Tuesday, 22 May 2007

John Henry Cruse,
fishmonger and pocket book maker

Michael Freeman has spent a further two days in London at the Guildhall Library and the Metropolitan Archives in search of the family of Henry Cruse the shipwreck survivor in South Africa. Michael had previously identified John Henry Cruse as the possible father of the South African Henry. He has now spent a considerable time researching John Henry and his family, but so far Henry’s baptism remains as elusive as ever. In the meantime I thought other researchers might find the story of John Henry Cruse of some interest.

John Henry Cruse was born about 1785. We do not know where he was born as he died before the 1841 census and no record of his baptism has yet been found. John Henry married Ann Parker on 2nd August 1812 at St Margaret Lothbury in the City of London. They were married by banns. John was a bachelor and Ann was a spinster. They were both from the neighbouring parish of St Christopher Le Stock. St Christopher Le Stock is in the centre of the square mile of the City of London. It was united with its neighbouring parish St Margaret Lothbury in 1781. The witnesses were Eli Noone and Ann Davis. Eli Noone is probably the churchwarden or verger as he was also a witness at the next wedding. We have not yet been able to identify Ann Davis. The first clue as to John Henry’s occupation is found in the baptismal registers of St Mary at Hill in the City of London, where John Henry was described as a fishmonger when his eldest daughter was baptised in 1813. The City of London is of course the home of Billingsgate Fish Market and John Henry almost certainly worked at the market where he perhaps had his own market stall. At that time the market was situated in the streets around Billingsgate Wharf by Lower Thames Street in the shadow of London Bridge. Fish and seafood were sold from stalls and sheds around the 'hythe' or dock. A purpose-built market was not constructed until 1850 and this building was demolished in 1873 to make way for the present building in Lower Thames Street which is now the largest indoor fish market in the country. John Henry worked as a fishmonger at least until 1817, but some time between 1817 and 1820 he made a rather surprising career move and became a pocket book maker. He had quite possibly inherited the business following the death of a family member. We have found records of four children born to John Henry and Ann:

- Ann Margaret Cruse, born on 5th July 1813 and baptised on 28th November 1813 at St Mary at Hill in the City of London. John Henry and Ann were living at Harper Lane at the time of the baptism.

- John Edward Cruse, born about 1815. No record of his baptism has yet been found. He was buried on 23rd February 1817 at St Michael, Crooked Lane, in the City of London. He was said to be 22 months old. John Henry and Ann were now living at Fan Court, Miles Lane, Thames Street. Miles Lane is one of the roads running off Thames Street and is next to Fish Street Hill, the approach road to the old London Bridge. Miles Lane can clearly be seen in an 1827 map of the City.

- Hannah Cruse, born on 30th June 1817 at Fan Court, Miles Lane, and baptised on 21st September 1817 at St George the Martyr, just across the Thames in Southwark.

- Thomas Cruse, born in the parish of St Michael Crooked Lane (probably at Fan Court, Miles Lane) and baptised on 17th September 1820 at St Mary Magdalene, Bermondsey, on the other side of the river. Thomas was buried on 3rd March 1822 at St Michael, Crooked Lane. His age at burial was 17 months.

Ann Cruse née Parker died in 1836 and was buried on 20th March 1836 at St Michael, Crooked Lane. She was said to be 46 years old.

The following year, on 2nd July 1837, John Henry’s younger daughter Hannah married William Henry Willett, a coach painter, at St George in the East in Stepney. John Henry was one of the witnesses. John Henry also lived to see the marriage of his eldest daughter Ann Margaret. She married Richard Wrigglesworth, a glass cutter. The marriage took place some time before the beginning of civil registration on 1st July 1837 though the marriage has not yet been located and the precise date is not known.

Just three months after his daughter Hannah’s wedding John Henry died suddenly of apoplexy on 9th October 1837. He was said to be 52 years old. At the time of his death his address was given as 4 Little College Street, St Michael, College Hill. The informant of the death was his daughter Ann Margaret Wragglesworth [sic] of 2 St Dunstan's Alley. John Henry was buried at St Martin, Vintry, on 15th October 1837. Unusually the burial records for this church also record the cause of death and provide confirmation that John Henry died of apoplexy.

John Henry and his family are a very good example of the difficulties faced when researching in London. The City of London, the oldest part of the capital, was formerly a county in its own right. In 1811 there were 122,924 people living in the densely populated City of London District (the area which is currently under the jurisdiction of the Corporation of London and which is slightly larger than the medieval City). As a comparison, the nineteenth-century population of the City is roughly equivalent to the present-day population of Cheltenham in Gloucestershire. There were over 100 churches in the square mile of the City of London, and of course many more churches in the surrounding area. The three baptisms which we have so far located all took place in different churches, and the baptism of John Edward Cruse has still not been found. Michael Freeman searched through 17 burial registers before he finally struck gold in the eighteenth register and found the burials of Ann and her two sons at St Michael, Crooked Lane! No doubt there were other children and any information would be gratefully received.

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