Part of the research into the history of the Prescot Street site involved collating information from the census returns for numbers 2 – 8 South Tenter Street. Lowell has spent some time in the Tower Hamlets archive finding out the names and occupations of the residents of these houses from period 1851 – 1901. We have both spent some time veering off at historical and genealogical tangents, encouraged by the wealth of information available on the internet. And despite a few arched eyebrows, this hasn’t actually evolved into a whimsical, fluffy diversion from the archaeology at all. The insights that we have gained through understanding the occupation of the site over the past two hundred years provides a historical backdrop to the changes we can see in the post-medieval archaeology.

Part of the interest has been how the evidence from just four houses in East London reflects the wider trends for migration and immigration both within the British Isles and throughout Europe during the last few centuries. It also points to the fluctuations and slow decline in the status of the local area, from grandeur to Boothian overcrowding. There is a certain amount of pathos in the swift appearence and disappearance of infants from the records, children working from the age of 7, and the number of fatherless families (but then I am a sentimental fool). Louisa Fairbrass was the youngest daughter of Albert Fairbrass, whose large family lived at number 6 South Tenter Street from at least 1881 – 1901. Aged 11 months in 1881, Louisa does not appear in the records for 1891 when she should have been 10 years old – the family had two other daughters after her birth, so I can only deduce that she died in childhood.

We expected to see a change in the origins of the occupants, as the area around Prescot Street, and Whitechapel as a whole, was a central point for immigration of Ashkenazi Jews from Eastern Europe, fleeing Russian persecution during the pogroms of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This was certainly the case, but there were also a number of people that had made the street their home with a Sephardic Jewish background, during the 1850’s. The Cohen – Azevedo family, who were living at number 8 South Tenter Street in 1851, were from Sephardic families that worshipped at Bevis Marks Synagogue. The Jewish community of Bevis Marks maintains a comprehensive on-line genealogical database, and as a result, they were easy to trace with a quick internet search. Their ancestors had arrived in London during the late 1600’s , via Holland and Jamaica, and were descended from families living in Spain.

Aside from the origins of the inhabitants, the range of occupations also reflect the sort of jobs we would expect people to perform given the location of the site close to the river. George Halbert lived at number 6 in 1851, and was a master mariner. His son, William, was a ship broker’s clerk. John Wells was living at number 6 in 1871, and was a dock labourer. He shared the building with William Riley, a lighterman, who transferred goods between ships and the quays on flat bottomed barges.


I recieved an email from a member of the public, who gave me the following information

This is the GRO index reference for the death of Louise, as you can see she was 2 years old. Her record is one not yet transcribed on to the Tower Hamlets BMD online database, which I recommend as a reference point (although the early and nearby district of East London, in which a number of the families that worshipped in Prescott Street and attended the precursor of the RC school now located there have their civil registration matters recorded – and are possibly some of the remains recovered from the Saints Mary and Michael grounds currently in the M of L basement – was absorbed by Islington and not Tower Hamlets).

September Q 1882 Fairbrass Louisa Beatrice 2 Whitechapel 1c 248
(information from FreeBMD) Page 248 records 10 deaths:3 aged 0, 2 aged 1, 1 aged 2 (Louise), 1 aged 21, 1 aged 22, 1 aged 47, 1 aged 61.

The death of an Elizabeth Fairbrass aged 0 is recorded in Whitechapel in December Q 1987, again similar distribution – live beyond 2/3, you have a chance of surviving beyond your teens.