Tag: Southwark Surrey

Henry and Sophia Smithers: the next generation

Big cities usually act as magnets, attracting people from the countryside to the excitement and employment opportunites urban centres offer. But several adult children of Henry and Sophia Smithers did the opposite: born in greater London at the beginning of the 19th century, they scattered across Engand and beyond as adults.

Henry Smithers (1762-1828) was born in London, while his wife, Sophia Papps (1763-1845) was born in Salisbury, Wiltshire, not far from Stonehenge. They were married in 1783 at St. Matthew’s Parish Church, Bethnal Green, and had seven children. 

Henry Keene Smithers was born in St. Andrews Holborn parish, London in 1785. His birth and that of his sister Charlotte Sophia were registered simultaneously in the non-conformist records on Dec 14, 1789. After being apprenticed to his father, he became a coal merchant, then a general merchant and accountant. He and his wife, Charlotte Letitia Pittman, and their eight children lived in Southwark, on the south bank of the Thames River. He died in 1859. He was my three-times great-grandfather, and I have written in greater detail about his life and beliefs in two previous posts.

Charlotte Sophia Smithers was born in St Saviour’s Parish, County Surrey, in April 1789, so the family must have moved across the Thames before she was born. I know very little about her life except that she did not marry and was living with her brother Henry Keene Smithers and his wife in St. Giles, Camberwell at the time of the 1841 Census of England. 

By the time the 1851 census took place, she was age 61 and living as a lodger with a Baptist minister’s family in Bedfordshire. She described herself as an annuitant, meaning she had some private income. She died a few months later.

Martha Keene Smithers, born in 1790, was said to have been a great beauty. She married John Van Cooten, at St. Woolos Church in Newport, Monmouthshire, Wales in 1808. (Newport was an important coal-exporting port at the time, and her father had a business there; it went bankrupt in 1812.) Martha and John had six children, at least one of whom was born in the Netherlands. (John’s father was originally from the Netherlands, but he became a sugar plantation owner in Demerara, Guyana, South America, which is where John was born.) 

Their marriage must have been an unhappy one because, according the Van Cooten family website, Martha went to the West Indies, leaving John and their young children behind. She eventually returned to England, but, although she and John did not divorce, they never lived together again. Her brother Sydney, who was steward to the Duke of Devonshire, supported her. At the time of the 1851 census she was living with her daughter Anna in London. She was buried in the parish of St. George Bloomsbury, London in 1854. 

John Hampden Smithers was born in Southwark, Surrey in 1792, and his birth, like that of his older siblings, was registered at the Maze Pond Baptist Church. He was likely named after English politician John Hampden, who challenged the authority of King Charles I and was killed in battle in 1643 at the outset of the Civil War in England.

In 1806, when brother Henry Keene was wrapping up his apprenticeship, John became apprenticed to his father. John was admitted to the Freedom of the City of London by patrimony in 1815. Also in that year, the business he and his father owned on Oxford Street in London went bankrupt.

In 1822 John married Amsterdam-born Elizabeth Hoffmann by license at St. Marylebone Church, London. They had five children, the eldest daughter baptized in London, a son baptized in Liverpool, and the two youngest daughters, born 1827 and 1830, baptized in Derbyshire. All the children were baptized in the Anglican church. In 1827 John, a provision merchant in Liverpool, went bankrupt a second time. Soon after that the family appears to have moved to the city of Derby. 

The 1851 census showed John, his wife and three daughters living in London. John gave his occupation as proprietor of houses (basically a landlord.) I did not find the family in 1841 or 1861 in the British Isles, so perhaps they were living in Europe. He died in 1867 in Nice, France and was buried in the Anglican cemetery there. 

Sydney Smithers was born in Southwark around 1795. I have not found any record of his birth or baptism. He married Catherine Longsdon in 1822 in Youlgreave, Derbyshire, and they had three children baptized in the Church of England. Sydney worked for William Spencer Cavendish, 6th Duke of Devonshire. A Whig in politics (he supported liberalizing restrictions on Catholics and abolishing slavery,) the duke was friends with kings, writers and botanists. He owned several vast estates, including one in Derbyshire. Sydney and his family lived in Ashford, Derbyshire, and his duties probably involved managing the duke’s household and estate there. Sydney died in 1856, age 61.

Augusta Sophia Smithers, was born in 1799 or 1800, and was baptized in 1827. Adult baptism is normal for a member of the Baptist church, but several things suggest this baptism was not a happy occasion.

The baptism took place on August 26, 1827 at the Anglican Church of St. Mary Edge Hill, near Liverpool, where her brother John lived. Her parents were Baptists, but it appears that Augusta Sophia was converting to the Anglican religion. The register of the baptism listed her father’s name, but her mother’s was left blank. Perhaps her mother did not attend the service that day. 

Like her brother John, Augusta Sophia is hard to trace. I did not find her in the 1841 or 1851 censuses, but in 1861, at age 60, she may have been living as a lodger in Wandsworth, Surrey. She may have been living as a lodger in Islington, London in 1871, and she is probably the Augusta Sophia Smithers who died in Croydon, Surrey in 1881.

Rosa Smithers only appears in the records twice: the day she and her sister were baptized as adults, and the day she died, two weeks after her baptism. Everyone must have known she was very ill when she was baptized. She was buried at the Church of St. Mary Edge Hill, near Liverpool, Lancaster, on 8 September, 1827. She was just 24 when she died.  

Several months later, in April 1828, her father also died in Liverpool and was buried in the same cemetery.

These highlights are all I know about the lives of Henry and Sophia Smithers’ children. Put them together, though, and patterns start to appear. I have begun to suspect that, although their father wrote of his love for his children in his 1807 book Affection, with other poems, these siblings were not very close. In many of the families I have researched, I have found widows, elderly fathers and unmarried sisters living with other family members. In the case of my Smithers ancestors, this was not the case. I should not speculate, though; I will never learn the truth.

Research Remarks

For more information on other generations of this family, and other families with the same last name, see Michael Smither’s Smither, Smithers, Smythers family tree in Ancestry.com’s Public Member Trees section. http://trees.ancestry.com/tree/49405444/person/12982389958

This article relies primarily on birth, marriage and death records found on Ancestry.com, supplemented by census records as of 184I. I found bankruptcy announcements in English newspapers on findmypast.com.

I have written more extensively about Henry Keene Smithers, non-conformist religious beliefs and apprenticeships. See https://www.writinguptheancestors.ca/2014/12/the-apprenticeship-of-coal-merchant.html and https://www.writinguptheancestors.ca/2014/12/henry-keene-smithers-non-conformist.html

The Van Cooten family page, www.vc.id.au/fh/smithers.html, includes several references Martha Keene Smithers and points to the position held by Sydney Smithers.    

My suspicion that John Hampden Smithers was named after a politician from the English Civil War era who died in battle in 1643 is based on a poem called Hampden in Henry Smithers’ 1807 book Affection, with other poems. (see https://books.google.ca/books?id=DGUUAAAAQAAJ  p.11-12)  At first I had no idea who Hampden was. Then, while researching Henry’s political interests, I found an article about John Hampden. Henry mentioned someone named Sydney in the same poem, so perhaps his younger son was also named after a politician.

There was probably only one Augusta Sophia Smithers living in England at that time, so the person I found in the census was probably my ancestor. I was confused, however, because her birthplace was listed as Wandsworth, Sussex. All the information I have about Henry’s family, including property tax records, puts them in Walworth, Sussex.

Henry Keene Smithers, Non-Conformist

When my three-times great grandparents Henry Keene Smithers and Charlotte Letitia Pittman were married in 1809, the wedding took place at St. Martin in the Fields, London. It is a beautiful church, but it was probably not their first choice because it is an Anglican church and Henry was a non-conformist. Between 1754 and 1837, all marriages had to take place in the Church of England to be legally recognized, hence Henry’s and Charlotte’s Anglican ceremony.  

In England, non-conformists were members of Protestant denominations such as Congregational, Presbyterian and Baptist, rather than the established Church of England. These religions trace their histories to the 16thcentury, and their members were subjected to varying levels of persecution over the years. After the Act of Toleration was passed in 1689, non-conformists were allowed to have their own places of worship and schools as long as they took certain oaths of allegiance. 

Henry Keene Smithers

Once married, the Smithers attended a non-conformist Independent, or Congregational, church called Walworth Locks Fields Chapel in Southwark, Surrey. Congregationalists believe that the church congregation has the right to determine its own affairs. There is no church hierarchy, no bishops to tell members what to think or do. 

Henry may have been quite involved in this chapel, given that the couple’s children were baptized there. Henry and Charlotte had at least eight children: Henry Keene (1812-1874), Alfred (1814-1874), Francis Pittman (1815- ), Sophia Anne (1817-1883), George Clayton (1819-1821), John (1821-1893), Charles Francis (1822-1887) and Mary Keene (1827-1859). In fact, George Clayton Smithers appears to have been named after Lock Fields Chapel’s long-time minister.

(Their youngest son, Charles Francis Smithers, who was my great-great grandfather, is the only one of Henry’s and Charlotte’s children whose baptismal record I cannot find. He married in Waterford, Ireland in 1844 and immigrated to Canada, where he became a successful banker. He too brought up his children in the Congregational church.)  In the 1840s, Henry was secretary of the Society for the Relief of Widows and Children of Dissenting Ministers, a charity that supported families of deceased non-conformist ministers who were living in poverty.1

probably Charlotte L. Smithers

The Smithers family’s association with non-conformist beliefs seems to have been long-standing, Henry Keene Smithers was born on 3 July, 1785 in the City of London, and his birth was registered at Maze Pond, Southwark, a Baptist church, in 1789.2  The 1762 birth of his father, Henry, was also included in non-conformist records,3 but his mother, Sophia Papps, was baptized at the Anglican parish church in Salisbury, Wiltshire, in 1763.

Charlotte, Henry’s future wife, was born in Antigua around 1785. Her family were most likely Anglicans, but I have not seen a baptismal record for her, nor do I know when or why she moved to England.  

After they were married, census records show that Henry and Charlotte lived at various addresses in County Surrey, near London Bridge on the south bank of the Thames River. Today, this region has been swallowed up by the city. The family’s roots in Surrey also seem to run deep. Henry’s grandfather Joseph Smithers married Martha Keene in 1760 at St. Mary’s Church, Newington, Surrey.4 The fact they were married by licence is a hint that they too were non-conformists and not members of this Anglican parish.

Henry died in Peckham, Surrey, on April 23, 1859, age 73, and was buried at Norwood Cemetery, Lambeth. Charlotte lived the last two years of her life in Peckham with her widowed daughter Sophia Holton and two grandchildren. She died Aug. 10, 1861 and was buried in the same cemetery.

Research remarks

The birth and baptismal records of Henry Keene Smithers, and other non-conformist Smithers family members, can be found in the England & Wales Non-Conformist and Non-Parochial Registers, 1567-1970 collection online on Ancestry.com. The Congregational church baptizes infants, so these records are for baptisms, however, Baptists perform adult baptisms, so the record for Henry Keene Smithers refers to his birthdate.

I obtained the date of birth of Charles Francis Smithers from the Smithers Family Book, privately published in 1985 by Elizabeth Marston Smithers. His family’s religious affiliation comes from the 1861 Census of Canada East.

All Church of England records I have mentioned are available through Ancestry.com in parish records or marriages and banns. The date of birth of Charlotte L. Smithers, is not available from parish records since they were not well preserved in Antigua. The source of her place of birth and age are taken from the 1851 England Census, accessed through Ancestry.com. She was also recorded in the 1861 England Census.

The fact that Henry was involved with a group that helped the families of dissenting ministers is revealed in a directory of London charitable organizations.

Regarding the small cameo portraits of Henry Keene Smithers and his wife, Charlotte, they belong to one of my cousins, and are framed together with similar images of Charles Francis Smithers and his wife, Martha Bagnall Shearman. They are identified on the back of the common frame, but the one I believe to be Charlotte L. Smithers is identified as “Miss Richardson.” I have yet to come across anyone named Richardson in the family tree, so I am assuming the unknown person who supplied this information many years ago was wrong.

For more information about Henry Keene Smithers, see http://trees.ancestry.com/tree/49405444/person/12982389981, the Smither, Smithers, Smythers Public Member Tree on Ancestry.com, edited by Michael Smither.


  1. The Metropolitan Charities: Being an Account of the Charitable, Benevolent, and Religious Societies; Hospitals, Dispensaries, Penitentiaries, Annuity Funds, Asylums, Almshouses, Colleges, and Schools in London and Its Immediate Vicinity. London: Sampson Low, 1844 (Google eBook), p.61.
  2. England & Wales, Non-Conformist and Non-Parochial Registers, 1567-1970,” Ancestry.com (http//:www.ancestry.com: accessed 29 Nov. 2014), entry for Henry Keene Smithers, 3 July, 1785, London; citing General Register Office: Registers of Births, Marriages and Deaths surrendered to the Non-parochial Registers Commissions of 1837 and 1857. Records of the General Register Office, Government Social Survey Department, and Office of Population Censuses and Surveys, Registrar General (RG) 4. The National Archives, Kew, England.
  3. England & Wales, Non-Conformist and Non-Parochial Registers, 1567-1970, database, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 1 Dec. 2014), entry for Henry Smithers, 7 Aug. 1762, London; citing: General Register Office: Registers of Births, Marriages and Deaths surrendered to the Non-parochial Registers Commissions of 1837 and 1857. Records of the General Register Office, Government Social Survey Department, and Office of Population Censuses and Surveys, Registrar General (RG) 4. The National Archives, Kew, England.
  4. London, England, Baptisms, Marriages and Burials, 1538-1812 database, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 29 Nov. 2014), entry for Joseph Smithers, 19 March, 1760, Southwark; citing Church of England Parish Registers, 1538-1812. London, England: London Metropolitan Archives; St Mary, Newington, Composite register: marriages, banns, May 1754-Jul 1769, P92/MRY/010