that the story has been confused over the years, as is the norm with these family folklores, and it wasn’t the certificates that were burnt, but the mill itself (see the story from the Preston Chronicle above). This event would have happened when Charles was 17 years old and would have prevented the mills (and possibly the wealth) being passed down the family………..but that’s a whole different story!!

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6 thoughts on “Not Just Your Run of the Mill Story

  1. Fascinating! You must have spent hours researching all of this. My husband’s uncle has undertaken a similar task in his family and really enjoys the research. It helps that he lives close by to the families’ origins and is assisted by his wife, a former history teacher.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You are a master weaver of family history stories and I believe your version of the legend passed down in your family! All the photos and context you’ve provided help to show what their lives were like, and make this very interesting reading.

    Liked by 1 person

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